The wide and enchanting landscape of the Val d'Orcia area became one of the Unesco World Heritage sites in March 2005. Here is the original justification reported in the Unesco web site: 'The Val d'Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way landscape was re-designed in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create aesthetically pleasing pictures. Painters from the Siennese School, which flourished during the Renaissance, celebrated landscape of the Val d'Orcia. Images of the Val d'Orcia, particularly depictions of landscapes in which people are shown living in harmony with nature, are now considered strongly representative of the Renaissance and have profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking.
Montalcino is located to the west of Pienza, close to the Crete Senesi in Val d'Orcia. The hill upon which Montalcino sits has been settled probably since Etruscan times. Its first mention in historical documents in 814 AD suggests there was a church here in the 9th century, most likely built by monks who were associated with the nearby Abbey of Sant'Antimo. The town takes its name from a variety of oak tree that once covered the terrain. The very high site of the town offers stunning views over the Asso, Ombrone and Arbia valleys of Tuscany, dotted with silvery olive orchards, vineyards, fields and villages. During the late Middle Ages it was an independent commune with considerable importance owing to its location on the old Via Francigena, the main road between France and Rome, but increasingly Montalcino came under the sway of the larger and more aggressive city of Siena.
The main piazza, the Piazza del Popolo, is downhill from the fortress and Duomo on the via Matteotti. The principal building on the piazza is the town hall, once the Palazzo dei Priori (built late 13th, early 14th century) but now the Palazzo Comunale. The palace is adorned with the coats of arms of the Podesta who once ruled the city. A very high medieval tower is incorporated into the palazzo. Close by is a Renaissance structure with six round arches, called La Loggia, which was started at the very end of the 14th century and finished in the early 15th, but which has undergone much restoration work over the subsequent centuries.
Montalcino is divided, like most medieval Tuscan cities, into quarters called contrade. The thirteenth-century church of San Francesco in the Castlevecchio contrada has undergone several renovations. Some of the interior frescoes were done by Vincenzo Tamagni in the early sixteenth century.
Montepulciano, is built along a narrow limestone ridge and, at 605 m (1950 ft) above sea level, between Val D'Orcia and Val di Chiana. The town is encircled by walls and fortifications designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder in 1511 for Cosimo I. Inside the walls the streets are crammed with Renaissance-style palazzi and churches most of which are located along the main street, called the Cordo that climbs up into the main square, Piazza Grande, which crowns the summit of the hill. The Corso is about 2 km long and offers a long procession of facades, almost an "exhibition" of high level architectural design.
The name of Montepulciano derives from Latin Mons and Publicianus ("Mount of Publicianus"). According to legend, it was founded by the Etruscan King Porsenna of Chiusi.
The gardens and estate of La Foce constitute one of the most important and best kept early twentieth-century gardens in Italy. Amid 3,500 acres of farmland in the countryside near Pienza, with sweeping views of the Tuscan landscape, La Foce was the childhood dream garden of the late writer Marchesa Iris Origo. Passionate about the order and symmetry of Florentine gardens, Origo and her husband, Antonio, purchased the dilapidated villa in 1924, soliciting the help of English architect and family friend Cecil Pinsent to reawaken the natural magic of the property. Pinsent designed the structure of simple, elegant, box-edged beds and green enclosures that give shape to the Origos' shrubs, perennials, and vines, and created a garden of soaring cypress walks, native cyclamen, lawns, and wildflower meadows. It is, by all accounts, a remarkable achievement.
Situated in the Val d'Orcia, a wide valley in southeastern Tuscany that seems to exist on a larger, wilder scale than the rest of the Tuscan landscape, it is run by Benedetta and Donata Origo, and is open to the public one day a week.
Pienza owes its beauty and fame to Enea Silvio Piccolomini born in Corsignano on 18 October 1405 and elevated to Pope in 1458 taking the name Pius II. During the course of his Papacy, he changed the ancient Castello di Corsignano (first mentioned in 828) into a Papal residence in the Renaissance style, planned and constructed under the supervision of Bernardo Gambarelli called il Rossellino, a student of Leon Battista Alberti, and renamed it Pienza ("Pius").
Pienza is a rare example of Renaissance town design. Often described as the "ideal city" or the "utopian city", it represents one of the best planned of Renaissance towns. Pienza's location in the centre of the Val d'Orcia, a wonderful and untouched valley, helps the town to embody the fundamental principle that humanistic architecture attempted to encorporate - the balanced relationship between Man and Nature.