The first thing to realize when looking for us is that the Mazzarrini family oil mill is very much situated in a parrochial setting in the countryside. Because of this, we will have to follow a certain, amusing oreder to explain properly.
To start us off, we will say we are in a geographica region known as Val di Chiana (the Chiana Valley). Which is still unknown to most visitors, unfortunately, since it calls a number of stunningly beatiful little “alcoves” its own. Although it is called a “valley”, its shape is unexpectedly defined by a series of rollig hills, covering an area, from north to south from the river Arno, near Arezzo, to the Tiber, near Orvieto, encompassing the entirety of Lake Trasimeno. From east to west it reaches from the base of the Appennini to the clay-rich hills extending from the rocky mountains of the Chianti area, hugged by the Arno, to the volcanic Volsini mountains, by the Tiber. The valley is therefore split between two “Regioni”(i.e. administratively separate entities), Tuscany and Umbria, and four “Province” (roughly equivalent to counties in the U.S.A), Siena Perugia Arezzo and Terni. Prehistoric marine fossils have been found in this area, and, in a nearby town called Farneta, even the entire skeleton of a Mammoth! This may be explained by the fact that the Chiana Valley was once a brackish swamp. In fact, both Etruscans and Roman kings built port towns on its perimeter, including Cortona, Chiusi and Arezzo, to have access to trade by ship and for religious purposes (read: ritual sacrifice), since the Chiana is the natural habitat of the Chianina, a breed of cow called the “Giant among its kind”, an extremely docile, but impressively strong and of towering size, typically white of coat on slate gray skin.
After a partial but enduring reclamaition of the swamp by the Romans (which probably caused the birth of the Chiani stream, which is now a tributary of the Tiber) it turned back into malaria territory, so much so that Dante Alighieri cited it as a place of woe and misery in his Divine Comedy. Later on the reclamation was taken up by a bunch of small nobles, supported by the clergy. The towns born this way persist up until today, among them Porto, Nave, Albergo and so on. These works proceeded very slowly though, and while Leonardo da Vinci himself studied the problem, although nothing ever came of it, probably due to the high costs of such an endeavour.
Nevertheless, the work proceeded and small town continued to spring up. This went on until the nineteenth century when Vittorio Fossombroni, using his vast knowledge of agriculture, hydraulics, engineering, architecture and finance finally completed the reclamation of the Val di Chiana using a series of canals, moats and levees. Regretfully today all this beauty of a rural landscape, which saved nature and populace from desolation, is being lost to cynical environmentalism.
This is where Rigomagno lies, a small town you can visit in its entirety in half an hour. But for those who love short car rides, its the capital of central Italy: from Rigomagno one can reach Bologna, Rome, Pisa or Rimini in two and a half hours.
It’s also perfect for people who love tranquility, long strolls through the countryside or woods, be it by foot or bike. Although not more than a few kilometers away, it doesn’t belong to either “comuni” (the equivalent of municipalities) of Rapolano Terme or the medieval Lucignano, which are respectively part of the Siena and Arezzo provinces. Rigomango is a part of the “comune” of Sinalunga, an administrative entity enclosing seven parishes: Sinalunga, Pieve di Sinalunga, Bettolle, Guazzino, Scrofiano, Rigomagno and Farnetella, often divided by unpleasant parochial disputes. But these don’t affect the pleasure of visiting each of these small towns, not only to admire the architecture, but to experience the slightly different culture in each of them. Sinalunga belonging to the Siena province leads many visitors to an interesting dilemma, due to the richness of places worthy of being visited; will you choose to wander around the countryside exploring the natural beauty of the region, or seek out every charming town and village? Any choice will be the right one here, since both Siena and the area around it are full of marvelous surprises. The most important thing is to not go in with assumptions.
This is made doubly true by the fact that the Siena province is a part of Tuscany, the region which most of all encompasses the variety of culture in Italy. Both because it’s the cradle of the Etrurian civilization, the origin of all seven of the Kings of Rome, and because it was, and remains to this day, a land rich in mineral, agricultural and silvicultural resources, making it a center of artisanship, which in turn caused very different cities to come together: the Signoria of Florence, a free commune called the maritime republic of Pisa, the oligarchic republic of small lords of Arezzo, the duchy of Lucca. Much remains, but much has also been lost to the rivalry, born of the desire to rule, between these cities, which could have united peacefully in the face of the wider world. That is todays wisdom, not of those times. Be that as it may, today Florence area still shines with the luster of Renaissance, Pisa with the beauty of the sea, Siena owes much to its splendor to the Catholic Church, Arezzo still remembers its past military might and the Lucca region is characterized by its mountains. So, don’t visit just the cities, but explore, and you will be surprised. And this doesn’t just pertain to Tuscany, but to all of Italy. The motto “united in diversity” is perfect for it. The variety doesn’t stop at the natural landscape, but pertains to its history, its cuisine, the architecture, music, literature, customs and more. The composer Mameli knew this well when he wrote our anthem: “Uniti per Dio che vincer si può” (“United for God, we can win”); Verdi, on the other hand, compared italians to jews when writing “Nabucco”’s son “Va Pensiero”. Admittedly it is clear, when analyzing the countries history, Italy has been successful in Roman times, a people who believed in cooperation, in collaborative, prosperous unity. After their fall, only the beauty remained, which has been tempered, until the end of WWII, by proud parochialism; which in turn, its deep roots notwithstanding, is slowly being replaced by detached individualism. So hurry up and relish the many well-known sights and find the hidden gems. Because Italy’s variety deserves to be experienced in full.