Day 11 (Sun, May 13): Free Morning (Montecatini Alto), The Florentine Legacy

Pretty much a free day today. The weather was wonderful -- sunny, warm, with a nice breeze.

Comune di Montecatini Alto
Looming above Montecatini Terme is the village of Montecatini Alto, elev 300m. Montecatini Alto was a castle of romanesque origin. From about 1350 until 1905, Montecatini Terme was merely an extension of Montecatini Alto and was known as Bagni di Montecatini. In that year, they became two separate and distinct comunes. The were re-united in 1940.

We took the funicolare (funicular railroad), constructed in 1897, to Montecatini Alto. A lovely trip up an extremely steep hill through woods, singing birds, fantastic views. We walked the long way from the upper terminal to the main plaza. The view was spectacular. There's a plaque in the wall which quotes Giuseppe Verdi (the first to ride the funicolare to the top): "Ecco i piu' splendidi panorami che io abbia mai visto", which I translate as "Here [are] the most splendid panoramas which I have ever seen."

The orange monstrosity in the first picture at the top of this page (and in the far right photo, with the broken windows) was to have been a German tourist hotel, constructed in ugly-modern during 1970s, and completely out of sync with the very expensive homes up there. It was never completed. Work ceased altogether, it is rumored, when the Mafia put a stop to it. Grazie mille, Mafiosi! Montecatini-Alto was a nice place but neither of us felt like spending much time exploring, so we returned to Montecatini Terme.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the Desideri Gelateria at Viale Verdi, 84 and each had a cherry gelato. They were wonderful ... all that Sabrina promised they would be. It was so filling, in fact, that we skipped lunch and spent an hour or so in the courtyard reading. Well, I was reading. Karen dozed off.

Sabrina lectured on the development of the Italian language and its relation to the history of Italian unification. With the collapse of Rome Latin gave way to Germanic tribes in the north, Arabic in Sicily, Spanish in Naples. St. Francis, who spoke to the people, preferred local dialects over classic Latin. The troubadours spread vernacular through popular song. Bocaccio's 1348 Decameron was the first prose work written in Florentine; it was later used as a basis for the dictionaries and grammar (the first of which was by Pietro Bembo). In 1764 Italian becomes the official language of the courts, then for education. Later influences: radio, Mussolini, trains, intermarriages, movies, television (first broadcast in 1954).

After dinner we went to the courtyard where we visited with Gloria Valone, Denny and Pamela Hovik, and Richard Flower.