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From the Arbia to Montaperti: visiting the Battleground

Eight walks inspired by The Divine Comedy

Ond'io a lui: «Lo strazio e 'l grande scempio
che fece l'Arbia colorata in rosso
tal orazion fa far nel nostro tempio».

Then I: «The carnage and the bloody flow,
That made discolour'd Arbia run in red,
Lifts in our shrine such orison of woe.»

(Inferno, Canto X, 85/87)

While talking with Farinata degli Uberti, the poet recalls one of the bloodiest clashes between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, the battle that took place on the hill of Montaperti in 1260, in which the Ghibellines exiled from Firenze inflicted a humiliating defeat on the rival Guelphs. Dante didn't himself take part in the battle, but as Parodi comments, "the way Dante expresses himself shows that, although it had come to him second-hand through the recollections of others, his eyes had witnessed the shocking sight of that red flow of blood". And as the chronicles of the time reported that "all the roads, and hills, and every watercourse seemed a large river of blood", Dante, who was very familiar with the geography of the area, came to the conclusion that the river Arbia, which flows near Montaperti, had turned red from the blood. Several decades later, the echoes and bitterness induced by the battle were still alive; in fact, in Canto XXXII of The Inferno, when the poet comes face to face with Bocca degli Abati, the man who betrayed the Guelphs in the battle, he wants to inflict further punishment on him, hitting him hard on the face with his foot:

Se voler o destino o fortuna,
non so; ma, passeggiando tra le teste,
forte percossi 'l pié nel viso ad una.
Piangendo mi sgridò: «Perché mi peste?
se tu non vieni a crescer la vendetta
di Montaperti, perché mi moleste».

I know not, if from will, or chance, or fate,
But, as among the heads our course we take,
Hard with my foot the face of one I grate.
"Why tramplest thou on me," it weeping spake,
"Unless thou art arriv'd with added store
Of fierce revenge, for Montaperti's sake?"

Nowadays the hill of Montaperti is a green expanse covered with cypresses that further add to the beauty of the undulating land around Siena. There's a pyramid-shaped monument at the summit of the hill, with some lines from Dante carved into it, in memory of the bloody battle. The suggested route runs almost entirely along quiet unpaved tracks and gives you an opportunity to walk through one of the quietest corners of the Siena area, to pass isolated red farmhouses and small settlements built on sunny slopes, and to walk through cool woods on the ridges and fields used as pasture for sheep.
From the Taverne d'Arbia roundabout, looking towards the bridge over the river Arbia, you can see to the left a small surfaced road (for Presciano), along which there are the red and white markers of footpath no. 2. Take this road, which runs beneath the Siena-Bettolle link road and immediately afterwards curve left on a rough unpaved track (red and white signs). Walk up the track, passing several country farmhouses, till you come to a group of rural buildings called Piancollina. Here there's a track going to the right along the ridge in the direction of Mociano. Soon afterwards this track widens and is flanked by cypresses, and leads to the villa and the small, interesting chapel of Mociano. Sticking to the main path, carry on along the ridge of the cultivated hills which lie to the east of Siena until you get to the surfaced Pieve a Bozzone road. Turn right along this quiet road and follow it until you reach a main junction.
Go straight on in the direction of Vico d'Arbia and Montaperti, walking along the unpaved road. Soon you come to a sign for Vico d'Arbia: ignore it, descend instead to a bridge over the river Arbia, and then climb again, crossing through a small wooded area till you reach a crossroads. Cross the asphalt road and carry on the other side along the unpaved road that leads to Montaperti (there's a sign). A short distance further on you come to a junction. If you go straight on, you come immediately to the small rural village of Montaperti, where there's also a church. The path, however, goes right, and takes you down to the plain below Montaperti, in the direction of the hill of Monteapertaccio, which immediately appears to the left with its tall green cypresses. You can't go wrong here, just carry on along the straight, ancient cart-track which then curves to the left at Monteapertaccio and goes through the village. Immediately afterwards, having passed a large group of farm buildings, you come to a junction. Go left, leaving the main cart-track and continuing till you're at the foot of the hill; you reach the top by walking up a narrow path. At the top there's a pyramidal monument to mark the battleground and a great view of the succession of hills that make up the Chianti Senesi area to the north and the Crete Senesi to the south. Climb back down the hill and go back the way you came till you get to the junction for Taverne d'Arbia. Turn left and go through the hamlet (the most typical feature of rural farm buildings in the Siena hills is their colour, a very distinct red which derives from the principal building material, terracotta bricks produced above all in the Crete Senesi area), then begin to descend along the panoramic ridge which gradually drops down to the Fosso Rigo. When you come to a more important cart-track, take it, going left and following it as it runs along on the flat. Near Presciano, it becomes surfaced and soon you're back at Taverne d'Arbia.

Time required 4 hours, 30 minutes
Vertical height 270 m
Maps   Kompass 1:50.000, no.661, "Siena-Chianti-Colline Senesi"
How to get there From Siena, take the SS. 326 (Siena-Bettolle link road) in the direction of Perugia. There are road signs for Taverne d'Arbia, which is the starting point.
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Text and picture: Cinzia Pezzani & Sergio Grillo
Translation: Jeremy Carden

 
 
 
   
 
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