Tuscan CountrysideWednesday, 11 July 2007
Monte San Savino – Pienza -
Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Italy
We want to show the town hall next door to our guests. There’s an impressive pillared façade then a courtyard open to the sky, a lovely terraced rose garden behind. Today, there’s a grand piano set up for a concert either last night or tonight. We encouraged Gerri to play something pretty on it so she can say she’d performed in Italy. She confidently sat on the bench and played a beautiful Chopin waltz. It was only 2 or 3 minutes long but just as she was finishing, a stern looking carabiniere came down the stairs and was about to tell her to stop when she came to the end with a flourish and a big smile. Now she can add Italy to the list of countries where she’s played; but I think she’ll leave off the part about the policeman about to run her off.
We wander through the busy market, then walk outside the walls to the car and take off to Pienza.
The church in this cliff side town is literally sliding down into the valley below. Pope Pius II, born Piccolomini, insisted the church be built on the square even though he was advised there was no room for it to be safely built.
The cracks in the walls and floors are being monitored by electronic cylinder and piston devices; and over the centuries, the foundation has been buttressed from underneath. From the first step into the church the feeling of going downhill is uncanny.
The square in Pope Pius II’s hometown is cozy. A loggia behind, the church façade in front, a side entrance to the Pope’s palazzo on one side and a beautiful stone well make an entirely pleasing site. We stroll through the town, also famous as a source for Pecorino (sheep’s) cheese, following our noses into shop after shop sampling Pecorino of differing ages prepared in various ways to give slight variations as to taste and texture.
We descend the hill, looking back at the Pienza skyline as we drive through the valley to tiny Montechiello where lunch awaits us on the terrace of La Porta beside the main gate facing south. Almost every town is on a hilltop and has an ancient wall with a few dramatic stone portals. Fear and the need for security motivated the design and placement of these villages where citizens could huddle in safety when threatened. Smart bombs and aircraft have made the walls obsolete and at present, security is the result of making friends with former enemies, but as late as World War II, German soldiers walked through this village intimidating the townspeople with threats of total annihilation as punishment for some Italian underground activities blamed on some brave Montechiello youths.
Most of the frescoes in the cloister have been recently restored
but we had the good fortune of seeing one
of the last ones in the process of being professionally brought back to its original brilliance.
There are several monks here and one operates the gift shop that displays, in addition to the regular tourist stuff, lots of catholic articles and books as well as an entire wall covered with little bottles full of elixirs made at the abbey for any number of ailments.