Wednesday 29 July 2015

Tuscany Part 3.....

After the excitement of Rome we had to be up and out early next morning for our next sightseeing trip to the Chianti Region.   This is a view overlooking the Chianti valleys.

Travelling through the beautiful Tuscany countryside, our first stop was the beautiful little village of Radda, situated on a hill covered with woods and extensive vineyards forming the watershed between the Pesa and Arbia valleys.

The structure of the medieval village is still intact; it grew up elliptically around the church of San Nicolò, of 14th century origin and the Palazzo Pretorio. Built about 1415, its facade adorned with the coats of arms of the podestà (chief magistrates), the latter is now the seat of the municipality. Formerly belonging to the Guidi family, it came under Florentine control in 1203.   After being fortified in 1400 it was, from 1415 onwards, head of the League of Chianti, and it preserves the remains of its ancient walls.

The winding streets and architecture were a delight.

 Beautiful fountains and piazzas.

San Nicolò church, where the sounds of singing drifted over the peaceful silence of the village.

We wound our way through the village

stopping for a short coffee and cake break

before joining our group again for the quick photo stop on the journey, Pienza, if you have seen the film The English Patient you may recognise these photos.

Through vineyards, are far as the eye could see,
on to Monteriggioni - the Balcony Of The Valley.

Monteriggioni is a medieval walled town, located on a natural hillock, built by the Sienese in 1214–19 as a front line in their wars against Florence, by assuming command of the Via Cassia running through the Val d'Elsa and Val Staggia to the west. During the conflicts between Siena and Florence in the Middle Ages, the city was strategically placed as a defensive fortification.

It also withstood many attacks from both the Florentines and the forces of the Bishop of Volterra. In 1554 the Sienese were able to place control of the town's garrison to Giovannino Zeti, who had been exiled from Florence. In 1554, in an act of reconciliation with the Medicis, Zeti simply handed the keys of the town over to the Medicean forces - considered a "great betrayal" by the town's people

We stopped here for a lunch of bread, cheese and a cold and very refreshing lemon beer.

Then we explored some more

until it was time to make our way to the last stop of the day the Aiola Winery, where, besides tasting their delicious wines, we also enjoyed sampling their superb olive oil, (we brought a bottle home).   Built as a fortress during the local wars between the Florentine Republic and the Republic of Sienna which ended in the 17th century, the Aiola Castle went through a radical transformation. The original aspect, characterized by town walls, drawbridge, secret underground tunnels has gradually left space to an elegant manor villa during the Renaissance, although it maintained some original elements.

In 1934 Aiola was bought by Senator Giovanni Malagodi, who started bottling the Classic Chianti, with its own label since the 60s.

In 2012 the ownership passed to some Russian entrepreneurs which paved the way to an important program concerning the replanting of new vineyards and cellar refurbishment through the renovation all of equipment. Today Aiola lies at the heart of a modern farmhouse in the Classic Chianti, where vineyards, entirely surrounded by ancient holm forests, stretch across 36 hectares. The respect for the environment and its traditions, the rich experience gained during the years alongside of the deployment of cutting-edge equipment are a good recipe to keep up the brand prestige.
It was the perfect end to the day's sightseeing and we enjoyed sitting back and enjoying the ride back to the hotel, where we had time for a short rest before dinner.

Please join me for Tuscany Part 4 when we visit Assisi and Perugia.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Tuscany Part 2.....

 Setting off straight after an early breakfast we made the two hour journey from our hotel to Roma!

Our first sight of St Peter's,

getting closer.

Alighting our bus we made our way through the winding streets of the eternal city snapping the architechture as we went.

Our first stop on the tour was The Pantheon
which is on the site of an earlier building commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). The present building was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. He retained Agrippa's original inscription, which has confused its date of construction.

The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky.

In the middle of the floor of the rotunda is a hole which drains away water coming through the oculus.

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 metres (142 ft). 

It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a church dedicated to "St. Mary and the Martyrs" but informally known as "Santa Maria Rotonda".   Two kings of Italy are buried in the Pantheon: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto's Queen, Margherita, also the artist Raphael was buried there at his own request.
The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda which gets its name from the Pantheon's informal title as the church of Santa Maria Rotonda with it's centrepiece fountain and obelisk.
Continuing our walking tour took us to Piazza Navona
which is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD, and follows the form of the open space of the stadium.The ancient Romans went there to watch the agones ("games"), and hence it was known as "Circus Agonalis" ("competition arena"). It is believed that over time the name changed to in avone to navone and eventually to navona.  Oval in shape with impressive buidings surrounding a central space.

In the 15th Century the space was flooded every Saturday and Sunday to allow it to be used for mock naval battles.  At the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575). At the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) also created by Giacomo della Porta; the statue of Neptune, by Antonio Della Bitta, was added in 1878 to create a balance with La Fontana del Moro.
In the centre stands the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, brought in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius.

We continued our tour taking in the Palace of Justice
on our way to The Arch of Constantine,  a triumphal arch, erected c. 315 CE to commemorate the triumph of Constantine I after his victory over Maxentius in the battle at the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. The arch is located in the valley of the Colosseum, between the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, along the road taken by the triumphal processions.
Also there is the Temple of Venus, thought to have been the largest temple in Ancient Rome. Located on the Velian Hill, between the eastern edge of the Forum Romanum and the Colosseum, it was dedicated to the goddesses Venus Felix ("Venus the Bringer of Good Fortune") and Roma Aeterna ("Eternal Rome"). The architect was the emperor Hadrian and construction began in 121. It was officially inaugurated by Hadrian in 135, and finished in 141 under Antoninus Pius. Damaged by fire in 307, it was restored with alterations by the emperor Maxentius.

All very impressive but the Colosseum is the most impressive of all!  The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to go inside before continuing our tour passing Palazzo de Venezia, where Mussolini had his headquarters during the WWII, it was originally built in 1451 for the Ambassadors of the Venetian Republic.

We then made our way to St. Peter's Square and the Basilica.
The Basilica is the burial site of its namesake St. Peter, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ and, also according to tradition, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. Tradition and strong historical evidence hold that St. Peter's tomb is directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter's since the Early Christian period.
There has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter's Basilica of the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626

Unfortunately the queue to go in the Basilica extended all around the square and was reported to be taking two and a half hours to reach the entrance, so as we had very limited time we had to dismiss the idea.  Apparently it was so busy that day because two nuns were being canonized the following day.

We saw the Papal apartments

where the Pope usually resides.   Apparently the present Pope Francis does not reside in the apartments he just uses the offices.   Disappointed not to be able to go in the Basilica we made our way to the Vatican City, hoping to see the Sistine Chapel,
only to be disappointed again because the queue there was also two and half hours long!

The Sistine Chapel (Latin: Sacellum Sixtinum; Italian: Cappella Sistina) is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.

Our last port of call was The Mausoleum of Hadrian, which was close to where we had to meet our coach for the journey home.    Usually known as Castel Sant'Angelo (English: Castle of the Holy Angel), is a towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano.   It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. The Castel was once the tallest building in Rome.

We didn't have time to go inside but sat for a while people watching and talking about our visit to Rome and what we hadn't been able to see.  

We decided a return visit is a must but we would have to spend at least three or four days there to ensure we wouldn't be disappointed again.   As of yet we have not made any plans but will be sure to let you know when we do.

I hope you enjoyed our visit to Rome and will join me next time for Part 3 and wine tasting in Chianti, and visiting other places.