Three Towers of Tuscany
During May 2005 I visited Tuscany for the first time. It was delightful and the medieval towers of Pisa, Florence and Siena captured some of the essence of the region. Each tower is in the heart of their medieval city, now bustling with tourists and related commerce; they all emanate a feeling of ages of use and of civic pride. Each gives magnificant views of the city and its surrounding countryside which enables you to put the experience of the ancient place into the context of its region.
The initial impact is made by the distant view such as the seemingly impossible lean of the tower at Pisa. Everyone knows about it, but the actual sight is still amazing, particularly as it is surrounded by other magnificent buildings which are not quite truly vertical - it makes you wonder if any buildings really are - they are all human artifacts after all! The large green lawns and white stone make the tower appear relatively small, but the whole area is a masterpiece.
In Florence the colour of the stones – red, green and white – dominated my reaction as much as the hordes of tourists. The square is close to other streets and buildings and traffic around the area means you are distracted by noise. The tower seems small in girth next to the huge cathedral and the Baptistry.
At Siena the belltower is on one side of that wonderful curving central space and is an immediate focus of attention, there is no cathedral next to it to divert you. There is no traffic and tourist traps are limited, mainly to restaurants. There is no grass, but the soft colours of the stone are well set off by the brightly coloured flags and pennants. The tourists even seem more subdued, they have had to walk there as vehicles are not allowed, so many are resting.
You can climb up each tower and I did. Luckily you are not allowed to take bags, they are left in safe lockers and stores guarded by friendly and helpful staff. You just take your camera and some water. This means you have the energy to do the climb and can manouver up the narrow staircases past other people coming down. In each case the stairs are hard work, you climb through the skin of the tower lit by tall narrow windows. The spirals of Pisa were well worn and strenuous to climb but the openess at the top made it all worthwhile. The views are remarkable, particularly on the leaning side, straight down to the paving below. I would have loved to have repeated Gallileo's experiment with the weight and feather. The open space at the top, looking down on the bells was a surprise.
The hardest climb was in Florence where the stairs climbed straight up the sides of the square tower, too much for me without a rest, but luckily almost everyone else needed a rest too. The top gives the best possible view of Bruneschi's dome and makes all the effort worthwhile. The view really puts Florence in context with the surrounding Chianti vineyards and rolling countryside. The reality of Florentine politics comes home as well, the complex of buildings in red, green and white make a clear expression of the power and dominance of the regime which had them built.
Siena was very different again. The tower seemed easier to climb, but perhaps I was fitter with all the practice. There seemed to be more space but less light. The view at the top was probably the most beautiful. I just loved the Campo, the soft red of the stone and the fan shape created by the paving was extraordinary. The whole city on its hill spread out around you and all the buildings seemed consistent in style forming a coherent whole. There was a powerful statement here as well, but more one of community and sharing than the dominating power of Florence.
As you must be able to tell, I found Siena the most leasing, Pisa was the most beautiful and Florence exuded power and control. Together the three give an excellent impression of Tuscany both in history and the present.
Jane Grenfell 2005
Copyright © Jane Grenfell 2005