Our Canonica sits high on Monte San Michele, overlooking the town of Greve. Rebuilt as a Canonica in the mid-800’s on the ruins of a Roman fortress, we have now been informed by Italian archaeologists that the original Roman fortress was built on the foundations of an Etruscan outpost. The Canonica was an active Roman Catholic monastery until the middle of the 20th century. With the movement away from traditional agrarian society, the monastery was abandoned and fell into disrepair. My dad purchased the ruins in the 1960’s and began the slow process of restoration. Every piece of iron on the building had been ripped away during the German occupation to be melted for armaments. Among these were the bells in the tower and the knockers on the front door, which must have been hundreds of years old and virtually irreplaceable.
Over the years, all such metal pieces were replaced with original-era antiques. Even the cracked tiles on the roof were replaced with ancient Tuscan tiles. My family is absolutely committed to preserving the rustic soul of the building, though my father, in particular, allowed himself a few personal flourishes with his 1970s-modern master bathroom and his African room, filled with artifacts from that continent and featuring an enormous window looking up toward the summit of Monte San Michele. Note the ancient Levi family crest, a hand pouring a pitcher of water, displayed in several locations throughout the Canonica, including the center of the large, Renaissance-style ceramic table in the living room.
The centerpiece of the Canonica is the courtyard, with its marble fountain in bass-relief, its cut limestone tables, its hutch of firewood, its multi-colored vines covering the walls, its geraniums hanging from the second story cortile, its cast iron cistern, its well, its scattered busts of heroes and goddesses among brass pots for ash and cinders, its lichen marked stone floor, its staircase descending to a wine cellar complete with ancient barrels, its rondini (swifts, the quintessential birds of Tuscany), its hummingbird moths, its scurrying geckos, its sun, its silent serenity, its pitch black night with bright stars and, in early-mid August, its front row seats on the phenomenal Perseid meteor showers.
The stone walls of the Canonica maintain an even and cool temperature during the hot Tuscan summers. Summer nights that remain hot in Florence will likely warrant a sweater and jeans on Monte San Michele. For the occasional chilly night, there are electric warmers on most of the beds. The house is equipped with a washing machine and dryer, and stereos for both the living room and the courtyard. There are a couple of TVs with VCRs and DVD players on which one may watch any of the hundreds of videos in the house collection (including over one hundred operas). The house has 5 bedrooms that sleep up to 10. There is a spacious formal dining room with the courtyard on one side and the garden on the other. And my dad’s personal library remains directly below his African room. The Canonica is not so much a house as it is a living entity, a part of the land rather than an imposition upon it. It welcomes all who wish to appreciate its peace and timeless beauty in the heart of rural Tuscany.