Monday, 31 March 2014

Camucia Cortona European Hill Climb Championship April 2014

Today I want to introduce newcomers to the Camucia Cortona European Hill Climb Championship April 2014. Since 1930, FIA, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, has organised a series of short, intense road races in which various categories of cars race against the clock, on an uphill course along a public road. These routes are scattered all over Europe, from Portugal to Slovakia, and one of them is the winding road from Camucia to Cortona. The Hillclimb Camucia Cortona was conceived and is organised by Fabrizio Fondacci, director of the Italian Grand Prix Formula 1, in conjunction with the race director of Camucia Cortona, Marcello Cecilioni.
Camucia Cortona European Hill Climb Championship April 2014
Vintage car in last year's Camucia Cortona European Hill Climb Championship
Every year, the highly skilled and motivated drivers take part under the three categories established by the FIA. The first category consists of the cars manufactured up until 1969, the second up to 1975, the third up to 1981. The two-seater racing cars made before 1990 make an additional group. The Hillclimb Camucia Cortona offers authentic charm, with its natural setting, difficult road, drivers who are truly driven, intrepid racing, finely honed engineering and proximity with the public.

A modern, high performance car taking part in the Camucia Cortona Hill Climb
A modern, high performance car taking part in the Camucia Cortona Hill Climb
This is thus a great event for car enthusiasts, both participants and spectators, whether your interest is vintage cars, racing cars or modern classics. If you will be observing rather than driving, the idea is to show up fairly early before the event and station yourself at a strategic point on the route, preferably one that will give your a good photographic angle as well as letting you see the drivers handling corners. The official test run takes place on Saturday, 12 April, starting at 3 pm. The competition itself takes place on Sunday, 13 April, starting at 10 am.

Camucia Cortona Hill Climb Rally
Camucia Cortona Hill Climb Rally
If you decide to come to Cortona for the Hill Climb and to stay for lunch or dinner in Cortona during the event, I strongly suggest you make table reservations.

Last but not least, here's a video that gives some idea of what it's like to drive in this rally on board a Lucchini SN88 Alfa Romeo 3000V6. Enjoy!

video

Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013 - 2014. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

A Boccaccio anniversary and an appropriate manuscript find

This year is the 700th anniversary of the birth of Giovanno Boccaccio, Renaissance writer in both latin and the Italian vernacular, author of the Decameron and friend of Petrarch. Boccaccio was born either in Florence or in nearby Certaldo and although referring to himself as a Florentine, always signed his name as Boccaccio da Certaldo. Certaldo is well worth a visit if you're in the area and hosts the Mercantia, one of the best street theatre festivals in Europe.

Giovanni Boccaccio da Certaldo
Giovanni Boccaccio da Certaldo

Boccaccio was tutored by Giovanni Mazzuoli and received from him an early introduction to the works of Dante (1265 - 1321). In 1326, Boccaccio moved to Naples with his family - his father was a prominent banker. It was in Naples that he realised his true vocation of poetry, despite spending six years studying canon law. Pieces that he wrote while in Naples include Filostrato and Teseida, the sources for Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and The Knight's Tale, respectively. He might also have played a role in introducing the Sicilian octave to Florence, where it influenced Petrarch.

Boccaccio began work on the Decameron around 1349 and the work was largely complete by 1352. It was Boccaccio's final effort in literature and one of his last works in Italian. He revised and rewrote the Decameron in 1370–1371 and this manuscript survives to the present day.

During his life, Boccaccio spent considerable amount of time in Venice, Padua, Romagna, Brandenburg, Milan and Avignon, as well as, of course, Florence. Many of these journeys were on Florentine government business and for meetings with Petrarch who became a close friend. Boccaccio died at the age of sixty-two on 21 December 1375, in Certaldo, where he is buried. Following his death, his entire collection of books and manuscripts was donated to the monastery of Santo Spirito, in Florence, where it still resides.

Boccaccio's Decarmeron
A setting for Boccaccio's Decarmeron
By chance, earlier this year, Dr. Guyda Armstrong discovered an uncatalogued manuscript copy of the first version of Laurent de Premierfait's French translation of Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium, unrecognised and in plain view, at the John Rylands Library of Manchester University. This French humanist and courtier translated the title as Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes. This manuscript is a very rare copy of the 1400 translation. Laurent de Premierfait carried out a second translation in 1409.

De Casibus Virorum Illustrium ("On the Fates of Famous Men") consists of 56 biographies composed in Latin prose in the form of moral stories of the fates of famous people, similar to his work of 106 biographies "On Famous Women". De Casibus is a work in the 'exemplary lives' tradition that began with Plutarch's Parallel Lives, where the tragic biographies of the past are used as a political guide and warning for current rulers. The book is notable for its critique of tyranny and for 400 years was much more widely read that Boccaccio's vernacular works upon which his fame now rests.

Chaucer's The Monk's Tale might have drawn inspiration from De Casibus since Chaucer's incipit reads: "Heer bigynneth the Monkes Tale De Casibus Virorum Illustrium" and many of the characters are the same, but Chaucer credits only Petrarch as a source. Neither of them would have thanked Chaucer for the credit since, unlike much of Chaucer's work, The Monk's Tale is indescribably dreary and boring, in sharp contrast to Boccaccio's compelling stories and forceful latin.

Pasolini's Decameron
One of the few presentable scenes from Pasolini's 1971 film adaptation of nine
stories from Boccaccio's Decameron.
Click here to download the programme of the events taking place in Florence and Certaldo to celebrate Boccaccio's seventh centenary anniversary year.

More about the Boccaccio Museum in Certaldo.

Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Mona Lisa, the lady and the painting, once again in the news

I was about to start off like a newspaper reporter by saying that Leonardo da Vinci's painting of Mona Lisa has fascinated the world for the past 400 years, but the truth is that the painting's notoriety is comparatively recent. After Leonardo's death in France in 1519, François I bought the painting and kept it at the Palace of Fontainebleau where it remained until it was given to Louis XIV, who moved it to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was displayed in the Louvre. During the mid-19th century, Théophile Gautier and the Romantic poets had much to say about Mona Lisa as a person and as a painting, but the picture really only began to achieve its current fame after World War I.
A comparison of the Louvre and Prado Mona Lisa portraits
A comparison of the Louvre and Prado Mona Lisa portraits
Although there a numerous copies of Leonardo's Mona Lisa in existence,  the cleaning during 2012 of the copy stored away in the Prado Museum in Madrid has revealed a contemporary copy of great skill and beauty. Infrared reflectography images of the Prado painting show underdrawing similar to that of the Louvre Mona Lisa before it was finished. This suggests that the original and the copy were begun at the same time and painted next to each other in the same studio. All the evidence currently points to either Andrea Salai, who joined Leonardo’s studio in 1490, or Francesco Melzi, who joined around 1506, as the painter. The Prado's curator favours Melzi.

Along with fame came numerous theories about who the subject of the painting was, despite Vasari - who would have known - clearly stating that she was Lisa Gherardini, a member of the Gherardini family of Florence and wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo. Some scholars have proposed that Lisa Gherardini was the subject of a different portrait, especially since Vasari specifically comments on the beauty of the eyebrows and eyelashes, of which the Louvre Mona Lisa is famously lacking. In any case, there's little doubt that Lisa Gherardini is portrayed and that she was born in Florence and not at Villa Vignamaggio in Chianti, despite what the owner of that magnificent villa says, since the villa was sold by the Gherardini family 58 years before her birth.

Excavating a skeleton purported to be that of Lisa Gherardini, Mona Lisa.
Excavating a skeleton purported to be that of Lisa Gherardini, Mona Lisa.
This brings us to the current headline-generating antics of Silvano Vinceti, an archaeological flibbertigibbet who, among other things, claimed to have found that bones of Caravaggio in an obscure cemetery crypt in Porto Ercole - by "pure coincidence", during the year of the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio’s death - and to have demonstrated that the model for the Mona Lisa was a man.

He seems to have forgotten this latter hypothesis, having somehow obtained permission to exhume the "remains of Mona Lisa" from among the hundreds of skeletons in a crypt of the former Convent of Saint Ursula (Convento di Sant’Orsola) in Florence. Lisa Gherardini retired to the convent after the death of her husband, herself passing away there at the age of 63. Just a few days ago, Vinceti exhumed remains, which he claims are those of Lisa Gherardini's sons, from the family tomb in the Martyrs' Crypt behind the altar of the Santissima Annunziata Basilica in Florence. All of this he proposes to confirm by DNA comparison between the different sets of bones and, perhaps, the very-much-alive Princesses Strozzi who are descendents of the Gherardini. The grand design behind all this digging and DNA blotting is to identify Lisa Gherardini's skull and to use the wildly unreliable forensic reconstruction technique to recreate her face and confirm or otherwise that Mona Lisa the person is Mona Lisa the painting. One thing we can be sure of, whatever Vinceti comes up with will be sensational, not least in its lack of verisimilitude!
Santissima Annunziata Basilica in Florence
Santissima Annunziata Basilica in Florence where the current excavations are in progress.

Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Cortonantiquaria, the Cortona antiques fair held in late August and early September

Everyone interested in buying antiques or simply admiring them should mark their calendars for Cortonantiquaria, the Cortona antiques fair held in late August and early September - 24 August until 8 September in 2013. This antiques fair has been held in Cortona every year since 1963 and is now one of the most prestigious in Italy. The exhibition is housed in the 17th century Palazzo Vagnotti, located in the centre of Cortona, between the Piazza Signorelli and the Piazza del Duomo. I know that this antiques exhibition is a highlight of each year for many owners at Borgo di Vagli and I think we can look forward to a great show again this year!

Cortonantiquaria, the Cortona antiques fair
Palazzo Vagnotti, venue of Cortonantiquaria, the Cortona antiques fair.
The quality of the antiques displayed is very high - many of them are of museum quality - and the range is considerable. The fair initially specialised in furniture as a way to raise awareness of Cortona's flourishing restoration and furniture reproduction workshops, but over the years the antiques offered for sale have come to include not only furniture, but also paintings, engravings, ceramics, jewellery, carpets, bronzes and much more.

Cortona antiques
A dealer's display at the Cortona antiques exhibition.
In addition to the main exhibition, every year there are also lectures, contemporary art and design shows and, of course, wine tastings and gastronomic events to enjoy when you are not scutinising the antiques at Cortonantiquaria. The timing of the fair has also been chosen with care, making it a popular social event following the summer holidays and taking advantage of the beautiful weather usually enjoyed in Cortona at the end of September.

Antique ceramics and fan paintings at Cortonantiquaria
Antique ceramics and fan paintings at Cortonantiquaria.
Cortona also offers an excellent monthly collectables and bric-a-brac market that takes place on the third Sunday of the month in Piazza Signorelli. A similar but much larger bric-a-brac fair in Italy takes place on the first Sunday of the month and the preceding Saturday in nearby Arezzo. Over 500 dealers usually show up, offering a vast range of collectables for sale.

More about Cortona.

Parking in Cortona.

Cortona Restaurant tips:

  • La Bucaccia
  • L'osteria del teatro
  • Pane e vino
  • La loggetta


Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Visiting Lake Trasimeno from Borgo di Vagli

A few weeks ago, I outlined some of the many attractions of the Val d'Orcia. Another excursion popular with our hamlet owners is visiting Lake Trasimeno from Borgo di Vagli. So, today, a few pointers on what to include on a trip to the lake and its environs.

Visiting Lake Trasimeno
View of out over Lake Trasimeno
Firstly, I have to say that we are very lucky to have such a large lake near Borgo di Vagli - indeed, Lake Trasimeno is the largest lake in Italy outside of the northern Italian Lakes District. It's only slightly smaller in area than the Lake of Como but of course much shallower and therefore with murkier water. For this reason, the lake is not suitable for swimming nor for strolling along the shore which consists mostly of reedy marshlands. The accessible parts of the shoreline can be crowded in summer. My recommendation is therefore to visit some of the charming villages on the hillsides above the lake by car and to enjoy the beautiful panoramic views out over the lake.

By the way, Lake Trasimeno is not only a destination for the views, cool breezes and enjoyable villages, it's also of significance to history buffs. During the Second Punic War, the Battle of Lake Trasimeno (Trasimene) took place here on the 21st of June, 217 BC (April in the Julian calendar). Hannibal's Carthaginians defeated the Romans led by the consul Gaius Flaminius in one of the largest and most successful ambushes in military history. In less than four hours, the Roman army was annihilated. When you visit the battle site near Passignano, take a good guide book to help conjure up the past!

Back to the present. Of the towns on or near the lake, my favorites are Castiglione del Lago and Panicale.
Castiglione del Lago and Lake Trasimeno
Castiglione del Lago and Lake Trasimeno
Castiglione del Lago has almost intact town walls and is dominated by the ruins of its massive castle, the Castello del Leone, built for the Emperor Frederick II by Elia di Cortona and finished in 1247. The town has an atmospheric piazza and a surprising number of Umbrian food speciality shops. The views out over the lake from the top of the castle tower are worth the climb! Not surprisingly, Castiglione del Lago has been elected to the club of most beautiful towns in Italy and is also a member of the Città Slow movement.

On the slopes of the surrounding hills, not far away from Castglione del Lago, are Panicale and its neighbour, Paciano. Panicale is a well-known Umbrian destination while Paciano is described by the guide books as "without interest". I beg to disagree! Both Panicale and Paciano are well worth a visit, the latter not least for its over-the-top 14th Century Chiesa della Concezione e di S. Giuseppe. Inside the gates of Panicale, two or three concentric streets spiral in to the Piazza Grande. Although documented as early as 907, Panicale in its current forms dates from the 15th Century when it came under the sway of Pope Martin V. The best starting point for visiting Panicale is the Church of Saint Sebastian which houses Perugino's very beautiful fresco of Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. This fresco takes up the entire rear wall of the Church. The landscape with lake in the background of the painting is the same as that visible from outside the church and is very similar to the background of Perugino's Adoration in Città della Pieve not far away to the southwest. Panicale is also home to the charming Teatro Caporali, dating from 1690 and one of the smallest theatres in Italy.

Panicale near Lake Trasimeno
View over Panicale towards Lake Trasimeno
More castles are located all around Trasimeno, many in the centre of small towns while others are isolated and in ruins. In addition to Castiglione del Lago, Passignano, as well as the islands of Magione, Maggiore, and Polvese are all the location of picturesque castles, while the Castello di Zocco, the Castello di Montali and others are situated on hilltops overlooking the lakes.

There are numerous restaurants and trattorie dotted through the little lakeside towns. Among them are some real gems and, in general, value for money is better than one might anticipate in such a popular area.

The nearest part of Lake Trasimeno is about 25 minutes by car from Borgo di Vagli.

Lago Trasimeno


Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Friday, 28 June 2013

See Agnolo Gaddi's frescoes in the Basilica of Santa Croce at eye level.

From time to time, I try to alert my readers to exciting art shows taking place within reach of Borgo di Vagli, and today my strongest possible recommendation is to spend a day in Florence and see Agnolo Gaddi's frescoes in the Basilica of Santa Croce at eye level. This is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity!
Agnolo Gaddi's frescoes in the Basilica of Santa Croce
The Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence

Some background: as most of you will know, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence is the largest Franciscan church in the world and one of the principal sights of Florence. The church as we see it today was consecrated in 1442 and its most notable feature is its sixteen chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils. Slightly less famous but equally beautiful is a huge cycle of frescoes above the main altar, The Legend of the True Cross, painted by Agnolo Gaddi in the late 14th century and based on the famous Golden Legend written by the Franciscan monk, Jacopo da Varagine. The expressiveness of Gaddi's figures and the drama of their interactions reveals his debt to Giotto, but the colours and eccentric details are all his own. (Incidentally, these frescoes were one of the inspirations for the cycle on the same subject by Piero della Francesca, painted in Arezzo in the middle of the 15th century.)

The Legend of the True Cross, painted by Agnolo Gaddi
Part of The Legend of the True Cross, painted by Agnolo Gaddi
For the past five years, Gaddi's frescoes have been obscured by scaffolding during a major restoration. This restoration is now virtually complete but the scaffolding will be left in place for the summer of 2013 and is open for guided tours until it is removed sometime before Saint Francis' Day in October. Seeing the frescoes at eye level, you can see the attention Gaddi paid even to details totally invisible from below. The restoration has cleaned away centuries of grime as well as the work of the 1946 restoration to reveal a huge amount of detail in bright colours, almost as originally painted. It's also interesting to observe how Gaddi painted the figures on the upper levels larger and simpler than those lower down, to make then seem of equal size when viewed from the floor of the church.
Agnolo Gaddi's frescoes in the Basilica of Santa Croce
Agnolo Gaddi's frescoes in the Basilica of Santa Croce
Aside from being able to examine the details of the frescoes, from 100 feet up you will also enjoy a totally different view of the church interior - one that won't be possible after the scaffolding has been dismantled. As I discovered when clambering up in the ceiling of the Duomo of Sienna, both the structure and the details of a church become uniquely clear when viewed from above.

The guided tour takes place from Monday through Saturday at 11 am and 3 pm and on Sunday at 3 pm, in either English or Italian. The price is €10 and includes the ticket to visit all of Santa Croce - the church, the Pazzi chapel and the museum. (The ticket for just the church and museum would cost you €6.)

Bookings are required and should be made by email sent to booking@santacroceopera.it. The tour lasts about an hour. The climb up the scaffolding is 90 steps, about 7 floors, with pauses from time to time for the guide to explain the subjects depicted as well as the techniques used to create the frescoes and in the restoration process.

For a quick lunch just 50 m away from Santa Croce, try Finisterrae, Piazza Santa Croce 12.


Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Castello di Pierle, a striking feature in the view from Borgo di Vagli near Cortona

I think I can safely say that every owner and every guest at Borgo di Vagli immediately notices the magnificent Castello di Pierle across the valley. It really is one of the high points of Borgo di Vagli's panoramic vistas. I've had so many questions about the story behind Pierle Castle, that I decided to do a bit of research into the history of this amazing structure. So here are my notes on the history of a castle that in its prime was one of the most powerful fortresses in the region.

Castello di Pierle seen from Borgo di Vagli
Castello di Pierle as viewed from Borgo di Vagli
The earliest fortifications on the site were probably constructed sometime during the 10th century and the present castle was built on the foundations of this earlier structure around the year 1371.

Dating from October 1098, the first documentary evidence for the existence of a "Rocca di Pierle" is the will of Enrico, son of Ugo, Marchese di Monte Santa Maria, who, having fallen seriously ill in his castle of Pierle mentions it among his legacies. From then on control of Pierle bounced back and forth between Cortona and Perugia with periods of effective independence in between. In 1202, after a period of prosperity, the Marchesi del Colle (Monte Santa Maria) were forced to surrender the castle to Perugia due to famine. Just a few years later, in 1217, we find the Marchesi del Colle submitting to the lords of Cortona, who then took control of Pierle. In 1225, the Oddi of Perugia came into possession of Pierle thereby removing it from the control of Cortona. By 1236, Pierle once more belonged to the Casali, lords of Cortona, but at some stage it reverted to the Oddi family. By 1325, we read that the Casali family were ruling Cortona without being accepted by populace. The Casali had the title of "vicari imperiali" and exercised power in large part for their own benefit. Subsequent events indicate that they continued in this vein for several decades. On the 11th of August 1369, the peasant farmers of Pierle rebelled and assaulted the palazzo of the Casali in Mercatale and looted the storehouses. (A foretaste of the revolt of the Ciompi in Florence, nine years later.) As a result of this, the Oddi of Perugia decided to dispose of the assets they held in the Valdipierle and they sold the castles of Pierle and Lisciano to Francesco Casali. This event is recorded in their accounts of 1370.

Rocca di Pierle near Cortona
The Castle of Pierle as rebuilt in 1371.
In 1371, Francesco Casali constructed the present castle on the ruins of the old one. The new castle or rocca was intended to be a haven for the lords of Cortona, whither they could flee to seek safety during the periodic disorders that erupted in this border area. The design of the new castle was developed by Ranieri Casali, one of the sons of Francesco, who, being a knight of Rhodes, had some experience of military architecture. In fact, the defences are quite sophisticated and have served the castle's inhabitants well.

Four years later, on the 26th of July 1375, Francesco Casali died and his powers were transferred to his son Nicoló Giovanni, who was only nine years old. In 1384, Nicoló Giovanni died of the plague and was succeeded as ruler of Cortona by his eight year old brother Francesco Senese Casali, under the tutelage of Ilario Grifoni. In 1387, Uguccio Casali became lord of Cortona by removing Francesco Senese from power on the grounds that he was not old enough to rule and nor to fight against neighboring Perugia. Uguccio Casali fought vigorously against the lords of Perugia and in 1394 conquered the Castle of Pugnano, capturing and imprisoning in Pierle the Marchese Carlo degli Oddi and his children. On the 11th October 1400, Uguccio Casali died and was succeeded at Cortona by Francesco Senese Casali. This latter was murdered seven years later and Aloigi Battista became the new lord of of Cortona. Aloigi Battista was removed from power on the 3rd June 1409 by Ladislaus the Magnanimous, King of Naples, when he conquered Cortona.

In 1411, the castle passed to the Florentine Republic which acquired it from King Ladislaus for 1200 florins, together with Cortona for 60,000 florins. For the next 165 years, the Castle of Pierle followed the fate of the Florence and its lords, the Medici.

Grand Duke Francesco I de' Medici
Grand Duke Francesco I de' Medici

In 1576, Grand Duke Francesco I ordered the destruction of the Castello di Pierle to prevent it from becoming a nest of evildoers, "vi si annidassero i malfattori". Such was the fate of one of the most beautiful and powerful examples of a feudal castle in Tuscany.

It's interesting to ponder the thought that Borgo di Vagli and its inhabitants have looked out over these changes for almost as long as the Castello di Pierle has existed. The reason this is so is, of course, that Pierle Castle needed a network of watch towers to protect it from attacks coming down from the mountains behind. One of these towers was the first building (14th century) at Borgo di Vagli and now houses its candlelit Trattoria.

More about the castles of Tuscany.


Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Flag throwing in Tuscany, who gives a toss?

I wrote the title of this post like that just to get your attention! Today I want to say something about not just flag throwing or flag tossing in Tuscany but more generally about the great costume festivals that we have in this part of Tuscany. Annual festivals, related either to the season or to religious holidays and local saints' days, have always played an important part in Tuscan social life, going right back to pagan times. Indeed, the foundations of many of the Christian festivals, like those of a number of Christian churches, date from Roman times or earlier.

Flag throwing in Tuscany
Flag thrower at a costume festival in Tuscany
These costume festivals have enjoyed a considerable revival over the past 40 years and annual re-enactments of famous events in local history have similarly become very popular. These events, usually mediaeval in character, have become increasingly skilled and sophisticated in their presentation to the point where they not only occupy the attention of the local population but have become major attractions for a wider audience.

Giostra dell'Archidado in Cortona
Giostra dell'Archidado in Cortona

Nearest to home and during June, we have the famous festival known as the Giostra dell'Archidado (crossbow tournament) in Cortona. This competition commemorates the wedding of Francesco Casali, Lord of Cortona, and the noblewoman Antonia Salimbeni of Sienna, which took place in 1397. In addition to the crossbow competition itself, there's an excellent costume parade and usually a flag throwing exhibition (which featured in the film version of Frances Mayes' book "Under the Tuscan Sun"). This year, the Giostra dell'Archidado takes place on 9 June but there are celebrations on the 1, 2, 7 and 8 June as well.

Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen) at Arezzo
Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen) at Arezzo
A very colourful festival tales place in Arezzo at night on the last but one Saturday of June, and during the day and on the first Sunday of September. This is the famous Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen), a jousting tournament that has its origins in the early 16th century and commemorates Christian efforts to hold back the Moslem tide in the 14th Century. In the main event, eight costumed knights charge towards a wooden representation of the Saracen, aiming to hit the Saracen's shield with lances. The Saracen is mounted on a swivel so that part of the task of the knight is to avoid being struck back as the Saracen spins round from the force of the blow. The format of the tournament reflects its origins as a military training exercise.

La Maggiolata at Lucignana
One of the four floats of La Maggiolata at Lucignana

La Maggiolata is a flower festival that takes place during the last two Sundays and the preceding Saturday nights of May in Lucignano, a charming village in the Val di Chiana. Four allegorical floats, one for each quarter of the village, are pulled through the town. Between 15,000 - 20,000 flowers are used for each float and the floats are judged at the end of the Maggiolata. The victors are the first to sing and dance. Some of the parade costumes are 12th and 13th century in style while others are traditional European folkloric costumes, especially those of the dancers.

Giostra dei Bastoni San Gimignano
Giostra dei Bastoni at San Gimignano in June
Another good example coming up in June is the harvest festival called the Ferie delle Messi with its Giostra dei Bastoni (literally, "stick joust") at San Gimignano, about two hours drive from Borgo di Vagli. The event takes place on the third Saturday and Sunday of June, the highlight on the Sunday being the Grand Procession when more than two hundred citizens of San Gimignano parade in mediaeval costume from the middle of town to the Rocca di Montestaffoli to watch the Giostra dei Bastoni. There are plenty of food stands and other attractions throughout the festival.

In summary, mediaeval and Renaissance costume festivals take place throughout the year in Tuscany, including several within easy reach of Borgo di Vagli. Many of these events are extremely exciting and colourful, and should not be missed if you have the chance to attend.

More about Festivals and other events in Tuscany.


Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A compelling exhibition currently at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

This post is a strong recommendation for a compelling exhibition currently at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, namely "The Springtime of the Renaissance", subtitled Sculpture and the Arts in Florence 1400-60. It might well have been called "The impact of Donatello on his compatriots and Western art."

Madonna Pazzi
Madonna Pazzi
Every year, the Strozzi hosts a major exhibition and they are invariably of high quality. This year, 2013, the organisers have surpassed themselves with this splendid show, the theme of which is the central role played by sculpture in the development of what we call Renaissance art. The exhibition has been organised by the Bargello together with the Louvre, and their joint pull means that we see major works from museums as far afield as Cleveland together for the first and in some cases probably last time. Just one amazing example among these juxtapositions is Donatello's incredibly modern-looking Madonna Pazzi, from Berlin, hanging next to a 1450, painted and gilded, stucco copy from the Bardini collection. Other pairings place sculptures by the early Florentine masters next to the Hellenistic and Roman pieces that inspired them, and sculpture, including painted wooden work, next to "sculptured painting" where the painters are clearly attempting capture the three dimensions of sculpture. Even perspective made an early appearance in carved reliefs, as in Donatello’s use of precise central-point perspective when carving in very shallow relief.

Cumaean Sibyl by Andrea del Castagno
Cumaean Sibyl by Andrea del Castagno

During my visit earlier this month, I was surprised at how few people there were at the exhibition. This is possibly a reflection of the very slow start to the tourist season this year. In any case, if you have the flexibility, a visit earlier in the year will mean more opportunity to enjoy the art without the throng. (I can guarantee that this show will be packed when it moves to Paris in August.) Furthermore, the absence of electronic proximity detectors means that you're free to examine details from an inch away. This can be enlightening, especially when studying some of the pieces restored specially for this exhibition and the miniature pieces. One example is the life-sized St Stephen carved by Francesco di Valdambrino around 1409, placed next to a beautiful gothic Madonna carved in Pickardy in about 1270 and a miniature Parisian ivory Madonna of the same decade.

In last room, we encounter some magnificent portrait busts and medals. Some are old friends, some are easily accessible for the first time. Placed alongside these are classical portrait busts. The Renaissance artists had so completely absorbed the spirit of classical antiquity that sometimes the styles are indistinguishable.

Niccolò da Uzzano
Niccolò da Uzzano
Don't miss this exhibition if you have the chance to see it!

More about La Primavera del Rinascimento.


Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

A steam engine journey through the Val d'Orcia

I'm not sure how many of my readers used to ride in trains pulled by steam engines during their younger days, but whether you did or not, every year during spring and autumn there are excellent opportunities to go on a whole day steam engine journey through the Val d'Orcia. The "Trenonatura" follows a variety of track loops starting in Siena and dropping off its passengers for a few hours at whichever one of the picturesque towns of the Val d'Orcia has some kind of festa or fair in progress on that day.

A steam engine journey through the Val d'Orcia
The Trenonatura steam engine in the the Val d'Orcia
I seized the opportunity last Sunday to travel to San Quirico d'Orcia where they was a not very good wine festival in progress. Actually, the train took us to Torrenieri where a bus was waiting for the short trip to San Quirico. Here some of the passengers went directly into town while the rest of us continued another 3 km to Bagno Vignoni where we were given a tour of the ancient baths and a guided walk back to San Quirico.

Bagno Vignoni in the Val d'Orcia
The ancient baths at Bagno Vignoni in the Val d'Orcia
San Quirico itself is well worth a visit. Although the old town is somewhat disneyfied - a rare thing in Tuscany - it is the location of a virtually untouched Romanesque church, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta di San Quirico, and also of the famous Collegiata di San Quirico, a Romanesque church with a hint of the gothic in its beautifully decorated "portale di mezzogiorno". If the church is open, there is wonderful marquetry and a fine 15 C Siennese polyptych inside. San Quirico is well-provided with restaurants, making it a pleasant place for lunch.

Collegiata di San Quirico
The Collegiata di San Quirico
The locomotive refills with water at Monte Antico where there is plenty of time to take pictures of the engine as it manoeuvers to attach to the other end of the train. The carriages are for the most part Third Class and dating from before WW II. The seats are wooden and remarkably comfortable. Just remember to close the windows as you go through tunnels. The drivers are licensed steam engine drivers and this is work for them, but the people helping out and giving informative talks during the trip are all enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers.

These excursions are great value for money but, of course, they need to be booked a couple of weeks in advance. We set out from Siena at 9 am and were back in Siena by 6.46 pm, meaning that this is an easy one day excursion from Borgo di Vagli.

More about the Trenonatura.

Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Tour of the roof levels of the Duomo of Siena. A unique opportunity during 2013.

Cathedral of Sienna
The Cathedral (Duomo) of Sienna
I think everyone agrees that the Cathedral of Sienna (il Duomo di Siena) is one of the most beautiful buildings in Italy, if not the world, and an incredibly rewarding one to explore. Last week, I recommended a wonderful "underground" tour of the Duomo. Today we have something even more spectacular! During 2013, for the first time, it will be possible to take a tour of the roof levels of the Duomo of Siena. Passages, balconies and other spaces high up in the structure of the cathedral will be open to small, guided groups. Until now, these parts of the Cathedral were accessible only to the architects and builders in charge of maintaining the structure over the centuries.

Tour of the roof levels of the Duomo of Siena
View of the pavement of the Duomo of Siena
The two huge towers on each side of the façade of the Duomo house spiral staircases that lead up into the roof where there is a series of walkways and rooms that provide astonishing views of both the interior of the Duomo and the city of Siena outside. You will be able to look down onto the intarsia floor of the main nave and understand its design in a way that until now could only be done by means of not-very-good photographic collages. You will be able to traverse the walkway over the main altar and examine Duccio di Buoninsegna’s rose window from just a short distance away, and, of course, to walk along the balcony inside the dome of the cathedral from which there is a fabulous view of the high altar. The exterior views extend over the Basilica of St. Domenico, the Medici Fortress, the entire dome of the chapel of St. John the Baptist and the landscape of the surrounding Siennese hills.

Don't miss it!

la porta del cielo siena
The staircase up to the roof area of the Cathedral of Sienna.
The Door to Heaven Guided Tour (La Porta del Cielo)
6 April – 27 October, 2013
Reservations required: tickets per person €25, groups of max 17 people €400. Tel +39 0577 286300 (Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm) or email: opasiena@operalaboratori.com


Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Getting to understand the Etruscans of Cortona

Lack of extensive written records combined with a wealth of sometimes enigmatic tomb art has earned the Etruscans the qualifier "mysterious", and I guess it's true that they are among the most mysterious of the Mediterranean peoples of any significance. Luckily, here at Borgo di Vagli we have several excellent nearby opportunities to get to understand the Etruscans of Cortona quite well. First and foremost is the fine Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca di Cortona (Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona), MAƎC for short. This museum compares favorably with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Chiusi and the Museo Guarnacci in Volterra.

Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona
Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca di Cortona.
The Etruscan Academy Museum is located in the Palazzo Casali, also known as the Palazzo Pretorio and dating back to the 13 C. The Museum was founded in 1727 and between 2005 and 2008 underwent major renovations including much-needed modernisation of the displays. It's now one of the most pleasing archaeological museums in Italy.

An entire if small viewing space is dedicated to the bronze lampadario found at Fratta near Cortona in 1840. This is a magnificent bronze hanging lamp very likely cast for a north Etruscan religious edifice of the highest importance during the 4th century BC. An inscription shows it was rededicated in the 2nd century BC. Under the 18 burners, its iconography includes alternating representations of Silenus playing double flutes and of sirens. Within reliefs of waves, dolphins and other fiercer sea-creatures is a gorgon-like face with protruding tongue. Between each burner is a horned head of Achelous. Don't miss it! It's housed adjacent to the entrance of Room II.

Display gallery in the Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona
Etruscan display in the Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona.
In addition to the Museum, there is evidence of Cortona's Etruscan past throughout the town and in the surrounding countryside. Within Cortona, Etruscan remains include parts of the mighty defensive walls, the double-arched gate of Porta Bifora as well as a series of underground sites such as the vaulted arch in the Palazzo Cerulli Diligenti, the barrel vault in the Via Guelfa, and an Etruscan section of wall in the Palazzo Casali itself.

The countryside around Cortona is dotted with "meloni", Etruscan burial-mounds. These can be seen at Camucia and also in the village of Sodo. Tumulo II at Sodo displays imposing terrace-steps decorated with sculptural groups and other architectural elements.

Etruscan Tumulo II at Sodo, near Cortona
Etruscan Tumulo II at Sodo, near Cortona
At the foot of the hill among the olive groves is the so-called Tanella di Pitagora (Tomb of Pythagoras), an Etruscan monument already known to travellers as early as in the 1500s, the Tanella Angori and the Mezzavia burial site.

A day spend first at the Cortona Etruscan museum followed by a circuit of the archaeological sites around Cortona makes for a very pleasant (and educational) excursion.

Some Etruscan proclivities differed from ours. One was a love of roasted, stuffed dormice (ghiri). These were reared in a large terracotta pot kept in the kitchen and known to us as a ghirarium. The numerous examples in Etruscan museums have climbing shelves built into the walls and air holes. There's a good reconstruction of a ghirarium in the MAƎC. The Roman recipe - possibly of Etruscan derivation - for preparing dormice involves creating a stuffing of dormouse meat or pork together with pepper, pine nuts, broth, asafoetida and some garum (anchovy paste will do), stuffing it into the dormice which are then stitched up and baked in an oven on a tile (180 C for 45 minutes). They are still a popular delicacy in Slovenia. You can also preserve the roasted animals in honey for later consumption. Buon appetito!

Etruscan dinner
Etruscan couple dining in style.

Museum Opening hours:
1 April – 31 October open everyday from 10 am to 7 pm.
1 November – 31 March open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5pm.
Closed Mondays, closed on 25 December.


Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.