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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





Abbazia San Galgano, Tuscany


San Galgano






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.





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, 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







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





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 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, 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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