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The Orcia Valley


The Orcia Valley is a land far from the noisiness and the uproar of modern life, happily remote from the highways and big road junctions. The unsuccessful industrial developement of the area and the never ending link betwen the inhabitants and the traditional arts and crafts of the past have safeguarded the man - environment relationship, raising it to a dignity hardly known elsewhere.

The Orcia Valley is not only a geographical area naturally privileged by its Val d'orcia Bagno Vignoni Pienzahistory or an area poetically definable through a series of images, it is also, more than anything else, an ecosystem of social, geographical and cultural relations to be protected and known in its complexity.

The inhabitants of the land constantly pursued a vital relationship with nature in the past, a relantionship which was sometimes consciously strong , sometimes unconsciously sweet. The signs left by this enables us to understand the past by looking at the landscape of to day, drawing us nearer to those ancient visions which charmed painters, artists and travellers.

The vegetation, which thickens on the hilltops and encloses streans in a desperate siege, creates unforseeable depths and ideograms; it then shapes fluiting barriers, rhythmic signals and cornices with its sudden presence.

Upwards, where the hilly line breaks down on the suddenly hard and sharp profiles of the fortresses, the vegetation thickens to tin out again in the soft lines of the vineyards and orchards.

MorpholoVal d'orcia Pienzagically speaking, the Orcia Valley turns up as a vast clayey offshoot which still maintains heaps of tufa with golden and soft sandstone, running non stop towards Mount Amiata and Cetona. The clay downs which once frightened the travellers along the Roman Road maintain their ancient beauty, but the relentess encroachment of modernity has contributed to the modification of the appearance of the country in several areas. That is why the task of the inhabitants of the valleis to defend their land today which as any other great patrimony of nature, has to be protected from extinction. It is the world of the “Crete” the sweetest Sienese hills, rising up one ofter the other like long waves of an ocean, crowned with cottages and cut by long rows of cypress trees flanking the country roads.

Here the hamlets and castles are the same colour as the clumps of Autumnal fields, the towns have famous names ant the flocks are still numerous. Few other landscapes change color and atmosphere with the passing of seasons, the way this country does, so it is ochre in Autumn, light green in Spring,yellow at harvest time. Few other landscapes offer so many cues to the photographer or painter. In the background, nearby and impressive, always stands the volcano of Mount Amiata.

To mark the landscape, east of Mount Amiata, are two rivers, not particularly famous but quite interesting: the Orcia and the Paglia. The Orcia rises at the foot of Mount Cetona, between S. Casciano dei Bagni and Sarteano, goes north through a large end severe plain, reclaimed in 1929, then bends west through a wild gorge dominated by Rocca and Ripa d’Orcia.

On the other side of the mountain, past the railway station of Mount Amiata and the winding road leading up to St. Antimo and Montalcino, the landscape becomes more characteristic of the “Maremma”, as far as the river flows into the River Ombrone.

The course of the Paglia is shorter: it rises in the confluence of several streams running between Radicofani and Abbadia San Salvatore, flows southwards to the old boundary between the Popedome and Graunduchy of Tuscany, and then bends eastwards among the thick woods of the Natural Reserves of Mount Rufeno (Latium) and Mt. Meana (Umbria). It runs at last into a wider valley and after bordering the steely Orvietan Rock, it flows into the River Tiber.

Between the two rivers, the hills and the gullies offer the naturalists different landscapes: lapwings and ringdoves are sighted in the sky, in May wild orchids appear in the meadows.

Spas, hot springs, smoke-holes complete the landscape to show the volcano is alive.

The hot waters and the vapours of Mount Amiata give the landscape of this side of the mountain a surprising and somewhat Dantesque atmosphere.

The Via Cassia, one of the most beautiful and varied roads in Italy and all over the world, takes the traveller to the areas east of Mount Amiata.

Built about 220 B.C. as a sign of reconciliation and control over the Etruria conquered by Rome, the Via Cassia links Rome to Florence, (and to Fiesole in the past) going through the hills of Nepi, Sutri, Viterbo and the great plain of Tuscia, the shores of Lake Bolsena, Siena and the sinuous valleys separating “the Chianti” from the hills of St. Gimignano. The Amiatan stretch is about 40 Km. long from the Latium-Tuscany borders to St. Gimignano. The present lay-out of the road runs fast and smooth, avoiding the famous slopes up to Radicofani, which were so tiring in the Middle Ages and still difficult to travel on twenty years ago, but which offers a wonderful view of the volcano.

Almost coinciding with the old Via Cassia was the lay-out of the via Francigena, one the medieval Pilgrim routes to Rome. The route, of which an accurate description dating bach to 994 A.D. by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Siberis is Kept intact, climbed over the Alps at the Great San Bernard Pass, arrived in Paris and crossed the Appennines, descending to Pontremoli and Lucca . The route then skimmed Florence, heading south to Siena. After Mount Amiata, it sloped upwards to Radicofani, skirted around Lake Bolsena, went on towards Rome through Montefiascone, Viterbo and Sutri.


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