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“Le Crete senesi” – the Siena clay hills

The great poet Mario Luzi, recently deceased, described it as “the land without the sweetness of the trees”.  And in fact this is exactly what is fascinating about this vast area in the south-east of the province of Siena – its lunar aspect coming from the clay, of a blue-grey colour, on which any kind of vegetation endeavours to flourish. But it is also an area full of history, art and natural beauties, crossed by the via Lauretana, running along the edges in the midst of vast landscapes and wheat-cultivated hills.


The land is made up of clay, mixed with rock salt and chalk, called “mattaione”, coming from the sediments of the sea which covered the area over 2 million years ago.
The barren and sweetly rolling hills are dotted by isolated farmhouses on the tops surrounded by oak and cypress trees while the vales, thanks to the “fontoni” which keep rainwater, are covered in woodland.
The “calanchi, le biancane e le balze” (commonly called “mammelloni” – huge breasts ) are the typical land formations which can be seen mainly in an area called “Deserto di Accona” (Accona Desert). The area includes Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d’Arbia, Rapolano Terme, San Giovanni d’Asso and Trequanda and each one has its own various attractions even in the small hamlets and smaller settlements.
Standing out in this desert, just like an oasis enclosed within the intense greenery of a cypress tree wood is the “Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore”. Inside there are the frescos by Signorelli to be admired as well as the ancient pharmacy of the convent.
Asciano, once an Etruscan and Roman centre, still has great part of the ancient walls: the Civic Archeological and sacred art museum of “palazzo Corboli” as well as the museum of the 19th century painter Amos Cassioli are to be visited.
Buonconvento, situated at the confluence between the rivers Arbia and Ombrone, rose upon the ruins of the castle of Percenna and has a medieval structure, surrounded by walls built by the republic of Siena. The sacred art museum of the Val d’Arbia has remarkable works by artists of the caliber of Duccio di Buoninsegna and Pietro Lorenzetti. Since some years ago, it is also possible to visit the museum dedicated to the history of share cropping.
In Monteroni d’Arbia, there are interesting ruins of an ancient mill built thanks to the “Ospedale senese di Santa Maria della Scala” – the hospital of Siena. In the whereabouts, there is the  “grancia” of Cuna (a typical fortified farm of the area), even this built by the Sienese hospital organization of those times.
Rapolano Terme is a busy spa town thanks to its precious sulfur springs (where Garibaldi was treated after his wounds in the Aspromonte) but it also a centre of extraction and working of travertine.
San Giovanni d’Asso lies on a hill with the ancient castle of the counts of Scialenga.
Trequanda is in a picturesque location high up on a hill around a medieval castle with a cylindrical tower.

Food and wine

San Giovanni d’Asso is especially known for its production of the white truffles of the clay hills to which a fair and a museum is dedicated. It is also famous for its pecorino cheese produced all over the area because it is ideal for the breeding of sheep thanks to the land’s conformation.

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