Among the many wonderful places in Tuscany, Colle di Val d’Elsa remains one of the less popular destinations in the area. The industrial areas around the lower town (Colle Bassa) with nothing to suggest the beauty that lies in the old part (Colle Alta). It’s worth visiting the medieval alleys around the birthplace of one a legendary Tuscan architect…
Where is located
The hill town is positioned on what was once the ancient Via Francigena road that connected Canterbury and Rome. Today around it passes the main road between Florence (50 km) and Siena (25 km). Some of the most visited villages in the area are quite close – San Gimignano (15 km), Volterra (27 km), Monteriggioni (11 km).
There are several free car parks in Colle di Val d’Elsa that you can use during your visit. We decided to stop at Parcheggio “Fornacina”, overlooking the green Tuscan fields, but Parcheggio Porta Vecchia is also a good choice. Both are about 200m from the main entrance to the old town…
💡 It’s easiest to reach it by car. Another option is a bus from one of the nearby larger towns, but the journey is slow and you wasted a lot of time.
Through the main gate
Like a medieval fortress! This is exactly what the entrance looks like through Porta Volterrana, also known as Porta Nuova, which leads to the streets of Colle di Val d’Elsa. The majestic city gate was built in 1479 and was part of the impressive fortifications that served to protect the settlement. The presence of the two cylindrical towers and the huge moat in front of the entrance reinforce the feeling that we are entering a castle and not a city…
💡 Colle di Val d’Elsa hosted one of the most memorable battles between the rival armies of Florence and Siena in 1269. The locals joined the Florentines and together inflicted one of the worst defeats on the enemy.
On the streets of Colle di Val d’Elsa
The winding via Gracco del Secco is lined with medieval mansions, mostly from the 16th century. If you are a museum lover, the Museo di San Pietro will attract your attention right at the beginning of the walk. It houses a rich collection telling for the city’s turbulent history, as well as great works of art by Tuscan artists.
In the small piazza Baios, where the main street meanders, are positioned some of the most emblematic houses of medieval origin. These buildings may look derelict, but they were once the homes of the ruling families… Most likely, someone lives and now, judging by the laundry hanging over the heads of passers-by.
Piazza Santa Caterina is the next place where the main road splits and its right part goes to the new town and the left leads to the viaduct and Palazzo Campana, where the oldest part of the Colle di Val d’Elsa begins. You can sit for a few minutes on the wall and admire the beautiful view of the nearby houses and the unequal Tuscan fields in the background…
💡 During the Renaissance, the area was one of Italy’s leading paper producers. In the 15th century, crystal production began, and around 15% of the world’s crystal is still produced here! If you have more time, you can visit the Museo del Cristallo.
A little more from Colle Alta
The terrace of Bastione di Sapia is another place from where you can enjoy the greenery around. We don’t stay long there and return to the medieval urban structure of Colle di Val d’Elsa, where the via delle Volte stands out brightly – a covered road over a hundred meters long. It can be used as an alternative to via del Castello to reach Piazza del Duomo. The highlights of the central square are the Palazzo Pretorio and the 17th-century Concattedrale dei Santi Alberto e Marziale – the Duomo of Colle di Val d’Elsa.
💡 Carlo Collodi, the father of The Adventures of Pinocchio, spent a period of his life in Colle di Val d’Elsa. There was a medieval water source in the town called Fonte di Pinocchio… Did this not inspire the writer for the name of his character?
The main street takes us further past the Teatro dei Varii and the 12th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria in Canonica to find ourselves on a vast ground overlooking the lower town. There is also an elevator here… for easier passage between the two parts of the Colle di Val d’Elsa.
Birthplace of Arnolfo
Just at the end of via del Castello is a tower-like house – Casa-torre di Arnolfo di Cambio. It’s considered the birthplace of the architect and sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio, who lived between 1240-1302. The name may not mean anything to you unless you are an exceptional art connoisseur, so I will give you some of the architectural projects in Florence attributed to him – Santa Croce, Palazzo della Signoria and the icing on the cake… Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore… What a business card!