The Cypress Soldiers of Tuscany

by Lindsay Shapka in ,


I stepped through the door and took a deep breath.

The air was crisp and the cobble stone streets of Cortona were empty. Reaching behind me, I pulled the heavy wooden door shut with a bit too much force, sending an echo through the stairwell behind it. I cringed, hoping that I didn’t just wake half the building, while I bent down to thread the door key though my shoelace and tie it tight so it didn’t fall off mid run.

Standing straight again, I looked left and right trying to decide which way to go. If I went left, my run would be shorter, but would keep me within the city walls and begin with a steep climb that I was not sure I was prepared for at the early hour. Going right would take about 20 minutes longer, but would be less strenuous and would take me along the cypress tree lined road that circled the town. 

The sky suddenly started to show streaks of pink, which made the decision for me. It wasn’t often that I was up this early, and seeing a sunrise over the rolling, green Tuscan hills was worth the extra 20 minutes of exercise.

After passing the cafes and shops, still closed up tight lining Main Street, I headed through the city’s main gate and within minutes was already deep into the rolling Tuscan hillside dappled with forest green, cypress giants. 

The cypress trees were my constant companions on these runs as, like throughout most of Tuscany, they lined the road. These trees, though beautiful and widely photographed by tourists to the area, hold a deeper meaning to the residents of Tuscany. The majority of cypress trees you see today were planted after the World Wars to commemorate soldiers who were lost in battle. 

Each tree, reaching for the sky, represents someone's brother, sister, uncle, son, mother, or father.

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I was glad that I had chosen the longer run that day, the sunrise was especially vibrant, and the colours streaking the sky behind the stoic living tombstones, the cypress trees, made me feel like I was running through a painting by Leonardo da Vinci.