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Walking Through Pietrasanta, Tuscany

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10 and have travelled widely since, but somehow I always return to this most magical of cities.

Fernando Botero's chubby 'Warrior' in Pietrasanta (c) A. Harrison

Fernando Botero's chubby 'Warrior' in Pietrasanta (c) A. Harrison

Arriving in Pietrasanta

I knew I was going to love Pietrasanta when the train pulled into a single, dusty platform. It seemed I had arrived in the middle of nowhere. I had left Florence's Santa Maria Novella less than two ago in a train that wandered through the Tuscan countryside. For the past few stations, the train line had been decorated with little villages interspersed with backyard vegetable plots. Tomatoes, beans and olive trees grew in abundance. As the train came closer to the town, chunks of marble lay scattered around, leftovers from the workshops selling statues of every kind.

A display of umbrellas (c) A. Harrison

A display of umbrellas (c) A. Harrison

Tuscany's City of Artists

I crossed the tracks to the exit. A five-minute walk to the main square and I had arrived. The heart of Pietrasanta is a pedestrian-only zone. Gracious old buildings line the Piazza del Duomo, along with cafes and restaurants. Little laneways simply begged me to explore them.

One side street was filled with umbrellas of every colour. They hung over the street, bathing it in a colourful light. This might be the place where Michelangelo stayed when coming to the Carrara quarries to choose his marble (yes, there is a plaque on one of the buildings) but Pietrasanta is also filled with modern, exuberant art. It is a living town, not one reviving past glories of a faded past. (I have to admit to having my fill of Mozart by the time I left Salzburg. His music even filled the taxis.) By contrast, Pietrasanta embraces its past, with a vibrant art scene that has grown from it. Little wonder it is often called the City of Artists. It is a giant, living artist's studio.

A magical staircase (c) A. Harrison

A magical staircase (c) A. Harrison

The Piazza del Duomo

The flat where I was staying was in one of the pedestrian side streets running off Piazza del Duomo. The entry was through the garage, built of marble and refreshingly cool after the exhausting summer heat. Even the steps to the flat were marble. Best of all, inside the garage was a red Vespa!

Sitting in the Piazza del Duomo later that day, I sat having a coffee as a mist fell over me. I was to discover this at many outdoor places in Tuscany. A pipe ran around the overhead cover, spraying a refreshing mist every few minutes. Sitting in relative coolness, I watched as a wedding entered the cathedral. Many of the buildings had rooftops gardens, a delightful place to sit in the long twilight. I often heard laughter and the clink of glasses drift down from the sky.

One of the many faces in Pietrasanta (c) A. Harrison

One of the many faces in Pietrasanta (c) A. Harrison

Siesta in Pietrasanta

In true Tuscan style, Pietrasanta closes for siesta. The entire town goes to sleep, a great solution to the enervating heat. By midday, it is just too hot to venture outside. I needed little persuasion to follow suit. I’m not one to spend entire days sight-seeing; I need time to ponder what I have seen, to think about this new world. Now the world outside was quiet; the occasion footfall as someone passed by on the cobblestones, the occasional bark of a dog.

Later in the afternoon (after another coffee), I set off to explore. Even by five in the afternoon, it was blistering hot in the sun but cool in the shade (and under the umbrellas). The streets around the main piazza are filled not only with cafes and restaurants, but also art galleries and beautiful shops. A perfect way to pass an afternoon, window shopping. Everywhere there were flowers, and I even caught sight of a giraffe hiding among the foliage in a half-hidden garden.

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A fresco by Botero (c) A. Harrison

A fresco by Botero (c) A. Harrison

Exploring Pietrasanta

Pietrasanta dates to Roman times (like Michelangelo, the Romans made good use of the nearby marble quarries). Part of the Roman wall still exists. Like many places in this part of Italy, the town has been passed between Genoa and the Lombards, was once part of Lucca, then belonged to the Medici.

The Duomo S. Martino stands at the top of the main piazza. The wedding had gone so I ventured in. Dating from the 14th C, it is a beautiful building, complete with several frescoes ready to damn sinners to hell. Beside it stands a bell tower, the Torre della Ore, with an incredible helicoidal staircase built from the same bricks. Inside a local artist was exhibiting his paintings to the sounds of La Boheme. He had so many works on display they overflowed into the square outside.

Down towards what I termed the ‘modern’ end of town life picked up the pace. Suddenly there was traffic, a tourist information centre (plus an ATM). En route I passed the Chiesa di Sant’Antonio, which is filled with vibrant modern frescoes that almost burst from the wall. They are the work of Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist who lives in Pietrasanta. Further down the street is another of his works, the famous statue of 'The Warrior.'

Pietrasanta's Duomo (c) A. Harrison

Pietrasanta's Duomo (c) A. Harrison

Culinary Delights

I had explored only a little of what Pietrasanta had on offer, but it was, after all, my first day. There was still, apart from simply wandering and discovering, the Palazzo Pretorio, the Archaeology Museum, a sculpture museum in a 14th C convent, not to mention walks in the hills above the town to the fortress high above Rocca Di Sala.

Dinner that night was in a restaurant opposite the flat, sitting in a hidden courtyard under orange and lemon trees, surrounded by roses and bushes of rosemary. A local cat wandered about my feet. The local specialty is tordelli, essentially a meat-filled tortellini with a meat sauce. Delicious, especially when washed down with a glass of local red. I was going to share a creme brûlée (Pietrasanta style) with my daughter, but the gorgeous waiter brought us two.

We fell asleep to the joyous sound of the restaurants outside, and the soothing sounds of footsteps on cobbles (due to siesta, restaurants open - and close - late). Next morning, a Sunday, I woke to the sound of church bells and a brass band.

Welcome to Pietrasanta.

A street full of umbrellas (c) A. Harrison

A street full of umbrellas (c) A. Harrison

Questions & Answers

Question: Are your photographs of someone else’s sculptures and paintings subject to copyright?

Answer: Yes they are. If on public display, anyone can take photos (like reading a book in a library), but obviously I can't sell the photos without permission of the artist. If I know who the artist is, I will always credit them.

© 2018 Anne Harrison

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