Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy
Part 18, Monteggiori, A Not So Hidden Gem
In my previous post, ‘Florence: A Tale of Two Cities’ I addressed the issue of massed tourism and the effect it had on me when I slammed face to face into a veritable sea of humanity on my return to the city – less than 30 days after wandering its streets, with barely a thought of overcrowded sidewalks and gargantuan queues. But just in case I am giving you the wrong idea about Italy, and specifically my own experience, I want to redress the balance somewhat by sharing the sort of frequent revelation that has made this trip such a sublime journey of discovery… I’m talking about the countless hilltop villages that dot the landscape like so many medieval rustic cherries perched atop of their own olive, vine and scrub covered cakes.
It’s difficult to relay just how many of these ancient walled cities there are here in Tuscany, but practically wherever there is a hill there is a hill town to crown it, and while each one bears a striking similarity to its counterparts, each one is nevertheless a unique creation, boasting a long and proud history. If I didn’t know better I would swear that these picturesque little villages had been carefully planned and constructed in order to utilize the space in a way that provides the maximum aesthetic appeal to its inhabitants while conserving the community’s footprint on the land. Furthermore, being hill top villages they benefit from a natural air conditioning system called the breeze, and Italy being Italy summers can be very hot indeed. Add to that the universally impressive 360 degree views afforded by their position and the appeal of hilltop village life seems quite self-evident.
Admittedly the residents pay a price for their existence in that the housing is largely of medieval stock, but behind many a crumbling façade I have glimpsed numerous snug and cozy interiors that, while possibly falling short of the modern suburban ideal, seem quite cozy and comfortable.
But no matter how many of these picturesque historic villages I discover I still get a thrill from setting out to explore one, no matter how small or how large – they are all quite fascinating to me. The larger ones usually offer a bar, perhaps even a shop or two, maybe even a café. But quite often the only doors open to the public belong to the incomprehensibly ancient church. However for me the particular details of a village are irrelevant because once I cross the threshold, usually marked by a crumbling gateway, I savor each and every discovery they unfold: buildings that lean into one another as if for support, doorways converted to windows and vice versa, stone walls that tell of countless modifications over many centuries. Traces of weather worn inscriptions loom in forgotten places, and best of all… especially if the origins are old enough… really, really ancient stonework, sometimes easily recognizable as Roman, are spotted here and there in their adapted roll as door jambs, lintels or merely as humble blocks in a wall.
Now, I do realize that not everyone finds such discoveries quite so fascinating, but then again, that’s one reason why I often have the places to myself – no hungry hordes of international tourists eager to chalk one more item off their ‘must see’ bucket list, just one or two locals attending to the business of the day.
And so here I present Monteggiori, one such village. I have already showcased another; Casoli, Village of Art, but that was a bit different as it was fairly unique in the way it showed all the signs of a hipster revival, and you’ll travel far and wide to discover another such artistic village. But I chose to spotlight Monteggiori as for me it represents all the nameless, silhouetted, hilltop villages I have seen from afar, and explored from within. I think of them as tiny little jewel box communities, and how they have survived well into the 21st century with such integrity and charisma is a testament to the laudable Italian tradition of savoring and valuing its past. For in Italy nothing it seems is ever simply torn down for the sake of it – not the old factory, or the railway station building, or the crumbling farmhouse, the gatehouse, old walls… nothing! It’s all left for the next generation – and who knows? Perhaps they might find a use for it!
I spotted these medieval toilets at the far end of the village, well away from the church and the larger houses clustered around the square. I imagine property values in the neighborhood constituted quite a bargain.
But however these magnificent urban sculptures have survived, and whoever is responsible for their maintenance and upkeep, I tip my hat to them for they are in my eyes truly magnificent. In them I can see the careful work of numerous generations of masons who leave their mark with every indentation in the stone. I can easily identify the very tools they used, and if the stone was dressed in situ I can even figure out just where they would have placed their feet. The ghosts of countless generations of my mason predecessors haunt every nook and cranny of these villages and it’s a privilege indeed to saunter around such lovely buildings and survey their work.
Finally, to set the scene; I had noticed this village for several weeks prior to driving The Bee, my trusty rented Fiat Panda, up to investigate it, for it holds a most prominent position on the coast between Camaiore and Pietrasanta. In fact this was my last convenient opportunity to do so as I was in the process of moving to Ripafratta that very day and all my travel possessions were hidden in the trunk and back seat of the car as I locked it up and made my way up towards the ancient gate.
The photographs you see were taken in the order in which they are presented, and apart from one elderly couple aggressively pruning and sweeping outside their home I saw no one else for the 45 minutes to an hour that I was there. I heard the sounds of life coming from a few open windows but apart from those two people it was a solitary experience that enabled and facilitated the journey through time that my visit to Monteggiori took me upon.
Until next time then; “Arrivederci”.