There are a lot of what we’ve been calling ‘castle towns’ on the Via Francigena.

We’ve been calling them castle towns because they’re usually on a hill, surrounded by a tall, medieval wall with battlements.

Monteriggioni viewed from a hill north of it

Radicofani viewed from the south

After doing a bit of research, it looks like there are so many because of the popularity of medieval communes in Italy’s history.

Town republics

From the times of the Roman Republic, Italy’s towns and cities had a lot of autonomy - often making their own laws and electing their own officials.

In the Middle Ages, their populations grew as more people moved from the countryside.

The resulting communities were big and powerful enough to work more like countries than towns.

For example, Venice had its own navy and Milan fought in wars against German armies.

The walls

Part of the identity of a town was its ability to defend itself so town walls were often one of the first things to be built when the town formed.

They also gave a town control of its borders because the gates were the only way in or out.

The walls and exit gate of Monteriggioni

The Francigena

A big reason we saw so many castle towns was because we were on the Via Francigena.

The Francigena was a trade route as well as a pilgrim route so towns often grew rich from being on it.

San Gimignamo is a good example, where wealth fuelled a war of tower building among the local families.

Towns today

Almost every walk we’ve done has ended in the same way. A climb to the town we’re staying in, entering through a medieval gate and navigating narrow, cobbled streets.

The entrance gate to Buon Convento

It’s been a constant reminder of how people used to live and how much has changed since then - even if the buildings look the same.

An alleyway in Buon Convento with bicycles propped against the wall