Sunday, 19 October 2014

Travels with Li Dongni - Fiesole, Italy (September 2014)

During a trip to the wonderful Renaissance city of Florence (other elements of which I'll no doubt be blogging about in due course), we took the chance to head out into the Tuscan countryside to see some other sites.  In this instance, it also allowed me to see some of the more ancient landscape around Florence, as the city's own Roman past is now quite hard to see.

Fiesole is roughly a thirty minute bus ride northeast of Florence and sits in a wonderful position, rising up into the mountains away from the valley that Florence sits in, and offering superb views.  The bus ride itself was fascinating as it winded its way up the narrow, curving roads, as we started chatting with a friendly Australian chap who had moved to Fiesole a few years earlier and clearly loved his new home.  We actually went in the later afternoon, as we'd been on the train to Pisa that day already, but intended to catch the sunset after seeing the town and its Roman remains.

The origins of the town lie with the Etruscans, and it was probably founded in the 9th-8th Century BC.  Only sections of the walls of this original settlement exist, which we'd almost given up on seeing until we stumbled across them while exploring the hillside.

The town came under the control of the expanding Roman republic in 283BC, and became known as Faesulae.  It was made a colony by the infamous general and dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

The visible Roman remains today are contained within an archaeological park, which includes a lovely museum, which is where we'll begin the tour...

The museum sits just inside the entrance to the park, and is deceptively large inside.  Situated on higher land than the main remains, there are also some nice teaser views of the ancient remains, particularly the theatre, from the windows.  The collections are varied, encompassing finds from the town from the Etruscan, Roman and Lombardic (Early Medieval) periods.  The collections of Roman bronzes and stone carving are particularly fine, if a little old fashioned in their presentation.

The Lombardic material isn't usually my cup of tea, so I confess I didn't spend as much time looking at it, but the presentation of a single warrior burial, combined with the fabulous quality of the weaponry and belt fittings on show, certainly made it memorable.

An unexpected surprise was a large selection of Greek ceramics.  Their origins weren't clear, but the quality and variety certainly was.  Sadly my old nemesis - display case reflections - stopped me taking as many photos of these as I might have done.

Before we leave the museum and head out into the remains themselves, I have to mention the interactive tablet the museum had available (they didn't have a catchy name for it though, sadly).  I confess I don't usually go for these, but this one was very well done and provided a good overview of the development of the site, and had some nice animations showing the development of key structures

In the archaeological park itself, there are three main structures to be seen - a theatre, a temple and a bath house.  The theatre is by far the most visible and the easiest to interpret of all the remains, and is a remarkably impressive and well preserved example.

Just around the corner sits the remains of the temple.  The earliest temple on the site was Etruscan, but the Romans were to later enlarge this structure.  The site interpretation suggested that the temple was dedicated to Minerva, but I confess I don't remember seeing any finds or inscriptions in the museum that confirmed this attribution.  The steps up to what would have been the entrance survive to a good degree, and I found them very evocative.  Although not very clearly labelled for the casual visitor, it was wonderful to be able to wander into the cella and imagine what the structure was once originally like.  In front of the steps stands a large altar, again a striking reminder of the activity that once took place here.

No Roman site is complete without the ubiquitous baths.  The Fiesole baths contain the usual suites of rooms and pools, with some nice pilae from a hot room and a set of three arches from the frigidarium still standing.

To finish our visit, we wandered up to a viewing point recommended to us by our new Australian friend, close to the monastery of San Francesco and watched the sun setting over Florence.  The photos below, then, are some of these more general shots of the town and its setting.

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