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Big cathedrals and small parish churches

Since ancient times, building had been taking place with the knowledge of telluric currents and groundwater vibrations, as well as with the orientation of the solar cycle. The Cathedrals, Abbeys and Parish Churches were built accurately, bringing these concepts back to the stone. Cathedrals maintain a close relationship with the episcopal authority, they are built alongside a Baptistery, almost always octagonal in shape, to represent baptism, which must take place before entering a church. The abbey church is the seat of the Abbot of the Monastic Orders and the Parish churches were built to make up for urban decentralisation and accommodate the rural and peasant population.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the largest churches in the world. The beautiful dome, the largest masonry one, contains a 90-metre astronomical gnomon, for determining the solstice, and a clock made by Paolo Uccello that marks time backwards, moving in an anticlockwise direction. 

La cupola del Duomo di Firenze
La cupola del Duomo di Firenze

Let's leave Florence and go to Siena, where the beautiful and mysterious Cathedral stands. On its facade, there is an ancient Sator, a stone square with a Latin "palindrome" on it, which is a phrase that remains unchanged when read from both the left and the right. The majesty of the place is very striking and the focus is on the floor and the marble stones, the inlays skilfully placed next to each other to reconstruct the figures of pagan and Christian themes, known as Testamentary. The main figure is that of Ermete Trismegistus, the god Thoth for the ancient Egyptians, Mercury for the Greeks, Hermes for the Ancient Romans, the father who holds the secrets of nature, the father of human knowledge. 

Interno del Duomo di Siena
Duomo di Siena, interno

And continuing through the green Tuscan hills we come across the Abbey of Sant'Antimo, which was built during the period of the Holy Roman Empire and over time has become one of the most important monasteries in the region, also thanks to the splendour of its location, on one of the most beautiful hills of Montalcino. 

Interno dell'abbazia di Sant'Antimo
Abbazia di Sant'Antimo, interno

Continuing along the roads that disappear into the vineyards of the Val d'Orcia, you will reach the Collegiate Church of San Quirico. Preceded by an ancient baptistery, it bears witness to the transformations that took place over the centuries through sculpted symbols: from the Two-tailed Sirens of pagan tradition, to the beautiful eight-spoke rose window, a rarity for Tuscan religious architecture. 

Esterno della Collegiata di San Quirico d'Orcia, dettaglio del portale
Collegiata di San Quirico d'Orcia

The path to the sacred architecture of Tuscany continues along the road that goes up and down through hills in the Sienese territory, arriving in the splendid Pienza, the "Ideal Renaissance city". The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is located here. It is a narrow church with an irregular trapezoid shape resulting from the limited space available, and the Hermitage, a complex carved into the rock by hermit monks. Two future popes, Pius II and Pius III, were baptised in the Parish Church of Corsignano, while in the Parish Church of San Leonardo in Monticchiello, there are frescoes that tell the story of the life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. We then reach the castle of Spedaletto, belonging to the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, a medieval fortress that conjures up the imagery of Renaissance Dames and Knights. In Radicofani, on the other hand, in the churches of San Pietro and Sant’Agata you can admire some Della Robbia pottery.  

Esterno della Pieve di Corsignano
Pieve dei Santi Vito e Modesto a Corsignano

Walking once more along the roads of the Sienese territory, in a variant of the Via Francigena, we reach the Sanctuary of Maria Santissima Madre della Provvidenza in San Gimignano, a sanctuary linked to the story of a miracle that took place between a poor, dumb shepherdess and the Blessed Lady of Divine Providence. 
The journey continues along main road, through the hills of the Sienese countryside, between the rows of vines and olive trees until you reach the sea, in Pisa, where the Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture for centuries. The confluence of different styles, from classical to Byzantine, Lombard and Islamic, makes it an apogee of evidence of the commercial and political power of Pisa.

La facciata della Cattedrale di Pisa vista dal Battistero
Cattedrale di Pisa

Not far from the city, the Certosa di Calci is a former Baroque monastery in which the Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa is now also located.

Interno della chiesa della Certosa di Calci
Certosa di Calci

  • Progetto finanziato a valere sui fondi Legge n. 77 del 20 febbraio 2006 “Misure speciali di tutela e fruizione dei siti italiani di interesse culturale, paesaggistico e ambientale, inseriti nella “lista del patrimonio mondiale”, posti sotto la tutela dell’UNESCO”