Empty street in the little town of San Quirico d’Orcia in the Val d’Orcia (In English: "Valley oft he Orica"), Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy
Some background information:
San Quirico d'Orcia is a municipality of about 2,500 inhabitants in the Province of Siena in the Italian region of Tuscany, located about 80 kilometres (50 miles) southeast of Florence and about 35 kilometres (22 miles) southeast of Siena inside the Val d‘Orcia landscape. It is named in honor of Saint Quiricus. Located on the Via Francigena, San Quirico d'Orcia borders the municipalities of Castiglione d'Orcia, Montalcino and Pienza.
The settlement was already inhabited by the Etruscans, who were a powerful and wealthy civilization of ancient Italy between 800 and 500 BC. In the 8th century, San Quirico was first mentioned in a document. In the 13th century, it entered under control of Siena. Until the 15th century its town walls were extended and enhanced by the Sienese governers. But after the defeat of the Republic of Siena in 1559, the Florentine family Medici took control of the whole area. In 1677, San Quirico was enfeoffed cardinal Flavia Chigi by Grand Duke Cosimo III de' Medici and after the cardinal’s death, the town was governed by members of the cardinal’s own noble family Zondadari Chigi.
The Val d'Orcia, or Valdorcia, is a region of Tuscany, central Italy, which extends from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata. Its endless gentle, cultivated rolling hills, which are covered with grain or sunflowers in the summer and vineyards, olive groves, cypresses, beech or chestnut trees all year round alternate with medieval habitations, rural villas and castles boasting impervious towers – all of which is diffused in a tranquilly-isolated nature. This is the scenario that is laid out before the eyes of the visitor to Val d’Orcia.
In 2004, the Val d'Orcia was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. According to UNESCO the valley is an exceptional exemplar of the way in which a natural setting was redesigned during the Renaissance (in the 14th and 15th centuries), reflecting the ideals of good governance in the Italian city-state. Additionally, these splendid localities were celebrated by the painters of the Sienese School, which flourished between the 13th and 15th centuries.
The Val d‘Orcia is often described as the perfect combination of nature and culture, but it is also an ecosystem which bears witness oft he rural population that has cultivated and farmed the ground since the Middle Ages. However, also five-million years of geological history have left their mark on this territory that, today, is abundant in plant and animal species. Even the deposits of lava from volcanoes no longer active – such as Mounts Radicofani and Amiata – have contributed to the delineations and details of the area; the lava, hardened, gave form to those dark stones known as trachytes.
The valley is not only traversed by the river Orcia, but also by the rivers Asso, Formone, Vellora and Vivo. Furthermore the historic road Via Francigena and the Roman road Via Cassia pass through valley that covers and area of altogether 61,188 hectare (151,200 acres). Occasionally the landscape is broken by gullies and picturesque towns and villages such as Montalcino, San Quirico, Pienza, Castiglione and Radicofani. In the northwest the Val d’Orcia borders the Crete Senesi landscape while in the northeast it is flanked by the Val di Chiania.
Until 1250, the Val d’Orcia was under the rule of the noble family Aldobrandeschi, but subsequently noble families of the nearby town of Siena took control of the valley. They were attracted by the continuous transit of men and commerce along the fundamental pathways Via Francigena and Via Cassia. The most notable of these families was the family Piccolomini, which also provided several popes, among them the famous Pius II. It was him who commissioned to transform the little village of Corsignano into the town of Pienza and hence into a place which he thought is the "ideal town". However, after the mid-1500s, Val d’Orcia became a valuable part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and thereby of the Florentine orbit – solely for its agricultural aspect. Thus, it was the family Medici that improved the valley’s infrastructure in the years that followed.
Within the Val d'Orcia is a strip of land following the Orcia river that is used as a wine-growing area between the DOCG zones of Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Here the Sangiovese and Trebbiano-based wines are produced under the Orcia Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) status. The DOC red wine is composed of at least 60 percent Sangiovese with other local varieties, such as Abrusco, permitted to fill in the remainder of the blend. The dry white wine and Vin Santo style DOC wines are composed of at least 50 percent Trebbiano with other local varieties filling out the rest of the blend. All grapes destined for DOC wine production are limited to a maximum harvest yield of 10 tonnes/hectare with the finished wines required to have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12 percent.
But the region is also very rich in other high quality local products such as the "Pecorino" cheese of Pienza (a typical cheese made with sheep's milk), the genuine olive oil, saffron, mushrooms, (including truffles), sweet chestnuts, honey and a lot of other specialties.