I had been given a town a tip to visit the town of Vinci, in particular the museum devoted to its most famous son, Leonardo da Vinci, from Jackie, a parkrunner, in Rimini. Ease of access to the town was my original reason for staying in San Miniato, as that lets you get there with a train to Empoli and bus (49) to Vinci.
The museum costs €13 if you want to visit all the different sites. There are four, none of them over-large, so any other ticket may see you in and out fairly quickly. The main reason to limit yourself to just the first two sets of exhibits might be physical, given that the farmhouse and Da Vinci’s birthplace are each a good 2-3km walk away, and 1km from each other.
The first museum I came to is also the main ticket office (which means staff there speak multiple languages). The ground floor has lots of different models which recreate Da Vinci’s designs. The models are the highlight. Of necessity to me, perhaps, as most of the text is in Italian and though there are a couple of points that advertise picking up English translations here, they were empty. There is an app, and an audio guide, which probably give more.
Upstairs is a small anatomy exhibition. I didn’t think this photographed all that well, but his drawings are extraordinary, made from dissection of cadavers, and still important. This National Geographic article points out that a team in Ireland have just proven that the mesentery (connecting the intestines and abdomen) is one continuous organ. Da Vinci drew just that in 1508.
A short walk away, initially through a courtyard artistically-decorated with geometric shapes, is the main museum, covering Da Vinci’s life with exhibits and some audiovisual pieces. The one that talks through his birth is worth waiting for, with images projected onto walls around you as the audio plays. There are more models on the ground floor, those audiovisual exhibits on the first, plus some views over the valley from outside, and then a climb up the tower gives greater views from the top.
It was fairly quiet in town, except for the school trips. At one point, a guard detached himself from his post at the front door, and wandered down towards wherever the noise was coming from. Within moments, the sound ceased, and there was plenty of shushing whenever I got near to the group (not that there is room to get far away). In addition, they were sent up the tower in patches, while individuals were allowed to go round. Which all worked pretty well, saving us from getting caught in queues. At weekends, queueing might be inevitable.
The other two sites are smaller. Leonardo’s birthplace has one main exhibit, which is an ‘experience’, with an aged Da Vinci appearing to narrate parts of his life, and another voice taking over to add detail. It’s quite odd – I thought the performance pretty hammy, with several too many…
dramatic pauses, but that doesn’t prevent the subject itself being interesting. The farmhouse, further down (or on the way up, if you like, though as it’s off to the left as you walk up the hill, it’s better as a diversion on the way back), has just two rooms, with reproductions of Da Vinci’s most famous paintings. Some reviews are a bit caustic, but I thought there was just enough explanatory text to bring them to life, and it’s a chance to get up close to great works, without fending off great crowds. It’s much easier to get an idea of why the Mona Lisa remains the subject of debate when you can walk across her, seeing how the smile changes as you study it.
There is also an interpretive garden on the way up, not far out of town, taking you on a short trail, with switchbacks, with installations to represent parts of Da Vinci’s life and his surroundings.
Most of the walk, if you don’t go up the road (which is possible) is along trails, baked by the sun on the good day I got, through olive groves, climbing up the hill and giving you views over the town behind you.