Day 12 (Mon, May 14): Concert in a Tuscan Villa, Vinci, Leonardo Museum

We began the day with a trip to the Villa Rospigliosi, southeast of Montecatini Terme. We took the back roads through beautiful countyside, rolling hills, vineyards, olive orchards. Ran into a snag when the road ahead was closed for repair. After a typical Italian negotiation among the bus driver, Christine and 2 viraginous woman police officers -- during which other vehicles were simply turned back -- we managed a long detour ... accompanied by the district director of roads (ahem, ahem) who guided the driver through a labyrinth of country lanes and village byways to our destination.

According to tradition the Rospigliosi family from Milan were already living in the hills of Montalbano from the early 13th century. Elected as Pope under the name of Clement IX in 1667, Giulio Rospigliosi decided to build a villa in the courtyard in front of the old manor house at Spicchio. Traces of Roman artistic culture can be seen in many of the architectural choices made for the building, even though it still blends in perfectly with the style of the typical Tuscan villas. The project was prepared in the studio of Gian Lorenzo Bernini who designed the villa as a central block enclosed between two wings at the sides, thus creating an indentation on the two opposite facades that is completed by a gallery. The windows, pavements and corners of the building are decorated with sandstone surrounds.

The interior develops around an oval reception room, which has two spiral staircases that lead to the upper floors. The painted decor on the ground floor includes a portrayal of Aurora and Apollo on the Sun Cart on the ceiling, while the sprandels contain allegories of signs of the zodiac as well as architectural and plant motifs. The resulting space is dominated by the impression of an internal environment opening towards a landscape outside. The garden contains a Chapel consecrated to Sts. Simon and Judah, who are portrayed in the painted decorations within, and again repeated in the decorative motifs inside the nearby villa. The extensive grounds synthesise a perfect balance between the intervention of man and nature.

In the first floor Sala degli Affreschi, we enjoyed a lecture on Franz Liszt by Clive Britton, about Liszt's "Italian Years". Britton, a student of Claudio Arrau, played several pieces from Liszt's Years of Pilgrimage, particularly from the 2nd volume: Lo Sposalizio, Il Penieroso, Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa, Sonetto 104 del Petrarca and from the 3rd volume, Les jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este.

We spent some time enjoying the grounds, which included a deep (4 m) pool with water lilies and gold fish.

After the lecture-concert we had a marvelous lunch in the ground floor Sala Clemente IX. Delicious focaccia, lasagne and penne with a carrot-and-green-bean sauce, roast pork and scalloped potatoes and three desserts: Gelato with strawberry sauce, fruit custard tort and a very rich chocolate-cream-coffee thingie.

On our way to Vinci we stopped at Santa Barbara, an agriturismo owned by Roberto, one of our waiters at the Villa, and his wife Stefania. We were given vinsanto (alla "vecchia maniera") and biscotti. Delicious. The place is lovely. Also took advantage of the opportunity to photograph "the three graces", Sabrina, Christine and Annie Ortengren (from Trinity's home office, whom we met during our 2005 Elderhostel trip to Padova).

We went on to Vinci, near where Leonardo was born. It's a beautiful little hill town, where we explored a museum filled with models of many of the ideas from Leonardo's notebooks. Unfortunately, as with many other museums and churches, no cameras were allowed. The website maintained by friends of the museum doesn't do it justice; the one in Milano has a much better online display of his inventions.

Commune di Vinci
Provincia di Firenze

Elevation 26 m
Area 52 km²
Population ('03) 13,900

Beginning of the end of our time here -- schedules for departure announced (4:30 am for Sabrina's group, i.e., us), when to pay our bar bill, when to put out our suitcases, etc.