CRETE SENESI AND VAL D'ORCIA
The Crete Senesi refers to an area of the Italian region of Tuscany immediately to the south of Siena. It consists of a range of hills and woods among villages and includes the comuni of Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d'Arbia, Rapolano Terme and San Giovanni d'Asso, all within the province of Siena.
Crete Senesi are literally the "clays of Siena": the distinctive grey colouration of the soil gives the landscape an appearance often described as lunar. This characteristic clay, known as mattaione, represents the sediments of the Pliocene sea which covered the area between 2.5 and 4.5 million years ago. The landscape is characterized by barren and gently undulating hills, solitary oaks and cypresses, isolated farms at the top of the heights, stretches of wood and puddles of rainwater (commonly referred as fontoni, literally "big springs") in the valleys. Badlands and biancane are typical conformations of the land.
The Val d'Orcia or Valdorcia extends from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata. Its gentle, cultivated hills are occasionally broken by gullies and by picturesque towns and villages such as Pienza and Montalcino (the Brunello di Montalcino is counted among the most prestigious of Italian wines). Its landscape has been depicted in works of art from Renaissance painting to modern photography.
Within the Val d'Orcia is a strip of land following the Orcia river between the DOCG zones of Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Here the Sangiovese and Trebbiano-based wines are produced under the Orcia Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) status.
INFORMATION ON THE ITINERARIES
We suggest visiting the Crete and Val D'Orcia in two or more separate trips, particularly if you wish to spend time wine tasting or enjoying the thermal baths. The "Crete,Pienza and the Thermal Baths" and "The Brunello Road" are our recommended routes; However for those who have limited time, we have designed the "Condensed itinerary" with selected villages to visit in one day.
For walking and cycling please check the "Via Francigena".
SAN QUIRICO, BAGNI VIGNONE, BAGNI SAN FILIPPO, MONTEPULCIANO, PIENZA, MONTE OLIVETO
MONTALCINO, SANT'ANTIMO, POGGIO ALLE MURA, BRUNELLO WINERIES
(ALTERNATIVE TO THE FIRST TWO)
MONTE OLIVETO, SAN GIOVANNI D'ASSO, PIENZA, BAGNO VIGNONI, MONTALCINO
WALKING AND CYCLING
THE CRETE, PIENZA AND THE THERMAL BATHS
SAN QUIRICO, BAGNI VIGNONE, BAGNI SAN FILIPPO, MONTEPULCIANO, PIENZA, MONTE OLIVETO
Buonconvento, from the Latin bonus conventus, "happy place", is mentioned for the first time in 1100. In 1313 the German emperor Henry VII died here.
It was surrounded by a line of walls starting from 1371, carried on by the Republic of Siena to which it belonged until 1559, when it became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was annexed to Italy in 1861.
The local museum of art, the Museo d'Arte Sacra della Val d'Arbia, houses works by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Pietro Lorenzetti, Andrea di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni and other Tuscan painters, taken from local churches.
SAN QUIRICO D'ORCIA
In III century BC the Liber Linteius Zagrabiensis tells about a place called Ena. Ena is the ancient name of San Quirico D’Orcia. In the Medieval time San Quirico reaches itreaches its maximum splendor as a passageway along the Via Francigena.
The most important religious monument is the Collegiata, a magnificent example of a Romanesque building with three portals in three different styles. The first portal is Romanesque in sandstone and travertine, the second is decorated, the third is a cross between Romanesque and Gothic. The interior has a single nave and the most valuable work is the splendid polyptych by Sano di Pietro. Also visit the Church of San Francesco and the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala. The "Rose Garden" with the Church of Santa Maria Assunta is worth a visit; notice its extraordinary play of light inside. Among the civil architecture, Palazzo Chigi and the Horti Leonini stand out, a splendid example of an Italian garden.
Thanks to the Via Francigena , the pilgrim route to Rome, the thermal waters of Bagno Vignoni were found and have been used since Roman times. At the heart of the village is the "Square of sources", namely a rectangular tank, of sixteenth-century origin, which contains the original source of water that comes from the subterranean aquifer of volcanic origins. Since the Etruscans and Romans the spa of Bagno Vignoni was attended by eminent personalities such as Pope Pius II, Saint Catherine of Siena, Lorenzo the Magnificent and many other artists who had elected the village as their main holiday resort.
BAGNI SAN FILIPPO
Bagni San Filippo is a small hot spring containing calcium carbonate deposits, which form white concretions and waterfalls. The name derives from that of St Philip Benizi, who was a prior of the Servite order, and who lived as a hermit here in the thirteenth century. The grotto is open to visitors.
MONTEPULCIANO AND SAN BIAGIO
Montepulciano is a medieval and Renaissance hill town sitting high on a 605-metre (1,985 ft) limestone ridge.
According to legend, it was founded by the Etruscan King Lars Porsena of Chiusi; recent findings prove that a settlement was already in existence in the 4th-3rd centuries BC.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it developed as a religious center under the Lombards. In the 12th century it was repeatedly attacked by the Republic of Siena, which the Poliziani faced with the help of the Perugia and Orvieto, and sometimes Florence, communes. From 1390, Montepulciano was a loyal ally of Florence and, until the mid-16th century, lived a period of splendour with architects such as Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, Baldassarre Peruzzi, Ippolito Scalza, building luxurious residences and other edifices here. In 1559, when Siena was conquered by Florence and Montepulciano lost its strategic role, its importance declined.
A competitive "barrel race through the city" called the Bravio delle botti has been held on the last Sunday of August since the 14th Century
Montepulciano is a major producer of food and drink. Renowned for its pork, cheese, lentils, and honey, it is known worldwide for its wine. Connoisseurs consider its Vino Nobile among Italy's best.
Madonna di San Biagio Sanctuary is located on the road to Chianciano outside the city, it is a typical 16th century Tuscan edifice, designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder on a pre-existing Pieve, between 1518 and 1545. It has a circular plan with a large dome over a terrace and a squared tambour. The exterior, with two bell towers, is built in white travertine.
Before the village was renamed to Pienza its name was Corsignano. It is first mentioned in documents from the 9th century. Around 1300 parts of the village became property of the Piccolomini family.
In 1405 Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini was born in Corsignano, a Renaissance humanist born into an exiled Sienese family, who later became Pope Pius II. Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town and renamed it after himself to Pienza which mean "city of Pius". Intended as a retreat from Rome, it represents the first application of humanist urban planning concepts, creating an impetus for planning that was adopted in other Italian towns and cities and eventually spread to other European centers.
The rebuilding was done by Florentine architect Bernardo Rossellino who may have worked with the humanist and architect Leon Battista Alberti, though there are no documents to prove it for sure. Alberti was in the employ of the Papal Curia at the time and served as an advisor to Pius. Construction started about 1459. Pope Pius II consecrated the Duomo on August 29, 1462, during his long summer visit. He included a detailed description of the structures in his Commentaries, written during the last two years of his life.
SAN GIOVANNI D'ASSO
San Giovanni d'Asso hamlet is overlooked by large Castle, now home to a large white truffle museum, and there is a festival celebrating the rare and fragrant tuber each year. The historical center also houses the churches of San Giovanni Battista (pieve) and San Pietro in Villore, both of medieval origin.
ABBAZIA DI MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE
The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore is a large Benedictine monastery. Its buildings, which are mostly of red brick, are conspicuous against the grey clayey and sandy soil.
It is a territorial abbey whose abbot functions as the bishop of the land. It is the mother-house of the Olivetans.
It was founded in 1313 by Bernardo Tolomei, a jurist from a prominent aristocratic family of Siena. In 1319 or 1320 it was approved by Bishop Guido Tarlati as Monte Oliveto, with reference to the Mount of Olives and in honour of Christ’s Passion. The monastery was begun in 1320, the new congregation being approved by Pope Clement VI in 1344.
The abbey was for centuries one of the main land possessors in the Siena region.
On January 18, 1765, the monastery was made the seat of the Territorial Abbacy of Monte Oliveto Maggiore.
The Chiostro Grande - "Great Cloister"- was realized between 1426 and 1443. On the oldest side it has a two-storey loggia and a pit, dating to 1439. The frescoes of the Life of St. Benedict painted by Luca Signorelli and il Sodoma, located in the cloister lunettes under the vaults, are considered masterworks of the Italian Renaissance.
The stairs leading to the first floor are decorated by Sodoma's fresco depicting the Coronation of Mary and one by an unknown artist of the Deposition.
©2019 by Simona Bencini all rights reserved.