Terra di Toscana www.terraditoscana.com

Val d'orcia

The Val d'orcia stretches from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata, and is made up by gentle, carefully-cultivated hills occasionally broken by gullies or patches of erosion.
Towns and fortified villages have been built on the higher hills. San Quirico d'Orcia, for example. The splendid Horti Leonini gardens are well worth a visit; Duke Diomede Leoni, who ruled San Quirico from about 1570 onwards, had them built inside the fortified walls of the town. Access is through a door on top of which are two lion's heads with a Latin epigraph, a reference to the owner's name. The economy of the town is based on tourism, the quarrying of travertine, and agricultural trade.

The fortified town of Montalcino, settled first by the Etruscans and then by the Romans, is situated on the summit of a hill that has a commanding view of the surrounding valleys. It once flew the flag of the Sienese Republic, but despite the important historical and artistic attractions of the town, Montalcino is known throughout the world as the home of Brunello, an exceptional wine that first saw the light of day in the middle of the 19th century when Ferruccio Biondi Santi decided to use only Sangiovese grapes.
Near Montalcino, and set amidst vineyards and olive groves, lies the Abbazia di Sant'Antimo. The only certain date is that in the year 814 it had jurisdiction over the territory of Montalcino. The complex is one of the most attractive examples of 12th century monastic architecture. The magnificence of the abbey, built from a particular kind of veined travertine that makes it luminous, is enhanced by the beauty of the surrounding countryside.

Pienza is not a particularly ancient city. It was constructed over the older settlement of Corsignano on the orders of Pope Pio II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini). Not only was it one of his possessions, it was also his birthplace and he wanted to create something to demonstrate his magnificence. In 1459 he awarded the commission for the work to a pupil of Leon Battista Alberti named Rossellino, who employed the best artists of the period on this massive project. The result was a small gem of Renaissance architecture.

Bagno Vignoni has been known for its thermal springs since ancient times and this village has a truly unique atmosphere. The main piazza is basically an enormous bath filled with steaming water (though unfortunately it is not at present possible to bathe in it). This was the original thermal bath, and visitors included Pope Piccolimini, Lorenzo il Magnifico, and Santa Caterina da Siena, to whom the gallery and chapel flanking part of the piazza are dedicated. She was apparently in the habit of bathing close to the point where the 52-degrees-centigrade water emerged, not as a health cure but to mortify her flesh with the penitence of pain. Modern-day Bagno Vignoni has baths equipped for thermal cures.
The town of Castiglione d'Orcia is situated on a spur that dominates the valley, and developed beneath the imposing bulk of the ancient Rocca degli Aldobrandeschi, from which there are wonderful views of the valley and of Monte Amiata.

Picture by Sandro Santioli

Terraditoscana © Polimedia - All rights reserved
Press registration n. 5528 10/11/2006 - Editor Polimedia - P.IVA 06790950486