Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Livorna, Tuscany, Italy

What a life! After an early night in Naples, we were up at the crack of noon the following day to an artery clogging medley of eggs, bacon, grilled tomatoes, roast potatoes and hash-browns. Looking out of the window, we found ourselves in Livorno, another Italian port a couple of hundred miles north of Rome on the west side of the Italian boot. Livorno is a great jumping off point for visits to Florence, Pisa or Lucca and is quite interesting in its own right. Since we had spent time in both Florence and Pisa earlier this year, we decided to visit a couple of tiny rural medieval towns in the Tuscany heartland. Volterra was the first of these.

With a population of about 11,000, Volterra is an ancient walled city, the importance of which has dwindled significantly since it was a regional episcopal power in the 13th century. Supported currently by local alabaster mines, alabaster processing and tourism, it is a tidy little burg but one with seemingly little growth potential. Another piece of Italian suspended animation, i.e. a loss of consciousness resembling death.

San Gimignano, City of Towers
The community has been around since the third century BCE but came to some prominence when Saint Geminianus, from whom the current name was derived, fought there against the Huns in the tenth century. San Gemignano was on the main route leading to Rome and developed partly as a stopping point for pilgrims. Everything in fact, was hunky-dory up through the middle of the 14th century when, in 1348, the plague struck the town and people began avoiding it, well - like the plague. It wasn't until the 19th century, when tourism developed, that the city emerged a little from its obscurity.
At its peak, around the end of the 12th century, everyone with a few bucks to squander fell prey to the size matters syndrome and set about furiously building the biggest tower in town. Most of the seventy plus towers that existed at that time have since fallen victim to various wars, been plundered for building materials or simply fallen down, leaving just fourteen which are now zealously maintained to keep the tourists coming. Sort of sad when you think about it. Much happier, was the cheerful participation in consuming 2,100 pounds of beef eaten on the boat that evening. That was fun!

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