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 façade 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.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Tuscany Part 4......

Another day, another place to visit, first stop was the Umbria region and Assisi.

Famous as the birthplace of St. Francis, who founded the Franciscan religious order in the town in 1208. The winding streets, architecture and frescos are a delight as you make your way through the town,

 as are the views from Assisi's hilltop position.

Assisi is also the resting place of St. Clare (Chiara d'Offreducci), the founder of the Poor Sisters, which later became the Order of Poor Clares after her death and home to Basilica di Santa Chiara (St Clare's Basilica), which is reached via cobbled winding street as one climbs higher. Construction of the Basilica of Saint Clare began under the direction of Filippo Campello, one of the foremost architects of the time.

On 3 October 1260, Clare's remains were transferred from the chapel of San Giorgio to the Basilica of Saint Clare where they were buried in the earth under the high altar of the new church.  After having remained hidden for six centuries - like the remains of St. Francis - and after much searching had been made, Clare's tomb was found in 1850. On 23 September in that year the coffin was unearthed and opened, the flesh and clothing of the saint had been reduced to dust, but the skeleton was in a perfect state of preservation. Finally, on 29 September 1872, the saint's bones were transferred, with much pomp, by Archbishop Pecci, afterwards Pope Leo XIII, to the shrine, in the crypt of the Basilica of Saint Clare, erected to receive them, and where they may now be seen.

 Onwards and upwards
where we came across The Temple of Minerva,

an ancient Roman building which currently houses a church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, built in 1539 and renovated in Baroque style in the 17th century. The attribution to the goddess Minerva derives from the finding of a female statue, although a dedication stone to Hercules has been found, and the temple was likely dedicated to this male semi-god. Of the ancient temple, the façade has been preserved, with six Corinthian columns supporting the architrave and a small pediment. The columns were originally covered by a very strong plaster, which was perhaps colored.

A little further on we were faced with a fork in the road to take us to St Francis' Basilica and chose to take the left way down the hill, it proved to be the wrong way for where we wanted to go and we had to come back up, but it was a worthwhile detour as you will see from the following photos.

We headed back and took the right fork to find more beautiful buildings

and alleyways,
then there it was, the magnificent Basilica of San Francesco.

The basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy, with its accompanying friary, Sacro Convento, the basilica is a distinctive landmark to those approaching Assisi. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.  The basilica, which was begun in 1228, is built into the side of a hill and comprises two churches known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church, and a crypt where the remains of the saint are interred. The interior of the Upper Church is an important early example of the Gothic style in Italy.

The Upper and Lower Churches are decorated with frescoes by numerous late medieval painters from the Roman and Tuscan schools. The range and quality of the works gives the basilica a unique importance in demonstrating the development of Italian art of this period.

We made our way down to the lower church.

On 16 July 1228, Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX in Assisi, and he laid the foundation stone of the new church the following day, although construction may already have been begun. The construction having been begun at his order, the Pope declared the church to be the property of the papacy.  The Lower Basilica was finished in 1230. On Pentecost 25 May 1230, the remains of St. Francis were brought in a solemn procession to the Lower Basilica from its temporary burial place in the church of San Giorgio (St. George), now the Basilica of Saint Clare of Assisi. The burial place was concealed for fear that St Francis' remains might be stolen and dispersed. The construction of the Upper Basilica was begun after 1239 and was completed in 1253. Both churches were consecrated by Pope Innocent IV in 1253.
The Piazza del Loge, the square leading to the lower church, is surrounded by colonnades constructed in 1474. They housed the numerous pilgrims flocking to this church. In 1818, the remains of St Francis were rediscovered beneath the floor of the Lower Basilica. In the reign of Pope Pius IX the crypt was built so that the faithful might visit the burial place of the saint.
We sat in the shade under the colonnade whilst waiting for our group to complete their sightseeing in the square before making our way back down the hill to our coach.
Heading back to our hotel we visited Perugia, which involved a trip on the Minimetro which is a family of cable propelled automated people mover systems, built by Poma/Leitner Group. The vehicles either run on rails or an air cushion and have either a detachable grip (to the cable) or a fixed grip.  We took a video of the ride but unfortunately it won't upload because it's too big, so take a look at the youtube link here . It was rather fun.

An ancient Etruscan city,  Perugia is the capital city of the region of Umbria in central Italy, crossed by the river Tiber. The city is also the capital of the province of Perugia.  A city full of alleyways,

majestic buildings,

 fabulous doorways,

religious icons imbedded in walls,

fabulous arches,

including this hidden treasure an Etruscan arch/gate dating from the 3rd century BC, which our guide took us to when we bumped into her during our exploration of the city.

We found our way to the main square with it's Fontana Maggiore and
the Palazzo dei Priori, the centre of communal government.
Perugia's San Lorenzo Cathedral's side entrance can also be found on the square,
so we went in and sat for a while and enjoyed the silence.
The first chapel as one enters the cathedral is dedicated to the Holy Ring, the relic of the engagement ring of the Holy Virgin, which was stolen from Chiusi in 1473.  It looked much to large to be a ring that would fit on anyone's finger so I imagine it was just a symbol of the engagement. I took a photograph but because the ring was behind glass it's very blurred.

Perugia has become famous for chocolate, mostly because of a single firm, Perugina, whose Baci (kisses) are widely exported. Perugian chocolate is very popular in Italy. The company's plant located in San Sisto (Perugia) is the largest of Nestlé's nine sites in Italy.According to the Nestlé Usa official website Baci is the most famous chocolate brand in Italy.The city hosts a chocolate festival every October.  Of course being a chocoholic MWM purchased a good amount and can vouch for it being good!

As you see we'd had a very busy day sightseeing and were more than ready to head back to our coach for the journey back to the hotel, to rest our weary feet and enjoy a good dinner.

Please join me for Tuscany Part 5 when we visit Florence.