Al­ways and for­ever, the Bel Paese

The va­ri­ety and beauty of its ‘land­scape’ is what makes Italy unique.This term is not al­ways eas­ily trans­lat­able but re­lates to the en­vi­ron­ment and the many ways in which man has trans­formed it, dur­ing its multi-faceted his­tory. The re­sult is a com­bi­na­tio

Italia Luxury - - Contents - |by Elena Binda

The va­ri­ety and beauty of its ‘land­scape’ is what makes Italy unique: a com­bi­na­tion of na­ture and art that de­lights the eye and the heart.

Italy takes up only 0.5% of the planet’s sur­face. So the im­pact it has on trav­el­ers across the world is thus to­tally out of pro­por­tion to its ac­tual size. How­ever, there are many rea­sons for this: the his­tory of the Ro­man Em­pire, whose power made Italy the cen­tre of the world for decades and its strate­gic po­si­tion in the Mediter­ranean, which fos­tered Italy’s re­la­tion­ships with other coun­tries, are only two of the many rea­sons. How­ever, what makes this penin­sula unique is its ‘ter­ri­tory’: its in­com­pa­ra­ble wealth of coast­lines and moun­tains, lakes and plains, com­pressed by na­ture into the small­est of spa­ces, and then skill­fully shaped by man us­ing a va­ri­ety of artis­tic tech­niques. There­fore, what we call ‘land­scape’ is ac­tu­ally a con­ver­gence of hills and rows of cy­presses planted by man, steep banks and cul­ti­vated vine­yards, fer­tile ar­eas trans­formed into cities and then dec­o­rated with mar­ble, em­bel­lished with art and painted with colours that have made his­tory. This is Italy. A poignant ex­am­ple of how a place can be blessed by both the cli­mate and man’s in­ge­nu­ity (which does not mean that ev­ery­thing is per­fect…). On 14 March 2017, for the first time, the Min­istry of Cul­tural Her­itage and Ac­tiv­i­ties (MiBACT) cel­e­brated ‘Na­tional Land­scape Day’, to raise aware­ness among cit­i­zens about is­sues linked to the pro­tec­tion of the land­scape and re­mind peo­ple just how im­por­tant it is to adopt a new, more in­sight­ful at­ti­tude to it, since the land­scape is a

her­itage that can only be pro­tected through a net­work of public and pri­vate bod­ies, lo­cal agen­cies, as­so­ci­a­tions, in­di­vid­u­als and tourists vis­it­ing Italy.

Cul­tural bio­di­ver­sity

Chefs, aca­demics and en­trepreneurs of the agri-food in­dus­try (in­clud­ing peo­ple like Slow Food’s Carlo Petrini and Eataly’s Os­car Farinetti) have made it a cru­sade, that emerged con­cep­tu­ally in the themes dealt with dur­ing Expo Mi­lano 2015. Italy’s wealth lies in its bio­di­ver­sity, which is ex­pressed in 7,000 dif­fer­ent species of ed­i­ble veg­eta­bles, 1,200 in­dige­nous grape va­ri­eties, five hun­dred olive cul­ti­vars and much more. This va­ri­ety of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts is matched by a sim­i­lar di­ver­sity of land­scapes, works of art and his­tory. Ac­cord­ing to many this cul­tural bio­di­ver­sity is truly the ‘Great Beauty’ of Italy. FAI, the Italian Na­tional Trust and the cul­tural body that pro­tects the en­vi­ron­ment and its trea­sures, has cat­a­logued sev­eral of Italy’s prin­ci­pal land­scapes. There’s the hilly land­scape of the Langhe in Pied­mont and the even more fa­mous one of Chi­anti, in Tus­cany. The former, com­pris­ing soft, rolling hills, is fa­mous for its wines, truf­fles, hazel­nuts and cheese. The lat­ter, lo­cated be­tween the prov­inces of Florence, Siena and Arezzo, is known through­out the world for the beauty of its coun­try­side dot­ted with farm­houses, and a scat­ter­ing of sa­cred Ro­man or Gothic build­ings. The abbey of San Gal­gano, lo­cated just a few kilo­me­ters from Siena, is an al­most per­fect ex­am­ple of the mar­riage of art and na­ture. The ru­ins of a fa­mous me­dieval church, of which only the outer walls have re­mained, have be­come a sort of styl­ized icon, of Gothic cre­ativ­ity. With only the sky for a roof, it is a place of univer­sal de­vo­tion, where na­ture ap­pears to rule, em­bel­lish­ing the area sur­round­ing its ru­ins with an ex­plo­sion of vi­brant sun­flower fields. The num­ber of times that the Tus­can hills have ended up as part of a film are im­pos­si­ble to count and this, ac­cord­ing to many, is the real Italian land­scape. But there’s much more.

Moun­tains of co­ral and float­ing cities

There is the jagged, un­even moun­tain­ous land­scape of the Dolomites, whose breath­tak­ing rock for­ma­tions

re­sem­ble a co­ral reef, which they ac­tu­ally are. Ge­ol­o­gists have con­firmed that, in the dis­tant past, the Dolomites were sur­rounded by wa­ter. The Lig­urian land­scape, con­sist­ing of moun­tains plung­ing into the sea, cliff-hug­ging towns and plots of land trans­formed into ter­races for farm­ing pur­poses, with the sur­prises of the Gulf of the Po­ets or the Cinque Terre is also breath­tak­ing, as is the la­goon land­scape, in­scribed en bloc on the World Her­itage list, which in­cludes Venice and its is­lands. An ex­am­ple, right­fully ac­knowl­edged through­out the world, of how man has used his in­ge­nu­ity to­gether with in­cred­i­ble feats of ar­chi­tec­ture to dom­i­nate and beau­tify an ex­tra­or­di­nary ge­o­graph­i­cal area with­out dis­tort­ing it, by build­ing a city on wa­ter and trans­form­ing it into a mar­itime power. An­other spec­tac­u­lar area is the la­cus­trine land­scape of North­ern Italy, in­clud­ing the world-fa­mous Lake Como, a basin of gla­cial ori­gin, in­hab­ited since the dawn of time, and now sur­rounded by some ex­traor­di­nar­ily sump­tu­ous vil­las, of­ten graced with par­a­dis­i­cal gar­dens. Its beauty has been im­mor­tal­ized on the sil­ver screen and is a des­ti­na­tion that con­tin­ues to at­tract tourists from all over the world. The land­scapes of cen­tral Italy, re­cently and trag­i­cally rav­aged

by re­cur­ring earth­quakes, have no need of an in­tro­duc­tion. These in­clude Um­bria and Mon­te­fel­tro, the Gran Sasso moun­tain range and the lentil fields of Castel­lu­cio di Nor­cia, known for their beau­ti­ful, brightly coloured blos­soms. The coastal ar­eas of­fer sev­eral pic­turesque views from the Tyrrhe­nian sea to the Adri­atic. For ex­am­ple, the Ar­gen­tario and the Conero Na­ture Park.

The seas of the south

And then there’s South­ern Italy. The Amalfi Coast, ly­ing south of Naples, with its towns (Amalfi, Ravello and Posi­tano) and its neigh­bour­ing is­lands (Capri, Ischia and Pro­cida), is an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of a Mediter­ranean land­scape. It is scented with lemons, in­fused with folk­lore and blessed with sev­eral of the most unique ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in the world, in­clud­ing, first and fore­most, Pom­peii, the Ro­man city pet­ri­fied by the vol­canic erup­tion of 79 A.D. A lit­tle fur­ther down, we find the Murge and the Stones of Mat­era, where from the time of the Pa­le­olithic era men cre­ated vil­lages from the tufa stone, re­claim­ing and trans­form­ing this in­de­fin­ably lu­nar land­scape into some­thing more civ­i­lized. To­day, it re­sem­bles a na­tiv­ity scene (it has of­ten been used as a set­ting for sev­eral films to recre­ate the places where Je­sus of Nazareth spent his life, in­clud­ing, most re­cently, Mel Gib­son’s pop­u­lar and widely dis­puted The Pas­sion). Over the past few years, Sa­lento, with its olives and dry stone walls, sea and ‘masserie’ (typ­i­cal lo­cal farm­houses), has be­come a sought-af­ter tourist des­ti­na­tion. It is a warm, wel­com­ing place that is well worth vis­it­ing. On the other side of the ‘Boot’, we find Cal­abria with the plateau of Sila. The area is renowned for its lush veg­e­ta­tion, abun­dant wildlife and wild, un­spoilt scenery which is not found any­where else in Italy. Here too, the sea is nearby and, de­spite be­ing one of Italy’s least well-known re­gions, or pos­si­bly be­cause of this, sev­eral of its beaches hold some de­light­ful sur­prises in store for those vis­it­ing them. On the sub­ject of beaches, we must men­tion Sar­dinia which has some of the dreami­est beaches, white sand, scal­loped coves and crys­talline wa­ter that you’ll ever find with­out leav­ing Europe. In this case, it’s not ac­tu­ally a ques­tion of places ‘just wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered’ but in­stead is renowned for the beauty of its sea and, in sum­mer, its beaches are packed to over­flow­ing. How­ever, it will not dis­ap­point, es­pe­cially when ac­cessed by boat. Fi­nally, there’s Si­cily, an­other ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of Italy’s mag­nif­i­cent blend of na­ture and his­tory, un­tamed beauty and art. It is not by chance that in the first edi­tion of the ‘Land­scape Day’ pro­moted by MiBACT, the land­scape prize was awarded to the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and Land­scape Park of the Val­ley of Tem­ples of Agri­gento which will rep­re­sent Italy in the frame­work of the Land­scape Award of the Coun­cil of Europe. The award, linked to a project of re-launch and pro­tec­tion,

em­braces a unique area where the traces of Magna Gre­cia have be­come one with the rocks and veg­e­ta­tion of the area. In ad­di­tion to its mar­velous tem­ples, the park hosts the so­called ‘veg­etable pa­tri­archs’, or species that have grown here since the dawn of time: olives, carob trees, myr­tle, al­monds and pis­ta­chio trees. An en­thralling, en­chanted place.

Art land­scapes

As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, in Italy, the ex­change be­tween na­ture and art has given mar­velous re­sults. Hu­man art has shaped the land­scape, mak­ing it un­mis­tak­able, while the dis­tinct per­son­al­ity of the Italian land­scape has ended up as the sub­ject of art it­self. In by­gone days, the Ro­mans painted land­scapes to dec­o­rate the walls of their domi or houses (the most daz­zling ex­am­ple is that of the mo­saics of Villa Adri­ana in Tivoli). On the other hand, Early Chris­tian art only con­sid­ered na­ture from a symbolic point of view, mean­ing that we had to wait un­til the late me­dieval era to see a re­al­is­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the land­scape. It was at that point that Duc­cio di Buonin­segna, Am­bro­gio Loren­zetti, Giotto and Cimabue ar­rived to move us with their nar­ra­tive im­agery. In the 16th cen­tury, Leonardo da Vinci was the first artist to in­vent the tech­nique of lin­ear per­spec­tive, giv­ing life to the spec­tac­u­lar era known to­day as the Re­nais­sance. The Baroque pe­riod saw a re­turn to clas­sic land­scapes, where bi­b­li­cal and mytho­log­i­cal fig­ures were in­ter­spersed with a lush, re­al­is­tic por­trayal of na­ture. Then, in the 18th cen­tury, Canaletto’s ‘Ve­dutism’ fi­nally fo­cused on por­tray­ing cities which, dur­ing that time, be­came the des­ti­na­tions of the Grand Tour, the ‘voy­age of ini­ti­a­tion’ un­der­taken by young Euro­pean in­tel­lec­tu­als. Over time, it has be­come in­creas­ingly clear that Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence, the Tower of Pisa, the Vat­i­can walls and even Leonardo’s Last Sup­per or the Sis­tine Chapel are as much a part of the ‘Italian land­scape’ as the sea and hills of Chi­anti. It is here, where gen­er­a­tions of con­querors have left their mark, that art ap­pears to be a prod­uct of the earth, and is by now in­dis­tin­guish­able from the fruits of the soil.

SPIR­I­TUAL BEAUTY The spec­tac­u­lar site of San Gal­gano, near Siena: above, the re­mains of the me­dieval basil­ica; be­low, the fields of sun­flow­ers that sur­round it in sum­mer. Fac­ing page: Cala Luna in Sar­dinia.

ITALIAN PANORAMA The di­ver­sity of the Italian land­scape, clock­wise: the ‘Stones’ of Mat­era’, the an­cient olive trees of Sa­lento (Puglia), the vine­yards of Cen­tral Italy and the breath­tak­ing scenery of the Dolomites.

SEAV­IEW The town of Ma­narola is part of the ‘Cinque Terre’, one of the most panoramic ar­eas in Lig­uria, a coastal re­gion of north-west­ern Italy.

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