By Jordan Beatty, MA 2014-15
When one grows tired of the hustle and bustle of Florence’s center, Fiesole is the perfect retreat. A former Etruscan settlement, Fiesole sits high in the hills providing breathtaking views of Florence and the surrounding areas.
Compared to Florence, Fiesole takes the prize in terms of ancient history. Evidence of civilization dates to around 5000 BC, and the ruins from an advanced Etruscan civilization date to the third century BC. Typical Roman touches like a forum, pagan temples, and planned streets are still evident from when they conquered this region around the year 0. The Romans loved Fiesole; it was made the religious center of the empire and the town continued to prosper as Christianity spread.
Today it is hard to believe that Fiesole once loomed over little Florence. There existed much competition between the two cities as their borders drew closer, and finally in 1125 Florence officially gained control of Fiesole. Shortly following, the little town became the medieval equivalent of the Hamptons for wealthy Florentine families. The Medici family in particular was all over the prime real estate of picturesque Fiesole.
Fiesole’s main square, Piazza Mino da Fiesole, is lined with several small bars, trattorias, and shops. It is the setting of many reoccurring markets, including an antique market on the first Sunday of every month. Here you will also find the Cathedral of Fiesole. Constructed almost a solid 1,000 years ago in 1028 BC, the cathedral was built over the site where Romulus was believed to have been murdered by angry pagans. Additionally in this piazza, there is a tiny tenth century church, almost entirely dedicated to Santa Maria Primerana.
Off the piazza you will find an impressive Etruscan-Roman Archeological site , where you can see Roman baths and the Roman theatre in addition to many other historical artifacts within the Civic Museum. Entrance to the archeological area and museum is around 10 euro.
Finally, for unbeatable views, take Via di San Francesco, the steep pedestrian-only street west of the Duomo all the way to Convento di San Francesco. The uphill walk is worth it for views of Fiesole, the Tuscan hills and sometimes, on a clear day, even Florence. There’s a Gothic church with Renaissance paintings and 14th century wooden choir stalls built on the site of the ancient acropolis. On exhibit in the museum are local archaeological finds and a display relating to the friars missionary work in China and Egypt. Currently it’s free (donations appreciated) and open daily; below the convent is also a large park.
If you’re looking for a taste of small-town Italy, or just need a break from the busy streets of Florence, Fiesole can’t be missed. The easiest way to get there is to take ATAF bus #7 from either the SMN train station or San Marco Square in Florence. Buses run about every 20 minutes until almost midnight and drop you off right in the main square, Piazza Mino da Fiesole. Take the same bus to head back down into Florence.
Photos by Jordan Beatty