The ancient Abbey in Coneo – Colle Val d’Elsa (Siena)

Don’t know what to see in Tuscany?

No problem! Today I take you to a beautiful place, immersed in the Tuscan countryside, precisely in Colle Val d’Elsa (SI).
It is very old, but I’ll tell you right now, there is a sore point: it is abandoned.

But it is the right place if:

  1. you like walking because here we are exactly where the Via Francigena meets the Volterrana one;
  2. if you love Romanesque architecture;
  3. if you are fascinated by abandoned places
  4. if you love photography.

This is Badia a Coneo. It was a Benedictine abbey, then Vallombrosian, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta.
Here are the directions to reach it.

A bit of history…

It dates back to the beginning of the 11th century and included a monastery, a hospital, and a mill that no longer exist.

Between the 13th and the 14th century, the abbey played such an important role in the society of Colle Val d’Elsa that its members donated many goods to it.

In 1254 the abbey helped the bishop of Volterra, who was in debt to the Sienese bankers, but in spite of this, over time the abbey recovered thanks to its considerable income.

But between the XV and XVI century, the abbey begins to lose strokes and therefore is given in commenda. But as often happens in these cases, it is not a good idea. In fact, the same documents tell how the commendatory did not take care of the building or of its monks.

In the 16th century, the commendatory was Cardinal Paolo Farnese, the future Pope Paul III.

Finally, in 1592, the church became part of the diocese of Colle Val d’Elsa and was elevated to the status of the parish church.

But this was not always the appearance of the church.

In fact, in the 18th century, they decided to carry out a restoration in Baroque style, elements that were later eliminated in the restoration of the early 1920s with the aim of bringing the building back to its original style: that is, Romanesque.

Unfortunately today the abbey, due to the depopulation of the countryside and the decreased religious practice, is almost always closed and therefore visiting it inside is very difficult.

I tried to contact the diocese but the numbers I found don’t seem to be active anymore. But it seems that during the Easter period there is a possibility to find it open…I will investigate further!

But don’t be discouraged, the outside has a lot to offer too!


In the lower part of the façade, you can see some blind arches resting on semi-columns, while under the central arch opens the portal.
The capitals are decorated with lions, human heads.

The upper part of the façade, instead, has been much altered: once there should have been a mullioned window and on the roof, there was a bell gable.

On the right, there is an archway leading to a small courtyard where once there was the monastery and other buildings. On the left of the arch, you see a simple capital with a bird depicted, perhaps a raven. While on the right one is carved Adam and Eve separated by the tree of sin.

The only visible side is the one on the left, or on the north if we want to be fussy. At the level of the left transept, in an unspecified period, a building was built next to it; today it is a ruin. Along this side of the church, there are three single-lancet windows and it is always decorated with small hanging arches and human heads; also the apse, on the back, and the octagonal lantern have the same decoration. Above these there is a beautiful frame decorated with leaves and racemes that have been defined:

“uncertain in the carving, even more, archaizing than that of the most antiquated mastership of Sovana”.


I have never been inside and according to some dated guides we should find two capitals with the famous praying figures, others decorated with plant motifs and a tabernacle of the fifteenth century.

In short, a little gem, right? 😉

colle val d'elsa