Churches of a thousand years
Nothing could be more obvious in Italy than the pervasive influence of the Church for over a thousand years. Religion being what it is, basically a political, power-driven institution under a veneer of spiritualism, it is easy to imagine how powerful an influence it was in medieval life. In the name of religion, it was possible to skim enough resources from a poor agrarian society to finance these huge constructions that would take decades or even centuries to complete.
So there is a certain sense of awe at seeing these old structures, one the still-functioning alabaster cathedral at Sant Antimo, the other a long abandoned ruin at San Galgano. At Sant Antimo a small group of priests “perform” daily Mass and several periods of prayer for a tiny group of tourists, with well-practiced Gregorian chant and clouds of incense.
Somewhere in the midst of any ritual performed regularly and mindfully, there is some element of true spirituality, whether it is these priests and their incense and chanting, or Zen monks with their incense and chanting, or any of many tribal cultures with their sage, dances, and singing.
These are ancient practices that call us to mindfulness, and even though we maintain our skepticism about the politics of religion, maybe we all long for some kind of authentic connection to the Absolute, some understanding of the Mystery of what and why we exist. Seeing these priests perform their rituals, experiencing the sound of the chanting and the way the morning sun illuminates the incense-filled air, and feeling small under the vaulted roof so high overhead, it is easy to imagine how susceptible people must have been a thousand years ago…and how powerful were those who held Authority over them.
Built to last
Everywhere in Tuscany are stone walls, cities, buildings, and bridges, endlessly repaired and reconstructed, showing layers of styles and materials, yet all displaying a continuing dedication to fine masonry skills. This is somehow coupled with the aesthetic (and economic) sensibility and the political will to preserve this style of architecture as a central element of the region’s identity.
The amazing thing is that this could NEVER happen here, of course. First, we just don’t have enough history. And second, even if we did, some developer would want to tear it down and build condos. And they would do just that. In America, the Aesthetic of the Moment is a passing whimsey, a momentary fashion, expendable. Everywhere are the tailings of our obsession with destruction, a shock wave that moves through time leaving one trail of new goodies, and ten others of Trash and Rubbish.
So there is something reassuringly stable about these stone walls, stone towns, stone streets. Solid. Substantial. Enduring.
SLIDE SHOW : Built to Last (note: on some pictures the captions disappear for lack of contrast; sorry, could find no way to change font color in Picasa…???)
Tuscany from the top
Much has been written about the Tuscan landscape and the walled towns and cities built centuries ago on many of the hilltops. At 500-600 meters, which doesn’t seem like much, they are comparable to the height of our own Lummi mountain at 505 m. That doesn’t SOUND all that high, but if you have made the hike, you know that a) the view from that altitude is really quite stunning, and b) it takes a fair amount of energy to get up there.
Which makes me wonder, okay, so the good news is that you have this secure haven up on the hilltop, which is a hassle to invade, and easy to defend, but on the other hand, you have to schlep EVERYTHING up the hill. Interesting tradeoff…makes me think that whoever the Bad Guys were (it’s always the Other guys’ guys, whoever they are, and other guys’ guys being what they always are, they wanna come in and take your stuff, and mess you up, and take all your women, you know, the usual), you did NOT want to let them in. Like, if you are going to spend CENTURIES schlepping huge stones up a hill like that to build a wall, you have to be SERIOUSLY motivated, that’s all I’m saying.
So today’s slide show (link below) shows a few of the views from some of the hilltop towns, including “our own” Montalcino. (see terrain map), which, as you can see from the image, is the toppiest top in a sea of other tops, an intense landscape, and even if the wine is really good, who is going to go to all the trouble to invade a place like that? Seriously. I think you can get the picture from this photo from Wikipedia, which I am assuming must be taken not from an airplane, but from the top of the walls of the fortress at Montalcino, which, by the way, has in it now one business, at which you can taste and buy from a wide selection of Brunellos and Rossos, sort of the local Chamber of Commerce de Vino.
Montalcino from atop the fortress wall (wide angle Wikipedia photo):
|Slide Show: taken from the top|
Our little apartment was in a the same building that housed the Le Chiuse winery, which lies on north slope up to Montelcino. To get there from the main road we had to drive over a series of narrow dirt roads that meander among the many vineyards on the slope. Every day as we set out on the day’s adventures, we would pass this field of poppies. And every day we would try to take the perfect picture to capture their luminescense, their sheer number, their density, and their beauty. The first week was often cloudy, the light was different through the day, and we took many pictures, each of which captures some little element of the sight, but none really does them justice…