Chiefly known for its good local 'Vino Nobile' wines, Montepulciano lies to the southeast of Siena, on the summit of one of the hills that separates the Valdichiana from the Val d'Orcia. It is built along a narrow limestone ridge at 605m above sea level. The town is encircled by walls and fortifications designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder in 1511 for Cosimo I, and inside the walls the streets are crammed with Renaissance-style palazzi, churches, restaurants, shops and a fabulous atmosphere. Of Etruscan origin, Montepulciano later became a Roman winter encampment.
Montepulciano has a fortress dating back to the 8th century and medieval palazzi from the 13th century. The main square 'Piazza Grande' is surrounded by magnificent buildings such as the Palazzo Publico, the Cathedral with unfinished façade begun in 1594 from a design by Ippolito Scalza, and several residences by Vignola, Sangallo and Peruzzi.
The pilgrimage Church of the Madonna di San Biagio lies just outside of the town of Montepulciano. Its symmetrical greek-cross plan reflects the High Renaissance drive towards perfection in a combination of squares and circles.
The church was begun by the architect Antonio di Sangallo the Elder in 1518 and is considered one of the first great examples of Cinquecento architecture.
The concept for a centrally planned church obsessed High Renaissance architects like Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Leonardo, Antonio di Sangallo the Elder and the Younger, Bramante, and Michelangelo. This is based on the Vitruvian idea that man, which represents perfection, can fit into both a square and a circle. As man provides the measure for these forms, if we create a space based on a combination of these forms, we are likely to understand that space inherantly. So, many plans for churches in the Cinquecento were based on greek cross plans and tried to combine these perfect shapes. But, many ACTUAL churches do not! Due to the impraticality of not having a nave down which to process, architects and patrons often found the need to give the space a certain directionality by differentiating at least the apse. S. Biagio is in fact one of these cases, but it comes very close to the Renaissance ideal. As you can see in the ground plan, the whole complex except the rounded apse fits into a square that can be, of course, subdivided into smaller squares.
The church as it stands today took about a hundred years to complete, and in fact it was never finished according to plan. You approach it from the side that has a rounded apse. Going around to the right side, this would have been the facade, which was planned to have two identical towers. One tower was completed while the other stands as an odd, incomplete structure. The towers flanking this side would have provided a sense of directional axis towards the apse. The central core of the structure is articulated by three flat facades that appear to be identical; the rounded apse occupies the lower part of a fourth facade that also provides this repetition in design.
The interior is a a beautiful open space that, at certain times of day, is illuminated by dramatic directional light. The sense of symmetry is apparent as one observes the equal vaults on three sides. The interior is entirely decorated in travertine. Architectural elements like engaged columns and Doric or Tuscan pilasters offer repetition and division of space. The arches are punctuated by strongly extruding rosettes. The vocabulary is a specific ancient one that references the Basilica Aemilia in the Roman Forum, as has been observed by Lehmann in 1982
Events in Montepulciano
Montepulciano house several events: the Bruscello (traditional theatre), the Bravio delle botti (a barrel contest) and the Palio dei carretti in Valiano (a traditional cart contest).
The "Bruscello", a theatrical parade and performances in front of the Duomo in Montepulciano,takes place on August 14th, 15th (Assumption Day) and 16th August, when actors present scenes taken from the towns’ history.
Il Bravio delle botti
Piazza Grande is the heart of Montepulciano and the setting for its main events, including the Bravio delle Botti contest held in August every year. The Bravio delle Botti, a hard race run pushing wine barrels uphill, takes place on the last Sunday in August between the eight Contradas of Montepulciano.
Events in Montepulciano | Il Bruscello and Il Bravio delle botti