I’ve trained myself recently to default to six items to write about in After Eden through participation in the Six on Saturday group. But, even though I am writing this on a Saturday, I am not limiting myself to six topics–and I am certainly not writing about my garden. What follows is a photographic cornucopia of landscapes and plants that drew my attention during a recent visit to Italy.
Curated by a colleague in Classics and me, and managed by a friend of meticulous detail, the tour’s focus was the medieval Via Francigena pilgrimage route from Canterbury in England to the four primary pilgrimage churches in Rome: Saint Mary Major, Saint John Lateran, Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and Saint Peter’s.
The featured image shows the Tuscan countryside on approach to Florence, which was the starting point of the tour. Though not part of the pilgrimage route, Florence is a great place to begin a visit to Italy and worthy of a landscape photo. Below the city can be seen from across the Arno with its medieval merchant bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, on the left and the Duomo’s historic Brunelleschi dome and Giotto bell tower on the right.
Our first pilgrimage site and major stop along the medieval Via Francigena, San Gimignano’s vistas reflect the Tuscan landscape of the arial view in the featured image. Olive trees and rosemary grow prolifically.
A dominate feature of the area landscape from Siena, which is not far from San Gimignano, down to Rome is the Italian, or Mediterranean, cypress (Cupressus sempervirens). I am so enamored with this tree that I planted one in my small garden home yard in Trussville, Alabama, 16 years ago. Certainly, wrong tree, wrong place. The height of these tress can be gauged by those that flank San Domenico in Siena.
Frequently used to delineate boundaries and driveways, the cypresses stand as elegant sentries and directional guides. Their height and graceful shape also provide wonderfully photogenic sunrise scenes like the ones below around the Hotel Sovestro between San Gimignano and Siena.
The early morning sun also highlights grapevines and small chicory flowers.
Back to long range vista shots for a moment, though. The photos below were taken from the walls of Orvieto. The view with La Badia Di Orvieto, a 12th century abbey restored as a hotel in the center, seems more an impressionist painting or stage backdrop than a photo. The lighting was fortuitous, and the second photo proves that it was real–I was there.
The next series comes from Tivoli. First is the restaurant Sibilla (pinkish building) built on the acropolis of Tivoli next to the temple of Vesta. Notice the hills damaged by fire in the distance. My two organizing companions for this pilgrimage tour and I were anxious last year that the fire not reach one of our favorite restaurants. Should you ever visit the area, consider booking a meal here.
Next, one of the garden lover’s delights in Tivoli is the Villa d’Este, a defining example of the Italian Renaissance garden. Noticeably favoring green plantings over flowers, built on a geometric matrix, and showcasing hydraulic water features, this 16th-century garden is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that deserves more coverage than the exemplary photos below. But, my fellow leaders and I at least gave it status as a welcomed interloper in a medieval pilgrimage themed tour.
Once in Rome, there are a variety of gardens to visit; two that we included in our itinerary were the Borghese and the Vatican Gardens. A delightful surprise of the Borghese, which is more what Americans might call a park than a garden, was a chocolate festival. And a chocolate festival is a chocolate festival in any country you find it. Imagine yards and yards of stands selling all varieties and combinations of chocolates and candied fruits.
The Borghese Garden also offers panoramic views of Rome with St.Peter’s Basilica always in the bluish distance.
As for the Vatican Gardens, my two most evident observations are that one, there are multiple perspectives of the dome of St. Peter’s and two, there are parrots–lively, noisy, bright green parrots. On this occasion, I was also fortunate to see a praying turtle!
The Vatican Gardens have a variety of native and non-native plants. In particular, I want to mention the non-native Holm oak (Quercus ilex) that lines one side of a walkway in the garden. On the other side of the walk grow olives trees. Our guide noted that the Mediterranean native Holm oak reportedly was the source of the wood of Jesus’s cross. As a medievalist this interested me because in the Arthurian tradition, both in France and later in Malory’s England, the cross is made from the same tree that caused all that chaos in the Garden of Eden, the fruit of which has been identified as an apple and, in Middle Eastern tradition, as a pomegranate. Before this line of interest takes me down a deep rabbit hole of medieval reasoning, I’ll just offer a photo of a Holm oak and a pomegranate in the Vatican Gardens.
True to the nature of Italian gardens, there is no abundance of flowering plants in the Vatican Gardens, although there are some lovely sages, lantana, and roses. But I was greeted with a grand array of blooming plants at a flower festival in Siena. The market stalls in Rome’s Campo de Fiori can also always be counted on for a rich display of floral color. Moreover, civic and domestic planters filled with cyclamen and geraniums frequently decorated piazzas both large and small.
To close this post I have a few parking lot and sidewalk flowers, oleander and malva. Far less colorful, but far more omnipresent, giant reed (Arundo donax) flanked many road ways.
Well, there is just one more flowering plant to mention. Proving that plants are persistent, tunic flower (Petrorhagia saxifraga) often appeared tucked between the cobblestones that make up city streets and walkways. Clearly, that diminutive plant withstands cobblestones better than travelers’ feet.