Friday, July 25, 2014

Our Trees

Local Trees and Bushes,
a Taxonomy

This list is restricted to trees which we found at Le Ripe on our arrival and excludes the (now) wild fruit trees such as fig, cherry and plum planted or at least harvested by our predecessors. All except the juniper and cypress are deciduous.

downy oak - Quercus pubescens - roverella

Typical of hill country from the Alps to Sicily, in Tuscany the downy oak replaces the Mediterranean woods or macchia above a certain altitude. It has been characterized as a 'frugal' oak since it survives well in dry locations with poor, lime-rich, stony soil. The downy oak grows slowly and can live to several hundred years; it is not very tall (about 20 metres max) and has traditionally been used for firewood and to make charcoal. Downy oak acorns are much loved by wild boar and fed to domestic pigs, but were historically used for human consumption in times of famine.
The oak's name derives from the fine down which covers its younger leaves and the acorn stalks. In regions with milder temperatures, like ours, it is easy to distinguish in autumn and winter as it is the only oak to keep its leaves (which turn pale brown), sometimes until early spring. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Sant'Antimo

The Two Abbeys

If you are travelling south of Siena, to the area known as the Crete Senesi (literally the Sienese Clays), and if you are interested in medieval and renaissance history, art and architecture, you will have to make a stop at the abbeys of Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Sant'Antimo, both founded by the Benedictines.  The abbeys are interesting in themselves for several reasons, but the contrast between the two is also fascinating.
Monte Oliveto sprawls above a clay cliff on a hill south of Asciano. It is a considerable complex of brick buildings; bricks are the material of choice in this area: the clay they are made from is ubiquitous.

Sant'Antimo on the other hand sits cradled in a valley of the river Starcia, surrounded by olives and fields of wheat. It is south of Montalcino, not far from Monte Amiata. Sant'Antimo is partly in ruins and on a much smaller scale than its neighbour. It is built of local travertine and alabaster-onyx.

First to the larger abbey, the working monastery which produces wine, oil, liqueurs, pulses and spelt in its still extensive territory while the monks restore ancient manuscripts.