Tuscany, April 2009

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Our first holiday since I had retired. It was a long time since we had been to Cortona - 1987, as far as we could remember. This time you could see Lake Trasimene.

This is the town hall, which dates from the 13th Century, was on the way to the Etruscan museum.

The musem does not allow photographs :-(( - a pity since the exhibits, especially the chandelier, were splendid. Same story at the Diocesan Museum, which has an Annunciation by Fra Angelico, a copy of which used to hang in our bedroom at Tangmere Close. We were in a hurry to leave town, because there was a veteran car race due to start on the street where I had parked. On the way out, we found the church of S Dominic, which was where Fra Angelico had his studio.

It has a splendid painted altarpiece that goes unnoticed in most guidebooks.


My Garmin could not find the restaurant we were looking for, because the Italian Celiac Association website gives such useless addresses. In the end, we decided to drive towards Farneta, a Benedictine abbey founded before the year 1000. The Benedictines left in the 16th Century, and handed the place over to the Olivetans. They left in 1780, and the church was handed over to the Diocese of Cortona. It has been knocked about quite a lot over the years - side chapels, part of the nave, and campanile demolished. A good deal of restoration took place during the second war, and the abbey was relaunched in 1974. Here the Roman pillars salvaged by the original builders for the crypt.

And here the nave (14 metres shorter than built by the founders)


This abbey was supposedly founded by Charlemagne in 781, to provide shelter for pilgrims on their way to Rome. The abbey seems to have got involved in the wars between Siena and its neighbours, and was suppressed in 1462. Restoration started in 1870 and the abbey is now home to a community of Norbertines who sing plainchant at Mass every Sunday. And this is why we were there. The music wasn't bad, but perhaps not as good as the St Agnes Schola on its good days.

The village of Castelnuovo dell'Abate - which could well have been the reason the abbey fell foul of the Sienese.

One of the blank arcades in the facade, carved with the symbols of the evangelists.

We arrived early enough to be able to take our photos before Mass began. As the guidebook says "The soft, honey coloured alabaster interior has an odd luminous quality ..."

All the more notable in that it was (as you can see from the outside shots) a very dull day.

No mention in any guidebook of this lion.

The ambulatory around the choir shows the French Cistercian influence (the current church dates from 1118).

The crypt is hardly big enough to stand up in (well, Marie-Christine was OK)

Wall paintings in the ambulatory

The buildings on the right hand side of the church were converted into living accommodation in 1462. This looks as though it was the site of the old monastery cloister.

One last shot of the facade before we go off to find somewhere for our picnic.


We couldn't find anywhere to park in Montalcino, so all we saw of the town was this panorama from the lay-by where we picnicked..

San Quirico d'Orcia

Another town we had never previously visited, and one that did have a car park, was San Quirico. The local stone is quite golden, rather like Adderbury.

But they built the local churches from a whiter variety. This is the collegiata of Saint Quirico.

Here seen from the side

An altogether less ornate church of Our Lady, to which an absurd 19th century campanile was an unneccesary "adornment"

Luckily, the interior was sober, by Italian standards.

Further along the main street, another very simple church, S Michele I think

and simple on the inside, too

As I had hoped, walking far enough along the main street brought us to the ramparts, from which it was reasonably easy to find the place where we had parked.


"owes its fame" says one of my guide books "to the fact that the Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg died here on 24 August 1313". I knew I had heard of it somewhere. Here are the town ramparts, as one sees them driving through on the Cassia.

Here the Palazzo Pretorio, decorated with the coats of arms of several Sienese and Tuscan officials

With streets as narrow as this, it is no surprise bicycles are the preferred form of transport

But it is hard to imagine this as being part of the main road from Siena to Rome.


Our main reason for visiting Volterra was to see the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum. The cinerary urns were a real revelation. Naturally, no photo :-((. Our ticket (this was the first time we got reduced price admission for being pensionati) entitled us to see the Pinacoteca, where there is a famous Deposition by Rosso Fiorentino. And the Museo Diocesano dell'Arte Sacra. And guess what? No photos in either of them. Here, at least, is a link to an authorised copy of the Fiorentino. the Palazzo dei Priori, decorated with coats of arms on the right hand side. Supposedly the model for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

And here the Palazzo Pretorio, we think.

Here the facade of the Duomo, which was shut

And here the facade of the Baptistery

The font is by A Sansovino


On our last afternoon in Florence we took the bus up the hill to Fiesole. The purpose was to get the panoramic view of Florence from the North that had enthused so many writers. It was the wrong kind of day for that.

Much too hazy. Still, you can see that the city hasn't (quite) reached all the way up the hill. But even with a zoom, it is really hard to make out the Duomo.
That's OK, Fiesole has its own.

This is the aisle (of the Fiesole one),which seemed very restrained compared with what goes on down thehill

And here the rather splendid poliptych on the main altar.