AREZZO & CORTONA

 

 

 

The zone surrounding the town of arezzo is a quiet and tranquil area of outstanding natural beauty lying along the boarders between tuscany and umbria. It is an area of steep hills cloaked in beech, oak and sweet chestnut trees and is dotted with characteristic medieval towns that have suceeded in maintaining their origional architectural qualities. It is from the origins of the ancient city of arezzo with its world famous beauty that this tour begins; descending from the medicea fortress down through the streets of the old center and passing by piazza grande until we encounter the archeological remains located in the area of the ancient city walls.
The beautiful city of arrezzo is an attraction point for its local activities. It is world famous for the production of gold jewelleryand for its “mercato dell’antiquariato” or antiques fair. This fair was invented by the antique dealer, ivan bruschi, who’s house-museum merits a visit. It is the most famous italian exhibition of its kind, capable of housing the works of over 500 exhibitors from all over the peninsula. The antiques fair takes place in the open on the first weekend of each month in the piazza grande and in its surrounding streets. One can find precious objects and simple souvenirs on the many stalls that evoke the history, culture and traditions of this town. Piazza grande is renowned for hosting the “giostra del saracino”(joust of the saracen). Held on the penultimate saturday in june and the first sunday in september. This tournament dates back to the crusades in the middle ages. There is a colourful procession preceeding the event, in which eight costumed knights charge towards a wooden effigy of the saracen. The aim is to hit the saracen’s shield with lances and avoid a cat-of-three-tails swinging back and unseating the knights!
Founded by the etruscans, cortona, is one of the oldest cities in tuscany. The atmosphere in this town is distinctly historical and evidence of this may be seen in the foundations of the town’s massive stone walls. Piazza della repubblica is one of “the two hearts of the town” along with piazza signorelli. In the former we find the “plazzo comunale” dating from the 13th century and enlarged at the beginning of the 16th century to incorporate its distinctive tower. The second piazza is home to the beautiful “palazzo casali” in which is housed the “museo dell’accademia etrusca”. Also of note in the town are the “museo diocesano” which contains several masterpieces including fra angelico’s “annunciation”, the “palazzo fierli-petrella”, and the church of san francesco.

PRATO & CARMIGNANO

 

 

 

 

 

Prato, this town rises in the center of the plains between pistoia and florence along the bisenzio river at the foot of the calvana hills. today it is a modern center which is famous for the production of textiles, a trade which has its origins since the 13th century. at the intern of the cities old walls dating back to the 3rd century we can admire the many examples of medieval works including: the simbol of this city, the “castello dell’imperatore” built by the german holy roman emperor, frederick ii, in 1237 during his campaign to conquer italy; and the cathedral of “santo stefano” with its famous pulpit of the holy girdle designed by donatello(1438). inside one finds the chapel housing the virgin’s girdle, which is displayed to the public from the pulpit five times a year. the masterpiece of fra flippo lippi, the life of john the baptist, may be observed within the walls of the “duomo” or cathedral. it is also possible to admire contemporary works of art in this city thanks to the numerous exhibitions proposed at the famous center for contemproary art, “centro per l’arte contemporanea luigi pecci”. for golf lovers this city offers a prestigiuos 18 hole golf course.
Shopping in the town center: during a tour of the historical center of prato an excellent expresso coffee and a sweet snack at the caffe chocolat are highly recommended! one can buy the famous “cantucci di prato” biscuits manufactured by mattei since 1858 in their biscuit factory store. at the “fattoressa ” high quality cheese and salami may be purchased, including the famous “mortedella di prato” made with wine.
Carmignano, outside of prato in the surrounding countryside, rich in vineyards and olive groves, one can visit the towns of carmignano, comeana and the area of montalbano. the origins of carmignano are etruscan of which visible evidence still existe today. carmignano is home to beautiful examples of renaissance houses and a medieval fortress. carmignano wines, which are appreciated and known abroad, represent the natural beauties and riches of this territory. the turists who chooses to visit the area of montalbano can therefore go in search of good wines, visit the museum of wine, enjoy the excellent local cuisine and at the same time taste the beauty and tranquillity of this delightful corner of tuscany. it is worth noting that this relaxed tour is readily available at only a short distance from the most important city of art in the tuscan region, florence.

PISTOIA & VINCI

  Pistoia was founded by the etruscans and later became a roman colony. there is little remaining evidence of this historical past but one can admire the ancient city walls surrounding the historical center. the historic center of pistoia has several fine buildings including the cathedral of san zeno with its bulky bell tower, origionally built in the 12th century as a defensive watch-tower within the city walls. also housed in the piazza del duomo, opposite the cathedral, is located the octogonal baptistry, which was completed in 1359. there are many other examples of renaissance architecture indicating the wealthy and lively past of this tuscan city.
Today pistoia is a small and well-kept city. the culture of strolling slowly through the streets of the historical center and stopping for a cup of coffee in an outdoor setting during the good weather has remained an important part of life inthis city.
Vinci is the birthplace of leonardo da vinci. it hosts the museum dedicated to him, his life and his works.

VIAREGGIO & PIETRASANTA

 

 

 

 

 

 Viareggio the strip of tuscan coastline stretching from marina di carrara in the north down to marina di torre del lago puccini in the south constitutes the tuscan riviera. it is composed of 30 kms (18 miles) of sandy beaches with colourful sun umbrellas, bathing establishments and happy entertainment and it’s principal center is undoubtedly viareggio. the historical zone of the town may be found around the burlamacco canal which is dominated by the “torre matilde”, however, it is the lively boardwalk lined with timber chalets that remains the fascinating highlight of this seaside resort. in the meeting places and in the local cafes, at the turn of the last century, intellectuals and artists; including d’annunzio, pirandello, mascagni and naturally puccini; came to meet eachother and socialize. the “martini chalet”, the “gran caffe margherita”, the “teatro eden” cinema and the “galleria del libro” were witness to the social life of the well-to-do at the turn of the last century.
Forte dei marmi is perhaps the most famous of the tuscan rivieras resorts attracting the rich and the famous. the town’s center is packed with chic shops and esclusive clubs/nightclubs all demonstrating glamour and wealth both night and day.
The boardwalk ends in the town of torre del lago puccini, thus entitled in the memory of the famous composer giacomo puccini (1858-1924), who spent much of his lifetime here composing many of his operas. every summer, an important opera festival is organised, in his honour, attracting internationally famous artists to perform operas in the open-air lakeside theatre. facing lake massaciuccoli we find the well maintained house-museum “museo villa puccini” where puccini lived with his wife and are both buried to this day.
Away from the lively coastal territory, the internal area of versilia is made up of inland towns such as massa, pietrasanta and camaiore. in the 1820s these towns developed marinas and lidos along the area of the coast that they controlled and are linked by roads to their coastal twins today. pietrasanta owes its fame to the presence of many artists down through the ages. its proximity with the marble quarries around carrara attracted artists and sculptors, such as michelangelo and mitoraj, when they used to visit to buy marble for their sculptures. the cathedral of san martino hits the eye with its white marble facade which contrasts with the red-bricked bell-tower, both of which are elevated and many be reached via the steps leading up to their entrances. the historical center of pietrasanta is a pleasant pedestrain zone closed to traffic which often accomadates street artists giving a lively artistic atmosphere to the town.

LUCCA & BAGNI DI LUCCA

 

 

 

Lucca was founded by the romans in 180bc and the street structure has maintained the origional ancient roman street plan. the town of lucca is enclosed by massive red-bricked walls giving the town its most noteworthy characteristic. built between 1504-1645, these walls are among the best-preserved renaissance defences in europe. entering the city via “porta san pietro”, the oldest door or entrance into the city, we quickly encounter the many squares including “piazza san martino”, “piazza antelminelli” and “piazza san giovanni” which developed around the construction of the churches s. reparata and s. giovanni and the cathedral respectively. this religious nucleus is but a short walking distance from the square “piazza napoleone” , also referred to as the main square, which is dominated by the monumental facade of the “palazzo ducale” once home to lucca’s rulers. a tour of the town of lucca must include a vist to the cathedral or “duomo di san martino”, the church of “san michele in foro”, the medieval tower “torre dei guinigi”, and the “piazza dell’anfiteatro”. the latter piazza is enclosed by medieval houses that were built up against the walls of the roman amphitheatre and its shape has been perfectly maintained. also worth a visit are the national museums of the city of lucca.
The “mercato dell’antiquariato” or antiques market takes place in piazza san martino on the third weekend of each month selling characteristic goods from antique furniture to bric-a-brac. it is a charming and lively event. shopping in lucca must include a visit to “la cacioteca” to purchase local cheese and salami of excellent quality. one must also sample the “buccellato” which is a typical lucchese dessert.
Tuscany is a land rich in termal spas, boasting approximately 30 within its region. in the province of lucca, surrounded by forests and streams are located the “bagni di lucca” famous because of its lime sulphate springs. here we may pay a visit to a holistic center where both the body and mind are cured.

PISA & VOLTERRA

 

 

 

Pisa a city of art and culture, pisa was once one of the most powerful and dominant ports in the mediterranean. evidence of its prosperity may be identified in the numerous splendid buildings and churches of the era. the historical center of pisa was almost completely constructed in romanesque stile. pisa, for obvious reasons, is world famous for its “campo dei miracoli” translated as the “field of miracles”. this square is home to the cathedral or “duomo”, beautiful on the outside and marvellous on the inside, the “torre pendente” or leaning tower, the baptistry or “il battistero” and last but not least the campo santo cemetery (which today represents one of the principal pisan museums). from an architectural point of view these buildings combine definite moorish elements, such as the inlaid marble in geometric patterns, with delicate romanesque colonnading and spiky gothic niches and pinnacles thus confirming its historical links with spain and northern africa.
Strolling through the district of santa maria, san francesco, san martino and sant’antonio it is only natural to encounter churches and buildings rich and fascinating in art and history.
During the month of june, the city of pisa celebrates its patron saint, san ranieri. for the occasion after dark the bankside buildings of the river arno are illuminated by hundreds of thousands of flaming torches. the following day (17 june) the four distinct quarters of the city challenge each other in an historical regata. during this period there are many races in costume with colourfully decorated boats and brillantly colourful processions recalling the past events of the city.
Volterra, magical and misterious, has its roots established in three thousand years of history. evidence of its etruscan origins many be found in the ancient city walls which still stand, the impressive “porta all’arco”, the necropolis dei marmini and the numerous etruscan artifacts conserved in the famous “museo etrusco guarnacci” . this museum contains one of the best collections of etruscan archelogical finds in italy. many of the artifacts displayed were recovered from the numerous local tombs. the “teatro di vallebona” is evidence of the powerful status that the town of volterra had during the roman era. however, the town as we find it today, demonstrates the impact of medieval architecture on its structure. within the walls of the town we find many fine examples of its medieval past; includingthe narrow winding streets, its buildings, the house-towers, and the churches.
The renaissance period has also left a remarkable imprint on the town of volterra but without having altered its medieval atmosphere. from this period we may visit the superb buildings of minucci solaini, incontri-viti, inghirami, the impressive “fortezza medicea” fortress, and the monastery complex of san girolamo.
Volterra is famous as a town of museums. apart from the etruscan museum this town houses the “pinacoteca civica” and the “museo dell’opera del duomo”. apart from its museums and medieval architecture, volterra is famous for its craftsmen who carve beautiful white statues from the locally mined alabaster. visiting the many arts and crafts shops within the town one can almost touch that magical atmospher e that surrounds this hilltop tuscan town.
Volterra does not begin and end only with art and history. the surrounding countryside is rich in natural beauty and offers many scenic excursions by foot, by horse, and by bicycle. long kilometers of pathways are indicated for the discovery of unique and characteristic places.
The town of volterra is also renowned for its gastronomic specialities and for its warm hospitality. during the summer period besides cultural festivals like the “volterra teatro”; concerts of both classical and modern music, art exhibitions and folklore festivals permit turists a holiday that is not only relaxing and tranquil but provides stimulating cultural encounters to be enjoyed.

SIENA & PIENZA

 

 

 

Siena is one of the most appreciated tuscan cities from a turistic point of view. the surrounding countryside which is rich in agriculture is an area of great scenic beauty. extending north of siena is the region of the chianti classico and the “val d’elsa”; vine-clad hills dotted with farms, vineyards, villas and baronial castles. extending in a southwars direction we find the area of crete as far as “val d’orcia”; this is the area of sheep herding. cypress trees, planted to provide shelter along roads and around isolated farmhouses, are an important feature of the landscape. siena is a town rich in history. its finest moment was after the victory of the battle of montaperti in 1260. the plague of the black death and the subsequent defeat by florence in the siege of 1554-1555 led to the decline of this city. today siena is noted as a city rich in culture, art and crafts, and gastronomic delights!
The warm colours of the buildings which were constructed leading up to and around the tower of the “palazzo pubblico” and the belfry of the cathedral or “duomo” introduces one of the most ancient and complete examples of architectural harmony in europe. scarcely any street in siena is level, as siena is built on seven hills. this adds to the adventure of exploring this city, as one minute a part of the city is laid out to view and the next one is enclosed in a warren of medevial houses! the historical center is a network of narrow streets and alleyways lined by fine examples of medieval architecture which open up into delightful squares.
The centre-piece of siena is the shell-shaped “piazza del campo” which is boardered by fine examples of medieval architecture symbolizing the rich historical past of the city when the wealthy inhabitants contributed to a major programme of civic building. the graceful “palazzo pubblico” or town hall dominates these buildings. the facade is concave in order to follow the slopes and fan-shape of the square and its belltower, “torre del mangia”, is the second highest medieval tower in italy rising 330 feet above the town. at the base of the tower we find the “capella di piazza”. other noteworthy buildings include the “palazzo sansedoni, the “loggia della mercanzia”, “palazzo chigi-saracini”, “ palazzo piccolomini” which today is the location of the center for contempory art, and the cathedral dell’assunta.
When describing siena one inevitably mentions the sienese palio. it is tuscany’s most celebrated festival portraying the hard work and passion of the sienese population in order to carry it out successfully. proceeded by a magnificant pre-race pagent, it is a bare-back horse race which was first recorded in 1283. the jockeys represent the seventeen districts of the city of siena who strive to win the precious palio banner. this event is felt within the heart and soul of the sienese people who are interested in winning the banner for the unrepressed district pride that has always existed in this city and not for its intrinsic value.
When visiting siena we highly recommend turists to relax and enjoy tasting the delicacies of the town. the prestigious “pasticceria nannini” prepares delicious “cenci”, “panforte”, “ricciarelli” and other local specialities rigidly following the traditional recipies.
Pienza is a small city close to siena and is a rare example of completed renaissance urban design thanks to pope pius ii. the main square onto which face the major constructions of this town is named “piazza pio ii”. the noteworthy buildings in this square include the “palazzo pubblico”, the cathedral or “duomo”, the “palazzo vescovile”, the “palazzo comunale” and the “palazzo piccolomini”. the architect bernardo rossellion was commissioned to construct the cathedral, papal palace and town hall, which were completed in 3 years. pienza has been defined the ideal city from ancient times. presently, pienza has two museums and a third is under construction.
Away from the elegance of the main square, pienza is a relaxed and quiet agricultural town and its central position in the “val d’orcia” makes it an interesting starting point for many countryside trips. today pienza plays a role in a territorial system known as the “parco artistico, naturale e culturale della val d’orcia” which translates as the “artistic, natural, and cultural park of the val d’orcia”. the shops in the town sell typical local products including the famous “pecorino di pienza”, cheese made from sheep’s milk, salami, olive oil and local wines.