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INES ROMITTI Fiesole and its landscape, where the passage of time and the captivating blend of history, culture, art, and nature are evident, are the result of a millennia-old story that belongs to world civilization. What exceptionally characterizes the Fiesole hills is the symbiosis between humans and nature. In Fiesole, this harmony has deep roots, as even during the Etruscan dominion, a balanced relationship between urban aristocracy and agricultural production structures was established, a relationship then maintained by the Romans and in the subsequent centuries. From the fifteenth century to the present day, the beauty of the landscape, the precious heritage rich in archaeological and artistic evidence, has never faded. The image of "Bel Paesaggio" immediately conjures up the picturesque scenarios of Duccio, Beato Angelico, Benozzo: a countryside with extraordinarily harmonious forms featuring mixed crops, intertwined vines, villas on the hillsides, and scattered farmhouses across the countryside. The Fiesole landscape is predominantly hilly, stretching between the valleys of the Arno and the Mugnone, two valleys differing from each other, the former wide and airy in an east-west direction, and the latter, a tributary valley, narrower and elongated in the direction of the relief's folds, north-south. Orientation is a fundamental factor; it defines exposure, determining different microclimates evident in the varying vegetation and the toponyms of the places, such as Il Salceto, Il Castaceto, which in the Mugnone valley, colder and exposed to the north wind, indicate the presence of mesophilic broadleaves, suited to 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, seen from the city of Florence: "To the north and east, the city is surrounded by pleasant hills cultivated with orchards that extend all around like an amphitheater; in the distance, behind them, the high peaks of the Apennines serve as solid walls for the city." Thus, the hilly reliefs exhibit particularly gentle forms, paths winding uphill amidst pine forests and cypress groves; at times, the woods open up to olive groves with one or more farmhouses at their center, manor houses surrounded by parks and gardens. However, despite the city's proximity, agricultural crops manage to maintain the "natural" character of these places. Until the beginning of this century, the dense stands of resinous trees admired today did not exist; they are, in fact, reforestations of pine and cypress trees on rocky terraces previously denuded of the original cover of oaks, downy oaks, and Turkey oaks. John Temple-Leader, the English landowner who settled on these slopes towards the end of the nineteenth century, acquiring extensive estates, played a fundamental role not only in the construction of Vincigliata Castle but also in shaping the landscape around the castle itself up to Maiano.

Similar is the vegetation cover of Monte Ceceri, where reforestation has been carried out massively since 1929, to remedy the degradation caused by the intensive exploitation of the sandstone quarries of Maiano. This hill has a geological nature quite different from that of the surrounding hills, linked to the presence of sandstones belonging to the "macigno" formation. In Maiano, the quarries that served for the Florentine masterpieces were in use until the fifteenth century, when up to 40 were counted. Francesco Rodolico writes: "the macigno and its varieties [pietra serena and pietra bigia] abound between Monte Rinaldi and Monte Ceceri," and he reports Agostino del Riccio's description: "There is such an abundance of various stones near the city [...] that it is no wonder that temples and churches, towers, palaces, houses, and loggias astonish all foreigners." Henri Desplanques describes the Tuscan landscape thus: "The hill assumed its peculiar identity [...] even in relation to a particular type of agrarian landscape: that of mixed cultivation. The rural landscape has always had a touch of nobility in Tuscany. Productive efficiency was indissolubly linked to superfluity: sometimes a few trees, a single cypress or a row placed near a house, along a ridge, along the boundaries of a field, a dark row of cypresses, trees which can be attributed many meanings but rarely productive ones, to signal a farm or a manor house." Cultivation and agricultural arrangements of old characterize the gentle hills, as Pietro Porcinai, the great landscape architect who had chosen Villa Rondinelli, located along the Old Fiesole Road, to work, affirms: "The Tuscan landscape is akin to a garden, possessing its logic and identity, for this reason, to preserve it, it must be cultivated, but this productive purpose must be given a broader connotation encompassing both the historical-cultural and aesthetic aspects." The Fiesole landscape, rural, has remained archaic in many respects and still holds historical significance, as Porcinai further states: "The landscape is a palimpsest, a stratification of interventions whereby one can read the history of a people as if one had an open book before their eyes." Every moment of history is expressed in the landscape with its own imprints, linked to the needs of that period and its culture. In the Fiesole landscape, gardens play a fundamental role, delineating the characteristic features of what is considered one of the most famous landscapes in the world. Wharton, in describing the Fiesole villas and their gardens, expresses: "the result is a wonderful development of those effects that can be permanently obtained from the other three factors of a garden's scenography: stone, water, and evergreens. Their form and structure, materials and vegetal elements are closely linked and dependent on the environment in which they are placed. A landscape of gardens, where the cypress always plays a predominant role, either grouped in large orderly stands or in rows on descending terraces, where the noblest ornamental species are also present: laurel, viburnum, heather, holm oak, Turkey oak, downy oak. The backdrop is constituted by the olive tree, recalling the prominent role played by the countryside in the construction of this landscape. The olive tree has a glorious past, a mixed crop that is a structural component of the beautiful landscape. The olives that survived the socioeconomic transformations, the frosts of 1985, face an uncertain future: the choice lies between abandonment and experimentation in search of new models. The landscape marked by the olive tree always assumes a high aesthetic value, the result of a high search for utility, but perhaps also of an innate sense of beauty, a love for this plant due to its intrinsic symbolic value. It is legitimate to believe that there was a constant reference between Renaissance pictorial images and gardens, borrowed from literary descriptions.

We can refer to pictorial images, such as the celebrated depictions of Angelico in the Last Judgment, where the detailed representation of nature evokes a Fiesole ascent, or of Benozzo Gozzoli, who in the Journey of the Magi, in the Magi Chapel in Palazzo Medici Riccardi, represents Medici Tuscany. Boccaccio,

in the sixth day of the Decameron, describing the landscape surrounding his beautiful Valley of Women, "little mountains gradually sloping down towards the plain, as we see in theaters from the top the steps descending in an orderly manner, and these slopes were all covered with vineyards, olive trees, almond trees, cherry trees, fig trees, and other kinds of fruit trees." Ancient commentaries have believed to identify in this description the Fiesole hillside landscape, the exceptional settlement system that rises in terraces along Via Vecchia Fiesolana up to culminate in the Medici villa and the "lunato" hill between San Francesco and Sant'Apollinare. Fiesole, favored by its privileged geographical position which allows enjoying from various hills one of the most suggestive views of Tuscany, suggests at first glance that this valuable hillside landscape must be known, understood, loved, and defended, and that any intervention must take place in full respect of this historical, landscape, and environmental context. It is therefore important to identify the fundamental characteristics of the landscape, gardens, and parks to maintain a stylistic and typological continuity based on those values ​​that history, culture, and tradition pass on to us and which are often lacking in new settlements and are rapidly being lost in older realities. Pietro Porcinai, as an attentive landscape architect, for example, affirmed that: "the magnolias, plants unsuitable and discordant with holm oaks and cypresses on the road to Fiesole, in that context should have been planted with holm oaks or cypresses." Mediterranean evergreen plants should therefore be preferred: holm oaks, olive trees, cypresses, or deciduous ones: oaks, maples, ashes, and fruit trees from the peasant tradition, jujubes, medlars, inconspicuous blooms, but scented with laurels, myrtles, and strawberry trees, roses, and heathers. The theme of historical landscape and environmental identity, which has guided in maintaining the values ​​and characteristics that create this unique place and must be preserved, leads us and accompanies us on the journey and visits to the gardens.
The Fiesole Landscape