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.
Justification for Inscription
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 pictures.
Criterion (vi): The landscape of the Val d’Orcia was celebrated by painters from the Siennese 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.
Val d'Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was rewritten in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. It lies to the south-east of Siena, its northern boundary approximately 25 km from the city centre. The landscape reflects colonization by the merchants of Siena in the 14th and 15th centuries. They aimed to create a landscape of efficient agricultural units but also one that was pleasing to the eye. The landscape that resulted was one of careful and conscious planning and design and led to the beginning of the concept of 'landscape' as a man-made creation. The landscape was thus created to be efficient, functional, equitable and aesthetically pleasing. It was based on innovative tenure systems whereby the estates owned by merchants were divided into small properties and cultivated by families who lived on the land. Half of the produce was paid to the merchants as rent - sufficient to allow the merchants to reinvest in further agricultural improvements. The farms were mixed farms cultivating grain, vines, olives, fruit and vegetables and with hay meadows and pastures for livestock interspersed between the farms. Farmers practised transhumance with routes to Meremma and l'Amiata. An illustration of the aim for the farming landscape to create pleasing pictures is the persistent tradition of planting roses to embellish vineyards. Cypresses form a striking addition to the landscape planted along routes and around settlements, their regular form punctuating the rounded shapes of the hills and their dark colour contrasting strikingly with the pale landscape
The colonization of the landscape involved creating new settlements for farmers and their families and labourers needed to work the land. It also involved greatly enlarging and improving existing villages. The most dramatic example of a planned new town is Pienza, named after its founder Pope Pius II who commissioned in 1459 Bernardo Rossellino to enlarge his village to create an ideal city with cathedral, palaces and civic buildings surrounding a central piazza, thus bringing together civil and religious authorities. Larger fortified settlements on hills include Montalcino, originally a 13th-century frontier post, Radicofani, Castiglion d'Orcia, Rocca d'Orcia and Monticchello. Elsewhere the landscape is studded with smaller villages on smaller hills, some also fortified. In many cases these settlements include remains of 13th-century buildings when Siena first gained control of the area, buildings from the great period of expansion in the 14th and 15th centuries, and also later buildings constructed under Florentine control in the 16th centuries.
The World Heritage site is significant in that the large farmhouses assume a dominant position in the landscape and are enriched by prominent architectural elements such as loggias, belvederes, porches and avenues of trees bordering the approach roads.
The strategic importance of the area, its connection with Siena, and its development, are all intertwined with the Via Francigena which has traversed the area north-south since Roman times (when it was know as the Via Cassia) linking Rome with the north of Italy and France. Since late medieval times, the route has been used an ecclesiastical route, linking the Church of Rome with its dioceses. It also facilitated a flow of pilgrims and merchants and generally allowed the transmission of people and ideas to enter the region. The route fostered the development of fine churches and monasteries such as the Collegiata di San Quirico in the Abbey of Sant'Antimo.
In the Val d'Orcia (and also in Siena) the landscape is strongly associated with utopian ideals. Siena was a sort of 'commune' and the Val d'Orcia a model of sustainable rural development, and both manifested the highest aesthetic qualities. The ideal landscape was painted by Lorenzetti in the Town Hall in Siena in 1338-40; it became reality in the Val d'Orcia and was then immortalized in paintings by artists such as Giovanni di Paolo, and Sano di Petri, who in turn helped to strengthen the ideals. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The Val d'Orcia bears testimony from archaeological remains to prehistoric settlement, to an important role during the Etruscan period and to further development during the Roman Empire. The area seems to have been largely abandoned agriculturally in the Middle Ages. A revival in the economy and a certain stability in the 10th and 11th centuries led to the establishment of monasteries, greater use of the Via Francigena and the development of villages under a feudal system.
Sienna's dramatic growth as a trading state in the 13th and 14th centuries, led it to expand its agricultural base outwards from the periphery of Sienna. The Val d'Orcia was colonised together with other outlying areas such as the Maremma along the coast. The wealth of Siennese merchants was invested in turning the landscape into productive farmland within an innovative land tenure framework. So far from being at the edge of the state, the valley became a focus for display. Merchants supported the development of settlements, built palaces and churches and commissioned paintings that depicted the life of ordinary people in the landscape.
Sienna's rivalry with Florence, the seat of aristocratic power, lasted for more than two centuries. The weakening of Sienna at the end of the 16th century was followed by a Florentine victory after which the Val d'Orcia gradually declined in economic importance and the Via Francigena became a secondary route for local traffic.
The comparative poverty and marginalisation of the area over the following four centuries has had the effect of sustaining traditional land-use patterns and structures. In the 1960s the new laws on land management in Italy which translated tenancies into contracts, and which have led to the abandonment of land in many regions, seem to have had less effect in the Val d'Orcia.
In the past thirty-five years or so the farmland has undergone some improvements such as an extension of the cultivated land and better control mechanisms for water management. A few areas of intensive change have been put into the buffer zone.
In 1999 the area was protected as an Artistic, Natural and Cultural Park. This was the initiative of the five municipalities who established a common management body, which was then integrated within the provincial administration. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation