Hike on Monte Ceceri in Florence

a walk between nature and history

Florence is undoubtedly one of the world’s capitals of cultural tourism. The number of museums and rich artistic collections astonishes anybody who comes to visit this unique place. Not everybody know, however, that around Florence you can easily organize hikes and walks in nature as well. My favourite hike in the surroundings of Florence is the hike around Monte Ceceri, near Fiesole. This itinerary unites nature with history. During the hike you will meet Leonardo da Vinci and you will see some of the quarries of pietra serena, a grey sandstone vastly used by the Florentine sculptors and architects.

Let’s go for a hike!

Shady path on Monte Ceceri
Shady path on Monte Ceceri.

Departure from Fiesole

You can start your hike from Piazza Mino da Fiesole in Fiesole. You can easily reach Fiesole from Florence by bus. The public bus n. 7 will take you there in 15-20 minutes. The bus departs from Piazza San Marco (bus stop in via Giorgio la Pira). You can buy your bus ticket at the “tabacchi” shop. It costs 1,50 euro and you have to punch it on board. The bus leaves you directly in Piazza Mino da Fiesole.

From there you have to get to via degli Scalpellini to start your hike on Monte Ceceri:

Monte Ceceri

Via degli Scalpellini will lead you to the heart of Monte Ceceri. The hill takes its name from its shape which, according to the locals, resembles a bulge on the beak of ceceri swans. These particular species of swans are called ceceri swans in Tuscany because the bulges on their beaks are similar to chickpeas, called ceci in Italian. The hill is covered by a wood and between the trees you can admire views on Florence and the valley of the Arno river.

View on Florence from Monte Ceceri
View on Florence from Monte Ceceri

Coming to Florence?

Download my free guide to Florence “Art and the City. Two Squares in Five Masterpieces”!

Fiesole and Pietra serena

During the hike on Monte Ceceri, in the woods you will find many of the dismissed quarries of pietra serena. The tradition of excavating and working this soft sandstone in the area of Fiesole and Maiano dates back to the Etruscan era. In the archaeological museum of Fiesole you can find numerous funerary stelae carved in pietra serena dating back to the 6th century BC (here you will find my article about archaeology in Fiesole).

Pietra serena is rather soft, it has a beautiful warm grey colour and it was so easily accessible in the area. This is why during the centuries it became a favourite material for many of the Florentine sculptors and architects. Filippo Brunelleschi introduced architectonical elements carved in pietra serena into many of his projects, such as San Lorenzo and the Old Sacristy. Donatello carved in pietra serena his beautiful Annunciation for the Cavalcanti family, which used to decorate the rood screen in Santa Croce. Pietra serena was often used to decorate portals, fireplaces, window frames. It truly is one of the most common stones used in Florence.

During the fourteenth century Fiesole, Settignano and Maiano became important centres of stone and sculpture production. Not by chance many famous Renaissance sculptors and architect were born here, like Mino da Fiesole, Giuliano da Maiano, Benedetto da Maiano or Desiderio da Settignano. Even Michelangelo claimed that his innate talent for working stone originated from Settignano, as his family moved there soon after the artist’s birth and he was fed there by a local wet nurse. He always claimed that he absorbed the passion for sculpture from his nanny’s milk.

The quarries of pietra serena on Monte Ceceri were still active in the early 20th century. In 1929 40 quarries were still supplying the sandstone to the market. Subsequently the excavation ceased and the local authorities promoted a project of environmental restoration. The forest, lost because of the intensive excavation activities, has been replanted and the hill returned green and lavish.

Fratelli Braschi's cave-like quarry on Monte Ceceri
Fratelli Braschi’s cave-like quarry on Monte Ceceri

During your walk you will find a cave-like quarry called “Fratelli Braschi” (Braschi brothers), dug deep into the hill. The cave was created by progressive cuts, which opened the vaults of the quarry. Working in a quarry was, and still is, rather dangerous. This is why quarrymen had to act with expertise and precision. When the quarrymen found a main fracture in the rock during the excavation of a cave-like quarry, they used to leave a pillar to support its vault. The layer of stone left above the vault had to be at least 60 cm thick, in order to guarantee strength to the entire structure. Despite these precautions, numerous vaults of the quarries collapsed over the time causing also dangerous landslides.

If you climb the hill, at the top you will find also few open-cast quarries, where you can clearly see the different sedimentary layers. We can only imagine how difficult the work of quarrymen was. After the opening of a new open-cast quarry, they had to search for pietra serena layers within the rocks and then excavate the blocks big enough for the future uses.

An open cast quarry on Monte Ceceri
An open cast quarry on Monte Ceceri

Monte Ceceri and Leonardo da Vinci

If you reach the top of Monte Ceceri you will find yourself on a big terrace with picnic tables and a marvellous view on Florence. This is Piazzale Leonardo da Vinci.

According to the legend Leonardo used to climb this hill to try the functioning of his flying machine. It seems that in 1505 Leonardo’s friend, Tommaso Masini, took the courage to pilot this strange machinery made of two large skin-covered wings operated by pedals and levers. It is possible that Masini managed to glide in the air for about 1 kilometre before he landed abruptly. It was probably men’s first gliding flight in the history.

At the top of Monte Ceceri you will find a commemorative plaque and few panels explaining the history of Leonardo’s interest in flight.

Coming to Florence?

Download my free guide to Florence “Art and the City. Two Squares in Five Masterpieces”!


View on Monte Ceceri from Maiano
View on Monte Ceceri from Maiano

Your walk on Monte Ceceri can simply circle the top of the hill. If you want to explore the area more in depth, you can follow the Alpine trail n. 7, which will guide you down the hill towards Maiano.

Maiano is a medieval village with a church dedicated to Saint Martin. Today the locality is dominated by the Villa di Maiano being a part of the Fattoria di Maiano.

Church of Saint Martin in Maiano
Church of Saint Martin in Maiano

If you keep walking down with via del Salviatino, you will pass next to the Villa il Salviatino. In 1531 this vast property was bought by Almanno di Averardo Salviati, who rebuilt the villa according to the project by Gherardo Silvani. The monumental villa with a garden became a luxurious hotel today but it preserves memory of its illustrious owners, among whom I should mention Ugo Ojetti, writer, art critic and journalist. During his life Villa il Salviatino became a true cultural centre where the Florentine intellectuals used to meet and where the owner gathered an interesting collection of art works.

Villa il Salviatino
Villa il Salviatino, photo: Sailko.

If you keep walking on Viale Ojetti, at the corner with Viale Eleonora Duse you will find a bus stop with the bus n. 17, which will bring you back to Piazza San Marco.

Enjoy your hike on Monte Ceceri!

View from Monte Ceceri on Maiano
View from Monte Ceceri

Are you planning your holiday in Florence or in Tuscany? Contact me! I will be happy to organize your private tours and museums visits!