Tuscany is always recommended when planning a trip to Italy; the region’s offer, in terms of history, culture, art, and nature, is as good as it gets, and wherever you’ll end up staying you’ll have plenty of activities and interesting places to pick from, very close by. If you choose Siena as part of your trip, keep in mind that besides getting to know the busy history of the town, enjoying its food and products, and going crazy for the Palio, you also have the chance to visit the Accona Desert; an area south-east of Siena, not common to find throughout the Italian landscape.
The current look of the area has old origins: during the Pliocene era - over five million years ago - the area was covered with the waters of what will be later be called Tyrrhenian Sea. helping developed the minerals and the clay layer that turned it into a desert later in history. It is thanks to this mix, in fact, that the area got its unique wavy, moon-like look resembling the United States’ badlands (which formed following a similar path but were left untouched for much more time).
The area was referred to as a desert during the Middle Age. We find it painted on the frescoes inside Siena’s historic municipality building describing the effect of governments on the rural society of the time. These series of frescoes, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, are themselves unique; they were the first ones in Italy to have a secular perspective (unusual for the 1300’s) and aimed to inspire and help the city’s rulers.
The area has always been seen as inhospitable, but men found ways to make it productive. Not good for the typical crops of the region - olive trees and vineyards - the land has been used to grow wheat and sunflowers, making walking or hiking through it during the spring and the summer a different experience, because the white, dry look will be replaced by a lusher one. If you're looking for an observation point, head for the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. It hosts a main classroom, a refectory and a large library. Inside, you'll find an important collection of paintings, statues and inlaid works.
To get here from Siena you have to get to the town of Asciano, which will take you a 20 minute drive by car or 20 minute train ride. From Florence the distances will be a little longer but still manageable for a one-day-trip or a weekend. The Desert of Accona is another gem to add to your list to places to visit in Tuscany.
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