I first saw Sticciano in the distance at dusk one balmy October evening, whilst walking around the perimeter of medieval Montepescali. The sky was changing from blue to hues of grey and pink and on the next hilltop, sitting proud out of the valley below, lights were glistening... The whole scene held a mystical air about it.
Although we had already had a full day of exploration, my visiting family decided to have one more adventure and so off we set in a race against time from one hilltop to another, to get to there before dark.
At the bottom of the hill is another village called Sticciano Scalo, in which all access up the hill to Sticciano Alto ("alto" meaning high) was blocked by a brass band in full swing. As we waited, the sun sunk even lower in the sky and doubts started to creep in as to whether this last escapade was, indeed, a good idea.
And then, once through the ensemble, and just starting our incline up the hill, we were greeted by a large sign that proclaimed that the road was narrow and dangerous and to proceed with caution! Up we went :)
By this time the sun had nearly gone and the densely wooded hills that surrounded the village somehow made the coming darkness seem more intense and broody... We walked into Sticciano and I will never forget the feeling that, for all intents and purposes, we were entering a medieval hamlet in which time had stood still. The tranquility was intense and brought with it a sense of the isolation and harshness of life here hundreds of years ago.
The photographs in this page were taken on glorious warm mid January and March days and, although the village was now bathed in sunshine and a few cars came and went, it was as peaceful a place as it was that October and the intense tranquility remains.
If you visit, the only sounds you will hear will be from "il cacciatore", the hunters looking for "cinghiale" (wild boar), "fagiani" (pheasants), and "caprioli" (deer) and the occasional bark from their dogs in the distant woods. And the singing of a toddler on her morning walk in the sunshine :)
Sticciano is a hamlet in the Commune of Roccastrada, situated on the top of one of the outermost of the north western hills of the massif of Monte Leoni. Mainly constructed in medieval times, little in appearance has changed since.
And once you get to the top of the hill on which Sticciano sits, you will still need to walk up and down to reach its centre, a lot of which is only accessible on foot or by Ape, with acute corners and narrow passageways guarded over by family cats.
Its buildings are full of character: a few are derelict, some show all the signs of recent and expensive restoration (probably second homes), but mostly they are occupied homes.
Rosemary and herb lined paths lead to tiny secret gardens :)
There is no bar or post office or village shop: you will need to go down the hill to Sticciano Scalo for those.
Surviving records first mention the "Castello di Sticciano" (Sticciano's castle) in the year 966 AD, as the property of the Aldobrandeschi family in Maremma. They retained ownership of it until the end of the 11th century, which was no mean feat in those days - you need to know that castles and their lands and villages changed hands a lot here in Maremma, and mostly in an unpeaceful way.
And thus was the way in the end for the Aldobrandeschi: for they were required to submit their belongings, including the castle, to the city of Siena when the feud at nearby Montemassi was concluded in its favour.
In 1251, Ranieri Cappucciani, Lord of Sticciano, entered into an alliance which included submission to Siena. An agreement that was denounced and renewed in 1278.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century the Cappucciani rebelled on two occasions - in 1314 and in 1324 - against the rule of Siena, this time taking advantage of the descent in Italy of the Imperial troops.
Just three years (or thereabouts) after the 1324 submission had been solemnly sworn, the Cappucciani family decided to re-take the initiative of the Ghibelline insurrection in Tuscany and rebelled again against the authority of the City of Siena, denouncing the agreement and hastily taking refuge nearby in the Castello di Montemassi.
On 15 January 1328, the Sienese magistrates declared war on the Cappucciani and laid siege to Montemassi. What ensued was of major significance to the history of Maremma, forever captured in in one of the greatest Gothic frescoes in Tuscany, now residing within the Globe Hall inside Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.
For this was no small scale siege between two parties: it became a battle between the Ghelps and Ghibellines that involved the city of Florence sending a contingent of troops to support Siena's, and cavalry from the City of Lucca sent by the Duke of Lucca, Castruccio Castracani - a mercenary "condottiero" - to aid the Cappucciani.
Castruccio Castracani managed to get Lord Cappucciani and his brother out of the castle to safety, obtaining for himself as a result, the lordship of Montemassi. But it was a short-lived victory, for Montemassi surrendered in the August of that same year to the Sienese leader, Guidoricco da Fogliano.
The two Capucciani brothers aren't heard of again. There are no records of where they went, not even after the death of Duke Castracani within days of the end of the siege, on 3 September 1328.
In 1365, the Lord of Sticciano is one Fazio Cappucciani - most likely from another branch of the family - who becomes elected as Captain of Maremma.
So, Sticciano might be a tiny hamlet today, but six centuries ago its Lords fought battles with mighty Siena that involved the cities of Lucca and Florence, and ruled Maremma.
In 1461, Sticciano and its surrounding lands were bought by the Piccolomini family, whose recently restored sturdy baronial house in the shape of a seventeenth century pavilion, can be found at the end of the village. (Now also a B&B.)
Little now remains of the castle and its walls, but you can still trace its existence from the structure of the village.
The Centrale Commerciale Naturale di Toscana information sign for the village also says:
"The church of Santa Musticola is made up of a single nave ending in a semicircular apse, with an elevated presbytery and a rectangular bell tower on the right. Inside the church there are two interesting portals: the main one with an architrave decorated by two romanic crosses and the lateral one with a decoration made up of mouldings on the jambs and palm trees with crossed leaves on the frame of the double archivolt.
On the top of Monte Leoni, some kilometres far from the village, there is a circular stone hedge indicating the remains of the walls belonging to a fortification, with features similar to the castle of Moscona."
What that information doesn't tell you is that the Romanesque Chiesa della Santissima Concezione - also known as the Pieve di Santa Mustiola - is also considered by some historians to have been a Knights Templar location in Maremma and that the cross craved in the lintel above its front door is in fact a Templar cross.
You can see the front and right-hand side of the church in this photograph. The architect knew how to take his measurements for, even with the typography of the hill and what would have been the centre of Sticciano's castle behind it blocking the earliest rays of the rising sun, he still managed to align the central axis of its nave to the equinoctial sun to within only one degree of error.
No mean feat in the high middle ages.
And the external decorations on its apse holds some fascination too: find out more here.
This special place will never be on the tourist 'must visit' route for Tuscany, and for that I am glad. It is a place of pure tranquility, a place to stop and stare at the beauty of the geography laid out below and around you. A place to calm the heart and soul.
The front gardens may be tiny, but the back garden views are stunning.
For those a little more energetic, the village lies along one of the "Trekking Roccastrada" routes: the trek to Roccastrada will take you at a decent pace 5 and a half hours.
To the south-east and beyond Montepescali, you can see the coast of Maremma Grossetana and the Tyrrhenian Sea glistening in the sun. Cast your eye around towards the north and you will see the medieval hill top towns of Giuncarico, Montemassi and Roccastrada.
There is only one restaurant in the village, Il Frantoio Pizzeria Ristorante and Spaghetteria, situated in Piazza Vittorio Veneto.
It is open every evening during the summer season, with a piano bar on Wednesdays. Winter opening times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday lunchtime and evening.
Probably best to telephone in advance of making the trip as, although the distance up the hill isn't that long, it is a tortuous one and if you set out hungry only to arrive disappointed, you'll have to wind your way all the way back down again and then think of where to go in all probability listening to your spouse or friend telling you with the benefit of hindsight that you should have telephoned first...! Tel: 0564 577091.
By far, the easiest option is by car. From the main SS1 road to Grosseto, take the exit for Braccagni. At Sticciano Scalo follow the sign for "Centro storico and chiesa romanica sec.xii 4km" and continue through this village up the hill to Sticciano.
The road has a few hair pin bends and it is a little uneven in places - the latter no more so than many parts of the SS1 superstrada that I know! So don't be put off by the caution sign. In icy conditions it will be treacherous, just like any other isolated unsalted road.
If travelling by train, there is a train station that lies along the Ferrovia Siena-Grosseto line at the bottom of the hill in modern Sticciano Scalo. But from thereon in, you will need to walk.
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A handful or so of the properties in Sticciano were for sale when I last visited - which, given that Sticciano is a tiny village, is quite a significant proportion.
And quite a few that had been need of restoration a couple of years ago, were now looking as good as new and are probably second homes.
The largest property currently for sale is this old villa on four/five levels - all in all about 400 m2 - with stunning views - in Via del Giro.
I loved the detail on one of its old doors.
The view of the side of the building
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