The Sienese writer Federigo Tozzi (Siena 1883 - Rome 1920) is one of the figures that made the Tuscan city renowned in twentieth-century literature throughout Italy. The following exhibition features extracts from his three major novels inspired by his own life, “Bestie” (1917), “Tre croci” (1918) and “Con gli occhi chiusi” (1919), which permanently associate the characters and intimate feelings they describe with these places. The sights, panorama and streets of medieval Siena thus become crucial elements of these contemporary narrative masterpieces, as well as visual synonyms of Tozzi himself.

This street, previously called Stradone degli Orti di San Domenico, was named after Federigo Tozzi after the war

It all began here...
Federigo Tozzi was born in Siena on 1 January 1883 to Federico and Annunziata Automi in Via Cavour (now Via Banchi di Sopra), the main thoroughfare of the Camollia district. Tozzi remained in Siena throughout his teenage years and then studied in Florence, before moving to Rome with his family in 1914. However, his hometown continued to play a key role in his imagination and literary production throughout his life.

A plaque has been erected at the site of his birth, with the words “Federigo Tozzi, one of Italy’s greatest novelists, was born here on 1 January 1883, in the heart of his city”.

Restaurant "Il Sasso"
The restaurant owned by his father, also known as the “Ghigo del Sasso”, was nearby and is described in the Sienese writer’s most famous novel, “Con gli occhi chiusi”, under the fictitious name “Il Pesce Azzurro”.

“Ristorante il Sasso” was near the present-day Arco dei Rossi and has remained unchanged, with the same name and stone courtyard, which was surrounded by outhouses and stables.

F. Tozzi, 2004, Con gli occhi chiusi. Ricordi di un impiegato, Feltrinelli: Milano, pag.5

“The restaurant remained busy until late; but, towards midnight, everyone was tired and impatient to rest. If anyone was still seated at a table, all the lights in the other rooms would be switched off one by one. The waiters took off their work jackets; the chefs changed their tunics” [F. Tozzi, 2004, Con gli occhi chiusi. Ricordi di un impiegato, Feltrinelli: Milan, page 5].

F. Tozzi, 1982, Con gli occhi chiusi, Istituto Geografico De Agostini: Novara, pag.96
The landscape and the character
Tozzi’s work is deeply characterised by his use of the landscape as a metaphor for the interior life of his characters. Pietro, the main character of Con gli occhi chiusi, in whom we can recognise the author himself at times, describes his loneliness and helplessness through the hours he spends looking at the landscape outside of his window

“He would remain alone in the house for days on end; looking, with his face against the glass, at the narrow blue rectangle between the roofs. That glimpse of blue, so far away, almost made him angry; [...]And then he felt the emptiness of that loneliness enclosed within one of the oldest buildings in Siena, completely uninhabited, with the cropped tower above the gloomy Arco dei Rossi; among the dark, deserted houses, each one pressing against the next; with sculpted coats of arms that no one recognises any more, of families that have disappeared”

[F. Tozzi, 1982, Con gli occhi chiusi, Istituto Geografico De Agostini: Novara, page 96].

The Dark Siena of Bestie
In his book “Bestie”, Tozzi describes a disturbing city, which extends along the unfrequented alleys of the outskirts, where the characters no longer have names and are presented to the reader with their cruel appearance and routine activities.

Tozzi mentions having stayed in Via del Refe Nero, probably named after the workshops of the flax dressers, who used or produced the double stranded “refe” (“thread”) reinforced with tar, used for sewing heavier canvas

At the time, the district was considered a rough neighbourhood and a place of prostitution, as shown by the prostitute that the main character encounters in Via Lucherini and the ironically named Via delle Vergini, located nearby.

Siena mother and stepmother
Siena is Tozzi’s everyday life, with its beauty and abundance as well as its immobility and lack of opportunities for a young man facing the world. The author, however, was never able to cut the umbilical cord that tied him for better and for worse to this magical city. It became a term of comparison and a feeling of fraught nostalgia, even in Florence and Rome, the places to which Tozzi moved from his hometown.

“The tall, narrow houses together give a sense of monotonous anguish; with the alleyways of Fontebranda like numerous chasms providing a glimpse, far away, of a green hill interspersed by dark cypresses. They stopped in Piazza San Domenico, sure that no one would hear them there. There is a half-ruined garden there with a fir tree in the middle, on which a bunch of young rascals were climbing. The Church is a monotonous red, with the windows bricked up and the tower cracked from top to bottom. In an open space between two protruding walls beside the tower, a strip of grass grows along a closed arch that reaches up the roof, becoming wider at the bottom, where it joins that of the lawn. To Giulio, it seemed as if he was breathing all the air in the piazza in a single breath; he was like a boy in front of things he can’t understand, but clings to them all the same.”

[F. Tozzi, 2012, Tre Croci, Aonia Editions: Pisa, page 65]

The old house with red plaster
From 1908 to 1914, Federigo Tozzi lived in Podere Castagneto, as commemorated by the plaque on the building, which says, “The writer Federigo Tozzi lived here from 1908 to 1914 and wrote the novel “Con gli occhi chiusi” here. Thus places, creatures and seasons of this land, which was more remote back then, animated his great art.

Referred to in the novel as “Poggio a ‘Meli,

"[the house] was outside Porta Camollia, along that rather lonely road from Palazzo dei Diavoli that ends just beyond the Poggio al Vento convent. There was an old, single storey house with red plaster, joined to the vat room and the workers’ dwellings built over the stables.”

[F. Tozzi, 1919, Con gli occhi chiusi, Fratelli Treves: Milan, page 7].

Porta Ovile

“And then I went to look at the city from another spot, almost on the opposite side from Porta Ovile. I saw her squared vegetable plots entering, with one corner higher than the others, between the fewer houses; or, one after the other, shifting and make space [...] and some peach trees in blossom [...] and some olives calling back all the sweet countryside [...]; with a tenderness that touched me.”

[F. Tozzi, Bestie, in Opere complete di Federigo Tozzi, vol. III, Florence, Vallecchi, 1950, pp. 246-248]

F. Tozzi, Bestie, in Opere complete di Federigo Tozzi, vol. III, Firenze, Vallecchi, 1950, pp. 246-248
Roads that run in all directions

“Roads that run in all directions, remaining close together, moving apart, they meet up two or three times, they stop; as if they didn’t know where to go, with small, lopsided squares, sunken without space, because of all the old buildings upon them”

[F. Tozzi, Con gli occhi chiusi, in Opere di Federigo Tozzi - I romanzi, vol. I, Florence, Vallecchi, 1961, pp. 65-66]

F. Tozzi, Con gli occhi chiusi, in Opere di Federigo Tozzi - I romanzi, vol. I, Firenze, Vallecchi, 1961, pp. 65-66
The stunning Piazza del Campo

"[...] in summertime, towards evening, a pale, tepid light remains in Piazza del Campo, a leftover from noon; [...] while the people crossing that space seem distant in time, with an indefinable silence”

[F. Tozzi, cit. P. 137]

F. Tozzi, cit. p. 137
An amazing view on the valley

“The very low houses, almost sinking into the countryside, from Porta Ovile, from Fontebranda, from Tufi, support those alongside them, [...] the highest points are like calls to houses obliged to obey in order to avoid remaining too isolated. […] Or else you can count up to ten rows of roofs, long, long, ever higher: [...] The tower of the Mangia calmly emerges from all this confusion. And around the city, the olives and cypresses make space for themselves between the houses; as if coming from the countryside, they no longer wanted to go back”

[F. Tozzi, Con gli occhi chiusi, in Opere di Federigo Tozzi - I romanzi, vol. I, Florence, Vallecchi, 1961, pp. 130-140]

F. Tozzi, Con gli occhi chiusi, in Opere di Federigo Tozzi - I romanzi, vol. I, Firenze, Vallecchi, 1961,pp. 130-140
Credits: Story

Exhibition made by Youth Committee of the Italian Commission for UNESCO - Tuscany. Text edited by Silvia Giordano and Massimo Vitulano; web version edited by Paolo Menchetti and Francesco Pacini

Youth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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