It’s a Tuesday morning. Seven young ladies, friends, gather. Hatching a plan. Needing to escape their current circumstances. Presently, they are joined by a few young men. The plan unfolds. They’ll escape together to one of their family’s second homes — thankfully they have this option — safely away from the threats of the city.
The year was 1348, the town was Florence, and the threat the black plague. The friends, although fictional, run off to Fiesole, the little hillside town overlooking Florence, and very much still real today. The friends entertain themselves with a series of stories, each responsible for weaving a tale every night of their sojourn for the enjoyment of the group, in what adds up to 100 stories.
Thus begins the Decameron, a classic work completed in 1353 by one of Italian literature’s heavy hitters, Giovanni Boccaccio. June 16 is the 707th anniversary of Boccaccio’s birth, born in 1313, in the tiny town of Certaldo about an hour’s drive from Florence.
Certaldo is a charming little storybook place, divided into two sections. The historic town, Certaldo Alta, sits high above the modern Certaldo (also fairly small), and is accessed by a funicular, an easy walk from the train station.
Wandering Certaldo Alta is to spend a few lovely hours in a Tuscan open-air museum. On the main street, Via Boccaccio, is the home where the writer spent the last years of his life. The structure today is preserved as a museum and open to the public.
The highlight of the museum, not surprisingly, is the biblioteca, housing an extensive collection of Decameron editions, not to mention an idyllic view onto the Elsa valley.
Going further up Via Boccaccio, the cobblestones lead to Palazzo Pretorio, dating from 1164. The various terracotta coat of arms — some from the notable della Robbia Florence workshop — were placed by the different vicars residing in the palazzo throughout the years, each piece noting dates served. The palazzo was the civic center of historic Certaldo, with private living quarters for the vicar, public areas to welcome important guests and host civic functions, and even rooms designated as prisons, with separate spaces for men and women.
Our tour was self-guided, and even on this summer day in the height of travel season, Daughter and I were the only visitors in the palazzo. I don’t remember the rooms and items displayed being well marked with information, so I missed out on the historic details I usually enjoy in a museum, but still, wandering the rooms and taking in the artifacts was a thoroughly enjoyable journey back in time.
Heading back to the funicular for our return to Florence, we were delighted to discover Artesia Ceramica, the workshop of two local ceramic artisans. Really, it felt more like being in someone’s home, with the owner crafting a handmade piece in the front room, and the other rooms leading one into the next, displaying an beautiful variety of items that are classically Tuscan.
Before saying ciao to Certaldo, we took a moment for one of my favorite occupations in Italy, the photo walk. Being such a photogenic little hamlet, we took our time.
Bonus literary travels snapshots below, I recommend a visit to both if you can work it into your time in Florence!
Above: Santa Maria Novella, the church near Florence’s train station of the same name, is the site of the opening scene of Decameron, where the friends’ plan comes together.
Below: Fiesole, in the hills overlooking Florence, has a nice central piazza lined with shops and restaurants, and withing walking distance of well-preserved Etruscan ruins. It has plenty of quieter spots, and is a nice escape from the crowds of Florence.