UNESCO in the Siena area of Tuscany


When beauty has the upper hand… discovering the artistic and natural heritage site of UNESCO in the Siena area of Tuscany.

Italy has the most UNESCO sites in the world, 49 of them, followed by China (45), Spain (44), France (38), Germany (38) and Mexico (32). A site declared by the UNESCO heritage of humanity, it is an indicator that gives value to the entire area.  And it’s not by chance that Siena is the Italian province with the most; it has four treasures.

Opening the series of recognition awards for a beautiful landscape was the historical centre of San Gimignano in 1990, a small town not far from Siena. San Gimignano became famous thanks to the masterpiece of human creativity used when designing the town, that today is an exceptional testimony highlighting the different stages of architecture used throughout history.  This proves how important, noble and culturally rich with traditions, the town was. The height of its towers is another indicator of San Gimignano’s wealth, due to the fact that the higher the tower, the more noble the owner. Today 13 ‘Towers of Power’ still remain intact, displaying it’s golden past of the 13th and 14th Centuries. The town is full of beautiful buildings, splendid squares, the perimeter wall still intact, sculptures, frescoes and curious museums. The view that opens from the town’s fort is a breathtaking image of Chianti’s green hills, rich in vineyards and olive groves, decorated by elegant cypress trees, which reminds us of a distant time.

Travelling a short distance through the fertile valleys of Chianti, we reach the second ‘jewel’, famous for its incalculable beauty: the historical centre of Siena, and in 1995 has been declared to be part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Siena once an Etruscan centre and then a Roman colony, developed into a bustling town in the Medieval period, especially in the 13th Century, when Siena won the conflict against Florence. This in turn brought them a long period of hegemony and glory as well as famous artists, architects and painters. Siena today still conserves a practically intact historical centre, with many monuments and museums, and above all, it is very particular due to the 17 Contradas and its people, devoted in guarding Siena’s glorious past and unique traditions. Siena is a masterpiece of dedication and creativity, where the buildings were designed to fit in with the overall urban structure and surrounding cultural landscape.

Continuing our journey, to the south of Siena we enter the naturalistic paradise of the Val d’Orcia, a certified UNESCO World Heritage site since 2004. A breathtaking natural landscape, made up of intense chromatic contrasts: a landscape bordered in emerald green of freshly germinated corn, dotted with the indigo purple of flowering clover, the yellow of the mature wheat reinforced by the poppies in different shades of red; a chromatic symphony of colours that create contrast silhouetted against reddish brown of the clay gullies. Soft lines that seemed to have been forged by the winds that shaped the dunes, a landscape postcard magical for the modern traveller, aesthetic inspiration celebrated by the artists from the Siena School of Painting who illustrated these same landscapes during the Renaissance period.

The images of the Val d’Orcia, especially its landscapes, where people are depicted living in harmony with nature, have become icons of the Renaissance period, and influenced deeply our thoughts and ideas on these landscapes over the successive years. The Val d’Orcia became a combination of art and landscape, a geographical location and ecosystem: a way of expressing the fact that man depends on the lands resources, and necessitates to use them in a constructive way, and not destructively.  The Val d’Orcia is a clear example of how the natural landscape was redesigned in the Renaissance period, to reflect the ideas of a ‘good government’, and to create an aesthetically pleasing image.

Inside this wonderful naturalistic scenery, there is another landscape pearl, recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage in 1996: the small town of Pienza. Behind its beauty there is an intense past: up until 1462 the small town was nothing more than a tiny hamlet called Corsignano. The event that changed its destiny was the birth in 1405 of the future Pope, Ene Silvio Piccolomini. At the age of 53, he became Pope Pio II, and during a journey that brought him close to this hometown, he decided to make a stop. On seeing the decline in the condition of the hamlet, Pope Pio II made the decision to reconstruct it from scratch, entrusting the careful urban planning to the renowned architect Bernardo Rossellino. This was a project that had never been tried before, as Medieval towns were developed without a specific layout. It is possible to visit his residence, Palazzo Piccolomini, and his garden that faces the Val d’Orcia, one of the first examples of Renaissance roof gardening. Pienza is of high value worldwide, as the town itself represents the application of humanistic concepts to urban planning, and it also represents a first attempt in developing an ‘ideal town’, that has played a significant role in the successive urban developments in Italy and beyond. These ideas, united with the group of buildings within the wonderful main square, make Pienza a masterpiece of human genius and creativity.