Virtual travel to Tuscany, Italy

Top attractions & things to do in Tuscany:


History, facts and travel tips about Tuscany

Famed for its marvelous scenery, Tuscany's landscape combines colorful rolling hills, splendid ancient villas, massive mountains, numerous rivers and seven islands!

Rich in history, encompassing the ancient, modern, Urban, artistic and bucolic, Tuscany represents a journey of leisure, pleasure, and above all, discovery.

The coast stretches from the protected nature reserves of the Maremma, to Versilia, further North, at the foot of the Apuan Alps. Surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, these majestic white marble peaks punctuated by ancient quarries, rise before plunging into deep valleys and underground cavities.

The Apennines further inland to the North East, cxurve around the Tuscan border, descending from Liguria to the Tyrrhenian coast to meet the sea, forming a crescent of marine Islands.

Tuscany is overflowing with rivers: every valley is a waterway. The Magra river flows through Lunigiana, where Tuscany joins Liguria. The Serchio river flows across Garfagnana in the province of Lucca. The Sieve choruses through the verdant hills of Mugello, just a few kilometers north of Florence. The more famous and larger river Arno passes through the Casentino, and the Tiber from the Tuscan Apennine mountains flows South to Rome through Val Tiberina.

South of Florence, in the province of Siena, towards the centre of Tuscany, lie the the Chianti Hills, famous for their wines. Close by, the distinctive towers of the medieval town of San Gimignano stand against the sky. Journeying west, close to the coastline, the unmistakable fiery red Colline metallifere (metal-bearing hills) rich in ores and minerals, roll down to the sea. Moving further South, the coast leads to the beautiful oasis of Maremma near Grosseto, dominated by the volcanic Monte Amiata.

At its genesis, Tuscany was largely marshy woodland, inhabited by Ligures and later by the Etruscans who established nine of their fifteen major cities in the region.

Important Etruscan coastal towns were connected to cities further inland with road networks oriented from east to west. Traces of the Etruscans remain to this day both archeologically and in various place names: the very word "Toscana" originated from the area's original Etruscan name "Tuscia", inhabited by "Tusci", who dwelt between the banks of the Arno and the Tevere.

The arrival of the Romans brought the construction of new cities including Florence, and new roads oriented from North to South for reasons of conquest: as Tuscany was a strategic step on the road to Gaul, the region was equipped for further conquests with far reaching roads such as via Cassia and via Aurelia which stretched along the coast.

One of the most important Etruscan and Roman contributions was the introduction and cultivation of the Olive tree, imported from the Middle East. This was the source of the precious "liquid gold", Tuscan Olive Oil, which became an essential feature of any italian table.

With the arrival Lombards in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries, most of the Roman Roads remained intact. Only via Aurelia fell into disrepair: pirates roaming the coastal road rendered it unsafe, and it was abandoned as a major thoroughfare.

With the arrival of the Franks, around the Ninth Century, via Cassia acquired the name of Francigena, which stretched from the English city of Canterbury to Rome, and became the major route for pilgrims on their Southbound journey to Rome, in medieval Europe. This ancient and monumental route also gained the name of via Romea.

Many Tuscan city names may be traced back to their various conquerers and inhabitants. Radicofani, the fortress controlling the borders between the Papal State and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in the middle ages, was named by the Lombards; Maremma was so called by the Franks.

Tuscany's capital, Florence, became prominent after the death of Matilde di Canossa, the last of the Marquises of Tuscany, in 1115 and the defeat of the Pisans by the Genoese at the battle of Meloria. Florence's subsequent rise was inexorable, culminating in the Nineteenth Century, when the State of Lucca was annexed to its territories.

At the close of the first millennium, Tuscany experienced rapid population growth. Villages sprang up on hilltops and in valleys. This process, encouraged by landowners and Monasteries caused the otherwise dispersed population to regroup, creating new communities. As these new villages were formed, many existing "Pievi" (churches with a baptismal font) were abandoned, which is why to this day ancient Pievi are dotted across the Tuscan landscape.

During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, Tuscany's status increased: its economy, based on the production of textiles, and more importantly banking, continued to thrive. The late fourteen Hundreds was an era of unrivaled splendor for Tuscany, and particularly Florence.

Although Giotto and Dante had left immeasurable contributions to Italy's cultural heritage, the period ranging from Cosimo the Elder to his son Lorenzo the Magnificent saw the Renaissance flower.

Florence became the cultural centre of the civilized world, nurtured by the Signoria, (the city's governing body) of the Medici family, who maintained power till the Eighteenth Century when Grand Duchy of Tuscany passed to Francesco Stefano of the Lorraine dynasty. Though he never set foot in Tuscany, he bestowed responsibility of its administration to his forward thinking son, Pietro Leopoldo Ist, who greatly modernized Tuscan bureaucracy and law.

During the Eighteen Hundreds, Italy experienced pockets of revolutionary tumult. Despite Leopold's "enlightened" style of government, the presence of his Austrian garrison incurred Tuscan wrath. Very early one morning, Leopold quietly withdrew with his troops, depriving the rebels of their enemy. It was said that having nothing else to do, "the Revolution went to have breakfast".

Tuscany Italy continued to affirm its reputation as refuge in both the Renaissance and Napoleonic periods, offering Political Asylum to writers and patriots.

In a Plebiscite in 1860, Tuscany abolished the Grand Duchy in favor of a Unitary State and for the brief period from 1865 to 1870, Florence became Capital of Italy.

Tuscany's fame spans centuries of ideologies and rural and city life in a rich tapestry of art and history, as beautiful as it is fascinating. In addition to the fame of Florence, Lucca, Pisa and Siena, Fiesole, Arezzo, Carrara, Volterra and San Gimignano, and countless other corners of the region hold delightful gems to which one can only wish to return.