Travel to any town in Italy and you will find beautiful churches. The Como Cathedral as it is known, is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and dates back to 1396. Architecturally fascinating, it mixes Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque features. This is a very important Gothic church in Northern Italy. This Roman Catholic cathedral stands in the Piazza del Duomo a lovely spot to people watch, have a drink or just hang out!
The Cathedral features a Rose window and a very impressive green Rococo cupola dome. The main portal stands between statues of Como natives as well as sculptures of Adam and Eve. The exterior also has sculptures of five other saints. Near the Rose window you will see a statute of God surrounded by other statues.
The cathedral has ancient tapestries and paintings and is worth a stop inside.
The Coin department store near the Piazza has a cafe on the roof with lovely views of the Cathedral.
Lake Como sits near the foothills of the Alps on the Italian-Swiss border and is only an hour by train from Milan. The city of Como makes a great home base to visit the other major towns on this lake like Bellagio and Varenna but there are many special towns lining this lake. If you can, hop the slow ferry getting on and off checking out towns like Cernobbia, Lenno and Tremezzo.
When you are in the city of Como, Italy on Lake Como don’t miss the chance to ride the funicular up to the small town of Brunate which sits 2346′ above Como. Of course, if you are in no hurry you can hike up! The funicular opened way back in 1894. The breathtaking views of the lake and the town below can’t be matched anywhere! While there walk around or hike to the Volta Lighthouse for more outstanding views.
Sitting high on the hill is the Church of Sant’ Andrea Apostolo in Piazza della Chiesa. This quaint lovely church is another nice place to stop and admire the view.
Stay tuned for more from Lake Como! Did you miss Part 1? Lago di Como
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!
Arezzo sits high on a hill on the western side of the Apennines toward the border with Umbria and is Tuscany’s third largest city and one of the wealthiest located in southeastern Tuscany and feels like a more modern city than some we have seen elsewhere in Tuscany founded in the 9th century and really caters to the locals. It has high end shopping and the economy here has had a hand in gold and jewelry design worldwide since Etruscan times when it was a great town and a strategic Roman city. I have a sister in the jewelry business and she travels frequently to Arezzo. I think I need to tag along!!
There were Renaissance town palaces, Romanesque and Gothic churches and medieval squares in the upper town area of the Duomo. We started at the top of the city and worked our way back down to our car at the bottom. If you so chose you can do it in reverse! The upper part of the town is very medieval and is the site of the Cathedral and the Medici Fortress.
The Arezzo Cathedral with its splendid stained glass windows sits high on a hill in the Piazza Duomo San Donato with views over the countryside on the site of an earlier Benedictine chapel begun in 1277. The bell tower of the Duomo has been visible from all over since 1337. This church dates from the 14th century and sits in a square with medieval towers and a white marble statue. Even the side entrance is very elaborate and is from the original medieval building. The door in the center is a 14th century portal in the Florentine style with 2 columns taken from an ancient temple.
Santa Maria della Pieve found in the Piazza Grande was constructed over the remains of a Roman temple. The facade is from the 13th century and has a Romanesque exterior with granite Roman columns and a Gothic interior. It has a massive bell tower built in the 12th century with a nave and two aisles and a Hundred Holes with 40 double arched mullioned windows. It sits almost 60 meters high! Both the front and back facades contain a mix of columns and is one of the best known examples of Romanesque architecture in Tuscany.
The Piazza Grande, a medieval square has an irregular shape and assorted buildings constructed over time and is reminiscent of Siena’s Il Campo. Originally, it was the city’s marketplace. The main street is Corso Italia where we found some great shopping, restaurants and it takes you up to the top of the town and backdown.
About halfway down the street is the Loggia designed by Vasari with high arches and antique doors that now has several cafes and restaurants and is a fun spot to people watch over the sloping Piazza Grande. The slope was obviously designed to funnel rain water out of the square. It is said that this Piazza was built on top of the Roman forum.
The Basilica of San Francesco is a late medieval church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. This is another church built by the Franciscans. The design is very simple and the decoration of the facade was never completed.
A walk up through the gardens surrounding the Medici Fortress reveals striking views of the city and countryside and also of the cemetery which we found fascinating. The fortress was in the form of a 5 point star built by Cosimo I . It was one of three fortresses built to defend the city and the most important because this is where the city’s ancient center was situated.
Walking along the exterior wall thru the French styled park affords some great panoramic views towards the Casentino Valley, surrounding vineyards and olive groves. (see Featured photo at beginning)
My advice: When in all these lovely towns in Tuscany try to plan some time to just relax and enjoy the place, the people and the food. Do not be in a hurry to cross each site off your bucket list or you’ll miss the very essence of Tuscany! Did you miss Lucca or Pienza? You can search the blogs by category so if you are looking for something in particular just search for it there.
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)!
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.
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.
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.
This town is so beautiful as is the countryside surrounding it dotted with cypress trees, hayfields and winding roads.
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!
Be sure to walk around the views are amazing!
Historical Sources: Wikipedia, Fodor’s and VisitTuscany.com
Siena is often described as Italy’s best preserved medieval city! The streets are steep and narrow with the fan-shaped sloping Piazza del Campo (known as il Campo) and the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena’s subtly curved town hall since the 1300’s at the historic center. The Palazzo Pubblico with its Torre del Mangia, the second tallest medieval 330′ tower in Italy soars over the Piazza del Campo in one of the finest public squares in all of Italy constructed near the end of the 12th century. You can walk to the top of the tower with commanding views of the city. The city itself is very modern with many famous designer shops.
We had a wonderful guide here in Siena (Donatella- named after the famous Donatella) who made the city come alive for us! I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to hire a local guide. You miss so much if you are just trying to follow along in a guide book although they do provide some great information. If you need help planning your trip send me a note and I can connect you with a wonderful agent who can arrange a trip tailored just for you. Be prepared to walk and in comfy shoes and in June it was very hot so we went thru almost more water than wine, ALMOST!!!
Of course, if you have ever heard of Siena you have heard of The Palio. A famous crazy horse race that takes place twice a year on July 2 and August 16th representing the Medieval Contrade first run in 1310. All over the city you see the Medieval Contrade banners of the 17 neighborhoods which have divided the city since the Middle Ages. When we were there a few days before the Palio they were in evidence everywhere. Loyalty and rivalry runs deep in these neighborhoods. This is a crazy, insane event and the festivities kick off 3 days beforehand. The il Campo is transformed into a horse track, if that is what you can call it. The race is over in just a matter of minutes when the wild celebrations commence. There are 3 laps and it takes about 90 seconds! We spent time in the Contrade neighborhood of the Chicciola (the snail).
Catherine was the Patron Saint of Europe and her Cathedral was in Siena. The Duomo’s Gothic baptistry was built in the 14th century and is certainly one of the finest Gothic churches in Italy. The stripes you see on the Cathedral were influenced by Constantinoble and one of the most detailed facades anywhere. There are magnificent Renaissance frescoes here in excellent condition.
The inlaid marble floors in the cathedral are covered up most of the year for protection. The floor is full of stories created with yellow marble which is the most precious and was mined in the surrounding area. The painter created the design on a piece of paper first then with a hand chisel the lines were filled in with black marble dust. The stories were 15th century Pagan philosophies and had never been seen before in a Christian church. Fascinating stories surround the marble carvings on the floor depending on your point of view.
After the Palio all come there and the archbishop waits for them commencing 2 months of celebration but first they give thanks to the Virgin Mary. There will be restoration going on here for another year. It is very difficult due to the different kinds of marble and dirt and figuring out how to clean it.
The Duomo’s interior has black and white striping throughout with a coffered and gilded dome. There are panels of stained glass and is the oldest example of stained glass in Italy finished in 1288.
Two popes paid a fortune and created a crypt that was never used but the frescoes in there are in remarkable condition having never been restored and have maintained the vibrance of the colors since there was no dirt from people breathing and candles. Twenty two years ago the room was opened and people can only go in and out.
Before starting the David, Michelangelo had begun 4 other sculptures that he started 4 months before but never finished since he left and went to Florence. It seems the alcoves were not deep enough to accommodate his style.
Siena was an essential stop on a prominent medieval road that went between – Scotland and Rome used by thousands of Christians on their pilgrimage from Europe to Rome. Thus Siena grew to great wealth and power, developing a banking system, with one of Europe’s oldest working banks in the world – Monte dei Paschi, still in business. Siena dominated the wool trade, and became an art, textile and trade center establishing itself as a rival to Florence until it succumbed to Florentine rule in the mid-16th century.
In the architecture they were influenced by the French which we see in the pointed Gothic Arches. Many individual homes were created as forts where oil and arrows protected families were released from the top of the crenelation on the houses. We saw this also in Florence.
San Martino is a Roman Catholic church located in central Siena. The Baroque facade hints at the beauty within. Take time to stop in and visit if the doors are open. You will not be disappointed. A church stood on this site by the 12th century but was rebuilt in the 16th century. The Bell tower was completed in 1738. Adjacent to the church is the Renaissance style Logge del Papa erected in 1462.
Chiesa di San Pellegrino alla Sapienza – There was originally a hospital founded in the middle of the 13th century on this site. The 18th century Gothic style facade is home to a Roman Catholic church.
Since Siena is one of the best preserved medieval cities it has a network of medieval tunnels that feed water to Siena’s fountains and until recently provided the only supply of running water. These tunnels are called ‘Bottini’.
Here in southern Tuscany the windows are often closed as the sun is so strong and ruins the furniture. A funny antidote we heard was when they hang laundry out is how you know what is happening in a family, like the birth of a baby. Too funny!
This area of Tuscany is perfect for growing and is planted with vines and olives.
Many famous painters and sculptors worked in Siena including Donatello, Bernini, Michelangelo and Pisano who was the creator of some of the greatest sculptures in the world in the 13th century. They were the forerunners of the Renaissance. They started to show expression in their works. They were all in Siena but the masterpieces were in Florence and Rome.
Sadly in 1348 the city was decimated by the Black Death and then fell into decline thereafter.
In 1995 its center was declared part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Are you loving stories about Italy? Did you miss Venice, Florence or Chianti. Click on the links! Next up we continue in the Val D’Orcia region. Stay tuned and be sure you are following the blog so you don’t miss any upcoming stories!
While exploring Venice you will notice six distinct neighborhoods called “sestieri”. This city is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world with its rich history of art, architecture, music, culture and of course, fashion!
Tourists are drawn to the many attractions like the Rialto Bridge and Market, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and of course the Grand Canal which is more than 2 miles long, nearly 150 feet wide and 15 feet deep. This city is unique in that it is the largest urban car free area in Europe. Did you know that of the more than 400 bridges only four cross the Grand Canal. The Rialto is the oldest and most famous which is lined with shops and tourists day and night and originally dates to 1180. It is a stone arch bridge completed around 1591 and for 300 years it was the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot.
Known for its canals Venice transport is by boat. That means all goods and people, deliveries, mail, ambulances, garbage, police, food and funeral boats etc. are handled on the water. The classic boat is of course the gondola although today it is mostly used for tourists willing to pay dearly for that once in a lifetime experience. This is truly an art and each gondola is unique to its owner. There is only one gondola factory left on the island.
“Traghetti” are used by locals especially to cross the Grand Canal when there are no nearby bridges. Did I mention there are more than 400 hundred bridges linking the different areas of the city allowing travel by foot everywhere! Then there are the “Vaporetto’s”. These are motorized water buses basically transporting tourists up and down the canal and like our local buses you can hop on and off and back on again later.
The Grand Canal is lined by Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance structures as well as Palazzos. It is a wonderland for photographers with its landscapes, art, architecture and life on the water enhancing the light and color daily! Venice has long been known for glass and the world renowned glass industry lives on the Island of Murano in the Lagoon.
There is much to explore in Venice and it is almost too much to cover in one blog so I will try to highlight the city for you.
The city has a rich architectural history prominently Gothic in style which became known as Venetian Gothic Architecture i.e. Doge’s Palace and Ca’ d’Oro. Venetian Gothic mixes the traditional Gothic pointed arches and round medallions and a four leaf clover with Byzantine styles showcasing the tall, narrow arches atop thin columns with Islamic frills.
The Piazza- St.Mark’s Square is dominated by St. Mark’s Basilica which is older than most of Europe’s churches, the 325′ Campanile and the Doge’s Palace. Walking here you are literally transported to another time. The Basilica has a little bit of every type of architecture. You see Byzantine mosaics, Gothic pinnacles, Muslim shaped onion domes and Roman arches over the doorways. Also in the Piazza are the 15th century Clock Tower and the Campanile, the highest structure in the city built in the 9th century and rebuilt several times. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks and has a great view over the Lagoon and Venice.
St. Mark’s square is one of the lowest areas in Venice and the only public square. Flooding is often an issue from October – March during high tide cycles and causes the square to flood. (“acqua alta”) Planks are placed around to allow people passage through these areas. It is not uncommon for the lower floor of homes to be unusable due to high water. The city continues sinking at a rate of 1-2 mm per year.
Connected to the Doge’s Palace is the Bridge of Sighs, so named by Lord Byron the poet. It is said the people being sent to the prison on the other side “sighed” as they glimpsed their last look at the beautiful city of Venice.
The Piazzetta faces the lagoon and has the Doge’s Palace on one side and the library on the other and houses the San Marco column and the San Theodore column.
Across the lagoon is the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore and the most amazing views back to St. Mark’s and all of downtown Venice, the lagoon and the La Salute Church. Take in Palladio’s architecture and Tintoretto’s “Last Supper”. Take the time to go to the top of the bell tower (there is an elevator- hold on!) the views are breathtaking!
When in Venice leave plenty of time to wander, explore, get lost. You can’t get lost, after all you are on an island! It is truly magical!
On to Tuscany! This trip was a bucket list item for me as I have been planning it for 10 years. We walked almost 70 miles in 2 weeks touring Florence first and then made our base at Villa Bordoni in Greve in Chianti. From there we visited the Val d’Orcia region- Siena, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Monticchiello, Pienza, Montalcino and Arezzo. Then bidding “arrivederci” to our new friends from Villa Bordoni we left for Pisa and finally Lucca.
Next up: Florence. Stay tuned! Did you miss Venice: Part One? Here you go! Do you prefer the Amalfi Coast? Here is link to that series! Transport yourself to another place even if only for a few minutes! Make sure to sign up to follow my blogs!