Merry Christmas

Christmas lights ponte Vecchio FlorenceIt’s that time of year again, how soon it comes around. I hope you have all had a lovely year and wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year to come full of joy and laughter, new ventures and old, delightful surprises and a healthy and safe one for us all.

For a change from Florence, and since I was working at the antique market in Arezzo, I have included Arezzo’s Council Christmas videos championing its local heroes – Petrarca, Michelangelo, Massaccio, Vasari among others and highlighting the city’s fame as the ‘City of Gold’ since the 14th Century, as well as the delicate ‘Nativity scene’ on the façade of the Cathedral.

 

Thank you all for following my blog and all the best for 2020Xmas David….Tanti Auguri Sue

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The Botany of Leonardo da Vinci

Santa Maria Novella church, Florence

It seems appropriate to finish the year with a post on Leonardo Da Vinci since we have been commemorating 500th anniversary of his death with all sorts of events. Besides it’s fascinating to learn more about his genius as a Scientist, Botanist, Biologist and more; his holistic approach and prolific notes and designs crammed onto every page of the Codes.

This time the exhibition – The Botany of Leonardo  focused on ‘the philosophical and technical content of the time in which Leonardo Da Vinci lived in order to explore his study of the forms and Leonardo Atlanticus codeprocesses of the plant world in greater depth, through his outlook as a “systemic” thinker, highlighting the connections between art, science and nature’ ( Exhibition Notes). 

I was fortunate to be taken through the exhibition with a guide who added a little more spice in the introduction to Leonardo sharing details essential to understanding his scribblings since he was left handed and wrote from right to left. At that time left Leonardo's left handed scripthandedness was considered the devil’s hand and children were punished severely. Leonardo instead had been rather pampered by his paternal grandfather who indulges his left handedness and encourages his studies with a private teacher so he never comes under the stricter teachings of the classics and humanities. As a child born out of wedlock, the freedom allowed in his grandfather’s care means he is spared from the dogmas of the time developing a ‘freethinking attitude full of experience and experiment that foreshadows the scientific methods developed more than a century later by Bacon and Galileo.’  (Walter Isaacson “Leonardo da Vinci”). Examples of Leonardo’s writing are only easily read in a mirror reflection.

Model of furnaces used for chemical and pharmaceutical productionThe guide continued to emphasize Leonardo‘s respect of Nature as he experimented with alchemical processes, studying the cause and effect, and despising anyone who tried to replace Nature and break its laws, manipulating it for their own end. Two model furnaces were on display from St Mark’s Foundry similar to what Leonardo designed having recognized the power of fire in transforming materials, in particular metals.

The Refactory housed the main exhibits and we are welcomed immediately by a live plant wall with a projected ceiling decoration of Leonardo‘s from the Sforza

Castle in Milan where he had spent many years in the service of Ludovico il Moro. His codes cover extensive scientific studies on light, perspective, urban planning and architecture, engineering, mechanics, human and animal anatomy, an endless search to understand the complexities of his surroundings with an interdisciplinary perspective.

He sees similarities between processes, structures and patterns e.g. his study of the human body and blood circulation is compared to the vital sap that nourishes trees, or tributary branches of a river.

Building on ancient Roman theories Leonardo discovered the principles of what we nowPhyllotactic tower call phyllotaxis – the set of rules governing the arrangement of leaves along a branch, explaining how this arrangement helps the plant to receive air, light and water. Used in green architecture today.

He understands that plants respond to environmental stimuli, growing towards the light and the extent to which they are effected by gravity. Plants on a slowly turning wheel had been planted at various angles and only those upright were doing well, and those upside down were in a very sorry state.

And of course Leonardo, the artist, wrote endless recipes on preparing pigments, dyes and oils from the plant world for paintings and drawings.Leonardo's plants in The Annunciation

His meticulous studies being reproduced in his paintings and drawings of plants.

 

 

 

da Vinci's vitruvian treeThe exhibition was truly fascinating with so much more than can be described here. And catering to today’s world, ended with an invite to do a ‘Selfie‘ inside the ‘Vitruvian Tree’  one of Leonardo da Vinci‘s most famous drawings – ‘focusing on the measured relationships of the natural world, in search of the divine proportion between man and the living system’ ( exhibition notes). An invite to place ourselves within the regular forms of geometry and the equally perfect forms of Nature.Leonardo's vitruvian man

 

 

 

The man was a genius. His attention to detail is incredible, with such an advanced scientific approach that makes me think we are moving backwards while he was way ahead of us!


 

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Machiavelli – the Prince’s exile

Hiking around San CascianoOn a rare day without rain and in solidarity for the humanitarian Onlus Emergency my hike group explored the hills, vineyards and villas once belonging to ‘The Prince – Machiavelli’. It was by no means a tough hike, not our usual style, but for a worthy cause, and we were in for some real treats!

Starting from San Casciano Val di Pesa, which is only a hop skip and jump from Florence (18kms) towards Siena, in the Chianti Classico wine area we were headed for Sant’ Andrea in Percussina, home to Machiavelli’s villas. A carpet of cloud covered the valley between the towns and the rolling hills blessed with vines now looking rather straggly as there autumn colours slowly fade. Still it was a relief to be out under sunshine and in good company.

A guided tour of Machiavelli’s villa was promised, and we were to delve into his tormented story. He had been considered the rising star of the new Florentine Republic, a brilliant civil servant and head of the Second Chancery, a post that placed him in charge of the Republic’s foreign affairs after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. But when the Republic fell and the Medici returned to power he was arrested, tortured and expelled from the city. He retreated to his farmhouse ‘Albergaccio‘ ( meaning bad hotel) as it linked to the tavern across the road often filled with dubious characters.

The Albergaccio restaurant today and tour of the farmhouse:

 

Machiavelli wrote “Here, in Sant’Andrea in Percussina, where I tend to my vines and family matters, I, Niccolo’ Machiavelli, have found refuge from events in Florence, fatal for me. Hikers breakNext door there’s the Hosteria, a continual source of refreshment for me, for the labours borne in my long office, tasting that which the land has made into marvellous fruit.”

And we enjoyed tasting a refreshing prosecco from his land before the tour!

Inside we passed through the rather simple rooms of the farmhouse including his study where he wrote his famous book ‘The Prince’ , his notorious political tract advising dynasties, like the Medici, how Machiavelli's studyto combat the vicissitudes of fortune and stay in power. Considered a key intellectual figure of the Florentine Renaissance his isolation from Florence was under sufferance, especially since he had a clear view of Brunelleschi’s Dome from his garden daily. Most historians now emphasise the much greater importance of his later writings in Discourses on Livy and the History of Florence, where it becomes clear that his preferred political model was one based on freedom and democracy, a world without tyrannical kings and princes.

From the cellar we could see yet another of his villas – Villa Mangiacane thought to be designed by Michelangelo and where we had been promised our lunch break.

A brief stop at the Machiavelli store to peruse the gadgets and gift ideas and then back to hiking before we got too distracted by the alluring aromas coming from the restaurant kitchen, or tempted by another prosecco!

Down the valley, through the vineyards and with stomachs rumbling we trooped past the Villa Mangiacanefile of Tuscan cypress to the entrance of Villa Mangiacane to enjoy lunch on the garden steps. Fortunately for us the luxury resort was closed so no one to object. The villas remained in the Machiavelli family for centuries and only recently have been sold to an Italian Wine Cooperative.Machiavelli family tree

For us it had been a fun day out, a good fundraising day for Emergency and a very easy hike in the lovely area of Chianti Classico.Hikers trail home

 

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Florence’s renewed Flea Market

Florence Flea MarketFinally the Florence Flea Market has opened in its new permanent structure, after years of indecision and protests. Not everyone will be happy about the changed appearance but from an insiders point of view I can guarantee the traders are happier. They have a bigger and warmer covered space that will protect them, their clients and their merchandise against variable weather conditions.New Flea Market Florence

 

In fact the Council of Florence is doing quite a lot about cleaning up areas and making them more people friendly, even greener when the opportunity arises, as well as restoring monuments and fountains as funds become available.

Loggia dei pesci in front of original Flea market

Old Flea market and Loggia dei Pesci

For those unfamiliar with the Florence Flea market, it has lived most of its life in front of the beautiful late Renaissance loggia designed by Vasari for the fish mongers, in Piazza dei Ciompi. The stands were rather fragile with plastic ripple coverings plyboard thin walls and possibly some asbestos thrown in as well. Years of weathering brought them to a sad and sorry state and the Council decided to move the market out and restore the famous ‘Loggia dei Pesci‘ to its former glory, green up the piazza and make it into a relaxing place for locals and tourists and the occasional flower market.

The Loggia itself has a rather interesting history, designed by Vasari in 1568/9 at the request of Cosimo I who had decided to move the Fish market located near the Ponte Vecchio because of its bad odour and dirtiness. The market was moved to the Old market area in Piazza della Repubblica leaving ample space now for Vasari’s famous corridor to be built linking the Town Hall to the Medici’s residence at Palazzo Pitti. The compensation to the fish mongers was a beautiful loggia under which they could sell their wares.  But when Florence became the Capital of Italy 1865-1871 a clean up campaign moved the old Market out of the piazza and the Loggia dei Pesci was dismantled and stored in the San Marco museum until 1955. Local citizens protested and persisted until a local bank donated funds and the Loggia was reassembled and placed in piazza dei Ciompi and the Florence Flea market grew up under its watchful gaze for over 50years.

But plans to restore the Loggia to its former splendour and revamp the Piazza saw the removal of the Flea market to an alternative abode, temporary tent accommodation in a nearby Piazza – Largo Pietro Annigoni next door to the Saint Ambrogio food market. Not a very pleasant experience for traders nor customers.

Then finally the new Flea market in a permanent building, larger stands, a covered walkway and two weeks for stand owners to create their own exhibit space with individual furnishings and lighting. So it was all hands on deck and I helped my friend with her stand specializing in Sheffield and silver from the U.K.

Playing cards Flea MarketAnd while we, and others, were busy painting, putting up curtains, moving stock, stumbling over boxes and working around electricians and carpenters, the usual group of Flea marketeers were already happily playing cards as they have always done!

The inauguration on 26 October came with all the pomp and ceremony that only Florence can provide with the Mayor puffing out his chest in Mayoral garb.

Opening day was a great success and Catherine Glasser’s stand the best of them…..but then maybe I am biased!? If you are in the area do drop by to see them all and see what you think of the new market structure.

ps  I hate to say that the new Florence Flea Market complex has a definite Parisienne air but c’est la vie!

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Our Italian Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty, New Yorik

Photo credit: Museo Opera del Duomo

The Statue of Liberty is such an icon, the symbol of America, which has welcomed millions of migrants and visitors to the New York harbour. Yet the statue perhaps is not so unique and to prove the point the current ‘Sisters of Liberty’ exhibition in New York will surprise many American visitors. Our Liberty of Poetry statue by Pio Fedi, placed in the Santa Croce church in 1883, is considered to have inspired Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty inaugurated in 1886. In fact Bartholdi was in Italy at the time fighting alongside Garibaldi in the ranks of the Frankish soldiers during the Franco Prussian war. And its thought very likely that he saw the draft design if not the completed statue.

The Liberty of Poetry statue was placed over the tomb of Giovanni Battista Santa Croce churchNiccolini, in the Santa Croce church in Florence. He was a playwriter of dramas related to national redemption and the freedom of the people, and an avid supporter of the Unification of Italy. The statue is enormous, even bigger than Michelangelo’s David and for this reason in fact cannot be moved. But a replica has been made and sent to New York where “visitors will discover and interact with the symbols, voices, and heroes that have defined our modern concept of liberty” (excerpt from brochure)

So compare for yourselves here:

Italian and American Sisters of Liberty

photo credit: Museo del Opera del Duomo, Firenze

Staue of Poetry

The idea for the project came from the U.S. Consulate General of Florence which celebrates 200 years of diplomatic relations and wanted to demonstrate the long standing cultural ties between Italy and the United States. Generous contributions for the exhibition came from American Express and our luxury Four Seasons Hotel Florence

When the exhibition was confirmed it caused a flurry of activity amongst the Friends of Florence  organisation who paid for the restoration of the Liberty of Poetry.  So newcomers to the Santa Croce church can now see it in its original splendour alongside the other famous tombs of Tuscan greats – Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Ghiberti and the tribute to Dante Alighieri.

In fact the Santa Croce church is one of the oldest and largest Franciscan basilicas in the world and considered by far the most magnificent, for its architecture by Brunelleschi and Donatelli, frescoes by Giotto and Agnolo Gaddi and it houses more skeletons of Renaissance masters than any other church in Italy! Definitely worth a visit. The piazza is also a favourite one for Florentines and hosts the historic football match ‘calcio storico’.

Another statue by Pio Fedi is on display in the Loggio dei Lanzi in front of the Palazzo Vecchio the Town Hall of Florence – The Rape of Polyxena of 1865. Although largely ignored as it sits behind the famous bronze statue by CelliniPerseus with the Head of Medusa.

But our Italian Statue of Liberty….of Poetry I think takes the cake!Liberty of Poetry


 

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Villa Medici, Poggio a Caiano Tuscany

Villa Medici Poggio a CaianoLiving in Florence it’s easy to become blasé to the wealth of galleries, museums, palaces and villas that we are surrounded by. So much so that it took a visitor to inspire me to finally visit Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano on the outskirts of Florence in the province of Prato.  Surprisingly it was free admission, with hardly any other visitors, so we could pick the brains of the local attendants about the Villa’s history despite detailed information on display in each room.

The Villa became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 along with the 11 other Medici villas and 2 gardens as “The Medici villas form the first example of the connection between architecture, gardens, and the environment and became an enduring reference for princely residences throughout Italy and Europe. Their gardens and integration into the natural environment helped develop the appreciation of landscape characteristic Humanism and the Renaissance.”

Villa Medici Poggio a CaianoBegun by Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1445, completed by his son in 1520, and designed by architect Giuliano da Sangallo, the eldest in a large and distinguished family of Florentine architects. Typical of Renaissance architecture it contains Classical elements with its Ionic temple façade, a definite ‘Wow‘ factor on entering the gardens, and barrel vaulted ceilings in the interior. It’s simple elegance and curved staircase is very appealing and we are drawn inside.

Lorenzo the Magnificent loved the Villa, using it as his Summer residence, entertaining numerous guests and fondly rearing pheasants for the hunting season. Glorious weddings and important events were held alongside mysterious tragic events like the death of Francesco I ( son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany) and his second wife Bianca Cappello. They both died of acute arsenic poisoning only hours apart, suspected to be at the hands of his brother fearing exclusion from his inheritance! Another being the sad marriage between Cosimo III and the young cousin of the king of France, Margaret Louise d’Orleans. ‘At only 15 she dreaded the thought of marrying a fat, mournful Italian heir to a now impoverished Duchy and made him suffer for it, spending huge amounts of his money on clothes and entertaining and when he finally let her return to France  she took with her an immense sum as well as wall hangings, beds and valuable articles.’ (Christoper Hibbert – Florence, the Biography of a City) 

And the Villa remains rather sparsely furnished today. After the Medici dynasty the Villa Roman Sarcophagocontinued to be home to royalty and nobles – Hapsburg-Lorraine dynasty and important people like Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister and  King Vittorio Emanuele II when Florence was the Capital of Italy between 1865-1870.

The loggia covers the Roman sarcophagi and we head past into the Court theatre room and then through to the Billiard room  with its beautiful decorated ceiling.

The impressive Grand Hall of Leo X heavily adorned with frescoes whose ‘primary purpose is to celebrate the Medici dynasty through comparison to important ancient historical events.’

The delicately furnished bedroom and marble bathroom were lived in by two important women, Elisa Baciocchi and later the Countess of Mirafiori known as the ‘Bella Rosina‘ mistress and later wife of King Vittorio Emanuele II.

While the study and bedroom of the King seem hardly lavish!

Fortunately Margaret Louise d’Orleans left at least one large tapestry for us to admire, a fabulous hunting scene so intricate it seems more like a painting.

Terracotta Frieze from facadeAnd the original terracotta Frieze from the façade is protected inside, allowing a close Portion of Friezeup view of its 14m long scenes about Mother Earth and the Birth of the Sun and Planets.

Now I only have another 9 Villa Medici’s to visit having seen Villa La Pietra and the gardens of the Villa Medici in Fiesole and today’s most famous Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano!

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Andrea del Verrocchio – The Master of Da Vinci

Verrocchio Exhibition brochureFlorence continues to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci with an exhibition of his MasterAndrea del Verrocchio at the Palazzo Strozzi. I must admit I am not a real fan of religious art and totally ignorant of who Verrocchio was so I had left my visit to the exhibition to the last week. I was however beguiled by the gentle serenity of the ‘Madonna’ in the publicity boards around town, her gaze lowered, her hair drawn back beneath a transparent veil so delicately embroidered as was the bodice of her gown, it had to be seen for real. The style was typical of many Renaissance painters that I did know like Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Perugino and of course Leonardo da Vinci all of whom painted the Madonna showing enormous tenderness towards her child, an earthly maternal love.

After the exhibition I explored further and discovered that Verrocchio was born in Florence around 1434-37, originally Andrea di Cione, the son of a construction worker in a family where the money was scarce. After his father’s death he had to support his mother and eight brothers and possibly for this reason never married. He became an apprentice goldsmith in the workshop of Giuliano Verrocchio and later took his name. As an artist with his own workshop Andrea del Verrocchio had such illustrious pupils as Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico del Ghirlandaio and Perugino.
No one shaped Florentine Art in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent more than Verrocchio. Trained as a goldsmith, he discovered a bent for sculpture, emerging as the greatest bronze sculpture of his day. He practised drawing and eventually turned to painting. By c 1470, barely over thirty, he had become a beacon in his own right and with his lively workshop.” (Palazzo Strozzi info)

The bust evokes the ideal of female beauty in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent, merging aristocratic grace with moral values…..and Leonardo drew inspiration from the innovative addition of arms and hands

David Victorious - VerrocchioMarble reliefs and bronze statues of heroes and heroines of the classical world were particularly popular with patrons of the time and it was interesting to see the developments in style and expressions and the attention  to detail was impressive.Alexander the Great - Verrocchio

 

 

 

 

Verrocchio came late to painting yet impressed his fellow artists with his detail on precious jewels, elaborate costumes and drapery bathed in light. His ‘window ledge’ baby Jesus became a new fashion and was copied by many. He studied innovative techniques with Leonardo on the ‘chiaroscuro” effects of light experimenting by painting on fine linen cloth reproducing true drapery soaked in wax or liquid earth modelled on dummies.

In the painting –The Baptism of Christ Vasari tells us “he was assisted by Leonardo da Vinci, his disciple, then quite young, who painted the angels, which was much better than the other parts of the work: and for this reason Verrocchio resolved never again to touch a brush“! Art historians however are not convinced about the legitimacy of the comment as Verrocchio left many works unfinished, being prolific in so many different fields.

He created outdoor sculptures based on classical models, popular in the Winged Boy with DolphinRenaissance and helped forge the fashion for monumental marble fountains, decorated with bronze statues like The Winged boy with Dolphin. He created metal candelabras, equestrian monuments and his work as a goldsmith could be as varied as the small Dove of the Holy Spirit to the gilded copper ball placed on top of the Brunelleschi Dome.

 

 

 

 

Verocchio's gilded copper ball

 

 

Da Vinci-The Virgin with the Laughing Child

 

 

 

And as a surprise finale we were introduced to Leonardo Da Vinci’s only known work of sculpture when he was still a young man, perhaps only 20, modeled in his master’s workshop. The Virgin with the Laughing Child. We have all learnt so much about Da Vinci’s master.

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Hooves clicking on Black Marble

Hiking in the National ParkOut in the heat hiking not far from Siena we are exploring an area of Italian marbleblack marble or commonly known here as Serpentine marble. And while we are no longer able to see the quarries where the ‘marble‘ came from, we are conscious that every step we take is on this precious material. Officially it is not really ‘marble’ but a serpentinite, “a metamorphic rock derived from the rock of magmatic origin that formed about 200 million years ago on the bottom of the ancient Ocean Tetide, where it underwent a process of hydration by interaction with sea water.” The name originates from the similarity of the texture of the rock to that of the skin of a snake, easily seen here in the village wall. Serpentine marble in village wall

The territory of Murlo is rich in outcrops of this rock and it was used to create the black and white dichromy in the Sienese Cathedral. Not an easy feat considering we are hiking amongst tough Tuscan hills around 27kms from Siena.


We are also lucky to be hiking with a mix of experts                                                          – our faithful Environmental guide Grazia, to give us all the info on the local flora, fauna and terrain underfoot                                                                                                          – a geologist Andrea, eager to explain the difference in the formation of marble and serpentinite i.e.  “Marble being rocks that having undergone a process of metamorphism at high temperatures and pressures that has made the minerals recrystallize.”                                                                                                                      – and Grazia’s father Ivo, who was born in the area, now a National Park, and keen to recount old farming techniques and memories of times past.

Cathedral SienaAt the time of the construction of the Cathedral, begun in 1215,  the ‘Opera del Duomo‘ responsable for the construction bought or rented land with quarries or rich in building stones,  vineyards and fields to obtain wine and bread for the workers, water for making mortar, and woods for work timber. Historical records show that the serpentine stones were partially worked in the quarry and each block of black marble weighed approx 80-100 kg and was carted by mules Siena Cathedralacross this rather rugged terrain. Unlike Florence there was no substantial river course to use as an easier alternative. In the end transport became so expensive and difficult that the black marble was used less and abandoned by the 14th Century.

We hike through typical Mediterranean vegetation dominated by holm oaks up and down hills, past some vineyards along trails that linked communities, ancient parish churches and monasteries. We are on our way to the Hermitage of Montespecchio, thinking of the poor mules that carted up to 20 tons of marble to Siena each 6 months and in this heat we are hard pressed to cart our small back packs laden only with bottles of water and lunch!

Now only the ruins of the church remain of the Hermitage, which was in its heyday a large complex and a wealthy one both from donations not only of money but also land and a healthy income to the Augustinian friars from the sale and transport of the black marble. The welcome shade renew our energy as we exlore the ruins from the 12th Century and despite the striped walls so typical of Romanesque architecture the place has an exotic almost Asian feel to it.

We are now close to Ivo’s birthplace and he delights in telling us that he was often here, looking for his pigs that sometimes went astray and enjoyed Old Tuscan schoolforaging in the woods. In the past there were large fields of grain and cereals cultivated on rotation, and each family depended on that and their livestock to survive. We pass the farmhouse, converted school, that he walked 3kms to each day with his 8 brothers and sisters, now a private residence used probably only on holidays.

Then next to the delapidated buildings where he’s was born he calls us onto the overgrown area which was once the paved ‘aia’ or piazza, where they would tie a horse in the centre and with his continuous circling thresh the grain with his hooves. They would gather the grain on enormous sieves and toss it into the area to separate the grain from the kernels. At the end of harvesting there would be a big dinner on long trestle tables in the piazza where all the families would meet and party.

Ivo's childhood home

 

The buildings and land were left to the Forestry department which has sadly left the buildings go to ruin and the local vegetation has taken over. There is a definite hint of nostalgia as Ivo reminisces, yet satisfied as we are appreciative of his stories of times gone by.                                                           So next time you are in Siena and enjoying its splendour you can appreciate even more the hard work that went into trasporting the black marble.

Farming tales

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Leonardo Da Vinci and the Battle of Anghiari

Since it is 500 years after the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, Italy is celebrating the anniversary with exhibitions, pageants, and local theatrical performances. The country is floooded with events and is encouraging all of us to explore new places and lesser known facts about Leonardo.Anghiari

Photo credit- Museo della Battaglia e di Anghiari.

 

I had taken up the opportunity to combine my love of hiking on an easy trail between Anghiari and Sansepolcro to follow the itinerary of the Florentine soldiers in the crucial Battle of Anghiari of 29 June, 1440. The Battle, played out on the plain between the two towns, was to be colorfully recounted by various local actors along the trail. Unfortunately the performance was cancelled due to stormy weather predictions.

However curiosity had got the better of me and I drove to Anghiari early morning well before the storm and spent a very pleasant few hours exploring the nooks and crannies of this beautiful medieval village. Along the way to set the mood I stopped at Ponte Buriano bridge to contemplate the scene with Da Vinci, since it is this bridge which features in the background of the Mona Lisa.

Garibaldi at AnghiariGaribaldi welcomed me into the historical centre of Anghiari, a popular statue in towns all over Italy. Shortly after I was to cross the moat, or where it was once, through the drawbridge gateway that protected it from foreign invaders.Anghiari Moat Gate

 

 

 

 

I had stepped back in time; winding alleyways, opened onto intimate piazzas, overlooked by medieval buildings now incorporated into Renaissance palaces. It was beautiful!

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Tuscan Spring(s)

It’s that gorgeous time of year when Nature bursts back to life and everything begins to sprout, infinite green on greens as if every plant wants to show off its uniqueness. There is no chance of ever getting tired of the Tuscan landscape and traveling around in the past weeks has been a delight.Tuscany in Spring

Even on just a short walk from home the surroundings are enticing as the vines begin a new season and the iris, the symbol of Florence since 1252, start popping up all over the place.
At San Polo in Chianti there is the Associazione Toscana Gaggiolo of over 200 farmers who continue the tradition of cultivation of the iris as its delicate essence, derived from the root, is used in the production of perfumes, creams and herbal medicines. In fact it was of great economic importance in Tuscany between the 1800’s and the last century, exporting the major part of the production to France.

Iris Garden Florence

photo credit Iris Garden association, Florence

While in Florence publicity is already up, reminding people to visit the Iris garden just below Piazzale Michelangelo “where you can admire over 1,500 varieties of iris from all over the world in full bloom.” Free entrance and opening for only a month from 25th April – 20th May.

Hot Springs San Giovanni TermeSpringtime is also another favorite time for me to visit the Hot Springs, for a relaxing day of total indulgence for body, mind and soul. Just driving through the rolling velvet hills of Southern Tuscany intermittently broken by the grey of ‘Le Crete’ clay pits is so pleasing to the eye. I must have seen it a thousand times, but every year it has the same uplifting effect. We are on our way to the San Giovanni Hot Springs in Rapolano Terme. It’s a glorious day of sunshine and going to be a pleasant 19 degrees and by the time we get there I am thinking I should have packed the sun cream!
Bathing in any of these Hot Spring establishments feels like living in the lap of luxury.

The Romans knew how to spoil themselves bathing in natural hot springs or their sophisticated bath houses progressing from the warm to hot, steamy room and cleansing off with a massage in the cool room. We like to keep that tradition going!

We pass through the relaxation area, specially signposted with no mobile phones allowed, thank goodness, and slip into the coolest pool. While being invitingly quiet we are View of Internal Hot poolsoon dripping our way up the stairs to soak in the warm pool. Delicious squelchy white mud coats the bottom of the pool, the sulfurous sediments from the Natural Spring. As the blurb goes we are sitting in water “rich in sulphur and calcium bicarbonate…to combat ailments relating to muscular and skeletal system and respiratory disorders…in up to 39 degree water”. So you can see why we are here to soothe our muscles, wash away our aches and pains and simply relax. As the day is so warm the indoor ‘hot pool’ is less inviting and besides the surrounding landscape too good to miss!

San Giovanni Terme Some time out on the lounge chairs and then as the sun starts to set we need to make a move for home. Reluctantly we drag ourselves out of the pool, comforted by the knowledge that we will be back again….and again!

So whatever you may be doing over Easter, I hope you all have fun and a relaxing time somewhere special. Buona Pasqua!Easter


 

 

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