Churches of Verona

Duomo Di Verona is the city’s cathedral and can easily be reached from the Ponte Pietra. It was constructed on the remains of two earlier churches that were destroyed in the earthquake of 1117. An absolutely beautiful church in the historic medieval center. The Basilica has striped brick and stone walls not unlike other churches I have seen throughout Italy.

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Verona’s Cathedral

Basilica di Santa Anastasia is the most important religious monument in the Gothic style in Verona. Funded by the Scaligeri family it was built around 1290.

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Basilica di Santa Anastasia
Verona’s majestic Basilica Di San Zeno dates from the 12th century in Piazza San Zeno. The Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore is a striking landmark especially when viewed from the across the river. This Romanesque church’s bronze doors have 48 carved panel Bible Scenes and beautiful frescoes inside from the 12th – 15th centuries.
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Basilica di San Zeno from Ponte Scaligero
Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli, is an ancient Roman Catholic church built in the early 12th century on a pre-exiting Roman cemetery. Located right near the Porta dei Borsari mentioned in the previous blog on the Corso Cavour. A striking Veronese Romanesque bell tower stands apart from the church.
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Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli

 

Did you miss the last 2 blogs on Verona? Romeo, Romeo and Verona’s Bridges? Link to them to read more about this lovely city.

Also travel to Asiago near the Swiss Alps.  Looking for more Italy?  There are blogs on many different areas.  Here are links: Amalfi Coast; Puglia, including Lecce, Matera, Alberobello, Borgo Egnazia; Florence; Venice (stay tuned for some new Venice ones also); Tuscany including: Siena, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Lucca, Pienza, Pisa, Arezzo. Montalcino, Montefioralle, Greve and Montechiello.  Whew!  That’s a lot of trips to Italy in the last few years!

Can’t wait to return!!!!

Romeo, Romeo, where fore art thou – in Verona?

You know how the story goes…. those unforgettable words spoken by Juliet from that famous balcony supposedly in Verona- not really! Very touristy spot! I skipped Casa di Giulietta. There were however two real feuding families in Verona called the Capuleti’s and the Montecchi’s.  Juliet never lived in the 1300’s Gothic style house so popular with tourists in Verona.  Instead to show their love the tradition of putting a padlock on the wall was to show that couples were locked together. Well we know how that ancient story by  Shakespeare ended.  Okay enough about them!

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Juliet’s Balcony by my friend Kris Beal

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In Northern Italy’s Veneto region, at the base of the alps, Verona was actually the setting for 3 of Shakespeare’s plays. It is one of the 7 Provincial Capitals of the Veneto region and the 2nd largest city in the region as well as the third largest in Northeast Italy where it winds around the Adige River. It was an ideal stop before heading over the Alps. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its urban structures and architecture.

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Basilica di San Zeno from Ponte Scaligero

 

First thing upon arriving we made our way to the river and Castelvecchio. This 14th century fortified castle houses artifacts from the Middle Ages.  There are seven towers and even a draw bridge. It was an important military stronghold of the Scaligeri family. Today it houses a museum.

Verona’s Centro Storico, its medieval center was centered around the Piazza dell Erbe the oldest piazza in the city originally the town’s forum during Roman times. Today there are vendors selling a variety of goods, souvenirs, fruits and vegetables surrounded by restaurants, palazzos, and shops.

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Piazza delle Erbe and Torre dei Lamberti
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Saturday markets

 

Standing tall in the Piazza is the Torre dei Lamberti with its octagonal bell tower and bronze doors depicting Biblical stories and old bells from the 15th century.  Originally constructed in 1172 it is the tallest medieval tower in Verona and offers panoramic views of the city. Today the Piazza is the home to markets but back in the 15th century it was home to the vegetable market and the fountain that still stands at its center – Fontana Madonna.

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Piazza delle Erbe and the Statue of Fontana Madonna
Piazza dei Signoria, another city square has a statue of Dante Alighieri, Renaissance Palazzos as well as magnificent churches. It is lovely to just hang out in the these Piazza’s, visit with friends and of course drink an aperitivo! Of course, this is Grappa country! The longer it ages the smoother it gets.  Who knew!
The Verona Arena is a 1st century Roman amphitheater and very well preserved and Verona’s most famous monument.  It is the third largest Roman amphitheater after the Colosseum and the Arena of Capua. It is always amazing to me to walk the ancient streets in these cities where the Romans once walked and gladiators fought.  Today the Arena is used for opera concerts. If you are lucky enough to find yourself there in summer plan to attend the Opera festival.  The Arena is located in the largest square in the historic center in Piazza Bra. Another lovely spot to sit and enjoy the cafes, the company and the atmosphere.  Just take it all in and don’t be in a hurry! Savor this opportunity.
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Verona Arena
Enter the city through the Porta Borsari- the ancient Roman gate that once marked the southern entrance into the city and was the main gate.  Verona successfully marries the old and the new.  You are at once transported back to Roman times while shopping at new high end boutiques.
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The Roman Arena constructed in the 1st century of pink marble was the 8th largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire and actually predates the Coliseum in Rome.
Castel San Pietro, begun way back in 1851, sits high above the city. This was an Austrian military installation and was used to control the city during the Austrian occupation.
Teatro Romano is Verona’s most ancient structure built at the end of the 1st century B.C. It sits right below Castel San Pietro across the Ponte Pietra. Today it is used for events like the Shakespeare Festival.
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Castel San Pietro and Teatro Romano
Chiesa Di San Giorgio sits along the river and can be seen from the Castel San Pietro. The views from up there were amazing in every direction! There was quite a gathering waiting for sunset!
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Verona’s Cathedral (Duomo) and Chiesa di San Giorgio in Braida
If you have time, try to visit the Palazzo Giardino Giusti (Palace and Garden) widely considered one of the finest examples of an Italian garden.  This garden, a masterpiece of Renaissance landscaping planted in 1580 combines manicured and natural cypresses and a parterre. Sadly, I did not have time to get over there.  As a garden designer I would have loved to see this but there’re only so many hours in a day, right!
This is not a small city but I found it very walkable.  I wish I had more time to explore, but more next time.  Always a reason to return! Did you miss the other blogs on Verona?
Thank you again to my friend Kris Beal who happened to be in Verona about the same time as I was and she did manage to capture Juliet’s balcony when I couldn’t get there.  Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/krismbeal
Did you miss the last few blogs on Venice?  Here is a link! Carnevale; The Magic of Venice and Venice –  an Elegant Old City

 

 

Pienza – Val d’ Orcia

Pienza is a small town located in the Val D’Orcia, (2004 UNESCO World Cultural Landscapes) in the southeastern area of Tuscany. Situated between Montepulciano and Montalcino and South of Siena it is an easy day trip if your home base is anywhere in Tuscany. In 1996, UNESCO made the center of Pienza a World Heritage Site. I recently learned exactly what this means: “considering that the site is of outstanding universal value as it represents the first application of the Renaissance Humanist concept of urban design, and as such occupies a seminal position in the development of the planned “ideal town” which was to play a significant role in subsequent urban development in Italy and beyond” (source: VisitTuscany.com) 

Pienza is one of the best examples of a Renaissance planned town that has survived relatively intact from ancient times. The streets have such romantic names like Via dell’ Amore (love street)!

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It was the home of Pope Pius II who was born here. Pienza means “the city of Pius”. Construction began approximately in 1459 on top of the ancient hamlet that existed and lasted about 4 years. Check out the old well in the Piazza Pio II main square named for Bernardo Rossellino, the architect who had previously worked with Alberti on the facade of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

This town was the first to be constructed using urban planning techniques and was planned around the Piazza and all the town’s main monuments are located on this square; the cathedral and three other palaces: Palazzo Piccolomini, Palazzo Borgia, and Palazzo Comunale.

Palazzo Piccolomini

The Roman Catholic Cathedral [Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta) built on the remains of a Romanesque church stands in the main square and includes many works of art including five altar paintings from the Sienese school. The facade is typical of Renaissance architecture. Supposedly the Pope wanted the cathedral to tower over the other buildings as a sign of faith. The Duomo is one of the first Renaissance cathedrals with stained glass windows and a classical interior.

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Palazzo Borgia is another important building on the square and now home to a museum.


Palazzo Comunale is the town hall and has a loggia and a facade decorated with a scratched plaster technique and a brick bell tower.

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This town is so beautiful as is the countryside surrounding it dotted with cypress trees, hayfields and winding roads.

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Pienza is the capital of pecorino cheese “sheep’s milk cheese” and has a distinctive sharp and salty taste acquired from a particularly aromatic milk courtesy of the sheep pastures in the Val D’Orcia region. You can be sure we brought some home!

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Be sure to walk around the views are amazing!

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Historical Sources: Wikipedia, Fodor’s and VisitTuscany.com

 

Did you miss Pisa?  Here is a link: Pisa

Montepulciano – Val d’Orcia

 

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Now we are seriously in the heart of wine country!  Montepulciano is reknown for 2 wines in this region: Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  These are some of the very best wines in the world. Sitting high on a hilltop with steep narrow streets it is like many of the other towns in the region with a main piazza. Did you know this town is built on a narrow limestone ridge about 600 meters above sea level!  The streets are lined with Renaissance-style palazzos and churches.

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The medieval town hall Palazzo Comunale was built between the end of the 1300’s and the middle of the 1400’s.  The original front design of the building in travertine resembles the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence which is not surprising since 500 years ago this town allied itself with Florence. The cornel on the left side of the main entrance bears a ‘griffin’ the symbol of the town of Montepulciano. Contucci Palace on the right.

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Climb to the top for amazing views
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Palazzo Ricci
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Duomo of Montepulciano

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On the top of the tower which you can climb that raises about 50 meters above the Renaissance Piazza grande provides amazing views of the countryside from Val D’Orcia to Val di Chiana.  To the west is Pienza and Montalcino. The tower was a keen lookout position although it was never meant to hide soldiers.

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The people’s spirit here is very independent and they show that with colorful rituals in the Piazza.

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Piazza Communale of Montepulciano and the Well which supports two lions – the Medici coat-of-arms

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Chiesa di Sant’Agostino

 

The Montepulciano area is famous for producing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, a fine wine that is among the oldest in Italy and is from the Sangiovese vines. In 1980 it became the first Italian wine to display the neck-strip of the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.). http://www.consorziovinonobile.it/main.php

The town is built on a honeycomb of wine cellars with gigantic barrels.  It takes about 3 years and the tanins must be just right.  They have been making wine here for 700 years.

Red meat is king at local osterias like Bistecca Fiorentina: T-bone seared over embers and always served rare! You can’t help but love this area of Italy.  The people are friendly, the wine is outstanding and the food is divine!

Do you love La Dolce Vita?  I have many blogs on various areas all over Italy.  You can search by area.  Enjoy and share! If you missed the last one on San Gimignano here is a link.

 

 

 

Florence, Italy – The Renaissance

The epicenter of the Renaissance in Florence started a cultural explosion.  The Medici family led Europe into the Modern Age in the 15th century and out of the shadow of the Church. There was a passion for art and Florence quickly became the art capitol of the western world. The Medici’s were powerful and wealthy bankers and accumulated enormous wealth. Art was first commissioned here just for the sake of art. Lavish frescoes now adorned the walls in palaces.

They started to see a celebration of the human body as seen in the original statue of David at the Galleria dell’ Accademia by Michelangelo.  Art and science were now combined. A change in architecture occurred and now architecture was meant to be viewed from all around and not attached (flat) to a building.  This was a major departure from the past. We see the rise of Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Botticelli. They moved from the Gothic (pre-Renaissance) to Renaissance. Major events shaped the Florence we know today including the Black Death in 1348 and while Florence survived other areas like Siena and San Gimignano were devastated.

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David at the Galleria dell’Accademia

The Palazzo Vecchio (originally Palazzo della Signoria) was originally a seat of government and the temporary residence of the Duke Cosimo Medici till he moved to Palazzo Pitti across the Arno River. There are wonderful bronze statues in the Piazza of Hercules, Neptune, Perseus and Medusa in the Loggia dei Lanzi on the south side of the Piazza and then there is Cosimo Medici on his horse. This square has been the site of great public events throughout the history of Florence.

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Palazzo Vecchio Campanile probably the most striking square in Florence dating from 1299

The Uffizi Gallery formerly the administrative offices of the Medici was commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo I Medici in 1560 and now holds Italian paintings and it is the supreme museum for art history buffs. When the Medici moved their art collection here it became Europe’s first modern museum to to the public.

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Uffizi Gallery

The Corridoio Vasarino was constructed in 1565 and was an elevated passage and allowed the Medici family to traverse the river without coming into contact with the public.  Ingenious! (Thank you to our fabulous guide Elizabeth for showing us this map and enticing us with the history of this amazing city)

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The Piazza della Repubblica, the Grand Square was the site of the ancient Roman Forum a mere 2000 years ago and was the core of the original Roman settlement. The triumphal arch celebrates the unification of Italy.  What a lively spot now in the evenings with outdoor cafes, musicians and a carousel.

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Piazza della Repubblica Triumphal Arch

Fun Fact: The Antinori’s were winemakers starting in the 1200’s.  This crazy cart was how they took wine to town. Did you know Chianti wine must have Sangiovese grapes? Tignarello was their premier wine and still is and is available here in the US but let’s face it we would rather be drinking it in Florence!

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If you love red wine:  the Chianti Classico of Tuscany is worth the trip!

Let’s continue to explore Florence and Tuscany! Next read more about Michelangelo and his famous ‘David’.  Did you miss the previous blog on Florence! Here you go! Next up Florence – centro storico

 

Need help planning your next trip to Italy? I highly recommend L’Esperta and Ashley Turney.  She is a true expert on all things Italy and Italian!

 

 

Florence – a very walkable city

Florence is a very walkable city and you really don’t need a vehicle unless you are going to drive down into the Val D’Orcia or Chianti Region.  Of course, the train system there is fabulous and you can easily navigate Italy via train.  If you can explore Florence on foot you will be rewarded.  Around every corner if something else to see and more and more history to unearth!

If you are up for a long walk (or take a taxi) you definitely want to cross the Arno river via the Ponte Vecchio to look back and see the city from the other side.

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Arno River

Take a few extra minutes to walk to the next bridge down river to the Ponte Santa Trinita and look back towards the Ponte Vecchio.  A lovely view and a popular tourist stop as the Ponte Vecchio is often very crowded especially when the shops are open.

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Ponte Vecchio from Ponte Santa Trinita

The Ponte Vecchio which simply means “Old Bridge”  was rebuilt in 1345 to replace an earlier bridge that was destroyed by floods and spans the Arno river. The bridge is solely devoted to goldsmiths and jewelers. It is the only bridge to survive WW II and was saved on Hitler’s specific instructions.

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Ponte Vecchio which means “Old Bridge”

A worthwhile stop along the Viale dei Colli is a stop at the top at the Piazzale Michelangelo.  The world famous view over Florence at sunset especially is breathtaking! You can see Santa Croce, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Campanile, Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio and way in the distance the Apennine mountains which run down the center of the country.  There is a copy of Michelangelo’s David overlooking the cafes.

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Duomo
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Uffizi Gallery

On your way up the hill be sure to stop at Pitti Palace, Fort Belvedere, Boboli Gardens and the Giardino Bardini. The Pitti Palace now houses several museums.  The Boboli Gardens are a little underwhelming and when we were there not much was blooming and it is somewhat underplanted. These gardens were commissioned by Cosimo I de’Medici in honor of his wife – Eleanora di Toledo.  It was an important model for formal parks and gardens with its symmetrical and harmonious garden design.

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Pitti Palace

The Bardini Garden and Villa dates back to the 14th century. Again, the view from here is like that of Piazzale Michelangelo- stunning! There are irises, roses, hydrangeas, a Japanese garden and statuary.

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Views from Bardini Garden

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Did you miss the blogs on Venice? Amalfi Coast? Puglia? Here you go! Coming up Florence- The Historic Center; Florence and The Renaissance; The Churches of Florence, Renaissance Art – Michelangelo

Before leaving Florence consider a day trip up into the hills to visit the ancient city of Fiesole with its Roman ruins.

 

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