Following completion of our safari throughout Botswana and Namibia, we left Windhöek, Namibia and flew to Johannesburg, SA. After changing airlines, we took an overnight flight to Madrid where we changed planes again and flew on to Rome, the capital of Italy. After clearing immigration and customs, we picked up our rental car and skirted the city before driving southerly past Naples and onto the Sorrentina Peninsula. But first, a bit about Italy, whose map is shown below-
Between the 16th and 15th Centurry BC, the Itali lived in the southern part of present-day Calabria, within the "toe" of the boot called Italy. Their name came from Vitulus, meaning veal or calf since the area was rich with cattle and perhaps the Itali took the name symbolically since it identified them with their land. In the times of the Magna Grecia, following the Greek colonization of the majority of their territory, the coastal regions were renamed Italoi, the Greek word for Vitulus.
In this way, the name "Italoi" was inherited by the Romans upon conquering this territory which extended all the way down to the southernmost tip of the peninsula.
From this, the name "Italy" was extended by the Romans first to cover Southern Italy and later to include the entire peninsula.
It was much later under the progressive, liberal, leadership of Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, Sardinia that unification of Italy occurred. In 1859 after gaining the support of France and England, Cavour, in alliance with the French emperor, Napoleon III, seized Lombardy and in 1860 all of Italy north of the Papal States, except Venetia, to add to Sardinia. Giuseppe Garibaldi, a popular hero and guerrilla leader, led an expedition of 1,000 "Red Shirts" to Sicily in the same year and subsequently seized the southern part of peninsular Italy, which with Sicily constituted the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Garibaldi turned his conquests over to Victor Emmanuel and in 1861 the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed. Only Venetia and Rome were not included in this new state, but the former was added in 1866 and the latter in 1870. Italians finally had their own country.
The new nation faced many serious problems: a huge debt, few natural resources and almost no industry or transportation facilities combined with extreme poverty, a high illiteracy rate, and an uneven tax structure all of which weighed heavily on the Italian people. Regionalism was still strong and only a fraction of the citizens had the right to vote. To make matters worse, the pope, angered over the loss of Rome and the papal lands, refused to recognize the Italian state. In the countryside, banditry and peasant anarchism resulted in government repression, which was often brutal. Meanwhile, during the 1880s, a socialist movement began to develop among workers in the cities. The profound differences between the impoverished south and the wealthier north widened. Parliament did little to resolve these problems: throughout this so-called Liberal Period (1870-1915), the nation was governed by a series of coalitions of liberals to the left and right of center who were unable to form a clear-cut majority. Despite the fact some economic and social progress took place before World War I, Italy during that time was a dissatisfied and crisis-ridden nation.
In an attempt to increase its international influence and prestige, Italy joined Germany and Austria in the Triple Alliance in 1882. During the 1890s, Italy unsuccessfully tried to conquer Ethiopia and in 1911 it declared war on Turkey to obtain the North African territory of Libya. After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Italy remained neutral for almost a year while the government negotiated with both sides. In 1915, Italy finally joined the Allies, after having been promised territories that it regarded as "Italia irredenta" (un-liberated Italy). Howver, the country was unprepared for a major war and aside from a few victories in 1918, Italy suffered serious losses of men, material, and morale. Moreover, despite the efforts of Vittorio Emmanuele Orlando at the Paris Peace Conference, the treaties that followed the war gave Italy only Trentino and Trieste, a small part of the territories it had expected. These disappointments produced a powerful wave of nationalist sentiment against the Allies and the Italian government.
Italy was plunged into deep social and political crisis by the war. Veterans, unemployed workers, desperate peasants, and a frightened middle class demanded changes. Suddenly, the results of the 1919 elections made the Socialist and the new Popular (Catholic) parties the largest in parliament. While extreme nationalists agitated for territorial expansion, strikes and threats of revolution unsettled the nation.
In 1919, in the midst of these unsettled conditions, Benito Mussolini, a former revolutionary socialist, founded a new movement called "Fascismo". Through a combination of shrewd political maneuvering and widespread violence perpetrated by Mussolini's Black Shirt squads, the Fascists gained increasing support. In October 1922, after the Fascists had marched on Rome, King Victor Emmanuel III named Mussolini prime minister. Within four years, Mussolini had become a dictator, destroying civil liberties, outlawing all other political parties and imposing a totalitarian regime on the country by means of terror and constitutional subversion. Public works projects, propaganda, militarism, and the appearance of order gained Mussolini considerable prestige, and the Lateran Treaty with the papacy in 1929 gave the "duce" (as he was called) a wide measure of popularity.
Mussolini's foreign policy, which was based on aggression and expansion, moved Italy closer to war during the 1930s. In 1935-36, the Italian army invaded and conquered Ethiopia. In 1936, Italy sent troops to support Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Later that year Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, the National Socialist dictator of Germany, established the Rome-Berlin Axis. In 1939, Italy took Albania, and the two dictators then concluded a military alliance known as the Pact of Steel. In June 1940, nine months after the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Italy entered the conflict on Germany's side.
Mussolini's war effort met with setbacks and defeats on all fronts. In July 1943 the Allies invaded Sicily. The Fascist leadership turned against Mussolini and the king forced him to resign. Rescued by German paratroopers, Mussolini escaped to Salo in northern Italy, where he established a puppet government (the Italian Social Republic) under German protection. In the south, the king and his new prime minister, Pietro Badoglio, surrendered to the Allies in September. They then joined in the war against Germany. A fierce and heroic anti-Fascist resistance movement fought in the German-occupied north for two years while underground political leaders organized the anti-Fascists into the Committee of National Liberation (CLN). The Allies pushed the German armies out of Italy with great difficulty, and in April 1945 the partisans captured and executed Mussolini.
Between 1945 and 1948, a new Italian nation emerged from the disaster of Fascism and war. On June 2nd, 1946 a popular election abolished the monarchy in favor of a republic; a new constitution was adopted the next year. The Christian Democrats, the Communists, and the Socialists became the leading political parties in the country. The largest of these parties, the Christian Democrats, first under the leadership of Alcide De Gasperi, dominated the Italian government after 1948. De Gasperi stressed industrial growth, agricultural reform, and close cooperation with the United States and the Vatican. With massive U.S. aid, Italy underwent a remarkable economic recovery that saw rapid industrial expansion and a sharp increase in the standard of living. Italy joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, and the European Common Market (European Community) in 1958.
The 1960s were marked by continued prosperity and a lessening of tensions between right and left. In the early 1970s the Italian Communists, led by Enrico Berlinguer, became prominent advocates of Euro communism, a doctrine stressing independence of the USSR.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, labor unrest, frequent government scandals and the violence of extremist groups (especially the left-wing Red Brigades terrorists, who kidnapped and murdered former premier Aldo Moro in 1978), all contributed to a volatile political situation.
The postwar system was modified somewhat under the long premiership (1983-87) of Socialist Bettino Craxi and was shaken to its foundations by revelations of widespread corruption involving leaders of all the major parties during 1992-93. New regional parties began to win support among the voters, who demanded fundamental political reforms. At the same time the government and the judiciary initiated a determined effort to break the power of the Mafia and other traditional criminal elements in southern Italy and Sicily. In the spring of 1994, Italian voters rejected the traditional parties. Media mogul Silvio Berlusconi became premier, leading a fragile conservative coalition called the Alliance for Freedom.
Italy is divided into 20 regions. Each region is divided into Provinces and each province is divided into municipalities.
With this background and many friends of Italian decent, we begin our tour in Sorrento.
The Hotel Minerva, where we stayed during our visit, was built on a cliff face: this produced wonderful views from our room or the dining area: it was a delightful place to stay.
View of Sorrento and the Bay of Naples below our hotel.
Southern Italy is more traditional and life is farm-oriented. Local markets, such as this one in Sorrento, were common as we wandered through the side streets and enjoyed the people on our first full day in Italy.
The following day, we rode the train to Naples and toured the city. This is Galleria Umberto, a beautiful old shopping gallery. It is the second gallery built in Naples, but the busiest.
It was built during urban renewal following a cholera epidemic and the "legge speciale" of 1885. The project was crafted by engineer Emanuele Rocco; then modified by Ernest Di Mauro and Antonio Curri. Salone Margherita (destined to become the famous singing cafe) and the Galleria were inaugurated in 1890. The architecture joins the new Renaissance facade with beautiful glass and an iron roof.
We also visited the Archeological Museum, which contains many pieces from Pompei. This scupted marble torso represented the 'ideal figure' during its time.
The Castle Nuovo, a medieval castle, sets on the water in Naples.
High on a hill sets Sant'Elmo, the name of both the hill and the fortress located near the Certosa di San Martino, a former monastery complex, which is now a museum. Together, the structures overlook Naples and are the most visible landmarks in the city. The name "Sant'Elmo" is from an old 10th-century church, Sant'Erasmo, that name being shortened to "Ermo" and, finally, "Elmo".
The fortress was started in 1329 under Robert of Anjou and completed in 1343, the year of his death. Pedro Alvarez de Toledo, the Spanish viceroy, had the fortress rebuilt between 1537 and 1546. The fortress is a star-shaped castle with six ramparts. During the revolution of 1647, so-called "Masaniello’s Revolt”, the Spanish viceroy took refuge in the fortress to escape the revolutionaries. During the short period of the Neapolitan Republic of 1979, Sant' Elmo was its symbol.
The fortress has been restored to public use since 1980 and houses the "Bruno Molajoli" Art History museum.
During our 3 night stay in Sorrento, we also rode the local train to Pompeii where we spent a day exploring the uncovered ruins. This is a view of the forum with Mount Vesuvius in the background. It has erupted more than 50 times since the eruption which buried Pompeii in 79 AD.
Main entrance into the ruins of Pompeii.
Columns in an aristocrat's home at Pompeii.
Rich wanders through the Basilica at Pompeii.
A fresco on the wall of one of the homes in Pompeii.
This citizen was preserved for all time after the lava rushed over him as he crouched, appearing as if he was praying for salvation.
An ancient kitchen
As we exited the ruins, we noted excavation work is still ongoing.
Leaving Sorrento, we drove around the tip of the Sorrentina Peninsula and southeasterly along the Amalfi coast.
The seaside villages provded spectacular scenery combined with the limestone cliffs and hills.
Offshore from Amalfi itself, we were pleasantly surprised to find the 3-masted ship Le Ponante anchored. This was the French ship we sailed through the Seychelles in 2003.
Driving north and west from Salerno around the eastern side of Rome, we entered the region of Umbria.
Finally, just before dusk we arrived at the hill-top town of Orvieto. We selected a hotel near the Duomo. This cathedral was begun in 1290 to commemorate the miracle at Bolsena, a town situated just to the southwest on the map above, where in 1263 a priest witnessed the miraculous appearance of drops of blood on a Host that he was consecrating. The masonry cathedral was finished in 1500. Romanesque-Gothic in style, its base sits 660 feet above the Paglia River. Dean took this photo of its exterior just as the light was beginning to fade.
Inside in the apse was this large pipe organ within a Baroque styled case. It contains 5,585 pipes and was originally designed by Ippolito Scalza and Bernardino Benvenuti in the 15th Century before being redesigned in 1913 and 1975. We liked the black-and white striped stonework .
We wondered through the ceramic stores and located a plate which we purchased to hang in our recently painted kitchen area of the Great Room.
Entering this shop to view the hanging Parma hams, we learned this couple's son owned an Italian deli in the USA near Chicago. They were very proud of him and showed us some news clippings about him and his business.
The shop owner sliced some ham for us to add to the cheese and bread we'd already purchased for lunch enroute the next day.
Driving easterly, we stopped for a distant photo of this special Umbrian hilltop village, Orvieto. Note how it sits majestically ~1,000 feet above the valley floor, perched on a huge chunk of tufa, a volcanic soil from Lake Bolsena.
Wandering north and east we arrived at Assisi, only to be reminded of it's sister-city status with San Francisco, the city where the two of us had met in 1980. Remembering this added to our joyful experience of this city of St. Francis.
We enjoyed wandering through the ancient, historic, narrow streets.
Finally, after wandering constantly downhill, we arrived at the Basilica de San Francesco. In 1226, St. Francis was buried with the outcasts he'd stood by outside of his town on the "hill of the Damned" - presently the "Hill of Paradise". Here is where the basilica was built in the 13th century.
Continuing our travel East and North across the Marche region, we arrived in Ravenna. After a good night's rest, we visited local markets before the antiquities opened.
The produce was fresh and plentiful.
Galla Placidia (390-450) was a well connected woman - the daughter of the Emperor Theodosius I (ruled 379–395), sister of the Western Emperor Flavius Honorius (ruled 393–423), wife of the Western Emperor Constantius III (ruled 421), and mother of the Western Emperor Valentinian III (ruled 425–455). She also spent five years forcibly married to the Visigoth Chieftan Ataulphus, after being captured by him when Rome finally fell in 410. The small mausoleum on the grounds of San Vitale, known (incorrectly) as the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, contains some beautiful and gentle examples of early Byzantine mosaics above and below.
The Basilica di San Vitale, which was consecrated in 548 by Archbishop Maximian, is the biggest, most imperial and sumptuous of the Ravenna churches. It has an octagonal plan so it's not a classic basilica shape. The interior is home to many fine mosaics, as exemplified below-
It was difficult to believe HOW ancient these mosaics were.
Before driving across the country to the Italian Riviera, Dean found a HUGE cone of gelato for me! Leaving Ravena mid-day, we drove a scenic route across Italy to the sea-side village of Portofino on the Ligurian Sea where we had dinner after finding a room in nearby Santa Margherita Ligure.
After weeks with NO RAIN, we drove northward through Genoa and arrived in Milan where we were joined by our long-time friend, Paula. We stayed at the London hotel, which is owned/run by the friendly Gambino family.
We walked through Milan's early example of a covered Mall, the four-story, glass-domed arcade on the cathedral square-Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. There on the south side facing Rome we read about the legend of the She-wolf, who nursed Romolus and Remus.
On the west side facing Torino, the provisional capital of Italy from 1861-1865 is that city's symbol: a torino (little bull). For GOOD LUCK, Paula did as locals do and ground her foot over his irresistible testicles.
Paula discovered her first gelato store.
Together we explored the Duomo between raindrops. Il Duomo di Milano is the cathedral of Milan in the Lombardy region of Italy. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan and famous throughout the world for its significance in the promulgation of the Christian faith, its role in the establishment of Catholic traditions of worship, its outstanding musical heritage and the splendour of its Gothic architecture.
Built from the late 14th Century and well into the 19th century, the Duomo di Milano is one of the world's largest churches, being second in size within Italy only to Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome and the second largest Gothic cathedral in the world, after the Cathedral of Seville in southern pain: it is the fourth-largest church in Europe.
For a fee, the roof is open to tourists after an elevator ride. This allows many close-up view of some really spectacular sculpture that would otherwise be left unappreciated. Making our way to the roof for the view, we were struck by the details of the carvings.
Paula emerges fron one of the doorways.
Standing on the roof above the nave, we had wonderful views into the Swiss Alps and the mountains near Lake Como. Behind us, La Madonnina, a 15-foot-tall gilt Virgin Mary, a symbol of Milan, towers above everything at 330 feet elevation.
Inside, the Duomo was quite striking, also.
Length: 157 metres (515 feet) Width at transept: 92 metres (302 feet) Internal width of nave: 16.75 metres (55 feet) Internal height of nave: 45 metres (148 feet) Height of nave columns: 24.5 metres (80 feet) Height of central octagon: 65.5 metres (215 feet) Height of spire: 106.5 metres (350 feet) Dimensions of apsidal windows: 20.7 x 8.5 metres (68 x 28 feet) The Cathedral can hold 40,000 people.
As Paula surprised us with tickets to La Scalla for ALL of us, we toured the fine museum at LaScalla, stopping to pose with Toscanini's bust.
This is what it looked like inside from our Box Seats just before the performance of The Cobbler began. The Teatro alla Scala was founded under the auspices of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria to replace the Royal Ducal Theatre, which was destroyed by fire on 26 February 1776. Until then, it had been the home of opera in Milan.
The cost of building the new theatre was borne by the owners of the boxes at the Ducal in exchange for possession of the land on which stood the church of Santa Maria alla Scala (hence the name) and for renewed ownership of their boxes.
Designed by the great neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini, La Scala opened on 3 August 1778 with Antonio Salieri's opera L'Europa riconosciuta, to a libretto by Mattia Verazi.
In 1921 ownership of the boxes was transferred from private subscribers to the Milan City Council, a measure that had been made necessary by a new economic crisis aggravated in 1917 by the difficulties of the First World War. The Scala was transformed into a State-controlled municipal corporation, which guaranteed the annual financing of its activities. It has undergone many prolonged refurbishings, but was a marvelous venue.
Driving north from Milan, we reached Lake Como. It was stunning in its beauty and home to many picturesque lakeside villages.
Amongst our fond memories was a dinner with our former Sea Rancher, Silvia Simpson's, parents and her brother, sister-in-law and nieces. It was delicious.
As there had been recent rains, there were many different fungi available for dinner at this restaurant in Bellagio.
Gettings on the ferry, we rode across Lake Como to Vareena.
Walking along the lake was a visual treat with many different colored villas.
After a final lunch with Silvia's parents, we drove into the Dolomites, which had had recent snow. This made the switchbacks slippery in shaded areas. These ramparts of white and pink limestone thrusting up to 10,000 feet from rolling green meadows are more dramatic and esthetic (albeit smaller) than the familiar movie-logo snow-capped peaks of the Alps just to the north.
Eventually, we reached the summit and were rewarded with some patchy blue sky and views of the peaks.
Many of the inns could have been in Austria or Germany; 20% of the population speaks German rather than Italian.
We overnighted in Bolzano, which might have well been located in Germany as more of the inhabitants spoke German than Italian here, also. This is the town square decorated for their annual Squash Festival.
Dean stops before entering one of the local bakeries; he did NOT leave empty-handed.
As is often the case, he's carrying the appropriate Rick Steve's series, as we enjoy his recommendations.
A vendor roasts chestnuts to sell passerbys.
A local flower shop had many colorful options to buy.
A church in a remote village contrasts against the clouds and trees in the distance.
Leaving the rental car in Mestre, we took a train across the two-mile-long causeway which connects Venice to the mainland. Arriving at Santa Lucia train station, we walked across the Grand Canal and found our Hotel Falier, where we joined another long-time friend, Nicki, who'd arrived a day earlier.
As the weather had improved over the past couple of days, we explored Venice. the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) is the true heart of Venice. The current structure was built in just three years, between 1588 and 1591, as a permanent replacement for the boat bridge and three wooden bridges that had spanned the Grand Canal at various times since the 12th Century. It remained the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot until the Accademia Bridge was built in 1854.
The Rialto Bridge's 24-foot arch was designed to allow passage of galleys and the massive structure was built on some 12,000 wooden pilings that still support the bridge more than 400 years later. The architect, Antonio da Ponte ("Anthony of the Bridge," appropriately enough), competed against such eminent designers as Michelangelo and Palladio for the contract.
The bridge has three walkways: two along the outer balustrades and a wider central walkway leading between two rows of small shops that sell jewelry, linens, Murano glass, and other items for the tourist trade.
The Grand Canal had many rowing teams on the weekend.
We enjoyed the reflections as we wandered about the ancient walkways.
Murano glass was for sale at several locations.
A handsome gondolier tried to persuade us to go for a ride in the canals of Venice.
As October 9th was our 24th anniversary, we went out for dinner with long-time friends, Nicki, on the left and Paula, on the right, in a rustic family-owned restaurant, Osteria al Bacco, where we savored local seafood dishes.
We stopped in a mask shop while wandering back to our hotel: below is the one which now hangs in our living area.
Leaving Nicki and Paula to return to our hotel by themselves, we walked to the Grand Canal and took a midnight gondola ride with this young man: it was stunning and very romantic.
The next day, we meandered through St. Mark's Square and visited the cathedral.
This is the entrance to St. Mark's.
This man was feeding the Rock Pigeons in the Square and attracting quite a few birds.
Dean couldn't resist this 'thong'-shot amongst the crowd in the Square.
While exploring we crossed the Rio di Palazzo via the the Bridge of Sighs. It is one of many bridges in Venice built during the 16th century. The enclosed bridge is made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. It connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace on the left.
The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last one of Venice convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge name, given by Lord Byron in the 19th century, comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the windows before being taken down to their cells. In reality, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals.
Of course, we had to search out the local 'sweet shop': this one was filled with meringues and pastries.
Nicki shopped for aprons for some of our mutual friends.
Driving from Venice with Nicki and Paula, we continued south of Florence to Villa Tavolese (above) where we were joined by other long-time friends, Victor and Kathy, as we joined a 10-day University of Iowa Alumnae Tour through central Italy.
Arriving at the villa, we were assigned to our various suites.
Samona was our Italian tour director.
Victor, Kathy, Rich, Paula, Dean and Nicki were the 'in' group...other Iowa alumnae tour members were always asking WHAT did they have to do to join: we replied 'marry Paula or Nicki'.
Victor snapped this photo of the group outside our kitchen entrance as we had a mini-suite.
The olives were just beginning to ripen.
We visited another villa where they made wine and cold-pressed olives. This was the ancient olive press.
We visited the villa's original kitchen.
We visited Pisa and viewed the Duomo (Cathedral) and leaning Bell Tower.
This was the stunning interior of the Duomo.
The pulpit was carved by Pizano.
This is the Baptistry at Pisa, which had wonderful accoustics inside.
Always a Director, Rich gets Dean to pose holding up the leaning tower!
Kathy and Victor relax a moment before we all depart for Luca and lunch.
The city of Luca and this part of Tuscany is extremely particular and much of its territory has a completely different appearance to the classic Tuscan landscape. In the Serchio valley and Garfagnana, rather than the gentle peaceful hills of Renaissance paintings, you can find majestic mountains of marble and rochthat loom over the valley bottom along the river Serchio where roads wind their way and unexpectedly open out into sunny areas with small ancient villages, settled on green hills, that reflect in lakes with magic images. Art and culture are of considerable importance in the territory near Lucca. The capital of the province is actually a unique example that has perfectly preserved its city walls and it has maintained its characteristics since roman times up today.
Are those ladies being naughty eating gelato, the newest love of their lifes?
The heads peering down are of famous statemen.
Returning to Villa Tavolese, we found the local 'rag-tag' band performing for us.
Another day, we visited Monsanto Winery, where we sampled a wonderful chianti.
First we walked through some beautiful barrel cellars.
We posed in front of BACHUS, God of wine revelry, in ancient Greek and Roman mythology.
The group also toured Siena, which is surrounded by olive groves and the vineyards of Chianti; it is one of the most beautiful cities of Tuscany. Set on three hills, the city is drawn together by winding alleyways and steep steps, whilst the Piazza del Campo stands at its heart, and the Duomo and St Maria della Scala serve as additional cultural landmarks. Famed for the "Palio", the annual historic horse-races that take place on 2 July and 16 August, it is also home to one of the oldest Universities in Europe, which ensures a vibrant Italian student atmosphere throughout the academic year.
The Palio Races of Sienna take place here and last less than 2 minutes. However, they are the subject of debate and competition all year round and can cause men and women to laugh or cry; such is the Palio, the greatest traditional festival in Siena.
Siena is divided into 17 contrade or areas of the city. The Sienese people belong first to a contrada and then to the city. Each contrada competes against one another in the Palio, and rivalry and competition are an integral part of the preceding months before the event. Ten contrade are selected for each race, each contrada is assigned a horse, and the horses compete in la corsa of Piazza del Campo while thousands of people come as spectators and participants, transforming the main piazza into a teeming sea of people.
There are two palio races each summer; one on the 2nd of July, and the second on the 16th August. The festivities start three days prior to each Palio, although the anticipation is already evident weeks before. During this time, there are banquets, parades, blessing of the horses and celebrations of all kinds. During these days, there are events such as the assigning of the horses to the ten contrade the first, second, third and fourth trial, and the Prova Generale, followed by the dinner of the Prova Generale for each contrada. Contrada colors are worn by Sienese people, and music, singing and drumming can be heard on the streets at all times of the day or night.
On the day of the Palio, spectators crowd into the piazza from noon on, willing to bear sun, heat and sweat to witness this traditional event. The more sedate will pay for seats situated around the edge of the piazza, which are usually sold out eight months in advance.
The piazza is sealed off minutes before the Palio starts and eventually the horses are off; it is over before the dust settles. The winning contrada feasts and celebrates for weeks afterwards, with banquets, replays and much discussion while the losing contrade can only hope that with much preparation, plotting and luck, they will fare better in the following race.
This is the exterior of the Duomo in Sienna above and the interior below. It is a beautiful building, a mix of Gothic and Romanesque architecture with dark green and white marble in the facade. It contains works by many artists, including Donatello, Pisano and Arnolfo di Cambio. One of its main attractions is the marble-inlaid floor, to which many artists contributed. We were fortunate as the floor is covered most of the year to protect it, but was available for us to admire.
This is a photo of the frescoes in the library of the Duomo. As no candles were ever burned in this room, they are in pristine condition and have never been cleaned.
We spent 2 days in Florence...one with the Iowa Voyagers group and another with just our smaller group: both were quite memorable. This is the city skyline from Michaelangelo Plaza.
This copy of David was in the plaza, too. It made a perfect backdrop for a photo of the Iowa Voyagers group.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the Duomo of Florenece. The basilica is notable for its dome, which was designed by Brunelleschi who drew his inspiration from the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome. The exterior facing is of polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white. This view from the front shows a portion of the dome and Giotti's Bell Tower to its right..
Brunelleschi's solutions were ingenious and unprecedented: the distinctive octagonal design of the double-walled dome, resting on a drum and not on the roof itself, allowed for the entire dome to be built without the need for scaffolding from the ground. But, because the dome rested on a drum with no external butresses supporting it, there could be no lateral thrusts at the base of the dome. To ensure this, Brunelleschi used horizontal tension chains of wood and iron set at the base of the dome.
This enormous construction weighs 37,000 tons and contains over 4 million bricks.
Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. This enormous work, 3,600 metres² (38 750 ft²) of painted surface, was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasan and Federico Zuccan. It would last till 1579. The upper portion, near the lantern, representing The 24 Elders of Apoc. 4 was finished by Vasari before his death in 1574. Federico Zuccari and a number of collaborators finished the other portions: (from top to bottom) Choirs of Angels; Christ, Mary and Saints; Virtues, Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Beatitudes; and at the bottom of the cuppola: Capital Sins and Hell. These frescoes are considered Zuccari's greatest work.
Across the way is the Bapistry. These are the Ghiberti doors. There is a copy of them in San Francisco at Grace Cathedral.
Polizia Provinciale patrol the city.
Tempting desserts were everywhere.
Paoli's Restaurant was the perfect spot for lunch.
The City Hall of Florence with its tower in the distance is today called the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace). It has been the centre of political life in the city since the 13th Century.
The statue of Neptune's Fountain by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1575) has a commanding location within the Piazza della Signonia in the heart of Florence.
The Ponte Vecchio, Italian for Old Bridge is a Medieval bridge over the Arno River. It is noted for having shops (mainly jewellers) built along it. It is Europe's oldest wholly-stone, closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge.
Believed to have been first built in Roman times, it was originally made of wood. After being destroyed by a flood in 1333, it was rebuilt in 1345, this time in stone. Most of the design is attributed to Taddeo Gaddi. The bridge consists of three segmental arches, the main arch has a span of 30 meters (98 feet) and the two side arches each span 27 meters (88 feet). The rise of the arches is between 3.5 and 4.4 meters (11½ to 14½ feet), and the span-to-rise ratio 5:1.
It has always hosted shops and merchants (legend says this was originally due to a tax exemption), which displayed their goods on tables after authorisation of the Bargello, a sort of a lord mayor, a magistrate and a police authority.
The Grave of Michelangelo is within the Church and Museum of Santa Croce. The present basilica, traditionally attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, was built from 1295, on the site where, around 1210, the first Franciscan friars to arrive in Florence had a small oratory.
With the duomo over Dean's shoulder, we prepared to drive back to our villa.
Entrance to San Gimignano was through this gate.
San Gimignano is a small walled medieval hilltop town in Tuscany, about a 35-minute drive northwest of Sienna or southwest of Florence. It is mainly famous for its medieval architecture, especially its towers, which may be seen from several miles outside the town.
A vine in the center of town had turned a brilliant ochre.
A ceramics store in San Gimignano.
A view over the Tuscany countryside from a hilltop in San Gimignano.
Colle di Val d'Elsa or Colle Val d'Elsa is a town and comune in Tuscany, in the province of Siena. It has a population of ~ 20,000 (2005). Its name means "Hill of Elsa Valley", where "Elsa" is the name of the river which crosses it.
Today, Colle di Val d'Elsa is internationally renowned for the production of crystal glassware and art (15% of world production), largely produced in the industrial lower town.
A typical window terrace as photographed in Colle di Valle d'Elsa.
After the Iowa Voyagers tour ended and several of our friends departed for the USA, we continued to Roma. This was a skyline view.
The Colosseum or Coliseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre, is a giant amphitheatre in the centre of the city. Originally capable of seating 45,000–50,000 spectators, it was used for gladitorial contests and public spectacles. It was built on a site just east of the Roman Forum with construction starting between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian. The amphitheatre, the largest ever built in the Roman Emprie, was completed in 80 AD under Titus with further modifications being made during Domitian's reign.
The Colosseum remained in use for nearly 500 years with the last recorded games being held there as late as the 6th Century — well after the traditional date of the fall of Rome in 476. As well as the traditional gladiatorial games, many other public spectacles were held there, such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building eventually ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such varied purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry and a Christian shrine.
Although it is now in a severely ruined condition due to damage caused by earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum has long been seen as an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome.
The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) was the political and economical centre of Rome during the Republic. It emerged as such in the 7th century BC and maintained this position well into the Imperial period, when it was reduced to a monumental area. It was mostly abandoned at the end of the 4th century.
Although we became seperated for a time, we found each other in the Pantheon. The Pantheon from the Greek Πάνθεον Pantheon meaning "Temple of all the Gods") was originally built as a temple to the seven deities of the seven planets in the state religion of Ancient Rome. It is the best preserved of all Roman buildings and perhaps the best preserved building of its age in the world. It has been in continuous use throughout its history. Although the identity of the Pantheon's primary architect remains uncertain, it is largely assigned to Apollodorus of Damascus. Since the 7th Century, the Pantheon has been used as a Christian church.
The Trevi Fountain is the largest — standing 25.9 meters (85 feet) high and 19.8 meters (65 feet) wide — and most ambitious of the Baroque fountains of Rome. It is located in the rione of Trevi.
One of the creative mimes which we saw in the city.
One of the nights we were in Rome, we were able to meet up with long-time friends, Sharon and Grant, who toured Italy during the same time we had been there, though with a different group. The Brunello flowed freely.
We swept past the Swiss Guards and made our way to the Vatican Museum. The Papal Swiss Guard was founded in 1506. It is today largely ceremonial, but
like the Guards in London they are a fully operational modern military force.
When in ceremonial 16th century uniform, they keep their firearms in guard boxes
nearby. The Papal Guard are the only mercenary unit permitted under Swiss law
since 1859, and are the last of a long tradition of a million mercenaries in the
world's armies. By Swiss law, the Guard can be composed of at most 100 men; hence it is called Hundertschweizer - one hundred Swiss. The Guard today consists of 5 officers, 25 NCOs and 70
While wondering through the many exhibits, we caught Paula attempting to look under this fig leaf.:-)
This little bowl would make a perfect serving dish for some of our parties.
The Map Room had a very intricately designed ceiling and many ancient maps.
The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of
the Pope in Vatican City. Its fame is based upon the architecture,
which evokes Solomon's Temple from the Old Testament; its
decoration, frescoed throughout by the greatest Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, whose ceiling with the Creation of Adam in the center, is legendary; and its purpose, as a site of papal religious and functionary
activity, notably the conclave, at which a new Pope is selected.
This Last Judgement: This mighty composition, painted by Michelangelo between 1536 and 1541, is
centered around the dominant figure of Christ, captured in the moment preceding
that when the verdict of the Last Judgement is uttered (Matthew 25:31-46). His calm
imperious gesture seems to both command attention and placate the surrounding
The circular stairway leading out of the museum was stunning.
No trip to Rome and Vatican City would be complete without standing in St. Peter's Square at night.
The nave of St. Peter's is immense as the church can hold 60,000 worshipers.
Michelangelo's Pieta sits behind glass after a crazed man with a hammer attempted to destroy it several years ago.