195 Best Sights in Tuscany, Italy

Sacro Eremo e Monastero di Camaldoli

In 1012, four centuries after the founding of the Benedictine order, St. Romualdo—feeling that his order had become too permissive—came to the forests of the Casentino and found their remoteness, beauty, and silence more conducive to religious contemplation. He stayed and founded this hermitage, which was named for Count Maldoli, who donated the land, and which became the seat of a reformed Benedictine order. An important requirement of the new order was preserving its ascetic atmosphere: "If the hermits are to be true devotees of solitude, they must take the greatest care of the woods." When the flow of pilgrims began to threaten that solitude, Romualdo had a monastery and hospital built down the mountain to create some distance.

Today, you can view the hermitage—where the monks live in complete silence in 20 separate little cottages, each with its own walled garden—through gates and visit the church and original cell of Romualdo, the model for all the others. The church, rebuilt in the 13th century and transformed in the 18th to its present appearance, strikes an odd note in connection with such an austere order and the simplicity of the hermits' cells, because it's done up in gaudy baroque style, complete with gilt cherubs and a frescoed vault. Its most appealing artwork is the glazed terra-cotta relief Madonna and Child with Saints (including a large figure of Romualdo and a medallion depicting his fight with the devil) by Andrea della Robbia. The main entrance to the hermitage, the bronze Porta Speciosa (Beautiful Door) of 2013, by Claudio Parmiggiani (born in 1943), has an inscription on its inner side that likens the monks' spirits to the trees that they tend.

Within the Monastero di Camaldoli, 3 km (1 mile) away, is a church (repeatedly restructured) containing 14th-century frescoes by Spinello Aretino, seven 16th-century panel paintings by Giorgio Vasari, and a quietly lovely monastic choir. The choir has 18th-century walnut stalls, more Vasari paintings, and a serene fresco (by Santi Pacini) of St. Romualdo instructing his white-robed disciples. In a hospital built for sick villagers in 1046, the 1543 Antica Farmacia (Old Pharmacy) contains original carved walnut cabinets. Here you can buy herbal teas and infusions, liqueurs, honey products, and toiletries made by the monks from centuries-old recipes as part of their daily routine balancing prayer, work, and study (the monastery is entirely self-supporting). In the back room is an exhibit of the early pharmacy's alembics, mortars, and other equipment with which the monks made herbs into medicines. You can attend short spiritual retreats organized by the monks throughout the year; contact the foresteria (visitors lodge) for details.

San Domenico

Inside this rather nondescript 14th-century church, just outside Cortona's walls, is an altarpiece depicting the Coronation of the Virgin against a sparkling gold background by Lorenzo di Niccolò Gerini (active late 14th–early 15th century). Among the other works is a Madonna and Child by Luca Signorelli.

Largo Beato Angelico 1, Cortona, 52044, Italy
0575-603217

San Domenico

Camollìa

Although the Duomo is celebrated as a triumph of 13th-century Gothic architecture, this church, built at about the same time, turned out to be an oversize, hulking brick box that never merited a finishing coat in marble, let alone a graceful facade. Named for the founder of the Dominican order, the church is now more closely associated with St. Catherine of Siena. Just to the right of the entrance is the chapel in which she received the stigmata. On the wall is the only known contemporary portrait of the saint, made in the late 14th century by Andrea Vanni (circa 1332–1414). Farther down is the famous Cappella delle Santa Testa, the church's official shrine.

On either side of the chapel are well-known frescoes by Sodoma (aka Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, 1477–1549) of St. Catherine in Ecstasy. Don't miss the view of the Duomo and town center from the apse-side terrace.

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San Domenico

Inside the northern city walls, this church was begun by Dominican friars in 1275 and completed in the 14th century. The walls were once completely frescoed and decorated with niches and chapels. Very little remains of the original works, but a famous 13th-century crucifix by Cimabue (circa 1240–1302) and frescoes by Spinello Aretino (1350–1410) still survive.

Piazza San Domenico 7, Arezzo, 52100, Italy
0575-22906

San Francesco

Look inside the church for the celebrated early-15th-century frescoes of the Legend of the True Cross by a local artist. It traces the history of the wood used to make the cross upon which Christ was crucified. From Piazza San Giovanni, take Via Franceschini (which becomes Via San Lino) to the church.

Piazza Inghirami, Volterra, 56048, Italy

San Francesco

In the mid-13th century, this Gothic-style church was built on the site of Etruscan and Roman baths. It is decorated with frescoes that date from 1382 and a 17th-century crucifix by Giuseppe Piamontini of Florence. It also houses a relic of the Santa Croce, a vestige of the True Cross apparently given to Brother Elia when he served as an envoy for Federico II in Constantinople. The church's rather beautiful organ was unfortunately badly damaged during World War II.

Via Berrettini 4, Cortona, 52044, Italy
0575-603205

San Francesco

The lovely baroque church of San Francesco is a study in understated elegance. It dates from the 1620s to 1660s, and, even though it was built during the peak years of the baroque, the only excess can be found in the twisting marble columns embellishing the altars.

Piazza XXVII Aprile, Carrara, 54033, Italy

San Frediano

A 14th-century mosaic decorates the facade of this church just steps from the anfiteatro. Inside are works by Jacopo della Quercia and Matteo Civitali (1436–1501), as well as the lace-clad mummy of St. Zita (circa 1218–78), the patron saint of household servants.

San Giovanni Fuorcivitas

An architectural gem in green-and-white marble, the medieval church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas holds a Visitation by Luca della Robbia (1400–82), a painting attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, and a holy-water font that may have been made by Fra Guglielmo around 1270.

Via Cavour, Pistoia, 51100, Italy
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Rate Includes: €2, Closed Mon.

San Leolino

Ancient even by Chianti standards, this hilltop church probably dates from the 10th century, but it was completely rebuilt in the Romanesque style sometime in the 13th century. It has a 14th-century cloister worth seeing. The 16th-century terra-cotta tabernacles are attributed to Giovanni della Robbia, and there's also a remarkable triptych (attributed to the Master of Panzano) that was executed sometime in the mid-14th century. Open days and hours are unpredictable; check with the tourist office in Greve in Chianti for the latest information.

Località San Leolino, Panzano, 50020, Italy

San Martino in Foro

Don't miss this small church, which houses a striking Annunciation by the important Sienese painter Domenico Beccafumi (1486–1551).

San Martino in Foro

Don't miss this small church, which houses a striking Annunciation by the important Sienese painter Domenico Beccafumi (1486–1551).

Piazza San Martino, Chianciano Terme, 53042, Italy

San Michele in Foro

The facade here is even more fanciful than that of the Duomo. Its upper levels have nothing but air behind them (after the front of the church was built, there were no funds to raise the nave), and the winged archangel Michael, who stands at the very top, seems precariously poised for flight. The facade, heavily restored in the 19th century, displays busts of such Italian patriots as Garibaldi and Cavour. Check out the superb Filippino Lippi (1457/58–1504) panel painting of Saints Jerome, Sebastian, Rocco, and Helen in the right transept.

San Michele in Pontorme

A short but not very scenic walk from the center of town brings you to the little church of San Michele in Pontorme, chiefly notable for the gorgeous St. John the Baptist and St. Michael the Archangel, two works dating from about 1519 by native son Jacopo Carrucci (1494–1556), better known as Pontormo. Opening hours are erratic, so it's best to check with the tourist information office to see what's what.

Empoli, 50053, Italy
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San Pellegrino in Alpe

Stop at the San Pellegrino in Alpe monastery en route from Abetone to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana to see the staggering view and the large wooden cross. The story goes that a 9th-century Scot, Pellegrino ("Little Pilgrim") by name, came to this spot to repent.

San Piero a Grado

Built over remnants of two earlier churches is this 11th-century basilica, situated on the Arno about 8 km (5 miles) southwest of Pisa. According to legend, it was here that St. Peter the Apostle stepped off the boat in AD 42—his first step on Italian soil. (It would have made more sense for him to land on the Adriatic Coast, as he was coming from Antioch.)

The structure is a lovely example of Romanesque architecture, and it's not without its quirks: it has two apses, one at each end. On the walls are some crumbling, but still vibrant, frescoes dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. Thirty-one of these frescoes depict scenes from the lives of saints Peter and Paul, an uncommon subject in Tuscan wall painting. A car is a necessity to get to this lovely church.

Sant'Agostino

Make a beeline for Benozzo Gozzoli's superlative 15th-century fresco cycle depicting scenes from the life of St. Augustine. The saint's work was essential to the early development of church doctrine. Benozzo's 17 scenes on the choir wall depict Augustine as a man who traveled and taught extensively in the 4th and 5th centuries. The 15th-century altarpiece by Piero del Pollaiolo (1443–96) depicts The Coronation of the Virgin and the various protectors of the city.

Sant'Agostino

Michelozzo had a hand in creating the beautiful travertine facade on the church of Sant'Agostino, which was built in 1285 and renovated in the early 1400s. He also sculpted the terra-cotta relief of the Madonna and Child above the entrance.

Piazzale Pasquino da Montepulciano 6, Montepulciano, 53045, Italy
0578-757341

Sant'Andrea

In the 12th-century church of Sant'Andrea, the fine pulpit by Giovanni Pisano (circa 1250–1314) depicts scenes from the life of Christ in a series of high-relief, richly sculpted marble panels.

Piazzetta Sant'Andrea, Pistoia, 51100, Italy
0573-21912
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Rate Includes: €4 (includes admission to San Giovanni Fuoricivitas)

Santa Margherita

The large 1897 basilica was constructed over the foundation of a 13th-century church dedicated to the same saint. What makes the 10-minute uphill walk worthwhile is the richly decorated interior. The body of the 13th-century St. Margherita—clothed but with skull and bare feet clearly visible—is displayed in a case on the main altar.

Piazzale Santa Margherita 1, Cortona, 52044, Italy
0575-603116

Santa Maria al Calcinaio

Legend has it that the image of the Madonna appeared on a wall of a medieval calcinaio (lime pit used for curing leather), the site on which the church was then built between 1485 and 1513. The linear gray-and-white interior recalls Florence's Duomo. Sienese architect Francesco di Giorgio (1439–1502) most likely designed the sanctuary: the church is a terrific example of Renaissance architectural principles.

Santa Maria della Pieve

The curving, tiered apse on Piazza Grande belongs to a church that was originally an early Christian structure—itself constructed over the remains of a Roman temple. The church was rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 12th century. The splendid facade dates from the early 13th century but includes granite Roman columns. A magnificent polyptych, depicting the Madonna and Child with four saints, by Pietro Lorenzetti (circa 1290–1348), embellishes the high altar.

Corso Italia 7, Arezzo, 52100, Italy

Santa Maria della Spina

Originally an oratory dating from the 13th century, this delicate, tiny church is a fine example of Tuscan Gothic architecture. It has been restored several times, including in 1996–98, after having been damaged by a flood. The results of a recent face-lift are grand.

Lungarno Gambacorti, Pisa, 56127, Italy
055-3215446
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Rate Includes: Free

Santa Maria delle Carceri

The church of Santa Maria delle Carceri was built by Giuliano Sangallo in the 1490s and is a landmark of Renaissance architecture.

Santa Maria Maggiore

This little 14th-century church on the main square has frescoes from the late-15th-century Sienese Umbrian school and a ciborium dating from the 8th century.

Piazza del Pretorio, Sovana, 58010, Italy

Santo Stefano

Originally founded by Augustinians in the 11th century, the church of Santo Stefano can be visited only by requesting a tour in the Collegiata di Sant'Andrea. It's worth the walk around the corner and down the street to see the sinopie (preparatory drawings) by Masolino depicting scenes from the Legend of the True Cross. He left without actually frescoing them; it may be that the Augustinian friars were late in making payment.

Empoli, 50053, Italy
0571-76284
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Rate Includes: Free with admission to the Collegiata, Closed Mon.

Santuario della Verna

A few hills away from the Monastero di Camaldoli, dramatically perched on a sheer-walled rock surrounded by firs and beeches, is La Verna, founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1214. Ten years later, after a 40-day fast, St. Francis had a vision of Christ crucified, and when it was over, Francis had received the stigmata, the signs of Christ's wounds, on his hands, feet, and chest. A stone in the floor of the 1263 Chapel of the Stigmata marks the spot.

A covered corridor through which the monks pass, chanting in a solemn procession each day at 3 pm on the way to Mass, is lined with simple frescoes of the Life of St. Francis by a late-17th-century Franciscan artist. The true artistic treasures of the place, though, are 15 della Robbia glazed terra-cottas. Most, like a heartbreakingly beautiful Annunciation, are in the 14th- to 15th-century basilica, which has a 5,000-pipe organ that sings out joyously at Masses.

Several chapels, each with its own story, can be visited, and some natural and spiritual wonders can also be seen. A walkway along the 230-foot-high cliff leads to an indentation where the rock is said to have miraculously melted away to protect St. Francis when the devil tried to push him off the edge. Most touching is the enormous Sasso Spicco (Projecting Rock), detached on three sides and surrounded with mossy rocks and trees, where St. Francis meditated. You can also view the Letto di San Francesco (St. Francis's Bed), a slab of rock in a cold, damp cave with an iron grate on which he prayed, did penance, and sometimes slept.

A 40-minute walk through the woods to the top of Mt. Penna passes some religious sites and ends in panoramic views of the Arno Valley, but those from the wide, cliff-edge terrace are equally impressive, including the tower of the castle in Poppi, the Prato Magno (great meadow), and the olive groves and vineyards on the lower slopes. Santuario della Verna's foresteria also has simple but comfortable rooms with or without bath. A restaurant with basic fare is open to the public, and a shop sells souvenirs and the handiwork of the monks.

As you leave La Verna, be glad you needn't do it as Edith Wharton (1862–1937) did on a 1912 visit during a drive across the Casentino. As she wrote, her car "had to be let down on ropes to a point about ¾ mile below the monastery, Cook [her chauffeur] steering down the vertical descent, and twenty men hanging on to a funa [rope] that, thank the Lord, didn't break."

Sarteano

To the southeast of Chianciano, 10 km (6 miles) along SP19, lies this relatively unspoiled village that dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. The town's narrow streets, which wind slowly up toward an imposing fortress, now privately owned, make for very pleasant strolling.

Sinagoga

San Martino

Down a small street around the corner from Il Campo, this synagogue is worth a visit simply to view the two sobering plaques that adorn its facade. One commemorates June 28, 1799, when 13 Jews were taken from their homes by a fanatic mob and burned in the square. The other memorializes the Sienese Jews who were deported during World War II. Visits are permitted every half hour, and guided tours in English are available by prior arrangement.

Ss. Giovanni e Reparata

The unusual element at this church is an archaeological site where five layers of Luccan history were revealed when it was discovered in 1969. Paths and catwalks suspended above the delicate sites in the grottoes under the church enable you to wander from one era to another—from the 2nd-century-BC site of a Roman temple through the 5th, 8th, 9th, and 11th centuries. After leaving the underground sights, the 12th-century church feels almost modern.