Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore

September 12, 2014 / Places
Asciano, Tuscany

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.

Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore

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.

Chiostro Grande affrescato, Monte Oliveto

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.

Frescoed staircase leading to the library, Monte Oliveto

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, Abbey of Monte Oliveto

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.

The Herbalist Room, Monte Oliveto

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.

Wooden inlay cat from Monte Oliveto

For much better photographs of the Abbey visit their website:

Jean Tori

by Jean Tori

Artist- Art website: Art blog: Design company: Jean also rents holiday houses in her medieval hamlet in Umbria at

16 Responses to “Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore”

    • Thanks, Anne. I shall go back eventually and spend more time looking at the inlays, always full of incredible details. Ciao, Jean

  1. Frank & Angel

    We have been there as guests, We are Benedictine Oblates. The art works are treasures. The inlayed wood work in the chapel are extraordinary.

  2. Torre Newman

    WOW………….what a beautiful place. I have it on my list of Must See Places.

    • A good idea! We didn’t have much time but another idea is to drive around the nearby countryside surrounding the abbey to get the great views of it from afar. Buon viaggio! Jean

  3. M. Bernadette Higgins

    A another wonderful article of a hidden treasure found off the usual tourist route. I am learning so much about the country from your contributors that I can hardly return again and search them out for myself. Thank you again and again for sharing it with us. I love, love, love Italy You are all so gracious. Thank you again Jean.

    • Thanks so much for your message, Bernadette. It’s such a pleasure to share all these beautiful places! So glad you enjoyed it, saluti, Jean


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