Vinci: A Visit to Leonardo’s Home Town
Travel books often limit the town of Vinci to a short paragraph. The town is off-the-beaten track and eclipsed by its more famous neighbors - Florence and Pisa. Despite these handicaps, Vinci receives as many as 500,000 visitors per year. They come in search of its most famous son, Leonardo. The Renaissance giant lived here from the time of his birth in 1452 until the mid-1460s, when he and his family moved to Florence.
Visitors discover the imaginative works of Leonardo as both engineer and artist. They are infused with the scenic countryside; Tuscan scenes are often depicted as background in Leonardo’s art like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper.
VinciVinci, a quiet, unimposing hill town, is unchanged from the time of Leonardo. The Maestro would feel very much at home if he walked the narrow streets of today. The community is a cluster of houses built around a medieval stone tower known as the Castello dei Conti Guidi. The castello and cluster form an elongated shape resembling the hull of a ship. Thus the castello is known locally as the ship castle. The tower is a great point of reference as the specific sights of interest are all nearby.
Begin exploring the town with a visit to the Leonardo Museum (Museo Leonardiano). The museum, focusing on “Leonardo the engineer”, is divided between the Castello dei Conti Guidi and the Palazzini Uzielli. Museum contents include working models of Leonardo’s machine designs, constructed according to his drawings. Some of the more notable inventions include: cranes for lifting stone blocks, textile spinning machines, a worm screw jack, a parachute, an articulated “bat wing” flying machine, a multi-barrelled machine gun, a tank and an emergency bridge. Each model is displayed with a copy of Leonardo’s drawing.
The nearby Church of Santa Croce is next. This church has been renovated since the time of Leonardo but the original baptismal font used to baptize the future artist remains. At the time of my visit (September 2008), much of the church interior was not visible because of a temporary Leonardo exhibit. Included were digital reproductions of many of Leonardo’s masterpieces. Each was accompanied by a short description and some historical details of Leonardo’s life.
The piazza behind the castello contains Mario Ceroli’s sculpture entitled The Man from Vinci. This wooden sculpture is a 3-D version of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man sketch. This drawing summarizes Leonardo’s study of ideal male proportions. Presumably these measures were incorporated into his works of art. Curious visitors will find Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man on the back of the Italian 1 Euro coin.
A short walk away, Nina Akamu’s bronze Equestrian Monument stands in the Piazza della Libertŕ. Her design is based on Leonardo’s studies of horses. He was preparing to cast an equestrian statue for Francesco Sforza, ruler of Milan, but the work was halted by a French invasion.
Take a break; refresh your mind, body and spirit over a glass of the local Chianti and the relaxing pace of Tuscany. Choose your café location well so as to enjoy the panoramic view below the town.
Fertile hillsides are blanketed with vineyards and fruit-laden olive trees. As in Leonardo’s time, extra virgin olive oil and wine are renowned local products. Visit the numerous wine stores, specialty food and souvenir shops.
Leonard's BirthplaceComplete your visit to Vinci with a side trip to Leonardo’s traditional birthplace (Casa Natale di Leonardo). You can travel the 1.9 mile (3 kilometers) distance by hiking trail (the Strada Verde) or by car. A hike allows you to walk the same paths as Leonardo during his formative years. Enjoy a slow, contemplative walk because the path to the farmhouse is uphill.
En route, imagine a young Leonardo sitting under one of the trees. He is pondering nature - the birds, streams, trees and even individual leaves and blades of grass. He is gazing upward, studying every minute detail of the fluffy white clouds overhead – their shape, shading and how they roll through the sky. Many of his ideas, drawings and inventions find their origin in these early observations.
Upon arrival, you see a quiet country house surrounded by dusky colored olive groves. This modest home remained in Leonardo’s family until 1629.
This light honey brown stone structure with three rooms is a reproduction. The sparsely decorated interior contains a high wooden ceiling, a stone floor, a fireplace and a table. The house is noteworthy because it contains copies of some of Leonardo’s early drawings of the Tuscan countryside.
After completing the farm house tour, check out the spectacular view of the countryside from the parking lot. As you enjoy the scenery, the essence of Leonardo seems closer, even though 486 years have passed since his death in 1519.