Most tours of Tuscany will take in the famous Renaissance sights of Florence, Pisa and Arezzo but if you want to venture further back in time you need only travel a short distance (nine kilometres) outside Florence to the historic hillside town of Fiesole. |
Set on a hilltop, 295 metres above the famous Renaissance city, Fiesole is actually a much older settlement than its neighbour. Ancient ruins in the town date back to the Etruscans (the local civilisation which populated this area before the Roman invasion).
It wasn’t long, however, before the Romans took over the town, building their own structures over the ruined Etruscan buildings. Today you can still see the remains of the Etruscan town walls, as well as the Roman temple, baths and amphitheatre, which date from the 4th Century BC.
The first thing most people notice about Fiesole on our tours of Tuscany that take place in the summer is that it is much cooler than Florence, thanks to the hilltop breezes. It was this, combined with its views and close proximity to the city, as well as its olive groves and Cypress trees, that led many wealthy Florentines to build villas up here during the Renaissance. Wealthy landowners who built summer residences in the hills around Fiesole included the powerful Medici family.
For a small town, there is still plenty to see here and at ArtViva we like to include Fiesole on our tours of Tuscany as it plays an important role in the region’s history. Here are some of my favourite sights in the town.
The Etruscan Walls
See the ruins of the original town walls, built by the ancient Etruscans in the 8th Century BC. The Etruscans populated the region between the Arno and Rome until the Roman invasion.
The Roman Baths
Dating to the 1st Century AD, the walls and arches of a complex of Roman baths show that this was a large, important settlement for the Romans.
The Roman Amphitheatre
Stretching even further back, the impressive Roman Amphitheatre is thought to date from the 1st Century BC. Set into the hillside and looking down over the rooftops of Florence, this stunning setting is still used as a venue today with summer concerts held here beneath the stars.
The Villa Medici
Built in the 1450s, the Medici Villa in Fiesole is the fourth oldest of the great villas created for the family and one of the oldest Renaissance residencies in Italy. Unlike the other famous Medici villas, which were set in the heart of working estates, the villa here has only a landscaped garden because it was commissioned by Cosimo the Elder as a place for thought and aesthetic pleasure rather than for labour and production.
The Sight of Da Vinci’s Test Flight
A short walk through the forest above the town will bring you to the summit of the hill from which Leonardo Da Vinci recorded his first test of his flying technology. The attempt was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. The famous inventor persuaded a willing disciple to throw himself off the hill wearing a pair of wings. Despite a few broken bones, Leonardo’s pupil lived to tell the tale, and the artist wrote about the test in his Codex on the Flight of Birds.
Discover these and countless other fascinating historic places and the stories behind them on one of ArtViva’s tours of Tuscany. We aim to not only show you the sights, but enrich your knowledge and understanding of this wonderful region.
Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing an innovative range of exceptional small group tours of Tuscany, from hiking and biking through the Tuscan countryside to unforgettable villa visits.
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