Tuscany: Activities

ACTIVITIES

ABOUT PIAZZALE MICHAELANGELO
The spacious square was laid out in 1860 by Giuseppe Poggi, a local architect who is also known for his creation of boulevards around the center of Florence. The boulevards and square were created as part of the so-called ‘Risanamento’, a late nineteenth-century urban modernization project which also resulted in the creation of the Piazza della Repubblica.

IMG_0900The Piazzale Michelangelo is dedicated to the city’s most famous Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti. At the center of the square stands a replica of his most famous statue, the David. The bronze statue is set on a large pedestal, decorated with replicas of allegorical statues depicting day, night, dusk and dawn. The original marble statue of David can be seen in the Galleria dell’Accademia; the original allegorical statues are in the Medici Chapels of the San Lorenzo Basilica.

The views!!
The Piazzale Michelangelo is busy year round; but despite the tourists the square is well worth a visit thanks to the magnificent views over the city of Florence with the Tuscan hills providing a scenic backdrop. You have a clear view of a number of the city’s most important landmarks, including the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Vecchio.

ABOUT GIARDINO DELLE ROSE:
This beautiful park is in the Oltrarno area below piazzale Michelangelo, on viale Giuseppe Poggi. The Giardino delle Rose (Rose Garden) houses a collection of roses, lemons, and other plants, as well as a Japanese garden. It contains about 400 varieties of roses for a total of about 1,200 plants.

The garden was created in 1865 by Giuseppe Poggi, who also designed the piazzale, on behalf of the City of Florence in anticipation of moving the capital of Italy from Turin. It covers about one hectare of land which offers a panoramic view of the city, sandwiched between viale Poggi, via di San Salvatore and via dei Bastioni. The land belonged Padri Filippini, who also owned a house and farm called San Francesco, then Attilio Pucci redeisgned to space full of terraces and walls to create a collection of roses.

In 1895, the garden was opened to the public during the Festival of Arts and Flowers that the Fine Arts Society and the Italian Society of Horticulture organized every May. Built according to the French model, the garden has a bucolic natural setting, yet it was streamlined to accommodate the Italian style. Of particular interest is the advanced irrigation system, near the square, and a pipeline that carries water up to numerous outlets in the garden.

In 1998, the Rose Garden was enriched by a space donated by the Japanese architect Yasuo Kitayama, the Japanese Shorai oasis, given to Florence from its twin city in Kyoto.

ABOUT BASILICA SAN MINIATO AL MONTE
San Miniato al Monte: Just a short walk along the Viale Galilei brings you to a series of flights of stairs which lead to the picturesque San Miniato al Monte, a historic church built in the eleventh century. And don’t miss the church’s cemetery; it features a number of impressive ornamented tombs.

IMG_2473San Miniato al Monte is a basilica standing atop one of the highest points in the city. It has been described as one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany and one of the most scenic churches in Italy!

The geometrically patterned marble façade was probably begun in about 1090, although the upper parts date from the 12th century or later, financed by the Florentine Arte di Calimala (cloth merchants’ guild), who were responsible for the church’s upkeep from 1288. The eagle which crowns the façade was their symbol.

The campanile collapsed in 1499 and was replaced in 1523, although it was never finished. During the siegeof Florence in 1530 it was used as an artillery post by the defenders and Michelangelo had it wrapped in mattresses to protect it from enemy fire.

SIENA

Siena is a town in central Tuscany that counts 59,000 inhabitants and it is the capital of the Siena province. It is one of the most fascinating towns in Tuscany, not only for its sights, but also for its surroundings.

It preserves its medieval character to a remarkable degree, and has been largely unspoilt by new buildings. Piazza del Campo is one of the most famous squares in Italy, where the great Palio horserace takes place. In fact Siena retains a ward-centric culture from IMG_0936medieval times. Each ward (contrada) is represented by an animal or mascot, and has its own boundary and distinct identity. Ward rivalries are most rampant during the annual horse race (Palio) in the Piazza del Campo.

siennaoverviewflyer.jpgIn the first half of the 14th century the Sienese school of painting produced several artists such as Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, whose works are shown in the Pinacoteca, in the Palazzo Pubblico, and in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

The streets is Siena are steep as it was built on a ridge, so it is often necessary to cross a deep valley in order to get to the other side of the town. Consequently you need several days to visit every treasure of the town, which has to be done necessarily on foot.

From the hilltop of the town, there is a wonderful varied panorama which includes Monte Amiata and the metalliferous hills, as well as the clay downs of Asciano and the wooded district of Montagnola. To the north, the scenery changes once again, with the densely cultivated hills of the Chianti.

Notable people were born in Siena, as it has always been a lively cultural center: Mauro Pagani, musician, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Saint Catherine, Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, archaeologist and many more.

Monteriggioni
monteriggioni wallsMonteriggioni is, without doubt, one of the most classical and best known Italian walled town. Since the Middle Age its fame was so big that also the great poet Dante Alighieri makes sign to his ’round enclosure’ in the Divine Comedy (Hell, chant XXXI vv. 40-41). The town walls, nearly intact, cover a length of 570 meters and are alternated by 14 towers andtwo gates. The Senese Gate is at the base of a square tower while the Florence Gate is opened in the curtain and defended from one of the towers of the fortified perimeter.

IMG_0921The town was built by the Senesis in the years 1213-1219 on a hilltop overlooking of the Cassia Road. Its ideal position allowed to control the Elsa and the Staggia Valleys in direction in Florence, the historic enemy of Siena, that at that time was rapidly expanding its territory.

The hill where Monteriggioni rises is natural, even if it could seem a great ‘motte’ (from the name of the classical Norman castles ‘Motte-and-Bailey’ built on artificial hills and gifted of enclosure), and the circular, almost perfectly, layout of the walls was obtained simply following the sketch of the ground’s curves of level. In the planning was tried of to limit the weak points for excellence, the gates, entrusting the only connections with the outside only to a east to west crossing road. To Monteriggioni the military building work appears physically distinguished by the inhabited area confined to its inside but well separated from the walls from a ‘territory of respect’, although in the ancient times the inhabited area has been more intense than today and consequently with a more narrow band of separation. The hamlet that we can admire our daysis essentially authentic, being ever been object of building and tourist speculations. The only changes to its aspect happened in the first years of the 16th century when, trying to conform the fortifications to the development of the new fire weapons, were lowered the towers andaccumulated earth at the base of the walls with the purpose to get a bastionated effect.

Recently a part of the wall walk of the town walls has been restored and made accessible. From the top of the walled circuit, it is possible to admire the surrounding countryside towards Chianti and the Valdelsa and to enjoy a unique view of the town and its fortifications. More info: http://www.monteriggioniturismo.it/en/museum-and-walkway.html

Radda in Chianti
This village (53Om, pop: 1,655) is situated on a hill covered with woods and extensive vineyards forming the watershed between the Pesa and Arbia valleys.

Formerly belonging to the Guidi family, it came under Florentine control in 1203. After being fortified in 1400 it was, from 1415 onwards, head of the League of Chianti, and it preserves the remains of its ancient walls.

The structure of the medieval village is still intact; it grew up elliptically around the church of San Nicolò, of 14th century origin and the Palazzo Pretorio. Built about 1415, its facade is adorned with the coats of arms of the podestà (chief magistrates), the latter is now the seat of the municipality.

Just outside the village, in the Vignale farm, are the headquarters of the Chianti Classico consortium (its symbol is the black-cockerel, the former emblem of the League of Chianti), and the Centro di Studi Chiantigiani (Centre for Chianti Studies), founded in 1984, with a small library and an archive devoted to the history of Chianti and its agriculture. The Montevertine farm, near the village, houses the small Museo del Chianti, with displays relating to the farming community.

Where is Radda in Chianti: it is located in the north of Siena province, in the border with the province of Florence and Arezzo. While there we visit Enoteca Toscana for the best wines of the region. And no visit would be complete without stopping for amazing Tuscan favorites like “ribollita” and wine at Bar Dante. Say hi to Fabrizio when you visit!

Distances: Siena 30 Km – Florence 50 Km – Pisa 110 Km – Arezzo 57 Km

Castellina in Chianti
The city’s origins go back to Etruscan times and came under Florentine control starting in the 12th century when it became an important outpost due to its strategic position between Florence and Siena. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times during the battles between the two cities and every time the town was reconstructed with bigger defensive walls. Legend has it that even Brunelleschi was asked to work on the project of new walls for the town.

Along the ancient walls an impressive underground tunnel used by the guards back then remains, now called Via della Volte which today is a fascinating tunnel with shops and restaurants. I suggest you walk down the tunnel during different times of the day so that you can admire the view of the surrounding Chianti countryside with various degrees of light from the small windows along the tunnel. The tunnel itself goes around the city and encloses the delightful city center, itself divided by its main street, Via Ferruccio. Here you’ll find many shops, workshops, restaurants and important palaces such as Palazzo Banciardi and Palazzo Squarcialupi, both belonging to local noble families. Inside Palazzo Squarcialupi the Enoteca Antiquaria is now housed, a wine shop for over a 100 years old which represents an important historical archive of wine and which has helped preserving the original characteristics of Chianti Classico wine itself.

The Church of San Salvatore deserves a visit. It was rebuilt in 1945 after the devastation of WWII but which still displays a valuable fresco by Lorenzo Bicci depicting the Virgin Mary with Child and a wooden statue from the Renaissance. A few steps away from the city center, theFortress with its tall tower offers a stunning panorama of the town and countryside. Inside the Fortress is the headquarters of the Municipality and the Archeological Museum of Chianti, displaying important archeological findings from the surroundings that testify to the ancient origins of the Chianti region.

ABOUT VOLTERRA
Volterra is one of the most important towns in Tuscany: its unique position and its ancient history leaves everyone enchanted.

IMG_0898It is located in the east side of the province of Pisa on the borderline of the province of Siena, and located on a hill 550 m above the sea level. And dominates the whole valley of the river Cecina. An open serene landscape surrounds the town: it’s the ideal place for excursions on foot, on horse back or by bicycle.

Volterra’s history dates back from the Etruscan period to the 19th century with artistic and monumental traces of great importance.

Volterra is prevalently Medieval and yet cherishes abundant evidence of the Etruscan period: for instance the Porta all’Arco (the Etruscan gate) which dates from the 4th century B.C., and the Acropolis, the defensive walls which are still visible in parts of the town.

The Roman period is attested by the important remains of the Teatro di Vallebona which date back to the Augustan period, the Baths and an enormous rectangular water cistern.

The Middle Ages are not only visible in its urban structure but too in its buildings, its house-towers and churches: the Palazzo dei Priori, a 13th century building, the Palazzo Pretorio, with its crenellated Tower of the Little Pig, the pair of towers of Buonparenti and Bonaguidi family, the house-towers of Toscano family, the Cathedral (12th century), the Baptistry (13th century) streaked with Volterran stone, the conventual Church of San Francesco with its adjacent chapel of the Croce di Giorno, the Church of San Michele and of San Alessandro.

The Renaissance period has influenced Volterra in a particular way, however without changing the Medieval atmosphere. Some good examples are the Palazzo Minucci-Solaini, beautifully inserted among the Medieval housetowers, the Palazzo Incontri Vitii with its theatre Persio Flacco added in the courtyard in the 19th century, the Palazzo Inghirami, the Palazzo Ruggieri, the Convent of San Girolamo with the terracotta statues of Della Robbia and the Medicean Fortress which looms over the Medieval town.

Apart from its monuments, its art and history, Volterra also offers a magnificent panorama of the gentle undulating hills of the surrounding landscape abruptly interrupted in the West by the Balze (crags). The slow progression of these repeated landslides finally precipitated the destruction of the most ancient Etruscan necropolis, the earliest Christian churches and the ruin of the 11th century Badia Camaldolese.

Today Volterra has 3 museums of considerable artistic and historical value.

The Museo Guarnacci is one of the most important museums in Italy for its rich Etruscan-Roman patrimony.
The Pinacoteca and the Museo Civico, preserve valuable paintings of the Sienese and Florentine schools, among which “The descent from the Cross” by Rosso Fiorentino.

Finally the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is noteworthy for the variety and quantity of ecclesiastical vestments, the collection of gold reliquary, the illuminated manuscripts and the 14th century sculptures of the Sienese school.

Volterra is not yet touched by the stress of contemporary life and visitors who come to Volterra have the immediate impression of stepping into the past, of being in a particular place with its narrow Medieval streets and the enigma of its Etruscan origins.

Volterra is famous even for an artistic handicraft unique in the world: the manufacture of Alabaster.

Some of the most interesting attractions in Volterra:

  • Chiesa di San Francesco – The interior of the church of San Francesco, modified throughout the centuries, has a single nave and a wooden beamed ceiling.
  • Chiesa di San Girolamo – The Church and the convent were built in 1445 by Michelozzi.
  • Chiesa di San Giusto – The imposing Church of San Giusto was built in 1627 by Florentine architect Giovanni Coccapani and then consecrated in 1775.
  • Chiesa di San Lino – This simple church was built on a request of Raffaello Maffei, exactly on the sight where Pope Linus’ residence once stood.
  • Chiesa di San Michele – Built in the 13th century, was then completely modified in the 19th century.
  • Chiesa di Sant’Alessandro – It is believed that the Church of Sant’Alessandro was consecrated in 1120 by Pope Callistus II.
  • Duomo – The cathedral dedicated to the Assumption Mary was reconstructed in about 1120 on the site of a preexisting church dedicated to the Holy Mary.
  • Fortezza Medicea – From its commanding hilltop position the enormous Medici Fortress looks out over Volterra and the surrounding countryside.
  • Museo Etrusco Guarnacci – The Guarnacci museum is one of the earliest public museums in Europe, founded in 1761.
  • Museo di Arte Sacra – The museum displays works of art from the cathedral and the churches of the diocese and a particularly interesting collection of wooden and fictile sculptures.
  • Ecomuseo dell’Alabastro – The Alabaster Ecomuseum is an environmental museum that tells the story of an ancient craft specific to Volterra from the excavation of the stone to its production and commercialisation.
  • Palazzo Incontri-Viti – The construction of the palazzo began at the end of the 16th century by a noble Volterran. In 1964 Luchino Visconti filmed a part of his movie “Vaghe Stelle dell’Orso” in this building.
  • Palazzo Minucci Solaini – Attributed to the work of Antonio da San Gallo the Elder, the building houses an extroadinary collection of local paintings and sculptures.
  • Pinacoteca e Museo Civico – Built at the end of the 15th century, the palace is now the Art Gallery and Civic Museum housing an important collection of paintings.
  • Palazzo Pretorio – The tower, considered to be one of the first towers built in Volterra, is traditionally known as the Tower of the Little Pig.
  • Palazzo dei Priori – The palace was designed by Maestro Riccardo in 1239 as the inscription near the main entrance attests.
  • Palazzo Vescovile – Originally built as a grain store, became the bishop’s residence after 1472 when the Palazzo dei Vescovi was destroyed.
  • Mura Medievali e Fonti – The Medieval walls were built in the 13th century to make the ancient Etruscan walls smaller.
  • Necropoli – The Etruscan tombs in Volterra are relatively simple as compared to the tombs in Tarquinia, Cerveteri, Chiusi and Populonia, rich in paintings and sculptures.
  • Teatro Romano – The construction of the roman theatre began at the beginning of the 1st century B.C.. Behind the theatre are the Roman Baths built in the 4th century A.D.

The Petriolo Thermal Baths and Natural Hot Springs
At the Petriolo, you can indulge at the brand new spa center by the natural hot pools, which offers massage, beauty and health treatments, or you can enjoy the hot springs (43°C), open to the public free of charge, where you can relax in the pools along the banks of the river Farma.

The Petriolo’s thermal baths are very ancient. The Romans knew and appreciated them. It is very likely that these are the baths mentioned by the orator Marco Tullio Cicero in his pro Marco Caelio.

Recently, Roman tombs have been found in the area, proof of a long time recognition of the beneficial effects of this water. It is without doubt that these hot springs were highly appreciated in the Middle ages and during the Renaissance period. As early as 1215, the Republic of Siena maintained a series of “stationes”, a sort of “bathing hut” for single “bathers”, similar to today’s beach cabins.

Many important people are known to have frequented the Petriolo thermal baths: the Medici, Lords of Florence, the Gonzaga, Lords of Manuta and leading exponents of the Church including Pope Pious II Piccolomini.

Also of note are the remains of the ancient walls built in 404 in the typical Sienese architectural style, which are the only exisitng example of fortifies thermae (fortified thermal baths).

Of the original baths, composed by four groined vaulted rooms, only one room still exists. It opens onto the river Farma with arches built on octagonal pillars.

Besides the hot springs, the Farma river is perfect for bathing and swimming, and the surrounding woods offer many nice spots for a picnic.
Should you want to return again, here is how to get there: The Petriolo hot springs are very easy to reach from Casina di Rosa. From Civitella Marittima, head along highway 223/E78 towards Siena. After about 15 km exit at the signs marked Iesa / Petriolo. Turn right as you come off the exit ramp and follow the road as it descends into the beautiful Farma valley until you come to the thermal baths.

PETRIOLO HOT SPRINGS AND SPA

The Petriolo’s thermal baths are very ancient. The Romans knew and appreciated them. It is very likely that these are the baths mentioned by the orator Marco Tullio Cicero in his pro Marco Caelio.

Recently, Roman tombs have been found in the area, proof of a long time recognition of the beneficial effects of this water.

It is without doubt that these hot springs were highly appreciated in the Middle age and during the Renaissance period. As early as 1215, the Republic of Siena maintained a series of “stationes”, a sort of “bathing hut” for single “bathers”, similar to today’s beach cabins.

Many important people are known to have frequented the Petriolo thermal baths: the Medici, Lords of Florence, the Gonzaga, Lords of Manuta and leading exponents of the Church including Pope Pious II Piccolomini.

Also of note are the remains of the ancient walls built in 404 in the typical Sienese architectural style, which are the only exisitng example of fortifies thermae (fortified thermal baths).

Of the original baths, composed by four groined vaulted rooms, only one room still exists. It opens onto the river Farma with arches built on octagonal pillars. Besides the hot springs, the Farma river is perfect for bathing and swimming. http://termepetriolo.it/it/

 Castiglione della Pescaia

While Umbrians and Etruscans were most likely the first inhabitants of its location, Castiglione della Pescaia was first recorded under the name Salebrone in Roman times. The hill close to the coast proved to be an excellent location, as it dominated the sizable inland Prelius Lake, while the lake itself provided food (fish) and trading goods (salt).
In Medieval times, the city suffered from repeated pirate attacks and almost disappeared. It resurfaced in the 9th century AD under its current name, under joint protection of the Papacy and the Republic of Pisa.
The Pisans used Castiglione as a key element in their system of defence along the Tyrrhenian coast. They built first a single tower on top of the hill, later expanded that to three towers joined by a wall that became the nucleus of the citadel. The three towers of Castiglione dominate the city seal to this day.

In the 13th century, Castiglione became an independent comune. Meanwhile, the river Ombrone had started silting up Lake Prile, which soon became a lagoon. In this newformed lagoon, malaria mosquitoes took hold, weakening the population of Castiglione. The city requested protection from various powers (Siena, the Medici, Aragon) and finally became part of the Grand Dukedom of Tuscany under the dynasty of Lorraine.

The house of Lorraine started a series of projects that greatly enhanced the lives of Castiglionesi. The swamps were drained over decades, increasing the amount of arable land, as well as killing off the malaria carrying mosquitoes.

After Tuscany became part of Italy in 1859, Castiglione became a comune in the province of Grosseto.

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