Sunday, April 29, 2012

Armchair Travels - Tuscany

Recently a family member told me she is heading for a trip to Europe and one of her stops is Tuscany.  I know very little of this place other than seeing it in the movie adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  I thought a little armchair traveling would help spur me to read more about it by delving into some travel books, a bit of cooking and catch a few videos.  If nothing else I can travel along while she is experiencing the real thing!

Tuscany is a region in Italy of roughly 23,000 kilometers with mild weather along the coastal areas and more severe weather in the interior with more rain and colder temperatures in the winter.  It is considered the true birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and contains six World Heritage sites, including the historic center of Florence, and the famous Cathedral of Pisa.  It is an area steeped in culture dating back to the Pre-Etruscan and Etruscan time periods.  The Etruscans built a thriving civilization with transportation, agriculture, mining and artwork.  They flourished in this area until the 1st century when they were taken over by the Romans who absorbed much of their culture leading to their eventual demise.  Rome went on to establish new cities, such as Pisa, Siena and Florence.  They brought new technologies such as sewers, aqueducts and many new buildings.  Eventually Rome faded away and the medieval period started with several cities flourishing with their own gifts such as banking in Siena, shipping in Pisa and textiles in Lucca.  But, it was Florence that became the cultural capital of Tuscany and is often described as the birthplace of the Renaissance.  For many years Tuscany was ruled by the infamous Medici family until the 1850's when Tuscany was transferred from the Austrian Empire to the newly formed nation of Italy.

Tuscany is one of the most celebrated art centers in the world, with the works of Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Brunelleschi, Giotto, Botticelli and Donatello scattered throughout the numerous art galleries and museums. There are also ten artistic art centers scattered throughout the region, such as Pisa, Prato and Siena, each containing their own unique style of art and architecture.  Music is also a celebrated art form in Tuscany with the emergence of such celebrated composers and musicians as Puccini and Mascagni.  The operatic form of stage productions also originated in the 16th century and went on to develop into different forms, to include the symphony.  Several writers and poets emerged during the 13th century and the Renaissance period, and Tuscany can lay claim to one of the most famous poets known to the literary world, Dante Aligheri, whose work The Divine Comedy is considered one of the greatest works of literature. 

They have a simple cuisine, consisting of breads, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and mushrooms. Pork and beef are also produced, along with white truffles that only appear in October and November.  Chianti, one of the most famous international wines has been produced here since the nineteenth century.  Agriculture is still a thriving industry, along with mining, textiles, pharmaceuticals, clothing, hot-house plants and scooters.  Tourism is also a large industry, with Florence seeing an average of 10 million visitors a year.  With so much to see and do, it seems you could spend weeks exploring this vibrant region of Italy and not experience half of what is available. 

The library catalog is full of  resources to discover during your own armchair journey through Tuscany and Italy!

The available eResources include:

The Transparent Language database allows a simple immersion into the basics of the Italian language.

There is the Classical Music Library where you can listen to several Italian composers.

Global Road Warrior is a great resource that provides extensive information on such things as climate, education, maps, business culture and communications.

Here are a selection of items from the library catalog that might be of interest, in various formats:


Everyday in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life by Frances Mayes (also available in audio)


1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance by Gavin Menzies and Simon Vance

A Year in the World by Frances Mayes

Summer in Tuscany by Elizabeth Adler and Celeste Lawson


Florence produced by Global Television

Chianti, The Inside The Tuscan Hills Series produced by Fifty Rubies Television

Tuscany produced by Global Television


Under the Tuscan Sun by Touchstone Pictures, starring Diane Lane

Fiorile by Fine Line Pictures, starring Michael Vartan

Italy by PBS, with host Rick Steves


A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover's Dream by Ferenc Maté

A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany: Exploring and Eating off the Beaten Track by Beth Elon

The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran

Toscana Mia: The Heart and Soul of Tuscan Cooking by Umberto Menghi

Hidden Tuscany: Unusual Destinations and Secret Places by Massimo Lestri, Cesare Cunnacia

Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich

Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics and Art in the Fifteenth Century by Tim Parks

Michaelangelo: The Achievement of Fame, 1475-1534 by Michael Hirst

Seven Seasons in Siena: My Quixotic Quest for Acceptance among Italy's Proudest People by Robert Rodi

Have you visited Tuscany? Are there any resources you would recommend for an armchair (or real) traveler?

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