Tuscany may be the world’s only truly organic work of art. The region and all it contains is one enormous museum, both natural and man-made. Here, as in few other places, the beauty of nature and human creation are integrated into a harmonious whole.
For centuries the region has been the site of olive groves, wineries, and hills of unparalleled loveliness. At the same time, cities like Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, and Florence have provided works of architecture, painting and sculpture that are at the pinnacle of achievement.
Though much of the look of Tuscany is from the Middle Ages and beyond, this region of Italy has been settled for over 3,000 years. Ancient Etruscans built homes and fortresses that are still extant. The Romans continued the effort and there is still much evidence of their influence. But it was with the late Middle Ages and the aptly named Renaissance that Tuscany came into its present greatness.
The Duomo (or, cathedral) in Pisa alongside the famed Leaning Tower is just one example. Two of the finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture, both are still standing almost 1,000 years after their births. The Siena Cathedral is yet another example of an outstanding religious-themed building that continues to delight visitors nine centuries after its first brick was laid.
The towers of San Gimignano, first erected as defensive structures in the Middle Ages, show that even warfare in this Italian region created art. There are other grisly reminders in this Tuscan town of a different kind of art, one that inflicts cruelty rather than inspires. The Medieval Torture Museum here provides over 100 examples of objects that, unfortunately, brought this human endeavor to a high art, too.
But a grander, more elevating type of art can be found in Fiesole, just outside Florence. Here the Roman Theater, erected in the 1st century BC, still offers plays and musical performances 2,000 years later. Visitors can hear the lines of a comedy by Terence or Plautus that were first spoken here two millennia earlier.
In Tuscany, even the towns are works of art. The Piazza Grande in Cortona provides one outstanding example. This hilltop town sports a Town Hall from the 6th century. But that’s relatively recent compared to the ancient Etruscan walls erected over 2,600 years ago. The ‘modern’ Great Cloister of the Monastero Di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, built-in 1443, provides frescoes that are the envy of anything to be found in more famous Florence.
But, of course, that great republic still retains the top spot in man-made creations. The Galleria dell’Accademia housing Michelangelo’s David is one convincing piece of evidence. But the proof is sealed by the contents of the Uffizi Gallery, holding more Renaissance masterpieces per square yard than any other museum in the world.
Still, even the natural beauty of the Tuscan villas, the countryside and the great vistas of this peaceful corner of Italy compete well with the works of Raphael and Da Vinci. A short bike tour will persuade even the most ardent art lover of that.