History of the Cypress Tree in Tuscany – Il Cipresso

Curiosità. Lo sapevi che…??? Did you know…???

The cypress tree (il cipresso) is one of the major Tuscan symbols. Did you know that it actually comes from far away? It seems that these trees (Cipresso), from Latin “Cupressus sempervirens”, were introduced in Tuscany by the Etruscans (Etruschi).The origins of this fascinating population remains as an object of debate. The tree appears to have come from “Anatolia” that is nowadays part of Turkey.

Gli Etruschi

Etruscans, great travelers and sailors, came to this part of Italy (at that time called Etruria) through the sea. They eventually settled in the areas currently corresponding to Tuscany, West Umbria, and Northern Lazio. It is interesting to know how, still today, it is indeed in Tuscany (Toscana) and Umbria that we find the biggest number of cypresses.

Symbol of Spirituality

Over the centuries this tree has been a symbol of spirituality. First for the Etruscans and then later, the Romans, it was considered a connection between Earth and Sky — earthly life and spirituality. That’s why we find lean, tall cypresses in every cemetery as if to reach for the sky.

Etruscans were the first to plant this tree near tombs, followed then by the Romans and the tradition continued up to our days. Later, the cypress also became a symbol of fertility.

Villa in Tuscany with Cypress trees lining the road

Noble Families and Tuscan Villas

In the Middle Ages (Medioevo), rich families, used to plant a cypress for each newborn daughter as a fertility lucky charm. The tradition was followed by cutting down the tree at the wedding. The cypress wood was then used to build elegant wooden chests (bauli di legno) to store the wedding trousseau (il corredo di matrimonio).

It is also interesting to note that this type of wood has strong insect repelling properties, therefore making it the perfect material to store lingerie and household linen.

From the Middle Ages (Medioevo), through to the Renaissance (Rinascimento), up to XVIII century, it is perhaps from these ancient traditions, the custom of designing long elegant cypress alleys, which, in 1700-1800, characterized all the main noble Tuscan villas we all know.

Via Francigena

Via Francigena sign in Tuscany

Let’s now take a step back to the 7th century , the time of the Francigena Road (Via Francigena). Its history dates back to the Early Middle Ages. The road is an ancient pilgrimage route that connected northern Europe, Canterbury, to Rome, then continues towards Apulia (Puglia). Here is where pilgrims and crusaders would embark for the Holy Land.

Road Signs

Here’s the last curious fact about “our” Cypress tree. At the time of the Via Francigena, Cypress trees were used as ‘road signs’ (segnali stradali) for pilgrims (I pellegrini) coming from northern Europe?

Well visible from afar, the number of Cypress tree indicated, for example:

Un (one) Cipresso indicated “a rest area”(area di riposo);

Due (two) Cipressi a “restaurant” (un’osteria) at that time; and

Tre (three) Cipressi an “hostel” (un ostello).

woman riding a bike alongside Cypress tress in Tuscany.

Next time you come to Tuscany , look closely at the landscape. From now on, the tall cypress trees will no longer be a secret!

Practice Italian Vocabulary List, from Chiara’s Tuscany

  • Did you know? | Lo sapevi che?
  • Cypress tree | il Cipresso
  • Etruscans | Etruschi
  • Tuscany | Toscana
  • Middle Ages | Medioevo
  • Wooden chest made from cypress wood | bauli di legno
  • Wedding trousseau | il corredo di matrimonio
  • Renaissance | Rinascimento
  • Francigena Road | Via Francigena
  • Apulia | Puglia
  • Road signs | segnali stradali
  • Pilgrims | i pellegrini
  • Rest area | area di riposo
  • Restaurant | un’osteria
  • Hotels | un ostello
  • Cypress (sing. & plu.) | un cipresso; due cipressi
Chiara Borghesi


Chiara Borghesi is a translator, Italian teacher, content creator and free-lance writer of Italian language and culture. Born in Siena, she lived for many years between the United States, England and around Europe before returning to her native Tuscany where she lives with her "multilingual" family. After 20 years of organizing study holidays, cultural trips and teaching Italian with her exclusive experiential learning method, she returned to Siena where she created Chiara's Tuscany Experiences: not a traditional Italian school. Chiara promotes language learning through emotions, story telling, online creative activities and practical live experiences with exclusive full immersions. A free-lance writer, she also collaborates with magazines, radio programs and podcasts in other countries to broadcast her passion for the Italian language, culture and lifestyle around the world. Passionate about words and communication, through her courses and social media, she shares with her readers and students, stories and meanings of curious expressions. Her goal is to make you fall in love with Italy and its language and, why not, understanding Italians’ mind too.

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