PIENZA: Historical informations
The history of Pienza is strictly bound to the one of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, born in Pienza on 18th October 1405, who became in 1458 Pope Pious II. Pious II, a famous humanist, decided to change his medieval birthplace ( Corsignano, the previous name of the town, known since 828 A.D. ) into a Renaissance Papal Residence, Pienza. Today one can still admire the XVth century palaces, projected and carried out by Bernardo Gambarelli called “Il Rossellino” ( one of Leon Battista Alberti’s pupils) and the Cathedral which opens into the Piazza Pio II (the centre of the town).Rossellino’s project took only three years and on the 29th August 1462, on the occasion of St. John the Baptist’s celebrations, Pious II consecrated the Cathedral and inaugurated the new city of Pienza. Unfortunately, neither Pious II nor Rossellino could enjoy their work of art, in fact, they both died in 1464 at a distance of two months: the Pope in Ancona where he was about to embark on a Crusade, and Rossellino while he was projecting another city.
PIENZA: To see
It’s worth seeing the Cathedral of the Assunta with its square, the Church of S. Francesco built in the XIVth century (on its inner walls, in particular along the apse, you can admire wonderful frescoes representing some scenes of S. Francesco’s life ) and then all the palaces of the historical centre, amongst them: Palazzo Piccolomini, Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo Borgia, Palazzo Tommaso Piccolomini, Palazzo Salomone Piccolomini, Palazzo degli Ammannati, Palazzo Jouffroy (Museo Diocesano), Palazzo del Tesoriere and Palazzo Lolli.Not to forget the famous Pieve di Corsignano, about 1 km from Pienza. Its origins date back to the VIIth century, even though the church we see now belongs to the XIIth century. Inside the church there are two old altars made of stones and the font where both Pious II and his nephew Pious III were baptized.
MONTALCINO: Historical informations
The fortune of Montalcino comes from its wood, including the name “Monte Licinus” (Holm-oak Mountain) and its coat-of-arms ( a holm-oak on six red mountains). This place-name is mentioned in some old manuscripts as “sub Monte Lucinii” in 814 A.D., Montalcino in 1181 and “Monte Ilicino” in 1214. This last record seems to suggest the right solution: “Monte Ilicino” from Latin “Ilex” = holm-oak. Montalcino district has an area of 24.000 h., 564 m. at sea-level and it’s surrounded by the Ombrone Valley (north-west), the Orcia Valley (south) and the Asso Valley (east). From its high location one can enjoy a wonderful panorama; the same view that the poet Alfonso Gatto called “the window-sill of the Apocalypse”. Walking through the “Parco della Madonna”, in the area of “Lumespento” (only a few km. from the town), it is possible to see the Casentino with Chiusi della Verna, the Abetone on the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, the Apuane Alps, the Elba Isle, the Giglio Isle, the Tyrrhenian Sea with Talamone, the Corsica, the Umbrian Apennines and the Terminillo. The surrounding countryside is cultivated with vineyards, very famous are its high-quality wines, olive-trees and not to forget is the production of honey.
MONTALCINO: To see
Walking through the fascinating small streets, amongst artisan shops, cafés and stores which sell typical products, worth visiting are the Palazzo Comunale, the Palazzo Vescovile with its United Museums, the old crucifix of St. Antimo and the churches of St. Agostino, St. Egidio and St. Francesco, built between the XIIIth and the XIV century, and finally the famous “Santuario della Madonna del Soccorso”. All around Montalcino there are also many castles: amongst them worth mentioning is the Longobard “Poggio alle Mura”.
MONTEPULCIANO: Historical informations
The city of Montepulciano was very important also in the past because it is situated where two main regional roads cross (the one from Chiusi to Arezzo, from South to North, and the one from the Valdorcia to the Valdichiana and to the Trasimeno lake, from East to West) and, in part, because of its strategic position along the boundaries of some medieval cities such as Orvieto, Perugia, Siena and Florence. This is one of the reasons which, during the first centuries of the second millennium, have made of the city one of the most powerful of the region: Montepulciano was, as a matter of fact, a self-governing city which made allegiances with the most important fighting towns. In 1511 Montepulciano was annexed to the State of Florence; a meaningful political decision ( one can see the magnificence of the palaces built after this date and the construction of its Diocese in 1561) which meant, at the same time, the beginning of its social and economic decline, in fact, during the XVIIIth century the Granduca of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo took care of the town and tried to give a new life to this unfortunate city, once reach and now decadent. During the XIXth century, the drainage of the Valdichiana and the renewed importance of the city which became the administrative centre of this area, are the signs of a rebirth that, unfortunately, lasts only until the second half of the XX century; the demographic decrease of the valley due to the emigration towards the North of Italy and the different techniques of cultivation were the problems that now Montepulciano has to cope with.
Theatre and Academy
For many centuries, and nowadays, Montepulciano represented the most important cultural centre of the Eastern Valdichiana. Theatrical performances are recorded since the second half of the XVIIth century: during that time a famous Academy called “Accademia dei Raggirati” asked the administration the permission to play their comedies. In 1706 a new Academy called “Degli Intrigati” died out recently) took the place of the previous: born as a literary academy, later it became a productive theatrical source and its members built one of the first theatre in the inner part of the Town Hall (1761). Unfortunately, this location was not good and the theatre was demolished: a new one was built in 1793, the Teatro Poliziano, restored in 1881 and reopened during the spring of the next year.
SAN QUIRICO D’ORCIA: Historical informations
This town, already inhabited during the Etruscan period, is mentioned for the first time in a document of 714 A.D. as a “village” built around the church of S. Quirico in Osenna, matter of much controversy between the Diocese of Siena and the one of Arezzo. Between the Xith and the XIIth century the castle of S. Quirico, under the imperial authority, became the residence of Vicars appointed by the Emperor; after some struggles involving Siena against Orvieto and Montepulciano, S. Quirico was annexed to Siena and, in 1262, became the official Residence of Vicars. During that war, Siena sided with the cities which fought against the Republic and in 1559 it was annexed to the Medicean State. In 1667 Cosimo III left the Marquisate of S. Quirico to Cardinal Chigi and his family lived there until 1749. In the past, the most important activity of this town was agriculture; during the XIXth century some of the travertine mines were already working. Nowadays, agriculture and stock-raising are still important activities in S. Quirico, although the staggering decrease of labour: as regards agriculture, the cultivation includes cereals, wine-yards and olive-trees, whilst stock-raising is possible thanks to the numerous woods that this land offers. Further, this town has had an increasing industrial and commercial importance, due to the travertine mines before mentioned, new buildings, furniture and wrought-iron objects production.
SAN QUIRICO D’ORCIA: To see
Reaching the town of S. Quirico and walking from North along V. Dante Alighieri, ex via Cassia, one can see the “Collegiata”, a magnificient XIIth century church built on the rests of a Roman parish. Inside the church there are an old wooden choir attributed to Antonio Barili from Siena and a XVth century wooden triptych made by Sano di Pietro. Next to the Collegiata there is Palazzo Chigi built during the XVIIth century; the inner part of the palace there are many frescoes, partially restored, and in the rooms of the first floor there are the Italian Archives of Art of the Gardens. Walking towards South one can reach the Piazza della Libertà with the “Chiesa di S. Francesco” and the “Porta Nuova”, the old main gate of the town. In the square there is entrance of the “Horti Leonini”, typical XVIth century gardens, where tourists can enjoy a calm and unreal atmosphere. During the summer the gardens become stages for open-air performances and exhibitions such as the ones promoted by “Sanquiricoestate” and the Internaional Sculpture Exhibition “Shapes in the Green”. Worth seeing are the rests of the “Torre del Cassero”, the “Garden of Roses” and the church of “Santa Maria Assunta”. All around the town there are the old “Mura Castellane” (walls of the castle); going towards East, one can admire the “Porta Cappuccini”, the old bulwark of the town.
BAGNO VIGNONI: Historical informations and to see
Bagno Vignoni, (4,5 Km going towards South along the Cassia), with its peculiar atmosphere, with its hot vapours of the “Piazza delle Acque”, is the button-hole flower of S. Quirico. Entering Bagno Vignoni is like enjoying another temporal dimension and plunging into a reality so different from the one we are living in. one ca breath a new air or, one can say, an old one. And from the big XVIth century pool where St. Catherine from Siena and Lorenzo de’ Medici called “Il Magnifico” had a bath, one can enjoy one of the most fascinating panorama of Tuscany: the calm Orcia river becomes suddenly inaccessible and hostile ; the severe “Rocca d’Orcia” and, on the right, the sinister “Castle of Ripa”. Behind the town, Vignoni Alto a small place hidden in the green of the hill, whilst in front of Bagno Vignoni there is the “Monte Amiata” (of volcanic origin) which dominates the whole Orcia Valley.
MONTICCHIELLO: Historical informations and to see
Monticchiello during the Etruscan and Roman periods was the town which linked the cities and the communities of this area. Its austerity, typical of the medieval fortresses, clashes with the Renaissance structure of Pienza. The big city walls and the quarter-deck tower on the hill are the signs of the important past of the town, considered the bulwark of the defensive system of the Republic of Siena. And the history of Monticchiello begins when it was annexed to protection of Siena. During the XIIIth century, the town had the same structure of the one we can see now, with the walls, the quarter-deck, the church and the typical communal institutions rules in vulgar language. When in 1559 the Republic of Siena was annexed to the Medicean family, Monticchiello lost its importance. From 1777, the town was under the jurisdiction of Pienza. The church of “Santi Leonardo e Cristoforo” is today a symbol of the previous richness of this medieval fortress, with its XIVth and XVth century frescoes. Monticchiello gives us another example of cultural autonomy: the “Teatro Povero” (the Humble Theatre”). It was founded in Monticchiello before the date of its beginning (1967): it is a kind of theatre-life written by the same characters, that means by the people which live in Monticchiello: they play on the stage their own life.
RADIOCOFANI: Historical informations and to see
The town is built on a high cliff of volcanic origins, 896 m. at sea level. During the Etruscan period, Radicofani gained its strategic importance thanks to Desiderio, the last Longobard king. In the following centuries, Radicofani was under the jurisdiction of the Papal States, the Republic of Siena, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Italian Kingdom after the plebiscite of 1860. From the top of the cliff, one can see the feudal castle built during the Carolingian period. The castle was enlarged and fortified by Pope Adrian Iv (1154) and later was transformed into a fortress by Cosimo I dei Medici; the architect was Baldassarre Lanci and from 1297 to 1300, it became the inaccessible shelter of the Ghibelline Ghino di Tacco. His deeds are celebrated by Dante Alighieri in his “Divina Commedia” (Vith Canto, Purgatory) and by Boccaccio in his “Decamerone”. After the downfall of the Republic of Siena, the castle put up a heroic resistance until the day 17th August 1559, when the glorious “Balzana”, the last Italian communal flag of freedom, was lowered. On the top of the town there is the “Palazzo Pretorio”, now the Town Hall, built in 1225 and on its façade there some coat-of-arms of the Sienese Republic “Podestà”. Walking down the main street, there is the church of S. Agata. Inside the church, a dossal made by Andrea della Robbia, a XIVth century wooden crucifix and an XVIIIth century wooden triptych. In the main square, is situated the Romanesque church of “S. Pietro Apostolo” (XIIIth century). Inside the church there is a beautiful collection of works of art..
CHIUSI: Historical informations and to see
Chiusi has its own story to tell, as one can see visiting the recent archaeological excavations of Petriolo. Unlike the other Etruscan examples, Chiusi has not the typical structure of a city. It was a mosaic of rural villages, scattered all around the hills near the high “Cleusin”, where Porsenna probably lived. Rome absorbed the best of this rural culture. Its joy of living is still present in the coloured paintings made on the tufaceous tombs situated on the “Colle della Scimmia” (Monkey Hill) and in the objects collected in the National Etruscan Museum. The old Etruscan customs are still evident in the local cookery: pici (pasta), brustico, wine, olive-oil, and other ancient flavours such as wheat, venison and wild boar. Also the mysticism of the Christian religion has left the signs of its passage and its permanence. The historical memory begins with the two suggestive catacombs, original monuments of that faith based on eternity. The passage from clandestine Christianity to the legal one is wonderfully narrated into the Cathedral of S. Secondiano, one of the oldest temples of Tuscany. The “Museo della Cattedrale” links, ideally, the past to the present: a mystic itinerary in which the testimonies of the past are present in the 21 XVth century Benedectine illuminated manuscripts, inviting faithful Christians to prayer and to meditation, as the cypresses of the surrounding hills do.
ABBAZIA DI S. ANTIMO: Historical informations
This abbey was built in the valley of the “Poggi Catellari” and the valley of “Arna”, next to the town of Catelnuovo dell’Abate, about 10 km from Montalcino. Its origins go back to 871 A.D. when Charlemagne went to Rome in pilgrimage to meet Pope Adrian I; the Pope gave him some relics of St. Sebastian and St. Antimo. In the way back, a serious epidemic killed many people and when it finished Charlemagne founded the old monastery to thank God. Ancient documents tell that the abbots Tao and Tanimondo built the Benedectine monastery. This two abbots attained the rank of “Earls and Counsellors” of the Holy Roman Empire, therefore the lands and the jurisdiction of the abbey included not only the territory of Siena but also the ones of Pistoia and the Maremma. Then followed a grave degradation, until our days, when inhabitants of this land decided to restore the abbey. Now the religious order of the “Canonici Regolari Premonstratensi” runs carefully the monastery. Inside the abbey there are not many frescoes: worth mentioning is the one into the crypt representing Jesus coming out the sepulchre between two angels. Very beautiful is also the wooden crucifix on the high altar.
MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE: Historical informations
Monte Oliveto Maggiore has today the same typical structure of the big Benedectine abbeys, without forgetting the meaningful Olivetan traditions: every particular is well-regulated, tidy and working. Prayers and work. Centre of monastic education: “Opus Dei”, religious observance, liturgy, precision. The main activity is the “Istituto di Restauro del Libro” (Institute of Book Repair); this institute is today one of the most specialized in Italy as regards books repair. Patience, intelligence and invective are well bound to the fine school of these immortal inlayers. Another important activity is the one of the “Liquoreria” ( Spirits ); here the monks produce aromatic spirits following old recipes which the Olivetans jealously preserve inside the abbey. This solitary and wild place is the triumph of artistic beauty and spiritual serenity. On the hill, surrounded by the “crete senesi” (Sienese clay), there is also a wood of cypresses, pine-trees, oak-trees and olive-trees which form a wonderful park. Inside the monastery, in the Main Cloister, where Signorelli and Sodoma celebrated S. Benedetto in their canvas and frescoes. The choir of Frà Giovanni and the anonymous illuminated chorals tell us the poem of prayer. The library, once the symbol of culture, science and study, contains now only a small number of books.
CORTONA: Historical informations and to see
South of Arezzo, next to Umbria, is situated Cortona, on a steep hill next to the high Sant’Egidio. Cortona was probably founded by the Umbrian people and became an important town with the Etruscans. The city, protected by its big walls, with its steep streets, its churches and its convents , is the keeper of old glories and preserves important objects in its museums and churches. In the XVIth century ex-church “Chiesa del Gesù”, is situated the Diocesan Museum with its works of art: the “Annunciation” of Beato Angelico, paintings of Signorelli and Pietro Lorenzetti. Cortona has also a wonderful XVIth century cathedral and a Gothic church , founded by S. Francesco’s successor, friar Elia Coppi, called “Chiesa di S. Francesco”. Another important church is the one of S. Domenico, built at the beginning of the XVth century, with frescoes by Beato Angelico, paintings by Luca Signorelli and Bartolomeo della Gatta. The church of S. Nicolò was built in the XVth century, with paintings by Luca Signorelli. But the most important monument of Cortona is the “Chiesa al Calcinaio”, along the way that join Cortona to Camucia. This is a masterpiece built by the Sienese Francesco di Giorgio Martini and it is considered one of most perfect work of art of the Renaissance period. Worth mentioning are the “Palazzo Comunale” with its tower and the “Palazzo del Popolo” situated in the “Piazza della Repubblica”. Cortona was the birthplace of saints and artists: S. Margherita, Luca Signorelli and Pietro Berrettini. Here S. Francesco founded the “Eremo delle Celle” (Cells Monastery).