Italy’s Great Hill Towns


HI, I’M RICK STEVES, BACK WITH MORE OF
THE BEST OF EUROPE. IT’S SPRINGTIME IN ITALY, AND WHILE IT’S A LITTLE EARLY
FOR GRAPES, IT’S A PERFECT TIME
FOR EXPLORING THE HILL TOWNS. THANKS FOR JOINING US. CONNOISSEURS OF ITALY FIND THE QUINTESSENTIAL CHARMS
OF THIS COUNTRY IN ITS CHARACTERISTIC
HILL TOWNS. BUILT ON HILLTOPS
FOR DEFENSIVE PURPOSES IN ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL TIMES, TODAY, THEIR LOFTY PERCHES SEEM ONLY TO PROTECT THEM
FROM THE MODERN WORLD. WE’LL DRIVE THROUGH THE TUSCAN
AND UMBRIAN COUNTRYSIDE CONNECTING ALL
THE HILL TOWN DOTS, ADMIRE A CEILING
FRESCO MASTERPIECE NOT BY MICHELANGELO, EAT RUSTIC BRUSCHETTA, VISIT A VINEYARD THAT GOES ALL THE WAY BACK
TO ETRUSCAN TIMES AND MORE, ALL WHILE EXPLORING A STRING
OF HILL-CAPPING MEDIEVAL TOWNS THAT SOMEHOW MANAGE
TO KEEP THEIR HEADS ABOVE THE FLOOD OF THE 21st CENTURY. SO MANY EUROPEAN TRAVEL DREAMS
FEATURE ITALY. AND IN ITALY, THE REGIONS
OF TUSCANY AND UMBRIA ARE HOME
TO THE GREATEST HILL TOWNS, ALL WITHIN EASY STRIKING
DISTANCE OF ROME OR FLORENCE. IN THIS EPISODE, WE VISIT
CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO, ORVIETO, CORTONA,
AND FINALLY, SAN GIMIGNANO. MANY OF THIS REGION’S HILL TOWNS
DATE BACK TO ETRUSCAN TIMES, WELL BEFORE ANCIENT ROME. OTHERS DATE TO THE FALL OF ROME. WHEN ROME FELL,
EUROPE WAS ENGULFED IN CHAOS. PEOPLE NATURALLY GRABBED
FOR THE HIGH GROUND TO ESCAPE
THE MARAUDING BARBARIANS THAT CHARACTERIZED
THOSE DARK AGES. OVER TIME,
THESE TOWNS WERE FORTIFIED AND EVENTUALLY FUNCTIONED
AS INDEPENDENT CITY-STATES. IN THEIR GLORY DAYS, THEY PROUDLY CHARTED
THEIR OWN COURSE, GENERALLY FREE
FROM THE DICTATES OF POPES OR EMPERORS. THEN, THE BUBONIC PLAGUE
SWEPT THROUGH TUSCANY IN 1348. THAT, COMBINED WITH
INCREASING DOMINANCE BY THE REGIONAL BULLY,
FLORENCE, TURNED MANY BUSTLING CITIES
INTO DOCILE BACKWATERS. IRONICALLY, THE BAD NEWS
OF THE 14th CENTURY MOTHBALLED THESE TOWNS, LEAVING THEM
WITH A UNIQUE CHARM AND A TOURISM-BASED
AFFLUENCE TODAY. SIENA MAINTAINS MUCH OF
ITS MEDIEVAL CHARACTER. ITS SPRAWLING MAIN SQUARE
AND TOWERING CITY HALL RECALL THE DAYS
WHEN IT RIVALED EVEN FLORENCE. ASSISI — WITH ITS WALLS,
GATES, AND CASTLE — WAS HOME TO ST. FRANCIS. ITS MASSIVE BASILICA REMAINS
A FAVORITE DESTINATION FOR COUNTLESS PILGRIMS TODAY. VOLTERRA WAS
AN ETRUSCAN CAPITAL CENTURIES BEFORE CHRIST. WITHIN ITS WALL, THE TOWN’S RUSTIC CENTER OFFERS
AN EVOCATIVE TUSCAN CHARM. AND SAN MARINO —
ALL 24 SQUARE MILES OF IT — IS UNIQUE IN THAT IT’S STILL
AN INDEPENDENT COUNTRY. WHILE NOVEL TODAY, TINY TWO-BIT DUKEDOMS LIKE THIS
WERE ONCE THE NORM. MEDIEVAL ITALY —
LIKE MOST OF EUROPE BEFORE THE RISE
OF MODERN NATION STATES — WAS A COLLECTION OF INDEPENDENT, LITTLE
SAN MARINO-STYLE CITY STATES — MANY OF THEM NO MORE THAN
FORTIFIED TOWNS ON HILLS. WHILE EACH OF THOSE HILL TOWNS
ARE FAMOUS AND VERY TOURISTY, THE EXPLORER WHO GETS
OFF THE BEATEN PATH CAN STILL DISCOVER HILL TOWNS
WITH MUCH LESS TOURISM. [ BELL RINGING ] A GOOD EXAMPLE IS
CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO. PERCHED ON A PINNACLE
IN A GRAND CANYON, THE TRAFFIC-FREE VILLAGE
OF CIVITA IS, FOR ME, ITALY’S CLASSIC HILL TOWN. ENTERING THE TOWN,
YOU’RE ENVELOPED IN HISTORY. PASSING UNDER
A 12th-CENTURY ARCH, YOU ENTER ANOTHER WORLD. EVERY LANE TELLS A STORY. ON THE MAIN SQUARE,
THE CHURCH MARKS THE SPOT WHERE FIRST, AN ETRUSCAN TEMPLE, AND THEN LATER, A ROMAN TEMPLE,
ONCE STOOD. ANCIENT PILLARS
FROM THOSE PAGAN TEMPLES STAND LIKE GIANTS’ BAR STOOLS
IN FRONT OF THE LATEST PLACE OF WORSHIP
TO OCCUPY THIS SPOT. FOR ME, EXPLORING A TOWN
LIKE CIVITA IS A CULTURAL SCAVENGER HUNT. THERE ARE COUNTLESS TOWNS
LIKE THIS THROUGHOUT ITALY, WITH SIMILAR SUBTLE CHARMS. A FANCY WOODEN DOOR
AND WINDOWS LEAD TO THIN AIR. THIS WAS THE FACADE
OF A RENAISSANCE PALACE, WHICH FELL INTO THE VALLEY RIDING A CHUNK OF THE TOWN’S
EVER-ERODING ROCK PINNACLE. PONDERING THE VIEW, YOU’RE REMINDED THAT,
SLOWLY BUT SURELY, THIS TOWN WILL SUCCUMB
TO THE MARCH OF GEOLOGICAL TIME. CIVITA IS ADAPTING
TO THE MODERN WORLD. AS ITS PERMANENT
POPULATION DWINDLES, IT’S BECOMING A WEEKEND
ESCAPE FOR WEALTHY URBANITES. THE FAMILIES THAT STAY
ARE CATERING TO VISITORS. TO ENRICH YOUR EXPERIENCE,
BE AN EXTROVERT, POKE AROUND, TALK TO PEOPLE. BUON GIORNO. PICCOLO, LA MOLLE BELLO, BELLO. COME, RICK,
I WANT TO SHOW YOU MY MILL. THE OLIVE MILL MAURIZIO’S
GRANDFATHER ONCE RAN IS NOW THE CENTERPIECE
OF HIS RESTAURANT, AND HE’S IS HAPPY TO TELL ME
HOW GRANDPA MADE THE OLIVE OIL. ALL THE OLIVES COME
FROM THE VALLEY. WHEN THEY HAVE ABOUT
200 KILOGRAMS OF OLIVE, THEY PUT HERE THE OLIVE,
AND WITH A DONKEY, THEY START THE PRESS FOR ABOUT TWO HOURS
OF HARD WORK. WHEN THE PASTE IS READY, THEY PUT THE PASTE
INSIDE THIS FILTER, AND WHEN YOU HAVE ABOUT
15 OR 20 FILTERS FULL, YOU ARE READY
FOR THE PRESS. AND THEN,
WHEN THE FILTER IS READY, YOU CAN MAKE
THE FIRST PRESS. YOU PUT THE STICK HERE AND YOU MAKE
A HARD WORK… FOR ABOUT TWO HOURS. RIGHT. YOU PRESS AND YOU WAIT. YOU HAVE A GOOD
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL AND YOU’RE READY
FOR A BIG BRUSCHETTA. A GOOD BRUSCHETTA IS SIMPLE — BREAD TOASTED OVER THE COALS,
GARLIC, TOMATOES, SALT, AND OIL. ENJOYING A RUSTIC BRUSCHETTA
IS A FINE WAY TO CAP A VISIT TO A RUSTIC VILLAGE
LIKE CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO. ORVIETO,
UMBRIA’S GRAND HILL TOWN, SITS MAJESTICALLY HIGH
ABOVE THE VALLEY FLOOR ON A BIG CHUNK OF TUFO — A SOFT AND EASY-TO-CUT
VOLCANIC STONE. A HANDY FUNICULAR SHUTTLES VISITORS
FROM ORVIETO’S TRAIN STATION AND BIG FREE PARK-AND-RIDE LOT
ON THE VALLEY FLOOR UP TO THE TOWN. MORE AND MORE EUROPEAN TOWNS ARE DEALING WITH THEIR TRAFFIC
AND PARKING CONGESTION BY MAKING LIFE FRUSTRATING
AND EXPENSIVE FOR ANYONE WHO INSISTS ON
DRIVING INTO THE OLD CENTER. PUBLIC TRANSIT IS DESIGNED TO REWARD THOSE
WHO PARK OUTSIDE OF TOWN. FROM THE TOP, A BUS CONNECTS
WITH THE FUNICULAR AND DROPS PEOPLE
RIGHT AT THE CATHEDRAL SQUARE. PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY LANES
MAKE EXPLORING THE TOWN A JOY. INVITING SHOPS SHOW OFF ORVIETO’S FAMOUS
AND COLORFUL CERAMICS. THE CATHEDRAL — ORDUOMO,
AS THEY SAY IN ITALIAN — GETS MY VOTE
FOR ITALY’S LIVELIEST FACADE. THIS GLEAMING MASS
OF MOSAICS AND SCULPTURE IS A CIRCA-1330 CLASS
IN WORLD HISTORY, BACK WHEN NO ONE DARED
QUESTION INTELLIGENT DESIGN. THINGS START WITH CREATION. EVE IS TEMPTED BY SATAN
DISGUISED AS A SNAKE, AND SO ON,
RIGHT UP TO JUDGMENT DAY. INSIDE, THE STRIPED NAVE
APPEARS LONGER THAN IT IS. THAT’S BECAUSE THE ARCHITECT
DESIGNED THE NAVE WIDER AT THE BACK
AND NARROWER AT THE ALTAR. WINDOWS OF THIN-SLICED ALABASTER BATHE THE INTERIOR
IN A SOFT LIGHT. ADJACENT THE ALTER, THE CHAPEL OF ST. BRIZIO
IS ORVIETO’S ONE MUST-SEE ARTISTIC SIGHT. IT FEATURES LUCA SIGNORELLI’S
FRESCOES OF THE APOCALYPSE. THE VIVID SCENES DEPICT EVENTS
AT THE END OF THE WORLD, BUT THEY ALSO REFLECT THE TURBULENT POLITICAL
AND RELIGIOUS ATMOSPHERE OF ITALY IN THE LATE 1400s. THE NEARBY CITY OF FLORENCE
HAD BECOME A THEOCRACY RUN BY THE AUSTERE AND CHARISMATIC
MONK SAVONAROLA. HIS ULTRACONSERVATIVE TEACHINGS
POLARIZED CHRISTIANS, BRINGING TENSION TO THE CHURCH. IN “THE SERMON
OF THE ANTICHRIST,’ A CROWD GATHERS AROUND A MAN
PREACHING FROM A PEDESTAL. IT’S THE ANTICHRIST,
REPRESENTING SAVONAROLA, WHO COMES POSING AS JESUS
TO MISLEAD THE FAITHFUL. THIS BEFUDDLED ANTICHRIST
FORGETS HIS LINES MID-SPEECH, BUT THE DEVIL IS ON HAND
TO WHISPER WHAT TO SAY NEXT. HIS WORDS SOW WICKEDNESS
THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, FROM A CORRUPT WOMAN
TAKING MONEY, TO EVIL FIGURES RUNNING RAMPANT, TO MASS EXECUTIONS. THEN, ON JUDGMENT DAY, TRUMPETING ANGELS
BLOW A WAKE-UP CALL, AND SKELETONS OF THE DEAD CLIMB DREAMILY
OUT OF THE EARTH TO BE CLOTHED IN NEW BODIES. ACROSS THE CHAPEL, THE SAVED
GATHER HAPPILY IN HEAVEN, ENJOYING A HOLY STRING QUARTET. FACING THEM, THE DAMNED EXPERIENCE
THE HORRIBLE MOSH PIT OF HELL. DEVILS TORMENT SINNERS
IN GRAPHIC DETAIL, WHILE WINGED DEMONS CONTROL
THE AIRSPACE OVERHEAD. A DEMON TURNS TO TELL
HIS FRIGHTENED PASSENGER EXACTLY WHAT
HE’S GOT PLANNED FOR HER. SIGNORELLI’S ABILITY
TO TELL STORIES THROUGH HUMAN ACTIONS
AND GESTURES, RATHER THAN SYMBOLS, INSPIRED HIS YOUNGER
CONTEMPORARY, MICHELANGELO, WHO METICULOUSLY STUDIED
SIGNORELLI’S WORK. ORVIETO, WITH ITS NATURAL
HILLTOP FORTIFICATION, WAS THE POPE’S PLACE OF REFUGE
IN THE 1500s. HE WANTED TO BE SURE HE HAD
WATER DURING A TIME OF SIEGE, SO HE BUILT
AN EXTRAVAGANT WELL. ST. PATRICK’S WELL, 175 FEET DEEP, IS DESIGNED
WITH A DOUBLE-HELIX PATTERN. THE TWO SPIRAL STAIRWAYS ALLOW AN EFFICIENT
ONE-WAY TRAFFIC FLOW, INTRIGUING NOW,
BUT CRITICAL THEN. IMAGINE IF DONKEYS AND PEOPLE,
BALANCING JUGS OF WATER, HAD TO GO UP AND DOWN
THE SAME STAIRWAY. DIGGING THIS
WAS A HUGE PROJECT. EVEN TODAY, WHEN FACED WITH
A DIFFICULT TASK, ITALIANS SAY, “IT’S LIKE DIGGING
ST. PATRICK’S WELL.” WHILE THE TOWN IS BUSY
WITH TOURISTS DURING THE DAY, ORVIETO IS QUIET AFTER DARK. THE BACK STREETS FEEL OBLIVIOUS TO THE CRUSH
OF MODERN-DAY TOURISM. EVOCATIVE LANES SEEM TO KEEP THE MYSTERY
OF THE MIDDLE AGES ALIVE. LOCALS ARE OUT
SAVORING THEIR TOWN WITH AN AFTER DINNER STROLL. I FIND RESTAURATEURS ARE HAPPY
TO LET ME CAP MY MEAL BY TAKING MY AFTER-DINNER GLASS
OF VIN SANTO TO A FAVORITE SPOT TO ENJOY THE MAGIC
OF A HILL TOWN AFTER DARK. THE COUNTRYSIDE
OF UMBRIA AND TUSCANY IS VELVETY GREEN IN THE SPRING. FERTILE FIELDS ARE SET OFF
BY VENERABLE ESTATES AND CYPRUS TREE-LINED
WINDY LANES. BEFORE MOVING ON
TO OUR NEXT HILL TOWN, WE’RE STOPPING BY
THE TENUTA LE VELETTE VINEYARD TO SAMPLE THE MOST FAMOUS
PRODUCT OF THE REGION, THE ORVIETO CLASSICO WINE. THE BOTTAI FAMILY
IS HAPPY TO SHOW THIRSTY AND PROSPECTIVE
CUSTOMERS AROUND THEIR ESTATE. SO THIS IS OUR FARM, THAT BELONGS TO OUR FAMILY
SINCE SIX GENERATIONS, AND OF OUR FEATS,
WE HAVE A LOT OF HISTORY COMING FROM
THE ETRUSCAN TIME. I CAN IMAGINE. A GOOD AREA
FOR MAKING WINE BECAUSE OF
THE VOLCANIC SOIL JUST IN FRONT
OF THE VIEW OF THE BEAUTIFUL TOWN
OF ORVIETO. AND IF YOU LIKE, I CAN TAKE YOU
TO THE VINES TO SHOW YOU. I WOULD LIKE THAT. YES, VERY FERTILE. SO THIS IS OUR SOIL, A VOLCANIC SOIL,
VERY RICH IN MINERALS, ON WHICH OUR VINES GROW AND PRODUCE
OUR ORVIETO CLASSICO WINE. SO THIS IS
A LITTLE BUNCH… YEAH. THAT WOULD BE RIPE
IN SEPTEMBER. IT STARTS NOW TO GROW, AND WE’LL PICK IT
IN SIX MONTHS. AND IN HOW MANY YEARS UNTIL THAT IS DRUNK
AND ENJOYED AS WINE? WE’LL DRINK THIS WINE
IN 18 MONTHS, AND WE’LL GO ON DRINKING
THIS WINE FOR TWO MORE YEARS. SO HOW LONG HAVE PEOPLE BEEN
MAKING WINE RIGHT HERE? PEOPLE HAVE BEEN
MAKING WINE HERE SINCE
THE ETRUSCAN TIMES. TWENTY CENTURIES. AND THE FAMILY HOUSE
HAS A HISTORY NEARLY AS RICH AS THE VINEYARD. Woman: YOU KNOW, RICK,
THIS HOUSE IS VERY OLD. THE VERY CENTRAL BLOCK WAS A CONTROL TOWER
THAT WAS BUILT IN 1000. THEN, WHEN THE TOWER
GOT DESTROYED, THE MONKS PREMOSTRATENSI
TOOK THE PLACE, THEY RENOVATED IT,
AND MADE IT A MONASTERY. AND MY FAMILY, IN FACT, BOUGHT THIS PROPERTY
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE 1800s, AND THEY RE-RENOVATED
THE WHOLE BUILDING ACCORDING TO THE STYLE
OF THAT PERIOD. AND SO THE FRESCOS
YOU HAVE NOW, THEY ARE DATED 1800-SOMETHING. SO THIS IS ALL ROMANTIC
FROM THE 19th CENTURY? YEAH, ABSOLUTELY. AND THIS IS THE PIANO ROOM, AND MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER
LOVED TO PLAY THE PIANO. AND THIS IS A PIANO THAT
FRANZ LISZT USED TO PLAY. FRANZ LISZT
PLAYED THIS PIANO? FRANZ LISZT PLAYED
THIS PIANO SEVERAL TIMES. I’VE GOT TO TRY IT.
CAN I TRY IT? PLEASE.
OH, MY GOODNESS. MY PLEASURE
TO LISTEN TO YOU. [ PLAYING CLASSICAL MUSIC ] HMM. IT’S NOT FRANZ LISZT,
BUT HE MIGHT ENJOY THAT. [ LAUGHS ] COME ON, RICK, I TAKE YOU
TO OUR SECRET PLACE, THE SECRET CELLAR. THE LITTLE DOOR,
AND THE CELLAR WHERE THE ETRUSCANS
USED TO STORE THEIR WINES. AND THIS IS
500 METERS LONG AND WAS STARTED
TO BE CARVED 500 B.C. BY THE ETRUSCANS. SO THIS IS ALL DUG OUT
OF TUFO STONE? YES, AND THIS IS PERFECT
FOR AGING THE WINES, AND THE ETRUSCAN PEOPLE
KNEW THAT. AND TUFO HAS
THE PERFECT CONDITIONS TO AGE THE WINES IN TERMS
OF HUMIDITY AND TEMPERATURE. AND MODERN WINEMAKERS ARE TRYING TO DUPLICATE
THE SAME CONDITIONS, AND THIS BOTTLE OF WINE
IS MORE THAN 30 YEARS OLD. MORE THAN 30?
IS IT STILL GOOD TO DRINK? THIS IS ABSOLUTELY
WONDERFUL TO DRINK. I’VE BEEN BRINGING
MY TOUR GROUPS TO THE HOME OF
CECILIA AND CORRADO BOTTAI SINCE THEIR PARENTS
WERE RUNNING THE PLACE. WHEN I SEE THE NEW GENERATION
TAKING OVER AND CECILIA POURING
THE FAMILY’S WINE INTO MY GLASS, I FEEL THE PRIDE
THE BOTTAIS HAVE IN SHARING THE FRUIT OF
THEIR HERITAGE AND HARD WORK WITH A VISITOR FROM SO FAR AWAY. WITH A FEW BOTTLES OF
ORVIETO CLASSICO IN OUR TRUNK, WE’RE READY
FOR MORE HILL TOWNS. CROSSING FROM UMBRIA
INTO TUSCANY, OUR NEXT STOP IS CORTONA. CORTONA HAS A HISTORY
THAT GOES BACK 2,500 YEARS TO ETRUSCAN TIMES. IT GREW TO ITS PRESENT SIZE BETWEEN THE 13th
AND 15th CENTURIES, WHEN IT WAS A COLORFUL
AND CROWDED CITY. IT WAS CONQUERED BY THE REGIONAL POWERHOUSE
FLORENCE AND EVENTUALLY ABSORBED
INTO ITS REALM. WHEN FLORENCE
TOOK OVER CORTONA, ITS CAPTAINS RULED THE CITY
FROM HERE, THE CASALI PALACE. BACK THEN, LIKE TODAY,
OCCUPATION WAS A THANKLESS TASK, AND EVERY SIX MONTHS OR SO, FLORENCE WOULD HAVE TO SEND IN
A NEW CAPTAIN. WHEN THE NEW CAPTAIN ARRIVED,
HE WOULD ESTABLISH HIS RULE BY PUTTING
HIS FAMILY COAT OF ARMS INTO THE BUILDING’S WALL. THESE DATE FROM AROUND 1600 AND WERE ONCE
COLORFULLY PAINTED. THE MEDALLIONS,
LIKE MUCH OF THE CITY, WERE MADE OF SANDSTONE
AND SUFFER BADLY FROM EROSION. WHILE CORTONA IS EXTREMELY
POPULAR WITH AMERICANS LATELY, ITS GRITTY
PERSONALITY SURVIVES. MY FRIEND AND FELLOW
TOUR GUIDE, GIOVANNI ADREANI, WHOSE FAMILY GOES BACK
SEVEN CENTURIES IN CORTONA, IS JOINING US. MANY PEOPLE FROM U.S.,
MANY AMERICANS, THEY KNOW CORTONA
BECAUSE OF THE MODERN NOVELUNDER THE TUSCAN SUN,BUT ACTUALLY, FOR US,
IT FEELS DIFFERENT. IT DOES FEEL DIFFERENT
BECAUSE IT’S BEEN 200 YEARS THAT WE HAVE PEOPLE LIVING
IN CORTONA — FOREIGNERS. THAT ROMANTIC VIEW
WE HAVE ABOUT CORTONA IS ABOUT PEOPLE FROM FRANCE,
FROM ENGLAND, STAYING IN CORTONA. IT WAS THE GRAND TOUR. SO THIS DREAMY IDEA
WE HAVE ABOUT TUSCANY, IT’S REALLY 200 YEARS OLD? CREATED BY THE FRENCH
AND BY THE ENGLISH. BY THE FRENCH AND BY
THE ENGLISH. IT’S A ROMANTIC VIEW
THAT THEY MADE. SO THIS IS WHAT I MEAN AS A ROMANTIC VIEW
ONTO TUSCANY. THIS TERRACE IS MADE
BY THE PEOPLE HERE, TIME OF NAPOLEON, FOR ENJOY THE VIEW
OF TUSCANY, THE VALLEY. Steves: THEY MADE IT
FOR THE TOURISTS THEN? YEAH.
BY THE WAY, THAT’S UMBRIA. WHERE YOU SEE THE LAKE
AND THE HILLS, HERE WAS THE BORDER
OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE. YOU KNOW CHARLEMAGNE?
HE WAS UNTIL HERE. AND THERE WAS
THE STATE OF THE POPE. SO THE UMBRIANS, THEY WERE
UNDER THE POPE FOR CENTURIES, UNTIL THE 1800s. BUT ALL OVER ITALY
IS LIKE THIS, DIVIDED. EVERY HILL, EVERY VALLEY
HAS ANOTHER CULTURE, AND SO WE HAVE
MANY ITALYS. THE MEMORIAL BUST
OF GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI, THE BRILLIANT REVOLUTIONARY AND HERO IN THE STRUGGLE
FOR ITALIAN UNIFICATION, ENJOYS THIS SAME VIEW. THIS IS A REMINDER THAT UNITING THE MANY CULTURES
OF THIS PENINSULA WAS THE MAIN CHALLENGE THE FATHERS OF MODERN ITALY
FACED BACK IN THE 1860s. VIA NAZIONALE, WHILE ONLY NAMED
IN THE 19th CENTURY TO CELEBRATE ITALIAN UNITY, HAS BEEN CORTONA’S MAIN DRAG
FOR A LONG TIME. SO THIS IS THE CORSO.
IT IS THE MAIN STREET. SO PEOPLE ARE WALKING,
PASSEGGIATA. YEAH, BECAUSE IT’S EASY,
IT’S FLAT. BY THE WAY, THE REAL NAME
IS VIA NAZIONALE, BUT WE CALL THIS ROAD
RUGAPIANA. IT MEANS “FLAT WRINKLE.”
THE FLAT WRINKLE? YOU SAW THE OTHER ALLEYS,
YOU KNOW. SO THIS IS REALLY
THE ONLY FLAT ROAD IN TOWN? IT’S THE ONLY FLAT ROAD
WE HAVE. AND SOONER OF LATER,
THOSE STROLLING END UP ON THE MAIN SQUARE
UNDER THE OLD CITY HALL. THE MAYOR FLIES THREE FLAGS — EUROPE, ITALY, AND PEACE. TUSCANY IS FAMOUSLY
LEFT-WING AND PACIFIST. FOR A MORE CONTEMPLATIVE PEACE, HEAD FOR ONE OF TUSCANY’S
MANY EVOCATIVE MONASTERIES. THE BENEDICTINE ABBEY
OF MONTE OLIVETO SITS REMOTE, YET BOLD. WHILE TRANQUIL TODAY, YOU CAN IMAGINE THE POWER
MONASTERIES LIKE THIS MUST HAVE WIELDED
IN CENTURIES PAST. THE FINE 500-YEAR-OLD FRESCOES
LINING ITS CLOISTER SHOW SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF THE FOUNDER OF THE ORDER,
ST. BENEDICT. BENEDICT ESTABLISHED THE FIRST MONASTIC MOVEMENT
AFTER THE FALL OF ROME. BY FILLING THE POLITICAL VACUUM LEFT BY THE DEMISE
OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, HE PLANTED THE SEEDS OF EUROPE. FOR THAT, TODAY BENEDICT
IS CONSIDERED THE PATRON SAINT OF EUROPE. VISITORS ATTENDING
THE DAILY MASS FIND THE MONASTERY
IS STILL VERY MUCH ALIVE, WITH THE MONKS WORSHIPPING
AS THEY DID IN CENTURIES PAST, IN LATIN, WITH GREGORIAN CHANTS. THIS TIMELESS MUSIC
ADDS YET ANOTHER DIMENSION TO THE VIBRANT CULTURAL
LANDSCAPE OF CENTRAL ITALY. OUR NEXT STOP IS NAMED
FOR A LESS FAMOUS SAINT — GIMIGNANO,
OR, IN ENGLISH, GIMIGNANO. SAN GIMIGNANO,
WITH ITS DISTINCTIVE SKYLINE, STANDS LIKE A MEDIEVAL MIRAGE
ON ITS HILLTOP. ABOUT MIDWAY BETWEEN
SIENA AND FLORENCE, SAN GIMIGNANO WAS
A NATURAL STOP FOR PILGRIMS EN ROUTE TO ROME. ITS WALLS WERE BUILT
IN THE 13th CENTURY. ITS MIGHTY GATES REGULATED
WHO CAME AND WENT. THROUGH THE MIDDLE AGES, A STEADY STREAM OF
ST. PETER’S-BOUND PILGRIMS STOKED THE TOWN’S ECONOMY. THIS WAS A PILGRIM SHELTER,
ONE OF 11 IN TOWN. THE MALTESE CROSS INDICATES THE BUILDING WAS CONSTRUCTED
BY THE KNIGHTS OF MALTA, PERHAPS THE MEDIEVAL EQUIVALENT
OF A ROTARY CLUB PROJECT. TODAY,
TOURISTS REPLACE PILGRIMS, AND IT CAN BE REALLY CROWDED. THE LOCALS MAY SEEM FIXATED
ON THE EASY MONEY OF TOURISM, AND MUCH OF
THIS OLD-LOOKING ARCHITECTURE IS ACTUALLY FAUX MEDIEVAL — RECONSTRUCTED WITH A FLAIR
FOR THE FANCIFUL IN THE 19th-CENTURY
ROMANTIC AGE. BUT SAN GIMIGNANO’S
SO EASY TO VISIT AND VISUALLY SO BEAUTIFUL, IT REMAINS A GOOD STOP. PIAZZA DELLA CISTERNA IS NAMED FOR THE CISTERN
THAT SUPPLIED THIS OLD WELL. A CLEVER SYSTEM OF PIPES DRAINED RAINWATER
FROM THESE ROOFTOPS INTO THE CISTERN BUILT
UNDER THE SQUARE. THIS HAS BEEN THE TOWN CENTER
FOR A THOUSAND YEARS, AND IT’S STILL
THEPLACE TO HANG OUT. SAN GIMIGNANO’S CLAIM
TO TOURISTIC FAME IS ITS STRIKING TOWERS. OF THE ORIGINAL SIXTY OR SO,
ABOUT A DOZEN SURVIVE. BEFORE THERE WERE
EFFECTIVE WALLS, RICH PEOPLE FORTIFIED
THEIR OWN HOMES WITH TOWERS LIKE THESE. THEY PROVIDED A HANDY REFUGE WHEN RUFFIANS
AND RIVAL CITY-STATES WERE SACKING THE TOWN. PRICKLY SKYLINES
LIKE SAN GIMIGNANO’S WERE THE NORM
IN MEDIEVAL TUSCANY. IN THE 14th CENTURY, SAN GIMIGNANO’S GOOD TIMES
WENT VERY BAD. ABOUT 13,000 PEOPLE LIVED
WITHIN THE WALLS. IN 1348,
A PLAGUE DECIMATED THE TOWN, CUTTING ITS POPULATION
BY 2/3. A CRUSHED AND DEMORALIZED
SAN GIMIGNANO FELL UNDER THE REALM
OF THE REGIONAL BULLY, FLORENCE. TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE,
FLORENCE REDIRECTED THE VITAL TRADE ROUTE
AWAY FROM SAN GIMIGNANO. AND FLORENCE REQUIRED THAT MOST OF THE TOWERS
BE TORN DOWN. THE TOWN NEVER RECOVERED AND POVERTY LEFT IT STUCK
IN A 14th-CENTURY TIME WARP. THAT EXPLAINS SAN GIMIGNANO’S
POPULARITY WITH TOURISTS, AND ITS PROSPERITY, TODAY. THE HILL TOWNS
OF TUSCANY AND UMBRIA OFFER A RICH ASSORTMENT
OF TRAVEL THRILLS. FROM DRAMATIC SETTINGS TO EXQUISITE ARCHITECTURE, AND FROM THE RUSTIC TRADITIONS
OF ITS FOOD AND WINE TO ITS HOSPITALITY, THIS REGION HAS ALL THE ELEMENTS THAT MAKE TRAVEL TO EUROPE
FOREVER FRESH AND REWARDING. I HOPE YOU’VE ENJOYED OUR VISIT TO SOME OF ITALY’S
UNFORGETTABLE HILL TOWNS. JOIN US NEXT TIME FOR MORE
OF THE BEST OF EUROPE. I’M RICK STEVES. UNTIL THEN,
KEEP ON TRAVELING.CIAO.

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