The New Opera del Duomo Museum, FLORENCE

“The artist sees what nature hides”,

– Filippo Brunelleschi

The Fabbriceria della Cattedrale di Firenze (Florence Cathedral Works) has served as working and storage space since the Middle Ages. Founded in 1296 by the Florentine Republic, it is known today as the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. This is where the world’s greatest collection of Florentine medieval and Renaissance sculpture has been preserved for over 700 years. It boasts masterpieces from the era’s major artists. It was here that Michelangelo carved the David, originally commissioned for the Duomo.

Museum entrance, Piazza del Duomo 9, with the bust of Cosimo I de’ Medici the Grand Duke of Tuscany, here to remind us that the Opera del Duomo was basically an organ of the Florentine Republic.

Since its opening to public in 1891 the museum has grown in size. The most recent transformation took place between 2010-2015. Now 750 artworks by masters from Donatello to Michelangelo can be admired here.

The spectacular new setup will take your breath away.



The museum is six thousand square metres. The exhibition itinerary has been aligned with the large marble and bronze decorations from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Bell Tower and the Baptistery.

The North Doors, by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1403-1424).

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore a.k.a. Florence’s most ancient art project.

“The citizens agreed to rebuild the main church of Florence, which looked small for so great a city. And so they ordered to make it grander in size and exterior adornment, all in marble and with carved figures… The church would be big enough to outshine any other building built so far, so that men could never create anything bigger or more beautiful.” – Giovanni Villani

Santa Maria del Fiore as seen at Italia in Miniatura theme park, Rimini

The building work was assigned to Arnolfo Di Cambio, who managed to complete the two aisles and part of the façade. Giotto designed the bell tower, and the whole project was crowned by Filippo Brunelleschi‘s gigantic dome, which took only sixteen years to complete (1420-1436). Brunelleschi originally envisaged the dome reinforced with mosaic decoration on the inside, but it was later frescoed by Giorgio Vasari,  who created the largest fresco at that time (1572-1579), of more than 3600 m2.

A passerby admires the statue of Filippo Brunelleschi in the Piazza del Duomo.

The Museum houses: the originals of many sculptural elements of the Cathedral complex, such as statues and decoration from Di Cambio’s original, unfinished façade with its giant, full-scale model.


On the opposite side, the ten panels of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (1425-1452), which in July 1452 obtained the place of honour right in front of the Duomo. Michelangelo gave the masterwork this name for its gilded beauty.


And then: wooden models of the dome, different design plans for the beautiful façade developed over the centuries, liturgical vestments, as well as the second of Michelangelo’s three Pietàs, one of his most mysterious works, which may have been intended to go on the sculptor’s tomb; he once famously tried to destroy it with a hammer. There’s also the beautiful Penitent Magdalene by Donatello, an older and suffering woman with a tender gaze.

In the Gallery of Giotto’s Belltower, you’ll find 16 larger-than-life statues (including the renowned three Prophets by Donatello), as well as the 54 scenes that adorned the belltower, which most consistent part saw Andrea Pisano at work, as mentioned in my previous post about this marvellous cathedral.

God creating Adam and other reliefs by Andrea Pisano and his workshop.

The Sala del Paradiso, the museum’s main hall, literally takes your breath away. Before the dismantlement of the unfinished medieval façade in 1587, the Florentine Paradise (the area between the Baptistery and the Cathedral) had been the richest decorated piazza in Europe. If you stand in the middle of the room, you can grasp the whole effect of the façade reconstructed here on the basis of a 16th-century drawing .

Over the centuries entire generations of artists, workers and artisans succeeded on each other. They dedicated their lives to this project, knowing they would never be able to see its conclusion. Today, men and women at the Opera del Duomo continue working on the project with the same pride of their predecetors.

Opening times: every day from 9am – 7pm

Entry: an all-inclusive ticket admits you to the Museum, the Baptistery, Giotto’s Belltower, Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Crypt of Santa Reparata, €15.

The visit ends with a panoramic terrace that offers a breathtaking view of Brunelleschi’s dome and the rooftops of Florence.

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Arezzo Is Always a Good Idea

Arezzo, a town about 80 km south-east of Florence, is universally known for its gold-working (since the Middle Ages) and the medieval jousting contest La Giostra del Saracino performed twice a year in the main piazza.

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Arezzo is the capital of the easternmost province of Tuscany, which gets far less attention. The town was once part of the Etruscan League, then turned into the flourishing Roman Arretium, and later a medieval commune.

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Among its native sons and supreme citizens were the poet and educated humanist Petrarch (1304-1374) and the talented artist and architect Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). Here Guido monaco taught music and went on to invent the basis of the modern system of musical notation. Roberto Benigni filmed in Arezzo the scenes of his Oscar-winning tragicomedy Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella, 1997).

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Start at the Duomo (Cathedral of San Donato), it’s magnificent. Facing the same piazza is the 14th-century Palazzo dei Priori.

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If you walk through the gardens, you’ll get to the 16th-century Fortezza Medicea. Situated atop the San Donato Hill, it was one of the three fortresses built to defend the city. It offers great panoramic views of the city and witnesses various periods of construction.

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A monument (1928) in the Prato Gardens honoring Francesco Petrarca.
A monument (1928) in the Prato Gardens honoring Francesco Petrarca.

Walk down the corso (Corso Italia), past the shop windows, cafés, and the beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria della Pieve with its unmistakable bell tower called “of the hundred holes”.

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From here you get to the most beautiful square of Arezzo (and one of the most beautiful in Italy) –Piazza Grande, with fine medieval buildings and the Vasari Loggia.

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Here the Giostra del Saracino takes place twice a year (in June and September). A historical re-enactment of a medieval knights’ competition between the four districts of the town.

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Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici in Piazza Grande.
Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici in Piazza Grande.

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Basilica of San Francesco
Basilica of San Francesco

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Inside is an amazing fresco cycle by Piero della Francesca – the extraordinary Cappella Bacci with the Legend of the True Cross;  not to be missed!

Numerous Etruscan tombs as well as remains of ancient Roman buildings have been recovered within the modern town. A trip to Arezzo wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre and Archaeological Museum: an interesting itinerary, where you can walk amongst the amphitheatre ruins and discover Arretium through the gems of the museum.

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You may also wanna visit Casa del Petrarca (in via dell’Orto, not far from the Cathedral, now the seat of Petrarch Academy of Arts and Science) and Casa Vasari (in via XX Settembre, rebuilt and frescoed by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century).

Around every other corner I stroll past there is something to explore and discover, like this interesting Fauna Selvatica exhibition.

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Envisioned by the province of Arezzo, the project owes its existence to the group of experts. 600 different pieces from birds to mammals represent the local fauna as well as the exotic wildlife. An insight into the biodiversity of our planet, with particular regard to environmental problems. The museum is a few steps away from the Cathedral, at n.3 of Piazza della Liberta. Open every first Sunday and the preceding Saturday of the month, free entrance, 9:30 – 13:00 and 15:30 – 19:00, or by appointment.

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Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, FLORENCE

‘…broad enough to cover with its shadow all the peoples of Tuscany’

   – Leon Battista Alberti, 1435

The largest in Europe when completed in the 15th century, and the 5th by size now, Santa Maria del Fiore is a marvel in the heart of Florence, a majestic church carefully decorated with attention to the finest detail.

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Everything in Santa Maria del Fiore is extraordinary: the splendid floor decoration in coloured marble, designed by Baccio d’Agnolo, the famous frescoes and busts honouring illustrious men. The whole cathedral interior is charged by surreal atmosphere. The brilliant colours of the stained-glass windows saw even Donatello involved, despite his personal antipathy towards Brunelleschi.


The circular stained-glass window high above the altar depicts the Coronation of the Virgin (1434-1437), and it is the only known surviving two-dimensional work by the greatest Florentine sculptor.


A vast cycle made up of 44 windows created in less than 50 years constitutes most gigantic single glass project in 14th and 15th century Italy. Outstanding for its chronological consistency, for the high percentage of original glass still in position today, and for the level of the artists who prepared the designs.


 The Assumption of the Virgin, the glass oculus of the façade designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, was restored in 2015 to revive its original colouring.


The one-handed liturgical clock over the main portal painted by Paolo Uccello in 1443 shows the 24 hours of the hora italica.

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1478 : Firenze faces a period of great political and cultural fervour: the commerce runs smoothly, the Florentine banks are among the most enterprising in the world, and there is a state of constant economic and socio-cultural ferment. Florence is the residence and meeting place of the main artists and thinkers. Its streets, washed by the Arno, are walked down by the greatest humanists and the most famous and appreciated architects of the time: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Perugino, Arnolfo di Cambio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Della Robbia, Filippo Lippi, Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, Giotto, Paolo Uccello, Vasari…

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Upon the death of Piero de’ Medici, known also as Il Gottoso (the Gouty), the city is ruled de facto by Lorenzo and Giuliano, who take over their father’s power, at the age of 20 and 16 respectively. They are fortunate enough to see the majestic Cathedral in its full beauty, standing proudly in the heart of the city. There is art everywhere. Priceless artworks created by the greatest artists of the time and rich colours of the monuments – bronze doors and statues, marble sculptures, mosaics and stained glass.


But, on Easter Sunday April 26, 1478 the cathedral was the scene of the Pazzi conspiracy, when Lorenzo and Giuliano were attacked during the Mass. Giuliano died aged 25, while Lorenzo managed to escape. The Pazzi, a rich and powerful Florentine family, would not be satisfied with their number two position and, supported by Pope Sixtus IV, had planned the attack. The Pope and Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, might have organized the military operation to seize the city of Florence and steal it from the Medici’s hands.

But Lorenzo survived and became even stronger, the patron of the arts and humanities, the ruler beloved of his people. It was his duty to treasure, transmit and glorify all the beauty born in those years, for future generations to come and admire.

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Piazza della Signoria, the lively beating heart of Florence, can be recognized as the scenario of crucial events in the city’s political life. Here in the late 1200s a series of projects were submitted, willing to showcase the status of Florence as one of Europe’s economic and cultural capitals and to affirm its supremacy.


In 1294 the Florentine government decided to build a new cathedral on the site of an ancient church of Santa Reparata (the city’s cathedral till that time which was “crumbling with age”) – an enourmous church, far bigger than the cathedrals of rival Tuscan cities Pisa and Siena. The work on the new church designed by Arnolfo di Cambio began in 1296, when on September 8th the first stone was laid. The Cathedral as we see it today is the result of 140 years of work. After Arnolfo’s death in 1310, Giotto was appointed to oversee the project, succeeded by Francesco Talenti, Giovanni di Lapo Ghini and other architects.


18 July 1334: construction work begins on the Bell Tower, to a design by Giotto, who had designed it more as a decorative monument rather than a functional bell tower, carried on after his death in 1337 by Andrea Pisano till 1348, then finished in 1359 by Francesco Talenti.


The gorgeous sculptural decoration of the bell tower comprises 56 reliefs on two registers and 16 life-size statues in the niches by Florentine masters Andrea Pisano, Donatello, Luca della Robbia and others.


The lower register reliefs facing the Baptistery depict biblical scenes (the creation of man and woman), the beginning of human work and also various trades (sheep-herding, metal-working, music and wine-making). Here the Florentines were displaying what made them proud and prosperous. While in the upper register are the seven planets, beginning with Saturn at the north corner. The originals of all these works are now in the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum.

Looking up at Brunelleschi’s Dome

By 1418 only the Dome remained incomplete. The architectural design competition for erecting the dome was won by Filippo Brunelleschi, who astonished everyone by proposing to carry out a project with no flying buttresses to support it. Lorenzo Ghiberti was appointed co-superintendent. Their lifelong competition remained sharp, and Filippo, forced to work side by side with his rival, faked illness, taking over sole responsibility of his project when Ghiberti admitted he was unable to carry out this field on his own.


Brunelleschi created the most elegant dome, the greatest affirmation of Renaissance architecture. The dome’s interior remained white for over a century. As we lift our gaze now, we can feel the mystical atmosphere emanating from the majestic Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. This is the largest single area ever frescoed (with its 3,600 metres²), finished after 7 years of work, inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (which took him 4 years to paint), with a lot of space given to Dante’s Divina Commedia.


“And then did I make another dome on top of this, to preserve it from the damp, and to give it a more magnificent and swelling appearance”, – in his own words Filippo Brunelleschi sums up the simple grandeur of his architectonic immagination – a dome inside a dome.


The Cathedral, consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on March 25, 1436 (the first day of the year according to the Florentine calendar), is dedicated to Madonna del Fiore (St Mary of the Flower), that is to Florence, and the ‘flower’ is in fact Christ – first fruit of our salvation.

When entering the Cathedral, one is struck by its vastness, as well as the simplicity that underscores the church’s dimensions.


The Baptistery of San Giovanni, across from the Cathedral, dates back to 897-1128. Built atop an ancient pagan temple dedicated to Mars, it is the oldest building in the square. Its octagonal shape symbolizes the octava dies (the eighth day without end) – the time of the Risen Christ. Embellished with costly marble in the 11th century and three sets of extraordinary bronze doors it is famous for between the 14th and 16th centuries. Once again, a competition. Once again, Brunelleschi vs. Ghiberti. This time Ghiberti was victorious.


The North Doors, by Lorenzo Ghiberti at the beginning of his career (1402-1425), with scenes from The New Testament.


The Gates of Paradise, to the east, with scenes from The Old Testament by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1425-1450). Only a few years ago they were black with grime, but now all the original gilding is visible. These bronze panels allow us to look into an infinitely deep space and admire all the extraordinary detail, so we can really understand why the Florentines were so proud of them and wanted to move them to the most prominent place.


The façade, completed between 1871 and 1887 to Emilio De Fabris’ design, in a neo-gothic style. The façade’s sculptures were dismantled in the late 1500s and it was left bare till 1800s.

The whole area includes the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the beautiful columns, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (il Duomo) with the excavations of Santa Reparata, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the new and enlarged in size Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum, all these sights have religious roots. Great artists of the past created their marvellous works to express their devotion to culture and Christian faith in order to enrich the life of Florence and all of humanity.

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Santa Maria del Fiore represents a real jewel in the heart of Florence, a masterpiece that helps us fully grasp the splendour Florence lived at the time, celebrated and praised by Dante. You could take forever just walking around this beautiful city. There’s something new to see down every street, around every corner…


“Florence, exult! for thou so mightily Hast thriven, that o’er land and sea thy wings Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell!” – Dante Alighieri

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Wine-Surfing in Tuscany (Cantine Aperte 2016)

I happen to love May and everything that comes along with it: the sunny days, the verdant hills, the many events, the balmy air and.., of course, Cantine Aperte. Italy wouldn’t be Italy if there was no wine involved!

Since 1993, member wineries of MTV (Movemento Turismo Vino) open their doors to personally meet the public on the last Sunday in May.

Tuscany, where outstanding wines and olive oil have been produced for centuries, is chock-full of great wineries. I wrote about some of them in my Cantine Aperte 2015 posts last year.

This year’s visit takes me  first to the gorgeous part of Tuscany near Florence and the bordering Chianti Classico region, Figline Valdarno. This medieval town was once known as the barn of Florence. Il Palagio estate, in the countryside, surrounded by vines and dark green, at-attention cypress trees, has been lovingly restored by Sting and his beautiful wife Trudie Styler.

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You can stop by, to taste and buy gorgeous wines, olive oil and more. Their Sister Moon is among the best 101 Italian wines.

The farm shop sells everything made or grown on the estate.

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What a stunning setting and beautiful winery! Surrounded by Chianti Classico vineyards, planted on steep hillsides to Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes.  They produce some gorgeous wines here. We lucked out and had postcard style weather.

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Tasting quality Carpineto wines: Dogajolo, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva and Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon.

Castello di Querceto

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This is one of my favourite estates, located in the northeastern corner of the Chianti Classico region.

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It’s an unforgettable place in the heart of Tuscany, one of the fabulous castle wineries of the area.

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We had a wonderful experience here, and I can highly recommend this family owned and operated winery for lovely wine tastings, or even accommodation in the Chianti Classico region.

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Peacocks in the park
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Beautiful garden, tended with love and care.

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Radda in Chianti

Not too far away is another Tuscan wine mecca – Radda in Chianti. The road to Chianti is picture perfect Tuscany. This landscape with vineyards and olive groves has become familiar through its depiction in Italian Renaissance paintings, and every corner of it is rich in Tuscan authenticity.

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Located halfway between Florence and Siena, the Castello di Radda wine estate lies atop a hill facing the town of Radda in Chianti.

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This winery is one of the biggest in the area, and the surrounding scenery is simply gorgeous!

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The view was amazing and the estate maintained impeccably.  In the glass: Castello di Radda Toscana IGT Rosato.

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Vittoria gave us a detailed explanation, a true immerson in the world of Castello di Radda and its working philosophy.

Il Borro

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I previously wrote about this estate a year ago, I like it so much and I visit several times a year.

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A great stop for winetastings!

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The stunning pool overlooking the undulating countryside. Life should always be like this…

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The village of Il Borro – a journey into medieval Tuscany.

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Tenuta La Pineta

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A big reason for visiting Tuscany is to not just sample the great wines, but to have it served to you by the families who make it. We spent a lovely afternoon touring the vineyard and heard Luca share with us his love and passion for winemaking.

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And here are some of the gorgeous products you can take home to remind you of your visit to this beautiful region.

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Cheers! And, a presto!

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San Gimignano – Monteriggioni

Val d’Elsa… there’s something seductively charming about this area, full of humble but beautiful hill towns with quite a few TCI orange flags on the way, immersed in the picturesque surroundings. It’s quintessential Tuscany at its best. I would certainly recommend a drive through this beautiful countryside, as this will give you an opportunity to explore the area at your own leisure.

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San Gimignano is a one-of-a-kind hilltop town in the province of Siena, spiked with fine medieval towers, or rather – medieval skyscrapers. They really form an unforgettable skyline, for which it is known internationally.

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The historical centre with its unique tower houses, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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Piazza della Cisterna and its beautiful buildings
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Church of St Francis

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In 998 San Gimignano was still a village along the Via Francigena and belonged to the bishop of Volterra. In High Middle Ages The Franciscan Trail became the route of Catholic pilgrims who travelled to Rome, and the town of San Gimignano was one of the most important transit and stopping points. In 1199 the town gained its independence from the bishops of Volterra and established a podestà.

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The town walls, destroyed in the war against the Florentines in 1255, and reconstructed a few years later.

The world’s first ‘Manhattan:

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Today we can admire 16 of the 72 towers of the thirteenth century, when every well off family would build a stout tower. In medieval times the tower was the higher symbol of power. The house served a defensive function. Workshops occupied the ground floor: this is where they would have had a store. Then there were bedrooms on the first floor, and the higher level consisted of the kitchen, following security rules, as this was the place where the fire was usually lit. There was no interior staircase, so ladders and rope-ladders were used to get inside and reach the upper floors. The front door was narrow and no one wearing armour could possibly enter.

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Piazza del Duomo with its mighty main buildings

Palazzo Comunale, built between 1289 and 1298, is one of the most ancient public buildings in Tuscany. It offers gorgeous views (of the town and the whole Val d’Elsa region) from its 54-metre-high tower – La Torre Grossa – San Gimignano’s highest tower. The two upper floors house the town museums: you can visit the Palazzo, the Picture Gallery, the famous room ‘Sala di Dante‘ (where the poet in his role of ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany was hosted in 1300), and finally, admire the courtly frescoes and prestigious works by the great Sienese and Florentine artists dating back to the 13th and 17th centuries.

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Palazzo Comunale

The Romanesque Duomo is a temple of faith and art. The cathedral’s highlight are the walls, entirely lined with frescoed scenes of the Old and New Testament by Bartolo di Fredi and Lippo and Federico Memmi. They are truly beautiful. And so is the famous Chapel of St. Fina, featuring Domenico Ghirlandaio’s frescoes. The chapel was built in 1468 and houses the shrine of the saint born in San Gimignano in 1238.

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The “Twin” towers, erected by the Salvucci family to bypass the Communal Statutes of 1255, according to which no tower in town could be higher than the Podestà’s Tower Rognosa. But the two towers, if put together, were definitely higher!

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Piazza della Cisterna, a building-lined triangle, with an octagonal travertine well (that gives the name to the square) and redbrick pavement with irregular triangular patterns.

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Salvucci Towers, Palazzo Podestà with its huge arched loggia and La Torre Rognosa (51 metres high). In 1298 the podestà moved to the new Palace, while this building was used as a hotel for distinguished guests.

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Rocca di Montestaffoli, a beautiful place. Its only turret open to visitors offers unforgettable views, of both the town’s skyline and gorgeous countryside.

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Savouring local produce at Caffè Giardino in Viale Roma 17: here you can taste typical Tuscan dishes, coldcuts, cheeses, wine, as well as pasta, salads and homemade schiacciata, all of this accompanied with a stunning view!

Of course, no visit to San Gimignano is complete without trying its famous wine. Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG is one of the best white wines in Italy, said to inspire popes and poets. Its typical straw-yellow colour with golden nuances and an elegant and delicate bouquet is a journey through the wine of San Gimignano, produced from the ancient variety of Vernaccia grapes which grow on the sandstone hillsides of the area.

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On the town’s festive calendar is The Ferie Delle Messi, an annual medieval festival held on the third weekend of June.

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Another brilliant example of medieval architecture in the area is Monteriggioni. Erected to keep the powerful neighbours of the Florentine Republic at a safe distance from Siena, its fifteen towers and the encircling walls are the symbol of its former power.


Today, walking down the main street that connects the two gates – La Porta Fiorentina and La Porta Romana – means uncovering legends and panoramas of the past, when the town represented the Sienese gate into the Elsa valley.

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Piazza Roma lit by the sun, where vines and olive trees fill the area with gentle twinings.

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Walkways along the top of the castle walls with its original 13th-century architectural features, which are oh-so-familiar to all the passionate fans of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

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Breakfast at Il Feudo, Monteriggioni
Rocca di Montestaffoli, San Gimignano
Rocca di Montestaffoli, San Gimignano

Despite the passing of the centuries, both San Gimignano and Monteriggioni managed to preserve their medieval architecture and charm, able to impress the travellers so deeply.

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La Verna Sanctuary, Peace of Mind and Franciscan Lore

La Verna, rising above the valley of the Casentino, a few kilometres from the small town of Chiusi della Verna, is one of the most important places of devotion for Franciscans. Numerous visitors find the place really moving. I guess because it awakens your senses and combines all the crucial elements for reflection and communion with nature. Here you can relax and restore your spirit.

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The Sanctuary can be reached by car, driving along the winding road lined up with spruce and beech trees of the National Park of Casentino forests.

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This pilgrimage site, situated in the centre of the Tuscan Apennines, about 43 km northeast of Arezzo and 120 km northwest of Assisi, offers priceless views and silence of the remote countryside, which justifies the special affection of the visitors.

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The mountain known as La Verna was given to Saint Francis by Count Orlando of Chiusi in 1213, as a retreat for contemplation. In 1224 St. Francis withdrew to it to pray and fast. During this time he received the Stigmata (the wounds of Christ).

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The main entrance to the Sanctuary, easily reachable from the parking area, and the welcoming statue of St. Francis with a child.

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The Chapel of the Stigmata is reached by a long corridor frescoed with episodes from the life of the saint. Along this corridor the friars have walked in procession every day at 3pm since 1431.

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Halfway down the corridor is an ancient door that leads to a grotto with a large slab of stone at the end – ‘the bed‘ where the saint rested.

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The Precipice, with a short walkway around the rock. Located at 1228 mt above sea level, it offers stunning views of the valley below. Soak in the silence, take time to enjoy it all.

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The Quadrant – the paved square with a view, a large wooden cross, a sundial on the wall of the bell tower and a 16th-century well, that was used for pilgrims and guests.

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The Basilica of the Sanctuary, which houses La Cappella delle Reliquie, and Santa Maria degli Angeli, a chapel founded by Saint Francis in 1216. Today, there are several small chapels conductive to prayer and meditation to visit, as well as a museum. The sanctuary has many important historical artefacts and a number of beautiful Della Robbia lead-glazed terracotta artworks.

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The Sanctuary of La Verna is open daily from 6:30am until sunset. Masses are held several times a day.  A visit here can be truly inspirational!

Happy Easter everyone!

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Crete Senesi and Val d’Orcia, Off-Season (Pienza, Montalcino)

Welcome to the Lands of Siena!


Val d’Orcia represents an important natural, artistic and cultural area. In 2004 it was added to the list of UNESCO World Cultural Landscapes for the excellently preserved panorama, which had a very strong impact on many Renaissance artists, and as “The Val d’Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was rewritten in Renaissance times”.

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If you are staying in Siena, you could use a day or two and head south to explore the mystical countryside of Val d’Orcia, visit Pienza, Montalcino and other towns in the area. Between November and April you can still expect pleasant weather and avoid the stress of the high tourism season.

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Pienza is a photogenic Renaissance-planned town nestled in the scenic landscape of Val d’Orcia on the Montepulciano – Montalcino axis. This is the best area to enjoy the quintessentially Tuscan landscapes with gentle, carefully cultivated hills, picturesque olive groves and vineyards and towns proudly marked with orange flags, awarded by the Touring Club Italiano (TCI) for excellency in hospitality and territorial identity.

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Pienza’s history is tightly bound to Pope Pius II of the Piccolomini family, born here in 1405, and his will to transform in the 1400s the little medieval village named Corsignano into a truly Renaissance Papal residence, renamed Pienza after the Pope.

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The Town Hall and the main buildings face Pienza’s main square, Piazza Pio II. Facing Town Hall is the Cathedral, a church whose simple Renaissance façade boasts the Piccolomini family coat of arms.

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In this very square every year in September the Palio del Cacio al Fuso takes place: a contest, pitting six neighbourhoods of the town against each other, followed by a feast.

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The target (il Fuso, a wooden spindle) is placed in the centre of a marble circle, left in Piazza Pio II by Bernardo Rossellino (sculptor and architect), and other circles are drawn in chalk around it. The players kneel on the carpet and roll a round of Pecorino di Pienza cheese, trying to aim as close to the centre of the ring as possible in order to score more points.

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Il Caffè La Posta, the famous café on the corner of Piazza Pio II and Corso Rossellino, the setting for an Italian coffee brand ad in the 1990s. Italianize your coffee habits here: drink it standing up at the bar. Your coffee here is a must!

Nearby, the town’s main drag, Corso Rossellino, an atmospheric lane lined with shops featuring the work of artisans and producers.


A World Heritage Site since 1996, Pienza’s old town centre is probably the richest of Val d’Orcia in history, art and culture.

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Sit at a café on the main square or wander the main street with a smattering of shops; head to an enoteca for a glass of Tuscan wine and find its perfect accompaniment savouring the delights of the area, like the aforementioned and delicious Cacio di Pienza. Take advantage… and maybe, take some home!

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Montalcino, the wine-lovers’ paradise, is easily reached from Siena following the Cassia route ss2.

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The historical centre of Montalcino is dominated by the mighty Rocca (the Fortress, built in 1361) that gives us a glimpse into the medieval town and offers dramatic views of the Orcia Valley.

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The Clock Tower that graces Palazzo dei Priori (the city's Town Hall), and the Gothic Loggia in Piazza del Popolo.
The Clock Tower that graces Palazzo dei Priori (the city’s Town Hall), and the Gothic Loggia in Piazza del Popolo.

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The narrow streets of Montalcino with their stone pavements are truly enchanting, and crawling with wine-loving tourists. In 1967, a small group of winemakers founded the Brunello di Montalcino consortium.

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Head to the atmospheric enoteche to appreciate this famous wine, which ranks among Italy’s finest and most prestigious. Its precious formula, invented in 1888 by Ferruccio Biondi Santi, uses only Sangiovese grapes.

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Crete Senesi is the area southeast of Siena, where the landscape is often described as lunar due to the distinctive grey colour of the soil. This characteristic clay represents the sediments of the Pliocene Sea which covered the area between 2.5 and 4.5 million years BP.

The semi-arid area known as the Accona Desert, characterized by calanques and dome-shaped formations ('biancane').
The semi-arid area known as the Accona Desert, characterized by calanques and dome-shaped formations (‘biancane’).

You can drive through the Tuscan countryside connecting the hilltown dots, and perhaps accompany this with a visit to some local producers.

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Buonconvento is a medieval town 25 km southeast of Siena, that welcomes us to the Crete Senesi area. It is officially listed among the Most Beautiful Italian Villages. The old town centre is still surrounded by the walls built between 1371 and 1385 to defend and fortify the town.

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The Church of SS. Peter and Paul houses an Enthroned Madonna with Child and Angels by Mateo di Giovanni (c. 1450) and a fresco of the early 15th-century Sienese School.

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The buildings recount the history of the town, like the Town Hall façade with a clock and its 25 coats of arms of the podestàs, high officials who governed Buonconvento until 1270.

San Giovanni d’Asso, about 30 kilometres southeast of Siena, is overlooked by a large castle, now home to a large white truffle museum. There is a festival celebrating the rare and fragrant tuber each year – Sagra del Tartufo Marzuolo, in March.

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Approaching Asciano..
Approaching Asciano..
Approaching Asciano, the Cacciaconti Castle of Trequanda
The Cacciaconti Castle of Trequanda

Asciano is a tiny town right in the heart of the Crete. Easy to visit and with its own subtle charms, I guess it remains a good stop.

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A 5th century BC Etruscan necropolis excavated nearby and the Roman baths remains (with a fine mosaic pavement found in 1899) bear witness to the Etruscan and Roman former presence here.

The 11th-century Romanesque Basilica of Saint Agatha and its 13th-century bell tower.
The 11th-century Romanesque Basilica of Saint Agatha and its 13th-century bell tower.
A Madonna with Child and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel by Girolamo del Pacchia.
A Madonna with Child and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel by Girolamo del Pacchia.

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Piazza del Grano with its beautiful fountain in travertino and Palazzo del Podestà.
Beautiful palazzi and travertine fountains.

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Corso Matteotti introduces the visitor to the Gothic Church of San Bernardino and the Church of St. Augustine.

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It doesn’t take long to walk each lane in the tiny town.

To conclude our tour is Locanda Amordivino, in Corso Matteotti, with gorgeous food and wines.
To conclude our tour is Locanda Amordivino, in Corso Matteotti, with gorgeous food and wines.

The history of Crete and Val d’Orcia dates back to the Etruscans and offers rich cultural experience, with lots of works of art, as well as high quality gourmet products, like i Pici (long thin homemade pasta typical of the Crete), i salumi di Cinta Senese, il Pecorino di Pienza, il Brunello di Montalcino, oil and saffron, that can be worth a short trip. 

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I found the whole area enchanting and a delight to explore, with all its rustic good living, gentle beauty and fascinating history. Of course, these towns make a great hill town day trip from Siena, and are best enjoyed by adapting to the pace of the countryside.

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Caprese Michelangelo

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Situated in the green of the God’s Little Valley – as they call it, Caprese Michelangelo with its remote beauty is where the Renaissance God Michelangelo Buonarroti was born.

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There’s something emotional about this atmosphere that welcomed the artist more than 500 years ago. Beech, chestnut and oak woods make the uncontaminated area particularly healthy, decidedly far from the busy city.

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After having acquired the county of Arezzo in 1384, the Republic of Florence sent its nobility, the podestà (judicial administrators), to act as representatives in its new land. The areas of Caprese and Chiusi used to be under the same jurisdiction, so that the podestà in office had to reside alternatively six months in the Palazzo Pretotio in Caprese, and six months in the Rocca di Chiusi. Nearly a century later, in 1474, the nobleman Ludovico Leonardo Buonarroti was awarded the office of Podestà, and it was in this very period that the Renaissance genius Michelangelo Buonarroti was born, in Caprese on 6th March 1475.

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Palazzo del Podestà, the birthplace of Michelangelo. Here the life of the most famous artist of all times began.  The Museum in his childhood home now houses a documentation centre and a collection of photographic reproductions and plaster casts of the artist’s works.

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The building with the double sloped roof, the masonry in irregularly shaped ashlars and the bell-gable with bells dating back to 1297 is the Church of St. John the Baptist. Michelangelo was baptized here. The church also houses a 15th century tabernacle by Cristofano di Landuccio.

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If you like an autumn sagra, you should pay a visit to the chestnut festival held in October and try the famous Caprese chestnut, as well as lots of other delicious produce: mushrooms, honey, gorgeous cheeses, and even chestnut beer!

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Sansepolcro, A Treasure Trove of Art

Sansepolcro is a Tuscan town rich in history, art and traditions, situated in the idyllic Tuscan Tiber Valley. Once under Papal rule, the town then passed to the House of Medici and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in the 15th century.


The Cathedral, built in 1012, was initially dedicated to the Four Evangelists, whose relics had been brought here by two local pilgrims Arcano and Egidio on their return from the Holy Land. The name ‘Sansepolcro’, in fact, derives from the Holy Sepulchre. 

Here you can admire Il Volto Santo, an imposing wooden crucifix (9th century), and The Ascension of Christ, the fascinating Altarpiece by Perugino (1510). Next to the Cathedral is the 16th-century Palazzo delle Laudi, now the Town Hall.

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Sansepolcro is famous as the birthplace of Piero della Francesca (1416 – 1492). The great artist left a lot of works in his homeland, easily distinguished by the daring foreshortenings and beautiful views of the Valtiberina. Mementos of his days in the Upper Tiber Valley are everywhere and his major works may be seen in the Civic Museum.

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The Church of Saint Francis and, across the road, the artists’s birthplace in via Aggiunti.

Palio della Balestra is a 5-hundred-year-old cross bow tournament held annually in September between Sansepolcro and Gubbio. During the Middle Ages and early Renaissance such tournaments were aimed at encouraging the target practice by citizens in charge of the defence of their towns. Cosimo de Medici, while visiting Sansepolcro, took part in the Palio and even shot a crossbow himself. This is the time when Sansepolcro brings back to life the atmosphere of Piero della Francesca’s time, with colourful streets, beautiful Renaissance palaces and gorgeous costumes worn by madonnas and notables, just like those in Piero’s frescoes.

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Aboca Museum, an interesting herb museum with faithful reconstruction of ancient laboratories, that shares the ancient tradition of medicinal plants. The museum recounts herbal lore through the centuries, from the dawn of mankind’s existence, when medicinal herbs were eaten as they were or prepared very simply, followed by the alcoholic distillation discovery (X century AD), the development of alchemy centuries later, and finally, the nineteenth century pharmacy. Here’s the museum’s philosophy: “Medical plants are nature’s gift, created for all living beings“, and “If man so wants, he can find remedies to all his ills in nature“.

You can also visit the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie with a masterpiece by Raffaellino del Colle (1555) and the Church of San Lorenzo with a Deposition by Rosso Fiorentino (1528).

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Craftwork still plays an important role here, there are some restoration schools, ceramics workshops, goldsmith artists and lace production. Sansepolcro, I guess, is still pretty close to a place Piero could call home.

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Monterchi, an Autumn Invitation

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One of the great reasons to visit Monterchi is the extraordinary fresco of the Madonna del Parto (1455-1460) by Piero della Francesca (1415-1492), recently restored and now exhibited in a special display area in his mother’s native town.

Monterchi is a little Tuscan town, perched on a hill on the border with Umbria. It originated as a holy site for the Ancient Romans. The name derives from Heracles, ‘mons Herculi‘, who, according to the legend, founded the town after defeating the Hydra (the 9-headed monster, reproduced on the municipal coat of arms).

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Visit the picturesque Piazza Umberto I at the top of the old village. It is often turned into an open-air stage with bars, food stalls and souvenir stands during the local events like the polenta festival, Sagra della Polenta, which occurs annually in September. It’s a three-day event with dining and entertainment, as well as walks, concerts and contests. On the menu: sausages, mushrooms and polenta, of course.

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