• Lorelei Helmke

How Chianti Got Its Feathers

We Americans are drawn to Italy, especially Chianti. Books and movies such as Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love conjure visions of an easier life with fabulous food and wine aplenty. While we grab a prepackaged salad and eat at our desk or drink a protein shake for “health and convenience”, people in Chianti sit down to food grown nearby and prepared in their kitchen, real food. The wine is grown and made on the same property they live on or at least nearby.

There is so much to learn about life in Chianti. My recent trip there gave me an education in Chianti and a recognition of the spirit of the people who live there. It is a lesson worth holding onto.

History Lesson

For hundreds of years, Chianti was a battle ground. The people of Sienna were continually at war with the people of Florence. Though closer to Sienna, most of Chianti is officially under Florence. The is a reason for this and it goes back to the conflicts between the Sienese and the Florentine in the year 1206. This story was relayed to me by Dario Castagno, Chianti tour guide extraordinaire and author of Too Much Tuscan Sun. This tale also explains how a rooster became the official symbol of Chianti.

The Sienese and the Florentine were negotiating a peace treaty but having difficulty agreeing to where to establish the border. The negotiators came up with a fair proposal. Each side was to choose their fastest rider to ride their fastest horse. The riders would begin charging toward the opposing city when the rooster crowed on an agreed to morning. The official border was to be drawn at the place they met.

The Florentine cleverly devised a plan to ensure Florence a larger percentage of the land. They opted to not feed their rooster that evening so their rooster didn’t sleep well. The story maintains that around 3 am someone passed by the rooster with a large candle. Mistaking the candlelight for a ray of sunshine, he awoke and eagerly began to crow hoping to hasten his next meal. At that moment, the Florentine rider took off on his horse.

By the time the Sienese rooster awoke and crowed, the Florentine had covered many miles. The Sienese counterpart had barely left the walls of the city before encountering the Florentine rider. The border was drawn though not without controversy. The rules had not been broken, just bent a little. Today, Florence has more land than Siena and a Black Rooster remains the symbol of Chianti.

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