Lands designed by history and the wise work of man, example of the harmonic synthesis of geology, geomorphology, agriculture, forests and the architecture of our region. Along the roads which historically marked the exchange of goods, ideas and cultures, and the basics of a remarkable and unique richness of excellent products, and also a stimulus for the discovery of areas of great prestige.
Via Volterrana, fascinating Tuscan countryside
As soon as one leaves Florence, along the via senese, there is the majestic Certosa di Firenze, monastery complex built in 1341, presenting itself as a fortress and still guards within important masterpieces, like Pontormo’s works, and terracotta and majolica works done by the Della Robbia family.
From here along the Via Volterrana which, with the Via Francigena, is one of the most ancients roads in Tuscany, going from Florence, through the hills of the Val di Pesa and the Valdelsa for more than 60 km, up and down the hills, to reach Volterra.
Along this road: Montespertoli, important wine market, Castelfiorentino, Montaione and Gambassi Terme, ancient small town with a spectacular view on Tuscan’s hills.
Volterra, Etruscan city
The city is on top of a hill in the valley where two rivers meet Cecina and Era, in one of the most spectacular landscapes. Its fortune, in ancient times, was determined by the presence of mineral deposits in the nearby hills, rich in silver, lead and salt mines. Volterra was of the 12 Etruscan lucumonies and has a medieval urban structure – core of which is Piazza dei Priori – enclosed in the ancient walls, perfectly maintained, that only partly trace the line of the Etruscan ones.
It is compulsory to visit to the Duomo, the Baptistery and the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci, which collects archaeological ruins as well as roman ones, and more than 600 cinerary urns in tuff, alabaster and terracotta, coming from several necropolis. Important proof of the past are also the archaeological area of Vallebuona, with the ruins of the theatre and the hot springs and the area of the Archaeological Park, where the ruins of the Etruscan- Roman acropolis are.
Towards Larderello, the marvel of the primordial power of the earth
A very interesting itinerary is the one leading from Volterra to Larderello, its leit motif is are the geological characteristics of the soil and the subsoil, throughout beautiful and unique landscape. Going from the Balze of Volterra, visible superimposition of sandstones on layers of clay, then moving towards the Colline Metallifere (Metal Bearing Hills) the mineralogical nature of the earth reveals itself throughout wonderful spectacles of the boric-acid fumaroles.
Along the route 68, going down the hills, the erosion is visible on the Biancane of a greish-blue colour: from Saline di Volterra it then heads to Pomarance, where one meets Valle del Diavolo (The Valley of the Devil), named after the steams that came from under the soil which are today exploited for electrical production, therefore come out of the opening of the condensation towers; in Larderello, finally, landscape and technology mix together where technological structures take the steam from the escape spots to the exploit implants opposed to the great towers of refrigeration. Here, the Museum of Geothermic Sciences, one of the several museums composing the museum networks of the Rete Museale della Val di Cecina.
Amongst the natural manifestations of the area, already known and exploited in Etruscan and Roman times, the Lagoni, pool of boiling mud and water, used by the Earl Larderel in 1818 for the extraction of the boric acid on industrial scale. The fumaroles, sometimes violent, of gas and steams, are exploited as engine force for the production of electrical energy, while the hot springs are used for its therapeutic effects.
San Gimignano, Certaldo and Valdelsa, medieval atmosphere and ancient commerce
San Gimignano historical centre is UNESCO World Heritage, extraordinary evidence of a medieval city, where art, architecture and history melt and create a solemn and elegant city, guarding several masterpieces of Italian Art form the XIV to the XV century. Although the city is famous for its towers, more than 70 in the Middle Ages, which could be built only by those rich aristocratic families who could afford at least one ship anchored in Pisa’s harbour.
Small commercial town, San Gimignano found in saffron, exquisite spice growing in the Val d’Elsa, the source of its wealth; amongst the products which historically supplied its welfare: woollen cloths, oil, wine, particularly the Vernaccia, first Italian wine to win the DOC warranty in 1966, which may be tasted along the Strada della Vernaccia di San Gimignano, along with many other local excellent products. Here, the Val d’Elsa goes towards Certaldo, where Boccaccio was born, and where the “Sweet Onion” comes from, small medieval town, rich in charm and cultural events, its majestic building Palazzo Pretorio has been for centuries the seat of Justice for the Val d’Elsa and the Val di Pesa.
Around the beautiful historical hills of Certaldo, there are Gambassi Terme, Montaione, Castelfiorentino and Montespertoli. Heading to Siena, following the Via Francigena, there is Colle di Val d’Elsa, ancient and dynamic craftsmanship centre with a great tradition in glass, today famous for the production of crystal (15% of the crystal worldwide and more than 95% of the Italian one is produced here).
In the sweet landscape of Siena’s hills, Monteriggioni is a rare example of medieval architecture integrally conserves, with its wonderful walls and its 14 towers.
Siena, masterpiece city
In its historical centre, UNESCO’s World Heritage, every building was designed to fit the natural and urban environment around it in a harmonious way, thus creating a unique architectural masterpiece, only divided by the districts that divide the area and give the city a strong identity. Its medieval and gothic monuments testify the extraordinary technical and expressive mastery of the artist who worked in and for Siena throughout the centuries, although the wealth of the city was also determined by the Via Francigena passing through it.
Piazza del Campo, with its spectacular fan shape and venue of the famous Palio, the Duomo, the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, now museum of great importance, are only some of the gems that this city offers to visitors.
Less known, but still amazing, is its hydraulic system, an incredible network of underground channels (il sistema dei Bottini), may be visited on booking. This network is composed by 25km of tunnels, still active and working today whi have represented the only source of drinking water until WWI.
Many masterpieces of the XV century art in Siena represent hills, fields, cypresses, vineyards and olive groves, i.e. the Chianti countryside, a land spotted by villas, farms, castles and tower towns, which along the Via Chiantigiana and through Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Panzano e Greve in Chianti takes us back to Florence.