Val d
Val D'Orcia
Cultural Italy Europe And North America Province Of Siena, Tuscany

Val d'Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was rewritten in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. It lies to the south-east of Siena, its northern boundary approximately 25 km from the city centre. The landscape reflects colonization by the merchants of Siena in the 14th and 15th centuries. They aimed to create a landscape of efficient agricultural units but also one that was pleasing to the eye. The landscape that resulted was one of careful and conscious planning and design and led to the beginning of the concept of 'landscape' as a man-made creation. The landscape was thus created to be efficient, functional, equitable and aesthetically pleasing. It was based on innovative tenure systems whereby the estates owned by merchants were divided into small properties and cultivated by families who lived on the land. Half of the produce was paid to the merchants as rent - sufficient to allow the merchants to reinvest in further agricultural improvements. The farms were mixed farms cultivating grain, vines, olives, fruit and vegetables and with hay meadows and pastures for livestock interspersed between the farms. Farmers practised transhumance with routes to Meremma and l'Amiata. An illustration of the aim for the farming landscape to create pleasing pictures is the persistent tradition of planting roses to embellish vineyards. Cypresses form a striking addition to the landscape planted along routes and around settlements, their regular form punctuating the rounded shapes of the hills and their dark colour contrasting strikingly with the pale landscape

The colonization of the landscape involved creating new settlements for farmers and their families and labourers needed to work the land. It also involved greatly enlarging and improving existing villages. The most dramatic example of a planned new town is Pienza, named after its founder Pope Pius II who commissioned in 1459 Bernardo Rossellino to enlarge his village to create an ideal city with cathedral, palaces and civic buildings surrounding a central piazza, thus bringing together civil and religious authorities. Larger fortified settlements on hills include Montalcino, originally a 13th-century frontier post, Radicofani, Castiglion d'Orcia, Rocca d'Orcia and Monticchello. Elsewhere the landscape is studded with smaller villages on smaller hills, some also fortified. In many cases these settlements include remains of 13th-century buildings when Siena first gained control of the area, buildings from the great period of expansion in the 14th and 15th centuries, and also later buildings constructed under Florentine control in the 16th centuries.

The World Heritage site is significant in that the large farmhouses assume a dominant position in the landscape and are enriched by prominent architectural elements such as loggias, belvederes, porches and avenues of trees bordering the approach roads.

The strategic importance of the area, its connection with Siena, and its development, are all intertwined with the Via Francigena which has traversed the area north-south since Roman times (when it was know as the Via Cassia) linking Rome with the north of Italy and France. Since late medieval times, the route has been used an ecclesiastical route, linking the Church of Rome with its dioceses. It also facilitated a flow of pilgrims and merchants and generally allowed the transmission of people and ideas to enter the region. The route fostered the development of fine churches and monasteries such as the Collegiata di San Quirico in the Abbey of Sant'Antimo.

In the Val d'Orcia (and also in Siena) the landscape is strongly associated with utopian ideals. Siena was a sort of 'commune' and the Val d'Orcia a model of sustainable rural development, and both manifested the highest aesthetic qualities. The ideal landscape was painted by Lorenzetti in the Town Hall in Siena in 1338-40;it became reality in the Val d'Orcia and was then immortalized in paintings by artists such as Giovanni di Paolo, and Sano di Petri, who in turn helped to strengthen the ideals.