La Valdichiana

La Valdichiana

Storie dal Territorio della Valdichiana

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The Thermal Baths of Chianciano

In our journey through Valdichiana, today we stop in Chianciano, which owes much of its fame to the thermal waters, still appreciated for their therapeutic properties by hundreds of visitors….

In our journey through Valdichiana, today we stop in Chianciano, which owes much of its fame to the thermal waters, still appreciated for their therapeutic properties by hundreds of visitors.

The history of the Thermal Baths of Chianciano has its roots during Etruscan times. The ancient inhabitants of Etruria and the King Porsenna had already occupied the area with residential areas around Chiusi and Monte Cetona. The Romans as well knew the beneficial properties of mineral waters, which led to the construction of shrines dedicated to the divinities of water, including the Temple of Fucoli. The thermal waters were considered magical, with powers of healing, and for this reason were protected by following civilizations in the area, up to the present. The Thermal Baths of Chianciano, originally called “Fontes Clusinae“, had their own station on the Via Cassia, between Arezzo and Chiusi, dating back to the Roman Empire.

The importance of the Thermal Baths of Chianciano does not decrease even during the Middle Age, when they were occupied by the Goths and Longobards. The name of Chianciano clearly appears in 1171 A.D., through a deed of donation, together with “Acqua Santa and Sellene”; while a document dated 1287 A.D. confirms the presence of citizens which deal with the maintenance of the Thermal Baths of Chianciano. In 1349 A.D. the town passes under the protection of Siena, after many years of struggles against Montepulciano and Orvieto, and even in the following centuries there are frequent references to the healing properties of its thermal waters. A legend says that even St. Agnese Segni did several miracles in the Thermal Baths of Chianciano, and the pagan name of Bagno Grande di Sellene is called “Acqua Santa” (Holy Water).

The real spas were built by a private company (led by Angelo Banti), that was allowed, by the town of Chianciano Terme, to use the Thermal Baths; the building process was started in the ‘20s, with neo-classical style establishments, and the opening of new sources and a plant for bottling. Some structures were torn down after a town plan in the ‘40s, which returned the thermal baths to the State property. The projects of the establishments in a fresher and more modern version, done by architects Loreti and Marchi, built thermak parks and a Hall, as well as the creation of the Institute of Biological and Chemical Research, to undertake research on the water and its therapeutic properties, and on the correct application of therapies.

As a result of these studies, the waters of the Thermal Baths of Chianciano were divided into five types, which have several beneficial effects on organisms:

Acqua Santa and Acqua Fucoli: they have to be drinked as they pour from the sources, good for the liver and the gastrointestinal tract;

Acqua Santissima: used for inhalations against diseases of the breathing apparatus;

Acqua Sillene: used for mud baths, thermal baths and cosmetic products;

Acqua Sant’Elena: a water with low mineral content, for the treatment of diseases of the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract;

Thanks to the therapeutic properties of its thermal waters, throughout the 20th century, Chianciano has been a significant tourist attraction. The organization of the spa and a world-class healthcare management have led to an urban and structural continuity between the old town and the modern spa area, represented by the great Viale della Libertà, lined with hotels, pensions and villas.

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The burg of Farnetella

The Valdichiana has large territorial municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants, but also some peculiar burgs that might go unnoticed by tourists or even by citizens themselves. In our journey…

The Valdichiana has large territorial municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants, but also some peculiar burgs that might go unnoticed by tourists or even by citizens themselves. In our journey through the places of interest of the Valdichiana, today it’s the turn of Farnetella, close to Sinalunga, Scrofiano, Rigomagno.

Farnetella is a small burg that still keeps the fascinating medieval features – and it’s 419 m above sea level. It is structured around a castle with four parallel burgs and four main streets – and it there are only 140 inhabitants. Around the village traces of the walls can be seen, as well as a semicircular defensive tower. Farnetella centre is San Giovanni Square (Piazza San Giovanni) and Farnia Square (Piazza Farnia). The English oak, a part of the Oaks family, is the symbol of the burg and it’s likely that this was the origin of the name of Farnetella.

Farnetella origins can be traced back to the 6th century. The first document dates back to 1175 A.D., with whom Siena ordered the Scialenga Counts to return Farnetella castle to the Barotti Counts – an evidence of the antiquity of the village, it’s probably earlier than Rigomagno. It was during that period, that the Valdichiana was affected by the splitting of great noble families and it was affected by the construction of many castles and residences, which can be traced back to the origin of Farnetella.

The Castle of Farnetella was built on a hill called Castelvecchio and it was a noble possession together with San Gimignanello, Montalceto and Castiglioni, near Rapolano; These lands were owned first by Barotti Family, later by Cacciaconti Family. In 1271 A.D. Farnetella was accused of treason by the Republic of Siena, for hosting some Ghibellines: according to the law, the castle was burned to the ground by the troops of Camollia. The pleas of innocence on the part of the inhabitants of Farnetella were so persistent that, in 1295 A.D., Siena allowed them to return to live in the reconstructed court a hundred meters further downstream.

The alleged treason was not the only dramatic moment for Farnetella: in 1324 A.D. the rebellious Guccio Tolomei sacked it and burned it down. The inhabitants were forced to rebuild the village and provide the burg with wider walls which allowed it to resist, in 1554 A.D., the assault by a contingent of Charles V’s army. Farnetella remained an independent municipality for a long time, but at the end of the 18th century it was annexed by the nearby municipality of Sinalunga.

The current appearance of Farnetella is due to Adolfo Ferrari, owner of the estate in the 19th century. In December 1889 began the construction of a large residential building for richer visitors – however, it remained incomplete; the Villa and the main body of the castle still characterize the appearance of the entire burg. There are still preserved frescoes, antique furniture and a wooden dining room inside of them, done by sculptor Giovanni Sammicheli.

For a list of owners and other historical curiosities, please visit Farnetella website.

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The Burg of Montefollonico

Let’s continue our travel across Valdichiana main places of interest, by paying close attention to castles and burgs. Today is the turn of Montefollonico, a small burg in the municipality…

Let’s continue our travel across Valdichiana main places of interest, by paying close attention to castles and burgs. Today is the turn of Montefollonico, a small burg in the municipality of Torrita, on the border between Valdichiana and Valdorcia.

Montefollonico rises up on the top of a hill, a few kilometers away from Torrita di Siena: it’s a striking burg made of stone, inhabited by 500 people, and it can be easily reached from Montepulciano and from Pienza. As you can see on the signs, Montefollonico has the orange flag, that proves it’s a quality tourist hub and a quality environmental place. This flag is given by the Italian Touring Club: as a matter of fact, the burg stands out for its well preserved old town centre, made of narrow and contorted streets which twist and turn among Medieval buildings. It also offers high quality food services and it has a rich network of roads, in order to enjoy the landscape.

The history of Montefollonico is very old. Thanks to the finding of some tools in a place called “Il Tondo”, the presence of the Neanderthals is confirmed, around 60.000 years ago. Moreover, there are some traces and signs from around the Etruscan and Roman age. The true developement of the burg had place after 1.000 A.D., thanks to the foundation of the parish church by the Cistercian monks; the monks were dedicated to fulling wool (hence “fullones” in Latin, which was kept in the etymology of Montefollonico).

The strategic position of the fortified burg was used in 13th century by the Republic of Siena, as an outpost against Montepulciano, allied with Florence. This was a prosperous period for the burg and most of the buildings – still there nowadays – go back to that period. Its independence last until 1552 A.D., when it capitulated to the Spanish imperial army, and then it passed into the possession of House of Medici two years later.

The walls of Montefollonico are a distinctive feature of the burg: they are well preserved and there still is a castle and many towers. The tree gateways, which give access to the old town centre, are still clearly visible: they are called Porta a Follonica, Porta del Triano and Porta del Pianello. Inside the burg there are the Church of St. Leonard and the cloister of Saint Mary, which go back to 12th century, in addition to the early Christian church of St. Bartholomew, that goes back to 7th century. Another interesting place is the natural park called “Il Tondo”, on the top of the hill, near Montefollonico, made of cypresses and holm oaks set out circularly.

One of the main reasons why visiting Montefollonico is the tradition of the Vin Santo. It’s also knows as the “Burg of the Vin Santo”, the sweet white wine matched with the Tuscan specialty of the cantucci (almond biscuits). The production of the Vin Santo in Montefollonico is not limited to agricultural businessmen, but it’s also made by amateurs who inherited the typical techniques to be able to produce that sweet white wine in their basements. This tradition is celebrated every December in the event called “Would you like a bit of Vin Santo?”, related to hospitality towards the tourists.

To sum up: Montefollonico is not only suggested to tourists, for it’s an interesting place for its venues, or it’s a cool place where to spend an afternoon, maybe in its old town centre, or walking through the paths of the natural park. You can still breathe a very Medieval atmosphere within its walls!

 

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