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The Val di Chiana

Val di Chiana has changed its morphology several times over the centuries. First a fertile area and then due to the inversion of the course of the river Chiana transformed into marshland to the extent that even the layout of the Cassia road had to be shifted farther upstream.

Experts tried to resolve the problem and even Leonardo genius was appealed to for a solution so that this slice of land wedged between Tuscany, Umbria and Latium might return to its ancient splendours. But it was not until the second half of the 19th century that the problem was definitively solved by the intervention of the celebrated hydraulic engineer Fossombroni.

From that point, with a slow process of land reclamation, Val di Chiana once more became the highly fertile land it had been in Roman times, a land that various memoirs refer to as a rich granary.

The valley in fact looks like a huge chessboard with its fields of tobacco, vineyards, olive groves, maize and wheat. Much space is also set aside as pastureland for cattle, sheep and goats.

One of the most important European"roads of the faith"passed through the hills and cypresses of Val d'Orcia. In the middle ages extraordinarily fascinating churches and abbeys were built around this road.

It is impossible to understand the flourishing of religious monuments in Val d'Orcia without considering the Via Francigena and the illustrious people who travelled.

A tradition unconfirmed by historians would have it that Charlemagne, between 774 and 781, received from pope Hadrian I the relics of St. Sebastian and Sant'Antimo and founded, in their honour, one of the most important monasteries in Tuscany. Though the king of the Franks (and later emperor) did not stop off in Val d'Orcia, it is certain that the abbey of Sant'Antimo was already officiated in 814.

Its forms, which recall those of the great French Romanesque churches, are further testimony of the influence exerted by the road on these hills.