south of Siena is the intriguing and distinctive semi-desert landscape
of the Crete, which break up the enchanting green landscape of
this part of Tuscany. The Crete are geographical features of clay, harsh
and wild, difficult to cultivate by anyone who is not an expert and who
doesn't respect the laws of nature.
This area was made famous by the Battle of Montaperti between the
Florentines and the Sienese in 1260, which took place here. Not far away
there is source of the Borra spring, which is marked by
a block of travertine. These sulphurous waters are said to have
been used by the Romans for their undoubted therapeutic properties.
These waters, together with the travertine quarry, are the principal
economic resource of Rapolano Terme.
It is also well-worth making a visit to the atmospheric complex of the
Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, which was founded in 1313 by
Giovanni Tolomei; surrounded by centuries-old cypresses, it dominates
the landscape of the Crete. Besides the many works of art there,
the abbey also has a library of forty thousand antique books, testimony
to the cultural and artistic importance of the abbey between the 15th
and the 16th century.
The small town of Asciano, in the heart of the Crete, still has
many of its old medieval palaces and various towers, including the guard
towers of the outer walls, which now lie inside the modern-day town. Asciano
has many unusual mixed Romanesque and Gothic architectural forms
which are of considerable interest.
Picture by Sandro Santioli