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South of Siena - Crete Senese Country

 

San Giovanni d'Asso    Monte Oliveto Maggiore    La Foce    Radicofani    Montepulciano    Pienza    San Quirico    Buonconvento

 

 

Crete Senese Country

 

 

Crete Senese Country

 

Crete Senese Country

 

Heading south past the rolling deep clay "Crete Senese" countryside around Asciano and San Giovanni d'Asso (famous for its annual November Truffle Festival)

 

Truffle Festival, San Miniato     Truffle Festival, San Giovanni d'Asso

 

San Giovanni d'Asso Truffle Festival, 2007

 

 

Tuscan Cypress-Scape

 

 

Cypress-scapes near Monte Oliveto Maggiore - "The Abbey Born in a Dream" with the famous intarsia works of Fra Giovanni da Verona

 

Intarsia Panel, Fra Giovanni da Verona, Monte Oliveto  Intarsia Panel, Fra Giovanni da Verona, Monte Oliveto  Intarsia Panel, Fra Giovanni da Verona, Monte Oliveto

 

Link to photos of the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore

 

Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Tuscany

Balze Cliffs south of Siena

 

The cool cypress wrapped Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore (left), founded in 1313 on a site looking like the eroded Balze Cliffs nearby (right).  Monte Oliveto is architecturally forgettable but it does possess a great treasure, the beautiful intarsia panel works of Fra Giovanni - the joint best in Italy along with Lorenzo Lotto's beautiful panels in Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.  There is also a cloister frescoed by Signorelli and Sodoma.

 

By far the most beautiful of the South of Siena (nay, Italian) abbeys is the Abbazia di Sant'Antimo (south of Montalcino, with Gregorian chanting included), whilst the interesting Cistercian Gothic Abbazia di San Galgano and its famous sword in a rock is a bit further west.

 

 

Abbazia Sant'Antimo, Tuscany

 

Sant'Antimo

 

 

Abbazia San Galgano, Tuscany

 

San Galgano

 

 

LA FOCE

 

 

Cypress Trees at La Foce, Tuscany

 

 

A bit further south of Monte Oliveto is probably the best known "Tuscan postcard view", taken from the road running alongside La Foce.  We discovered on an earlier visit that the winding road down is in fact a steep double goat track rather than the gentle slope it appears! 

 

The area was one of the main fronts for the Eighth Army fighting their way up Italy in 1944.  La Foce was the home of Iris Origo, and as a POW prison, escape refuge for allied airmen, refugee centre for children from bombed out Genova, and, amazingly, German Command Centre, was the setting for her unputdownable account "War in Val d'Orcia"  about how ordinary (and extraordinary) people, living in an almost medieval society, dealt with the life and death demands of 20th Century military violence in the name of causes they knew nothing about. 

 

La Foce is south of Montepulciano and is marked on the TCI sheet map of Tuscany.  To get to the cemetery follow the dirt road to the right of the house around the estate for a kilometre or so.  The graves of the Origos are at the back of the cemetery.

 

 

La Foce, Tuscany

 

 

The main residence at La Foce (left)

 

 

 

   

 

An extraordinarily moving account of the impact of WWII on a

Tuscan community who had no desire to be at war with anyone.

 

LINK TO INSIGHT PAGE ABOUT "WW II IN ITALY"

 

 

La Foce Cemetery - October 2006

 

 

The little cemetery on the La Foce estate - especially beautiful flowerwise on Ognissanti - All Saints Day (1 November) each year.

 

 

La Foce Cemetery, Tuscany

 

La Foce borgo cemetery - Ognissanti - November 1 2007

 

 

Iris Origo Grave, La Foce Cemetery, Tuscany

 

 

Iris Origo Grave, La Foce Cemetery, Tuscany

 

 

 Books by Iris Origo at Amazon USA

 

 Books by Iris Origo at Amazon UK

 

 

                              

 

The book on the left is an attractive "coffee table" book about La Foce written by Iris Origo's daughter Benedetta.  The gardens (designed in the 1920-30s by Englishman Cecil Pinsent, who had earlier cut his gardening teeth on Bernard Berenson's Fiesole villa "I Tatti") are open on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays in Summer (see their web site) and cottages on the estate are available for rent.  You will find the Cemetery by driving along the track to the right of the house for quite a way.

 

Link to La Foce Web Site

 

 

La Foce Castello, Tuscany

 

La Foce - Castello sunset November 2007

 

 

RADICOFANI

 

 

Radicofani, Tuscany, Ognissanti 2007

 

Ognissanti - 1 November 2007 - Townspeople gather to remember their forebears at the cemetery above the very conspicuous hill town of Radicofani

 

more about Radicofani

 

 

Tuscan Cypress Trees

 

Earlier in the year this is a great area for sunflower fields (deliberate) and poppies (from neglect) - and of course cypress trees.

 

    Tuscan Sunflowers         Tuscan Poppies

 

 

MONTEPULCIANO

 

 

 

The town has the usual elegant Piazza Grande, though not many tourists make it up this high!

 

 

 

Chiesa della Madonna di San Biagio in November

 

 

Sangallo's luminous Chiesa della Madonna di San Biagio - at the foot of the not inconsiderable tufa hill upon which Montepulciano sits.  Alongside it is the beautiful old rectory.  The church is based on a Greek Cross, and Sangallo's original intent with St Peters in Rome was a similar concept.  Rome ended up with a Latin Cross, which means that Michelangelo's dome is not visible from the great western piazza.

 

 

 

 

Montepulciano floating above a November sea of fog

 

 

 

 

 

Chiesa della Madonna di San Biagio, Montepulciano, Tuscany

 

Chiesa della Madonna di San Biagio, Montepulciano, Tuscany

 

PIENZA

 

 

The humanist Sienese Pope Pius II (aka Aeneus Sylvius Piccolomini) (1405 - 1458 - 1464 (59)) "bulldozed" and rebuilt the centre of his modest home Borgo Corsignano and renamed it Pienza (the first example of town planning in Italy since the Romans).  Pienza is now a delightful little pedestrian town, on the level and easy to walk because it's on a low tufa ridge rather than pointy hill.  The photo below shows the two great features of Tuscany in mid-October - translucently beautiful light and absence of tourists. 

 

More about Pope Pius II

 

 

 

 

 

The Piazza Pio II (Piccolomini) in the attractive little town of Pienza.  On the left is the Palazzo Piccolomini, next door to which is the outstanding

 

La Terrazza del Chiostro restaurant  (note that the restaurant will probably be closed from November each year)

 

 

 

 

Pienza Duomo Facade

 

The Papal Arms of Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) provides plenty of pigeon rests on the Pienza Duomo facade on the east side of the little piazza.

 

 

Val d'Orcia view from Pienza

 

View south down to the Val d'Orcia from beside the Pienza Duomo

 

Somewhere down there is the large castle of Spedaletto, which once guarded a major Orcia river crossing used by via Francigena pilgrims

 

 

The east end of the Duomo had a bit of a hill slip at some stage, hence the unusual need to descend rather than ascend several steps to get to the altar.

 

In WW II the British 8th Army fought their way across the Val d'Orcia and their artillery shells left some lasting momentos on the Duomo walls (right).

 

Link to Paradoxplace Insight Page on WW II in Italy

 

 

Pienza Duomo, Tuscany

 

 

SAN QUIRICO D'ORCIA

 

 

San Quirico Val d'Orcia,Tuscany      Knotted Column, San Quirico Val d'Orcia,Tuscany

 

Further west, at the Via Cassia (Via Francigena) road junction, San Quirico d'Orcia (known as Osenna in medieval times) offers a shady lunch opportunity and three unusually high class church portals on one little church - theory is that at least one of them may have been destined for the  Abbazia di Sant'Antimo at the time it ran out of money!  There is also a rare pair of "knotted" columns (though they are not quite in the same league as Chiaravalle della Colomba!) on either side of the west portal.  Such columns have to be sculpted out of one block of stone or marble.

 

 

 

 

The window surround next to the south west portal includes a cartoon type duck with a curly tail - never seen one of those before, though there are some duck-billed angels in Christchurch, Dorset!

 

 

 

 

The lintel reliefs of the west portal include a couple of mermaids facing off - never seen one of those before either!

 

 

 

BUONCONVENTO

 

 

Buonconvento, Tuscany

 

On the way back to Siena along the Via Cassia / Francigena, the little walled town of Buonconvento.  This street was the medieval via Francigena, and is another relaxing place for a tourist free lunch!  And for easy walking as it's not a hill town!  Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII (c1275 - 1312 - 1313 (38)) died near here whilst fighting his way to Rome - his tomb is in the Duomo at Pisa.

 

 

 

 

 

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