Fabulous Fiesole

On the last morning of a five-day visit to Florence, the Solo Lady Traveller fled the grey granite walls and crowded footpaths of the city, jumped on the Number 7 bus from Piazza San Marco and took a 20-minute ride across the Arno River and up the winding road to Fiesole, through gardens spilling over high walls enclosing lovely villas, impressionist glimpses of stone walls, orange tile roofs, pink bougainvillea, oleander, and cypress trees spearing up into a cloudless blue sky and framing the view down to Il Duomo. Fiesole The bus dropped me at 9am in the Piazza Mino, where by happy chance, it being Saturday, white umbrellas where being set up for the weekly market; crates of vegetables and books, strings of salamis, buckets of flowers, wheels of cheese, and assorted jewellery, china and plasticware were being unpacked. Children were running around the fringes, chasing up the steps of the bright yellow Palazzo Communal, riding bikes on the circular road around the Piazza as did the gladiators and procession when it was the Roman forum of Fesulae. Around the edges of the piazza, nestled under large shady trees, people sat at little tables drinking an early morning coffee. The sun gilded all with joy, including the heart of the Solo Lady Traveller. Leaving the joys of coffee and market for later, a few steps down the Via Marini brought me to the open-air Etruscan and Roman Archaeological Museum, where the shutters were just going up. For a modest 10€ I wandered down a path and there, spread below me wrapped in emerald-green velvet foliage, and framing the slightly misty Tuscan countryside, was a wonderland of Roman and Etruscan ruins. fiesole_museum I found that I was magically alone in the gardens and ruins, silent except for birdsong from amongst the cypresses and the crunch of my feet on the gravelled paths. I will not bore you with step by step descriptions of the ruins, see the link provided here. For over an hour I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high (thank you Mr Wordsworth) amongst the broken endeavours of over a thousand years of empire and dominion, destruction, and again empire. Fiesole was an Etruscan town settled about 9thC BC, and their massive stone walls which ringed the town remain on the northern edge of the town. In 283 BC the town was conquered by Rome and became a centre for augurs and divination, and perhaps as a legacy, it has sense of 'otherness', as though you had stepped beyond the veil. It was the site of a significant victory by Rome over the Vandals, but was swept by waves of history until conquered in 539 by the Byzantine emperor Justinus who razed the fortifications. During the Middle Ages Fiesole and Florence fought each other for dominance over centuries until Florence finally defeated Fiesole, which became a countryside retreat for wealthy Florentines including the Medicis. Many of their villas remain, hidden behifiesole_etruscan_ruinsnd hedges and stone walls, and Fiesole is still retreat for the uber-wealthy and powerful. (Despite, I admit, a lot of peeking during my stroll around town, I could not see into any of these fabulous villas.) None of this violent past intruded into my silent and solitary wanderings amongst the Roman baths, the Etruscan temple from the 4thC AD, the amphitheatre, and the fallen stones. Not a person came, and I sat on stones cut and placed by Etruscans almost 2000 years ago and let the early morning sun fall gently around me. Fiesole_civic_museumThe site includes the Civic Archaeology Museum, which houses amongst other things a fascinating display of Etruscan bodies and their tombs excavated from the area, many with their belts, tools, axes or jewellery. The building itself is lovely, with marble walled and floored rooms and also tunnels into the hill to view artefacts. There is also of course a large collection of Etruscan and Roman statues, pots, and artefacts. IMG_3098 On the way back to the piazza brings you pass the Bandini Museum (entry included in the ticket for the archaeological area) which is small but lovely, with religious paintings by della Robbia and others. Well worth a quick look in, even if like me you do not like all that sanctity and blood and are only on a quick visit. However my main aim by then was coffee. Possibly 2 cups, to see me through a wander around the market until lunch. The shaded green benches and red-chequered cloths on the north side of the piazza beckoned, and I answered their call.  Heaven. Fiesole_piazza_marinThe market was wonderful, just Fiesoli chatting between their stalls, chopping off huge chunks of cheese, slicing tastes of salami, calling at children who ran too close. But what a sad thing a market is, when you are catching a plane  in the afternoon (hand luggage only) and can not buy! A very pleasant lunch and back on the Number 7; so much I did not see in my morning visit. Goodbye Fiesole, lying bathed in sunlight and serenity, you were the loveliest part of my visit to Florence! Facts The No 7 bus departs frequently from Piazza San Marco outside the patisserie. Etruscan and Roman Archaeological Museum - Via Portigiano, Fiesole. Open 9.30-7pm in summer. Admission 10€ includes entry to the Civic Archaeology Museum and the Badini Museum. Civic Archaeology Museum - Open 10am - 7pm except Tuesday in summer. Bandini Museum - open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am.
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