Long familiarity has brought human and natural rhythms into so complete a balance that sometimes the trees truly do seem, like the trees of the Psalms, to clap their hands in exultation. Yet among these forests of exultant trees there are stretches of terrain where bare chalk crags rear up as sere as a hermit's roost. A band of local monks built one of their most beautiful monasteries in the midst of one craggy Sienese chalk bed and called it the Mount of Olives, Monte Oliveto Maggiore. The grapes fortunate enough to grow in the region's chalky soil produce red wines of rare quality, including Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (all created by methods going back to the Etruscans). The same terrain hosts underground deposits of alum, natural gas, and alabaster, as well as artesian springs gushing forth hot and cold, the remnants of ancient volcanoes...'
When some years ago we stayed for a few days in Siena, I was impressed by its streets and squares and buildings, but what really seemed unique was the way the edges of the city melted into the surrounding hills and valleys - a landscape that looked unchanged since the Middle Ages. The view I photographed above, for example, looked to me hardly any different from Ambrogio Lorenzetti's depiction of life in the countryside in the Palazzo Pubblico frescoes of Good and Bad Government. And, as Ingrid Rowland says, it seemed both harmonious and thoroughly 'worked over'.