email
Valdichiana, Italy
americas asia pacific africa middle east europe

Italy: Siena, Cortona, Montepulciano
Most recent 2007

Siena Cortona & Montepulciano
Siena

 

An unfinished cathedral and shell-shaped grand piazza in the lovely city of Siena. Vast expanses of Tuscan countryside dotted with hill villages in the Valdichiana.

Siena

 

Siena
Palazzo Pubblico with the Campo below.

 

 

Siena was once a major European city, dominating international trade routes, especially for the Tuscan wool industry. It reached its height in 1260 at the Battle of Montaperti when it defeated a far superior Florentine force. In the following century it completed its cathedral and the Palazzo Pubblico on the Campo. Growth was halted by the Black Death which in 1348 decimated the population, killing 70,000 of its 100,000 inhabitants.

 

Siena
The Campo seen from the tower of the Palazzo Pubblico.

 

 

Nowadays the city is a popular tourist destination, never more so than at the time of the Palio. This unique event involves bareback horse racing around the Campo at breakneck speeds.

The Palio has been held at least since the beginning of the fourteenth century and used to take place through the town but since the sixteenth century has been restricted to three laps of the Campo. There are virtually no rules except that a rider must not interfere with another rider's reins. Otherwise anything goes and even if a rider is dismounted a riderless horse can still win.

 

Siena

There is intense rivalry between the contradas - originally there were sixty of these city neighbourhoods, now seventeen are left. Each contrada has a horse and jockey which are not usually local, and these are assigned randomly. Only ten can take part each year, drawn by lot. To ensure a measure of safety the track is covered with sand, and mattresses provide some padding.

Siena
Palazzo Pubblico
Siena
Siena
Siena
Duomo
The walls of the new nave can be seen extending at right angles to the left of the dome.

The duomo is another epic story. Most of what can be seen today had already been built by 1215, with the distinctive banding in black and white marble, inspired by Pisa and Lucca. However, this wasn't grand enough for the prosperous city and various plans were put forward to expand the size of the duomo. These culminated in what must have seemed at the time an inspired idea to use the existing building as the transept of a new cathedral, building a new nave at right angles.

Siena
The walls of the part-built new nave.
Siena

As had happened with previous expansions, the new walls began to crack, work was halted and when the Black Death struck, any further grandiose ideas were abandoned.

The walls of the extension can still be seen, partly incorporated into surrounding buildings.

Siena
Via Giovanni Dupre with the Monasterio di Sant'Agostino at the far end.
Siena
Siena
Siena
The church is Santa Maria in Provenzano.
Siena
Chiesa di San Martino

 

Cortona & Montepulciano

 

Arezzo villa
Our villa just outside Arezzo, 1991, with the main house behind.

 

In 1991 we stayed in Arezzo and spent a day south of the town visiting both Cortona and Montepulciano - we went back to Cortona in 2007.

 

Valdichiana
Looking across the Valdichiana from Cortona.
Cortona
Great ice creams in Cortona!

Cortona
Valdichiana
Between Cortona and Montepulciano in the Valdichiana.
Cortona
Palazzo del Comune in Piazza della Repubblica, Cortona.

Between Arezzo and Orvieto the land is gentle, with low hills and flat expanses of reclaimed swamp, a region called the Valdichiana.

Cortona
Cortona backstreet.
Cortona
Valdichiana

In 2007 it was a very hot day so we first had a beer in the lovely Piazza Repubblica in front of the unusual squat Palazzo del Comune, the town hall. Then up the steep and atmospheric Via Santucci - arched in places between the tall medieval buildings. The old monastery church of San Francesco is very plain but boasts a fragment of the True Cross encased in a glass box on the altar.

Cortona
Cortona rooftops.

A lilac-lined steep climb leads to the church of Santa Margherita, where her mummified body lies in a glass coffin on the altar.

Back down into town for lunch at Osteria del Teatro. An unexpected pasta of orange and ricotta cappelletti for Andrew and mine was thin pasta sheets with hare and a chocolate sauce which was very good.

Cortona
Valdichiana

In 1991 we then went on to Montepulciano through the Valdichiana and vast expanses of countryside, very sparsely populated.

It's a very fertile region and we saw, as well as traditional field crops, vineyards on the low slopes of the hills. It is also home to the herds of the Chianina cattle from which the beef for the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina comes.

Montepulciano

 

The medieval hilltop town of Montepulciano is famous for tis wine, and that was our principal reason for coming. As we'd driven here from Basel we were able to take quite a bit of wine back with us.

 

Montepulciano
Sant'Agostino

 

We didn't just buy wine though. We also walked up to the cathedral which was incredibly cold inside, despite the sunny afternoon. They never got round to putting the facade on the duomo, hence its very plain look.

 

Montepulciano
Montepulciano