The castle of Montalto in Toscana, also known as Montalto della Berardenga, dates back fully 1000 years.
It was built probably by Charlemagne’s vassal Winigis, first count of Siena, or by his son Berard, sometime before the year 1000.
It remained always faithful to Siena in the long struggle for supremacy between that city and Florence.
At the Battle of Montalto between the Sienese and Florentine forces in 1207, the Florentines took 17,000 prisoners and returned chanting “Montaltum factum planum, Montaltum nomine vanum” meaning that the “high mountain” (mons altum) was now flattened and only an empty name.
The descendants of Berard (the Berardenga family), who owned Montalto, refortified it with a larger and higher circle of walls, and it withstood siege successfully in 1260.
Attacks on the castle continued, however, and the population declined over the years. Eventually Siena took ownership of the castle directly, defending it against incursions with great difficulty.
In the early 1500’s Count Giovanni Palmieri convinced Siena to cede Montalto to him on condition that he remain faithful to Siena and defend the castle from Florence at his own expense. Montalto became a Signoria, with its own laws and taxes.
But in 1555, after a brutal siege, Siena and its entire countryside, including Montalto, fell under the control of the Medici family of Florence.
With all of Tuscany under Florentine rule, warfare ceased and the castle lost its military role. The courtyard was adorned by a Renaissance portico and the Hall of Arms was decorated with the frescoes of rural life that can still be seen today.
The lands were cultivated by sharecroppers producing grains for bread, grapes for wine and olives for oil.
In time, the chapel was moved to its present location in the castle courtyard and restored in neo-Gothic style.
In 1970 ownership passed to the Coda-Nunziante family, related by marriage to one of the last of the Palmieri.
The Coda-Nunziantes live permanently in the castle.
They have restored the old stone houses, making them available to vacationers as holiday homes, and they continue farming with certified organic production.