The history of Montalto Castle
Montalto has a rich past dating back over one thousand years. Because of its strategic position overlooking the fertile valley of the Ambra river (once a significant affluent of the Arno river which flows through Florence), Montalto has seen periods of turbulence as well as economic prosperity, before becoming the beautiful and tranquil vacation spot it is today.
Much of the castle is from medieval times, with extensive restorations performed in the 16th century and again in the 19th century.
For a more detailed history read about Montalto on Wikipedia.
There appears to have been a castle at Montalto, or at least a settlement with a church and a tower, in Longobard times in the early middle ages, and likely an Etruscan settlement before that. The date of its construction is uncertain: perhaps as early as the 7th or 8th century. The earliest known documents, however, date from the 11th century when Montalto was inhabited by members of the Berardenga family (descendants of Berardo, first count of the Berardenga) who gave their name to the entire area.
Montalto was faithful to Siena in the on-going struggle between it and Florence for the control of Tuscany, and was therefore often under attack between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt (with the greatest damage occurring during the so-called Battle of Montalto, which took place in June of 1208), and refortified at great expense.
Eventually the impoverished Berardengas lost the castle to Siena, who refortified it with yet higher walls and maintained a garrison against the Florentines.
After a long siege in 1478, people were reluctant to live at Montalto because of its exposed position. Siena first offered incentives for settlement, then in 1546 ceded the castle and its lands to knight Giovanni Palmieri in exchange for his promise to defend it at his own expense. Under him Montalto became completely autonomous, with the sole obligation of loyal alliance with the independent Republic of Siena.
Soon after, however, with the help of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Cosimo de' Medici led Florence to victory. When all of Tuscany became peaceful under Medici domination, Montalto lost its function as a defensive fortress and the Palmieri descendants turned it into a residential manor, decorating the Hall of Arms with the frescoes of life on the estate's farms that can still be seen today.
Extensive restauration was undertaken in the 19th century by Giuseppe Palmieri and completed by his son Antonio in 1908. The defensive walls were rebuilt, the watchtower restored to something like its original height, and a new gate tower was built to give entrance to the courtyard. Interior decorations were added to hallways and rooms, depicting the coats of arms of various families related to the Palmieris.
Montalto had a population of about 120 at the time of the Second World War, when fighting again raged in the woods during repeated passages of German and Allied troops. After the war, the little community gradually became depopulated as farmers abandoned the land to search for work in larger towns, and now only the owners live there all year round.
In the course of a thousand years the Castle has changed hands only four times. The present owners, relatives of the Palmieri family, have been living and farming at Montalto since 1970. They have added to the castle's interior comfort with modern conveniences, while cherishing the different types of stonework that reveal the castle's long and varied past.