According to the most reliable interpretations, the name of the mountain Amiata is to be linked to Tinia, the Lord of the Etruscan Pantheon. Indeed, L’Amiata has always been the “enchanted mountain”, a mystic place par excellence, dear to the gods, a kind of Tuscan Olympus.
A land not only of mystics, prophets and preachers but also of Popes and Emperors, the Amiata was, since Roman times, an almost inescapable passage for travelers going to Rome. During the Middle Ages, the main route to the City of the Popes was the Via Francigena, called also Romea or Francesca or di Roma.
The stretch of the “Francigena route laid at the foot of the Amiata was characterized by a flourishing social and economic life; two royal abbeys were guarding the borders of the Church State: San Salvatore and Sant’Antimo. This place saw the journeys of famous historical personalities: Otho I (962), the countess Matilde (1079), Frederick I Barbarossa (1155), Otho IV (1210), Charles II of Anjou (1289), Heinrich (Arrigo) VII, the emperor, dear to Dante’s heart, who died in 1313 in Buonconvento, and Pope Pio II Piccolomini, who left a celebrated record of his trip through the Amiata.
The fame of places like the thermal baths of Bagni Vignoni and San Filippo, of villages like Castiglione d’Orcia, Campiglia d’Orcia and Radicofani (quoted by Boccaccio in a novella about Ghino di Tacco ) proves the antiquity and relevance of the Via Francigena. Not to mention the saints and mystics who certainly knew very well these places and the Romea road, like saint Francis, saint Catherin of Siena and saint Bernardino of Siena. All three certainly happened to cover also the secondary paths connecting villages and castles further away from the main road.
One of these paths was the so-called Vi’Siena, a kind of link road of the Francigena with an independent route from Buonconvento onwards. This road, which gave rise in turn to several detours, became well known among pilgrims, with an animation and a fame as widespread as the Francigena’s ones.
These elements – a stretch of the Francigena, some saints on it, the mystical aura of the Amiata – are all wonderfully summarized in a painting by Stefano di Giovanni, called Sassetta (1392-1450), certainly the leading painter of Siena in the first half of the 15th century. Sassetta represents “The Mystical Wedding between saint Francis and Poverty” (Musée Condé, Chantilly), situating this legendary encounter in the landscape of the Amiata, where fortresses, castles, roads, rivers, mountains, ancient walls are perfectly recognizable.
The painting narrates the trip which saint Francis made with a physician-friar in 1226 from Rieti to Siena for the treatment of his glaucoma. Three maidens appeared to the saint in the neighborhood of San Quirico d’Orcia, at the foot of the Amiata: each of them wore a garment of a different color: white (Purity), Red (Obedience), gray (Poverty). The saint put the ring on the finger of the last one and then the three girls flew away, revealing their angelical nature.
In the scene, from the left in the foreground, you can see the city gate of San Quirico d’Orcia, in the middle, through the Val d’Orcia, the Via Francigena, which splits in two directions: one, outlined in white on a small hill, heads to Campiglia, the other heads to Radicofani, the village which stands out on the left profile of the mountain. Behind the three young girls you can recognize the walls of Bagni Vignone, and, further back, Castiglione d’Orcia and Rocca a Tentennano, which was visited also by saint Catherine of Siena. Looking from the left at the winding profile of the mountain, you can recognize Poggio Zoccolino, the Vetta (i.e. the Peak) and then, lower on the right, Montagnola and Poggio Pinzi.
Based on the book “Le vie della fede – Percorsi Francescani sull’Amiata” – Effigi Editions