To the south of Siena, in the Crete, shepherds tend sheep whose milk is used to produce the pecorino cheese popular throughout Tuscany. Cypress trees, planted to provide windbreaks along roads and around isolated farms, are an important sculptural feature in this empty and primeval landscape. Linking the two regions is the S2 highway, an ancient road along which pilgrims made their way in the Middle Ages, followed by travellers on the Grand Tour (seep53) in the 18th and 19th centuries. Romanesque churches line the roads, and the valleys and passes are defended by castles and garrison towns, most of which have hardly changed over the years. Constant Conflict The history of the region is of a long feud between the two city states of Florence and Siena.
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Siena's finest hour was its victory in the Battle of Montaperti in 1260, but when Siena finally succumbed to the Black Death, and subsequently to a crushing defeat by Florence in the siege of 1554-5, the city went into decline. As several other Central Tuscan cities experienced the same fate, this lovely region became a forgotten backwater, frozen in time. But after centuries of neglect, the graceful late-medieval buildings in many of the towns are now being well restored, making this the most architecturally rewarding part of Tuscany to explore. The beautifully preserved fortified town of Monteriggioni ] A house in San Quirico d'Orcia, bathed in the morning light I Exploring Central Tuscany The beautiful city of Siena, with its narrow streets and medieval buildings of rose-coloured brick, is the natural starting place for exploring the heart of Tuscany.