San Quirico d'Orcia, The hidden Jewell
"La bella Valdichiana-the valley of chiana"
In the heart of the Val d'Orcia,
away from the hustle and bustle of city life, you can find San Quirico. Coming from the north along the Via Dante Alighieri (once the medieval highway the Via Francigena) which runs through the centre of the old town, you can see the Chiesa Collegiata (XII century). Built on the site of an earlier church, it has three elaborately decorated doorways, one of which is attributed to Giovanni Pisano. Inside is a fine polyptych by Sano di Pietro (XV century) and inlaid choir stalls by Antonio Barili. At the side of the Collegiata is the stately Palazzo Chigi (XVII), which is partly restored and is enhanced by many fine frescoes by varios artists. There are often exhibitions and conferences held here. On the first floor is the Archivio Italiano dell'Arte dei Giardini (Italian Archive of Art of Gardens): an institute founded in the middle of the seventies to store photographic material and literature on houses and gardens, particularly Tuscan, of the 16C. In front of Palazzo Chigi is the Palazzo Pretorio, with gothic arched doorways and decorated with coats of arms. Continuing south you arrive in Piazza della Liberta', and the church Chiesa di S. Francesco, which is, hovever, usually called "Chiesa della Madonna" by the people of the town as it house the statue of the Madonna di Vitaleta - of the Della Robbia school. In a corner of the Piazza is the entrance to the Horti Leonini. Named after its creator Diomede Leoni, it is a typical garden of the 16C with a small entrance from which you can see the entire length of the garden with box hedges leading to a loggia created by an ilex wood. Despite being in the centre of the town it has a very quiet and restful atmosphere. Around the town stretches of the original walls survive, the Mura Castellane, as well as some of the former watch towers which are partly incorporated into other buildings. The medieval gateway Porta Cappuccini, is well preserved but unfortunately the old Porta Romana was destroyed in the in the Second World War.