CHIANTI HILLS | TUSCANY REGION

chianti hills tuscany

The Chianti territory with its hilly countryside of incomparable beauty lies in the very heart of Tuscany. Administered by both the Provinces of Florence and Siena, during the Middle Ages it was harshly contested by these two rival cities until 1555 when the Medici’s imposed their hegemony on all of Tuscany. It is difficult to trace its borders since only the mountains of Chianti in the East separate it from Upper Valdarno in a natural and neat way; the remaining territory fades into the hills of the Arbia, Elsa, Greve and Pesa rivers.

Mediaeval villages, castles, churches, abbeys, monasteries, cottages and villas lie one after the other in a fantastic itinerary that exalts the activity and inventiveness of man; centuries of work have modelled the hills of this region and the alternation of the olive groves and the forests creates a harmony unique to the world.

Along Via Cassia, or alternatively the faster Florence-Siena superstrada, one can follow again the paths once taken by pilgrims and wayfarers who, during the Middle Ages, reached Rome from Northern Europe with everything that it had to bear: parìsh churches, small towns, hospices, abbeys. Via Chiantigiana, on the other hand, is a more rural path that throughout its length crosses the classic wine region.

In any case, the visitor will be offered an unforgettable countryside always varying and harmonious and so diverse in colours and in atmosphere with the changing seasons. There are many ways to get to one of the parish churches, castles or isolated towns, silent witnesses to the historical and artistic richness of the Chianti region.

It does not matter how one gets there: whether by car, motorcycle, bicycle or bus, there are many possibilities for staying and enjoying a few days' holiday in the relaxing atmosphere of Chianti, tasting the gastronomic specialties of the region accompanied by wines that have made Chianti famous all over the world.

EXPLORING ALONG THE VIA CASSIA

Today's Via Cassia does not correspond, in the Tuscan section, to the ancient Roman road and not even to Via Francigena, the mediaeval trail that ran along the Valdelsa valley. It was however an important main road that the pilgrims and merchants took to get to Via Francigena at Poggibonsi. Since the XV century it was called "strada regia romana" and represented the main road between Florence and Rome until the construction of the Autosole motorway.

Since Via Cassia passes through many urban centres and is at times rather congested with traffic, the hurried tourist may choose to take the Florence Siena Autostrada that can be left whenever one wishes to visit one of the proposed locations.

Before reaching Via Cassia, Galluzzo's Certosa is worth a visit. It rises on the hills of Montaguto to the south of Florence. It was founded by Niccolò Acciaiuoli in the XIVcentury, for the purpose of housing young Florentines who wished to learn the liberal arts. It is surrounded by high walls, which, together with the majestic Palazzo degli Studi bestow upon it the aspect of a fortress.
 
Preserved inside Certosa, now inhabited by a group of Benedictine Cistercian monks, are some important works of art, among them there are 5 lunettoni (crescent shaped paintings), frescoes of scenes of the Passion by Pontormo painted between 1523 and 1525 during his permanence there while escaping the plague that had hit Florence.

LUNIGIANA AREA | TUSCANY REGION

lunigiana region map tuscany

Lunigiana is a historical region located in both Tuscany and Liguria, between the La Spezia and Massa-Carrara provinces. It owns its name to the city of Luni, an ancient Etruscan city, and then Roman colony in 177 BC. In the 5th century, the Lunigiana was robbed by the Vandals, and then by the Longobards of Rotari. At the end of the first millenium, the earl-bishops of Luni and the Malaspina family fought for the predominion of Lunigiana. The dispute was finally resolved on behalf of the Malaspina that started an hegemony on the region.

Today Lunigiana corresponds to the valley of the Magra River, thus it is administratively divided between two Provinces: La Spezia and Massa Carrara. However, in the past Lunigiana covered a bigger area represented by the diocese of Luni.

Thanks to its geographical features and to its strategic position, the Magra Valley has always been a natural corridor that has seen the passage of different peoples who have strongly influenced the history and organization of this territory. Lunigiana has featured a strong cultural identity since the Prehistoric Era, as witnessed by the popular Statue Stele, anthropomorphic stone statues dating back to the 4th-1st millennium B.C., kept at the Piagnaro Castle in Pontremoli.

The name “Lunigiana” was first used in 1141 to indicate a territory belonging to the Roman municipality of Luni and to its 35 Parish churches scattered around the Magra Valley, Serchio Valley and the coast as far as Versilia in the South and Levanto towards West. This territory is today referred to as “Lunigiana Storica” (Historical Lunigiana).

The Romans, who had defeated the Ligurian people living in this area, founded the city of Luni at the mouth of River Magra in 177 B.C.. Luni was very powerful especially during the Imperial time when they started to excavate the nearby marble quarries in Carrara. Thanks to the harbour these products could be shipped to all the territories belonging to the Empire. Also, the area was well connected already in the Republican Age thanks to an efficient road system. Unfortunately, the city experienced a productive and trade crisis in the 4th century due to the shutting down of the marble quarries and to the abandon of the harbour that became a marsh.

After the decay of Luni no other city or political power managed to give a unified administrative entity to Lunigiana again. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, during the barbarian invasions (6th-7th century), in Lunigiana Byzantines fought against the Longobards, therefore in this period many castles and fortifications were built. When the Longobards won, Lunigiana passed under the influence of Lucca that continued also during the rule of the Franks.

While Luni was suffering sackings by the Saracens and Normans, the Frankish dukedom was replaced by a Carolingian march, however no political change took place until the 10th century. The territory was organized according to the “curtes”, rural land properties that were the basis on which the following division into fiefdoms took place. These lands belonged mainly to rich families, in particular to the Obertenghi, but also to the Church and its bishops.

At the half of the 10th century the King of Italy Berengario II founded the Mark of Liguria Orientale (Eastern Liguria) ruled by the Earl Luni Oberto of the Obertenghi family. Lunigiana was included into this Mark so it was no longer under the influence of Lucca.

In the 10th-11th century, the territory was divided into numerous small land properties due to the crisis of the Italian Reign and to the absence of strong urban centres.

Therefore, in the 12th and 13th century Lunigiana experienced a political instability during which two political entities in contrast with one another emerged: the Malaspina family (part of the Obertenghi dinasty) on one side and the bishops of Luni on the other. They fought each other throughout the 13th century until the 1304 when they finally signed the Treaty of Castelnuovo in the presence of the poet Dante Alighieri (who was exiled in Lunigiana) as their solicitor.

With this treaty, the bishop of Luni maintained its rule over the coast and the lower Magra valley whereas all upper Lunigiana was assigned to the Malaspina who however were unable to create a unified fiefdom. The lands were in fact divided in two parts: the “Spino Secco”, ruled by Corrado Malaspina, included the lands on the right riverside of the Magra River whereas the “Spino Fiorito”, referring to Obizzo Malaspina, covered the left riverside with the exception of Villafranca. Pontremoli was the only town that was not subjected to the Malaspina rule and that acted as an independent Comune for centuries.

Throughout the Late Middle Ages Lunigiana was divided into smaller and smaller fiefdoms ruled by different foreign lords. Some popular characters of that time, such as Castruccio Castracani and Spinetta Malaspina, tried to unify the territory without any luck so in the 14th century Lunigiana was divided between the main cities of that period: Genoa, Milan, Lucca and Florence.

During the Modern Age Lunigiana continued to be a territory at the border of different municipalities and small fiefdoms ruled by the Malaspina. When Napoleon occupied Italy, the local fiefdoms had to pledge loyalty to the French Empire, but with the Vienna Congress Lunigiana was assigned again to the Italian dukedoms of Tuscany, Modena, Parma and Sardinia.

 

GEOGRAPHY OF THE TUSCANY REGION

geography of the tuscany region

The Tuscany Region has a varied and complex morphology; ranges of mountains and hills alternate with foothills and strips of plain. The true Tusco-Emilian Apennines can be distinguished from the mountainous and hilly groups of the Preapennines, separated by an imaginary line linking Montecatini Terme to Chiusi.

The highest chains along the watershed strip, the Pratomagno group (1,592 m.), the Chianti hills and the southern chain, which stretches between Casentino and Val di Chiana to the west and Val Tiberina to the east, are part of the Apennines; the Apuan Alps (1,945 m.) branch off from the ridge on the inner side. The trachyte massif of Mount Amiata (1,738 m.) and the Colline Metallifere belong to the Tuscan Apennines. The intermontane basins are of particular interest, especially for their settlements; the largest and best defined are Lunigiana, near the upper Magra valley, Garfagnana (upper Serchio basin), the basin of Florence, Mugello (upper Sieve valley), Valdarno Superiore, Casentino, Val di Chiana and lastly, the upper section of Val Tiberina. The most extensive plains are Valdarno Inferiore, Versilia (at the foot of the Apuan Alps) and the coastal plains of Maremma).

The rivers in Tuscany are irregular in size, torrential and winding, for they have adapted to the morphology of the region. With the exception of the upper courses of the Reno, Santerno, Lamone, Marecchia and Foglia, which enter the Adriatic, all the other Tuscan rivers flow into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The most important are the Tiber (only a stretch of its upper course in Tuscany), the Arno with its tributaries, the Sieve, Bisenzio, Greve, Pesa, Elsa and Era, the Magra and the Serchio, respectively flowing through Lunigiana and Garfagnana; the Cecina, the Ombrone and the Albegna, which flow through the Preapennine range.

The climate is temperate but there are considerable zonal variations depending on the distance from the sea, altitude and the position of the mountains. Generally speaking, the temperatures decrease from the Maremma coastal areas (to the SW) towards the Apennines (to the NE). Precipitations fall mainly in spring and autumn. The wettest zones are those of the north-western Apennines and Pratomagno, the Catenaia Alp, the Chianti mountains, the Mount Amiata group and the highest parts of the Colline Metallifere, while the driest are the coastal belt, the plains and the intermontane basins.

LANDSCAPE OF THE TUSCANY REGION

MONTE AMIATA | TUSCANY REGION

monte amiata 

Mount Amiata is the largest of the lava domes in the Amiata lava dome complex located about 20 km northwest of Lake Bolsena in the southern Tuscany region of Italy. Half of the mountain area is in the Grosseto province and the northern slopes are within the Siena Province.

Mount Amiata (La Vetta) is a compound lava dome with a trachytic lava flow that extends to the east. It is part of the larger Amiata complex volcano. A massive viscous trachydacitic lava flow, 5 km long and 4 km wide, is part of the basal complex and extends from beneath the southern base of Corno de Bellaria dome. Radiometric dates indicate that the Amiata complex had a major eruptive episode about 300,000 years ago. No eruptive activity has occurred at Amiata during the Holocene, but thermal activity including cinnabar mineralization continues at a geothermal field near the town of Bagnore, at the SW end of the dome complex.

The main economical resources of the Amiata region are chestnuts, timber and, increasingly, tourism (ski resorts include the peak area, Prato delle Macinaie, Prato della Contessa, Rifugio Cantore and Pian della Marsiliana). The lower areas are characterized by olive trees and vines. Other vegetation include beech and fir. In ancient times cinnabar was extracted here. The region is included in the comuni of Abbadia San Salvatore, Arcidosso, Castel del Piano, Piancastagnaio, Santa Fiora and Seggiano, all located between 600 and 800 metres of altitude.

COLLINE METALLIFERE | TUSCANY REGION

colline metalifere

The Colline Metallifere (Metal-bearing Hills) are a mountain-hill group in the Tuscan Antiapennine, in central Italy. The range runs through four provinces: the southeast part of Livorno, the southern part of Pisa, the southwestern part of Siena and the northwestern part of Grosseto. Excluding the Poggio di Montieri and Cornate di Gerfalco peaks (both over 1,000 m), the majority of the range is hilly and rich in various local minerals. The area between Pisa and Grosseto is noted for its geothermal energy which manifests in sulfur geysers.

It also includes geothermic energy sources, part of which used in ENEL power plants at Larderello and Lago Boracifero. Rivers include the Cecina, the Cornia and the Merse. The metal resources of the Colline Metallifere were exploited since ancient times by the Etruscans: production reached its peak in the mid-19th century, declining quickly however afterwards. The numerous railways serving the mills are now mostly suppressed.

The area includes various cities and towns: Sassetta, Campiglia Marittima and Suvereto in the Livorno province, Monteverdi Marittimo, Pomarance and Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina in the Pisa province, Radicondoli and Chiusdino in the Siena province, Monterotondo Marittimo, Montieri, Roccastrada, Massa Marittima, Gavorrano, Scarlino and the northern part of Castiglione della Pescaia in the Grosseto province.

During Etruscan times, the Metallifere hills were known for their mineral outcrops; extraction continued for centuries and reached its peak in the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries before it began to rapidly decline. In order to service the mineral mining, a railroad route was built. It is now almost completely defunct.

VAL DI MERSE | TUSCANY

river merse

Val di Merse is one of the regions of the province of Siena, in Tuscany, on the border with the Upper Maremma. The territory comprises the area between the rivers Farma and Merse. Notable monuments in the area include the Abbey of San Galgano. Villages in the region include Monticiano, Chiusdino, Murlo, Vescovado and Sovicille. The hot springs of Bagni di Petriolo are also in the region.

THE MAREMMA | TUSCANY REGION

maremma tuscany

The Maremma is a huge and, in the south, quite untamed area of southwestern Tuscany, Italy (Toscana) and northern Latium (Lazio) which is unjustifiably off the beaten track for visitors to Tuscany, both Italian and foreign, despite there now being numerous comfortable and economical vacation accommodations and other places to stay in the Maremma. The region is characterised by extensive forests, spectacular hill country and lightly populated coastal regions, including salt marshes and estuaries inhabited by unusual flora and fauna, plus numerous small towns and villages that preserve Tuscan customs and a way of life that have become much harder to find in other parts of Tuscany and Lazio. With a little effort, any visitor to the Maremma will be rewarded every day by attractive and interesting experiences and sights. With a bit of luck, one might encounter the famous butteri, the cowboys of the Maremma and the unusual breed of steer that they farm.

The Alta Maremma or Upper Maremma begins more or less at the Cecina River just south of Livorno and covers the Colline Metallifere (metaliferous hills) around Massa Marittima, the inland hills from Roccastrada south to Scansano plus the area extending from Grosseto as far as San Quirico and Monte Amiata. Although known for centuries for its malaria and bandits, the Maremma is now apprciated for its numerous wild life reserves and is also the home of the first of the "super Tuscan" wines, Sassicaia, produced by the Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta at Tenuta San Guido near Bolgheri. In addition to Sassicaia, Bolgheri is now famous for wines such as Grattamacco, Ornellaia and Paleo.

The Bassa (Lower or Southern) Maremma extends from Grosseto southwards past the Costa Argento into Latium.

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