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The Toscana Region of Italy

Introduction

Probably the most visited province in Italy, people come to Toscana come for many reasons.

Many come for the fine arts, others wish to explore the extraordinary countryside and landscapes. Gourmets and wine buffs visit Toscana to enjoy the incredible, simple yet wonderful cuisine and wines. Walkers and hikers enjoy the mountain paths, cyclists the rolling hills, summer vacationers the sea coast and islands. Students come to learn the beautiful Italian language and culture.

From the Etruscans to the Romans to the Renaissance, Toscana is possibly the greatest repository of art in the world, from extraordinary paintings and sculpture to frescoes and architectural masterpieces not seen anywhere else in the world.

Toscana has something for everyone.

 

Pienza

This is the typical Renaissance city. Walking from one side to the other takes about three minutes. And yet…In 1459, Pope Pius II began a scheme designed to turn Pienza, the place of his birth, into Italy's first model city; an ideal Renaissance creation of palaces, churches, piazzas and ordered streets. Unfortunately he died within 2 years and only a portion of his dream was ever realized.

It is this combination of what is and what might have been that makes Pienza so beguiling. That, and the sheer natural beauty of its setting. No-one needs to say that Tuscany is beautiful and that this part of the region, the Val d'Orcia south of Siena, is the most beautiful of all (upper right). Inside the walls is medieval and Renaissance perfection. Walk through the main gate, the Porto al Prato and turn immediately right, down the small, flower-hung Via Gozzante to a panorama that offers a view across half of Tuscany. If there's a better rural view in Italy, I'd love to know it. Pienza is noted for its Pecorino cheeses. Also notable is its main gate, Porto al Prato, Palazzo Piccolomini and its cathedral.

 

 

Montalcino

Montalcino's ancient name was Monte Ilcinus after the leccio "holm oak" (Quercus ilex.) The Oaks of Montalcino have covered its hills and valleys from prehistory to  present day, sharing their territory with the Olive tree, the Chestnut tree and Montalcino's most famous plant the Brunello grapevine, also known as Sangiovese Grosso.

 

"From this height, you are left breathless by the panorama," recounted Gabriele D'Annunzio in his great work "The Prank of Buccari," he defines Montalcino as the "window sill of the Apocalypse. On a clear day with naked eyes we see Corsica, the island of Elba, the island of Giglio, the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Apuane Alps, the Abetone, the Consentine with the Sluices of Verna and the Terminillo. Still closer, we see the cities of Siena, Pienza, Montepulciano. We see the long sleeping volcano Monte Amiata casting its shadow over our valley." 

 

The village, which has a population of just over 5,000 inhabitants, is situated along the road from Siena to Monte Amiata , at the end of the Val d'Orcia . Montalcino became a thriving small community thanks to the increasing population growth due to the arrival of exiles from Roselle,who were attacked by the Saracens. Montalcino became an independent city of considerable importance because of its strategic position along the Via Francigena. Montalcino enters orbit at the time of the battle of Montaperti in 1260 and becomes a stronghold. But it is from the twentieth century that Montalcino regains importance because it is in the middle of one of the most important grape-growing areas: in fact, the tourism and especially the production of wine are basic to the economy of Montalcino.


The Abbey of Sant'Antimo (Abbazia di Sant'Antimo) is a beautiful Romanesque church, in a picture-perfect setting just south of Montalcino in southern Toscana It sits in a large valley with views of the hill town Castelnuovo dell'Abate, rolling hills covered in olive groves and vineyards, and wild forests. Sant'Antimo is "one of the finest Romanesque religious buildings in Italy." The church dates from the 12th century.

 

 

Held on the last Sunday in October, the Feast of the Thrush ( above right ) is a festival that celebrates the success of the hunting season, an event accompanied by a competition of archery that ignites the hearts of all people. Royalty and their court of more than one-hundred, wearing 14th century costumes, move in ceremonious procession across the festive piazza to the steps of the ancient fortress where they receive from the hunters a bounty of Thrush to symbolize success of the hunt.

The first medieval walls were built in the 13th century. The fortress was built at the highest point of the town in 1361, on a pentagonal plan designed by the Sienese architects Mino Foresi and Domenico di Feo. The fortress incorporates some of the pre-existing southern walls, the pre-existing structures including the keep of Santo Martini, the San Giovanni tower and an ancient basilica which now serves as the fortress chapel.Though the town itself was eventually conquered, the fortress itself was never taken, an admirable feat, considering the size of the Sienese and Florentine forces that besieged Montalcino at varying intervals.

 


Brunello di Montalcino is the most prestigious Italian red wine, well-known all over the world, and made exclusively with selected Sangiovese grapes. These are picked in the Montalcino area from the end of September to mid October. The juice is fermented along with the grape skins from two to three weeks in stainless steel tanks and then aged for 4 years, of which 2 and a half are in oak barrels. Robust, savory and velvety with a nose of red fruit, vanilla and spices. In Montalcino you can taste and buy different types of Brunello in many wineries and wine shops that fill the town and countryside.

 

Montepulciano

 

A medieval and Renaissance hill town and commune surrounded by walls and gates in the province of Siena in southern Tuscany, Montepulciano, has an elevation of 605 m, and sits on a high limestone ridge. It's name comes down to us from Latin Mons and Publicianus ("Mount of Publicianus"). It was founded by the Etruscan King Porsenna of Chiusi according to legend; the settlement was already in existence in the 4th-3rd centuries BC. In Roman times it was the seat of a garrison guarding the main roads of the area. The main monuments built between the 13th and 15th centuries bear witness to the economic power and social importance of the local nobility. The main piazza seen below on the right.

 

Montepulciano is a major producer of food and drink. Montepulciano is known world-wide for its wine. Wine connoisseurs consider its Vino Nobile among Italy's best. However, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano should not be confused with the varietal wine (Montepulciano grape) of the same name. Montepulciano is also known for its pork, cheese( notice below the intricate cheese carving) , "pici" pasta (a thick, hand rolled pasta like a fat spaghetti), lentils, and honey.

 


Bravio delle Botti - an annual event which always takes place in Montepulciano on the last Sunday of August. This exciting race between the 8 "contrade" (districts) of the town seek to win the "Bravio", the painted cloth banner depicting the city's patron saint (in the center foto). The competition is very challenging as the contestants for each contrada push huge, heavy "botti" (wooden wine barrels) for about 6/10th of a mile uphill along the narrow streets of Montepulciano's historical center. Two strong "spingitori" (pushers) push each barrel up to the finish line in front of the beautiful Duomo in Piazza Grande.

 

 

The city itself seems even more beautiful, adorned with flags and decorations displaying the various contrada colors. Early on the day of the race there are a series of fascinating ceremonies and events taking place.
The costume parade winding along the streets of the historical center is a real delight! Knights, noblemen and noble ladies, all in their spectacular costumes, take you back in time to enjoy the magical and suspended atmosphere of the Middle Ages - an event not to miss!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Official Montalcino web site


The Official Pienza site


The Official Montepulciano site



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