Run out of Steam

Arrivederci Possums!

This will be my last post as I think it’s time to say goodbye and close the website – An Aussie in Italy. The pandemic has changed my life as I am sure yours, pushing mePainting by Numbers back to study online and paint by numbers! Understandably it has restricted my interests and curtailed my travels so I have little to recount now in a blog post. I have learnt a lot from the blog and it has been great to share it with you.

Italy is beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel as restrictions are being lifted, restaurants, theatres and museums reopen and possibly pools and gyms in June. Vaccinations continue and currently around 22% of the population have been done up to date, but it will still be a long haul before life returns to ‘normal’

So this Aussie in Italy sincerely thanks you all for following my journey over the years. A special thank you to those who traveled with me, and with whom I have traveled, they were such fun times.                                                                                                Wishing you all the best and happy travels in the future.

Stay Covid safe                                                                                                              Kind Regards                                                                                                                      SueFlorence sunset

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Uffizi Gallery aiming high on social networks

Uffizi Gallery, FlorenceWhether it be for work or play social networks have become an integral part of our lives and in many cases helping us to survive the trauma of Covid 19. Uffizi Gallery in Florence is no exception and having plunged into social networks only 2 years ago it is rating very high on them and in fact the most followed Museum of Italy.

Since Eike Schmidt took over as Director in 2015, there have been some major changes in the layout and presentation of the works of art, the launch into social networks and the use of popular ‘influencers’ to attract a new audience and increase curiosity and interest. While we may not all agree with the changes he is certainly following his idea of making the Uffizi Gallerypop, cool and a little rock“! Take a look at the recent video on Uffizi’s Instagram as an example of catching the interest of a younger audience, together with placing some works of art at kid’s height.

Uffizi Gallery, Masterpieces at kid's height

Photo credit: www.corriere.it

And for us bigger kids, following uffizigalleries on facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter the posts are a constant delight and a wealth of information. Not just a passive presence but also an opportunity for dialogue and debate. A series of cooking lessons – Uffizi on the plate– based on still life masterpieces by some of our local chefs kept many of us entertained this winter

And we celebrated the arrival of Spring live from the  Botticelli room, 23 March with an intense explanation of the history, mystery and intrigue behind the painting, and the symbolism associated with the over 500 plants and flowers featured.Anenomes Boboli GardensThe impression this year is that of seeing them for the first time, on the green and pristine expanses of the Boboli Gardens, still not open to the public. Anemones are fragile and very delicate flowers, “animated by the wind”, as the word itself, derived from the Greek ἄνεμος (anemos) = wind, says. In fact, they are born on wind-swept meadows at the end of winter, among the blades of grass, with tremulous corollas that the slightest breeze “animates”, shakes, shakes and easily knocks down. A transient and glorious flower, the anemone has always announced Spring. It goes without saying that every day at the Uffizi is Spring.                                                                             The most famous is that of 1482, by Sandro Botticelli.                                                 May the season of Rebirth be for everyone!”Spring by Botticelli

The five most popular works so far from Uffizi Gallery on social media have been dedicated to – Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni, the Laocoonte by Baccio Bandinelli, Pallas and the Centaur by Botticelli, and the Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, and the Gaddi Torso.

The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci

Chiara Ferragni at Uffizi Gallery

Photo credit – www.forbes.it

The influencer who made an appearance was Chiara Ferragni, who has over 20m followers and who Schmidt described as our ‘modern day Venus‘ but I will leave you to judge that. And while many, including me, did not approve of her presence she supposedly increased Uffizi Gallery followers on social networks by 27%, so may have opened up a whole new world to a younger age group, and that’s very encouraging.

Uffizi Gallery also does rather cheeky clips on ‘TikTok’ the one here shows Venus shouting to keep a 1m social distance during Covid 19.

So there is something for everyone from Uffizi Gallery on social networks and it has certainly been a boom for the Museum and an enormous benefit for all of us. Do take a look if you are not already a follower – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok…..

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Twentieth Century Art – Alberto della Ragione Collection, Florence

Florence Art museums open and close according to Covid 19 restrictions, and many have kept us entertained and informed with online presentations.Museo Novecento, Florence

One such Museum is Museo Novecento (Twentieth Century Art Museum) of Florence which is often ignored except for passionate art lovers of the 1900’s like me. Housed in the old hospital of Saint Paolo behind the beautiful Renaissance loggia by Michelozzi. The Museum’s collection is impressive and an important representation of the period. When open the Museum also holds some interesting temporary exhibitions of International artists. However the Alberto della Ragione collection has been the major contribution to the Museum with some of Italy’s well known artists of the time.

An online presentation gave an insight into this fascinating man and somewhat unlikely art collector, Alberto della Ragione. He was a newcomer to Art,  who followed his feelings and often ignored comments from art critics of the time, buying what he liked while delving into the lives of the artists who produced the work.

Born in 1892 in Piano di Sorrento near Naples, he transferred to Genoa for his profession as a naval engineer. He was highly esteemed in his profession, traveling widely around Italy to port cities where he specialized in recuperating sunken vessels. A lover of music and books he ventured into Art buying his first painting in 1928 a Still Life for his dining room. The joy it gave him, started what would become a lifetime passion for Art and a great distraction from his work.

Fortunato Depero 1932 Nitrite in Speed

Fortunato Depero 1932

His spare time became consumed studying Art, visiting exhibitions, being disappointed in some and wanting to understand more about the actual artists active at the time, particularly those not approved of by the fascist regime.

The major part of his collection was bought between 1932-45 crucial years of political turmoil, racial discrimination and World War. In the end he cultivated great friendships with his group of artists, playing an important role as Patron in their development as well as offering refuge to some fearing prosecution for their anti-fascist views and/or Jewish heritage. He bought a Gallery in Milan, offering contracts to the artists thereby giving them a permanent income so they could concentrate on painting.

Renato Guttuso 25.7.43 Portrai of Alberto della Ragione Renato Guttuso, one of the artists in his group and with whom he had a great friendship, rang him on hearing that Mussolini and the fascist regime had fallen. and went immediately to Genoa to celebrate with him. Guttuso insisted on painting his portrait as record of that important day 25/7/1943, including another of his own paintings in the background.

His collection is a wonderful  mix of futurists work – Fortunato Depero, Gino Severini, portraits – Renato Guttuso, Virgilio Guidi, Ottone Rosai: still life – Mario Mafei, Antonio Donghi and landscapes particularly connected to his love of the sea – Filippo de Pisis, Carlo Carra` to name just a few.

Museum Novecento Twentieth Century ArtThe collection is displayed in various sections under themes – Cavalry, Gestures, Suspended Poses; The artist and his world; Still Life; Nudes, the Female; Landscape; Sculpted Paintings, painted Sculptures; Farces; and Faces, Portraits. Here you see only a small selection of  the 250 works of Art that make up the collection.

Gino Severini The Window with Doves 1931In the end the Milan Gallery closed in debt and della Ragione looked for a solution for his collection, drawn to Florence and his Florentine friends as the ideal artistic city. In 1970 he donated his collection to the Council of Florence but unfortunately it never became visible to the public until its inclusion in the Museo Novecento in 2014 when the Museum first opened. . Alberto della Ragione died in 1973, so fortunately never knew of the years delay before his collection could be fully appreciated. The Museum certainly deserves to be included in the list of Florence Art Museums to visit  when life returns to ‘normal.’Francesco Menzio Head of a Woman 1933


 

 

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A new year and new projects – Florence

Florence CathedralA new year has begun and we are still in the midst of Covid19, slowly mulling our way through. On a positive note vaccinations have started, most of our medical staff have been vaccinated and a large number of residents in aged care as a priority. It will be a long process.

Florence has been relatively lucky although the English and Brazilian variants have also appeared recently and we now face additional restrictions as we downgrade into an ‘Orange’ region.  From Monday restaurants and museums will close, more limitations on shopping and restrictions on moving outside Council areas. Already the Piazzas seem unbelievably quiet.Florence Palazzo Vecchio

But this is not to be a post about Covid 19, as I am sure you are all dealing with it in various ways in your own countries and hopefully seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

It has been a time for new project approvals which I thought may be of interest. In Florence approval has been given for the redevelopment of the St Orsola Convent – an enormous complex in a derelict state as long as I have been here! Centrally located behind the Food Market it has had a chequered existence since its foundation as a Convent in 1326, to Monastery, Tobacco Factory in the 1800’s, to Finance Police barracks in the 1980’s when the final destruction to the original architectural feature was done.St Orsola Complex

The Complex is to be developed by a French group Artea and to house a mix of activities and uses – ‘a higher education school, convention center and co-working space, museum / event space housing the grave of Mona Lisa, urban garden that can accommodate permaculture workshops, Artist workshops, café-library, Shops and craft workshops, guest house, fitness and well-being area, and toy library.’Project design Sant'Orsola

The curiosities of its past include the possible grave of the Mona Lisa – Lisa Gheradini considered to be Da Vinci’s model and buried in the convent in 1542. (See my earlier post of 2013)

The second curiosity being the production of the famous Florentine cigar – ‘i Toscani’ which happened by accident in St Orsola when a downpour in August 1815, drenched a large batch of Kentucky tobacco in the convent now a Tobacco Factory. The accident risked turning into a disaster but management decided to produce cigars with the wet tobacco to sell at cost to locals. What no one took into account was that the fermentation initiated by contact with water gave the cigars an unmistakable taste making them famous and  sought after. Production continued in St Orsola until around 1945 when the factory moved to the outskirts of Florence. And here again those buildings are now being used for artistic/cultural events.

The second project is the new bike path between Florence and Prato ( a major city to the North of Florence) The tweet below by the Florence mayor – Dario Nardella indicates “a path of 12km illuminated with recycled asphalt. We will have 600 tons of Co2 less per year. The only time in Italy that two cities of this size have been connected. The work will start within the year, and finish in 2022″Bike Path project Florence-Prato

The project is considered to be a super cycle path of high-capacity, a long-distance cycling infrastructure of European standard, and the first in Italy. The track is to be 4 meters wide equipped with Led lighting and sensors to increase light intensity when people pass and video cameras in strategic points. The project is to also redevelopment  the green areas crossed and shade the runway….. in line with the Green mobility and the EU Green New Deal.

Great to see both projects approved and ready to go, at a time when there has been little to look forward to. Now all we need is to get Covid19 under control and we can fill our Piazzas in Florence again!San Lorenzo church

 

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Buone Feste, Happy Festive season

With something of a sigh of relief we have almost come to the end of this traumatic year Christmasand it’s time to wish you all a Happy Festive Season!

Hoping that wherever you may be in the world you are able to celebrate it in good company amongst family and friends. I am dreaming of spending the Summer in Oz  but will have to sit out the winter here in Italy amongst Florence Christmas lights.  

May the New Year bring you all health, happiness and serenity.

Thank you for following my blogposts.          Till Next Year,

Buone Feste and Stay safe!       SueHappy Festive season Florence

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Beauty beyond Limits, Forte Belvedere, Florence

Iron Ore Hills Siena provinceBack to one of my favourite places in Florence, Forte Belvedere to see what will be the last of outdoor exhibitions this year. The ‘Beauty beyond Limits‘ photographic exhibition by photo reporter Massimo Sestini. Twenty monumental photographic works reproduced in a 5 x 3 metre format, capturing glimpses of Tuscany portrayed from an aerial perspective. Fantastic images full of colour and texture, idealizing our love of geometric order. All part of various initiatives around the concept of ‘Tuscany, Renaissance without End’, promoted  by The Tuscan Tourism Board.

As  the curator Sergio Risaliti says “Sestini wants to show us how photography transforms the landscape into a picture, in pictorial language, with its contents returned to the gaze in terms of structures and figurative terms. The landscape as a work of art is born from the union between the artist, the photographer , the technological tool, the performing gesture decided upstream “,

Aerial view on Florence

Florence, aerial view and the real thing

And he has taken shots of some beloved places, that I never get tired of seeing no matter from what perspective – Florence, Cathedral, the Palio of Siena,  the countryside of Val d’Orcia,….

Landscape of Val d'Orcia, Siena

Val d’Orcia

 

Bike race, dirt roads, Siena

Bike race, dirt roads, Siena

The incredible texture of the landscape shots from 600m or so above is powerful.

 

 

 

 

Sestini also managed to include in the exhibition one of his personal passions whichRolling Stone concert, Lucca started his career in photography, taking photos at rock concerts before he moved onto newspaper reporting. Rolling Stones concert in Lucca 2017.

And of course in the setting of Forte Belvedere it’s a pleasure to wander amongst the photos as well as savour the fantastic view over Florence.View of Florence

While the view and exhibition would normally attract thousands of visitors, this year Covid 19 has sadly left the bar empty and only a few wander the grounds. Still I am sure they are already planning next year’s exhibition at  Forte Belvedere as it has hosted many stunning ones over the years – Gormley ‘Humans’, ‘Sounding of the Gong’, Zhang Huan ‘Soul and Matter‘, Folon and more…

Massimo Sestini continues with an exhibition indoors in Santa Maria Novella church complex that will continue into 2021 with photos related to Dante Alighieri as  it will be 700years since his death. Dante 700.I hope to get to see that, since lockdown is still permitting Museums to remain open….so far.

Florence will have its Renaissance after Covid 19 leaves us!                                          For those coming out of lockdown – Be careful, for those slipping into lockdown – Be patient and everybody Stay Safe!

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A Bird’s eye view on Florence – Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio FlorenceWant a bird’s eye view of Florence? While the options are many – Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Cathedral bell tower or the magnificent panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo, I had never seen Florence from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was time to go and I was lucky enough to go up just before a storm rolled in and it teemed down on the city.

The Arnolfi Tower takes its name from the architect Arnolfo di Cambio who began construction of the building in 1299. However the tower was already present and incorporated into the Palazzo, hence its decentralized  position. At that time it was known as the ‘della Vacca‘ or ‘cow’ tower owned by the Foraboschi family. ‘Della Vacca’ as cattle usually passed through the streets towards the butchers’ shops, located in Borgo Santi Apostoli and in Via delle Terme. Can you imagine that?! The piazza was in fact not a piazza, but streets, alleyways and housing belonging to families loyal to the Ghibellines. On the defeat of the Ghibellines their houses were expropriated and demolished by the victorious Guelphs, all except for the tower. The Palace of ‘Priors‘ was built to house the Florentine government. A military Palace boasting the power of the city, a fortified building complete with battlements, the square based Guelph and swallow tailed Ghibelline battlements on the tower. An appropriate setting for its governors (Priors) who were locked inside for their two months in office, to avoid corruption and distraction from the outside world!Arnolfo Tower, Palazzo Vecchio

The tower visit has 3 viewing areas, the parapet walkway, and two access points at the top. A narrow staircase taken with enthusiasm by tourists, both local and foreign eager to see the first view over the city. Note the covered holes in the floor of the parapet walkway where liquid lime, stones and other hazardous materials could be launched on besiegers. The 360 degree view on Florence is awesome and this was just the beginning….

Tower of palazzo VecchjioMore stairs as we climb to the top, 95m above the city, almost to the same height as Brunelleschi’s dome on the Cathedral at 116.5m but then that’s including the gold ball and cross. Past the cell ironically called ‘Alberghetto’ – ‘Little Hotel‘ where Cosimo the Elder was imprisoned in 1433 and also the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola before being burned at the stake in Piazza Signoria.

The view of Florence takes everyone’s breath away, it is inebriating! Mobile phones click furiously as we circulate between the battlements to get the best shot.

Florence Cathedral from top of the tower

View on Santa Croce church as the storm rolls inIt’s a long way downIt's a long way down Tower palazzo Vecchio

And of course the obligatory selfie….proof of the visit!View from the top

 

Weather vane Palazzo Vecchio

Photo credit Ron Reznick www.digital-images.net

The last curiosity is that we are just below the wonderful golden weather vane, consisting of a sphere, a rampant lion (the Marzocco) and the Lily of Florence. And as the local proverb goes “if the lion pees in the Arno river then it’s going to rain!” Florentines still heed its warning.

The Palazzo of Priors became the old palace – Palazzo Vecchio from the end of the 16th century when the Medici family moved to the Pitti Palace. It continues today to be the Town Hall of Florence, much admired and respected and highly recommended to visit both inside and up the Arnolfo tower.

 

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Slow return to normal – Florence

Florence Cathedral squareSummer rolls along and Florence slowly returns to life as ‘normal’, or should I say the new normal. It is certainly a different city without the tourist crowds, the city has returned to being ‘ours’ and we are all making the most of it. It so easy and enjoyable to wander the main piazzas and streets, when used to wandering the quieter back street to avoid the crowds.

Florence Palazzo VecchioLocals are being encouraged to visit museums and galleries that they may not have seen for years, bookings essential to ensure social distancing, and if you need to find a carpark there are a range of choices these days.

European tourists have started to return and the border opened up to non Europeans on the first of July, although USA, Russia and Brazil are still off the list for their high Covid 19 numbers. Even so the influx of tourists is unlikely to be high as there are still flight difficulties and some non European countries are still advising to stay away for the moment.

San Lorenzo leather marketOn the way to my first outdoor cinema for the year, I was wandering the centre of Florence around dinner time  to capture these photos. Still a mix of empty and full restaurants depending on the location and easy to find a seat in an outdoor café for an aperitif. Monuments bathed in the sunset, showing off their historic beauty at its best. The San Lorenzo leather market already closed and most stalls hauled to their garage for the night, when it would normally have been abuzz with sales to last customers.Florence, lone 'drumming' busker'Florence, piazza della Repubblica

Lone buskers hoping for a crowd and a few coins thrown in, played just to a handful of passersby. Kids enjoyed the merry go round as Mums watched on, more like at a local village fair than in a main square of Florence.

A sense of slowdown,  no need to rush or hassle, a slower pace generally. A time to reflect on how we spend our time, how our world has changed and perhaps time for a change in priorities. All of which would be highlighted no doubt in the film I was about to see – Ken Loach “Sorry we missed you.” Santa Maria Novella church

Although on entering the Sant Maria Novella church 14th century cloister where the outdoor cinema is programmed, the beauty of the place in the evening light is magical and seems very out of place for Ken Loach! . The frescoed loggia depicting scenes of the Creation, Noah’s ark and the Great flood by a Renaissance master, Paolo Uccello. Santa Maria Novella cloisterIt was so good to be out and back doing some normal things. Social distancing in the Cinema Santa Maria Novella cloisterseating, mosquito spray on, masks temporarily off and time to relax on a pleasant Summer’s night.

Have heard the news of lockdown on again in Melbourne and send a special ‘Stay safe’ message to my Melbournite followers.
Green cloister, Florence


 

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Who was Natalia Goncharova?

Self Portrait with yellow lillies 1907-08It’s always a pleasure to discover a new artist, and Natalia Goncharova was totally new to me and a delightful discovery. Intriguing because she was Russian, unconventional and painted in my favourite period of Contemporary Art, the same time as Picasso, Gaugin. Balla, Matisse and others. Multitalented as she designed sets and costumes for the Russian ballet and continued painting and illustrating right up until her death in 1962.

Palazzo Strozzi in Florence housed the exhibition and her paintings were a fabulous blast of colour, a unique mix of artistic styles, ‘forging her own unique fusion of tradition and innovation of East and West’ having spent a considerable part of her life in Paris mixing with various European artists and styles.

Born in 1881 in the Tula Province of Russia, Goncharova spent many of her Summers Goncharova in traditional peasant dresson her family’s estate and photos show her in traditional costumes of Tula with her mother and cousin.

In 1901 she meets her lifelong partner Mikhail Larionov, also an artist, and despite their ‘open‘ relationship their creative partnership lasts for their entire lifetime.

Her work is exhibited in Paris and they are both influenced by the Parisian artists and styles, Cezanne, Gauguin and les Fauves ‘the wild beasts‘ like Matisse.

There was an ample description of her life which included her Avant-garde approach – 1910 she is the first woman artist to show nudes in Russia and is arrested and charged with pornography and offending public morality but fortunately acquitted at her trial!

Goncharova Futurist body Art‘In 1913, together with Larionov and Ilia Zdanevich, Goncharova holds body painting performances and they saunter down the most elegant streets of Moscow with their faces painted with images, uttering offensive words intended to shock conservative passers-by in accordance with the principles of futurist body art‘!The Harvest (5 of 9 parts) 1911-12

 

 

 

 

All part of the development of a distinct Russian style of Futurist painting which they  call Rayonism, a new way to express energy and movement incorporating Russian folklore and traditions in a pre-revolutionary Russia.

Such a fascinating life story and such a complex artist and not only as she moves into designing sets and costumes for the Russian ballet – on religious themes, influenced by the byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, Italy and early Tuscan  Renaissance artists,

and Spanish dress when the Russian ballet performs in Spain. Intricate and delicate designs yet bold in their portrayal.

The selection of works exhibited gave a wonderful overview of Natalia Goncharova‘s artistic career and enticed me to find out more and hopefully to see again in a future exhibition. As she said “The art of my country is incomparably deeper than anything that I have come to know in the West”

 

And what you see here is only a part of what was on display!

After living together for over 50 years Natalia and Mikhail marry in 1955, to ensure that the surviving partner can inherit the other’s paintings. In 1962 Natalia Goncharova dies and her work is left to Mikhail Larionov. He remarries in 1963 to Alexandra Tomilina and dies in 1964. In 1985 Tomilina leaves their entire collection to the Soviet Government, but there is a legal tussle from the French Government during 1988-89 who claim several of Goncharova’s works in lieu of death duties!


 

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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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