Always a charming and much visited locality, it owes most of its popularity to its proximity to Florence, to the balmy climate and enchanting landscape and to the numerous reminders of its glorious Etruscan and Roman past as well as its fascinating medieval period.
It was once a very important Etruscan town (the Acropolis was on the hill known nowadays as San Francesco), which took up arms against Rome and was punitively conquered by Silla in 80 BC. The town continued to grow in the Roman era and throughout the early medieval period, thereafter its fortunes declined as those of Florence grew. Too near and too powerful, the town in the plane overrun and conquered the ancient hill town in 1125, depriving it of its bishop’s seat and gaining control of its trade, crafts and every other activity. In due course, the territory of Fiesole filled with villas built by the wealthy families of Florence and monasteries, soon becoming one of the most sought after resorts for travelers in search of beauty and tranquility, such as painters and writers from Paul Klee to Marcel Proust.
The town becomes very lively in the warmer months when the festival of the Estate Fiesolana takes place. The ancient forum of the town has been replaced by Piazza mino da Fiesole, with the 14th Century Praetorian Palace at one end, flanked by the oratory of Santa Maria. The 11th Century Cathedral, dedicated to St. Romolus along the Length of the Square. It underwent transformations in the 12th and 13th centuries and was heavily restored in the 19th century. The 13th century bell tower is the chief feature of this little town’s skyline. The interior is austere, with a nave flanked by two side aisles; some of the columns have Roman capitals. The raised presbytery possesses a maintain altar triptych by Bicci di Lorenzo. To the right of the altar is the Salutati chapel, with frescoes by Cosimo Rosselli and statues by Mino da Fiesole. Next to the cathedral is the Bandini Museum: Della Robbia Terracottas, paintings of the 12th through the 15th centuries, the triumphs of Jacopo del Sellaio and the Madonna del Bigallo Master.
The adjacent archaeological area is interesting, with the Roman theater built towards the end of the first century A.D. and still in use during the warmer months for concerts and plays; the remains of a temple and of the baths; the archaeological museum with Etruscan and Roman finds, sculpture that used to be part of the theater, Etruscan gravestones with banquet scenes. From Piazza Mino da Fiesole one climbs up to the church and Monastery of St. Francis. The site has been used by the Franciscan community since 1399 and was lived in for several years by San Bernadino da Siena, whose tiny little cell can be seen in the diminutive monastery.