Italian Tuscany (Toscana) – an amazing region, which must be visited at least once in your life. The hills covered with vineyards, the scattered along them the old towns, one more beautiful than the other, the wonderful Florence, which is impossible to forget.
In Tuscany come and art lovers, and gourmands, and ordinary tourists who want to see one of the most beautiful corners of our planet. Tuscany is best traveled by car, leaving aside the noisy highways and winding through the serpentine narrow country roads, many of which were laid by the ancient Romans. Well, you need to start the journey in the region’s capital – Florence.
The main city of the region is not a young one – Florence (Firenze) was founded in 59 BC. In XI century it reached its heyday, and the Renaissance brought it world fame for many centuries to come.
The first thing to see in Florence is its cathedral, whose full name is Santa Maria del Fiore (La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) – it is the fourth largest basilica in the world; until recently, the cathedral dome at 42 meters high was considered the largest in the world. The construction of the temple started at the end of the 13th century and it took 600 years to complete. The Cathedral amazes the tourists with its exterior; marble of three colors corresponding to the colors of the Italian national flag was used for it.
Florence is home to the famous Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi), one of Italy’s most popular art museums. It exhibits the masterpieces of world art, created by Tiziano, Caravaggio, Giotto and other great masters. It is also home to Michelangelo Buonarroti’s The Holy Family and Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.
The statue of Michelangelo’s David in the gallery of the Accademia di belle arti di Firenze is a must-see.
The most famous palaces in the city are the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti. The first was built at the turn of the XIII-XIV centuries as a residence of the rulers of Florence. The second, the largest in the city, is also the former residence, first of the dukes of Tuscany and then of the Italian kings. Close to Pitti Palace are the Boboli Gardens, one of the finest examples of Renaissance garden art.
Leaving Florence, detour northeast to Fiesole. The distance between the cities is only a dozen kilometers. Fiesole was founded by the Etruscans in the IX century B.C. and is remarkable for the ancient ruins left by their settlements. Ancient Fiesole is a town that was home to the school of the Roman priests of the Augurs. From those times, there are thermae and amphitheatre, which date back to the first century BC. In the city there are many other very venerable buildings – the church of the end of X century, the cathedral of Saint Romolo (San Romolo), built in 1028, the palace of the bishop of the XI century.
The road continues to the south. Leaving Florence behind, after 60 km you arrive in Certaldo, the birthplace of Giovanni Boccaccio, the author of the famous “Decameron”. The ancient and very picturesque town differs from many others in that it has no main square. In its place is a street named after the famous writer Via Boccaccio. The old part of the city has survived since the XIII-XV centuries practically unchanged. The old part of the town is almost unchanged from the 13th to the 15th century. He is buried in the church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo (San Jacopo e Filippo), built in the XIII century.
From Certaldo go to medieval Siena, city of wine. It’s located in the Chianti Valley – and what better way to celebrate Tuscany than with Chianti? The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The symbol of Siena itself is horse racing – the famous Palio (il Palio). They take place twice a year, at the beginning of July and in mid-August on the city’s main square, Piazza del Campo, which for this event is covered with a thick layer of earth.
Here in Siena, the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the city’s main church, is a must-see.
Inside, it is decorated with frescoes by famous Renaissance artists Donatello, Pinturicchio and others. The outside of the cathedral is lined with colorful marble and decorated with numerous sculptures (unfortunately, almost all of them have been replaced by copies). Continuation of the cathedral is Baptistery (Battistero), built at the beginning of XIV century. In Christianity Baptistery is used for the sacrament of baptism. The Baptistery in Siena is one of the greatest monuments of the Renaissance, created in 1428-1430.
- See tips for choosing a hotel in Siena.
If time permits you can venture further south from Siena into the Val d’Orcia, also a UNESCO heritage site. Here several small towns deserve special attention, especially Montalcino, Pienza and Montepulciano.
We invite you to guided tours of Tuscany with the guide Italia for me, Tatiana Ovsyannikova, who permanently resides in the region.
A town as small as it is famous, Montalcino is the birthplace of the great Italian wine Brunello di Montalcino. Every year in July a jazz and wine festival is held here. If you’re traveling through Tuscany at another time, be sure to have a couple of glasses of the wonderful Brunello and continue on your way.
Listed by UNESCO, Pienza is the birthplace of Pope Pius II. He tried to realize here the dream of the “ideal city”, which Plato first spoke of. During the Renaissance, many artists literally raved about “ideal cities”, and it is in Pienza that these ideas were realized as fully as possible. Unfortunately, the pope died just 4 years after the beginning of the reconstruction of the city, and since then, since the early 1460s, Pienza has maintained its almost perfect appearance.
Montepulciano, another “wine” city in Tuscany, is known not only for the famous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape of the same name, but also for its many palazzo castles built in the Mannerist style in the 16th century. This late Renaissance period is called “cinquecento”. The main attraction of the city is the Church of the Madonna di San Biagio (Chiesa di San Biagio), built in the middle of the XVI century on the project of Antonio da Sangallo the Elder (Antonio da Sangallo il Vecchio). It is a model of Renaissance construction.
If visiting the Val d’Orcia is not in your plans, after seeing Siena, head back towards Certaldo and turn to Monteriggioni. This huge castle with fourteen towers on top of a hill is mentioned in Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, and for that reason alone is worth a look. You may be surprised when you see the panorama of the castle and it seems surprisingly familiar. It probably does: it is these walls and towers that you can see in the movies Gladiator and The English Patient.
From Monteriggioni you should head towards San Gimignano, the famous city of 72 towers. This tiny town, with just over 7,000 inhabitants, is interesting for its towers, the so-called “medieval skyscrapers”. In the 14th century, the construction of such a tower was a sign of wealth and prosperity, and each noble family built its own, higher and more beautiful than the others. Unfortunately, only 14 buildings have survived, but they have ensured a place in the list of historical masterpieces of UNESCO. It is possible to walk around the entire town leisurely for 2-3 hours, but it is necessary to visit it.
The next stop on the route is the ancient city of Volterra. The first settlements that arose on the site of modern Volterra date back to the Iron Age. The fortress walls, by which the city is surrounded, are much younger, but their age is credible – it is believed that they were built in the IV century B.C. Thanks to archaeological excavations a number of monuments from the Etruscan and Roman times have been discovered here.
From afar Volterra seems bleak and unfriendly, but it’s an amazing city which is worth spending a couple of hours in.
Once you reach the coast, you can stop for a while in Livorno. A fishing village in the early 11th century, today it is the largest port in Tuscany. The city can not boast a lot of historical sights, it is worth a walk along the picturesque waterfront and admire the beautiful villas on the shore.
Opposite the city port you can see the lighthouse tower, built in 1709. And for lovers of abandoned places, the Art Nouveau building of the thermal spa, vacant since 1968 but still very beautiful, is of great interest.
The city of Pisa needs no introduction. Probably everyone on the planet knows about its Leaning Tower (Torre pendente di Pisa) and every tourist visiting Italy wants to get to Piazza dei Miracoli to take a picture against the tower. However, not everyone knows that the Tower of Pisa is nothing but the bell tower of the Cathedral of Pisa (Duomo di Pisa). It was built in 1360 (construction lasted almost 200 years), and began to fall immediately after the third tier was built. According to scientists’ assurances made in 2008, the tower finally stopped tumbling – previously it deviated from the vertical by 1 mm per year.
Among other attractions of Pisa it is worth noting the 11th century basilica of San Piero a Grado (San Piero a Grado). There is a version that once was a port of the independent Republic of Pisa, which arrived on the ship St. Peter. At the spot where he went ashore, and built a basilica. Less known to tourists is the cemetery of Campo Santo. It is notable for the fact that the land for it brought the ships from Jerusalem.
Also in the city is located University of Pisa (Universita di Pisa), which is one of the oldest universities of Europe: even in the XI century there were educational institutions. The most famous native of Pisa Galileo Galilei received education at the University, and then he conducted his own teaching activities.
Returning to the starting point of the journey Florence, you must stop in the city of Lucca. It is famous for its churches – there are plenty of them. Most of them were built during the Trecento period, otherwise known as the Proto-Renaissance. The term “trecento” in Italy is usually given to the XIV century. It was at this time Lucca was in its heyday. One of the brightest representatives of art of this period is Giotto.
Another attraction of the city are the fortress walls. The fortress walls are more than four kilometers long. The city’s most beautiful architectural monuments is the Cattedrale di San Martino (St. Martin’s Cathedral). It was founded in the VI century, and rebuilt in the XI century. Once inside, be sure to look at the marble tombstone from the beginning of the XV century depicting a young woman with a dog at her feet. The monument is considered one of the world’s architectural masterpieces.
- Read tips for choosing a hotel in Lucca
For a final overview of the sights of Tuscany we will mention Elba, without it the story would not be complete. Elba is the largest island of the Tuscan archipelago, besides being the third largest of the Italian islands, after Sicily and Sardinia. Elba’s infamy was brought to it by the famous French free-diver Jacques Mayol, whose life story was described by Luc Besson in The Blue Abyss. He lived on the island in the last years of his life until his suicide in 2001.
Elba is a popular Italian resort, loved by many for its clean sea and fine sand beaches. It can be reached by ferry from the coastal town of Piombino. There are some small communes with museums, churches of XI-XVI centuries and two or three old fortresses. But the main activities for tourists who come to Elba is beach holidays, windsurfing and walking along the coast or low picturesque hills.
Popular attractions in Tuscany
The sun-drenched beaches of Tuscany, the most beautiful nature reserves and majestic monuments of architecture attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year to this part of Italy. We will also go to the most beautiful cities of this region of Italy, and visit interesting and picturesque places and see the majestic and unique sights of Tuscany.
Santa Maria del Fiore
It will be natural, if presenting photos and descriptions of the sights of this area of Italy, we will start with the administrative center of Tuscany – the beautiful Florence.
The recognizable symbol of this Italian city has long been the majestic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, construction of which began in 1296 and was completed only at the beginning of the XV century.
The temple, built in the form of a Latin cross, has three naves, a semicircular apse, and in 1443 it was installed on the clock, which is still running today. Santa Maria del Fiore is on our list of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the world.
Tower of Pisa
A simple mistake by the builders created the landmark that made this Italian town famous all over the world. “The Falling Tower” was built in two phases, and is part of the architectural ensemble of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
The beautiful white marble bell tower attracts thousands of tourists to the city, and scientists have at various times used the curvature of the structure to conduct various experiments.
From time to time work is done to strengthen the unique landmark, but scientists suggest that it will still fall in about 250 years.
The Cathedral of St. Zeno
On the majestic cathedral square of Pistoia stands the monumental building of the cathedral erected around the 10th century.
Many ancient Christian relics have been preserved in the cathedral, among which paintings on religious themes by great Italian painters are worth noting.
The church has been repeatedly rebuilt, and at the end of the twentieth century during the restoration it was given its original appearance, using old drawings and paintings.
Tuscan-Emilian Apennines Park
In the heart of the region in 2001 was laid out a chic national park, famous throughout the world for its natural beauty.
There is a mountain in the park, Monte Cusna, which resembles a sleeping man, because of which it was nicknamed the “Sleeping Giant”. The flora is represented by different species of unique plants, and among the fauna you can meet the wolf, wild sheep and roe deer.
In addition to enjoying nature you can buy unique souvenirs and taste unusual dishes of national cuisine, including white Tuscan truffle.
A striking example of Gothic architecture was built in the town of Siena in the first half of the XIII century and consecrated in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On the octagonal base of the temple rests the dome, which is supported by numerous columns. The interior and exterior are decorated with marble of different colors, and at the altar is a statue of John the Baptist by Donatello himself.
The mosaic floor is also striking, and the façade of the temple offers a majestic landscape with narrow streets and cozy squares.
By the way, on the pages of most-beauty.ru there is a fascinating article about the most beautiful streets of the world, let’s take a walk?
Cultural landscape of the Val d’Orcia
Travelling in Tuscany by car it is impossible not to visit Val d’Orcia, which is part of a large agricultural area of picturesque Tuscany.
The most beautiful natural object, created by human hands, was a vivid example of human industriousness capable of creating such beauty. Above all this splendor towers Mount Amiata, an extinct ancient volcano, whose height is 1,748 meters.
Since ancient times, the valleys and the hills above them have inspired the great Italian painters, and poets have sung about these beauties in their works.
Villa Medici di Cafagiolo
In the picturesque valley of the River Seve, not far from the town of Barberino di Mugello, the apartments of an aristocratic villa, dating back to the beginning of the 14th century, stand.
The villa was built on the site of a ruined Florentine fortress, and was passed down from generation to generation by the Medici family. After the death of the last of the Medici family, the structure passed to the Habsburgs.
Today the aristocratic medieval villa is privately owned and the former majestic halls and outbuildings have been converted into living quarters.
Castello di Vincigliata
On a rocky cliff near the town of Fiesole in the XIII century was built a monumental fortress that belonged for centuries to the noble Vizdomini family.
In the XIX century the castle was reconstructed, and during the reign of Mussolini, the fortress was nationalized and the opponents of the fascist regime were kept there.
Now the gates of the fortress are open to tourists, and it can be rented for weddings and other family celebrations.
Church of the Holy Spirit
In the beautiful town of Pistoia, on Piazza dello Spirito Santo, stands the monumental church, whose foundation stone was laid as early as 1647.
It was designed by the Jesuit architect Tommaso Ramignani and construction took until 1685. Like many Jesuit houses of worship, the facade of the church is devoid of decorations and is executed in a strict ascetic style.
But the main facade of the church was made in Baroque style and decorated with sculptures and paintings of the great masters of the Italian Renaissance.
Castiglione della Pescaia Beach
This beautiful beach in southwest Tuscany offers magnificent views of the islands of Elba and Giglio, and on clear weather you can see the beauty of the Cape Argentario.
Gentle entrance to the sea, golden sand and fresh air are perfect for family holidays. Everything is thought out for the rest of children. In addition to natural beauty there is an amusement park, water equipment rentals.
In the evening you can walk along the beach on the path, buried in the foliage of centuries-old trees.
Church of Santa Maria della Spina
A small, compact church in Pisa nestled on the banks of the River Arno. It was built in 1230, and was called Santa Maria di Pontenovo, which literally means “Santa Maria at the New Bridge”.
The church, rectangular in plan and with a multicolored marble facade, is a striking example of Gothic architecture in Italy. Inside the church is almost undecorated, which contrasts sharply with the luxurious decoration of the facade.
During the restoration of the XIX century, the ceiling of the religious building was painted with magnificent paintings. At the altar is a copy of the figure of Madonna, the work of Italian sculptors Andrea and Nino Pisano, the original of which can be seen in the museum of San Matteo.
If you want to know more about the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the world, follow this link.
Val di Cecina Valley
In the southern part of the famous province of Pisa lies the Val di Cecina, which amazes visitors with its rural scenery, cypress sheltered hillsides and magnificent olive groves.
In addition to the natural splendor here you can visit unique architectural monuments, churches and monasteries. Among the hills there are numerous luxury villas and ancient castles.
Today, the valley is actively developing eco-tourism, and the most popular type of recreation is cycling through the rugged terrain of the beautiful valley.
Among the monuments of architecture in Tuscany, there are also structures made in the Romanesque style. The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist was built in the fourteenth century on the site of ancient ruins of small churches.
The basic Romanesque style of the building has Gothic elements as well, especially on the facade of the temple. The interior is decorated with works by Bartolomeo della Gatta and Santi di Titoi, as well as the famous crucifix by Perugino.
The altar of the cathedral of Sansepolcro is decorated with a wooden crucifix created back in the tenth century and often referred to as the “Savior Not Made by Hands”.
House of Leccino
Agritourism in Tuscany is a widespread phenomenon, and the apartments in the beautiful surroundings of Montaione, will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the charm of rural life.
This area of Italy in ancient times was inhabited by Etruscan tribes, and later, as evidenced by archaeological excavations, there began to appear the first Roman settlements on the peninsula.
The house itself is surrounded by majestic pine trees and olive groves. Nature lovers can also stroll through the botanical garden, which has a collection of rare plants and flowers.
Castello di Poppi
The first documented account of the beautiful monumental castle belonging to the Conti Gvidi family dates back to 1169.
For more than 300 years, the Guidi family controlled the valley where they built their family estate. Inside the fortress was built a twisted stone staircase, decorated over time with family coats of arms.
During its history the walls of the majestic castle twice withstood attack of enemy troops, in 1289 and 1440s.
Describing the best places in Tuscany, it is impossible not to mention the wild beach near the town of Principipina a Maare. Golden sand dunes alternate here with small rocks overgrown with rare vegetation.
The sea water is the cleanest on the whole Italian coast and being on this sand you have a feeling of peace and harmony.
In ancient times salt was mined here, and those who wish can visit the Medieval fortress, which is located near a beautiful beach.
It is necessary to tell separately about the town of Pienza, which itself is a unique architectural landmark.
In 1459, on the site of a small village, where Pope Pius II was born, the famous architect Bernardo Rossellino erected a perfect Renaissance town. Among the monuments of the town it is worth noting the majestic cathedral church, as well as numerous palazzos in which the famous Italian families lived.
Also note that the layout of the Tuscan city was later adopted by many architects in Europe, and the city itself in 1995 was declared a monument of World Heritage.
To conclude, Tuscany is the second most important cultural center of Italy, and its attractions are long listed as cultural and historical heritage. Tuscany’s spectacular hills of Chianti, whose slopes are adorned with towering pyramidal, evergreen cypresses, have become a picturesque symbol of Tuscany.
And just one last interesting fact about the life of Russian stars. Tuscany is home to the family nest of Andrei Konchalovsky and Yulia Vysotskaya, who bought an 18th-century estate in the early 2010s. But what to say, Russian celebrities have always loved this part of Italy, and many poets and writers of the past have repeatedly rested on the beaches and resorts of Tuscany for their health.