Valdichiana: a land to be discovered

Valdichiana is a place in Tuscany spread over a total surface area of 500 square kilometres, south of Arezzo near Lake Trasimeno, Umbria. Located near the hills of Siena, it is a part of the world which is full of fields, flowers and plants, and during the summer months is full of yellows, oranges and golds from the Sunflowers. It is a narrow land between the Appennino mountains and the hills of Siena.

An extremely fertile landmass, for a long time, if the story about Hannibal, which supplied his troups with the wheat of this valley before destroying the Roman army next to the Lake Trasimeno. It didn’t always work like this, though. The Roman Empire vanished, and in Medieval times Valdichiana became a huge waste and desert marshland, and for a long time, people thought up ideas and studies to drain the area of the excess water. The most famous, without doubt, are those of Leonardo da Vinci, who was so passionate about hydrolics, that he made and drew up many designs for that area.

No drain work was made anyway till the 19th Century when the Lorena, the lords of Tuscany, finally got the draining project working in Valdichiana. Doing this made the ancient land fertile again and saw houses and little settlements cropping up. And still today, several important products are known as tipical of the Valdichiana Valley, such as the wine, the “Bianco Vergine”, and olive oil. This valley, anyway, is mainly known for that distinguishable breed of called the “Chianina”, which has world wide fame as the animal which provides us with the traditional “bistecca alla fiorentina” dish.

The tendency for the area to become waterlogged, and the diffusion of malaria as a consequence has forced people to build their houses up the two sides of the valley. Places which appear to be Medieval, actually have much older origins, some of them go back to the Etruscan times, and some, before that.

An example of this is Cortona, a settlement in an awesome location that still has many original Etruscan walls. A place that, by passing through will leave you truly amazed, from the labyrinth of medieval streets, which are perfectly conserved, to the splendid churches which are rich in art, to the elegant Renaissance palaces, to the small workshops of the local antique dealers, to the public squares as “Piazza della Republica”, which is dominated by the Palazzo Comunale with its towers, and the Palazzo del Popolo. A unique pathway, where you feel like you’re breathing air from different times, until you reach the peak of the hillside. Here you can find the sanctuary where the body of Santa Margherita is perfectly preserved, just above the strong walls of the Girifalco Fortress, where you can enjoy ono of the most beautiful views in all of Tuscany.

When you head back down the hill you can, if you wish, visit the “Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca” which has an impressive array of Etruscan items, as well as some famous paint works there is also the “Museo Diocesano” which has, among other important things, the magnificent “Annunciazione” by Beato Angelico. It is therefore not surprising to know that Cortona has being the home and birthplace of many important people in the art world, from the painter Luca Signorelli to the architect Pietro Berretti, who is often referred to as Pietro da Cortona.

But the city of Cortona is always surprising. Just think about the Etruscan necropolis, the magnificent church of “Santa Maria a Calcinaio”, a very important achitectural work of the Renaissance, which has been built by Francesco di Giorgio Martini just out of the city walls. As well as the smaller, elegant church of Santa Maria Nuova which has been built on the opposite side of the city. By going up to the Eremo delle Celle, you can see the place where the 40 years old and ill Francesco d’Assisi wrote that “Testamento”, which, would later become the reason for the split of the Franciscan movement he was going to create.

If Cortona is beautiful, then the surrounding villages are real treasures and are definitely worth visiting. Some of them aren’t well known at all, like Foiana delle Chiana or Castiglion Fiorentino, dominated by its castles and towers, while some are quite famous, like Lucignano and its oval shape, or Monte San Savino with its Renaissance origins.

While walking on the streets you feel like you’re going back in time, among beautiful medieval churches and their works of art, prestigious and distinguished palaces and dark stone city walls. The past is important in these cities that it seems very much present around nowadays, the present is equally important though; rich in traditions and events. For example, Foiano della Chiana is well known for the Carnival celebrations, the only place in Tuscany which compares with the more famous Viareggio festival. This tradition dates back to 1539 even though the actual event which is celebrated now is from the 19h century. It’s an awesome sight, with masks, colours and floats, a reason wich makes the area worth a visit.

We’re in February, which means that nature is awakening from its long sleep, from the branches of the trees to the gems of the leaves. The grassy lawns of Valdichiana will be full of sunny colours from the flowers, which wil be soon replaced by the light yellow of the wheat and the brightness of the sunflowers.

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