Although Florence is the jewel of and largest city in Tuscany, the area has many small cities and hill towns which are famous for their sights and history. As mentioned in the previous article, there are no direct air connections between Seattle and Tuscany, but there are direct flights to Rome, and Tuscany is a short train ride away.
A very famous place to start exploring the smaller cities of Tuscany is Pisa. The most famous sight of Pisa is the leaning tower, but it has some beautiful churches, plazas and palaces. Pisa’s Duomo or Cathedral has been used as a model for many Tuscan churches. You’ll notice the bands of different colors of marble used in the construction of the cathedral. This use of multi colored marbles originated in Pisa and is used throughout Tuscany. Don’t miss the famous mosaic ‘Christ in Majesty’ behind the altar.
The next stop is the place that makes Pisa famous, the leaning tower. Begun in 1173 as a bell tower for the Duomo, it had construction problems from the beginning. Pisa or at least the part of it where the tower was build is less than 7 feet above sea level, creating a high ground water level in the soil. The ground is also very sandy to a very deep level. These two factors combine to make the ground fairly unstable. The tower is also constructed of an inner layer of marble and an outer layer. The space in between the two layers is filled with sand and rubble. The tower has been supported by leveling of the sand underneath it and by braces. It is currently stable. Only a limited number of people are allowed to climb the tower each day. Reserve very early online.
Some other sites worth visiting are the cemetery where you can see Greek and Roman tombs which have been recycled for later inhabitants, the Palazzo de Orologio, the Palazzo di Cavilieri and the nearby church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri.
Another Tuscan town to see is Siena. Situated in central Tuscany Siena still retains its medieval walls and is a great base to explore other nearby towns such as San Gimignano. Siena’s attractions and architecture are mostly Gothic rather than the renaissance style found in Florence.
The main plaza of Siena, the Piazza del Campo is very charming and has some notable buildings surrounding it. The town hall is on this plaza and is a beautiful example of the Gothic style. It contains the Museo Civico which has many beautiful paintings.
Siena’s Duomo is stunning. The outside is constructed of black and white marble in stripes and the interior continues this design. One unique thing to make sure to see is the floor of the cathedral. There are many squares of black and white marble and some of various colors of marble showing biblical figures. Make sure to take time to see the frescoes in the Libreria.
While in Siena you will also want to take half a day or so and visit the Museo Dell’Opera Metropolitana. The sculptures and paintings are representative of the Siena school of Italian art.
Some other areas near Siena are San Gimignano, and Volterra. These are two beautiful Tuscan hill towns. San Gimignano is famous for it’s medieval walls and towers. If you visit in the spring or fall prior to the invasion of wall to wall tourists you could be forgiven for thinking you had magically been transported back to the middle ages. San Gimignano has three principal sights, the cathedral, the museum of sacred art and town hall. You may also want to visit the wine museum to sample the local wines, but tastings aren’t free.
Volterra is another hill town not too far from San Gimignano. It also seems to have changed little from the middle ages and its walls, ramparts and towers are particularly well preserved. If you are in the area on the third or fourth Sundays in August don’t miss Volterra’s Renaissance Festival. It is one of the most enjoyable and fun in the area.