Oh so you want to become a painter like Leonardo da Vinci, huh? A ridiculous question that someone asked me many years ago, when I said that I wanted to study art. It popped up in my mind again as we drove into the tiny village of Vinci in Tuscany, and saw the street sign “Welcome to Vinci – The birthplace of Leonardo”.
The Via dei Martiri led us from typical Tuscan villas past contemporary houses right into the heart of the medieval part of the town. The bells of the Chiesa di Santa Croce chimed 10 times. 10am and no one was to be seen in the village. – This is weird, I said to Kerstin, do you think they are all in the church? – Either that or no one cares to visit Leonardo da Vinci’s birthplace, she replied.
When I parked our car on the Via Montalbano, a tourist bus suddenly pulled in. Dozens of tired French teenagers started disembarking. Soon, a second bus full of German seniors arrived. Kerstin looked at me: – There you go, here are the tourists you were looking for! I rolled my eyes and hurried towards the Museo Leonardiano, hoping to purchase our entrance tickets before the groups did.
The first part of the museum, housed in the 19th century Palazzina Uzielli, is devoted to several recreations of da Vinci’s practical inventions. Seeing Leonardo’s revolutionary concepts of a mechanical clock, a machine to automate the textile manufacturing cycle, or measuring instruments made me wonder why people often remember him primarily as a painter. Of course, he started his career at age 14 as an apprentice of Andrea del Verrochio, a leading Florentine painter from whom he learned various technical and artistic skills, and produced many paintings throughout his life, such as the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper.
But Leonardo was much more than a painter or a sculptor. He was also a geologist, a botanist, a musician, a mathematician, an architect, an urban planner, a cartographer, and an engineer! His drawings and manuscripts, as well as the contemporary models of his inventions showcased in the medieval Castello dei Conti Guidi, are even more breathtaking.
From war machines and bicycles to flying machines, parachutes, and mechanical devices to divert watercourses: Leonardo da Vinci was a real Renaissance polymath. He was what many scholars rightfully state as a “Universal Genius”. And if he were a man of the 21st century, I believe that we would call him “Einstein”.
Deeply focused on the Master’s scientific works for several hours, we suddenly realized that the French and German visitors were already gone as we reached the last showroom of the museum. From the top of the Castle Tower, we spottel several of them strolling around the Piazza dei Guidi, and others walking towards the Leonardo Library, which holds copies of every printed edition of Leonardo’s works, as well as facsimile reproductions of all his drawings and manuscripts.
Behind the Church of Santa Croce, where Leonardo was baptized in 1452, acres of olive groves, vineyards and iconic Tuscan cedar trees spread over the rolling hills of Montalbano. So this was the landscape that Leonardo da Vinci also saw more than 500 years ago…
-Do you think that the house where he was born is still somewhere down there?, I asked Kerstin. – Yes and no: the original house has been heavily restored and it’s located about 3km away from here in the little village of Anchiano. It’s written on the first panel when we entered into the museum, she said with her usual smirk. – Aha… I have to admit that I didn’t read everything, I laughed. So let’s go to Anchiano then?
By the time we reached our car, the bus with the French students was leaving the parking. – Wait! I overheard them saying they’re heading to Anchiano. Maybe we should walk there instead of driving, so by the time we arrive they’ll probably have left, Kerstin suggested.
The sky cleared up as we engaged into the “Strada Verde” or “Green Route”, and it soon became scorching hot for a spring day. But walking through this picturesque trail is now one of my favourite memories of our Tuscan trip. It was exactly the kind of countryside pathway I had always dreamed to walk through when I was a kid: along centuries old olive trees and flaming-red poppies, and surrounded by motley butterflies and emerald lizards, all simmering under the Tuscan sun! Almost too bucolic to keep hiking to Anchiano…
When we arrived at Leonardo’ birthplace, restored as a typical 15th century Tuscan stone house, the group of French students was about to board their bus. I glanced at Kerstin, who shot me another quirky smile: – You see? I was right!
If you’ve made it to the village of Vinci, you might also want to visit Florence, and explore other charming towns in Tuscany.
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