Gentle cultivate hills and imposing cathedrals of stratified sediments form a unique scenery in the heart of Tuscany

Picture in your mind the dramatic beauty of the American canyons with their walls made strata of prehistoric rocks. The intense reds and oranges colors they turn at sunset. Now switch to the luscious greens of the Tuscan hills with their olive grows, vineyards, cypresses, and fields. The two sceneries are so profoundly different that they seem to belong to different worlds. Nevertheless, there is a magic place, also known as ‘Fairies’ Pyramids’, in which these two worlds come together to create a deeply evocative one.

The vast area called ‘Le Balze‘ is in the Arno Valley, between Florence and Arezzo. Here, about 2 million years ago, there was a 40 miles long lake that was gradually filled with sediments from the mountains that dominated it.

Over time, as the lake floor was exposed, ravines were carved into the sediments, creating pinnacles and spires of lime, clay, and sand.

The continual erosion by wind and water eventually created ravines sculpted of bare earth and rock. Impressive stratified cathedrals that soar up to 100 meters above gentle cultivated valleys.

This unique combination has been charming artists and naturalists for centuries. And it didn’t fail, 500 years ago, to capture the powerful intellect of Leonardo da Vinci. He was so fascinated by the peculiar formations that he added them to the background of the ‘Mona Lisa’ and of the ‘Virgin of the Rocks‘. Moreover, thanks to the unusual geological phenomenon that created it, the area of Le Balze is a very important deposit of fossils.

They were formed when the ancient lake was the home of Paleolithic animals and plants. And today many of them are on display at the Palaeontological Museum of Montevarchi in the province of Arezzo.

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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