Monday, 7 September 2015

Tuscany Part 6 Finale..........

OK the final part of our Tuscany travels today.   Need to finish this trip now as we are off to China next Tuesday!

The last visit on the Tuscany trip was first to San Gimignano.  San Gimignano is a small, walled medieval hill town known as the Town of Fine Towers, it is famous for its medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls form "an unforgettable skyline".

Within the walls, the well-preserved buildings include notable examples of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with outstanding examples of secular buildings as well as churches.

The Palazzo Comunale, also known as the People's palace of San Gimignano has been the seat of the civic authority in the commune since the 13th century.
 the Collegiate Church contains frescos and cycles dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.
The first church on the site was begun in the 10th century. During the early 12th century the importance of San Gimignano, and its principal church, grew steadily, owing to the town's location on the pilgrimage route to Rome. The present church on this site was consecrated on 21 November 1148 and dedicated to St. Geminianus (San Gimignano) in the presence of Pope Eugenius III and 14 prelates

We wandered around taking in the alleyways
 and winding streets,

then I found a little shop selling the most beautiful hand stitched Italian leather handbags!  Oh Joy!  You ladies reading this will understand why I just had to buy one, they were a fantastic price and the smell of leather was divine.  

It was time to get on the road again to Sienna.  Sienna, like other Tuscan hill towns, was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (c. 900–400 BC) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. The Etruscans were an advanced people who changed the face of central Italy through their use of irrigation to reclaim previously unfarmable land, and their custom of building their settlements in well-defended hill forts. A Roman town called Saena Julia was founded at the site in the time of the Emperor Augustus. The first document mentioning it dates from AD 70.

We made our way through the winding streets, taking in the medieval cityscape,

stopping for lunch in a small bar,

before making our way to The Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped town square, which unfurls before the Palazzo Pubblico with its tall Torre del Mangia,  itself a great work of architecture, houses yet another important art museum.
The Piazza del Campo dips to the centre resembling a bowl, surrounded on all sides by hotels, shops and restaurants.

The Piazza is also the site for the Palio horse race which is held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16 consists of ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city wards.

A pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, attracting visitors and spectators from around the world.  The spectators crowd the bowl at the centre of the square whilst the race circles the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is common for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and indeed, it is usual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys.  We weren't there at the time of the race so obviously didn't get a photo but I have borrowed two from Wikipedia to give you an idea of the numbers of spectators and the race itself.

We walked away from the Piazza and found the beautiful cathedral,
then ventured further through the back streets where we found the steps leading to the back of the cathedral.
We would have liked to have stayed longer in Sienna but unfortunately it was time to head back to the coach for the journey back to the hotel for our final evening and an early night, as we were leaving Tuscany very early the following morning.

I would like to say the journey to the airport the following morning was uneventful but it was very ,as we got caught in a huge traffic jam on the motorway and instead of checking in two hours before our flight left we had only 40 minutes to check in, get through security and board the plane - PHEW!   Thankfully we did make it and the flight home was smooth.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Tuscany, I hope you have too.   The next time I post, in a few weeks time, will be to tell you about our visit to China, I hope you'll join me for that.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Tuscany Part 5......

Another day, another place to visit - Firenze (Florence) the capital of Tuscany.

Florence is famous for its history: a centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, it is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, and has been called "the Athens of the Middle Ages".  A turbulent political history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici family, and numerous religious and republican revolutions. From 1865 to 1871 the city was the capital of the recently established Kingdom of Italy.  

We had a ten minute walk from where our coach dropped us off through streets lined with fascinating architecture,

 shame about the 'Irish Pub' sign outside this next building!
Our fist stop was the Basilica di Santa Croce, where we met our guide for a short tour of the city centre.

The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church in Florence, and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 metres south-east of the Duomo. The site, when first chosen, was in marshland outside the city walls. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell'Itale Glorie).

Continuing the tour we passed the Duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore ("Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower") the main church of Florence.

Begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival fa├žade by Emilio De Fabris.

Our tour ended in the square at the entrance to the Medici Palace.

The House of Medici was an Italian banking family, political dynasty and later royal house that first began to gather prominence under Cosimo de' Medici in the Republic of Florence during the late 14th century. 
The family originated in the Mugello region of the Tuscan countryside, gradually rising until they were able to fund the Medici Bank. The bank was the largest in Europe during the 15th century, seeing the Medici gain political power in Florence — though officially they remained citizens rather than monarchs.
The Medici Palace overlooks the square where its copy of Michelangelo's David statue as well the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi stand, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy, and it host cultural points and museums.

We stopped for a quick lunch before venturing into the Medici Palace, through it's magnificent courtyard,
only to be even more amazed and thrilled by the interior with it's beautifully decorated ceilings,

majestic staircases,

amazing artwork,

apartments and chapel of Eleonora,

 fabulous furniture,

 artefacts, like the Putto with Dophin by Andrea del Verrocchio.

One can only marvel at the huge doorways,

the audience chamber,
 the carved doors depicting Dante,
the windows,

the incredible Hall of Geographical Maps or Wardrobe is where the Medici Grand Dukes kept their precious belongings. The cabinets and carved ceiling are by Dionigi Nigetti.

The doors of the cabinets were decorated with 53 remarkable maps of scientific interest, oil paintings by the Dominican monk Fra Ignazio Danti (1563–1575), brother of the sculptor Vincenzo Danti, and Stefano Buonsignori (1575–1584). They are of great historical interest and give a good idea of the geographical knowledge in the 16th century.

Those are just a few of the sights you will see if you ever get the chance to visit this magnificent place for yourself, not to mention the view over Florence from one of the palace balconies.
Unfortunately it was time to leave beautiful Florence for the journey back to our hotel, but we had another day of sightseeing to look forward to.   I hope you'll join me for the final day of our tour,  Part 6 when we visit Sienna.