In 2004, UNESCO inscribed, Val d'Orcia as World Heritage site with the following words: the landscape of Val d'Orcia is part of the agricultural hinterland of Siena, re-drawn and developed when it was integrated in the territory of the city-state in the 14th and 15th centuries to reflect an idealized model of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. The landscape's distinctive aesthetics, flat chalk plains out of which rise almost conical hills with fortified settlements on top, inspired many artists. Their images have come to exemplify the beauty of well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscapes.
The Landscape of Val d'Orcia
The territory of the Val d'Orcia is made up, mainly of a hilly landscape with gently rolling hills and valleys typical of the Sienese Crete and a rich variety of vegetation. The river Orcia springs from a gorge and winds its way across the valley. The geographical history of the area began 5 million years ago when the sea receded, leaving behind sand and clay deposits which gave origin to the surface of the valley. Later, two volcanoes, Radicofani and Monte Amiata, covered the surface with lava, which when it cooled, became a rock now known as trachyte .
Erosion of the soil has played a major role in the formation of the landscape with the clay soil laid bare and forming craggy badlands known as calanchi and clay knolls otherwise called biancane or mammelloni, which can be seen in the areas of Casa a Tuoma (Pienza), Ripalta (San Quirico), Lucciolabella, Beccatello, and Torre Tarugi (Pienza), Contignano, Pietre Bianche and the Poggio Leano (Radicofani).
North west of Bagno Vignoni a magnificent rocky gorge covered with woodlands and Mediterranean maquis opens out onto the vineyards of Montalcino and then continues to the sea. On the slopes of Monte Amiata are forests of beech and chestnut trees and of particular interest and rare beauty is the holm oak woods of Scarceta. The Abetina del Vivo with ancient silver fir trees is situated near the old village of Vivo d'Orcia famous for its springs which provide water for much of the area.
Other tree species found throughout the area are the holm oak, turkey oak and downy oak which cover the territory in woodlands which become thicker towards the Maremma. However the tree which has become a symbol of the Val d'Orcia is the cypress.
The Val d’Orcia is also home to a large variety of wildlife such as the porcupine, badger, beech marten, polecat, weasel, fox, and wild boar. The presence of the wolf has also been noted in the territory of Radicofani where sheep farming is widespread.
It is an ornithologist’s paradise with the barn owl, long-eared owl, eagle owl and little owl, as well as birds of prey such as the buzzard, harrier eagle, hen-harrier, and kestrel. You can also spot the black and green woodpecker, the raven and hooded crow, the wryneck, flycatcher and bee-eater, to name but a few.
Art and Culture of Val d'Orcia
There is an abundance of architectural and artistic treasures in the Val d'Orcia, which makes it a cultural site of universal value.
All of the five municipalities of the valley (Castiglione d'Orcia, Montalcino, Pienza, Radicofani and San Quirico) stand out for their urban planning and architecture which dates back to the medieval period (XI-XIV century) and the renaissance (XV-XVI century).
Amongst the most noteworthy works of architectural interest are: the Collegiata church, Palazzo Chigi Zondadari and the Horti Leonini gardens in San Quirico; the cathedral, the church of San Francesco, the “Pieve” or parish church of Corsignano, the Ammannati, Piccolomini and Vescovile palaces in Pienza; the fortress, the “Palazzo Comunale” or town hall, the church of San Agostino in Montalcino; the Aldobrandeschi fortress in Castiglione; the fortress with its walls built by the Medici, the villa Medici and the church of San Pietro in Radicofani.
Besides these worthy towns of the Val d'Orcia, this territory offers many delightful hamlets, some of which are fortified, and solitary churches and settlements of historical, artistic, architectural and environmental interest which all contribute to a reference network of exceptional value.
The hamlets of Monticchiello (a medieval walled hamlet with lookout towers and a keep dating back to the second half of the 1200’s, it has also become famous for the theatrical shows put on by the Teatro Povero), Corsignano, Castelluccio (with nearby the Villa of La Foce and Chiarentana) Spedaletto (“grancia” or fortified farm once belonging to the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala of Siena), in the territory of Pienza; Rocca d'Orcia (with its imposing fortress Rocca a Tintinnato), Campiglia d'Orcia, Ripa d'Orcia and Vivo in the territory of Castiglione d'Orcia; Bagno Vignoni, Vignoni alto and Ripa d'Orcia in the territory of San Quirico, and the medieval walled hamlet of Contignano in the territory of Radicofani. In the valley you can also admire many civil and religious buildings dotted throughout the countryside which are tied to the network of farmhouses: San Piero in Campo ( a Camaldolite monastery dating back to before 1030 and dominated by the ancient tower Torre Tarugi),Sant'Anna in Camprena (an Olivetan monastery founded between 1324-34 and rebuilt between the end of the 15C and the 16C in renaissance style) and palazzo Massaini. The extraordinary abbey of Sant'Antimo (photo with description) near to the village of Castelnuovo dell'Abate in the territory of Montalcino which dates back to the time of Charlemagne and belonged first to a Benedictine order, then the Guglielmites until1462, when Pope Pius II put it under the control of the Bishop of Montalcino. The church has 3 aisles with rounded arches and columns finishing in carved capitals.