A Travellerspoint blog

Florence, The Cradle of the Renaissance

“Visiting Florence was like attending a surprise party every day.” ~ Jennifer Corburn

sunny 15 °C
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The playground of the Medici's, Da Vinci's inspiration, Dante's writing desk. The beautiful seat of the Renenaissance. This is Florence.

Where did we stay? Villa Saulina Resort Hotel
Read about my previous visit to Florence here: Florence and Pisa in one day...

"In fact, one of the reasons artists in fifteenth century Florence made such great things was that they believed you could make great things. They were intensely competitive and were always trying to outdo one another, like mathematicians or physicists today—maybe like anyone who has ever done anything really well." ~ Paul Graham

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STATUES OF FLORENCE

The Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in Florence. It is overlooked by the Palazza Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. It was, and still is, the political hub of Florence. In the square many famous sculptures can be seen, such as Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini.

Persues with the head of Medusa
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A replica of the most famous naked man, Michelangelo's David, can also be seen in this piazza. It took Michelangelo three years to sculpt the 5.17m high sculpture from marble and itt weighs 6 tons. It was unveiled in the Piazza in 1504. In 1873 the statue was removed the square and placed inside the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence to preserve it from damage. During World War II, the entire statue was entombed in brick to protect it from any damage of airborne bombs. The replica, which still stands in the square today, is the exact size of the original and also stands in the same spot as the original used to stand many years ago.

The replica of David
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Statues of Dante and Galileo in the Piazzo
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THE PONTE VECCHIO and the VASARI CORRIDOR

The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) crosses the Arno river at its norrowest point. The first bridge was built here in 996, but was destroyed by flood many times over the years. The current bridge was built in 1345. The bridge has always hosted shops. It used to be butcher shops, but over time changed to jewellers and trinket sellers.

It is here that the term bankruptcy originated from. Merchants used to sell their wares on tables on the bridge. If they could not pay their debts, the table on which he sold his wares would be physically broken by soldiers. This practice was called bancorotto, meaning broken table.

The Ponte Vecchio
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On the close-up of the Ponte Vecchio, a small row of windows is visible at the top. This is the Vasari Corridor. The ruling Florentine family in the 1500s, the Medici, did not want to walk in the streets from their residence, Palazzo Pitti, to the town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio. Over 5 months in 1565, the corridor was built above Florence. It snakes its way around towers, over houses and across the bridge. The secret passageway is approximately 1km long. Today the Vasari Corridor can be walked as part of a tour. The corridor can be spotted from street level by its small prison-like windows.

Small windows of the Vasari Corridor
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THE FLORENCE CATHEDRAL

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Driving into Firenze, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore takes your breath away. Its magnificent dome stands out above the red tiled skyline of Florence. The cathedral is one of the biggest attractions for tourists visiting Tuscany and it is not hard to see why. Inside the square, the massive cathedral feels squashed in. It dominates all of Florence. To this day, it remains the largest brick dome constructed in the world.

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GIOTTO'S CAMPANILE

Adjacent to the Cathedral is Giotto's Campanile / Giotto's Bell Tower. The tower is 87m tall and has a whopping 414 steps to the top. The problem with these steps are that they are very narrow, and with people coming up and down, this is a nightmare zone for claustrophobic people. If you are in any way claustrophobic, prone to panic attacks, or unfit, do not attempt this climb. The stairs are steep and very narrow, and many people have collapsed on their way up.

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When we finally reach the top, the view is definitely worth the climb.

Views from the top of the tower
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Next stop: Pisa and the Field of Miracles

Posted by Anja Fourie 07:30 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence cathedral da_vinci Comments (0)

San Gimignano, The Town of Fine Towers

"As a matter of fact, I'm writing a book. My memoirs: Letters from San Gimignano." ~ Tea with Mussolini

sunny 20 °C
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The tiny, walled town of San Gimignano is high up on the rolling hills of Tuscany. The hilltop towns were built so the enemies could easily be seen from a far. There is also evidence that Attila the Hun and his Hun army lived in this part of Italy. When trying to take over a castle at Silvio, the Saint Geminianus intervened to save the castle. The church that was built on the site was named after him and the walled city of San Gimignano grew around it.

The skyline of San Gimignano
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During the Black Death in 1348, more than half of the population of San Gimignano died. After this period, the growth that the town was experiencing stagnated. The town submitted to Florentine rule and many of the towers were reduced to the height of the houses. Today, it is still very much the same Gothic and Medieval town from centuries ago.

San Gimignano has also featured in many movies, such as Tea with Mussolini, and it is not hard to see why.

Scenes from Tea with Mussolini in San Gimignano's square
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THE TOWERS OF SAN GIMIGNANO

San Gimignano is not know as the 'Town of Fine Towers' for no reason. During the Middle Ages, rival families keen to show off their wealth, started to built towers, the one higher than the other. By the end of the Medieval Period, the town had a total of 72 towers. The town council then ordered that no tower be built higher than the tower of the Palazza Comunale and this seemed to end the rivalry. During the ages most towers have been destroyed by war and natural catastrophes. Today, only 14 towers remain, but these Medieval skyscrapers are still an impressive sight to behold.

The Palazza Comunal (Municipal Palace) has been the seat of authority for San Gimignano since the 13th century. Next to it is the highest tower in the town, the Torre Grossa (Great Tower). It stand at 54m. Climb the tower for amazing views of the town.

Torre Grossa
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Eating gelato on the steps of the Torre Grossa
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Views from the Torre Grossa
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FATTORIA POGGIO ALLORO

After enjoying the sights of San Gimignano, we headed towards Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a wine farm just 5km outside of the town. Here we did a tour of the cellar and met some farm animals. We also attended a great class where we all made our own pasta. It was then cooked and served to us for lunch. During lunch we also tasted the Vernaccia wine, which is made solely from the grapes in this region.
Check out the farm here: Fattoria Poggio Alloro

Fattoria Poggio Alloro, making and eating our own pasta
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The view of San Gimignano from the farm's restaurant
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Next stop: The Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence

Posted by Anja Fourie 23:43 Archived in Italy Tagged food italy wine pasta san_gimignano making_pasta Comments (1)

Siena

"I took many trips to Siena, and was struck by its beauty, but also by the beauty of the Siennese themselves." ~ Roger Allam

sunny 13 °C
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Where did we stay? Hotel Garden

Cobblestoned streets, narrow alleys, brown tiled roofs and towers give Siena its distinctly Medieval feel. All buildings in the town have the same brownish colour. The colour Sienna takes its name from this city, as this is where it was produced during the Renaissance. The city is rich in history and culture. A total of 7 popes originated from Siena and it has the oldest bank in the world. The city is surrounded by high medieval walls and until 100 years ago, the gates of the city were still locked every night. Siena is an ancient city in Tuscany, that made its money by many travellers coming through the area on their way to Rome. During the 14th century, Siena was as rich as big European cities such as Paris and London.

"I took many trips to Siena, and was struck by its beauty, but also by the beauty of the Siennese themselves. They are dark, fierce, and aristocratic, very different to the much paler Venetians or Florentines. They have always looked like this, as the paintings of their ancestors testify. I observed the groups of young people, the lounging grace with which they wore their clothes, their sense of always being on show. I walked the streets, they paraded them. It did not matter that I do not speak a word of Italian; I made up stories about them, and took surreptitious photographs." ~ Roger Allam

The walls of Siena: The tour bus had to park outside the thick Medieval walls, and we walked further towards the town centre.
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The medieval streets of Siena
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THE CONTRADE OF SIENA

Siena is divided into 17 contrades (districts). Each district has their own symbol and flag. Some of the districts are Aquila (Eagle), Drago (Dragon), and Torre (Tower). In the Middle Ages, each Contrade was a different military troop, set up to defend Siena against Florence and the Medici. As time has gone by, the contrade have lost their military functions and the districts are simply areas of local patriotism. Loyalty to your contrade is taken so seriously, that marrying outside of your contrade is seen as a 'mixed marriage'. Siena may be a maze of alleyways, but it is always easy to know in which contrade you find yourself. The symbols of each contrade are displayed everywhere to designate territory. Each contrade has their own symbol, flag, animal, mythological associations, traditions, etc. The entire history and way of life in Siena is shaped around the contrade you are from.

Symbols of the Selva district (left) and the Aquila district (right)
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Piazza del Campo

The entire city is built around the Piazza del Campo. As the 17 different districts have strict boundaries, the Piazza is the only neutral ground in Siena. It is forbidden to fight in the Piazza. It is the principal public space in Siena and regarded as one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe. The square is shell-shaped and the brick patterns divide the Campo into 9 sections. Locals come here to relax and bask in the sun.

The Piazza del Campo
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Twice a year, the famous Palio di Siena horse race is held around the Campo. 17 Horses take part in the race, each jockey representing one of the 17 districts. The race is fast and dangerous. In the past a lot of bribery used to take place, but in the last couple of years it has been made law that no amateur jockeys may race and only professionals are to be used. The James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, features the Palio di Siena as well as scenes from Siena.

Scenes from Quantum of Solace featuring the horse race in the Piazza
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TORRE DEL MANGIA

The square also hosts the Palazzo Pubblico (the town hall), and the Torre del Mangia. The tower is literally named 'Tower of the Eater', after Giovanni di Balduccio, who was known for his gluttony. At 102m, it is built exactly the same height as the cathedral in Siena, as a sign that the church and the state have the same amount of power. Climbing the more than 400 steps, gives you an amazing view of the whole of Siena and is truly worth it. The steps are not for the unfit and if you have a fear of heights, do not look down the middle of the steps.

The tower sticking out above the town
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Climbing the steps of the tower
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Views of Siena from above
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DUOMO DI SIENA

The gothic dome of Siena was constructed between 1259 - 1260. After this another extension was planned to almost double the size of the Cathedral. In 1348, construction to the cathedral was halted due to the Black Death. The work was never resumed. Today the uncompleted outer walls of the extension can still be seen south of the cathedral. The floor of the new planned nave is now a parking lot and a museum.

Uncompleted walls of the cathedral's extension
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The Cathedral
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Next Stop: More Medieval madness, towers and gelato in San Gimignano

Aerial view of the Piazza and Siena
Credits to: Touropia. They listed the Piazza as the 3rd greatest square in the world.
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Posted by Anja Fourie 01:39 Archived in Italy Tagged italy towers old horse medieval siena james_bond palio quantum_of_solace Comments (1)

Isla de Capri

"There was a magical timelessness to Capri. A special atmosphere, and a sense of history." ~ Kitty Pilgrim

overcast 11 °C
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Capri is the summer destination of the rich and famous of Italian society, with celebrities such as Sophia Loren and Giorgio Armani all flocking here during the warmer months. Benito Mussolini also had a house here during his tyrannical reign of Italy. It is currently standing empty and proves to be a hard sell.

To get to the island, take a ferry from Sorrento's harbour. It only takes about 25 minutes. The island is quite small, only about 10km, but the beautiful blue water and small town atmosphere truly makes for a relaxing afternoon.

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The ferry from Sorrento takes you to Marina Grande. This is the main harbour of Capri, as the name suggests. Taking a boat ride around the island will show you the sights, such as Marina Piccola, the Blue Grotto and the Love Rock. Marina Piccolo is where all the celebrities have houses and you can see mansions blending into the cliff side. The Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzura), is only accessible during low tide. The sunlight and seawater work together in this cave to create an luminous blue cave roof. As we were there during high tide, we could unfortunately not enter.

SIGHTS AROUND THE ISLAND

Punta Carena Lighthouse
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The bluest blue water of Capri
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Marina Piccola
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The Love Rock: It is said that when the boat passes underneath the Love Rock that couples must kiss and this will ensure that they will stay together forever.
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PIAZZA UMBERTO I

Capri's most famous square is the Piazza Umberto I, more famously known as Piazetta. The islanders call it Piazza. From Marina Grande, the funicular takes passengers to the Piazetta. It takes approximately 3 minutes with the funicular, 20 minutes by bus and 40 minutes by foot, to reach the top. From above you can see the whole harbour and town.

The funicular and the piazza at the top
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The view from above
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Posted by Anja Fourie 11:50 Archived in Italy Tagged water boat travel italy island amalfi capri Comments (0)

Positano

"Positano bites deep." ~ John Steinbeck

overcast 14 °C
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Where did we stay? Hotel del Mare Sorrento

The little town of Positano is built on a mountainside of the Amalfi Coast. This popular tourist town has steep little streets all the way down the beach. All the houses are built in the enclave here. There are car parks at the top of the hill as this small town simply does not accommodate anything bigger than a motorcycle or bicycle.

"Positano is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone. Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff except that stairs are cut in it. I believe that whereas most house foundations are vertical, in Positano they are horizontal. The small curving bay of unbelievably blue and green water lips gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs, some of them as steep as ladders. You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide." - John Steinbeck (Harper's Bazaar, 1953).

Narrow Streets of Positano
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Under the Tuscan Sun

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Positano is made popular by movies such as Under the Tuscan Sun. The lead character, Frances, walks on the beach and explores the streets of Positano. She also meets Marcello here.

You can see the cliffside houses of Positano in the background. This is one of the most popular movie locations for Positano. If you are a fan of the movie, explore Positano and take a photo at the railing where Frances is standing at. It also gives great views of the surrounding area and the beach below.

In the movie, Marcello also introduces Frances to Limoncello. This is a Lemon liquer that Positano is very popular for. Families and restaurants usually make their own Limconello. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as a type of after dinner digestive. Positano shops are lined with lemon souveniers and bottles and bottles of limoncello. It is made from the zest of lemons steeped in alcohol. If you are trying to imagine the taste, to me it tastes similar to a chilled and alcoholic MedLemon. The limoncello will be served mostly in restaurants as a complimentary drink after dinner, as digestif.

Do yourself a favour and buy a few bottles of these. They are fairly inexpensive here and the towns along the Amalfi Coast are definitely known for making great Limoncello.

When life hands you lemons, make limoncello
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Drinking Wine at Positano Beach
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The Beach Cliffsides of Positano
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Mount Vesuvius spotted on the road out of Positano
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Goodbye Positano - Amalfi Coast Sunset
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Posted by Anja Fourie 03:42 Archived in Italy Tagged beach italy amalfi positano lemons limoncello under_the_tuscan_sun Comments (1)

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