The most famous of Tuscany’s rural monasteries is set in the scarred hills of the Crete Senesi, 22km (13 miles) northeast of Montalcino. Founded in 1313 by a group of wealthy Sienese businessmen who wanted to devote themselves to the contemplative life, the Olivetan order built this redbrick monastic complex in the early 15th century. What draws most visitors today is one of the masterpieces of High Renaissance narrative painting: a 36-scene fresco cycle by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma illustrating the Life of St. Benedict. Signorelli started the job in 1497, before skipping town to work on Orvieto's Duomo, where he created his masterpiece, a "Last Judgment." Antonio Bazzi, who arrived in 1505 and finished the cycle by 1508, is better known as "Il Sodoma" (probably a reference to his predilection for young men, although he was married at least three times and had as many as 30 children). Look for his self-portrait in scene 3—he’s the richly dressed fellow with flowing black hair, accompanied by two pet badgers, a chicken, and a raven. To follow the cycle's narrative, start in the back left-hand corner, with a scene of the young Benedict, astride a spirited white horse, leaving his parents’ home to study in Rome. The scenes are especially appealing because of their precise details of medieval life: Check out the construction crews in scene 11, or the harlots smuggled into the monastery in scene 19 (allegedly, the abbot made Sodoma add clothing to the nudes he’d first painted). Also inside the church are gorgeous choir stalls crafted in intarsia in 1505 by the monk Giovanni da Verona, showing city scenes with remarkably detailed perspective.
Monte Oliveto Maggiore
22km (13 miles) northeast of Montalcino and 9km (6 miles) northeast of Buonconvento on SP 451, Strada di Monte Oliveto
Our Rating Hours Summer daily 9:15am–noon and 3–6pm, winter daily 9:15am–noon and 3:15–5pm Web site Monte Oliveto Maggiore Other Free admission
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.