San Donato in Poggio dates back to the Romans… a military “castrum” defending the military via Cassia which, on the way from Siena, passes over the hills and crosses the Pesa valley.
In the 4th century the garrison, which was composed of Christian soldiers from Arezzo, gave the fortress the name “San Donato” in memory of their bishop.
Round about 1000 A.D. the Romanic church, with three naves and three apses, was built outside the castle walls. It is referred to in three documents in the state archives; One dated 985 A.A., One 986 A.D. and One 988 A.D. Inside the church there are numerous art treasures such as the decorated front by Giovanni della Robbia in glazed terracotta describing the lire of John the Baptist, a crucifix of the school of Giotto and a 15th century Florentine chalice. Only part of the citadel remains today, parts of the walls, the two gates. Porta Fiorentina and Porta Senese, and some towers, such as the bell tower, known as the “Campanone” or Big Bell, and “Il Torrino” or Little Tower, which dominate the valley.
It has however, maintained its original structure intact with the typical streets winding round the houses.
Inside the citadel there is the suggestive Piazza Malaspina flanked by the palazzo of the same name, and in the centre of the piazza an esagonal well beneath which lies a cistern embracing the whole area of the piazza: in the past this cistern constituted the town’s one and only water reserve. Opposite Palazzo Malaspina is Palazzo Pretorio which houses the only work of art bearing witness to past glory, a 14th century fresco representing the Madonna and Child among the Saints.
San Donato is cited in the history books for having been twice chosen as seat of peace traties (1176 and 1265). It was at San Donato that the Florentines perfected their military strategy and completed their final preparations for war before leaving for the battle of Montaperti (1260). Don’t forget to visit the Sanctuary of S. Maria a Pietracupa just outside S. Donato, which contains some beautiful works of art.
This church was documented for the first time in a diploma of 989. The building was enlarged after the year one thousand to incorporate the existing structure – probably of Longobard origins – on the foundations of which the bell tower was built.
The proportions, the dimensions, the elegance and the total absence of ornamental inserts, make this church one of the most illustrious examples of local religious architecture, with all it upper medieval severity.
The unbalanced relationship between the body of the church and the bell tower is due to the partial reconstruction of the tower during the last restoration work on the tower, when the bell gable that had been built when the original tower collapsed in 1774 was replaced.
The inside is based on absolute geometrical precision. The rounded arches lie on simple square pillars.
During the centuries, the church was modified many times and new altars were added to the three in the respective apses. Two of the most important works still present in the church – both dated 1513 – are the baptismal font in terracotta made by Giovanni della Robbia’s workshop and the elegant marble column for the holy water. The other existing work worthy of note is the large fourteenth century cross on the high altar.
The five painting that were in the chapel of the Baptistery, instead, were transferred to the store of the Florentine church of Santo Stefano al Ponte in 1991, where a new museum has recently been inaugurated.
Saint Mary of the Snow:
This church sited in the main square, Piazza Malaspina, dates back to the end of the XIV century. It has a one nave structure with roof supported by in sight arches. It presents characteristic elements of tuscan gothic architecture, like the big windows, the rounded arches and the main door.
The Malaspina Palace:
This building, which presents renaissance’s style charateristics, is sited next to S.Mary of the snow, and faces a well. Under the well there’s a cistern as big as the whole square, which in the middleage represented the unique Castrum’s reserve of water. Pretorio’s Palace:
As unique testimony of its ancient splendour it exhibits a XIV Century fresco representing Our Lady with the Holy Child among the Saints.
Santa Maria delle Grazie a Pietracupa’s Sanctuary:
Lot of devouts praied in front of an ancient tabernacle which, after some miracles, became a church before and then a Sanctuary. At the beginning of ht XVII Century the image of Our Lady was brought there with some relics. Then it became aim of pilgrimages and place of rest and pray for people heading for Maremma.
In the middle of the XVII Century it has been constructed a portico all around the church. Inside of the church, in correspondance of the main altar, “Our Lady with the Child” by Paolo Schiavo is encloded in the centre of a 1600 painting, realized by “Il Passignano” with the representation of “S. Peter, S. Donato, S.Lawrence and Gabriel the Archangel”.