The scenery along the drive to visit this beautiful Benedictine abbey makes the journey as enjoyable as the arrival. The setting is a cypress forest and just the walk from the parking lot serves to transport you back in time.
The abbey is celebrated for its marvelous painted fresco cycle of the life of Saint Benedict. This cycle is particularly accessible because they are well preserved, well restored and are well lit by the glassed-in walls of the loggia. The scenes are riveting and I did not need to know anything of the saint's life in order to enjoy them. Each scene has a Latin caption and I spent a little time trying to translate and understand them. (sadly, I do not read Latin!) Example: How the demon destroyed the campanile. How God punished Florence. The paintings by Luca Signorelli and il Sodoma are "considered amongst the most important Renaissance artworks in Italy." The faces of the monks are transporting; the demons are horrifying and the landscapes in the backgrounds are breathtaking.
The solemn church interior is beautiful; the choir stalls (though dimly lit, roped off and slightly hard to see) are masterpieces and a visit to the columned upstairs library is also a must. The imposing architecture is grand but contemplative.
The superb outdoor Andrea della Robbia ceramics have inhabited the niches above the entrance and exit arches for centuries. (Read up on him to find out why they are so special.)
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