The Birthplace of Renaissance
Carrara - Massa - Lucca - Pisa - Pistoia - Prato - Florence - Fiesole
Join us for an exciting new tour in Northern Tuscany: the landscape is marked by a vast range of features, from marble quarries to market gardens, and from mountain ranges and nature reserves to wonderful sandy beaches and medieval towns.

Carrara - marble quarries

Carrara and Massa
We begin our tour from Carrara, a charming town lying at the foot of the Apuan Alps, whose marble has been quarried since ancient times, and Massa, with its 16th c. Cathedral, Palazzo dei Cybo Malaspina and Castle. We will drive beyond the Apuan Alps and along a road through the Serchio Valley enjoying the enchanting landscape via Barga (Romanesque cathedral, the venue for the town's music festival) on our way to Lucca, the birthplace of Puccini.


The 16th century city walls are perfectly preserved, and laid out as gardens through which we can take a relaxing stroll before visiting the town's narrow mediaeval streets under the shadow of its towers, and wander into the squares with their Romanesque churches. The most outstanding monuments are the churches of S. Michele in Foro, a perfect example of Pisan-Luccan architecture, S. Frediano (12th c., with reliefs by Jacopo della Quercia), the Romanesque S. Maria Forisportam, and the Cathedral of S. Martino the city's chiefreligious monument (11th-15th centuries, with Jacopo della Quercia's tomb of the beautiful Ilaria del Carretto, 1408). Then there is the Pinacoteca art gallery, the tiered façade of S. Michele, the picturesque Via Fillungo (leading to the Roman amphitheatre, surrounded by mediaeval houses) and Via Guinigi with its 14th century houses. Just outside the town are a number of delightful Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-classical villas (Mansi, Torrigiani, Marlia and Garzoni di Pescia, with its splendid gardens, are the most outstanding).

Pisa - Campo dei Miracoli


It is only 21 kilometers to Pisa, with its unique monuments in Campo dei Miracoli - the huge lawn-covered 'Miracle Square' in which we can gaze in wonder at the Romanesque cathedral, with its bright, solemn interior, the Baptistery, the Leaning Tower and the adjoining cemetery (camposanto), built to bear witness to the prosperity and might of the ancient Marine Republic, which gave rise to a completely original type of pre-Renaissance architecture and sculpture whose main representatives were Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, and Arnolfo di Cambio. We must also see the Piazza, Church and Palazzo dei Cavalieri (16th c.). the Church of S. Paolo a Ripa d'Arno (11th-12th c.), and the Pisan Gothic Church of S. Maria della Spina, the National Museum of S. Matteo (valuable collection of Pisan sculpture and 12th-15th c. Tuscan paintings), as well as all the line buildings that line the River Arno, and Pisa's many splendid mediaeval churches.

Pistoia - Palazzo Pretorio
And so to Pistoia, to see the group of beautiful churches: S. Domenico, S. Francesco, S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas (12th-14th c.), with its extraordinary white and green marble-clad facade, the Renaissance church of the Madonna dell'Umiltà, the 12th c. S. Andrea, with the famous parchments and wooden crucifix carved by Giovanni Pisano. In the Piazza del Duomo, the center of Pisa's history and art, is the octagonal Baptistery, Palazzo Pretorio, Palazzo del Comune, and the Cathedral with its three tiers of Loggias adorning the facade, and the priceless altar of S. Jacopo on which Tuscan goldsmiths worked for over two centuries. The municipal museum (Museo Civico) and the Ospedale del Ceppo, with Giovanni della Robbia's polychrome terracotta frieze are also worth a visit. Not far away is Prato. Visit the cathedral the Galleria Comunale, the 13th c. Emperor's Castle.
Florence   Florence
Which brings us to Florence, an extraordinary city, whose art treasures are unparalleled anywhere in the world - a city of refinement and elegance, which gave Italy its national language, the cradle of Humanism and the Renaissance. Before venturing into the center of this captivating city, let us first drive up to Piazzale Michelangelo and survey it from above (if we have time, we can also see the nearby Romanesque church of S. Miniato al Monte, with its polychrome geometrical façade). Take Viale dei Colli down to the city, or go via Forte Belvedere. We should take at least three days to visit Florence, and so we will suggest a rough guide for lack of sufficient space.

Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore

Palazzo Vecchio
First Day
The first day starts in Piazza del Duomo, with the octagonal Baptistery, and its splendid bronze doors by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti (Michelangelo called one of Ghiberti's two doors, 'the gate of Paradise'), the Campanile by Andrea Pisano and Giotto, and the Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore itself, begun in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio, crowned by Brunelleschi's dome. The harmonious interior is a most worthy setting for the masterpieces it contains (works by Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno, Benedetto da Maiano, Giorgio Vasari, Luca della Robbia); then the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo with a Pietà by Michelangelo and the Donatello and Luca della Robbia's choir stalls; Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, by Michelozzo (1444-64), the Palace of Lorenzo il Magnifico, with its chapel decorated by the Benozzo Gozzoli's brilliant frescoes, Brunelleschi's S. Lorenzo, the Cappelle Medicee (Medicean Chapels), with the tombs sculpted by Michelangelo between 1524 and 1533.

We can then walk along via Calzaiuoli, passing the church of Orsanmichele which looks more like a fortress, to Piazza della Signoria, for one thousand years the center of Florence's life, and the scene of quarrels, celebrations and civil strife, dominated by the high tower ('Arnolfo tower') of Palazzo della Signoria, from which the square takes its name and whose Loggia is a tiny open air museum of masterpieces of sculpture. Palazzo Vecchio, the other name for Palazzo della Signoria is the handwork of leading artists between 1299 and 1500, building its courtyards in styles of different ages, adding richly decorated halls, and contributing masterpieces of art acrossthe centuries: this is where one can capture the spirit and the history of Florence, which has produced more art and culture than any other city in the whole world. Nearby is the Uffizi Gallery, which is probably the most famous in the world, with its masterpieces of Italian painting of every age (Cimabue, Giotto, Fra Angelico, Simone Martini, Botticelli, Leonardo, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio), and a representative selection of foreign schools (Dürer, Cranach, Van der Goes, Rubens, Rembrandt, etc.).

Ponte Vecchio 
Second Day
Another day we can stroll along the ancient streets, lined with handsome palaces and buy handicrafts and antiques in the many excellent shops for which Florence is justly famed. We can visit Palazzo Davanzati (Museo dell'Antica Casa Fiorentina), Ponte Vecchio (1345) with its traditional goldsmiths' shops, the monumental Palazzo Pitti (Brunelleschi and Ammannati) with its Galleria Palatina (works by Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens, Raphael, Ghirlandaio, Velazquez, etc.), and the Museo degli Argenti; not to mention Boboli garden, the Brunelleschi's Church of S. Spirito, and S. Maria del Carmine, with frescoes by Masaccio (1425-27). We will now go back across the Arno by Santa Trinita bridge, to visit the S. Trinita Church, Palazzo Rucellai, and then walk along Florence's most aristocratic street, Via de' Tornabuoni, lined with houses of the Florentine nobility, of which perhaps the best known is Palazzo Strozzi (1500), where the Antiques Fair is held every two years. Nearby is the Gothic-Renaissance Church of S. Maria Novella with its adjacent cloisters.

Beato Angelico Fresco 
Third Day
Our third walk will give a glimpse of yet more of Florence's masterpieces: the Museo di S. Marco (works of Beato Angelico), the Church of the Cenacolo di S. Apollonia frescoed by Andrea del Castagno, Brunelleschi's Spedale degli Innocenti with terracotta decorations by Andrea della Robbia, the Church of SS. Annunziata, the Archaeological Museum, the Galleria dell'Accademia which is mainly famed for a groups of works by Michelangelo. Our next visit in the center will be to the Museo del Bargello (works by Michelangelo, Donatello, etc.) and the Gothic Church of Santa Croce - the Pantheon of Italy's great men (Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini and Foscolo are buried here). Inside are works by Donatello and a cycle of frescoes by Giotto. To the right of the church stands Brunelleschi's magnificent Pazzi Chapel. For the leisurely visitor there is therefore an infinitude of museums, art galleries, palaces and churches to marvel at.
Fiesole - Badia Fiesolana
Surroundings of Florence
But there are also interesting things to do around Florence: the Medici villas at Poggio a Caiano, Cafaggiolo and Castello, or the peaceful Fiesole above Florence (Romanesque cathedral, Etruscan and Roman archaeological zone, Gothic Chapel of S. Francesco). One very pleasant run outside Florence is through the Arno Valley, Mugello, Pratomagno and Casentino through the verdant, hilly Tuscan countryside, amid grazing lands and woodlands in which the hermitages of Camaldoli and La Verna stand, far from the bustle of modern life, imbued with the stories and mystical legends surrounding the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.We will then drive up Colle della Consuma to the magnificent forest of Vallombrosa, Poppi, with its castle, Bibbiena and the ancient hamlet of Caprese Michelangelo, where we can see Michelangelo's birthplace, and Sansepolcro where two masterpieces of Piero della Francesca are preserved in its Municipal Museum.
Food and Wine

Caciucco alla livornese
• Tuscany
Florentines like to relate how their Caterina de' Medici, on marrying King Henry II in 1533, introduced the recipes and cooks that ennobled French cuisine. Country cooking attests to the seasonal goodness of garden produce: fava beans, artichokes and asparagus in the spring; tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini in the summer; all sorts of greens and mushrooms (especially plump porcini) in the fall; cabbages and chard in the winter. Among the traditional dishes: Pappardelle alla lepre (Flat wide tagliatelle with rich hare sauce); Ribollita (Hearty soup with beans, black cabbage, and other vegetables, thickened with bread); Bistecca alla fiorentina (Thick T-bone steak charred on the outside, pink inside, hefty slab of Chianina beef); Caciucco alla livornese (Piquant fish soup with garlic toast);
The Wines: Chianti, still the dominant force in Tuscan viniculture, has long rated as the most Italian of wines. Other classical wines are reds based on the native Sangiovese vine, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano, all DOCG.
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