There is a city that everyone knows for its Renaissance spirit but we want to see it how it once was – in the 1300s – when Giovanni Boccaccio wrote his most famous work, The Decameron, a collection of one hundred short stories. The book represents one of the first works written in prose, in “vulgar” Italian. Let’s look at the environment of the book, which will become our own path. We’re in the historical center of Florence, in the church of Santa Maria Novella, which represents a masterpiece of gothic architecture while the outside face is a symbol of the Renaissance and the genius of Leon Battista Alberti. It’s right here, in one the most famous basilicas in Florence by the train station of the city, where the story of the Decameron starts. The protagonists of Boccaccio’s work find themselves in the church, while the plague was dispersing and they decide to escape for fourteen days in the hills of Fiesole, like the same poet writes, “In the vulnerable church of Santa Maria Novella, on a Tuesday morning, when almost no one was there, […] seven young women met each other…”
Giotto and Masaccio - In the church, where half the tourists of the world love to sit on the green grass opposite the churchyard, enjoying its beautiful outward structure, you can find one of the marvelous pieces of Italian art from the 1300s, the Trinity by Masaccio. It’s not the only work of art housed in the Basilica. There were, actually, many artists who worked on Santa Maria Novella. Among them was Giotto. In the central nave, you can find his “Crucifixion,” dated 1290.
The facade of Leon Battista Alberti - The facade of Santa Maria Novella was only fully completed recently. Not many, in fact, know that this was a common “problem” for many of the city’s churches. The outside of Santa Maria Novella was only completed in 1920, the façade of the Duomo in 1887, and the front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo was never finished, and still today lacks marble. Leon Battista Alberti, the Renaissance architect who designed the façade, used “deliberately” distinctive decorative elements known as "volute" that Alberti inserted to remember the aesthetics of the architectural aspects of the façade.
Santa Maria Novella - detail of the "volute"
Photo credits: Autore WolfsRaum - Flickr.com
Fiesole, “destination” of the Decameron - But let’s return to Boccaccio and his Decameron. In Florence the plague was spreading and the protagonists of the novel escaped to the hills of Fiesole, one of the spots you shouldn’t miss when visiting Tuscany and its capitol. From here you reign over the city, with one of the best panoramas of the city. Florence, seen from Fiesole, appears like Sleeping Beauty, gently hugged by the green of its hills. After passing through the twisting and turning streets, you ascend to arrive in Piazza Mino da Fiesole, the first stop for tourists who arrive in the village’s main square. For lovers of walks and exercise, you can also reach Fiesole by foot, starting from Via Boccaccio, following the panoramic Via Vecchia Fiesolana. Otherwise, you can take the number seven bus that takes you right to the town’s main piazza.
Fiesole, the Roman Theatre
Photo credits: Autore Fulvius - Flickr.com
Arriving in the historical center of the jewel in the Florentine hills, there are at least three places you must visit: the Roman theatre, the convent and missionary museum of San Francesco, and the Duomo (Cattedrale di San Romolo), which are all located right off the main piazza of Fiesole. Arriving in Piazza Mino, taking the first street on the left which runs alongside the Duomo, you arrive at the archeological site, a place outside of time that documents the ancient Etruscan origins and Roman settlement, from which you can admire the remains of the theatre, the baths, and the temple. You can also visit the archeology museum that contains a precious collection of ancient Greek vases, Langobardic tombs entirely reconstructed, bronze from the Etruscan age, and marble decorations from the Roman theatre. On the opposite side, instead, you can find another pearl along your journey, the convent of San Francesco.
Before you arrive at the Cathedral of San Romolo, you’ll find on the left a steep slope that leads you to one of the best panoramas in the Fiesole hills. From this point, seated on the ancient wall, you reign over the city of Florence. You should also see the entire complex of the Basilica of Sant’Alessandro, the church with the convent, and the missionary museum of San Francesco. Florentines consider Fiesole come of the most romantic surroundings of the city. You can’t finish your visit without tasting it. There are lots of restaurants, trattorie, and wine-cellars where you can go to get typical plates in the Florentine tradition, which includes Florentine steak obviously accompanied by a good glass of local red wine.
Fiesole, the hills
Photo credits: Autore Massimo Todisco - Flickr.com
To get to Fiesole, you can use the ATAF bus: info here
Find your restaurant for traditional dishes: click here
Fiesole museums: the official site
Florence – Museum of Santa Maria Novella
Get to Florence by train with Trenitalia or Italo Treno
Fly to Florence: click here