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Art - History - Landscapes

Tuscany, the heart of Italy, a marvellous Harmony between man and nature

A short story of the evolution of landscape, architecture and social-political history of Tuscany (from the book Impression of Tuscany, by Antonio Sferlazzo)

Perhaps no other part of the world has such a high level of civilization, history, art, culture, architecture and, at the same time, landscape as does Tuscany. Moreover, the Tuscan landscape varies enormously, including in its sweep the high and rugged peaks of the Apuane Alps, the gentle hills of Chianti, the beaches along its coastline, the sea, the islands.

But the most amazing thing about Tuscany is that it continues to surprise and to enchant not only people who visit it for the first time, but even people who know it well or have always lived here.

Art - History - Landscapes

What is really striking about Tuscany is the total and constant harmony, apart from the occasional, relatively contained industrial area, between city and countryside, between the rural and urban landscapes, between Man and Nature.

At times it seems that Tuscany must always have been like this; everything appears so natural: the rows of cypresses, the vineyards, the olive groves all seem to grow spontaneously on the gentle hills. However, everything that seems so natural to the Tuscan landscape is in fact the result of hard and constant labour by man, who over the course of the centuries has moulded nature according to his own needs, respecting its original beauty, but at the same time enriching it by cultivating and building on the land, further refining the landscape. One has only to think of the medieval villages, which have remained virtually unchanged since they were constructed on the Tuscan hilltops, or of that marvellous architectural heritage, the farmhouses and the villas.

Art - History - Landscapes:

01 - Introduction

“Florence itself, that is, the Lung’Arno, for I have seen no more, I think is the most beautiful city I have yet seen. It is surrounded with cultivated hills, and from the bridge that crosses the broad channel of the Arno, the view is the most animated and elegant I ever saw. You see three or four bridges, (...) and the sloping hills covered with bright villas on every side. Domes and steeples rise on all sides, and the cleanliness is remarkably great.” Thus the poet P.B. Shelley, in a letter to Mrs Shelley dated August 1818, described Florence. A “humanistic” landscape, built to suit Man not only in terms of practicality, but also of the esthetic, still today virtually identical to the scenery which presented itself to the eyes of the English poet and to that which can be glimpsed in the background of many Renaissance pai ... Read More

02 - Florence, looking for a new Renaissance

Modern Florence has been transformed into a Disneyland for mass tourism. Every day thousands of tourists pour into the city like hordes of locusts: they manage in a couple of hours to gulp down Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, the Uffizi, before rushing off to shop, the only thing that really interests them, in the chic boutiques of Via Tornabuoni or in the numerous shoe-shops and leather shops that together with the hundreds of fast-food restaurants, pizza places, icecream parlours, small money-changing bureaus, have spread throughout the city-centre, irreparably disfiguring that Renaissance-soaked atmosphere that until the beginning of the 1970s it was still possible to breathe.

Florence is a city imprisoned in a valley with little ventilation, freezing cold and wet in winter, boiling hot in summer, and today in the centre even the air is no longer fit to breathe, ... Read More

03 - Chianti, the land of Bacchus

Now a day is extremely difficult to find a country stone house for sale, and those few remaining are extremely expensive. In the sixties and seventies of the previous century, the whole world raced to grab a piece of Chianti. Fortunately the new owners have, with love, good taste and patience, saved this spectacular architectural heritage from total destruction, giving new life to farmhouses, villas, castles and the agriculture linked to them. It is thanks to this fresh input of energy and capital that this part of Tuscany is today experiencing a new Renaissance, based on a strong tourist demand and on its traditional products, wine and olive oil, the production of which at the same time defines and models the landscape and the rhythms of Chianti.

Spectacular above all in October, when the vintage, or the grape harvest, is finished, and the leaves of the vines, ... Read More

04 - Siena, the City of the Palio

Thanks, paradoxically, to the 1348 plague which halted its development, Siena has preserved whole its medieval structure and above all its two jewels, shining examples of the Italian Gothic: the Cathedral and the Town Hall, with its marvellous sloping piazza, shaped like a seashell. These two impressive buildings were worked on by great artists like Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini and the brothers Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti.

All of this means that Siena is well worth a visit at any time of the year. But if you really want to be part of the collective madness that pervades the city and its inhabitants in the period of the Palio, we suggest you buy your tickets many months earlier in order to be able to watch from a more comfortable position, rather than from the - albiet free - centre of the piazza, from where, packed like sardines for at least four to ... Read More

05 - The Sienese Crete, the Art of Landscaping

It is in June and July that the Crete, the clay hills south of Siena, reach their chromatic highpoint: this season sees the triumph of the yellow of the sunflowers and of the broom, of the gold of the ripe grain, striking as the golden backgrounds of the Sienese painting of the 1300s. Only in the prairies of the American Midwest can one admire a similar landscape; but those prairies lack the cypresses set here and there on the hilltops, solitary sentinels, landmarks that distinguish the Tuscan landscape from any other in the world.

Perhaps the Crete, before the advent of the mechanisation of agriculture in the 1950s, when it was a wild and uncultivated territory, characterised by small canyons, dug by the rain in the clay, inhabited only by wild animals, were even more magical. Only a few traces of all this remain; nevertheless, we are grateful to the farmers of ... Read More

06 - Maremma, ancient Magic of Light and Color

Fascinated by the gentle harmony, by the warmth and at the same time the refined essence of both nature and rural life in the magical part of Tuscany, called Maremma, in order to paint it, the Machiaioli painters spent long periods in the countryside, in the “macchia” in fact, as is called the low and exquisitely perfumed bush along the coast, and from which the artistic movement took its name. Their work, which is a faithful reflection of rural life in Tuscany at the end of the 1800s, can be admired in the Gallery of Modern Art in Palazzo Pitti in Florence, which possesses a vast and very beautiful collection of Italian painting of that period.

As in their paintings, the ancient profile of the Etruscan hills blends into the plains with the warm colours of the ploughed land, with the gold of the grain and of the stubble, and the yellow of the sunflowers as f ... Read More

07 - Versilia and the Apuane Alps, between Sea and Marble

Still today the marble of Apuane mountains, is used by the greatest sculptors in the world, artists like Henry Moore, or like Fernando Botero and Igor Mitoraj who actually live at Pietrasanta, the artistic capital of the Apuane. The main square of Pietrasanta is in fact transformed in summer into a splendid outdoor gallery featuring the work of a famous sculptor every year. Its numerous atelier, where for many centuries the craftsmen of the marble have given body and soul to artists’ sketches, attract young artists from all over the world to learn the art of working with marble. In these workshops reigns a tidy untidiness, everything is covered by a gossamer-like white dust and the air is filled with the deafening noise of pneumatic hammers and chisels. On the shelves, in rows, stand “plaster casts” of all shapes and sizes: Christs, Madonnas, angels, hands, feet, scal ... Read More

08 - Lucca, the Dolce Vita former capital

Lucca, the only city in Tuscany not to fall under the patronage of Florence remained independent and flourished until Napoleon’s defeat. The French Emperor, after conquering half of Italy, decided to give Lucca to his sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi

Princess Bonaparte chose as her personal residence the splendid villa di Marlia, which therefore became Villa Reale (Royal Villa) The villa, surrounded by a beautiful large garden, is part of a series of villas, each more beautiful than the last, that the nobility of Lucca had built between 1500 to 1700 on the hills near the city. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the high society of all of Europe met in the villas, eager to be part of that “Dolce Vita” which existed around the nearby, recently restored, the ... Read More

09 - Cortona, Arezzo and the spiritual mountains

Who knows what went through Dante Alighieri’s head when, at the beginning of the year 1300, exiled from Florence after the party of the Guelfi Neri had gained the upper hand over that of the Guelfi Bianchi, to which the sublime poet belonged, saw once again, from his vantage point in the castle of Romena, where he had taken refuge with the Conti Guidi, lords of the Casentino, the Piana of Campaldino and the silhouette of the castle of Poppi emerging from the autumn mists. A few years earlier, in 1289, he had fought there in the ranks of the victorious Florentine army, that bloody battle against the inhabitants of Arezzo that signalled the latters’ final submission to Florence.

Perhaps his glance will have run upwards, towards the mountains, from which the clear waters of the young Arno, mentioned by him in the Divine Commedia, race downwards, across the Case ... Read More

10 - The SPA of Tuscany

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... Read More