Close to Siena, on a ridge that descends from the forested hills west of the city, is a small hamlet and an ex-monastery, founded in the 11th century. Inside the now privatley owned monastery is a stunning 12th century cloister that you can visit between 9 and 12 on Mondays and Fridays.
Tuscany is full of secrets. Close to Siena, on a ridge that descends from the forested hills further west, is a tiny hamlet, and at one end of it is an ex-monastery. It was founded in 1069, probably as many others were in this period, on the basis of a small pre-existent hermitage. Inside the monastery, now privately owned, is a jewel of a cloister. The first stage was built a century after the cloister was founded, so around the end of the 12th century. A century later they got round to building a second layer of columns and arches and then in the 15th century the third a last round of columns was added. They were busy, alright? Bees, farming, praying. Those bibles didn't illustrate themselves, you know! Around the end of 16th century the Abbey fell into the hands of the powerful Piccolomini family from Siena (Pope, anyone?). When in 1867 most Church property was returned to the Vatican, the Piccolominis had found a neat cataloguing loophole that allowed it to remain in private hands - and there is still today. But you can visit it - on Friday and Monday mornings, between 9 and 12. It is breath-taking - the lower level has 10 carved stone columns, while the second level has 9, so they do not align, which gives a very pleasing effect, though it's difficult to know what to ascribe it too. I was told once that it helped the building survive earthquakes - the weight is transmitted to the ground in angular lines across the various arches rather than directly down, but I haven't done any further research.
But I did sit down and make a quick sketch of it - it's a pleasure to have the time to really look at a building in detail. Every capital on the lower columns is different, describing local life, religious symbols and depicting saints. It's really worth a visit if you're in the area - just find Torri on the map and you can't fail to find the Church when you arrive - the cloister is on the left, down a side passage. Ring the bell if no-one is there, the caretaker lives nearby with his opera-singing wife. If you're lucky she'll be practicing!
Here's a photo a visitor took of me painting in the cloister!