It will come as no surprise that much of the Roman character of Tuscany has been preserved. One special example of that fact is to be found in Fiesole. A superb respite from busy Florence below, Fiesole offers views of the city, the Arno and much more from atop its peak.
The town itself far predates the Roman period, going back to the country’s Etruscan era in the 9th century BC. From here, high on the hill, one can look out on modern Florence. But the distance is just great enough that it isn’t hard to imagine life as it was those many centuries ago.
Conquered by the Romans in 283 BC, Fiesole soon became home to an outstanding school of the period. The city saw wars between Rome and the Vandals, as well, in the early 5th century AD. Its citizens fought many wars with Florence until succumbing to its more famous neighbor in 1125 AD.
Scattered around the town are reminders of all those events and many more.
The cathedral is a plain structure, but well worth a look for its orange brick and medieval tower. The Franciscan monastery is another site that may offer simple architecture, but is full of historical significance. In the Courtyard to Heaven, there is a quite interesting small column with a cross set between two short thin columns topped by a lintel.
Much grander is the nearby Medici Villa, built by the famous rulers in the mid-15th century. Or, one could visit the nearby Lombard tombs, a reminder of the time the site served as a necropolis. In addition, there are outstanding examples of Greek vases, amphorae and many other artifacts that would have been well known to citizens of the day.
But unquestionably, one of the most enticing sights for visitors is the Roman Theater, still in use today.
Built in the 1st century BC, it offers an amphitheater that seats 3,000 today just as it did 2,000 years ago. The right half is original, the left portion was rebuilt in the 19th century. Sitting among sections of column, broken friezes and other remnants of the period, it’s easy to imagine hearing a performance from that bygone era.
A grove of olive trees decorates the center and there are baths with outstanding arches nearby. Sitting on the curved stone bleachers one can hear the strains of Vivaldi from the 18th century while being reminded of music from much further back.
Or, you may be fortunate enough to see one of the plays that are produced there. Nothing can compare to the experience of seeing an original Roman comedy by Terence or Plautus in a theater where patrons first heard its lines spoken.
A visit to Fiesole can last an hour, after winding up the steep curvy road, or occupy a full day or evening. Visitors who make the trip will be glad they did. (photo: Nikater, Ettore Timi)