Tuscany (Toscana)-Part 1 Florence, San Gimignano, Volterra "Avrai tu l'universo resti l'Italia a me." Giuseppe Verdi

Verdi's love to Italy is well elucidated in his own words; "You may have the universe if I may have Italy".....and there are many who would ascribe these words to Tuscany, a most beloved region of rolling hills and ancient medieval walled cities. Tuscany has a history rich in art and sciences and is home to Leonardo, Michelanglo, Brunellschi, Donetello, Galileo, Machiavelli, Vespucci, to name a few. So what defines this region called 'Tuscany' an area of roughly 9,000 square miles and 4 million people, and how can one possibly do justice to this land of the Renaissance. Well, I for one cannot, however I can tell of our adventures 'under the tuscan sun'; to invoke a well known phrase. Every journey tells a story and this is our story told in photographs. Words in this narrative, reflected as light blue include a link to relevant websites to provide an historical perspective of each city/area. This narrative is not intended as a dialog in Tuscan art/history however the historical aspects of this region of Italy cannot be understated.

The image that introduces this narrative was captured just before sunset and was artistically rendered using Topaz Studio. In my view it is most appropriate to begin with an artistic rendition of an iconic Florentine landmark in a city whose existence is dedicated to art and culture.


Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens f/11 for 1/480secs ISO 200 - Taken from Piazzale Michelangelo and artistically rendered in Topaz Studio

A journey in Tuscany is a journey into and out of time. My husband and I began our Tuscan adventure in Florence. The city was inundated with tourists and so we began our exploratory tour along the riverside avenues at sunset. This was the beginning of June so sunset was late when most tourists are dining, which meant less foot traffic on the narrow streets.

Ponte Vecchio: Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens f/16 for 10secs ISO 200

The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence and has been a symbol of Florence since the Romans. As the story goes in 1442 the authorities of Florence obligated all butchers to move to the bridge in order to isolate them from the city center (for reasons of cleanliness) so that they could dispose of their waste material directly into the Arno River, over which the bridge runs. Thus it became a meat market. Then in 1593 the unpleasant odors of the butchers, fishmonger, and tanners, resulted in them being relocated and the bridge storefronts made way for goldsmiths and jewelers, which remain to this day. Interestingly enough it was the only bridge in Florence not destroyed by the Germans in WWII.

The image above was captured from Ponte S. Trinita. The Ponte Vecchio has been photographed from every direction by so many.....so this is my version. With the camera mounted on a tripod and the light changing minute by minute, I waited until the light from the sunset behind me was low in the horizon and reflected onto the rich colors of the buildings and the clouds in the sky. Using a wide angle lens set to a focal length of 15.9mm (24 full frame equivalent) enabled me to compose the image to encompass the bridge as well as the buildings surrounding it. At the same time and luckily for me, my husband suggested I turn around, and I was glad for once that I paid attention. The sunset in the image below, is over the Ponte alla Carraia, and the sky was painted with the beautiful light of the setting sun.

Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens f/16 for 20 secs ISO 200

As day turned into night we walked the other side of the riverside avenues and this time with the camera perched onto a concrete ledge as there was no means of securing a tripod I captured the night lights of the Ponte Vecchio reflecting into the Arno river below. Capturing imagery at twilight, most often referred to as 'blue hour', produces dramatic lighting through a combination of the blue hue in the night sky with the artificial light sources. The concrete ledge provided the necessary stabilization to eliminate blur and enabled the use of a small aperture to give the starburst quality to the artificial lights.

Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens f/20 for 20 secs ISO 200

Our stay of two nights in Florence was far too short to do it justice. We undertook our own walking tour of the city during the day when the city was under siege by tourists. Below are a few happy snaps of our day time observations of the narrow streets and the activity within.

Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens

San Gimignano

Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens f/8 for 1/450secs ISO 200 -Artistically rendered using Topaz Studio

San Gimignano is a relatively small well preserved medieval town which can trace its history to the 3rd century. Through the centuries San Gimignano was fought over and ruled by many diverse groups and the 14 (originally 72) remaining medieval towers bear testimony to the self-importance of the ruler rivalries of the time. San Gimignano eventually fell to Florence in the 14th century and today falls within the Province of Siena. The center of the city is Piazza della Cisterna, named for the cistern in the center of the square.

Piazza della Cisterna: Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens f/18 for .8secs ISO 200

The charm of this small town is best enjoyed after hours when the tourist buses have departed. We chose accommodation within the walls of the city making it easy to explore the streets after hours unimpeded. After dinner the empty streets are to be savored. The images below were all shot during 'blue hour' with the camera on a tripod for stabilization. A narrow aperture ensured the starburst effects on the artificial light.

Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens

The activities within the walls of this medieval city are very similar to other medieval cities within Tuscany, where at their heart it is all about food, wine and the enjoyment of life. "First we eat and then we do everything else". Below are a series of images captured in the late afternoon/early evening.

Fuji X-T2 10-24m lens
Church of Sant'Agostino-a 13th century building with frescos depicting the education, teachings and journey of the life of St. Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli 1464-65 (Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens f/16 for .5secs ISO 800

Not far from San Gimignano is the walled medieval city of Volterra. Volterra is approximately 28 kilometers from San Gimignano and while being physically close is different. We set out to explore this understated medieval town as the tourists invaded San Gimignano.


Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens f/8 for 1/640secs ISO 200 -Artistically rendered in Topaz Studio

Volterra best known for its alabaster lies within the province of Pisa and is not as touristy as Siena and San Gimignano. Volterra has a rich Etruscan history and is a place which deserves a return visit as we were there for a very short time and therefore cannot do this ancient medieval town photographic justice. At best a few happy snaps to record our visit. The town is clean, quiet and quaint. Volterra is deserving of an artists' brush and so I processed the images using Topaz Studio to give the captured scenes an artistic feel.

Funi X-T2 18-55mm lens-artistically rendered in Topaz Studio

Returning to San Gimignano we passed this farmhouse tucked into the side of a hill, as though protected by its surroundings. The yellow flowers along the ridge contrasting with the green appealed to me and so I stopped and took a shot.

Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens f/16 for 1/160secs ISO 200-Artistically rendered using Topaz Studio
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