TUSCANY, ITALY
-SEP. 2012-

ALL PHOTOS © RUUD LEEUW

 

 

The plan had been to stay in Volterra for 5 nights, one day for Volterra and the other three for exploring the area. Instead, we relaxed for two days in Volterra, it felt so good, and used only 2 days for daytrips.
Staying at one address for 5 nights is somewhat of a record for me (not taking in account our ski trips).

 

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Opening with a somewhat quintessential Tuscan panaroma

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Nice driveway!

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Our first stop wasn’t planned, but rather instigated by an urging for coffee. The temperature was a balmy 27 C and this historic hamlet, Monteriggioni, was found to be an nice place to stretch the legs.
Monteriggioni is referenced in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, see the Wikipedia link below.
It is a medieval walled town, located on a natural hillock, in the Siena Province of Tuscany.
It has quite a history: during the conflicts between Siena and Florence in the Middle Ages (in which Florence was seeking to expand territory), the city was strategically placed as a defensive fortification. It also withstood many attacks from both the Fiorentini and forces controlled by the Bishop of Volterra. Eventually the Sienese were able to place control of the town's garrison to Giovannino Zeti, who had been exiled from Florence.
In 1554, in an act of reconciliation with the Medicis, Zeti simply handed the keys of the town over to the Medicean forces - considered a "great betrayal" by the town's people.
Wikipedia, more..

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The late Romanesque church of Santa Maria Assunta faces the piazza Roma.
It was consecrated sometime between the building of the defensive walls (1213) and 1235, when the peace treaty between Siena, Florence, and Poggibonsi was signed here.
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Next stop was Montalcino.
Inside the castle walls were tents, but not for heroics by knights in armour, but rather for some culinary event.
The castle walls did provide for an excellent view over the surrounding countryside.

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Inside the castle was a wine shop, where one also had to buy the ticket (4 euro p.p.) to get onto the castle walls.

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View on Montalcino.
We walked to that cathedral in the center of the photo but found it closed, a rarity in my experience.
It was hot and the street leading up to that cathedral was devoid of restaurants or shops.

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We returned via another route, and found on the Via Giuseppe Mazzini what the other route lacked.
After a quick lunch, when we drove off, we noticed we had spent less than 01h15 in Montalcino.

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The farm fields varied in colours from soft orange to a dry baked sandy tone.

 

 

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A 45 minute drive through rolling fields and charming countryside, to our next stop: Montepulciano.

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Montepulciano is a medieval and Renaissance hill town in the Italian province of Siena, in southern Tuscany.
It sits high on a 605m limestone ridge, 13 km E of Pienza, 70 km SE of Siena.
For us tourists the route through the village seemed to be one street steeply going uphill; we felt like mountain goats sometimes. Fortunately there are plenty of rest stops and watering holes..

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How considerate of the charming sales assistant to smoke here ciggies outside, we wouldn’t want to have those expensive leather bags smell of cigarettes, eh?
We were sitting more or less in a similar position, but enjoying an icecream instead.

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Well, one more ‘chiesa’, why not?  Must admit we were growing a little tired of all the churches..
But this church, the the Chiesa del Gesù, had such a rough, weathered front, that we had to have a look inside.

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The elaborate interior of the Chiesa del Gesù was indeed much different from the unrefined,
brick front of the church: quite a contrast!

 

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It took 02h30 to drive back from Montepulciano to Volterra; the light was so fantastic that I stopped many times to take photos. Until my co-driver protested and told me to get on with it!
One of these three will be the cover of my photo album, I think...

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The next day we only had a short drive to our destination: San Gimignano.

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San Gimignano was founded as a small village in the 3rd century BC by the Etruscans.
Historical records begin in the 10th century, when it adopted the name of the bishop Saint Geminianus,
who had defended it from Attila's Huns.

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An interesting plaque, unfortunately my Latin is a little rusty.
But I can sure relate to the lion in a coat of armour!

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I don’t remember which church this is; I remember people had to buy a ticket if you wanted to take photos inside the cathedral, so perhaps it was the same here.
The artist was overly sensitive to photos taken of her art and the angle of the photo was more or less to tease here.
The crowds, the payment for photography inside churches and this attitude did put me off from San Gimignano.

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In the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, this village was a stopping point for Catholic pilgrims on their way to
Rome and the Vatican, as it sits on the medieval Via Francigena. People prospered by it.
These days the town is flooded by tourists. I found it all a bit too much.

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In 1199 San Gimignano became a free municipality and fought against the Bishops of Volterra and the surrounding municipalities. Due to internal power struggles it eventually divided into two factions, one headed by the Ardinghelli family (Guelphs) and the other by the Salvucci family (Ghibellines).
On the 8th May 1300 Dante Alighieri came to San Gimignano, as the Ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany.
In 1348 San Gimignano's population was drastically reduced by the Black Death Plague throwing the city into a serious crisis, which eventually led to its submission to Florence in 1353.
In the following centuries San Gimignano overcame its decline and isolation when its beauty and cultural importance, together with its agricultural heritage, were rediscovered.
The construction of the towers dates back to the 11th and 13th centuries.

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The architecture of the city was influenced by Pisa, Siena and Florence. There are 14th century paintings of the Sienese School to be seen and 15th century paintings of the Florentine School.
The towers have evidently been built for height, rather than architectural finesse. Merchants in competition, in all probability. I rather liked Bologna better, it too has similar towers and its historic center is a much nicer place to visit.

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San Gimignano has managed to conserve 14 towers of varying heights, for which it is known internationally.
Torre Grossa, (1311) 54 metres
Torre della Rognosa, 51 metres
Torre Cugnanesi
Torre del Diabolo
Torri degli Ardinghelli
Torri dei Salvucci
Torre Chigi, (1280)
Torre Pettini
[Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Gimignano]

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There is a lot of history in those bricks..
This website may also be helpful: www.sangimignano.com

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Quiet backstreets were rare in San Gimignano!

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That tower wears the scars of buildings leaning against it in the past.
You can see builders, in competition, going higher and higher, foregoing windows or
any form of enhancement or ornaments. Towers going higher, higher, higher.. Quite preposterous.

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Piazza della Cisterna. This is the main square of the town.
It is triangular in shape and is surrounded by medieval houses of different dates, among them are some fine examples of Romanesque and Gothic palazzos.
At the centre of the piazza stands a well, which was the main source of water for the town's residents. The structure dates from 1346.
Although much of it has been renewed in the late 20th century, parts of the paving date from the 13th century.

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Walking the walls of San Gimignano. No shade. We were trying to avoid the crowds, growing tired of this city.
Met someone who was trying to walk the outside of the city walls, but without a map, seemed easy enough but
she found it wasn’t. In the heat it was no fun walking the steep trail in the wrong direction..

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A simple cafetaria, pizzeria Lo Spuntino on the Via XX Settembre, away from the mainstream of tourists,
provided the much coveted cold drinks; the Pizza Capricciosa wasn’t half bad either.
I would have killed for a cold pint of Guinness, though!

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There is a bit of a stalker in me, but I love it when people take their photography seriously!
All those people holding up small idiot-proof digital cameras, huge iPads or other tablets, they
merely make a poor attempt to document something they saw rather than compose (!) a decent photograph.
There, I’ve said it.
This photo is a celebration to what photography should be all about.

 

 

More photos of this daytrip on my FLICKR.COM account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Created: 27aug12 - Updated: 1 November, 2012