This past May, Sam and I were visiting his family near Florence when his sister suggested that instead of going to the center of the city as we normally do during our annual visits, we should visit the village of Vinci, Leonardo’s birthplace.
“What a great idea!” Sam and I enthusiastically exclaimed as we welcomed this change in plans. Besides our curiosity about where the master came from, it was only a one-hour drive and an exciting new place for us to explore. And since this year (2019) marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s passing, it gave us an extra reason to go.
After breakfast, we set off into Tuscany’s countryside, with Vinci as our destination. I must confess; I wasn’t sure what to expect since I didn’t even know that Leonardo was named after the village he was born in. Sam, the history enthusiast, knew it all, but he hadn’t been to the village before, so it was going to be a first for both of us.
During our trip, we passed through multiple small villages but saw no signs for Vinci village. Hmm, maybe the navigation is wrong, or these Italians are trying to keep this village a secret to avoid hordes of Da Vinci enthusiasts, I thought to myself.
Finally, we saw a “Vinci” sign pointing to a road up the hill. As I was basking in the views of the countryside, Sam was keeping us safe on the narrow road. Finally, we entered the village of Vinci, parked our Fiat 500 rental by a church, and headed toward what looked like the center of town.
This village was tiny. There was a gelateria, a church, a handful of stores (three were bakeries) and one small sign pointing towards the museum of Leonardo. Strangely, besides a few locals, there were barely any people on the streets. On our way toward the museum, we spotted only one more reminder of where we were: a sign made from flowers noting Leonardo’s 500th anniversary. That was it. Seriously modest advertising, we thought.
“In America, such a village would be turned into Disneyland. Correction, ‘Da Vinci-Land,’” we laughed to ourselves. Millions of tourists would be lined up, eager to spend their money and get the “we were here” Instagram photo.
Once we got to the museum, there was a crowd of young Italian children about to walk in. Well, at least the Italian youth are learning Leonardo’s history, we thought. The museum itself wasn’t large, but it was interesting and full of memorabilia from Leonardo’s life. Is this it? We wondered, slightly disappointed.
Soon after, we discovered an almost hidden sign by the museum. This trip reminded us more of a scavenger hunt than a visit to the birthplace of the most famous man in our history. Another kilometer away was the very house where Leonardo was born. “Yes!” Curious to see more, we were off. “I bet all of the tourists are there!”
An even narrower road up the hill through the stunning Tuscan nature took us to a small parking lot with about ten cars, and it was almost full. I often go back and forth with Sam, debating if tourism is good or bad for respective cities and countries. And there are solid arguments for both sides. Tourism brings money, opportunities, and business for the locals, but overcrowding and extreme tourism often destroys these very places. So, in a way, we were glad that we found this undiscovered, unassuming pearl in the middle of Tuscany almost entirely tourist-free. I don’t think it is for lack of interest in Leonardo that this place wasn’t as busy as one would expect.
“Amore Ogni Cosa Vince” (Love Always Wins), a quote by Leonardo welcomed us to the property.
It was a stone stone house on top of the hill, in the middle of nowhere. All around was only nature. This was the place where Leonardo took his first breath. We stood there for a moment to take in the significance of this residence that provided the world with such a genius.
For the next hour, we walked around and explored the serene nature. We listened to the birds and all the sounds of wildlife, with views of the countryside to ourselves. What a find this was, and in this case, “less was more.” This wasn’t a busy tourist stop full of restored ancient houses, restaurants or shops. It was simple, yet full of history and significance.
Leonardo in many ways, touched our lives, and probably yours as well. If it wasn’t for his paintings (starting with the Mona Lisa, which interestingly is owned by the French), or his scientific experiments, discoveries, his writings, and jokes… the world would be a very different place. There is always so much more to learn about this innovator. There are countless books written about him (yes, The Da Vinci Code is still one of my favorite books), as well as the many movies and television series. Leonardo is everywhere.
So, our visit to Vinci village unveiled one thing: that there are still cultural and historically significant places that have not yet been overrun by tourism. Ciao!
~ Written by: Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.
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