Edited by Mauro Bucci

The Salimbeni family was the richest in Siena, their wealth came from commerce, in wheat from Maremma, silks and spices, from duty collection operations and also from their company lending activity. They were to all effects a bank like many other rich families of Siena.
To give an idea of their wealth, in the land register of houses in Siena, their palace was valued at 18,900 Sienese lire, while that of the Malavolti, for example, was less than 3,500. Common people’s houses in Siena were valued at about 100 lire.
The emperor Charles IV was twice a guest of the Salimbeni in this palace in 1355, and fifty years before they hosted Charles of Valois, brother to the king of France, and his wife Catherine, daughter of the emperor of Constantinople, who gave birth to a daughter during their visit.
There was no love lost between Siena and Florence. These were the two most important towns in Tuscany and they jostled for position. By the middle of the 16th century, Florence had got the upper hand, but in the period between the 13th and 16th centuries, there were many battles and much back-and-forth in outcomes.
The most resounding defeat for the Florentines was at Monteaperti on 14 September 1260.
This defeat was caused mainly by the German cavalry attacking on the side of Siena. These horsemen were in the paid service of the king Manfredi, and were on the Ghibelline side, as were the Sienese, but they did not fight for ideals and above all were very costly, in terms of both keep and pay (which was known as “soldo”, and from here the word soldato - soldier- one who receives a soldo).
To pay them, Siena turned to the Salimbeni; as the story goes: “Messer Salimbeni extended 100 thousand florins to the commune for the defence of the town, and said to send for them. And straightaway they went to the house of the Salimbeni, and placed one hundred thousand florins on a cart covered in scarlet and holding many olive branches. These drove the cart and they went to the centre of the church of St Christopher. And Messer Salimbeni got up and said to give the money to the people, and that they should not look for money, that when this was used they would lend the same again.”
On 17 January 1274, Siena, not being able to return the cart full of gold coins, gave La Rocca at Tentennano to the Salimbeni in perpetuity, together with other castles in Val d’Orcia that had been placed as collateral against the loan.

For nearly 200 years, La Rocca was the main residence of the family, from here they started to build their political power, from here they recruited men and arms and they took refuge here in difficult times. They transformed Val d’Orcia, part of Maremma and Valdichiana into a virtually independent state, and Tintinnano was their capital.
In the meantime, around 1340, there was a great economic crisis, and dozens of Tuscan merchant houses became bankrupt. Alongside this crisis, the terrible Black Death killed three quarters of the Tuscan population in 1347. The Sienese Agnolo di Tura wrote about having buried five of his children with his own hands in a common grave.
In part because of these reasons, over time, the Salimbeni moved away from commerce and looked elsewhere, turning to agriculture, buying land and farms, and becoming the greatest landowners in the State of Siena; and the money continued to roll in.
Except for a few periods, part of the family remained in Siena, living there and spending this money.
In 1280, 12 scions of rich families founded the Brigata Spendereccia (the Spendthrift Brigade) in Siena, and according to their statue, had to live happily in revelry with no care for the expense. Apparently, in only two years, they were able to waste a patrimony of about 200,000 florins, twice what had been the cost of La Rocca and the Val d’Orcia castles.

Dante writes about them in the Divine Comedy:
“Now was ever
So vain a people as the Sienese?
[…]
"Taking out Stricca,
Who knew the art of moderate expenses.” (Tr. H.W.Longfellow)

This Stricca was teased because he was one of the famous spendthrifts, and one Niccolò was also mentioned as being greedy (who the luxurious use of cloves discovered earliest of all).
Dante was referring to the costly vice of over-indulging on cloves, a highly sought-after and precious spice from the East.
It would seem that Niccolò loved seasoning his meats with this spice, up to the point of using it instead of embers to cook roasts and game.
Stricca and Niccolò were both sons of Messer Giovanni Salimbeni and influential members of the Spendthrift Brigade. Stricca and Niccolò appear in the Tavola delle Possessioni (the list of possessions drawn up for tax purposes) of 1318 as owning lands and farms at Monticchiello and Castiglioni d’Orcia.
So the poor peasants of Val d’Orcia worked with unimaginable sacrifice to pay for the vices of a pair of wanton offshoots of nobility.

But the Salimbeni had the much greater fault of arrogance, which led to bloody skirmishes with the other Sienese family, the Tolomei.

There are stories of times when even the pope had to intervene to calm the waters, not always with positive results, as was the case in 1337.
In that occasion, the pope decreed that, on the day after Easter, the two families should feast together outdoors, and this was to be a great celebration of brotherly love and peace. The chosen spot was on a hill close to the Roman gate of Siena.
Silvery cutlery and porcelain dishes were brought out, together with wines of various colours and flavours unearthed in the best cellars in Siena and Chianti. And the most succulent meats, venison, hare, cockerels, capons, peacocks, the rarest fish, etc.
There were clove-laden skewers of song thrushes, most decidedly an out-of-season delicacy, these being migratory birds.
Unfortunately, there were only eighteen of these song thrushes, and when they were brought to the peace-making banquet, the Tolomei and Salimbeni fought over them, first with forks and then with swords. According to the story, the banquet of peace descended into a bloody brawl, and to this day the hill is called Colle del Malamerenda (Hill of the Badluncheon).
Seven years previously, on 22 October 1330, the Tolomei had killed the brothers Benuccio and Alessandro Salimbeni in an ambush near Torrenieri.
Messer Benuccio, according to the chronicler Angelo di Tura, “was one of the most renowned knights of Tuscany, and this was considered a great treachery, and vengeance was meted on the Tolomei, and it was one of the severest ever seen in Siena”.
Although the government of Siena had banished the murderers and destroyed their houses, and placed two or three guards on the towers of the town to keep the Salimbeni and the Tolomei apart and prevent further vengeance, some of the Salimbeni men went to Lucignano d’Asso, and here they assaulted Francesco Tolomei and his son Carluccio, chopping them to pieces.
And with that they returned to their fortress at Tentennano, bringing back the severed heads of their victims.
The last great lord of La Rocca was Niccolò di Cione di Sandro Salimbeni known as Cocco, and he made Siena tremble for the power he wielded in his hands. He tried to allay himself with the powers that would enable him to defeat the Republic of Siena and take control as absolute overlord. But the power of La Rocca and the Salimbeni were both on the wane. Deprived of part of his army, Cocco found himself at the mercy of Siena, which first started to conquer his dominions in Maremma and then set off to launch a major assault on La Rocca. A company of 100 soldiers and 100 spearmen reached La Rocca on the 25 January 1418. At midnight, the guards, who had been bribed by the Sienese, opened the gate. “They entered into the hall of the fortress and Coco, hearing them, went to the top of the building with his wife and four of his men, and pulled another six up with ropes from the outside”. So he managed to take refuge in the keep of La Rocca and pulled a further six soldiers up with ropes from a window. Before cannons, La Rocca could only be conquered by deceit and surrender, and it was considered to be impregnable, and it did not fall to arms on this occasion either. Coco resisted for nearly a month, then he started to negotiate a dignified surrender. On 22 February he capitulated, and, as per the agreements, he was free to go to Florence with his wife Marietta. This was the end of two centuries of power exerted by the Salimbeni and of the La Rocca of Tentennaro. In 1419, Siena banned the Salimbeni for ever and confiscated their property, including the castle, Rocca Salimbeni. The Commune, to record its conquest, placed its coat of arms on the palace, and this is still visible in the main entrance hall together with the year: MCCCCXXIIII. Initially, part was used as the Salt Customs and duty office. Then, when it was founded in 1472, it was the premises of the bank Monte Pio, and the Bank Monte dei Paschi, 500 years later, still has its main seat here, bringing the name of Salimbeni to the notice of the world.