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If fortune could be measured by the number of postcards and advertisements using a certain spot as a background, the area of clay hills around Asciano would certainly take pride of place. There is no photographer, film-amateur or wandering artist who has not been intrigued, at least once, by the erosion furrows and Jura limestone, the sunny but tremendous splendour of the Crete. Haughty, their colour changing from violet to gold according to the seasons, these rolling hills are enlivened here by the decorous elegance of the farmhouses perched on their bare ridges, and there by the russet bricks of the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, the true spiritual centre of this Sienese land both civilized and wild.
A place in which art (the great cloister frescoed by Il Sodoma and Signorelli, the peerless inlaid choir-stalls by Giovanni da Verona) and faith come together suggestively as in few other places in the world. The whole area is dominated by Asciano, a pleasant little town which has paid in blood its allegiance to Siena through the centuries. Lapped by the still adolescent Ombrone river, the town houses unexpected treasures: from the elegant minor basilica of Saint Agatha to the Romanesque Church of Saint Francis, from a Museum of Sacred Art worthy of appearing on a much more famous stage (amongst other exhibits, there are works by Simone Martini and Sano di Pietro) to the new Cassioli Gallery of 19th- century art, from the magnificent 15th-century fountain in Piazza del Grano to the fine late-Roman flooring concealed with genteel nonchalance in a Chemist's cellar.
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