Wilderness and civilization in the Ombrone valley

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January 27, 2016 by AK

Tuscany has been settled for thousands upon thousands of years and civilized through and through, yet it is still teeming with wild animals:

…[T]he Tuscan authorities say there are just too many animals in the region, largely because of plentiful forest and wild mountain ranges.

They estimate that there are around 200,000 wild boar and 300,000 deer roaming the countryside, with many more in neighbouring regions such as Umbria.

Despite the darkness of the name, Umbria is hardly a jungle either – the country of Assisi, Perugia and Spoleto. A great share of these wild boars are recent immigrants:

The Tuscan wild boar is a cross between native stock and eastern European boars introduced several centuries ago. They were hunted to the point of extinction by the early 1900s, but numbers exploded during the 1990s, thanks to boars migrating from the war-torn Balkans and the impressively productive breeding capacity of feral pigs, which can have up to two litters a year.

Obviously, the Balkan boars wouldn’t have stayed in central Italy if they hadn’t found a suitable habitat there. (Il cinghiale, it is said, is a Tuscan mascot.) Only twenty miles (in a straight line) from Siena, one of the birthplaces of modern banking, the countryside feels like wilderness. The slow train from Siena to Grosseto travels through primeval, deeply rural parts, yet palaces of Etruscan princes once stood on those hills.

Isabella Dusi writes in Vanilla Beans and Brodo: Real Life in the Hills of Tuscany:

If you were to arrive at Montalcino from the coast, through the Ombrone valley… you would find yourself winding through an entirely different terrain: the dense thickets and low bushes of the hunting woods to the west. This approach may be interrupted by the crack-crack-crack of rifle fire. Sunday is a popular hunting day when gunfire echoes over the village; often, standing along the wall, I hear the Sabbath fusillade in the Ombrone Valley coinciding with the joyful ringing of the church bells to bring the faithful to Mass.

Montalcino (of Brunello wine fame) is five miles away from the Murlo station on the old Siena-Grosseto line, which runs along the Ombrone river (another dark name), nine miles from the Etruscan Antiquarium, 19 miles southeast of Siena.


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