View of the hill of Fiesole, marked by the tall bell tower of its cathedral, and of S. Croce, one of the largest churches of Florence, seen from near Forte del Belvedere
Florence is the capital of Tuscany in Italy. It is a place of great antiquity, founded as Machiavel says, by the merchants of Fiesole, and augmented by colonies sent from Rome. (.. ) It is now a large, beautiful, flourishing city, pleasantly situated in a fruitful valley on the river Arno, encompassed with beautiful hills almost in the form of an amphitheatre on three sides. These hills are full of villages, country-seats, gardens, groves, and woods. (..) The country round about Florence is so full of villages and houses of pleasure, that one would imagine it all to be one continuation of the suburbs of the town; and it may be truly affirmed that this is one of the richest, pleasantest, and best inhabited vallies in the whole world. Those that like to take an excursion into this charming country, may go first to Fiesole, a small town within three miles of Florence to the northwards pleasantly situated on a hill. To this town Florence owes its origin, having been one of the twelve great cities of the Hetrurians, and the residence of their augurs. At present it is remarkable for very little but the cathedral, (being the seat of a bishop, suffragan of Florence) a convent, and some remains of antiquity.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
"Oh Heights of Faesulae cooled by refreshing and yet not tumultuous breezes to whom Minerva has vouchsafed to be the glory of the Tuscan Apennines and to be conspicuous for the peculiar verdure of your groves! I shall no longer behold you from the Valley of the Arno crowned with porticos and villas or that ancient Cathedral or those venerable cypresses or those edifices that overhang edifices below." Translation by Andrew Amos in 1851.
Florence lies in the centre of a gently depressed valley, but the surface in the immediate neighborhood rises and swells in the most picturesque manner, and the Apennines, upon the north and west, interpose their brown and wooded crests. From any of the heights around, and especially from the hill of Fiesole, the view is enchanting. The eye encounters no unsightly blots in the landscape, nor is it wearied by any dreary monotony of forms. The earth itself here seems to be endued with something of the soft flexibility of water, so infinitely diversified are the outlines, and such various characters of grandeur, picturesqueness, and beauty, are assumed by the mountain peaks, the gently rounded hills. the long ridges of verdure, and the sloping plains. Florence itself is but the central point of interest in this delightful panorama. (..) Fiesole, the cradle of Florence, occupies the summit of a steep hill, which it takes an hour's brisk walking to reach. (..) In Fiesole, as in most Italian towns, there are churches and a convent, in which are doubtless many things worthy of being seen; but the traveller, unless he can spend much more time than I had at my disposal, will hardly linger under any roof, while so enchanting a prospect tempts him without. Language breaks down in the effort to fix upon paper the impressions awakened by a landscape of such beauty, such variety, and such extent.
George Stillman Hillard - Six Months in Italy in 1847-1848
It is true indeed that I might after a certain time grow weary of a regular afternoon stroll among the Florentine lanes; of sitting on low parapets, in intervals of flower-topped wall, and looking across at Fiesole or down the rich-hued valley of the Arno; of pausing at the open gates of villas and wondering at the height of cypresses and the depth of loggias; of walking home in the fading light and noting on a dozen westward-looking surfaces the glow of the opposite sunset. But for a week or so all this was delightful. (..) The view from Fiesole seems vaster and richer with each visit. The hollow in which Florence lies, and which from below seems deep and contracted, opens out into an immense and generous valley and leads away the eye into a hundred gradations of distance.
Henry James - First published in the 1870s
In Fiesole various crafts were plied; strawhats and baskets were woven, souvenirs and oranges were sold, tourists cheated or begged for alms.
Hermann Hesse - Peter Camenzind - 1904 - Transl. by Peter Owen
He asked the girl whether she knew Florence well, and was informed at some length that she had never been there before. It is delightful to advise a newcomer, and he was first in the field. "Don't neglect the country round," his advice concluded. "The first fine afternoon drive up to Fiesole, and round by Settignano, or something of that sort." (..) Sometimes as I take tea I hear, over the wall, the electric tram squealing up the new road with its loads of hot, dusty, unintelligent tourists who are going to "do" Fiesole in an hour in order that they may say they have been there, and I think - I think - I think how little they think what lies so near them.
Edward Morgan Forster - A Room with a View - 1908
Site of the excavations on the northern side of the hill and the bell tower of the Cathedral
FAESULAE (Fiesole) is situated on a hill rising above the valley of the Arno, about 3 miles from Florence. The existing remains sufficiently prove that it must have been a place of consideration as an Etruscan city, and Silius Italicus alludes to it as eminent for skill in divination, a character which could never have attached to a place not of remote antiquity, but no mention of it is found in history previous to the Roman dominion, nor do we know at what time or on what terms it submitted to the Roman yoke. The first mention of its name occurs in B.C. 225, during the great Gaulish War, when the invaders were attacked by the Roman army on their march from Clusium (Chiusi) towards Faesulae. It again appears in the Second Punic War as the place in the neighbourhood of which Hannibal encamped after he had crossed the Apennines and forced his way through the marshes in the lower valley of the Arno, and from whence he advanced to meet Flaminius before the battle of Trasymene. Faesulae is described as at that time immediately adjoining the marshes in question, and it is probable that the basin of the Arno just below Florence was then still marshy and subject to inundations. (..) Faesulae was taken and ravaged with fire during (..) the great devastation of Etruria by Sulla. It is certain that after that event Faesulae was one of the places selected by the dictator for the establishment of a numerous military colony. From this time we hear little more of Faesulae: it appears to have sunk into the condition of an ordinary municipal town under the Roman empire. (..) In the middle ages Faesulae was reduced to insignificance by the growing power of the Florentines, and gradually fell into decay. (..)
Within the circuit of the walls are the remains of the ancient theatre, which have been as yet but imperfectly excavated; but there appears no doubt that they are of Roman date and construction.
Princeton Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography - John Murray 1854
The first excavations were carried out in 1809 at the initiative of Friedman Heinrich Christian von Schellersheim (1752-1836), a Prussian baron, in a piece of land known as Buche delle Fate (Hollows of the Fairies). They were not completed and for some years the locals used the site where ancient stones had been discovered as a quarry. Eventually the excavated area was covered again.
Map of the Archaeological Area (No 10 is the museum)
Since the Fiesole hillside is made up of sloping terraces, the forum of Faesulae was probably in the modern Piazza Mino da Fiesole, a famous Renaissance sculptor, (upper right corner) which is the centre of the modern town and which enjoys an open view towards Florence. The theatre was built on several levels and it stood between the forum and the temple (No 7) and the baths (No 4).
Fiesole is a place of remote antiquity, as is attested by a piece of massive Etruscan wall, composed of immense stones, of irregular shape and various sizes. Old as this is, it bears its years well, and seems as likely to endure as any structure of man's hands now upon the earth. Stillman Hillard
The ruins of Faesulae, especially the remains of its ancient walls, confirm the accounts of its having been an important Etruscan city. Large portions of these walls, constructed in the same style with those of Volaterrae and Cortona, though of somewhat less massive masonry, were preserved till within a few years, and some parts of them are still visible. The whole circuit however was less than two miles in extent, forming a somewhat quadrangular enclosure, which occupied the whole summit of the hill, rising to the height of more than 1000 feet above the valley of the Arno. Princeton Dictionary
The major part of the wall is dated IIIrd century BC, but some rebuilding occurred in the Roman period.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze: bronze head of an Etruscan youth, perhaps from Fiesole (IVth century BC); (right) Museo Archeologico di Fiesole: bronze torso of a lion or a she-wolf (IInd century BC)
Etruscan artists sought to grasp the character of a person and to convey this realistically, regardless of aesthetics. It was their works that inspired the sober realistic art of the Roman portrait (see the Hall of the Emperors at Palazzo Nuovo in Rome and some busts of members of the Augustan family at Toulouse).
The Etruscans possessed advanced metalworking techniques (see the Chimera of Arezzo and the Mars of Todi). Their techniques spread to other parts of Italy, south of Rome, e.g. Palestrina and Capua.
Museo Archeologico di Fiesole: Etruscan funerary objects; (left) cinerary urn (see some finer examples in Florence); (centre) stela (VIth century BC) depicting a funerary banquet with music players; (right) cast of the stela of Larth Ninie, perhaps a military leader (VIth century BC)
Of the numerous minor objects of antiquity that have been found on the site of Faesulae, the most interesting is a bas-relief of a warrior of very ancient style, and one of the most curious specimens of early Etruscan art. Princeton Dictionary
In the fields around Fiesole several stelae have been found that date as far back as the VIth century BC. They come from isolated tombs, often far apart. That of Larth Ninie was discovered before 1650 and it ended in the collection of antiquities of Filippo Buonarroti (1661-1733), a very distant relative of Michelangelo. The stela was studied by some of the first art historians, including Johann Joachim Winckelmann in 1758 (you may wish to see Persian reliefs which might have indirectly influenced the Etruscan sculptor).
Roman Theatre and the baths at the far end of the image
Fiesole was at its height under Emperor Augustus. To this time belong the theatre, the baths, and perhaps the rebuilding of an Etruscan temple, destroyed by fire at the beginning of the Ist century BC and reconstructed with its annexes at a higher level with a slightly amplified plan. The central part of the cavea (seating section) of the theatre rests against the hill while the lateral sections are supported by vaulted structures. The theatre must have been refurbished during the IInd century AD. The theatre was excavated again in 1873-1874 and its reconstruction was criticized for being excessive. The audience enjoyed a fine view over Valle del Mugnone, the valley to the north of Fiesole.
Columns above the cavea of the theatre; the image used as background for this page shows a detail of the decoration of a special seat
Many Roman theatres were crowned by a gallery, e.g. at Aspendos, and / or by a temple, e.g. at Amman. At Fiesole some loggias above the cavea sheltered from the sun the seats of the town's magistrates. Having a reserved seat at the theatre was regarded as a great honour and many Romans mentioned it in their funerary inscriptions, e.g. at Pompeii.
Museo Archeologico di Fiesole: Marble reliefs from the theatre
The excavations led to finding some elements of the decoration of the theatre, however it was not possible to identify their original location. The finest panels are dated Ist century AD and they call to mind those of Ara Pacis Augustae, the altar to Peace erected by Augustus in Rome.
Site of the temple
The temple has a peculiar plan, consisting of a cella against the far wall and two lateral wings. The entrance between two columns was reached by a stepped ramp. Excavations in the area immediately in front of the temple have brought to light an altar belonging to the Etruscan temple.
Museo Archeologico di Fiesole: two other decorative reliefs
Other reliefs were found in the area between the theatre and the temple. That having a military subject perhaps belonged to a honorary monument or to a triumphal arch. That showing decorative motifs and two thyrsi, staffs topped with a pine cone which were associated with festivals in honour of Dionysus/Bacchus, could have decorated the wall of a portico along the cardo, the north-south street linking the two buildings.
The baths were built in the lowest point of the town and they were supplied with water by an aqueduct which started at Montereggi, north of Fiesole. The baths had all the key facilities of this type of establishment: apodyteria (dressing rooms), tepidarium (warm room), frigidarium (cold room) and calidarium (hot room). They show signs of restorations until the Severian age. You may wish to see a page describing what went on in a Roman bath establishment according to Seneca.
Museo Archeologico di Fiesole: (left) inscription celebrating the restoration of a "Capitolium", a temple to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the three deities who were worshipped on the Capitoline Hill of Rome; (centre) statue of Isis in the act of mourning Osiris; (right) head of Vibia Matidia, sister-in-law of Emperor Hadrian
In an 1882 meeting of Accademia dei Lincei, Gian Francesco Gamurrini, Director of Antiquities in Tuscany, reported the casual discovery in a vineyard near Fiesole of a shrine erected by a Roman veteran. It contained two statues, one of which consisted only of the feet, while the other was almost entire and it portrayed a seated goddess. Their pedestals contained dedications to Osiris and Isis Taposiri, i.e. the Isis who was worshipped at Taposiris Magna, an Egyptian town built on the Tomb of Osiris, where Isis was portrayed in the act of mourning her husband. The statue of Fiesole could be the copy of that at Taposiris, anyhow it is unique in its kind and it is dated early IInd century AD.
Museo Bandini: glazed terracotta by Andrea della Robbia (1495) (see other terracottas by Andrea della Robbia at S. Maria della Querce near Viterbo)
Angelo Maria Bandini (1726-1803), a Catholic priest and a librarian, gathered a small collection of Early Renaissance works which he bequeathed to the Deanery of the Cathedral of Fiesole. The museum which today houses his collection is situated very near the entrance to the archaeological area (11 in the map).