Lucignano is a fortified town in the Valdichiana, a fine example of mediaeval town planning with its roads built in concentric circles giving the town its typical oval form. The planning and building of the present town began in the year 1200 and was completed around the 16th century, when the town’s highest point and its castle became the centre of religious and political power.
A visit to Lucignano can begin with a walk around the well preserved ancient walls. There are four gates to the city; Porta San Giovanni, known as “porta di sotto” (lower gate), Porta San Giusto known as “porta di sopra” (higher gate), Porta Sant’Angelo and Porta Murata (walled gate) so called after it was blocked up sometime in the year 1500.
Enter the old town by one of the gates, the town is planned along two main streets, one, the present day Via Matteotti, is called the rich road, the other, Via Roma, is called the poor road. The first, where the nobility built their homes, is wide and full of light, the second is characterized by smaller, poorer dwellings built by the lower classes. A series of roads leading off from the main roads, form an intricate labyrinth taking you to the top of the town, the Town Hall, (Palazzo Comunale) the church of San Francesco and the Collegiate.
The building of the Town Hall (Palazzo Pretorio), was started around 1200 and later completed by the Florentines. The main façade, facing Piazza del Tribunale, is covered by numerous coat of arms and memorial plaques showing the symbols of the various chief magistrates. Of particular interest is the Sala della Cancelleria, ancient seat of the local law court. The frescoes on the ceiling are by various 15th century Sienese artists and depict a series of illustrious personages. Some of the rooms on the second floor have fine frescoes with neoclassic subjects, painted around the year 1812 by the Milanese artist Luigi Ademollo.
Palazzo Pretorio also houses the Civic Museum. Besides many notable paintings, the most important piece in the museum is undoubtedly the reliquary of San Francesco. Called Albero di Lucignano because of the six branches on each side making it resemble a tree, it is made of silver, gilded copper and enamel and was crafted between 1350 and 1476 by goldsmiths from Arezzo and Siena. It is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of Italian Goldsmith’s art.
Annexed to the Town Hall is the church of San Francesco, a fine example of gothic Franciscan basilican architecture with the floor plan in the shape of an Egyptian cross. The construction was probably started in 1248 and finished in 1289. The high and luminous façade is built of travertine stone and sandstone and has a large circular window framed in grey sandstone. Originally the church walls were completely frescoed but only fragments remain. Attributed to Bartolo di Fredi and Taddeo di Bartolo, they show moments in the life of Saint Francis.
Il Trionfo della Morte, the Triumph of Death, is the title of the splendid fresco situated on the wall above the first altar on the right hand side of the nave. It shows the precariousness of human life on earth.
The church is set amongst a group of buildings, the Oratory of Corpus Domini, the Town Hall, the Monasteries of San Francesco and Santa Margherita, the church of the Crucifix and the Tower delle Monache. The left wall of the Collegiate faces onto Piazza del Tribunale but the façade is in via Rossini.
The church was built in the shape of the Latin cross and the vestry, bell tower and rectory were added later. The façade is in two parts. The magnificent door is topped by a tympanum with a carved lily in the centre. The splendid flight of steps leading to the church is made of travertine stone and repeats the oval form of the town plan. Inside there are 17th century altars, paintings by Gemignani di Pistoia, Porta, Rosselli and Giovanni da Sangiovanni and a dramatic high altar.
Today, the town maintains its ancient charm, its air of tranquillity and composure.
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