The umbrella pine, supreme among Mediterranean trees since Etrusco-Roman times is, to quote the woman in our local nursery here in Orvieto, fuori moda, out of fashion.
How can this be? Known also as the Italian Stone Pine it is recognised all over the world as an Italian icon. So I ordered two for €45 each, my own rather insignificant counter attack against the inexplicably destructive campaign by planners, architects and even artists throughout Italy to neglect them at best, chop them down at worst.
Postcards of the bay of Naples still feature the lonesome pine despite the fact it was felled over 30 years ago and never replaced;
there is no umbrella pine at the Greco-Roman theatre in Taormina, Sicily as imagined by Klimt;
the pine in the mid distance of William Turner’s celebrated view of Orvieto is long gone; and most recently of all, every single pine in La Spezia’s Piazza Verdi was felled despite a long campaign waged by local inhabitants. Internationally known art critic Vittorio Sgarbi lent his weight to the protest, while overseas friends of La Spezia railed against this wanton act of destruction. And the final insult, this was in Liguria, the region that has given the world Pesto Genovese, the essential ingredient of which is the exquisite pine nut, the pinolo.
The pines were planted during the fascist period and this is often sufficient motive for modern architects and planners to justify their acts of vandalism. At 80 years old the La Spezia pines were not even middle aged, indeed they had not even reached their prime. After a hundred years or so the umbrella canopy spreads further giving even more shade below. They live nigh on 300 years. The refurbishment of the piazza was thrown open to international competition despite the fact that most citizens were happy with their shady piazza as it was.
The competition was won by French conceptual artist Daniel Buren (aka ‘The Stripe Guy’) with architect G.Vannetti from Florence. It is curious how the ’68 generation of artists (Buren was born 1938), while adhering to a nominally democratising revolution, has found itself trampling on the opinions of the citizenry of provincial cities like La Spezia. The hitherto ignorant and uncultured citizens may in time come to appreciate the conceptual art of Buren with its striped, apparently pointless, primary coloured, two-dimensional arches; modernist obelisks and candy striped fountains, though I suspect their new found enthusiasm for abstract minimalism may be tempered by the minimal shade offered by the nano orange tree.
In Tuscia, the ancient land of the Etruscans with Orvieto at its heart, the pines have been under attack for years. Avenues of pines planted to shade main roads before the war now have gaps like a street-fighter’s missing teeth. They are never replaced if damaged or diseased, one day in the future my eleven year old daughter may no longer see the impressive avenue that leads to the top of the hill overlooking Orvieto.
The pines that shaded us when we photographed the evocative hill town of Civita di Bagnoregio from nearby Lubriano were ruthlessly, and quite unnecessarily hacked down in 2010 to be replaced by gnomish slow-growing oaks that provide no shade whatsoever. The Stone Pine below which the old tobacconist in the piazza remembers being planted as a youngster was felled in 2011 despite local opposition. The piazza is now empty – and shadeless.
So Nicholas is on the counter attack. My first effort ended in failure. In 2008 we planted a 5 year old pine beside the road on the hill opposite Orvieto from which Turner painted his landscape. It was cut down 6 months later in September by a local peasant who ranted on about his olives. So we tried again, this time on the other side of the road on a friend’s land. Our cat Oti was buried beneath it 6 months later.
Since then we have planted three more, one within the city walls of Orvieto, a second just outside and this one ‘Hugo’ (Allegra loves the musical Les Miserables) at Vulci near the Tyrrhenian coast. For years I have badgered the staff at the Archeological site to plant some trees to provide shade for the visitors’ car park – to no avail.
In a few years time I hope to park my car in its ample shade, but I imagine as the only substantial tree in the car park there will be a bit of a fight for the privilege.
Hamadryads are nymphs associated with trees, each one having its own Hamadryad. They are not immortal, they share their destiny with the tree: when the tree sickens and dies, so does the nymph. In my picture below called Hamadryads one nymph is dying alongside her host, felled by high winds; the other clings to the trunk, safe for the time being, but for how long?
If any Hamadryad espies Daniel Buren passing anywhere near her tree I suggest she knee him as hard as she can in the pinoli.
I am stupefied to hear that this long recognized and loved feature of Italy (providing both shade and spectacular elegance wherever planted) is being axed at all in these environmentally threatened times. To say it is no longer fashionable almost beggars belief.
Were the planners of the new piazza at La Spezia really so unhappy about the association of the pines with the Fascist period in which they were planted, or are they so myopic and frustrated for change that they rather trust the ‘vision’ of the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren, whose relationship to La Spezia I can only wonder about. Who derives anything from 80-year-old pines being replaced with small orange trees and monotonous stripes?
Personally I can’t STAND Burren’s work which prejudices my sympathy still more for the pines. To be fair to the good inhabitants of La Spezia this decision was bulldozed on them against their wishes.The contemporary art world is a powerful lobby – look at Koons’ ‘gift’ to Paris.
Here in Laigueglia they are on an “urban regeneration” mission to eliminate all the stone pines along the sea front. There is no evidence of disease or destruction to local pavements. It is absolutely staggering in its short-sightedness.
But here again protests by local inhabitants have fallen on deaf ears. Vote them out!
Since I wrote that post I have seen scores of Stone Pines felled. I have planted about 10 of which I think 5 survive. A losing battle! Recently the most visible pine in Orvieto, rather like the one in Naples that is still on the postcards though felled decades ago, was axed. What can we do?
I have visited Italy and, indeed, much of Europe. There is definitely something beautiful about the Umbrella Pine – living history! It was related to me once that the Romans used to plant them beside their main marching routes to provide shade for the soldiers. Wherever I see the, I can picture history. Why would people wantonly destroy them? The answer, almost without exception, is greed – the almighty dollar under the guise of development. Pressure your government to safeguard your heritage, in whatever form that may be.
Me as well went to Italy and fell in love with Umbrella pine trees. I so want such tree in mt backyard but we arw from Latvia and the people in UK who sell seeds and plans says the weather is not appropriatw for them to grow here.. thats sad but i not wanna give up! Its such a beauty!
I think the snow would break the branches – it happens even here in Italy. They are very big trees and need a lot of space.
About ten years ago we were in Italy. We picnicked under a group of these beautiful trees. Noticing the quantity of enormous pine cones we took a few home with us. A bit later I noticed that seeds were falling out. From curiosity I put the seeds in the fridge for a month or so and the planted them. Long story very much shortened, there are currently three now about six or eight feet tall. One with a friend in her field in charente in Sweden France. Two here near to me. I do hope I live long enough to see them in all their glory one day.
thanks for your comment and you should live to see your trees mature, they grow very fast!
I was recently in Italy and was taken with the beauty and uniqueness of the stone pines in Rimini and elsewhere.
Keep up the fight.
I’ll be joining you.
My wife and I are currently vacationing in Italy and we have come to associate these lively trees with the beauty of the Italian landscape and we are both shocked to read about this senseless and completely irrational campaign to wipe these trees out. There are times when political ideology runs amuck and induces people to do things which, under ordinary circumstances, they would never contemplate. This is one of those times.
Certainly the average person has no idea of the sinister association of these trees largely because it would never occur to them to demonize an innocent bit of flora for the crimes of a bygone and dead political movement. To penalize these beautiful trees for something so irrational defies all logic and we cannot believe that any reason could ever be advanced that would justify this senseless destruction of such a beautiful object of nature. Surely the advocates of this insanity should certainly rethink their misguided attempt
to destroy a not so obvious symbol of fascist ideology and simply let it exist and allow people to enjoy its beauty. To penalize a tree for the crimes of a dead ideology is beyond rational behavior; it would make as much sense to destroy all hammers and sickles simply because the Soviet Union has appropriated them to be used on its national flag. A tree cannot be evil; but misguided fanatics who mistakenly wish to destroy it for no good reason certainly are. We beseech you to cease this mindless destruction. William Butler Yeats has written, “The best lack all conviction and the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” Certainly these words more than apply here. Surely the architects of this arboreal destruction should rethink the wisdom of this plan and show some mercy to a tree that has only brought nothing but beauty and grace to the Italian landscape. If someone had told me about this misguided campaign before now, I would not have believed that such a thing could ever be possible. If it were not such a grotesque act, it would be absurd to contemplate. Despite the hyperbolic nature of this post, I am quite sincere in what I say here. A tree should not need to be defended against political fanaticism, but apparently, such a thing is quite real, and sadly, all too common these days. This is surely a case of political correctness gone amuck and hopefully, the advocates of this destruction will rethink their plan and simply let these trees exist.
Hello- thank you for this information and passion about these significant trees. Yesterday we decided to do a long walk of the bay of Naples starting at Parco Viriligiano. Most of the pine trees have been felled, along with those along Via Pollipo. Are you sure that the felling is not also because of disease or some other reason? They have been felled a while ago and their large dry stumps still stand, in many places now popping out of the ground. The park and streets have gone from beautiful shaded avenues to something like a heavily littered war zone. There does not appear to be any design intent in their removal, nor any intention to remove the stumps or replace the trees.
Sadly this is a nationwide phenomenon, and all this at a time when we should be encouraging tree planting. There are no pathogens afflicting the Italian Stone Pine unlike the suffering endured by palms, olives, cypress and other trees. They are simply disliked by urban planners (roots disrupting the roads, pine cones falling on cars etc) and a lot of property owners who fear the trees will be tipped over by high winds; but even here the alternative of lopping off branches to make them more stable just doesn’t appeal.
I just came across these very beautiful pictures. I’m a writer currently writing a scene in which a woman war correspondent in Naples in 1944 sees Vesuvius erupt. and I was reminded of Pliny’s description of the same event and how he describes the eruption as being like a pine. I remember having the shape of the umbrella pine explained to me by my Latin teacher because English pines are a rather different shape! Thank you these pictures are beautiful especially the black and white one.
I have a picture on my other website which is similar to what you describe. It used to be called Correspondent but I renamed it “Dio Strameledica gli Inglesi” http://photonicholas.com/dio-stramaledica-gli-inglesi/
If you read the post you’ll see why.
Just browsing your website when I came across this blog. I’ve been staying outside Rome, in Zagarolo for the last few weeks in a home with a big Umbrella Pine in the garden. Something which strikes me about Italy and the landscape around here are the beautiful, mature trees flourishing in all of the little towns around here, as well as in Rome itself. When I look out of the window here I am struck by the beauty of these pines ‘framing’ my view and lending the landscape such beauty. I’m shocked (but not surprised unfortunately) at the determination of authorities to eradicate these beautiful and necessary living organisms against the wishes of local people who obviously appreciate them on so many levels. It seems to be some sort of modern insanity embedded in the psyches of ‘the powers that be’ to damage and destroy the environment while simultaneously degrading the lived experience of people.
Keep up your campaign, maybe it could accrue wider support?
Wishing you all the best,
Gillian, just to say thanks for your support. Tragically the destruction of these wonderful trees, the Italian Stone Pine goes on apace.
There should be a law protecting these iconic trees from the vandalism of the local council and planners who are cultural midgets
More and more of these beautiful trees are needed and trees of all kinds not less. They are symbols of Italian culture and history and are instantly recognized on an International level.
I believe there is a law protecting them, but if the person can prove the tree is a danger then – boom! Down it comes. There are better ways – for example pollarding the tree to decrease wind resistance but this sadly is rare, it’s cheaper to chop down the tree.