The hill upon which Montalcino sits has probably been settled since Etruscan times. Its first mention in historical documents is dated 29 December 814, when Emperor Ludwig the Pious granted the territory under the mountain referred to as “Lucinus” to the abbot of the nearby Abbey of Sant’Antimo.
There are at least two theories as to the origin of the name Montalcino. Some say it comes from Mons Lucinus, mentioned in the 814 document, named in honour of the goddess Lucina, or is possibly a reference to the Latin word lucus, meaning “holy wood”, or more generally “little wood”. Others suggest the name may originally have been Mons Ilcinus, from the Latin mons (mountain) and ilex, or holm oak, making it the “mountain of the ilexes”, a tree common in the area which appears in the city’s coat of arms. In any case, over the centuries the name was transformed from Mons Lucinus or Mons Ilcinus to Mons Elcinus and then the current name, Montalcino.
The original core of the town was built in the 10th century, when the population grew suddenly due to an influx of people fleeing the nearby town of Roselle. The town’s original core was extended over the centuries, reaching its current size in the fourteenth century.
The city’s hilltop position offers views over the Ombrone and Asso valleys.
During medieval times the city was known for its tanneries and for the high-quality leather goods that were made in the town’s many leather workshops. But as time went by, many of the medieval towns of the province of Siena, including Montalcino, went into serious economic and demographic decline.
Like many of the medieval towns of Tuscany, Montalcino experienced long periods of peace and often enjoyed a measure of prosperity. This peace and prosperity was, however, interrupted by a number of extremely violent episodes.
During the late Middle Ages it was an independent commune with considerable importance owing to its location on the old Via Francigena, the main road between France and Rome, but increasingly Montalcino came under the sway of the powerful city of Siena.
As a satellite of Siena since the Battle of Montaperti in 1260, Montalcino was deeply involved and affected by the conflicts in which Siena became embroiled, particularly in those with the city of Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries, and like many other cities in central and northern Italy, the town was also caught up in the internecine wars between the Ghibellines (supporters of the Holy Roman Empire) and the Guelphs (supporters of the Papacy). Factions from each side controlled the town at various times in the late medieval period.
When Siena was conquered by Florence under the rule of the Medici family in 1555, the Sienese nobility held out under siege in Montalcino for almost four years, setting up the Republic of Siena in Montalcino in the hopes of one day returning to their city. But Montalcino ultimately fell to the Florentines, under whose control it remained until the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was amalgamated into a united Italy in 1861.
The situation changed radically in the second half of the twentieth century. The town of Montalcino had the good fortune to find itself in the middle of one of the most important wine-growing areas, famous for its Sangiovese vineyards, from which the famous Brunello di Montalcino is made, as well as two other DOC wines: Rosso di Montalcino and Sant’Antimo.
On 1 January 2017 the municipality of San Giovanni d’Asso was incorporated into the municipality of Montalcino. This increased the size of the municipality considerably, making it Italy’s 35th largest municipality in terms of sizes, the fifth-largest in Tuscany and the largest of all in the province of Siena.