Tuscany is not exactly an off-the-beaten-path destination. Yet it is still possible to find some hidden treasures in this well-publicised and well-explored region of Italy. I didn’t believe it until Vittorio Cambria of Villa Ferraia showed me some hidden Tuscany hiking trails.
One of the places where Vittorio brings his guests on horse riding tours or walks is the hermitage of Montespecchio. The path went through a dense forest with gnarly trees covered with moss and lichens. I was too busy watching my step as the track was eroded by spring rains with soil crumbled under my feet. Suddenly Vittorio exclaimed: “Here it is!” and I lifted my head. For a moment all I could see were trees and rocks. After a few seconds, when my eyes adjusted to the play of sunlight and shadow my heart skipped a bit. There it was, indeed, like an apparition, hiding between the trees, in ruins but still breathtakingly beautiful: L’Eremo di Montespecchio, or the Conventaccio.
It was built by monks of St. Augustine’s Order in 1192 near the famous serpentinite caves of Vallerano. They managed excavation and sales of the “black marble of Vallerano” as serpentinite was called then, which was in high demand for decorating churches around Italy. It was, for instance, used to build the spectacular Siena cathedral.
To showcase the beauty of the stone the church of Santa Maria di Rocamadour at the convent was built in two colours: pink and black marble, both valuable and expensive building materials. The church was part of one of the largest Augustinian convent complexes of its time from which only a few foundation stones remain today.
At the end of the 17th century the convent was abandoned, partly, because the buildings were crumbling slowly due to geologically unstable ground and also, as a surviving from those days document says, the monks were tired of being so isolated.
The hermitage is still in the middle of nowhere and is not easy to find. But the beauty of the ruins is undeniable: arched windows, traces of pilasters, the alternating black and red stripes of the outside walls. I could easily imagine how elegant that church was in its glory days. A local cultural foundation published booklets with detailed plans and descriptions of the hermitage and some local enthusiasts have tried to campaign for the church restoration, unsuccessfully. The forest will continue to swallow Eremo di Montespecchio, so if you are near Murlo in the Siena province, don’t miss a chance to see this vanishing beauty. Before it is gone forever…
See the location of Eremo di Montespecchio on this map.