Via Lauretana - Cycling in the beauty
The Via Lauretana insists on an Etruscan-Roman route, which later became an important pilgrimage route in the direction of the Holy House of Loreto.
The road, which was very frequented through the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from Siena branched off from the Via Francigena to reach Camucia, at the foot of Cortona, then head towards to Umbria and, crossing the Apennines, arrives at Loreto in the Marche Region.
Unlike the nearby Via Francigena, which has continued to be travelled even in modern times by those who went to Rome, the Siena-Arezzo Lauretana, an essentially devotional path, over the centuries has lost long-distance travellers and pilgrims, who have chosen new roads to reach the goal.
In the stretch of Siena-Arezzo, the Lauretana crosses landscapes of rare beauty and places rich in history: walking slowly along it, offers you a unique and emotional experience.
Leaving Siena you enter in the typical landscape of clay of the Crete Senesi, where you walk in a horizon of hills with changing colors according to the seasons, and you meet surprising and evocative modern installations, ancient fortresses and monasteries.
You enter, then, in Val di Chiana, touching lightly the Val d’Orcia, to be immersed in natural oases and engineering works that have changed the landscape and economy of these lands, whose potential was already known by a people as fascinating and mysterious as the Etruscans, of which the path often meets the tracks.
Cycling on the Lauretana, crossing Siena, Asciano, Rapolano Terme, Sinalunga, Torrita di Siena, Montepulciano and Cortona, will be an exciting journey, full of discoveries, always immersed in beauty.
Many have written about Siena and its harmonious beauty, in all times, and it is difficult to invent new words to describe its charm, especially if you are not poets. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1995.
José Saramago, a Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner, was in love with the city and dedicated words that describe it with brushstrokes of deep emotion and passion.
“And here is Siena, the beloved, the city where my heart is truly pleased”. “The three hills on which it is built make it a city where there are no two equal roads, all contrary to submit to any geometry”. “This wonderful color, the color of the body browned by the sun, but that is also the color of the crust of the corn bread, this wonderful color goes from the stones to the road and to the roofs, softens the sunlight and erases the anxieties and fears from the face”.
“There can be nothing more beautiful than this city”. Piazza del Campo “a square inclined and curved like a shell, which the builders did not want to pave and remained so, as if it were a lap”.
“I look at the old palaces of Siena, ancient houses where I wish I could live one day, with a window of my own, overlooking the clay-colored roofs, the green shutters of the windows, as in the attempt to decipher where this secret comes from that Siena murmurs and that I will continue to hear, although I do not understand it, until the end of life”.
The Crete Senesi are a land landscape. Rain and wind have shaped and designed the hills of clay as the passing of time on a face wrinkles: bitterness and sweetness, roundness and edges, deep furrows and light slopes, the signs of a very long life lived intensely.
The Crete Senesi are a sea landscape when, green of the grass, brushed by the wind, the expanse of hills seems to move: waves, as far as the eye can see, up to the horizon. An illusion of infinity, a crystallized and immobile space that extracts the soul. Then…. A stronger wind rises and the clouds run changing the colors to the landscape, a flock moves, the sun is reflected on the window of an isolated farm next to a cypress, and dirt roads open up like scars in the green.
Ideal places if you try to get away from the world, as did Giovanni Tolomei, of an important and wealthy Sienese family, who in 1313 found his place in the “Accona desert”, where he founded the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, not far from the route of the Via Francigena that wound further downstream, where the water moved mills and gave man the means to overcome nature.
A valley made by the stratification of man’s passages, of his history, of art, of ingenuity.
Legible traces left since prehistoric times, then by the Etruscans, who have long dominated these lands and left exceptional testimonies, not only in the necropolis but also in the city and in extraordinary works as in the labyrinth of Porsenna. Then there are medieval castles and fortresses and beautiful cities embellished by the flourishing of the arts in the Renaissance: squares, streets and palaces, which are easy to imagine lively and animated, the setting of learned conversations between humanists, exchanges of merchants, street artists, theater actors and poets. It is a campaign changed over time that is now productive and famous for some excellences, such as “noble” wines and fine meats, of an indigenous breed of cattle, known for 2,000 years and still bred in a strict and loving way for the protection of a real symbol of this land, the “white giant”.
The other characteristic element of the Val di Chiana, once again inextricably linked to man and his history, is water. The water of the “chiari”, the lakes, mirrors of the sky for the Etruscans, remains of the swamp that characterized the valley and today precious natural reserves. It is precisely in the reclamation of the swamp that the ingenuity of man was expressed to the maximum, in transforming an inhospitable and unhealthy place into a very fertile valley, changing the economy of the area and the life and history of the inhabitants. The engineering and hydraulic interventions, the architectural choices of the buildings of the era of reclamation, have changed, characterizing it, even the landscape, making it, in some way, unique.
Archeologically an Etruscan presence is documented at least since the late Villanovan. Between the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., Cortona became an important Etruscan lightness. Most likely, Cortona became a very powerful city thanks to its strategic position, which allowed a wide control of the territories that were part of the Lucumonia. In the fourth century B.C. the Etruscans built the imposing walls that surround the city for about three kilometers, the noble tombs “melon” scattered around the city and the monumental funeral altar adorned with sphinxes, unique example in Italy. In Cortona was also found the Tabula Cortonensis , a bronze plate with one of the longest Etruscan inscriptions.
In 310 B.C. many Etruscan cities were submitted to Rome, including Cortona, after the battle of Trasimeno. In 450 A.D. the Goths occupied Cortona, decreeing its definitive decadence.
From the thirteenth century onwards the city was a free municipality, ruled by a mayor, allied with Perugia to defend against Arezzo during the struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines that characterized the thirteenth-century history of Cortona.
In 1411 Cortona became part of the Florentine Republic, and in 1509, after a century of tranquility, ended in the middle of the war between the Spanish army and Florence so that Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to build the fortress of Girifalco in 1549. From an artistic point of view, the city lives an important season thanks to the stays of Fra Angelico and, at the turn of the next century, for the presence of Luca Signorelli, one of the greatest Renaissance painters of his time.
The Habsburgs-Lorraine, succeeded at the beginning of the ‘700 after the Medici family as Grand Dukes of Tuscany, will operate imposing reclamations to the Cortonese countryside , improving the civil infrastructure.