Destination = San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy -
Parking in the shadow of 13th century walls, I walk into the town via the Porta San Giovanni and linger awhile in the town square by the bell tower; this bell one of many that rang of their own accord in 1253 upon the death of the town’s paralysed patron saint.
Crooked cobbled steps climb ancient laneways to the highest knoll where I sit in a balmy breeze. A brick and stone arbour is part gnarled wisteria; sprouts of mauve framing a Tuscan montage of rolling hills beyond. I turn and stare across merchant house-towers that soar to a height of 50m and once numbered 72, built by jealous feudal families craving wealth and influence. I breathe in the scent of warm rock and earth, brushing frazzled tufts of summer grass from jeans and boots.
On a meandering downward staircase there’s another turn and yet another set of stairs further down the hill, to a rustic Tuscan shopfront; the head of the window a low Roman arch.
For a moment I stand outside, peering through glass ancient and unclear. The door is heavy, the handle a dull brass ring. I twist and push the door ajar. There’s the sound of someone whistling from somewhere within. The single room is all clutter, the now silent bellmaker still unseen.
I push past a bench and register, a chorus of tinkling bells ring in the breeze, the draft from the street having followed me in. The door swings shut with a bang, and I jump. A mosaic lamp flares into life, throwing mirror-ball beams about the scene: this maze of fairy bells that swing higgledy piggledy in their web of gossamer threads and tiny shards of Venetian glass.
More bells hang from timber-boarded, odd angled-ceilings and crooked metal brackets perched on walls of weathered brick, each adorned with delicate hues; sprays of flowers and cats in tuxedos. There’s a 60s ambience of Nag Champa incense and wet clay.
I’m lost in a Lewis Carroll wonderland.
Photo: Tuscan Belltowers - San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy _ Ian Cochrane