Sunday 4 August 2013

Why is the Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti called the Conca d'Oro?

The rich history of Tuscany not only manifests itself in ancient towns, abbeys and castles, but also in the place names of villages, hills and rivers and many other topographical features. One of the most beautiful names for a beautiful area is the Conca d'Oro below Panzano. Conca d'oro means "golden basin", so looking at the picture of the vineyards of the Conca d'Oro below, we have to ask ourselves why is the Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti called the Conca d'Oro? Why isn't it called the Conca Verde - the green basin - for example?

Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti
View over the Conca d'Oro towards Panzano in Chianti
The answer to this riddle is quite simple (once you've been told). For centuries, Florence and Sienna fought for control of the historical Chianti area (now the Chianti Classico wine zone) that forms the territory between them. They did this in large part because of the critical value of its agricultural production. Wine? Olive oil? Only in small part. Until the middle of the 19 C, agriculture in Chianti was given over principally to grain production, meaning wheat. Most of the population of both Chianti and Florence subsisted on bread as their staple diet - and, indeed, bread is still an important part of every Tuscan meal. As a consequence, every piece of land that supported wheat was used to grow it. Even into the pre-war 20 C, wheat was grown in the spaces between the rows of grape vines. One of the most productive areas for wheat was in fact the Conca d'Oro of Panzano, and as harvest time approached it was exactly what its name says, a golden basin of ripening wheat. It was only in the post-war years that wheat was replaced by the increasingly lucrative crops yielding olive oil and wine. This change coincided with the reclamation of the Maremma and the modernisation of agriculture in the Val d'Orcia (described by Iris Origo in her wonderful book, War in the Val d'Orcia) and the consequent increase in the wheat harvest in those areas.

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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