COLLE DELLA CAPRIOLA: An introduction of its history.
If you leave Siena from the Porta d'Ovile gate, or if you look east from a fairly high window in the city, the thing that still meets your eye, before any other feature in the landscape, is the round shape of the dome attached to the bell-tower of the Osservanza monastery, and the long walls of the monastery itself. It is that brick-colored profile which draws your gaze away from the gently rolling hills of the landscape. The impact cannot be all that dissimilar to the effect desired by the architects who designed the view between the 15th and 16 centuries, so that the monastery of Bernardino and the Church, standing on Colle della Capriola, might engage in a kind of dialogue with the hills of Siena.
If you wanted to walk the two kilometers separating the city walls from the Osservanza, you would find the road goes cross-country, a road which once led straight to the monastery, and which is now interrupted for all time by the recent (1998) layout of the railway line, and the path of the Via Simone Martini trunk road. This was an old thoroughfare, an alternative route to the destination than that via the Via Chiantigiana and Via Scacciapensieri roads, which lead to Capriola skirting round it on the side of the Chianti hills, making an equally striking impression on one's arrival on the hill. The cross-country route, by contrast, bent off the Chiantigiana to the left, at a place known as Madonnina Rossa: Close to that group of houses, up until the 1930s, when it was demolished, there still used to stand the little chapel built in 1548, in bricks which were apparently of the same red colour as the nearby bridge (or perhaps the red mentioned in the place-name derives from the cloak of the Virgin). The chapel contained the 16th century fresco scene of the Crucifixion, saints, and Our Lady of Sorrows, which was attributed to Giomo del Sodoma or Il Riccio, and which was later transferred to the first chapel on the right in the Basilica, where it is still to be found today.
The local folk no longer remember the chapel of the Madonnina Rossa, although everybody would know how to give directions to the road of San Bernardino (or the Alley of the Friars), which leads up to the monastery. If you manage to get on the right way, once you have crossed the railway line, via a road which is still officially known by the name of the Osservanza, but which is shown as a dead end, and follow it across the fields, you could go 300-400 m of the way up the old Via Bernardiniana, along which, up until the 19th century, the Via Crucis ceremony was held. In the western corner of the wall of the monastery, you would encounter the saint, giving his blessing to Siena in the shape of a small terracotta effigy: It is an interesting acroterion-style image, created with an original, and highly effective, expressiveness, and which replaced a 1920s terracotta figure of the same size, which had become worn away.
The hilly countryside around the Osservanza maintains its traditional appearance, despite the fact it is skirted to the west by the large-scale modern urban development of San Miniato and the Nuovo Policlinico hospital, which cause a marked increase in road traffic, also owing to the secondary thoroughfare which leads to the Basilica, between ancient plane trees. Some residential conglomerations which have developed after the Second World War, and in the last few decades, have not revolutionized the profile of the hills which lie between the city and the contours of the Chianti area, now compromised by large-scale road engineering works.
In the course of the 19th century and the early 20th century, the aristocratic villas in the area were embellished in various styles, from the classical to the neo-Gothic, and the Liberty (Art Nouveau) style: The adjoining properties, each parceled out from larger estates, were not large, given the high value of the areas bordering on the suburb. The foundation of these properties provided a new structure to the pre-existing share-cropping organization, under the control of large estates, which was interspersed in previous centuries only by the presence of differing parish or suffragan institutions, which had been formed in turn by the transformation of old parish churches or rural oratories.
At the time when we can trace the beginnings of our monument, in the second half of the 14th century, the rural pievi (parish churches), despite being small in size and modest in construction, were starting to be embellished by frescoes or by one or two altar-pieces, so that we can think of them as places of worship and of popular religious devotion which had fairly homogenous features. These pievi, in some cases adorned with well-executed 15th century frescoes (for one of the few remaining examples, see the remains of the frescoed wall in the Pieve of Santa Regina in Val di Pugna), alternated with miniature chapels and tabernacles with effigies, and places set aside as retreats for the contemplative life of certain Sienese fleeing the temptations and violence of urban life.
The 18th-19th century transformations of these parish structures and places of worship do not dispel the impression that one still gets when traveling through the area in question, between the three hills of Siena and the Chianti area, starting from the Pieve di Cellule along the Bozzone (a seasonal stream), to the Pieve of San Michele Arcangelo, the Pieve delle Tolfe, to Vignano, Santa Regina, and as far as Dofana in the Montaperti area, and meeting the group of villas from later centuries: Il Castano, Monaciano, Solaia, Serraglio, Poggio ai Pini, La Selva, Gori-Pannilini, Terraia, and Pancole.
The history of Colle della Capriola starts with the retreat of an aristocrat from the urban confusion and centuries-old egotism, who shortly after the mid-14th century had turned one of his properties in that area into a place of prayer. His name was Stricoccio Marescotti, and he dedicated this intimate retreat of his to S Onofrio: As such, Stricoccio himself donated it in 1392 to the Hospital of S Maria della Scala, of which in the meantime he had become an oblato (brother of the Order which ran the medical activities).
Marescotti died at the start of the new century, and it was during the 15th century that a very singular place of religious life was to develop on Colle della Capriola, in line with the originality of the architectural decisions which were to form the setting of it, and which were to mark out the Osservanza in its extraordinary presence among the surrounding hills.