THE HISTORY OF
DI RIPA D'ORCIA
The oldest mention of the existence of a settlement in the Ripa d’Orcia area, sometimes called Ripa al Cotone, dates to 1271, as Repetti states in his Dizionario geografico fisico storico della Toscana. This was the year when “a minor judge under the orders of the Podesta of Siena” was sent to the place. But F. Salimei reports that the Salimbeni family “since the 12th century must have owned, among others, the Chiarentana and Ripa d’Orcia castles in Val d’Orcia” and that these were “entirely their own work (of the Salimbeni family)”. Other sources cite 18th July 1213 as the date of the first mention of Ripa in documents, whereas it is certain that between 1250 and 1258 it was sold by the Consorteria dei Tinniosi – a political association of related aristocratic families – to the Republic of Siena, due to its strategic and military importance during the many bitter struggles between city government and powerful families. In 1274 the Ripa d’Orcia Castle, and a great deal of other property, was owned by the Salimbeni family who had taken over Val d’Orcia and ruled it as an actual State. The Ripa al Cotone di Valdorcia, though less valued than other property owned by the Consorteria, immediately took on such enormous strategic-military significance as to appear in the 1316 List of Property as “Roccham et fortilitiam de Ripa Cotone” owned by Niccolò and Stricca di Giovanni di Salimbene. The Consorteria consolidated its position in Val d’Orcia after having obtained emperor Charles IV’s recognition of their rule, which had already been widely exercised de facto: in particular on 21st April 1355 Giovanni d’Agnolino obtained “recognition and confirmation of the fiefs of Ripa with the related territory and districts and with all the rights of jurisdiction transmissible to his legitimate heirs”. While in 1410 the peace agreement between the Republic and the Salimbeni family stated that among other things Antonia de’ Salimbene should have Ripa al Cotone “with all the houses and property”, on 17th November 1417 it was no other than Niccolò di Cione di Sandro (also known as Cocco) who, through intervention of the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital, sold the fortress and territory of Ripa del Cotone and Bagno Vignoni “with towers, tenants, houses and fulling mill” to the Sienese for 5.000 gold florins.Subsequently the Hospital Chapter passed a resolution for the sale (1437) to a certain Compagno di Bartolomeo della Agazzara whose descendants in 1484 conveyed the Estate, with “its boundary on one side the Asso and on the other the Orcia, on the other the court of Sancto Quirico and on the other the court of Vignone” to madam Francesca, widow of lord Pietro di Bartolomeo Piccolomini.
So from 1484 the Castle, together with the fortified village and surrounding land, became the property of the Piccolomini family, the Carli branch, to which the Clementini and Febi branches were later added. At that point the mediaeval castles had lost their raison d’être: the invention of artillery marked their decline and these properties, gradually losing their strategic importance, were reduced to strictly productive use. Everything that brought little revenue was sold or rented. This was not the case for the Castello di Ripa d'Orcia Estate: though its cultivable land was not easily worked and moreover had been neglected during the long periods of war, a deed of trust was drawn up in the will of Emilio Piccolomini Carli on 5th August 1605 rendering it inalienable and part of the inheritance of the family’s firstborn son. There is no information about the castle for the following years excepting the probable results of research in the Siena State Archives, but this is outside the scope of the present study. At the end of the 19th century Count Pietro Piccolomini Clementini, a lover of art and its highest manifestations, undertook restoration work with the expert aid of Savino Cresti, an engineer. This work was continued in a no less intelligent manner by his widow, countess Marianna. As a result the Ripa d’Orcia Castle today retains its original features, the ancient forms having been maintained with true artistic taste. Since then the Castle and the village have been continuously inhabited and used by the descendants of this aristocratic Sienese family. Consequently they have been assiduously maintained, which is the only guarantee of preservation.
Though it had lost importance from a military and defensive viewpoint, Castello di Ripa d'Orcia continued over the centuries to play a leading role as centre of production and administration for the vast properties belonging to it. A great many productive and economic activities were carried out in the village, to the benefit of the owning family, the inhabitants and the sharecroppers who lived in the surrounding countryside. Agrarian reform after the second world war, with the subsequent disappearance of sharecropping, changed the old social and productive set-ups. Consequent partitioning of the estate led to abandonment of the village and, to a large extent, the land. The castle’s centuries-old structures lost their function as never before or since: abandonment and neglect might have irremediably ruined this ancient testimony of an age long dead had it not been for the tenacity and passion of Countess Pierina Piccolomini Aluffi Pentini’s descendants (Countess Laura Aluffi Pentini Rossi) who decided to revitalize the estate’s architectural and productive value. The architectonic complex was transformed – with faithful and scrupulous preservation and restoration interventions – into a residential complex. The farm, having suffered the epoch-making revolution of the end of sharecropping, was rehabilitated in harmony with the natural inclinations of the land and the traditions handed down to us, supplemented by technological innovation. All with view to the pursuit of excellence in Ripa d’Orcia produce.