UNUSUAL & SECRET TUSCANY | Events in Tuscany | Miniviaggi & Destinations
Its name is very ancient and derives from “Etruria”, a word used by the Latins to define the inhabited land of the Etruscans. Over time, it changed to “Tuscia” and later to “Tuscany”.
A region full of hidden treasures, anecdotes and legends to be discovered. From why Tuscan bread is saltless to the story of Berta, from the circular labyrinth on the Cathedral of Lucca to the mummified hands in San Galgano.
by Carlotta Martelli Calvelli
The giant sundial of Pienza
There is a very particular curiosity that distinguishes the main square of Pienza. The first to discover it was Professor Jan Pieper of the University of Aachen and Berlin, after long and passionate studies on the spot. Professor Pieper, an expert in calendar architecture, discovered that every building in the square, including its Cathedral, follows precise rules of orientation and construction. The astronomical orientation of the monumental complex means that in two moments a year, that is 10-11 days after the spring equinox and 10-11 days before the autumn one, in two moments of the day, the shadow of the Cathedral aligns itself perfectly with the side squares of the square, touching all the rectangles symmetrically. It was Pope Pius II’s will that the monumental complex follow the astronomical orientation, so that twice a year there was tangible proof of the meeting of heaven and earth.
Cover photo from the cinellicolombini.it website
Why is Tuscan bread without sale?
One of the most unusual peculiarities that can be Tuscan cuisine is that of unsalted bread. Our “silly bread” leaves most visitors. But what origin does this singular custom have? The most recognized hypothesis is that linked to an economic aspect. In 1100, the rivalry between Pisa and Florence was very heated. At the time, the city of Pisa had control over the salt trade. When the plans decided to raise the price of salt, the Florentines, in Tuscan style, began to prepare salt-free bread!
Street paving was invented in Florence
Did you know that street paving as we know it today was invented in Florence? In 1339 Dante’s homeland was the first European city to pave its streets, thanks to generous funding from Florentine bankers. The abandonment of the old dirt paths, a privilege of someone else’s type of coating and protection, inspired many other cities to follow this example. The main material used for the flooring was stone, although an elegant terracotta flooring around Piazza della Signoria was brought to light, with excavations dating back to 1974, a place where a thermal building of Roman origin is supposed to have stood in the fourteenth century. .
Berta, the woman with the petrified face
Looking at the left side of the facade of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Florence, at the corner with via de’Cerretani, it is possible to see the marble face of a woman. Legend has it that it is the Berta. In 1327 the scientist and humanist Cecco d’Ascoli was condemned to the stake for his heretical considerations. He was burned in Piazza Santa Croce, and during the journey that led him to the gallows he was forced to parade through the city streets, passing by the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is said that right here he begged people for some water and that a woman, looking out the window, shouted at the crowd not to give him a drink, because “If he drinks it doesn’t burn!”. At that point Cecco turned in response to the woman and shouted at her “And you the boss will never get out of there.” Thus it was that the woman was instantly petrified due to her curse!
The mummified hands of the thief in San Galgano
if many think that the famous Sword in the Stone is found in England, it is actually kept in the province of Siena. The sword is located inside the Hermitage of Monte Siepi, near the beautiful Abbey of San Galgano, a huge church without a roof, surrounded by nature. A curiosity that not everyone knows is found within the walls of the Chapel next to the Hermitage where the sword is kept. Right here are the hands, now mummified, of a thief who tried to steal the sword in 1181. It is said that the thief, in an attempt to extract the weapon, was torn to pieces by a pack of wolves.
How was the finocchiona born?
There is a very particular curiosity concerning the finocchiona. It is thought that, in the Middle Ages, the Tuscan pork butchers to make up for the overpriced use of pepper, with which they used to prepare salami, thought of adding to the salami mixture everything that nature offered them, first of all the cheapest seeds. of fennel. In fact, this is how the finocchiona was born, quickly becoming the queen of Tuscan tables, from the noble ones to the more popular ones. It is said that even Niccolò Machiavelli was a great admirer of this salami, so much so that he never missed it during his meals. The intense flavor of the finocchiona had an even more subtle purpose. In fact, it is said that the Tuscan peasants to mask any defects in their wines used to flavor the finocchiona with an abundant addition of fennel seeds. In Chianti it is still said: “Just as skilled hairdressers are capable of making even the ugliest woman look attractive, so the aroma of finocchiona is capable of camouflaging the flavor of even the most undrinkable wine”.
The mystery of the Lucca labyrinth
Although Lucca is a small town, it does not lack surprises. One of these is located to the right of the entrance door of the Cathedral of San Martino. Right here is a 12th century circular labyrinth engraved, accompanied by a Latin inscription. The translation reads as follows “This is the labyrinth out of which the Cretan Daedalus built and from which no one was able to get out of Theseus helped, out of love, by Ariadne’s thread”.
Why are we a pagan inscription in a Catholic church? If we follow the Christian idea, the labyrinth represents man’s ability to extricate himself from the pitfalls of life and reach salvation thanks to faith in God, just as Ariadne’s thread helped Theseus to get out of the labyrinth and save himself. According to another interpretation, however, Ariadne’s labyrinth does not actually present deviations or crossroads, it represents more the conduct that man must follow on earth. Finally, according to another legend it is said that those condemned to death were brought in front of the labyrinth of San Martino and, whoever found the right path at the first attempt, would have their life saved.
On the hunt for Michelangelo, Cellini and Dante
There are many legends to some of the most famous portraits scattered around Florence. One of these is the one linked to Michelangelo. To the right of the entrance door of Palazzo Vecchio we find the portrait of a man on the facade of the building. Legend has it that it was Buonarroti who sculpted it, but it is not certain who it depicts. some believe it is a self-portrait of the famous artist, the most famous thesis claims that the face represents a man who frequently bothered the great Master. Michelangelo, to dare proof of his great skill, decided to portray the face of his heckler with his hands behind his back!
If, on the other hand, you want to find Cellini’s self-portrait, you have to move under the Loggia dei Lanzi and take a good look at the Perseus sculpture with the head of Medusa. The sculptor wanted to hide his self-portrait on the back of Perseus’ helmet.
And finally, to meet the portrait of the Divine Poet, just move to Piazza dei Giuochi, at the intersection of Via Dante Alighieri with Via Santa Margherita. Not far from the well, you will be able to find, engraved on a slab of the floor, the portrait of the poet.
The oak of the witches
If you want to immerse yourself in a fairy tale of other times, you can do it on the hills between Monte Pisano and Collodi. Right here, in the middle of a wood, is the oak that is thought to have inspired the story of Pinocchio. Alo 24 meters and with a diameter of almost 5 meters (to embrace it you need to be at least five people!), This tree has a crown that reaches 40 meters in diameter, so much so that it has been recognized as the Monumental Tree of Italy. It is located more precisely in Capannori, in the locality of Gragnano, and it is thought that the Florentine author was inspired by it for the final scene of the 15th chapter, when the wooden puppet is hanged on the “Big Oak”, by the hand of the Cat and the Fox disguised as bandits. The hypothesis is credible, as Collodi used to spend his summer holidays in these parts. Furthermore, it is thought that the Land of Toys was the representation of Settembre Lucchese, a period of the year during which Lucca comes alive with fairs and activities for young and old.
The Madonna del Puzzo
Let’s go back to Florence, more precisely in Oltrarno in via Toscanella at the corner with Borgo San Jacopo. Inside a niche it is possible to see the Madonna del Puzzo. To denounce the bad smell of the bins in the street and the rudeness of some people who used it as an open-air toilet, in 1984 the artist Mario Mariotti created a terracotta bust representing the Madonna bewildered by the bad smell. The Virgin has her eyes in the sky and covers her nose, while a mouse runs along her arm. At the time, the protest act worked, as the garbage cans were removed from there. sculpture is frequently subject to acts of vandalism, therefore there is no lack of continuous restorations promoted, first of all, by the “Canto ai Quattro Leoni” Association, founded by artisans and cultural associations with the mission of enhancing the neighborhood.
The Sasso di Dante
We conclude our roundup of Tuscan curiosities with a great classic. Next to the Duomo, in Piazza delle Pallottole, above the sidewalk near a door, there is a large boulder with a plate that reads the true stone of Dante.
It is said that Dante Alighieri stopped right at this point, then a still green open space, to rest, think and observe the construction works of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The stone is also linked to another anecdote that always sees the Supreme Poet as the protagonist and celebrates his famous memory. One day, while he was absorbed in his thoughts, still sitting on the usual stone, an acquaintance asked him: “Oh Dante, why do you like to eat more?” – “the egg” – Dante replied. After a year, the same acquaintance, passing over the same point and seeing Dante still sitting on the usual boulder, came up again and asked him: “co ‘icchè?” – “with sale!” was the poet’s prompt reply.
In Lucignano the Tree of Lovers
“The tree of life” of Lucignano is a goldsmith reliquary unique in the world in the shape of a tree. It took over 120 years of work to build it for Ugolino da Vieri and Gabriello D’Antonio. From the trunk of the tree, 2.60 meters high, twelve branches open, six to the right and six to the left, with decorative leaves and small display cases. To symbolize the sacrifice on the cross of Jesus, there are details in red coral, representing the fruits of the plant; while on the top there is a crucifix and a pelican portrayed in the act of pecking at the breast to feed its young with its own blood. It is also called the “Tree of Lovers” or “of love” because it is thought to be a good luck charm for young couples. A must for all those who want to celebrate their love.