Just a short bus ride from Florence up into the hills brings you to the town of Fiesole. The quick side trip lays fabulous views of Florence at your feet. The city is laid out before you as a marvel of the Renaissance in Tuscany that it is.
The first thing you see upon arrival is the Medieval Cathedral.
We spent the day exploring the ruins of the Teatro Romano an archaeological site that includes a temple, the Roman theatre and the Baths.
The Roman Theatre was built somewhere between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. The half-round ampitheatre allowed easy seat access and was used until the 3rd century A.D.
The thermal baths date back to the 1st century B.C. and included a Frigidarium to cool off after your hot bath, a Tepidarium which was the lukewarm space and a Calidarium the hottest water which was warmed by two ovens.
The Etruscan walls partially enclose the city of Fiesole and were a defense against enemies until 1125 when Florence conquered Fiesole.
After exploring the town on an insanely hot afternoon we walked partially down the hill to grab lunch at the Belmond San Michele. This is a very special property in the Belmond chain and again overlooks the city of Florence. It was well worth making a reservation to join them for lunch. The property is stunning and I cannot wait to go back so I can experience the property properly as a guest!
Remember when travelling get off the beaten track! If you can’t afford to stay somewhere plan to go there for lunch. No restaurant that I have ever visited denies non-guests lunch. Just make a reservation!
Do you love architecture? Then you will love Vicenza a UNESCO World Heritage Site! This city is a successful blend of old and new and the city of Palladio!
Vicenza is a very old city dating back to pre-Roman times before it was absorbed into the Roman empire in 157 BC. However, it is the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio who lived and worked in this city that it is associated with. Located in the Veneto region of Northeast Italy it was basically known as mainland Venice being situated between Venice and Verona and 120 miles east of Milan. Situated at the base of Monte Berico it straddles the Bacchiglione River. It’s known for the elegant buildings designed by the 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio who lived and worked here.
Many of Palladio’s buildings still survive today including the Palladian Basilica and the Palazzo Chiericati, a Renaissance palace dating back to 1550, now home to an art gallery. His Palladian window was a source of inspiration for architects an designers around the world.
Basilica Palladiana, the most symbolic building of Vicenza is a very impressive building and one of the architectural highlights of the city. Constructed in the 15th century it is renowned for its loggia consisting of a series of ornate arches that run along both sides creating perfect symmetry and is opened in the warmer months where you can sit and enjoy an aperitivo or just take in the Piazza. It is one of the first examples of a Renaissance building to feature the Palladian window design.
In the center of Vicenza, the Piazza dei Signori is a historic landmark city square surrounded by Palladio’s masterpieces along with the Palazzo del Monte di Pieta, Chiesa di San Vincenzo, Loggia del Capitanio, Torre Bissara and the Lion of St. Mark and Christ the Redeemer columns. The leaning clock tower the Torre Bissara is from an old building previously on that site.
The Cathedral of Vicenza- Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata, a Gothic style facade Roman Catholic church by Palladio in the 15th century built on the foundation of three earlier churches. The bell tower dates from the 12th century and has 5 bells. The beautiful dome is a signature of Palladio.
Cupola and Tower
Palladio built more than 20 buildings at the eastern end of Corso Andrea Palladio one of the main streets in the historic old town center. Like many main streets it is lined with palaces and other structures he designed. There are many fine shops and restaurants in this retail area. Of course, we stopped to enjoy my favorite an Aperol Spritz! Which is your favorite Aperol or Campari! I even discovered a new option called a Hugo Spritz made with St. Germaine! Love IT!!!
THE QUINTESSENTIAL APERITIF
Start by adding ice into the glass then pour in the Prosecco, the Aperol and add a splash of soda, top with a slice of orange. This serving avoids the Aperol settling at the bottom.
Preparation Time: 5 min
FILL A WINE GLASS WITH ICE
COMBINE PROSECCO DOC FOLLOWED BY APEROL IN EQUAL PARTS
The city was redeveloped after its devastation during WW2 with industry becoming the major economic drive of business.
Nearby, also by Palladio, the Teatro Olimpico replicates a classic outdoor theater, indoors. Considered one of his most magnificent buildings. The interior is constructed entirely of stone, stucco and wood. The stage has stone statues on its facade, archways and plaster work.
On the outskirts of town, one of the most influential of Palladio’s buildings on a hill overlooking the city is the Villa La Rotonda with its 4 identical facades. This was historic as architecture was now being adapted to residential living. It’s amazing design and symmetry make it unique. Each side has a portico resembling the Pantheon in Rome which Palladio was inspired by. If you are a fan of architecture I highly suggest you check this out on the internet as I could not get there as it was not in walking distance to the walled central historic district.
I try to educate my readers just a little on the history of the locales I visit so you are not just seeing pretty pictures but truly experiencing a city thru my eyes. You can search for the city of your choice on the home page or by topic. There are stories on gardening, landscaping theory and of course, my favorite Italy! Enjoy and feel free to share!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lucca is known for its Renaissance walls that encircle the historic center of this city lined with cobblestone streets and mostly closed to car traffic. This is the former home of Giacomo Puccini the famous opera composer. We loved this town and you can totally picture living here. (Do you see a theme here? I think I said that in Ravello , then again in Positano, then again in Florence. My heart is in Italy no matter where I am.) We did not get to venture out of the historic walled center to the rest of the city however. Next time!
Lucca is surrounded by high mountains and is a short drive from Pisa and located southwest of Florence. The walls were finished in the 17th century and remain intact. The city was built along the rectangular Roman grid formation seen elsewhere in Italy. Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC.
Some of the fun sights are the Cathedral, the Guinigi Tower, the Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, San Michele in Foro and of course walking, running, biking or just sitting and people watching on the wall. However, the best thing was just to wander the streets, get gelato, watch people and if you are lucky be here for the Lucca Music Festival. We missed Imagine Dragons by 3 days and at the end of the Festival the Rolling Stones! Bummer!
The Cathedral di San Martino is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin is located in a secluded area of the old city center. The Cathedral is Gothic and Romanesque style with a marble facade like the one found in Pisa. The front facade has 3 arches where pilgrims on their destination route to Rome traded. The marble inlay floor is a mix of religious themes like the floor we saw in Siena dating back to 1233. Next to the Duomo is the crenellated bell-tower finished in the 13th century. Inside you see the famous crucifix bearing an image of Christ wearing a long sleeved garment. The Cathedral is found when walking on the main street called Via Fillungo filled with shops and restaurants.
Piazza San Michele which including a statue of Puccini and the Church of San Michele in Foro is a Roman Catholic church built over the ancient Roman forum. What a fancy exterior on this church. There is a winged Archangel Michael standing at the top and there are also busts of Italian patriots. Built between the 11th and 14th centuries with its twisted columns, each different and carved marble details. It is a very extravagant example of the Pisan-Romanesque style. There is an obvious lack of Christian detailing except the larger figure of St. Michael.
Guinigi Tower (Torre Guinigi) a Romanesque Gothic structure built in the 1300’s and one of the few remaining towers within the city walls is unique for the holm oak trees planted at the top to symbolize rebirth and renewal. It is the only remaining tower of the original four. From here take in the magnificent view of the entire city!
Santa Maria Bianca is a Romanesque-style Roman Catholic church. Each church has its own unique personality.
Church of San Frediano is a Romanesque church that dominates one end of the Piazza San Frediano. It has a stunning 13th century mosaic that glows brilliantly with gold, blue and pale pinks and pastels. It was begun in the 6th century and originally dedicated to St.Vincent. The mosaic is of The Ascension of Christ the Saviour.
The Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro is now a public square in the walled center. The square is elliptical shaped with four gateways and reveals the old structure of the Roman amphitheatre. This Ampitheatre originally held 10,000 spectators and was created for gladiator games and other events. Today it is surrounded by open air restaurants and shops and is a real lively spot in the evenings.
Palazzo Pfanner goes back to 1660 originally commissioned by the Moriconi family who when forced into bankruptcy in 1680 sold the building to the Controni family of silk merchants. They were responsible for the building of the grand staircase and upgrading the gardens. The Pfanner family became involved in the middle of the 19th century. This was the site of the historic Pfanner Brewery until 1929. They are responsible for the restoration of this property that is now open to the public. The gardens have extraordinary 18th century statues depicting the deities of Greek Olympus and the Four Seasons. The baroque garden is visible from the city walls and the grand staircase and is right near the Basilica di San Frediano.
Even I managed to have my share of gelato here in Lucca! I highly suggest Gelateria Veneta!
Have you missed any of the other towns? Pienza was the last town we visited but you can search the blogs by town if you are looking for one in particular.
Lecce is located in the Puglia region in the heel of the boot in the Italian Peninsula where the Adriatic and Ionian seas are easily accessible. This city is over 2,000 years old and is one of the most important cities in Italy. Commonly known as “The Florence of the South” for its Baroque architecture. The town’s treasure is its architecture.
There are 3 Baroque style gates into the historical city center and 2 centers: the central square of Lecce the Piazza Sant’Oronzo where the ruins of the Amphitheatre stand and the Piazza del Duomo (the Cathedral square). In the Piazza Sant’Oronzo is a statue of a bishop perched on a column. This column is one of 2 which originally marked the end of the Roman Appian Way. The other is in Brindisi. One gate, the Porta Napoli was built in 1548.
This city existed at the time of the Trojan War and was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C.
The Baroque buildings built by the 17th century architects rival those in Florence. So distinctive is Lecce’s architecture is has acquired its own name “Lecce Baroque”. It is now a casual university town with boutiques, restaurants and a strong tradition of Papier-mâchémaking.
As is common in Italy, the streets empty as the hottest part of the day passes and this was the case when we were in Lecce so of course if you can’t shop….the infamous gelato was enjoyed by everyone in our group! As evening approaches Italians get out and ‘stroll’ this is called “Passeggiata”. This ritual evening stroll can be experienced all over Italy. We found it on the Amalfi Coast, in Rome and now in Puglia. It is just a leisurely time to walk and chat with neighbors. See and be seen!
Some of the sights of Lecce:
Basilica di Santa Croce; Church of the Holy Cross begun in 1353 was completed in 1695 and features sculptures and a rose window (the church was under renovations so no great photos of the entire church). It is a Baroque church that is decorated on the facade with all manner of animals like sheep, cherubs and grotesque figures right out of Harry Potter and has a large rose window and Corinthian columns. Next door is the Government Palace which was a former convent.
Piazza del Duomo- Lecce Cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Lecce was originally built in 1144 and rebuilt later and finally restored by 1670. The Duomo Square features a 5 story Bell Tower.
Chiesa di San Matteo, a Baroque style Catholic church built in 1667 has 2 columns on its facade, one is decorated but the sculptor was killed before he could finish the work.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara 1429-1438 – A Baroque church with twisting columns and ornate statuary and a ceiling of classic Leccese Papier-mâché.
Chiesa di Sant’ Irene from 1591 has one of the largest altars in Lecce. From the 17th century it contains a pair of mirror Baroque altar pieces facing each other.
Church of San Giovanni Battista. There was a long traditional affinity with the Greek culture due to its proximity.
Limestone is one of the city’s main exports. it is very soft and workable and very suitable for sculptures.
Olive oil and wine production are prominent in this area as well as ceramic production.
The Roman Amphitheatre was built in the 2nd century and is located near the Sant’Oronzo Square. It once seated more than 25,000 people. It is half buried now as other buildings and monuments were built above it over the centuries. You can feel the history when you stand here.
I was fascinated with all the doors in this historic city and I will do a separate photo blog of those but check out some of the ornate building details.
I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without mentioning our guide Giuseppe who made our tour of Lecce extremely memorable! Thanks Giuseppe! I guarantee we will not forget you 🙂 or to the Bride and Groom whose wedding arrival we interrupted for pictures!
If you are considering a trip to Puglia I hope you have gotten a little taste of how fabulous this region can be. It is becoming a more and more popular travel destination. Where to stay? We stayed at the Borgo Egnazia Resort and Spa in Savelletri di Fasano right on the coast. Their slogan is NOWHERE ELSE and I can tell you I concur! Madonna left just before we arrived. Bummer! This is a great spot for visiting all the sights in Puglia like Alberobello, Lecce, and Martina Franca. I bought a case of Olive Oil! This resort does not require my endorsement. Follow the blog (up next week) to see some of the many pictures I took trying to capture the magnificence of this resort. Borgo Egnazia, Puglia
If you missed the beginning of this series head back to the beginning: Puglia – an Undiscovered Gem in Italy.