Art and culture of Val d'Orcia
Discover hills, hamlets and monuments of extraordinary charm
Val d'Orcia, this fascinating oasis of nature and culture, is set among acres of olive groves, oak forests and vineyards. The river that gave its name to the valley is little more than a creek for the better part of the year. Prone to dry up in the summer heat, it becomes, come fall, an impetuous river capable of sweeping away anything it finds in its path. The river finds its source in the hills between Radicofani and Sarteano and then it flows into a wide cultivated valley. As it bends eastward, it touches the hillsides of Pienza, San Quirico, Montalcino and Castiglione. It follows the Amiata and curves around the hills of the high Maremma, before flowing into the Ombrone.
The river’s water comes from the Orcia River and its tributaries, but it also receives currents from Bagno Vignoni and Bagni San Filippo. These thermal waters, which rise from the heart of the volcano, have offered well-being and health remedies for thousands of years. Castiglione d’Orcia marks the boundary between the Val d’Orcia and the forests of Monte Amiata. The City of Siena and the Salimbeni fought bitterly for control of the ancient settlement of the Aldobrandeschi in the 1300s. The hamlet’s center is dedicated to painter and sculpture Lorenzo di Pietro called ‘Il Vecchietto’. In its central square, visitors will find a travertine well built in 1618 which faces the Palazzo Comunale. Visitors won’t want to miss a tour of the town’s lovely churches including Santa Maria Maddalena and Santi Stefano and Degna. The remains of two noteworthy fortresses, Rocca Aldobrandesca and Rocca a Tentennano grace the hamlet’s central area.
In the district of Rocca d’Orcia, one will find the churches of Pieve di San Simeone (XIII century), Compagnia di San Sebastiano and Madonna del Palazzo; the later has been desecrated and recently transformed into a residential building. Visitors won’t be able to resist a stop at Vivo d’Orcia, a tourist hot-spot at the foot of the Amiata. Not far from the center, you’ll find the ‘Eremo del Vivo’, a late Renaissance structure designed by Antonio da San Gallo, ‘Il giovane.’ A short walk from Vivo’s aqueduct will take you to the little church of ‘Ermicciolo’ and the famous ‘Seccatoi’ area, which many expects consider the town’s first ancient settlement.
Make sure to visit the historical center of Campiglia d’Orcia—a charming town which has maintained its Medieval characteristics. Near the hamlet, one can find the remains of the Campigliola tower. Montalcino is know for its Brunello, one of the most famous red wines in the world. Montalcino is also a magnificent city of the arts and it dominates a hillside overlooking more than 3,000 hectares of vineyards. Between the Ombrone and dell’Orcia basins, you’ll find the Rocca fortress. Constructed in 1361, this structure was built to guard the entrance of Montalcino from Siena. Another worthy stop on your itinerary includes the Palazzo Comunale’s tower, built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. At the foot of the tower, you’ll find Piazza del Popolo and the town’s Gothic Lodge. Don’t miss the churches of Sant’Agostino and Sant’Egidio (XIV century). Visitors will also enjoy the Museo Civico e Diocesano which hosts paintings and sculpture from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries and several della Robbia terracottas.
Two winding roads among the vineyards will take visitors to Torrenieri, Sant’Angelo in Colle and Poggio alle Mura. From Castelnuovo dell’Abate, you can easily reach the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, one of Italy ’s most famous Romanesque works. Pienza was declared ‘ideal city’ by Pope Pius II and has recently been declared part of the ‘patrimony of humanity’ by UNESCO.
In 1458, Enea Silvio Piccolomini decided to transform his native town into a symbolic Renaissance city. From 1459 to 1462, the new Pienza saw the birth of the Cathedral dell’Assunta which hosts some of the most well-known artists from Siena of the time. Nearby, you’ll find the Palazzo Piccolomini whose loggia offers a wonderful view of the Valle d’Orcia, the Palazzo Comunale and the Palazzo Vescovale and its adjoining museum. Don’t miss the medieval church of San Francesco and the walls of the austere Pieve di Corsignano, mentioned in historical documents as early as 714.
Southwards, you’ll find a road that winds along the hills; it will take you to the fortified hamlet of Monticchiello, which hosts various medieval buildings, including a walled fortress and the thirteenth century church of Saint Leonardo and Saint Christopher. Said church holds interesting remains of ancient frescos. On the southern border of the valley, visitors can stop at San Quirico d’Orcia, which developed alongside the medieval hamlet of Osenna. It became a settlement of Siena in 1256 and still conserves its historical character.
Radicofani, on the southern coast of the Val d’Orcia, hosts one of the most important fortresses in Tuscany, which dominated the border of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Papal States for centuries. This same site was used by both the Etruscans and the Romans; however, the fortress was built around the year 1000. The tower, reconstructed in the 1900s, offers an extraordinary panorama of the Val d’Orcia, the Amiata, the Appenines and the Trasimeno and Bolsena lakes. The churches of San Pietro and Sant’Agata hold a noteworthy collection of della Robbia terracottas and wooden statues; the Palazzo Pretorio currently hosts City Hall.
On the ancient Via Cassia road, you’ll find Palazzo della Posta, a Medici villa transformed into a hotel that has hosted various renowned visitors. This winding road brings travellers to the medieval hamlet of Contignano. On the south side of the valley, you’ll find San Quirico d’Orcia, which developed alongside the medieval village of Osenna, which became part of Siena ’s settlements in 1256. In the center, surrounded by a series of walls, one can visit the Collegiata dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta, with its magnificent Romanesque-Gothic portals. Don’t miss the church of the Misericordia, Palazzo Pretorio, Palazzo Chigi and Santa Maria di Vitaleta. Nature lovers will enjoy the area’s Horti Leonini, noteworthy Italian gardens that were created in 1540 by Diomede Leoni. Said gardens currently host contemporary sculpture. The church of Santa Maria Assunta, the Giardino delle Rose, rose garden and the ancient hospital, Ospedale della Scala complete the tour.
If you follow the Cassia southwards, you’ll arrive at Bagno Vignoni, the thermal station that has been known since Medieval times for its celebrated ‘piazza d’acqua’. On the slope that leads towards the river, you’ll find the Parco dei Mulini—interesting park that bears witness to plumbing constructions and techniques that were invented in medieval times.