The bus for Fiesole departs from Florence’s San Marco Piazza and, within twenty minutes, starts climbing steep, hairpin, switchbacks through swanky residential neighbourhoods of impressive villas with steep-sided, hidden gardens. The elevation gain must be close to 2,000 feet. Fiesole marks the beginning of the Apennines, which are the beautiful mountains one sees from the city center. The views from the top, out across the flat valley towards Florence were outstanding: the massive Duomo looked like a thimble.
As soon as we got off the bus, in the center of the small village of Fiesole with its pollarded linden trees just leafing out, you could immediately feel how much cooler it was than in Florence. On this April morning, it was quite chilly, but we could see why the Florentine elite of every era chose to have villas in Fiesole to avoid the summer heat.
The Roman theatre in Fiesole was built in the first century A.D. and still functions as an outdoor theatre seating 2,000 people. There are examples of Roman baths (hot, cold, and tepid), ovens to heat the baths, and Roman temples, roads and altars. There are also examples of Etruscan altars and temples from the 4th century B.C.! In between all the stone, and Roman and Etruscan ruins, were spring flowers just like Botticelli painted in Primavera, which we saw yesterday at the Uffizi.
The archaeological museum at Fiesole is very contemporary and an example of good museum design. It included mostly Etruscan artefacts from the site, my favourite of which was a tiny bronze owl from the 3rd or 4th century BC, probably showing worship of Minerva. There were impressive examples of etched glass goblets, completely intact, that were 2,500 years old! The glazes and drawings on the pottery, and the elegance of the bronze figures showed how culturally advanced the Etruscans were for such an old civilization. Other than a significant tomb find in 1986, most of the artefacts in the museum were found in the late 19thcentury. The museum’s curators believe there is a wealth of undiscovered archaeological material at the site most, they predict, less than a few centimetres below the surface.