Val d’Orcia

Province of Siena, Tuscany
N43 4 0 E11 33 0
Date of Inscription: 2004
Criteria: (iv)(vi)
Property : 61,187.9609 ha
Buffer zone: 5,660.0771 ha
Ref: 1026rev
News Links/Travelogues:

The landscape of Val d’Orcia is part of the agricultural hinterland of Siena, redrawn and developed when it was integrated in the territory of the city-state in the 14th and 15th centuries to reflect an idealized model of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. The landscape’s distinctive aesthetics, flat chalk plains out of which rise almost conical hills with fortified settlements on top, inspired many artists. Their images have come to exemplify the beauty of well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscapes. The inscription covers: an agrarian and pastoral landscape reflecting innovative land-management systems; towns and villages; farmhouses; and the Roman Via Francigena and its associated abbeys, inns, shrines, bridges, etc.

Val d’Orcia, in the Province of Sienna, Tuscany (central Italy), is a rural agricultural landscape that retains much of its Renaissance layout, character and aesthetic. The landscape of Val d’Orcia is layered with evidence of human occupation and settlement extending over thousands of years. The area was important during the Etruscan period and developed during the era of the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, agricultural and pastoral production declined and much of the area seems to have been abandoned. A period of economic revival and political stability in the 10th and 11th centuries led to the establishment of monasteries, increased use of the Roman-period Via Francigena (an important religious and trade route linking Rome and northern Italy) and the development of villages under a feudal system.

However, it was the dramatic expansion of the city-state of Sienna in the 13th and 14th centuries that led to the creation of Val d’Orcia’s distinctive rural landscape. The landscape became strongly associated with Renaissance (14th-15th centuries) utopian ideals and an ideology expressed, for example, in a circa 1339 painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Sienna Town Hall. Wealthy Siennese merchants invested in the development of agriculture, turned the Val d’Orcia landscape into productive farmland, and introduced an innovative land tenure framework (whereby small-landowners paid half of their agricultural produce to merchants as rent). Merchants supported the development of settlements, built fortifications, villas and churches and commissioned paintings by artists such as Giovanni di Paolo and Sano di Petri, artists who reinforced the Renaissance utopian ideals on which the landscape was created.

Following the weakening of Siennese power at the end of the 16th century, the Val d’Orcia gradually declined in economic importance. The comparative poverty and marginalization of the area over the following four centuries had the effect of sustaining traditional land-use patterns and structures and thus retaining the Renaissance layout, character and aesthetic of the landscape. In 1999, on the initiative of five municipalities, the area was declared a regional park whose purpose was to protect and manage the cultural and natural values of the area.

The Val d’Orcia distinctive landscape comprises a network of farms, villages and towns reflecting the Renaissance agricultural prosperity, the mercantile wealth of Sienna, the need for defence, and a utopian aesthetic. The working landscape of fields, farms, trees, and woodlands, is interspersed with low, conical hills on the summits of which are situated towns and villages. The major hill towns of the area include Pienza (a separate World Heritage property), Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia, Castiglione d’Orcia, Rocca d’Orcia, Monticchello and Radicofani. Distinctive groups and avenues of cypress pine trees mark out the settlements and define routes.

The area comprises small-scale, mixed-produce farms on which grain, vines, olives, fruit, and vegetables are cultivated. The landscape is interspersed with hay meadows and open pasture fields with livestock. The agricultural landscape, which was inspired by and influenced Siennese painters of the Renaissance, has continued to incite – for example, travellers of the European ‘Grand Tour’ and modern-day photographers. Their images and descriptions have come to exemplify an idealised aesthetic of a Renaissance agricultural landscape.

The boundary of the World Heritage property coincides with the boundaries of the modern-day Park of Val d’Orcia (Parco Artistico Naturale e Culturale della Val d’Orcia).

Criterion (iv): The Val d’Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture.

Criterion (vi): The landscape of the Val d’Orcia was celebrated by painters from the Sienese School, which flourished during the Renaissance. Images of the Val d’Orcia, and particularly depictions of landscapes where people are depicted as living in harmony with nature, have come to be seen as icons of the Renaissance and have profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking.


Suggested Bases:

Arezzo is a city in Tuscany, Italy that was an important Etruscan town. Nowadays, Arezzo is an agricultural trade centre; has machine, clothing, gold, and jewellery industries; and is a tourist centre. Arezzo’s origins as a place of human habitation date far back into the Stone Age. Its history begins no later than the 4th century BC, when it was called Aretim and was one of 12 hill towns of the Etruscan League (the list also included what are now called Perugia, Chiusi, Cortona and Volterra). After the Romans took over Etruria, they called this city Arretium. In the 11th century, Arezzo was made a free commune, siding with the Ghibellines. Arezzo is also famous for Guido d’Arezzo, the Medieval abbot who originated solfeggio (the mnemonic music system known to many from the song in The Sound of Music that starts “Doe, a deer”) at the Duomo in the early 11th century [read more].

Florence (Italian: Firenze) is the capital of the region of Tuscany in Italy, with a population of about 366,500. The city is a cultural, artistic and architectural gem, and is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence was the home to powerful families, creative geniuses and scientific masterminds who left their legacies in the city’s many museums and art galleries. The city also has a very rich literary history, being the birthplace of the famous poet Dante, and standard Italian today is primarily based on the dialect of Tuscan spoken in Florence. The Duomo, officially Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, is the fourth largest church in Europe, with the biggest brickwork dome in the world Politically, economically, and culturally, Florence was the most important city in Europe for around 250 years, from some time before 1300 until the early 1500s. Florentines reinvented money, in the form of the gold florin [read more]

Rome (Italian and Latin: Roma), the ‘Eternal City’, is the capital and largest city of Italy and of the Lazio (Latium) region. It’s the famed city of the Roman Empire, the Seven Hills, La Dolce Vita (sweet life), the Vatican City and Three Coins in the Fountain. Rome, as a millennium-long centre of power, culture and religion, having been the centre of one of the globe’s greatest civilizations ever, has exerted a huge influence over the world in its circa 2500 years of existence. The historic centre of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With wonderful palaces, millennium-old churches and basilicas, grand romantic ruins, opulent monuments, ornate statues and graceful fountains, Rome has an immensely rich historical heritage and cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it one of Europe’s and the world’s most visited, famous, influential and beautiful capitals. Today, Rome has a growing nightlife scene and is also seen as a shopping heaven, being regarded as one of the fashion capitals of the world (some of Italy’s oldest jewellery and clothing establishments were founded in the city) [read more]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.