The Valley of the Chiana is the largest of the Apennine valleys occupying more than 500 square kilometres of immaculately tended cultivation appearing like a garden from Cortona, the old city which dominates it from its height of 600 m. Already 22 centuries ago it was considered the granary of Etruria and Hanibal, before crossing it to draw the Roman legions into ambush, at Trasimeno, was able to supply his troops by sacking this area. But more signficant than the evidence recorded by historians, are the archeological remains and the cultural traditions which reveal the Val di Chiana as a land of ancient civilisation.
The hypogean tombs of Camucia and Sodo, the remains of Farneta, and the museum of Cortona, confirm that the Etruscans populated and cultivated this valley battling with the forces of the water which for thousands of years had swamped it. When Leonardo, more than 15 centuries later, designed his “Codice Atlantico”, the Val di Chiana appeared again as a lake. That is why, on the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Barbaric invasions and the Gothic wars which stained Italy with blood for almost all of the 6th century, depopulated the countryside. No longer carefully tended, the land was once again invaded by the waters.
The Lorena reclamation, at the beginning of the 19th century, designed and directed by the Aretine Vittorio Fossombroni, restored its ancient fertility to the valley, re-establishing villages and farm houses, wonderfully designed, and, for a time, extraordinarily functional.It was not always, however, an isolated paradise. After Hanibal, other epic historical events took place in the valley during the process which brought about the establishment of the Tuscan State. The Battle of Pieve al Toppo (1288) in which the Aretines inflicted a tough defeat on the Sienese, who were at the time allied with the Florentine Guelphs, and the battle, called Scannagallo (1554) because of the large number of mercenary French soldiers killed, which took place near Foiano and determined the subjection of the Republic of Siena to Cosimo de’ Medici, First Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Many extraordinary geniuses of art were born here, the most famous of whom are Luca Signorelli, Pietro da Cortona, Andrea Sansovino, and in our own century, Gino Severini. The Autostrada del Sole and the Rome-Milan railway line cut the valley lengthwise. Two state roads, the Umbro-Casentinese and the eastern branch of the Cassia, following the curving line on both sides, provide excellent connections with the larger centres while a dense network of good provincial roads allows for the crossing of the valley in all directions and for the discovering of the most beautiful spots.
The Val di Chiana was the granary of Etruria and is still today the only area where the most prized breed of cattle is raised, the Chianina, which is derived directly from the pre-historical “bos primigenius.” This agricultural vocation characterizes the economy of the valley, where activities connected to cereal crop production, sugar beet, quality oil production and a typical wine “Bianco Vergine”, prosper.