Sarteano is an amazing place. Until recently, it was little known to outsiders but has many attractions to interest anybody who visits it. No matter your interest, there is something for everyone from Etruscan tombs and Roman roads, to medieval churches and Renaissance palaces.
The first sight when approaching Sarteano is the giant castle at the top of the hill at 500 plus meters above sea level and surrounded by green. To visit it is to make a trip back through hundreds of years of history, passing through the small alleyways and the giant Todeschini Piccolomini Palace, which stands just below it.
The central square offers a stunning introduction to the town’s treasures: the medieval loggia to start serve as the entrance way to the Arriscianti Theater, which the Sarteano public used from the 18th century down to the mid-1960s, when the structure was closed for restoration. Twenty years later, a group of amateurs founded a new Academy of Arrischianti, and in the year 2000, Sarteano inaugurated a new theater, company and regular repertory.
Even if there are no performances scheduled when you visit, pass by the local tourist office to get a guided tour. And while you are at it, visit the Church of St. Martin in the Forum, which contains within it some extraordinary artistic works, most notably the large paintings by Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciao and the celebrated Annunciation by Domenico Beccafiumi from 1545. This church also has an element of interest in that it was originally standing inside of the Piazza, only to be entirely taken down and remounted in its present location, courtesy of the intrepid stonemasons of Sarteano!
The Archeaological Museum
Sarteano was perhaps most famous more than 2,300 years ago during the Etruscan period. This is born out by the presence of the Tomb of Lucomone Porsenna, which portrays him, his carriage being dragged by golden birds. If you don’t believe it, visit the City's Archeological Museum located inside of the 16th century Gabrielli Palace, just behind the main piazza. Here, you will find a significant quantity and quality of Etruscan vases, statues and objects, many of them excavated from the area around the town. Don’t forget to visit the Tomb of the Quadriga Infernale, discovered in 2003 near the Necropolis of Pianacce, which can be visited by appointment made at the tourist information center on Corso Garibaldi.
From the Museum, head up to the castle, where you can pass through to the upper reaches through the great iron gate. As you enter, stop for a moment to look at the engraving on the frontispiece of the small chapel inside of the courtyard of the Galgani Fanelli Palace. It is tied to a legend associated with Francesco Lippi da Grotti, who was at the command of the defense of the castle during the siege on the part of the forces from Orvieto. He was a big gambler, with a bad character, and one time, after he had lost everything playing at die, he raised his eyes to the heavens to say, “I am going to play my eyes on this last throw.” Suddenly a ray of light cast him down, blinding him. Driven out of the fortress, he undertook a long pilgrimage, and was pardoned, his sight restored.
The strategic position of the castle has made it important since 1300, the year in which Sarteano was annexed to Siena. In 1500, the castle passed under the control of the Medici of Florence, and in 1600, Cosimo de' Medici donated it to the Brandimarte Fanelli family and its descendants. Fortunately, in 1998, the city decided to purchase and restructure it, and in 2006, after a long series of restoration works, the castle was opened to the public.
The castle’s park is a marvel: the courtyards have its original form, with a drawbridge in wood located on the highest level of the walls. In each stone, one can see the craft that went into it which speak across the centuries to today’s visitors.
Inside, there are three floors, the rooms reveal the ancient laundry areas, the fireplaces and chimneys, the very basic hygienic facilities, and at the top of the whole, from the high ramparts, visitors have the most extraordinary view of the whole of the Valdichiana, from the lake of Chiusi and Montepulciano across to Trasimeno. From up there, Sarteano looks like an ancient medieval town.
There is also a secret stairway, winding from the top floor down to the ground, which suggest the sieges the giant fortress was subjected to. The entry to the park is free, visits inside the castle need a ticket (you can pick up combination tickets at the Archeaological Museum). The schedule for visiting the castle can vary, so visitors should stop by the Pro Loco tourism office of Sarteano as you arrive in town.
I confess that I am in love with this little town, not only because I was born and grew up here, but because of the truly remarkable stature of the castle, the town's walls and the history which invades its every nook and cranny. Take care that it won't happen to you, what has happened to others: they come for just a short visit and then decide to make Sarteano their home! I understand completely.
Main Annual Events in Sarteano
August 10 - Feast day of San Lorenzo, with a large market
August 15 - La Joust of the Saracen
October - 1st Sunday - Reconcialition Ceremony of the Contrade, at the Church of San Francesco
November 11 - Fair of St. Martin
How to get to Sarteano
BY TRAIN: The closest stop is called “Chiusi Stazione”, from there you can take the bus or a taxi to Sarteano. By bus, get off in Piazza Bargagli.
BY CAR: From the A1 Florence-Rome toll road, exit at “Chiusi-Chianciano Terme”. Just 100 meters after the exit, turn left and follow the signs to “Sarteano-Radicofani” (the SS 478). In about 7 km, you're in Sarteano. You arrive at a roundabout, continue straight for another 200 meters and head towards the center. Park in Piazza Bargagli (paid parking by hour) or behind the Post Office (free parking).