Against the Traffic: ROCCA D’ORCIA AND CASTIGLIONE D’ORCIA, ITALY


Getting ready for your morning shoot in Italy is similar to many of the “outback” locations you are likely to stumble upon. Get ready the night before and expect no backup once you are on the road. You are highly unlikely to find a camera store that has anything that you might need. Fugedaboudit! Have a couple backup batteries, plenty of memory cards, your backup camera body and any lens you think you might be using. I love to use my monopod as a walking cane, but your tripod is indispensable! Remember to bring your plug adapter when you travel to Italy. European electricity, as in the rest of Europe, comes out of the wall at 220 Volts and alternating at 50 cycles, whereas in the United States, 110 volts at 60 cycles per second. Most hotels and B&Bs will have adapters, but DON’T TAKE A CHANCE. Charge your batteries the night before, erase and format your memory cards so you don’t fumble when you come upon your first good shot of the morning. Clean your camera and lenses from your prior day’s shoot and double check that your settings are exactly where you think you want them to be.

A couple of other thoughts before we start our climb: good walking shoes or boots, have a nice breakfast (food and bathrooms might be a bit tricky to find, so throw some snacks, maps, water and toilet paper in your bag, just to name a few of the more obvious items). I know you are getting impatient, but run through your personal workflow (memory card management, preferred settings, etc.), and NOW (pshew!) let’s get going!!

Traveling down from Bagno Vignoni, you are only a few minutes from your ascent to the twin towns of Rocca d’Orcia and Castiglione d’Orcia. Once you are there, you might as well take them both in. They are remarkable!

Rocca D’Orcia  stands guard over the Via Francigena, the pilgrim’s road leading from France to Rome.  From its almost impregnable position, the local rulers had a safe spot from which to control the territory. This area was first documented back in 853 AC. and has a fascinating and complex historical significance. Your challenge as a photographer might be to capture this journey into the past.

To provide a thumbnail historical sketch: In the mid-12th century, Tentennano (as it was known) was in the possession of the Tignosi feudal family, who in 1207 granted a new statute called “Charta libertatis” to the local population. It set forth numerous rights, an act of fundamental importance to Italian medieval history both for its content and style. The Fortress passes through several families over the years and was last used for military purposes in the middle of the 16th century which saw the city-state of Siena annexed to Florence. The defensive system of Rocca D’Orcia with its Rocca of Tentennano consists of a series of walled enclosures designed to benefit from the ruggedness of the environment. From the entrance gate you can see the ruins of another gate which opens onto a second walled circuit. The architecture of the tower provides interesting photographic challenges. Just before entering the tower, there are arch openings and a limestone wall face of which the whole fortress is built. A majestic view of the Orcia Valley, the Amiata Mountains and the surrounding countryside can be seen.

Don’t miss visiting the Village of Rocca D’Orcia which has maintained its original medieval architecture. You’ll find a charming square with a central cistern, religious buildings and a small, yet interesting country culture museum. The village is quiet and haunting. Out of dumb luck I saw the same gentleman in this tiny town square each of the two times I visited – five years apart. Not too much seems to be going on. This is a village where people live their lives quietly. There are very few tourists, except those who may wander down from the castle. I noticed a sign for a restaurant, but unfortunately it was not open on each of my visits to the town. Don’t expect to find a McDonalds!

The defense systems of the fortress were closely integrated with the Village of Rocca d’Orcia that lies below.  The walls of the town contained the entrance courtyard of the fortress, and an ancient door is still visible, though only partially, in the village today. This charming medieval village is just a few minutes walk away from its neighbor Castiglione D’Orcia. It seems larger than Rocca D’Orcia and more vibrant in the sense that people are more visible, some shops were available, and overall, a greater vibe than what you find of its’ more quiet neighbor. The architecture is similar and replete with magnificent photo opportunities, both of the valleys below and the ancient-walled architecture. To visit both Rocca d’Orcia and the Rocca di Tentennano, it is best to park in the area that lies at the foot of the steep slope leading up to the Fortress.  A picturesque walk along the cypress-lined hill leads to the main entrance. From there, you can stroll into the village.

Happy Shooting!

You can see some of my Tuscan images on my website at http://richsmuklerphoto.com