Thursday, June 18, 2009

Livorno, Civitavecchia, and Tuscania: So much history it boggles the mind

by Richard L. Weaver II

After docking in Livorno, Italy, where there is nothing but industry, containers waiting to be loaded or unloaded, and container ships, we spent 3½ hours on a bus traveling into Florence. Forty-five minutes to one hour of that time was spent in a small gas station on the way into the city so people (7 busloads at one point) could use the restrooms.

Traveling into Florence allowed us to see beautiful countryside as well as a park-like entrance and a view of the entire city from the Plaza of David where a copper replica of Michelangelo’s David holds a commanding overview. Within the city with its traffic and narrow streets, we went directly to the Academy Museum where Michelangelo’s actual statue of David resides. Getting there early helped us gain entry easily. There were many people standing in line to get in, but with a tour, reservations, and a bold excursion guide, we entered with little pause. Seeing this masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture — and the most recognizable statue in the history of art — is breathtaking. It is both a symbol of strength and youthful beauty.

Following the Academy Museum, we stopped at Cathedral Square to view the Duomo, the Baptistery, and Giotto’s Bell Tower. In Signoria Square we saw a second copy of David and toured the Church of Santa Croce where Michelangelo is buried in a non-descript tomb that our excursion guide said, “gives tour guides something to talk about.” The Italian composer Rossini is buried in the same church.

We had lunch at the Ristorante Tirovino which consisted of alfredo lasagna, potatoes, peas, and chicken covered in red sauce. The bottled water and dry red wine were appreciated, but the tiramisu was the best we have had thus far.

Tiramisu is an Italian desert typically made from sponge-finger biscuits, espresso coffee, mascarpone cheese, eggs, cream, sugar, Marsala wine, cocoa, and rum. The Italian name tiramisu means “pick-me-up” (metaphorically, “make me happy”) and considering the caffeine-containing ingredients (espresso and cocoa) and the sugar, its pick-me-up notoriety comes as no surprise.

Following lunch we viewed the Ponte Vecchio (or “Old Bridge”) which dates back to 1345. As we walked the bridge, we were on constant lookout for pickpockets, and the warning we received well before we arrived there was reinforced by two burly police officers holding billy clubs and standing next to each other in the center of the entryway in fierce “I dare you” posture.

The 1½ -hour bus trip back to the ship where we arrived 1½-hours late took place through small towns and numerous countryside vistas. It was totally unexpected and not on the itinerary. It turns out that our bus driver was in contact with two other tour buses ahead of us, and those drivers warned ours about a 3½ mile back-up of traffic on the main highway ahead of us (due to both construction and an accident), so our driver took an immediate exit which returned us to the port more quickly and avoided delay.

A 6:45 p.m. return to our ship put us in the Mediterranean Restaurant at 7 p.m. (45-minutes late), but our waiter, Catalin, and his assistant, Everton, waited for us, expected us to be late, and cheerfully welcomed us back to the ship. Only 4 days since coming onboard, and already our wait staff was making us feel comfortable and secure.

Following the port of Livorno, the port for all cruise ships with passengers heading to Rome, is Civitavecchia. Although we were in this port for 2 days (by popular demand our cruise line told us), we chose to go into Rome (about 1½ hours by bus) on the second day only. Touring takes its toll on the body, and our second day in Rome includes a 10-hour tour. On the first day in Civitavecchia, we chose a half-day excursion through the Etruscan countryside to a small village called Tuscania and then on to a farm that grows and presses olives into a variety of extra-virgin olive oils. Their olive oil is special for two reasons. First, they only pick the olives when they are exactly ready, and, second, they press them into oil (using a portable press taken directly to the trees) immediately when harvested. This prevents the acidic build-up that occurs when the olives are not pressed immediately.

The woman giving us the talk at the olive farm told us that to get regular olive oil (or virgin oil), the mash from the first pressing is put back into the press; however, to make it taste like extra-virgin (and to bring out added flavor), chemicals are added to it. Only the extra-virgin olive oil is from the first pressing of the olives and is free of chemicals. This is the kind of information that makes these excursions so interesting, valuable, and worthwhile.

Our visit to the small, remote, walled city of Tuscania reminded me of our previous visit to Eze along the French Riviera. Both were situated on hills so the inhabitants could protect themselves from invaders. Both cities were walled. Both were active and vibrant and contained many small stores within the walls. Eze was more tourist oriented; Tuscania, much larger than Eze, was more eclectic and cosmopolitan. Both had a cathedral as a central, important element in the village. The cathedral of Eze had a bishop; that of Tuscania (a duomo), did not.

Our guide for our trip to Tuscania, and our bus driver for this trip as well, were from a small city on a hill we passed as we drove to Tuscania. I mention this for one reason only. Like our previous guides, these folks relate so many dates and times they are hard to digest. For example, Tuscania was built during the 7th century and its strategical position granted it a leading role in the Etruscan world. In the 5th century it became one of the first bishopric seats in Italy, maintaining it until 1653. It gets worse. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Tuscania fell to the Lombards in 569, became part of the Papal States in 967-1066, was a fief of the Auguillara family, and then a fief of the marquises of Tuscany, before being besieged by Emperor Henry IV in 1081. There were at least seven more changes of authority throughout the years including being ravaged by the French troops of King Charles VIII during his march towards the Kingdom of Naples in 1495. After inner struggles and riots of the citizens, the city experienced a long decline until the annexation to the new unified Kingdom of Italy in 1870. You get the point.

Although historical information like this is important — especially to the local people — without other known historical reference points it is difficult to remember the details. There is so much history in these European towns, it boggles the mind.

At LivornoNow, the website includes everything you may want to know about Livorno, Italy, and its surrounding area: 1) News, Articles & Editorial, 2) Annual Events & National Holidays, 3) About Livorno, 4) Travel & Transport, 5) Accommodation, 6) Wining, Dining & Partying, 7) Places to Visit, 8) Shopping in Livorno, 9) Bars and Caf├ęs, 10) People, 11) Sarah's Blog, 12) Sport and Free Time, 13) Music Scene, 14) The Arts, 15) Services, 16) Real Estate, 17) Event Management, 18) Community Close Up, 19) Livorno Now Photo Galleries, 20) Local Authorities & Utilities, 21) Medical & Emergency, 21) About Us, and 22) LivornoNow Connections Friendly Links.

At Cruises, Linda Garrison has a wonderful essay, “Rome and Civitavecchia - Mediterranean Ports of Call: Unforgettable Eternal City,” in which she makes the case for her first statement, “Rome is a marvelous city, and deserves a visit of several days, weeks, or even months.”

At planetware, using the icons at the top of the page, you can find out anything you want to know about Tuscania, Italy. This is a tourism website, so it gives you tourist interests at the click of a mouse.
Copyright June, 2009 - And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.

1 comment:

  1. Without any doubts these are some of the most exciting and beautiful places of Tuscany.


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