Curiosities about Tuscany

The Tuscan ‘language’

Did you know that Tuscany had a crucial role in shaping the Italian language? The vernacular language, spoken by the people and used in the major works of the ‘fathers’ of Italian language like Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio from Certaldo and Francesco Petrarca, imposed itself in a definite way as main language, giving way to the modern Italian language in the following centuries.

Specifically, the main trait of the Tuscan dialect is the funny aspirated ‘c’ which reveals the Tuscan origins of the speaker. Another letter misspelled by Tuscan people is the letter ‘t’, which often becomes a sort of harder ‘th’. Both of these pronunciations are a linguistic heritage of the Etruscan people, who inhabited the Tuscan territory in the first centuries B.C.

In some occasions the right pronunciation of the letter ‘c’ is hard to obtain for a native Tuscan, which finds it rather difficult and unnatural; the goal can be achieved only by many attempts!

Tuscany and its local products

Tuscan bread is baked without salt, characteristic that in Italy is to be found only in Tuscany. In order to prepare some of the typical Tuscan dishes like ribollita (bread soup), panzanella (summer bread salad) and fettunta (toasted bread with extra virgin olive oil) the Tuscan saltless bread must be used, also known as sciocco (insipid) in Tuscan dialect.
This tradition seems to come from the fact that in the past, the city of Florence and the whole Gran Duchy of Tuscany had to pay a very high tax on salt. In order to save money it was decided that bread would have been baked without it. This choice was indeed well-paired with Tuscan cuisine, which is very tasty and in need to soften its savoury dishes with saltless bread.

The Tuscan cigar was created by accident in Florence in 1815, like many other inventions born in the same way. Rumor has it that a sudden and violent thunderstorm triggered the fermentation process of a whole lot of tobacco stocked in a courtyard. To avoid a waste of material, the foremen used the fermented tobacco as stuffing for low-cost cigars. The product was so loved by consumers to become famous as Sigaro Toscano (Tuscan cigar).

It is rumored that ice cream as well was invented in Tuscany, and specifically in Florence! During the Renaissance, a chicken-seller named Ruggeri took part in a cooking contest announced by the Medici family of Florence: ‘The most peculiar dish ever seen’. By mixing different recipes, Ruggeri obtained a frozen dessert which won the prize. The fame of his dessert, ‘frozen sweet-and-perfumed water’ quickly spread throughout Tuscany, and also abroad, as it was chosen by Caterina de’ Medici as dessert for her wedding banquet in France!

The Negroni cocktail was born in Florence, Tuscany, in 1919. It was the result of a request by count Camillo Negroni, who was a regular guest of the Caffè Casoni in Florence (today called Caffè Giacosa, in Via de’ Tornabuoni in Florence): tired of the same Americano cocktail, he asked the bartender to strengthen the drink by adding gin instead of only soda water. Today, Negroni is a worldwide famous aperitif! Caffè Giacosa still exists today and is owned by the Tuscan fashion designer Roberto Cavalli.

 

Italy, land of saints, poets and seamen…most of which from Tuscany!

The oldest existing nautical map is the Carta Pisana, drawn around 1275 and so-called because it was discovered in Pisa, in Tuscany, a city that during the 11th and the 13th century was an important maritime republic with trades in Spain and Northern Africa. The chart is fairly accurate in the reproduction of the western and eastern Mediterranean, with the different wind roses and sea lines. Ports and coasts are shown clearly, while no indication is given of internal towns or places.

Not everyone knows that the name America comes from Amerigo Vespucci, a great Tuscan seaman born in Florence. Christopher Columbus arrived at the American coastline by pure chance, thinking to have finally reached India. Vespucci instead was fully aware of the existence of this new land he had discovered – America – and immediately began spreading news about it. The cartographer who was in charge of drawing the updated nautical maps decided to call the new continent ‘America’, in honour of its Florentine discoverer.

Another Tuscan seaman was Giovanni da Verrazzano, born in Greve in Chianti in Tuscany in 1485. He was born from a family native of Castello di Verrazzano, and was the one to discover the New York Bay and most of the east American coast. Since 1964 one of New York bridges carries his name: the Verrazano Bridge. Today, it is still possible to visit the Castle of Verrazzano: it is in the Chianti area, only a few minutes from Hotel Certaldo  and a successful producer of Chianti wine and extra virgin olive oil.

Tuscany was the birthplace of many others amongst artists, writers, poets, musicians and scientists! Here are some of the most illustrious ones, whose works are kept in Tuscany, do you know them all? Leonardo da Vinci, Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Niccolò Machiavelli, Galileo Galilei, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Giotto, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Masaccio, Donatello, Sandro Botticelli, Benozzo Gozzoli, Cimabue, Filippo Brunelleschi, Benvenuto Cellini, Giovanni Fattori, Giacomo Puccini, Giosuè Carducci, Carlo Collodi, Arnolfo di Cambio, Amerigo Vespucci and many others…

Characters native of Certaldo:

Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the fathers of Italian language;

Ernesto Calindri, theater and cinema actor;

Luciano Spalletti, football player and coach.

 

The adventures of Pinocchio…in Tuscany!

Pinocchio was born in Tuscany! The Tuscan Carlo Collodi is the author of the adventures of the most famous puppet in the whole world! Journalist and writer from Florence, Collodi spent his childhood close to Pistoia and later attended school in Colle Val d’Elsa (Siena). In 1881 he published in the newspaper ‘Il giornale dei bambini’ (Children’s magazine) the first episode of ‘Storia di un burattino’ (Story of a puppet), which was followed by many others. In 1883, when all the stories had been published, a whole book was made and the first edition of ‘The adventures of Pinocchio’ was printed. Collodi died in Florence in 1890. He is buried in the Cimitero Monumentale (monumental cemetery) of San Miniato al Monte, in Florence. His unfinished works, his notes and his papers are kept in the National Central Library in Florence. His work has been translated in more than 240 languages; Disney produced a cartoon which is famous all over the world; several screen adaptations have been made, including the ones by Luigi Comencini and Roberto Benigni. The latter has some scenes shot in Castelfalfi, Tuscany, only a few mintues from Hotel Certaldo. In 1956, the town of Collodi opened the ‘Pinocchio Park’, and a museum dedicated to the Tuscan puppet both of which are still today open to the public and easily reachable from Hotel Certaldo!

Tuscan Legends

The mysteries of Certaldo Alto

In Certaldo, a legend about Giovanni Boccaccio is known, according to which many underground passages are to be found beneath Certaldo Alto, running along the whole perimeter of the medieval village of Certaldo Alto up to a small hill not far from the medieval centre, called Poggio del Boccaccio (Boccaccio’s Hill): a pyramid-shaped hill in front of Certaldo Alto, which rises from all its sides with the same angle and has a perfectly flat top surface! It is rumored to be an ancient pyramid, covered in vegetation. It would not be the first pyramid in Italy and in Tuscany. We look forward to welcoming you here at Hotel Certaldo to discover the myths and legends of Certaldo!

The ghost of Monteriggioni

Monteriggioni, in the province of Siena and only a few minutes away from Hotel Certaldo, is a beautiful medieval Tuscan town, one of the rare examples in Italy and Europe still maintaining its thousand-year-old city walls intact,  mentioned also by Dante in his Divine Comedy. Legend has it that inside the village of Monteriggioni lives – for centuries now – the ghost of the captain Giovanni Zeti, who, leading the defense of Monteriggioni in 1554, was deceived by the Florentines and forced to surrender, thus dooming Monteriggioni to a terrible defeat in which he also lost his life. In wintertime, during the nights with full moon, the inhabitants of Monteriggioni claim to hear pawing on the ground and cries of lament of Zeti’s ghost, still overcome by grief for the defeat of Monteriggioni.

San Galgano Abbey and the Sword in the Stone

One of the most suggestive places in the whole Tuscany, San Galgano Abbey is an awe-inspiring Cistercian abbey in the province of Siena, amongst the green hills of Tuscan countryside, which entwines its history with the Breton saga, King Arthur and the sword in the stone themselves. Galgano Guidotti was a nobleman who lived south of Siena, Tuscany, in the 12th century. After a youth spent in war, he decided to leave everything behind, dedicating himself to a life of sacrifice and prayers. His faithful sword was placed inside a stone forming a cross, in front of which to pray. The same symbolism is to be found in the tales of Robert de Baron and in ‘The Sword in the Stone’. After his death in 1181, Galgano was proclaimed saint, thus becoming Saint Galgano. An important detail: the sword in the stone at San Galgano is prior to the one described in the Breton cycle, Excalibur. The author could have been inspired by the Tuscan knight! Another coincidence: the name Galgano sounds very much like the one of the Knight of the Round Table Sir Gawain, also known as Galvano. Some scholars do not believe in coincidences and see the Tuscan knight as the model for the Arthurian character. If you want to live this beautiful Tuscan legend all you need to do is visit the San Galgano Abbey in Tuscany, only a few kilometres away from Hotel Certaldo, with its sword still intact and set in stone!

Tuscany and cinema

Tuscany is so rich in landscapes and small villages that take your breath away that it was often chosen by many directors as setting for their films, or even parts of their films.

Here is a small list of films shot in Tuscany, all of them only at a handful of km from Hotel Certaldo! Have you seen them all?

Le Affinità Elettive, by Taviani brothers, shot in San Miniato and nearby;

Room with a view, by James Ivory, shot in Florence;

Stealing Beauty, by Bernardo Bertolucci, shot in Chianti, amongst Monteriggioni, Casole d’Elsa and Gaiole in Chianti;

Letters to Juliet, by Gary Winick, shot in Siena and province;

The English Patient, by Anthony Minghella, shot in Pienza and Val d’Orcia, in southern Tuscany;

Under the Tuscan sun, by Audrey Wells, shot in Cortona and Val d’Orcia, in southern Tuscany;

Tea with Mussolini, by Franco Zeffirelli, shot in San Gimignano and Florence;

Portrait of a Lady, by Jane Campion, shot in Lucca and nearby, in northern Tuscany;

The Twilight Saga: New Moon, by Chris Weitz, shot in Volterra, Montepulciano and in the province of Siena;

Life is Beautiful, by Roberto Benigni, shot in Arezzo, Montevarchi and Cortona;

Hannibal, by Ridley Scott, shot in Florence;

Gladiator, by Ridley Scott, shot in San Quirico d’Orcia, in southern Tuscany;

Miracle at Saint Anna, by Spike Lee, shot on the Apuan Alps and in Versilia, in northern Tuscany;

Quantum of Solace, by Mark Foster, shot in Talamone, Carrara and Siena and nearby area;

Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Michael Hoffman, shot in southern Tuscany, in Montepulciano and Val d’Orcia.

If amongst these is your favourite film…we look forward to welcome you at Hotel Certaldo, to visit the location!

 

VIPs in Tuscany!

Royalties, showbiz stars, artists, tycoons, everyone agrees: in Tuscany life is better than in any other place in the world. Many VIPs have indeed moved to Tuscany or spend most of their time here! The singer Sting, enchanted by the beauty of Chianti, owns an estate in the sweet Tuscan hills; the Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands has a colonial house in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, only a few minutes from Hotel Certaldo and it is not rare to see her in the town centre; Madonna and Gwineth Paltrow are often spotted in Chianti and in Valdarno, to soak up the Tuscan landscape for their yoga sessions; Philip Morris CEO, Louis Camilleri, became a wine producer of Brunello di Montalcino after having purchased an estate with vineyards; the ex-producer John Voigtmann fell madly in love with Val d’Orcia, in southern Tuscany, where he lives in a typical Tuscan house close to Pienza; the America lawyer Michael Cioffi lives in a medieval town south of Siena and named his daughter after the village itself, Athena Cetona. The fashion designer Paul Smith appreciates the Tuscan coast, where he owns a secretive villa not far from the Tuscan sea. And last but not least, the American jazz player Scott Hamilton, in between his tours lives right here in Certaldo, in the beautiful medieval village of Certaldo Alto a few steps away from Hotel Certaldo! Some other Tuscany-aficionados VIPs are: Vivienne Westwood, Charles and Camilla of England, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, Tony Blair, and so on….

 

Speaking…with your hands!

In Tuscany, as well as in all the other regions of Italy, it is common to see – side by side with the spoken Italian language – the ‘gesticulated’ Italian language. This is one of the reasons why it is often said that Italians speak with their hands.

Gesticulating while talking is a typically Italian characteristic and it seems to have its anthropologic roots in the ancient Greece. It is still today one of the funniest characteristics of Italian people.

This habit is noticed right away by foreign people, for whom it is rather funny to watch an Italian person speaking: the gestures, made both with hands and arms, follow words and concepts expressed and every single gesture reflects a specific meaning, emphasizing what is stated in words.

It is almost impossible for an Italian to speak without moving hands or arms, it feels like ‘speaking with no words’, and often many other parts of the body are involved, such as the eyes, the cheeks, the face, the fingers, the stomach and so on…

So, during your stay in Tuscany  you’d better pay attention to the gesticulation and ask to be taught simple gestures like ‘ I am hungry’, ‘ This is yummy’, ‘I am sleepy’, ‘ Enough’, ‘Again’, ‘ I have eaten too much’, ‘I am late’ and so on…if you will be able to make you understand by others without saying the concept out loud, this means that your gestures are correct!

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