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Bush walks

LEONARDO'S "FLIGHT"
Starting point: "Il Regresso" (Ataf no. 7 bus stop), entrance near the Hotel Villa S. Michele. At the beginning of this route it is possible to see a hexagonal turret, a hydraulic device for capturing spring water from Montececeri, built by John Temple Leader (gray sandstone coat of arms) to supply the swimming pool of the Fattoria di Maiano. This route used to be one of the main "quarry service roads" used for transporting stone products to Florence. It is possible to admire the remains of the structures built to optimize the regime of the water course as well as - from a safe distance - a number of quarry faces. The route leads to the Cava del Braschi quarry which is followed by the Cava Sarti quarry (information panels can be found on site). Historical documents, together with a large dose of legend, recount that one of Leonardo da Vinci's brilliant inventions involved giving a man wings, so that he could fly like the birds Leonardo had spent so much time observing and studying. It is said that the famous flying attempt took place on Montececeri. The "maestro" placed the wings he had built on his assistant's shoulders and invited him to jump off the mountain. It is said that the starting point for this "flight" - which was not very successful!, although it could have been worse seeing as the young man got away with just a Jew broken bones - was the present day Piazzale Leonardo, and that the "landing" occurred around the Regresso area, where a plaque commemorates the event, or, according to others, in the field below Badia Fiesolana. In either case, this would have meant that the flight was quite long, whereas it is more probable that it only lasted a dozen or so meters, possibly ending in one of the precipices on the Maiano side of the park.

Our walk starts out from Largo Leonardo near the curve known as Il Regresso along the provincial road linking Fiesole with Florence. On the neo-Gothic style wall of Villa La Torrossa is a plaque recalling the text that Leonardo da Vinci wrote in March of 1501, announcing his intention to attempt human flight from Montececeri. We pass on our left Villa San Michele, a former Franciscan monastery owned by the Davanzati family and now a luxury hotel, and begin to climb on the path that leads to the park. On our left, a wood of holm oak, poplar, oak, and cypress, and on the right, a recently-reinforced wall. After about one hundred meters we enter the park as such. The path proceeds upward, giving us a glimpse the Righi quarry on the left. Our climb continues along a stretch of ancient roadbed to the Braschi quarry, one of the park's most suggestive with its central column and wide orifice in the mountain. The path continues to climb, but a more gently now: to our left we have another extraordinary view of Florence, and a clearingÖ from which Leonardo plausibly launched his "first human flight." We are told that the glide ended on the flat field of Maiano or the lawn of the Badia Fiesolana: both are clearly visible from this point, the hamlet to the left and the abbey further away to the right. Underneath the "terrace" we see Villa La Torraccia, home of the Fiesole music school, the complex of the San Domenico monastery, the Badia Fiesolana, Villa Belriposo, and other buildings. We begin climbing again, keeping to the right inside the park. Turning right, we find ourselves faced with a steeper ascent, and about halfway up, clearly visible alongside the path, we come upon a small quarry of pietra morta, a stone that is still used for fireplaces, andirons, and ovens. Ahead, on the left in the woods, we can see one of the magazzini built in dry-walled stone to contain the quarrying tools and the quarried stones. After another steep stretch we come to a clearing in front of the Cava Sarti, where we see the remains of several more magazzini. Skirting the quarry, we reach a very narrow path with steps that leads directly to Piazzale Leonardo, the center of the park and, according to tradition and as an inscribed pillar reminds us, the "official" site from which "Leonardo's" flight took off. We say "Leonardo's" flight, but we know that the genius from Vinci actually put one of his shop boys on the flying apparatus and that the glide ended with a disastrous crash.


A TERRACE OVERLOOKING FLORENCE

The road which follows the ancient Etruscan walls on the southern side, overlooking Florence, leads from the early Christian Church of Santa Maria Primerana to Montececeri. Of particular interest in the first part of the route are the XIX century dwellings which vary from renovated working-class, homes to middle class houses. Further up, the road, with its protective wall and gray sandstone coping used as a seat, is much loved by local residents, even on sunny winter days. Leaving the western Etruscan walls on the left-hand side, it is possible to enter the park through Via degli Scalpellini. This is a classic walk for lovers of beautiful views and vistas. As the whole world knows, one of the greatest merits of Fiesole is that it offers the best views of Florence - one of the most beautiful sights the human eye can behold. In this context, the Montececeri area is a privileged location, situated amongst the peaks of the hills surrounding Fiesole, in the nearest and highest point. There are numerous views of Florence on the southern slope, starting from Piazza Mino, the main square of Fiesole, continuing right up to the Park. Suddenly, as one moves towards the valley, breathtaking views appear which, on a clear and sunny day could lead to a love affair or even cause the disorienting syndrome which struck down the French writer, Stendhal, a century and a half ago.

Our walk begins at Piazza Mino, the main square of Fiesole, on which stand the city hall, the cathedral of San Romolo, the Palazzo del Seminario, and the church of Santa Maria Primerana. Leaving this small church on our left, we begin ascending Via Verdi, where after a short stretch we find, on the left, a beautiful villa called San Michele, with decorations dating to the early 20th century in typical neo-Gothic style, and on the right small public gardens. The street, between two stone walls, is a typical example of the streets in the hill towns near Florence. At the top of the first climb, to our right there opens the first of several extraordinary panoramas of Florence, which we see here in its entirety, stretched out along the Arno river from Varlungo on the left as far as Scandicci. Brunelleschi's dome, Palazzo Vecchio, and Santa Croce are clearly visible to the right, while straight ahead is the city stadium designed by Nervi in the 1930's. Underneath the "terrace," olive groves and cypresses alternate above the San Domenico monastery complex, located lower down. Continuing on our way, and at the fork taking the right turn into Via Doccia, we soon come to the nurse's rest home, built in the 1920's by the Italian Red Cross in memory of the nurses killed in wartime. All along the road are gardens decorated with ornamental plants whose varied essences (wisteria, jasmine, and hawthorn) fill the air with fragrance in the springtime. The road ends in a narrow path, in part paved in stone and in part unpaved, that descends sharply toward the curve called 'Il Regresso'. Panoramas open out here and there among the trees, and we can see both the Villa di Maiano and the Torrossa. Further ahead, after taking a narrow path leading off to the right, we flank the splendid Villa di San Michele, today a luxury hotel but once a Franciscan monastery owned by the Davanzati family, with a beautiful Italian garden adorned with sculptures and magnolia trees. The road now begins climbing very steeply, and straight ahead we see the Montececeri park. We make our way, between two high loose-laid walls, along a nearly impassable path partly paved in stone and, near the end, incorporating steps. The climb ends near the Montececeri green area, where the middle school is located. We turn right on a wide path that leads to the park entrance, wherefrom we take the path through the woods. The trees occasionally give way to a clearing and a panoramic lookout, until we come to a true terrace offering an extraordinary view of the eastern part of Florence: on clear days, it is possible to see as far as the built-up areas of Bagno a Ripoli and Pontassieve. Further along we come to the Cava Braschi, one of the most suggestive quarries in the park, with its central column and wide orifice in the mountain. At this point the path turns back to the exit from the park near the Montececeri green area. We now proceed straight ahead, leaving behind on the right the public garden and straight behind us the outline of Montececeri, stippled with holm oaks and cypresses. We turn into Via Montececeri, one of Fiesole's most beautiful panoramic drives, a seemingly never-ending series of extraordinary views of the valley of Florence. At the fork we bear right into Via Belvedere, a road that runs through the village and past homes on small squares with stretches of the original stone paving. The road descends steeply, zigzagging, toward Piazza Mino. On the right is the convent of the Missionarie Francescane del Verbo Incarnato, fenced by a beautiful wall with graffito-decorated plaster, a technique that became popular in Florence and environs in the late 1800's for decorating aristocratic homes. Further down, we find ourselves facing Fiesole's other hill, topped by the Convento di San .Francesco and then, after having passed the convent of the Poor Clairs, an unexpected, unobstructed view of the bell tower of the cathedral. We continue on Via Santa Maria and after a short walk return to our starting-point in Piazza Mino.


THE STONEMASONS' OUARRIES

Two basic examples of quarry can be found along this route: the open air quarry face and the "latomia" or stone quarry, artificial caves with their own supporting bases. Traces of the working instruments and cultivation techniques used are visible everywhere. The tradition of extracting and working the local gray sandstone, known as"pietra serena", originated in the quarries located inside the ancient part of Fiesole and were subsequently extended to include the immediate outskirts, continuing to develop over a large part of Montececeri from medieval times right up to the present day. The process of opening a quarry began with the removal, using a shovel or pickax, of the covering, i. e. all the materials which had accumulated on the top of the rows of good, workable stone: earth, gravel, rubble, pebbles, marl, dead stone. Stone which could be used for building work, medium-sized sufficiently hard rocks, was retrieved and often altered according to characteristics required. It is possible that more than half of the original mass of Montececeri has today been incorporated into the city of Florence in the form of thousands of items of architecture, ornamentation and fittings. Evidence of the use of "pietra serena" can be found in almost all the artifacts and architectural structures of Fiesole: Maiano, Badia Fiesolana, San Domenico, Fontelucente, the Fountain of Baccio Bandinelli, Villa Il Riposo Dei Vescovi, San Girolamo, San Francesco, the Cathedral, Palazzo Pretorio, Santa Maria Primerana, The Archaeological Area, the Etruscan Walls, the Etruscan Tomb of the Bargellino, Ghirlandaio's Tabernacle, the Corale di Via Poeti, Fonte Sotterra, the Museo Bandini and the Castle of Vincigliata.

This walk sets out from Largo Leonardo, near the curve called 'Il Regresso' on: the provincial: road linking Fiesole and Florence. We pass on our left Villa San Michele, a former Franciscan monastery now transformed into a luxury hotel, and begin to climb on the path that leads to the park. After about one hundred yards we enter the park and begin to walk the path created centuries ago by the stonecutters to carry their Tuscan grey stone to Florence, where it was used in building palaces, monuments, and fountains. The climb is in places very steep: this is due to the fact that the hill is broken by four superposed quarry faces so that the path runs almost level in front of each face but then climbs suddenly and witb difficulty when it ascends to the next quarry face level. Here and there along the path the trees thin and afford us views of Florence, and the path itself is disrupted now and then by ditches for rainwater runoff. Some of these are still in their original form, created as though by a stonecutter with cut stones set standing in the ground. Following a first ascending stretch, we note the Righi quarry on the left, and continue along an old roadbed, all dry-walled with stones inserted upright in the ground, to the Braschi quarry, one of the park's most suggestive with its central column and wide orifice in the mountain. Attention, though, since it is not yet safe to visit! The path continues to ascend, more gently now, with an extraordinary view of Florence on the left. Then the slope steepens as we bear right toward the center of the park; we turn right and find a very steep stretch ahead of us. Halfway up, clearly visible along the path, is a small quarry of pietra morta, a stone still used for fireplaces, andirons, and ovens. Further ahead, on the left in the woods, we can see one of the magazzini built in dry-walled stone to contain the quarrying tools and the quarried stones. After another steep rise we come to a broad clearing in front of the Cava Sarti, where we see the remains of several more magazzini.Skirting the quarry, we reach a very narrow path with steps that leads directly to Piazzale Leonardo. From this large square departs the path that leads to the Prato až Pini, a road built by the Italian Army in 1932-33. It was intended : to be used far hauling to the top of the hill the antiaircraft guns needed for defending Florence-but it was instead , used only by the Germans in 1944 to carry up the mortars with which they bombarded the city in the last months of occupation. Less steep and much broader than the paths we have walked so far, the army road leads to the small Piazzale di Prato ai Pini, with its Villa Rigoli, today a senior citizens' center.


A BREATH OF WOODLAND AIR

A ring route with two entrances and two possible directions: from Prato ai Pini (north) descending towards Florence, and from Via Doccia (Il Regresso) climbing in a southwesterly direction. The route skirts the oak grove of Villa S. Michele a Doccia. Along the pathway it is possible to explore, with due caution, some abandoned quarry sites which are now mostly covered by wild vegetation. Despite its considerable diversity, the woodland around Montececeri is increasingly assuming the distinct appearance of a "Park", with the same specific characteristics of the numerous parks annexed to Tuscan villas. The main arboreal species found are the Mediterranean pine (pinus pinea and pinaster), the common cypress, the holm-oak, the downy oak (Quercus pubescens) and the Turkey oak. These are joined by a myriad of species of shrubbery. In the areas characterized by medium slopes and moderately earthy masses, woods of broad-leaved trees and conifers have developed in various layers, with conifers on the upper levels and broad-leaved trees on the lower ones. In the areas characterized by steeper slopes and rocky outcrops, the distribution is even more diverse and less developed, with a prevalence of cypresses and holm-oaks, as well as wild poplars and willows in the places where water flows or stagnates.

This walk begins at the crossing of Via del Pelagaccio and Via degli Scalpellini below the green area of Montececeri and the middle school. We turn to the right into the narrow lane that runs down between two walls toward the Il Regresso curve; the steep descent ends above the garden of Villa San Michele, today luxury hotel but once a Franciscan monastery owned by the Davanzati family, with a beautiful Italian garden adorned with sculptures and magnolia trees. Here, we tum left onto the blacktop road that leads to Largo Leonardo. Below, on the right we see the neo-Gothic style tower built by the Englishman John Temple Leader in the late 1800's to collect the waters from higher up the slopes to channel them to the Villa di Maiano through a complicated hydraulic system. This is another point from which we can admire an extraordinary panorama of Florence. Off to the left is the ascending path that leads to the park, through a wood of holm oak, poplar, oak, and cypress, trees. After about one hundred meters we enter the park as such, and as the path proceeds upward we glimpse the Righi quarry on the left. Our climb continues along a stretch of ancient roadbed to the Braschi quarry, one of the park's most suggestive with its central column and ample orifice in the mountain. A warning: it is not yet safe to visit. The path continues to climb, but more gendy now. To our left we have another extraordinary panorama of Florence in which we can easily pick out Villa La Torraccia (the home of the Fiesole music school), the complex of San Domenico monastery, the Badia Fiesolana, Villa Belriposo, and other buildings. We begin climbing again, keeping to the right inside the park. Turning right, we find ourselves faced with a steeper ascent, and about halfway up, clearly visible along the path, we come upon a small quarry of pietra morta, a stone that is still used for fireplaces, andirons, and ovens. Further ahead, on the left in the woods, we can see one of the magazzini built in dry-walled stone to contain the quarrying tools and the quarried stones. After another steep climb we come to a wide clearing in front of the Cava Sarti, where we see the remains of several more magazzini. Skirting the quarry, we reach a very narrow path with steps that leads directly to Piazzale Leonardo, the center of the park and, according to tradition and as an inscribed pillar reminds us, the "official" starting point of Leonardo's "first human flight." From this large square departs the path that leads to the Prato ai Pini, a road built by the Italian Army in 1932-33. It was intended to be used for hauling to the top of the hill the antiaircraft guns needed for defending Florence-but it was instead used only by the Germans in 1944 to carry up the mortars with which they bombarded the city in the last months of occupation. Less steep and much broader than the paths we have walked so far, the army road leads to the small Piazzale di Prato ai Pini, with its Villa Rigoli, today a senior citizens' center. Past a small chapel on our right we descend to the left down Via Corsica, a narrow lane running between ancient walls and flanked with small homes, to Borgunto, wherefrom it is easy to continue on to the provincial road and the stops of the city buses 45 and 47 that run up to Fiesole. Our walk, however, continues up to the left to the green area of Borgunto, alongside the square where the schools stand. Finally, through a garden, we come to a gate and back to our point of departure.
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