The etymology of Montalcino

by Laura Gray on August 16, 2011

The name of the town Montalcino in all likelihood derives from the Latin toponym, “mons ilex,” meaning the mountain of the holm oaks. The town crest, embossed on lamp-posts and manholes in town, shows a solitary oak on a symbolic mountain. If you have happened upon a sculpture of a strange iron tree on a heap of rubble in the inner courtyard of the town council, now all will be clear.

Holm oaks (also known as holly oak) are large evergreen trees and are very common here as in much of the Mediterranean. For the Latin scholars, “ilex” are similarly present in the Aeneid; Dido and Aeneas adorn each other with ilex garlands and the golden bough for entrance to the underworld is on an ilex. In Italian oak trees are “quercia” but holm oaks are “leccio.”

Alternatively the name could be from “Mons Lucinus”again from Latin. Lucus which means sacred or small wood. This is how Montalcino was described in the first document that refers to the town, nearly 1200 years ago, on 29 December 814.

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