Nearby Siena and very well hidden among the hills is the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, well known for its incredible structure situated in a stunning location; one of the most intricate wooden inlay choir rooms; its frescoed cloister; its library; and its herbal remedies and delicious honey.
Apparently, in 1313 the beauty of the area inspired Bernardo Tolomei, a politician from Siena who, although at the peak of his career, decided to become a hermit with two friends. The group later adopted the Benedictine Rule and began to construct the abbey.
Between 1497 and 1506 the Abbey had a series of frescos painted all along the four sides of its main cloister by Gian Antonio Bazzi and Luca Signorelli. The 37 frescos depict the life of San Benedetto.
Beyond the decorated cloister you follow the signs to the library and find a frescoed staircase.
The library itself has about 5000 books from the 1700s and 1800s. All of the older illuminated manuscripts from the Renaissance were removed to hide them from Napolean’s troups. The librarian said that many of these ancient manuscripts were hidden in homes in the outlying countryside, but many more were buried and never again found.
The library leads you to the old herbalist room (see photo below) where herbs and flowers were made into remedies. To this day the Abbey’s Herbalist shop is filled with ancient recipes of creams, teas and other products. And of course, their delicious honey.
At the end of the journey we returned to the main church to see the choir room, considered to be one of the most important examples of wooden inlay in all of Europe. In the middle of the room, at the base of a lectern was a beautiful cat in wood. A final unexpected surprise in the middle of the clay Sienese hills.
For much better photographs of the Abbey visit their website: www.monteolivetomaggiore.it