For the last weekend field trip, Cornell students left the big bustling city of Rome to explore the quiet hill towns of Tuscany. While some of the previous excursions were understandably jam-packed in order to visit numerous sites, our past weekend was relaxed, with plenty of free time to explore and enjoy Tuscany’s many offerings.
Early Friday morning we arrived in Montepulciano and began to walk up the main street to the city square where we visited the Palazzo Comunale. Here we got our first panoramic view of the Tuscan countryside. Wishing to show some Cornell pride, students created a “CU” in the Piazza making for a great photo op.
After leaving our mark, we jumped to nearby Pienza. In front of the main church, we stumbled upon a movie set for a documentary film, complete with actors dressed in medieval clothes, donkeys, sheep, a horse drawn carriage, and frustrated directors trying to organize the scene, while keeping the public out of the picture. We watched for several minutes till the action finally began. I personally was hoping to see the carriage race through the square, knocking over the wheel-barrel filled with fruits, while a sword fight took place on the steps of the church, but I had to settle for watching the actors simply walking from one side of the piazza to the other. Seeing the amount of preparation it took to shoot such a short clip resonated with me, as it takes architecture students hours upon hours of drawing and model making to prepare a short 10 minute presentation to our faculty.
Siena was one of the students’ favorite Tuscan hill towns, with its magnificent central piazza, winding streets, massive palaces, ornately decorated churches, and grand panoramic views. Rivals with Florence, Siena’s politicians and local religious figures spent extraordinary amounts of money and resources on their public buildings, namely the city’s Duomo. Covered in striped layers of black stone and white marble, the church’s facade is decorated with spiraling columns, mosaics, and numerous statues. The inside, however, is even more elaborate with fully engraved floors, deep blue painted ceilings, brilliant stain-glass windows, and stunning side libraries and chapels. There was a great feeling of individuality and grandeur in this church, which for me at least, has set it above all the others.
For Halloween, students took to the streets as plumbers, Italian bakers, vampires, and cats, just to name a few. We were pleasantly surprised to see that many of the locals had dressed up as well, but with more traditional costumes, such as witches, zombies, and ghosts.
After a night of frights, we continued to San Gimignano, well known for its numerous stone towers. The wealthy families of this medieval town commissioned seventy two towers to be built to prove their strength and status to travelers and rivals. Through this massive construction effort, they created some of the first skyscrapers. Here, students enjoyed the panoramic views, the “worlds best” gelato, and fresh pressed olive oil.
The strong Tuscan sun warmed the cool air and brightened the changing leaves as we left for the country-side winery of Rocca di Frassinello. Designed by Renzo Piano, the winery could be described as a large box set into the landscape with a framed glass structure and tower that sat lightly on top. Students, enjoying a glass of world class wine, watched the clouds turn bright reds and deep purples as the Tuscan sun dipped behind the hills.
Now that we are back in Rome, there is a growing feeling of anxiety among the students. With no more field trips planned, projects and papers looming on the horizon, the semester is winding down. There is only one month left to enjoy this foreign land we now call home.