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Fregato at Fiesole 25/08/2011

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c. 1880

In Italy the cab fares are exceedingly moderate. For instance, at Genoa, Florence, and Rome, the drive per course is only 80 centessimi (8d.). At Rome, for every person beyond two, 20 centimes (2d.) additional is payable. The charge per hour is 1.50. At Naples, fares are even more moderate. The course, according to Baedeker, is 60 centimes per hour, 1.40 the first hour and 50 centimes every half-hour after; but we found the actual tariff was slightly more.

One requires to be careful, especially in Italy, about driving per hour in a town, not to go unnecessarily beyond its bounds, as when this is done the tariff is no longer binding, and the fare may be completely at the mercy of the driver. Thus, at Florence, we had on one occasion taken a carriage by the hour, and after driving about for some time, went to Fiesole, which lies beyond the bounds. When we came to settle with our driver, he charged us three or four francs additional on this account. At Naples, where one may very easily exceed the bounds, I was amused at the pertinacity of a driver in suggesting to go to places just beyond the city; but as I had made myself acquainted with its limits, and had no wish at that time to go to the places he named, I declined. The way to adopt when designing to go beyond the bounds is, as we arranged always at Rome, to make an express bargain that the charge by time should cover wherever we went.

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City and Country 21/07/2011

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c. 1905

One of the delights of the hills round Florence is their entire rusticity. The easy access from the city, the constant coming and going, the numerous foreign settlers, the eager seekers of villeggiature, have not destroyed the country life of these radiant rustic regions. For this reason it may be truly said that Florence has no suburbs. A few minutes in the tram and the traveller might be in the olive orchards of the Versilia, or taking agricultural notes from the simple courteous peasants in the heart of the fertile Casentino. The dwellers about Fiesole, at San Domenico, at Settignano, at Maiano, at Careggi, are so many country gentlemen, and are as busied about pressing oil, or making wine, or drying orris-root, as are the dwellers in the town about study, painting, banking, or the delightful Florentine pleasures of this world. These inhabitants of the alluring hills have a character so much their own, that I seem to recognise a country mouse in the Via Tornabuoni, though it has only taken him a few minutes to get there. 

English settlers abound on the hills, another proof of what I have said, that the Englishman, rather than any other foreigner, has the keenest eye for the recondite beauties, and I will now add for the solid comforts, of Italy. Life up here is entirely charming: completely rustic, as I said, but wholly free from the bumpkin element. Our town-mouse friends are frequent visitors, keep our interest fresh and keen in the city’s doings, and prevent us ever sinking into mere Boeotian country mice. It is the country, agricultural, horticultural, floricultural, but the country under ideal conditions.

One of its chief joys is the constant beauty of the outlook. Whether it be winter with the distant hills covered with snow, or summer with its green floor below and blue vault above, the scene is everlastingly beautiful. Then Florence is for ever under our eyes, the text of morning and evening meditations, daily increasing in beauty, as it seems, because of our daily increasing love and understanding of it. So great is its individuality, so far-reaching its part in universal history, so potent its possession of our better self, that we think of it as a system apart: there is that resplendent sun, Brunelleschi’s cupola, with, for moon, the lesser cupola of the Medicean Chapel; there are those seven planets in the Florentine heaven, the Torre del Leone, the Campanile, the tower of the Bargello, the cupola of Santo Spirito, the spires of the Badia, of Santa Croce, of Santa Maria Novella, with constellations too many to enumerate; and there, over towards San Donnino, is the milky way of the winding Arno.

Every glance at the city recalls the noblest memories: the Gonfalonier! and great Princes who have governed the State, the holy Archbishops who have ruled the Church, the Saints who here chose the better part, the glories of the Franciscan, the greater glories of the Dominican, the civilising mission of the Benedictine Order, the builders, the painters, the sculptors, the poets, the scholars, the soldiers, the merchants memories of all are recalled by a glance at one or other of these constellations in the Florentine firmament. Truly our morning and evening meditations never lack for a subject, and are rich in food for the mind and fraught with good for the soul.

The Aurora at Fiesole 22/04/2011

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c. 1910

We stopped to think of all this, and then took our way up the sharp ascent, which soon brought us to the wide Piazza at Fiesole the heart of that old Etruscan stronghold the neighbour and constant foe of Florence. The Piazza itself shows an extraordinary mixture of stateliness and squalor in its buildings, and is usually peopled by a strange medley of countryfolk and of tourists of all nations. We disentangled ourselves from the crowd of beggars and sellers of straw hats, fans, and what not, and looked about for a peaceful spot in which to rest. We could think of nothing more pleasant and attractive to mind and body than the terrace of the Aurora Hotel, where we chose a shady table with a lovely view, and were prosaic enough to order our much-needed colazione. Meanwhile, we sat and gazed at the exquisite scene spread out before us. Far below, in a soft mist, layFlorence; the great dome of the Cathedral and the towers of the city showing above an unobtrusive mass of roof, and peeping behind the olives and other trees that veiled the steep slope. Across the valley San Miniato rose with the lines of hills behind it. Italian scenery, at any rate in Tuscany and Umbria, has a curious elusive charm; it does not rise up and proclaim itself picturesque; the lines of colours melt and flow without violent contrasts and sharp contours, and there is everywhere just that touch of austerity which enhances the beauty. The most assertive thing are the cypresses, pointed and uncompromising in their outline, though the effect they make is never hard, as they always seem to be of a lovely shadow-colour. Noon is possibly never quite the most beautiful moment for a landscape, but the day had a touch of blue mistiness that mellowed the light and gave an added colour to the shadows.

Fiesole and sua fata 15/04/2011

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c. 1905

Cities, as we know, habent sua fata. Neither peace, nor the straw-plaiting industry, nor the electric tramway, nor universal conscription has made Fiesole more humane. The piazza was all a scurry of litter, and chickens, and country omnibuses; the boys pursued me with stones and savage yells; the fierce-eyed girls glowered at me from under the pents of their towzled hair; matrons, secure from all curiosity, continued to smack their children’s posteriors, whether I drove out with two horses or two-and-twenty. And the aspect of the town! Could any little place be so close to a great one and borrow so little from it? How harsh a tower! What a chill upon the windy streets! Good limewash is in all; and yet in Fiesole it takes a cold tone, where in Florence and Pistoia it seems to be incandescent – as if the sun, having soaked it for centuries, had saturated it, until his light was rayed forth like heat from hot iron. Withal, a town superbly placed: fine as it is from across the valley, it is perhaps finer from behind. Beyond it, in a cypress wood, the road forks, and, taking the left to go to Borgo San Lorenzo, you will find that it winds round the outside face of a steep hill, and gives you a new Fiesole, gleaming white now between its two rocks and their citadels, and the Arno valley beyond it, sheeted in mist, looking like a sea at dawn.

The ‘Village’ of Fiesole 01/04/2011

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c. 1825

Fiesole (a name with which a single line in a great poet has made me so well acquainted) is one of the five old cities of Etruria, and of immense antiquity. It still ranks as a city, and has a cathedral church and a bishop, though reduced to the size of an English village. It is a small hill two miles to the north-east of Florence, and presents an agreeable picture of trees and country-houses intermixed. The remains of the city are out of sight on the top, and contain some antiquities; but the whole place is not bigger than a very small English town, which it somewhat resembles by a quiet green in the middle. The small old cathedral on one side of this green and a college or castle, with a few priests and students flirting [sic] about, add to the look of solitude and antiquity. Fiesole was the headquarters of Etrurian superstition, and the great school of augurs for Rome. (171)

Intimations of Evander Near Fiesole 23/03/2011

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c. 1825

One of the pleasantest occupations of a traveller in Italy, is to feel himself in the country of Virgil and Horace, and to recognize the objects in which they delighted. In going through the green lanes and vineyards you go through the Georgics. You lounge with Horace under his vine, and see him helping his labourers. Here comes a passage in the shape of a yoke of oxen; there runs a verse tip the wall, a lizard; the cicada ring lyrics at you from the trees. The other evening, walking towards Fiesole over the hills, I heard a shepherd-boy piping a wild air, as old perhaps as Evander.

Fiesole and the ‘Roman Arena’ 18/02/2011

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c. 1910

But the main interest of Fiesole to most people is not the cypress-covered hill of S. Francesco; not the view from the summit; not the straw mementoes; not the Mino relief in the church; but the Roman arena. The excavators have made of this a very complete place. One can stand at the top of the steps and reconstruct it all the audience, the performance, the performers. A very little time spent on building would be needed to restore the amphitheatre to its original form. Beyond it are baths, and in a hollow the remains of a temple with the altar where it ever was; and then one walks a little farther and is on the ancient Etruscan wall, built when Fiesole was an Etruscan fortified hill city. So do the centuries fall away here! But everywhere, among the ancient Roman stones so massive and exact, and the Etruscan stones, are the wild flowers which Luca Signorelli painted in that picture in the Uffizi which I love so much. After the amphitheatre one visits the Museum with the same ticket a little building filled with trophies of the spade. There is nothing very wonderful nothing to compare with the treasures of the Archaeological Museum m Florence but it is well worth a visit.