Friday, November 25, 2011

Tuscan Villas

I love Italian villas. They are so charming and full of romance. I am sure you know what I am talking about. The clean and fresh Liberty style of the Twenties, the earlier Neoclassic with its sweeping heights protruding to the sky, the Renaissance with its pastel colors and Italian gardens, the Medieval period, with its brick and stone walls all have a great charm.

But there is a kind of villas that I love the most. Perhaps it does not belong to any specific architectural style, or perhaps to the rural one, if such style exists. At any rate, I am talking about Tuscan villas, those rising in the middle of the luxuriant countryside on top of panoramic hills. Surrounded by well kept fields, woodlands, and water bodies, these villas have a very humble past, one deepening its roots in the land they were built on.

I am indeed charmed away by peasant farmhouses, those with stone walls, comfortably sitting on a green estate with their wide presence and low rising roofs. Large families of laborers lived on the first floor, while on the ground floor the stables hosted cows and horses, the tractors of the past. The floor dividing the stables from the living quarters used to be made of a layer of cotto tiles held by wood pillars and lines of studs. The relative thinness of such layer was achieved on purpose to allow the heat of the stables to flow to the upper floor. A thick ceiling would have isolated the heat in the stable.

These villas had not many comforts, and the Sunday morning bathing, religiously carried out prior to going to church, took place in the stables inside a vat, as this was the warmer room of the house. The fireplace on the first floor was the heart of the house. The large dining room and kitchen was built around the fireplace. It is here that most of the daily life took place. The fireplace was used to cook, it heated the dining room, and often accommodated six or more people inside during colder nights. Here the large family, and often neighbors, gathered to chat and carry on petty hand works and crafts impossible to do during the daylight time, which required to be in the fields. Wood and straw works served to the production of chairs, hats, kitchen utensils and to repair work tools. Stories and local news were told while manual work was carried out, and perhaps this is also how couples could meet each other and create new families.

Bedrooms did not have fireplaces, and the freezing cold beds where warmed up using bed warmers filled with ambers. The mattress was filled with dry corn leaves, and you can imagine that beds catching fire was not a rare happening!

Each time I enter into Tuscan villas I can feel the past. Although nowadays many were renovated and include all comforts, the original soul of the place is still present. At times I like to visit the ruins of an old farmhouse. At first I think it is a pity it was not restored as many other were, but then I can see the signs of abandonment and rediscover many original traits of a rural life that completely disappeared in Tuscany and Italy.

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