In the Middle Ages Lastra a Signa was very important for its strategic position and it is still interesting from an artistic and cultural point of view. The most important church is Pieve di San Martino in Gangalandi, situated in the adjoining town of San Martino in Gangalandi. The town's name derives from the sandstone quarries from which “lastre” or slabs of stone were extracted and from its proximity to the little town of Signa. Of great historical and artistic interest is the Villa di Bellosguardo, better known as Villa di Caruso. The sixteenth-century Villa di Bellosguardo ("beautiful view"), situated on the hills surrounding Lastra a Signa, owes its name to its spectacular position. In 1540 the property was purchased by the noble Pucci family. Today the Renaissance spirit of Villa Pucci survives only in the garden, whose statuary was created over many decades: the statues of animals by Romolo del Tadda, involved during those years in the making of the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace in Florence, were enhanced with the work of his heirs. In 1906 the villa was bought by the famous tenor, Enrico Caruso. One of his biographers tells us that the purchase was made after he had a walk with his lover, Ada Giachetti, and they were both struck by the wonderful view and the monumental and scenographic park. Today it is owned by the Comune di Lastra a Signa that bought it back only in 1995.
This beautiful town that for its artistic and architectural remains was known as the “Pearl of the sixteenth century”, still maintains its charm intact. Climbing its steep little streets, the visitor will encounter wonderful palaces and churches where the greatest architects of the Renaissance gave proof of their unparalleled art. You shouldn’t miss the charming Piazza Grande, with the Duomo and its unfinished façade together with the Palazzo Comunale and Renaissance palaces all around the square. Standing forth above an unforgettable landscape in the valley below the elegant shape of the Tempio di San Biagio appears.
Originally called the “Castello di Corsignano”, Pienza took its current name from Pope Pio II Piccolomini, who started its renovation in the second half of the fifteenth century with the aim of turning the image of an ideal city into reality. The town as a whole is a true jewel, but one especially shouldn’t miss the Duomo, displaying works of art by Giovanni di Paolo, Matteo di Giovanni del Vecchietta and Sano di Pietro. The Diocesan Museum next to the cathedral includes pieces by the schools of Sodoma and Sano di Pietro, together with Flemish tapestries dating back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Close by one finds the magnificent Piccolomini Palace, designed by Bronzino and Beccafumi.
Torrita di Siena
The first mention of Torrita di Siena dates back to 1307. The original center of the town is situated on a hill and surrounded by the ruins of the medieval walls. The square, in the disposition of its main buildings, represents the three forms of power: the military (the tower), the civic (the city hall) and the religious (the church of Saints Flora and Lucia). The church displays paintings by Benvenuto di Giovanni and Bartolo di Fredi. The nearby Teatro degli Oscuri was built in the eighteenth century. A curiosity: Torrita was the birthplace of Ghino di Tacco: the opinions of historians regarding this famous - or infamous - gentleman bandit are still divided.
The Val d’Orcia is maybe the most characteristic and charming valley of all Italy. On the 2nd of July 2004 it was officially recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage site with the following motivation: ”The Val d’Orcia landscape has been repeatedly celebrated by the painters of the Sienese School, which bloomed into full beauty during the Renaissance. Images of the Val d’Orcia and in particular the reproduction of its landscapes, showing people living in harmony with nature, became icons of the Renaissance and deeply influenced the way landscapes were conceived of in the following years”. The Valley, with the river Orcia passing through it and giving it its name, is characterized by views of unique beauty and dotted with many medieval towns (among which we recommend visiting Pienza, Montalcino, S.Quirico d’Orcia).
San Quirico d'Orcia
San Quirico d’Orcia is a very ancient settlement probably dating back to the Etruscans. It became important partly thanks to the nearby Via Francigena, the pilgrimage road leading to Rome. Here in 1154 Federico Barbarossa met the ambassadors of Pope Adrian IV and this event is still celebrated with the “Festa del Barbarossa”, the third Sunday of June. Florence, during Cosimo I’s rule, bought it in 1559. The Collegiata di San Quirico e Giuditta is designed in Romanesque style and has three doors, of which the one looking south is attributed to Giovanni Pisano. “Horti Leonini” (sixteenth century), created around 1580 by Diomede Leoni, gives a wonderful example of an Italian garden, while the Romanesque Pieve of S.Maria Assunta was probably built on the ruins of a pre-Christian temple.
The charming town of Montalcino is situated on the top of a hill overlooking the valleys of the Orcia, Arbia, and Ombrone rivers. Visiting the city one can admire, in addition to the wonderful views, many medieval buildings, starting with the town hall, the ancient seat of the Priors, a severe stone building decorated with heraldic crests and dominated by a tall tower. Its monumental loggia's are embellished with gothic and round arches that date back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In 2007 in Poggio alle Mura fossil remains were discovered of a whale living in the area more than 4 million years ago, in the Pliocene period when the warm water of the Thyrrenian Sea covered this zone now occupied by vineyards.