10 Natural Treasures of Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany’s little treasures: the hometown of Galileo and Easter morning in Montepulciano

It’s been almost a year since I visited my beloved Tuscany again. Every time I keep asking myself the same question – what attracts me to this region again and again, when the north and south of Italy remain uninvited, to my great shame. Perhaps the answer is that the region is so diverse that it is impossible to soak up its beauty and see all the treasures that lurk in the fertile green hills in one or two attempts. And who can resist the temptation? Especially since for every new visit there are a couple or three new towns, not as brilliant as Florence and Siena, but no less charming.

One of these little treasures this time was Pisa.

– So unusual for me, – a discerning reader may murmur, – “Field of Wonders” and the Leaning Tower, tarnished by numerous photographs of tourists is worse than the statue of Michelangelo’s David.

And my reader will be somewhat right – nowadays the glory of Pisa is associated exclusively with the beautiful cathedral square Piazza dei Miracoli and those buildings that decorate it, keeping the memory of the glory days of Pisa and the past centuries of oblivion. Paradoxically, it is the Pisa architectural ensemble that like no other brings us the breath of the Italian Gothic, so incredibly different from the Gothic cathedrals of France and Germany, and which was the beginning of a new era of medieval architecture. At this point the purists will throw rotten tomatoes at me, because formally the architectural style of the cathedral is Romanesque, and the Gothic is only present here in the decorative details of the baptistery. But it is not for nothing that the great Jacob Burckhart in his History of Art was the first to apply the term “Proto-Renaissance” to the Pisa ensemble.

The main beauty is the Duomo and its twelfth-century facade, decorated in the Lombard style with colorful sandstone, glass and majolica. It is decorated with inlaid marble plants and animals, and the wall tomb in the façade is by the first architect of the Duomo, Buscetto, one of whose goals was to build a cathedral no worse than St. Mark’s in Venice, Pisa’s main rival in sea trade and the conquest of overseas territories.

Behind the cathedral stands the familiar Leaning Tower, the Campanile bell tower, incredibly beautiful and bowed because of its shallow foundations, sandy-silty soil, and mathematical errors in its construction. The bell tower was nearly 300 years old. Even though the tower began to deflect after the first hundred years, when its tiers reached only three levels, construction nevertheless continued.

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It was in Pisa that the illustrious and long-suffering Galileo Galilei was born; here, at his father’s insistence, he entered the local university and later, as a famous scientist, he used the inclination of the bell tower to study the laws of free fall and disprove Aristotle’s theory.

For some, but for me personally, the Campanilla evokes a strong association with the frailty of existence and the Tower of Babel: those multi-story tiers, as if spiraling upward, aspiring into the sky and of course “falling”. Here one has the feeling that all the buildings on Campo dei Miracoli are subject to the tilt. Take, for example, the magnificent barrel-Baptistery, which has not escaped the fate of the Campanilla, albeit to a lesser extent.

Comparing a drawing from the early twentieth century with a photograph taken almost one hundred and twenty years later, you can catch how the Baptistery has tilted in the meantime, not to mention the bell tower. Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Wonders eight centuries ago was the triumph of a strong and dominant maritime power, but the time of the end of the beautiful constructions was also the beginning of the end of Pisa’s heroic period and the coming of an era of oblivion and silence.

“In Montepulciano, the southernmost city of Tuscany, which produced the sweet-sounding Medicean poet Policiano, we expected to find a little Florence. What we found here is a marvelous little Rome.

How to spend a Catholic Easter while in Florence? Unfortunately, it’s not possible to get to the celebratory solemn mass in Santa del Fierre, even on ordinary Sundays only locals are allowed, what to say about Easter Sunday? Our beautiful Phoenix bird, Daniela, the landlady of the palazzo where we were staying, went off early in the morning for a festive service, and we decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and spend time in the town of the finest vino nobile Montepulciano.

Ten “pearls” of Tuscany

This itinerary is dedicated to the ten most interesting cities in Tuscany. You only have to choose which “gem” to start your journey with.

Arezzo

The splendid city on the hills of eastern Tuscany has its roots in antiquity. It was once one of the largest Etruscan communities, then a strategic Roman city, with thriving trade and crafts. Of the monuments we will mention the amphitheater, which is quite well preserved. The city was once famous for its foundries and art workshops, where vases painted in coral were produced. Subsequently, this technique spread to the entire Ancient Roman state.

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In the Middle Ages, Arezzo was a city-state dominated by the Ghibellines, who constantly feuded with neighboring Florence. After its defeat at Campaldino in 1289, the city gradually began to lose its independence. Despite the rather successful rule of the Tarlati dynasty, in 1384 the city finally came under the power of Florence. Along with it he became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The city is located on a hilltop on the edge of the valley of the Arno. On top there is the cathedral, the Palazzo Comunale (City Hall) and the Medici fortress (Fortezza Medicea), from which the streets descend in a fan down to several city gates below. The upper town has preserved mostly medieval architecture, but you can also find beautiful monuments of later periods. The plains part of Arezzo is a modern and lively city.

Florence

Florence is home to a rich artistic heritage, a vivid testament to its centuries-old cultural traditions. Cimabue and Giotto, fathers of Italian painting; Arnolfo and Andrea Pisano, innovators in architecture and sculpture; Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, pioneers of the Renaissance; Ghiberti and Della Robbia; Filippo Lippi and L’Angelico; Botticelli and Paolo Uccello; and the brilliant Leonardo and Michelangelo all worked here.

The works of these and many other generations of artists, including those of our time, are on view in numerous museums of the city, of which the Uffizi Gallery is considered the most famous and the Palatine Gallery, where you can admire paintings of the “Golden Age”; the Bargello Museum with the collections of Renaissance sculpture, the San Marco Museum with the works of Angelico, the Accademia, the Medici Chapels and the Buonarroti House with Michelangelo statues, the Bardini, Horn, Stibert, Romano Museums, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Cathedral Museum, the Museo degli Argenti, delle Pietre Dure.

The majestic monuments mark the stages of art development in Florence: from the mosaics of the Baptistery to the statues of the Cathedral, from medieval churches with frescoes to the monasteries and churches of the Baroque period, and the evolution of public and private palaces – Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Palazzo Davanzati. A large section in the city’s Archaeological Museum is devoted to the Etruscans.

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Grosseto

In the fabric of the modern city the historical center, sheltered by the green hexagon of the bastions rebuilt by Francesco I in 1574, is clearly defined. The city was founded by the survivors of Roselle, ruined by the Saracens in 935, who moved to the valley of the river Ombrone a dozen kilometers from where it flows into the sea. From time to time the inhabitants suffered from outbreaks of malaria, finally defeated only in the twentieth century. In 1336 Grosseto was finally taken over by Siena, which was conquered by the Medici in 1559 after the Battle of Montalcino. Grosseto is the main market and administrative center of the Tuscan lowlands (Maremma), specializing in agriculture.

Be sure to visit the Cathedral, built at the end of the XIII century, the Museum of Art and Archaeology, the walls and the church of San Francesco, the National Park of the Maremma Lowlands, the ruins of the Etruscan city of Roselle.

Livorno

“The ideal city of the Italian Renaissance, Livorno reveals the mysteries of history to the curious tourist with its quarters divided by canals and fortress walls, the intricacy of the streets reminiscent of Venice, the port of the Medici period, towers and fortresses, wedged into the center of the city. The city was designed by Bernardo Buontalenti at the end of the 16th century and was built a century later.

The Old Fortress (Fortezza Vecchia), a grandiose structure to protect the port, faces the New Fortress (Fortezza Nuova), the city wall and the perimeter of the canals that can be used by the river streetcar. The “Venice” quarter is truly like the original: the same canals that once carried goods from the port to the warehouses and back, the piles, the streets and alleys, the majestic palazzos.

Livorno, a lively and friendly city, grew intensively in the 18th and 19th centuries, when many beautiful neoclassical buildings, tree-lined parks, museums and government offices, liberty-style villas on the seashore and an imposing food market building appeared. The history and spirit of Livorno are cosmopolitan. A crossroads of the world that since its founding has become the new home of different ethnic groups, where synagogues, Christian temples and simply gardens are adjacent.

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Livorno is known for its artists and musicians: Amedeo Modigliani, Giovanni Fattori and Pietro Mascagni were born here to make immortal contributions to world culture.

The Museo Giovanni Fattori and other cultural institutions host world-class permanent and temporary art exhibitions. The Mascagnano Museum contains relics, testimonies and documents related to the life and work of the great musician. His works are performed during the opera season organized by the Traditional Theatre of Livorno.

In Montenero, on the hills of Livorno, there is a sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, patroness of Tuscany, where the flow of pilgrims never fails. In its annex you will find a vast collection of votive offerings. They are mostly related to the sea.

Lucca

Lucca, the only one of the city-states of Tuscany, retained its independence until 1847. This proves conclusively how zealously the local nobility defended its freedoms. In Lucca the city walls (XVI-XVII cc.) are well preserved; their perimeter is 4250 km long, including 10 bastions and an earth mound. In the medieval buildings here and there stand monuments of other eras, including the Roman amphitheatre, the Basilica of San Frediano, the square and the church of San Michele, the Cathedral of San Martino, where the “Holy Face” is kept and the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, decorated by the sculptor Japoco della Quercia, the Tower of Guinigi, via Fillungo, Palazzo Ducale in Piazza Napoleone, the last testimony of the Principate of Lucca.

Massa Carrara

Carrara is the world’s largest marble mining and processing center. It is located at the foot of the Apuan Alps in a valley surrounded by green hills. The root “car” (stone) in the city’s name testifies to its antiquity. From a small village, it became a trading empire during the Roman period: it was then that marble became fashionable and never went out of fashion again. Thanks to its strategic location and rich reserves of marble, Carrara has always been an object of conquest. In the Middle Ages it was the Byzantines and the Lombards; in 1235 Carrara became a city-state whose coat of arms is still used today. During the Signoria era it was part of the margraviate of Malaspina, the principate of Cibo and the duchy of D’Este. In 1859 Carrara was united with the Kingdom of Italy by popular vote.

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Pisa, famous all over the world for its tower and Piazza della Miracle (cathedral square), has a long history. The heyday of the city came during the period of maritime republics. Pisa is an architectural treasure trove with Romanesque and Gothic churches, squares and palazzos highlighting the beauty of the neighborhoods bordered by the Arno promenade and ancient roads. The ancient University has lost none of its importance to this day. It has many faculties and the Higher Normal School located in Piazza dei Cavalieri. Tourists who come to Pisa discover not only art, culture and history but also natural treasures such as the Park Migliarino – San Rossore, Litorale and Monte Pisano which give visitors stunning views.

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Pistoia

Located at the foot of the Apennines, it boasts historical monuments, art, folklore, monumental art, natural beauty and enogastronomy. Of the other cities in Tuscany, it stands out for its originality and is certainly worth a visit.

Prato

Since the Middle Ages the city has been at the forefront of historical and artistic potential and tourist attraction. In the historic center you will find the Imperial Castle (“Castello del Imperatore”), the only monument of Swabian rule in north-central Italy, the Cathedral, the Praetorian Palace, the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Carceti, the churches of St. Francis and St. Domenico where there are masterpieces by Agnolo Gaddi, Paolo Uccello, Filippo and Filippino Lippi, Donatello and other famous artists of the XIV century and the Renaissance.

The Museum of Rock Art, the Cathedral Museum and the Alberti Gallery exhibit collections of works up to and including the 19th century. The Museum of Cloth has samples of cloth from the fifth century AD to the present day. Palazzo Art Nouveau is in the eastern part of the city, in the same place as the Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Center, where an impressive collection of avant-garde artists is on display.

Siena

Siena is a quality of life that has become a city. The first city in Europe to ban cars from the city center as early as 1966. A place open to international culture, and of course the University, which is “only” 750 years old. Here are the prestigious Kijana Academy of Music, the University for International Students, the Accademia Fisiocritici and the Intronati.

A city where every stone has remained unchanged for centuries, whose atmosphere is unique because the inhabitants cherish the traditions of their fathers, chief among them the famous Palio of Siena. Every year this colorful competition takes place with unfailing success.

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