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The Fiesolano Landscape

Fiesole and its landscape, in which we can read the passage of time and the fascinating mixture of history, culture, art and nature, are the result of a thousand-year-old story that belongs to the civilization of the world, what characterizes the hills in an exceptional way fiesolane is the symbiosis between man and nature. In Fiesole, this harmony has very remote roots, since the Etruscan dominion already established a balanced relationship between the urban aristocracy and the structures of agricultural production, a relationship then maintained by the Romans and in the following centuries. From the fifteenth century to today the beauty of the landscape, the valuable heritage rich in archaeological and artistic testimonies has never failed. The image of Beautiful landscape is the one that immediately refers to the pictorial scenarios of Duccio, Beato Angelico, Benozzo: a countryside with extraordinarily harmonious forms with mixed crops, married vines, villas on the hills and farmhouses scattered in the countryside .

The Fiesole landscape is mainly a hilly landscape that extends between the Arno and Mugnone valleys, two different valleys, the first wide and airy towards east-west and that of the tributary, narrower and elongated in the direction of the folds of the relief, in a north-south direction. ‘ Orientation is a fundamental factor, it defines the exposure, determines different microclimates that can be read in the different vegetation, in the toponyms of the places, such as Il Salceto, Il Castaceto, which in the Mugnone valley, colder and hit by the north wind, indicate the presence of mesophilic broad-leaved trees, s suitable for a cool and humid mountain environment. Fynes Moryson, the great English traveler, in Italy at the beginning of the seventeenth century for the Grand Tour, describes Fiesole as seen from the city of Florence: “To the north and east the city is surrounded by pleasant hills planted with orchards that extend all over ‘around them like an amphitheater; behind them, in the distance, the high ridges of the Apennines act as solid walls for the city “. Thus the hilly reliefs show particularly gentle shapes, the paths proceed uphill between pine and cypress groves, at times the wood opens onto olive groves with one or more farmhouses in the center, manor villas surrounded by parks and gardens, but the crops agricultural, despite the proximity of the city, manage to maintain the “natural” character of these places. Until the beginning of this century the thick patches of resinous trees that can be admired today did not exist, in fact they are reforestation of pines and cypresses on rocky terraces previously stripped of the original mantle of oaks, oaks and turkey oaks. John Temple-Leader, ‘the English squire who settled on these slopes towards the end of the nineteenth century by purchasing vast possessions, had a fundamental role, as well as in the construction of the Castello di Vincigliata, also in the creation of the landscape around the castle itself up to Maiano.

The vegetation cover of Monte Ceceri is similar, where reforestation has been carried out in a massive way since 1929, to rehabilitate the situation of degradation caused by the intense exploitation of the sandstone quarries of Maiano. This hill has a very different geological nature from that of the surrounding hills, linked to the presence of beaching them belonging to the formation of the boulder. In Maiao the quarries that were used for Florentine masterpieces were in use until the fifteenth century, when it came to count up to 40. Francesco Rodolico writes: “the boulder and its varieties [pietra serena e pietra bigia] abound between Monte Rinaldi and Monte Ceceri “‘and reports this description by Agostino del Riccio:” There is so much copy of various stones around the city […] that it is no wonder that the temples and churches, towers, palaces, tenements, lodges they amaze all foreigners “. Henri Desplanques describes the Tuscan landscape in this way:” The hill took on a joint identity […] also in relation to a particular type of agricultural landscape: that of mixed cultivation. The rural landscape has always had a touch of elegance in Tuscany. Production efficiency was indissolubly married to the superfluous: sometimes a few trees, a single cypress or a row placed near a house, along a ridge, along the borders of a field, a dark row of cypresses, plants to which many can be attributed meanings but, rarely, the productive ones, to indicate a farm or a stately residence. “Old-style agricultural crops and arrangements characterize the sweet hills, as stated by Pietro Porcinai, the great landscape architect who had chosen Villa Rondinelli, located along the Via Vecchia Fiesolana , to work: “The Tuscan landscape is similar to a garden, it possesses its logic and identity for this reason it must be cultivated to preserve it, but it is necessary to give this productive purpose a broader connotation including both the historical-cultural aspects and the aesthetic “. I ° The Fìesolano rural landscape has remained archaic for various aspects and today is of interest as a historical document and, according to Porcina, i: “The landscape is a palimpsest, a stratification of works of interventions for which one can read the history of a people as if one had a book open in front of one’s eyes”. Every moment of history is expressed in the landscape with its own footprints, linked to the needs of that period and its culture.

The gardens play a fundamental role in the Fiesole landscape, drawing the characteristic features of what is considered one of the most famous landscapes in the world. In describing the Fiesole villas and their gardens, Wharton expresses herself: “the result is a wonderful development of those effects that can be permanently obtained from the other three factors of the scenography of a garden: stone, water and evergreens. Their shape and structure , the materials and vegetal elements are closely linked and dependent on the environment in which they are inserted. A landscape of gardens, in which the cypress always plays a predominant role, or grouped in large tidy spots or in rows on sloping terraces, where there are also the noblest ornamental species: laurel, viburnum, lentage, holm oak, turkey oak, downy oak. The background consists of the olive tree which recalls the supporting role played by the countryside in the construction of this landscape. The olive tree has a glorious past, a promiscuous cultivation structural component of the beautiful landscape. The olive trees that have survived the socio-economic transformations that, in the frosts of 1985, face an uncertain future: the choice is between abandonment and experimentation in search of new models. The landscape marked by the olive tree always assumes an aesthetic value of high value, the result of a high search for the useful, but perhaps also of an innate sense of beauty, of a love for this plant due to its intrinsic symbolic value. It is legitimate to believe that there was a constant cross-reference between Renaissance pictorial images and gardens, borrowed from literary descriptions.

We can refer to pictorial images, such as the famous representations of Angelico in the Last Judgment, in which the detailed representation of nature evokes a climb in Fiesole, or of Benozzo Gozzoli who in the Journey of the Magi, in the Chapel of the Magi in Palazzo Medici Riccardi represents the Medici Tuscany. Boccaccio, on the sixth day of the Decameron, describing the landscape that surrounded his beautiful Valley of the women, “small mountains sloping gayly towards the plain descended, as in theaters we see from the top the lowest to the lowest degrees being subsequently ordered, and these were all of vineyards, olive trees, almond trees, cherry trees, figs and other manners of full fruit trees “. “Ancient commentaries believed to identify in this description the hilly landscape of Fiesole, the exceptional settlement system that climbs up via Vecchia Fiesolana with terraces to culminate in the Medici villa and in the” lunate “hill between San Francesco and Sant’Apollinare. Fiesole, favored from the privileged geographical position that allows you to enjoy one of the most evocative views of Tuscany from various hills, it suggests at first sight that this prestigious hilly landscape must be known, understood, loved and defended and that any intervention must take place in full respect of this context historical, landscape, environmental. It is therefore important to identify the fundamental characteristics of identity of the landscape, gardens and parks in order to maintain a stylistic and typological continuity based on those values that history, culture and tradition have handed down to us and which are often lacking in new settlements and which are rapidly being lost in the most ancient realities Pietro Porcina i, as an attentive landscape architect, stated for example that: “the magnolias, plants from the plain inharmonious and strident with holm oaks and cypresses on the road to Fiesole, in that context it was necessary to plant holm oaks or cypresses”. Therefore, evergreen Mediterranean plants are preferred: holm oaks, olive trees, cypresses, or stripping trees: oaks, maples, ash trees and fruit trees of the peasant tradition, jujube, medlar, inconspicuous blooms, but perfumed with laurels, myrtles and strawberry trees, roses and slowness. The theme of historical landscape and environmental identity, which has guided us in maintaining the values and characters that create this unique place and which must be maintained, leads and accompanies us on the path and visits to the gardens.