Anyone who has ever been in Florence knows, the Tuscan city abounds in all kinds of “traces” left by Italian geniuses of the past. One such genius was the great scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who lived here for most of his life and died in his villa of Arcetri, a location on the hills of southern Florence where he was confined by the Inquisition. Today, Galileo rests in the Basilica di Santa Croce, alongside many other “Italian glories”. But there are some less crowded places in which his works and memories are also kept alive.
The first door you should knock on, if you are searching for some visible marks of Galileo’s enormous impact on the city, is the museum named after him. Situated just behind the Uffizi Gallery, in a charming square overlooking the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio, the entrance to Palazzo Castellani (which houses the Museo Galileo) is marked by the presence of a Monumental Sundial.
Formerly known as the “Institute and Museum for the History of Science”, it provides an extensive look at virtually all of the fields in which Galileo expressed his scientific genius, be it astronomy, physics, engineering, or mathematics. Each room includes ancient instruments and artifacts belonging to either the Medici Collections (16th–17th century) or the Lorraine Collections (18th–19th century), so as to carefully display the historical turning points in world science and especially Galileo’s leading role in it.
The central room of the museum is wholly devoted to him, with modern reproductions of some of his experiments on the concept of motion and on magnetic attraction. And yet Galileo did not become famous just for his revolutionary theories, but also because of his excellence in inventing new instruments, such as the geometric and military compasses, the telescope, or the thermoscope (hence the modern thermometer). Some of these objects – the only surviving ones by the scientist himself – are exhibited in this room, most notably two of his own telescopi and the original objective lens with which Galileo managed to discover the moons of Jupiter.
The genius quite literally left something of himself in this museum; a display case in the same room presents all visitors with the macabre but still somehow ironic sight of Galileo’s bony middle finger. Next to it, two other fingers and a tooth of his to complete this set of real “scientific relics”; a reminder of the saintly admiration with which Galileo has been adored by the scientific community since he first pointed those fingers to the sky.
As you leave the museum by way of the rooms showcasing virtual reproductions of Galileo’s theories and experiments, you’ll find how the sundial on the outside signals that much time has passed, but no matter the hour of the day, there is surely time enough to keep on searching for the traces this great genius left. In fact, cross the Arno and go for a ten-minute walk on the uphill lane called Costa di San Giorgio to find a little house in which Galileo lived for a short time.
Unfortunately, the interior is not available for visits, but you can nonetheless take a look at the pictured facade of the house, on which a portrait of the scientist appears.
For those who would like to learn more about Galileo, the best choice at this point would be to take a bus to Arcetri. Here, you will find another, more refined dwelling known either as Villa Il Gioiello (literally, “The Jewel”) or as Villa Galileo: it is the place where the great scientist served his house arrest during his last ten years. In this simple-facaded, U-shaped building – now belonging to the University of Florence – Galileo kept on writing about his scientific theories until his death, even though he had by then become blind; it was from here that he probably last looked up to the sky!
It is not by chance that on the same hill, not far from this awe-inspiring sight, now stands the ultimate modern tribute to the Tuscan scientist; by 1872, an important astrophysical observatory had been built here. Surrounded by a quiet park in which a scale model of the solar system has also been reconstructed, the Arcetri Observatory thus offers the best place to pay homage to Galileo’s genius with a simple visit and a closer look at the stars.
Imagine you have all the money in the world. Imagine you have all the space you want. Imagine you have the power to build anything you want, anywhere you want. No expenses, no permits, no regulations, except for your own sense of beauty and harmony. Well, this happened to a certain Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who lived in the 15th century and who is remembered in history as “Pius II, the humanist pope.” Pienza is a unique example of Renaissance civil urbanism, one of the best-planned towns in the world from the point of view of life-style and governance. It rises high on a ridge, in a strategic position, in the middle of the tranquil, undulating valley of the Val d’Orcia (the valley of the Orcia River), one of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever see. This valley, dotted by the tall cypress trees typical of Tuscany, appears to be almost untouched by time. Pienza and its buildings have also remained untouched, and today they still embody the perfect example of the Renaissance concept of the ideal way of life. Pienza is recognized today as the perfect symbol of Renaissance urbanism, since its perfect harmony exemplifies the principles of classical times and of humanistic philosophy. In 1996 UNESCO declared Pienza a World Heritage Site.
Pope Pius II was born in 1405 of a noble but impoverished family in the tiny village of Corsignano, in the province of Siena, in Tuscany. Many years later, after a scholarly, adventurous, amorous, diplomatic and most interesting life, replete with many long walking pilgrimages all over Europe, Enea Silvio became pope. Pope Pius II. He then decided to reward his native village. Humble Corsignano was razed to the ground, to make room for the ideal city that Pius II envisaged. And he called it after himself, PIENZA: the city of Pius.
Before his last great crusading burst of energy, Pius II had decided to make his native place special. He had employed an architect who understood his desire to build an ideal city. Pienza. This man was Bernardo Gambardella, nicknamed Rossellino (he probably had red hair). Rossellino was greatly influenced by the great architect Leon Battista Alberti. Rossellino was given the task to create a piazza, which is interestingly in the shape of a trapeze, and to build a Cathedral, a Papal Palace and a Town Hall, as well as all the other buildings, including houses for regular people, needed to form a whole harmonious and livable town.
The project was finished in just three years. The Cathedral is situated in Piazza Pius II, of course. The Pope especially requested that the stained glass windows be especially large, so that the house of the Lord would be literally a domus vitrea, a house of glass that would symbolize the light of the Humanist age. Four buildings enclose the piazza: the Palazzo Piccolomini, that is, the papal palace, meant to be a retreat from Rome; the Cathedral, which dominates the piazza with its tripartite shape, enhanced by pilasters and columns, uncommon in those days. The bell tower has a Gothic flavor reminiscent of the time Pius II had lived in Germany. The Bishop’s Palace was designed to house prelates who came to visit the Pope. It now houses a Museum. Across the Cathedral stands the Palazzo Comunale. All the buildings were built with travertine, the noble stone the ancient Romans loved to use.
What was then a little sleepy town has greatly developed: numerous hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops and boutiques have sprung up for the numerous tourists. But the town retains the same feeling of perfect harmony that Pius II had desired. The old abbey has become a magnificent hotel. The landscape, the people, the historical background, and finally the excellent wines (the fabulous Brunello di Montalcino and the historical Montepulciano) attract crowds of tourists. In fact, apart from the magnificent architecture, Pienza is a good city to visit because of its tasty cuisine in the Tuscan style. The Pecorino cheese of Pienza is especially famous, and the town honors it in the Saga del Cacio, The Feast of the Cheese, during which children compete in a “torneo” rolling balls of cheese. The numerous restaurants offer the best of Tuscan cuisine, accompanied by the best of Tuscan wines. And in every street, at every corner, the stones remind you of the old pope.
Red wine flowing from a fountain, offering a refreshment at the end of a long walk... it sounds too good to be true, but on Sunday, a wine fountain was inaugurated in central Italy.Locally-produced wine will flow from the fountain in Abruzzo, the first of its kind, and it's accessible 24/7.
The best part? It's completely free to help yourself to a glass.
The fontana del vino is located in Caldari di Ortona, in Abruzzo, along a popular pilgrimage route, the Cammino di San Tommaso.
"The wine fountain is a welcome, the wine fountain is poetry," the Dora Sarchese vineyard wrote on its Facebook page.
It noted that the fountain was not a place for "drunkards" or "louts", nor was it a "publicity stunt".
Thousands of pilgrims and tourists make the journey from Rome to Ortona, in order to visit the city's cathedral where the remains of Thomas, one of Jesus' disciples, are kept. The new fountain is a joint project of the vineyard and the non-profit organization which maintains and promoted the pilgrimage route.
Inspiration came from a similar red wine fountain installed along the Spanish pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago, a few years ago.
The Ortona fountain is not the first in Italy to offer wine, but its creators describe it as the country's first 'proper' wine fountain, because the wine will be accessible every day.
Some other fountains in Italy have been used to distribute wine, but only on special occasions such as local festivals. One of the most famous is in Marino, south of Rome; during the town's annual grape festival, for one hour white wine rather than water flows from the taps.
In 2008, a technical error - or was it a miracle? - saw the wine of Marino channelled into local homes instead of the fountain.
The Chianti area is home to amazing medieval castles. There are five tourism routes connecting small villages, churches, abbeys and castles in Gaiole in Chianti known as Strada dei Castelli (castle roads). For centuries, this area was prime battleground for face-offs between Siena and Florence. Castles and walled towns were built on hilltops as protection and to maintain control over the land. Today, some of them are part of huge wine estates which welcome visitors and help them discover incredible stories. Villas of Italy will visit Castello di Brolio in 2017!
Castello di Brolio, a huge Chianti Classico-producing estate and the oldest winery in Italy. Since 1141 the Castle has belonged to the Ricasoli, a very historic family of the Florentine aristocracy. One of the best known family members was Bettino Ricasoli, aka the “Iron baron.” Born in Florence in 1809, Bettino Ricasoli played a very important role in the history of the kingdom of Italy: elected Italian deputy in 1861, he succeeded Cavour as Prime Minister of Italy.
A member of the Georgofili Academy, (1834), he devoted himself to the improvement of agricultural techniques in Brolio. With a stiff and reserved temperament (that’s why he was called the Iron baron), at just twenty years old he began researching and experimenting with the aim of producing a high-quality wine in Chianti, able to compete internationally with the great French wines. After more than thirty years of research and experiments, in 1872 Baron Bettino Ricasoli wrote down the first Chianti formula:
“…I verified the results of the early experiments, that is, that the wine receives most of its aroma from the Sangioveto (which is my particular aim) as well as a certain vigour in taste; the Canajuolo gives it a sweetness which tempers the harshness of the former without taking away any of its aroma, though it has an aroma all of its own; the Malvagia, which could probably be omitted for wines for laying down, tends to dilute the wine made from the first two grapes, but increases the taste and makes the wine lighter and more readily suitable for daily consumption…”
According to current regulations, Chianti Classico must now be made from 80% to 100% Sangiovese grapes and other red grapes like Canaiolo.
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.