Friday, August 30, 2013

Italy - Venice (2006)

Day 5 : 4th May 2006

What do you think of Venice? City of Romance or City of Marco Polo? The city in it's entirety has been listed as a World Heritage Site including it's lagoon.

Crowds in front of St Mark's Basilica

Anyway, Venice has been known as the "La Dominante", "Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals". Luigi Barzini (Italian famous journalist, writer and politician) described it in The New York Times as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man". Venice has also been described by the Times Online as being one of Europe's most romantic cities. For me, Venice is a city of Marco Polo and that was the justified reason why I wanted and was there on 4th May in 2006. Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta are a truly world class traveler who had inspired me since long ago. This is a home birth and where he, Marco Polo died in 1324.

Florence to Venice is about 343km in distance, but with toll road it can be reach within less than 3 hours with a travelling distance of 260km. However, our starting point was in Pistoia where we stayed for 1 night after an exhausted walks in Palazzos and Piazzas of Florence. The bus left the hotel at around 8.15am. We reached the port to Venice for our waterbuses (vaporetti) ride by noon time. We had lunch at 1 of the rest and service area along the highway earlier that day and were already in a waterbus by 1.30pm where we berthed in Venice, not far from St. Marks’s Square.

Santa Maria della Salute

Our guided tour programmed has given the following Venice City Tour:-
  • In Venice, entrance to a glass factory is included to watch the fascinating art of Venetian glass blowing;
  • Cruise along the canals of Venice on a waterbus (a given opportunity to snap various photo of the city);
  • Walking tour to see the island’s most iconic landmarks - St Mark’s Square, the Byzantine Basilica renowned for its golden mosaics, the famous Bridge of Sighs and the Venetian-Gothic styled Doges Palace;
  • Free time to shop for souvenirs or relax at an open-air cafe in St Marks Square; and
  • An optional gondola ride which Zuri and I shared with Mel & hubby and Doreen & hubby.
Piazza San Marco, Campanile and Doge's Palace

1 of a beautiful sight of Venice and the trade mark gondola & St Mark's horse

In short, historically, the lombards (Germanic tribe), migrated and ruled the Kingdom of Italy from 568 to 774, leaving it to the Byzantine to rule Venice thereafter. The city became a flourishing trade center between western Europe with the rest of the World, including Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world. By 13th century Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe but started to decline in 15th century . At that period, Sultan Mehmet II of Istanbul (new Constantinople) has declared war against Venice, Christopher Columbus found the new world and the Portugal found a sea route to India, destroying Venice land route monopoly. The city again changed during Napolean Bonarpate conquering period, towards 18th century before it's finally join the new Kingdom of Italy in 1886.

Doge's Palace turn museum at the San Marco Square

Tourism has been a major sector in Venetian industry since 18th century, when it was a major center for the grand tour with its beautiful cityscape, uniqueness, and rich musical and artistic cultural heritage. In the 19th century, it became a fashionable centre for the rich and famous, often staying or dining at luxury establishments in the city. Among others, it's attraction include St Mark's Basilica, the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco. 

Closer looks of Doge's Palace in white marble

Piazza San Marco or better known as St Mark's Square is the principal public square of Venice, where it is generally known just as "the Piazza". The piazza @ the square is attributed to Napoleon who calls the Piazza San Marco as the drawing room of Europe. It is one of the few remaining great urban spaces in Europe where human voices prevail over the sounds of motorized traffic.

Entrance door to the St Mark's Basilica

The Piazza becoming a major tourist meeting point where it covers the important monuments of Venice, i.e, western facade of St Marks' Basilica, Doge's Palace, Campanile (Bell Tower), the arcades which was rebuilt by Napoleon in 18th century and the Clock Tower. It also accommodate the buildings known as the Procuratie Nuove (new procuracies), which were designed by Jacopo Sansovino (Italian sculptor & Architect) in the mid 16th century but partly built after his death by Vincenzo Scamozzi and finally completed in 1640. The ground floor has shops and also the Caffe Florian, a famous cafe.

Waiting for coffee at the San Marco Piazza by the famous Caffe Florian

Venice is famous for its ornate glass-work, known as Venetian glass. It is world-renowned for being colourful, elaborate, and skilfully made, developed by the 13th century. Toward the end of that century, the center of the Venetian glass industry moved to Murano. We had a glass tour inside Murano glass factor that day. Murano glass is one of the most renowned types of Venetian glasses, which has been a famous product of the Venetian island of Murano for centuries. Located off the shore of Venice, Italy, Murano was a commercial port as far back as the 7th century. By the 10th century it had become a well-known city of trade. Today Murano remains a destination for tourists and art and jewellery lovers alike. Do not forget to bring back at least paper weight from Murano shop, though it's expensive.

The Famous square becoming a filming centre in numerous famous film pictures, worldwide

6 of us decided to share 1 gondola (with the gondolier who no need to sing) for a beautiful gondola ride experience and to enjoy a closer view of the city. While standing there, I thought of Marco Polo and his travel to China. In December 2006, I was thinking of Venice while taking nearly the same pose in below photo) by the Hutong River in Beijing as it has a view of Venetian Bridge. I opined that the Venetian bridge in Hutong was engineered by Marco Polo during his stay in China.  

It was a truly great experience by gondolo through the grand canal as it lead us to spot of the famous painting title "The Grand Canal in Venice from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola", painted in 1738 by Canaletto, now kept save in the J.Paul Getty Museum. I managed to capture the famous Rialto Bridge, which the photo was placed inside my introduction entry to Italy, Italy in 2006 - Glimpse of Itinerary.

After the gondolo ride, we walked to the Rialto Bridge for shopping and shopping, before ending the Venice tour. We stayed for a night in Venice at Omnia Hotel situated at Rialto, 1, 30020 Noventa di Piave. The hotel is very well placed for shopping at the nearby Outlet Center which has many quality international brands, where we again stop for a quick shopping and having dinner at a nearby area. Facilities at the hotel are good and the staff very helpful, not forgotten, the breakfast was excellent.

Photo not relevant to Venice but to share how big is a slice of pizza in Italy.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Italy - Florence (2006)

Day 4 : 3rd May 2006

We covered 2 places in day 4 due to a close distance between Pisa and Florence, which is merely 90km. We left Pisa city right after lunch which was great as we had a Chinese cuisine that day. Zuri and I were on "pork free meal", hence, we were separated at luncheon table where pork was served as we were the only 2 Malaysian Muslim in the group.  Asian enjoy hot spicy chilies with their meals, hence it explain why we were so craving for hot & sour soup added with cut chilies. We left Pisa with a full and healthy tummy. We arrived at Piazza Michelangelo to view the statue of David and to enjoy breath taking aerial views of this Renaissance splendor (seen in 2 photos below) at almost 5.30pm. 

Take notice of the Florence Cathedral (Duomo) and the outstanding Brunelleschi's Dome seen from the Michelangelo Piazza

View of the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio, an old bridge

A city size shrine to the Renaissance, Florence offers frescoes, sculptures, churches, palaces, and other monuments from the richest cultural flowering the world has known. The rich sculptures came from its dazzling historical past, i.e., Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli are some of the most resonant of the medieval age. It was sad to see the famous statue of Prophet David (Muslim and Christian are sharing the same prophet, Prophet David was given a Torah and old testament during his time spreading God's teaching) was sculptured by Michelangelo in a naked pose. I opined that David statue deserved more honorable thought before the Holy Church,who are so learned with gospel and old testament (Bible) knowledge to allow such sculpture be shown on public. Sigh! 

A duplicate statue of David, front & back angle. The original statue is placed in the museum

Florence is in the capital city of the Italian Tuscany region and of the province of Florence. It has a population of less than 400,000 peoples. Florence is popular for it's history and this historic city attracts millions of tourist each year. It received a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 and has been ranked as 1 of the most beautiful cities in the world by FORBES magazine due to Florence history, culture, renaissance arts and architecture and importantly it's monument. I myself was amaze with a beauties of such preserve city when we reached the most popular points of interest. It was difficult to choose for the entry post as the whole photo collection are indeed very beautiful, but I hope it covers all places that I visited that day.

Basilica of Santa Croche

Walking tour of Florence covers the traffic less historic city centre, from Piazza Santa Croce to the sculpture studded Piazza Signoria, guided by a local tour guide. The local guide waited at the Piazza della Signoria, an L shaped square in front of Pallazo Vechio (an old palace turned into as a city hall) to provide city briefing. We were told that both the Piazza and Palazza are the focal point and the history of Florentine republic.

The Basilica di Santa Croce 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 square is also shared with the Loggia della Signoria, the Uffizi Gallery, the Palace of the Tribunale della Mercanzia, built in 1359 (now the Bureau of Agriculture) and the Palazzo Uguccioni (1550, with a facade attributed to Raphael, who however died 30 years before its construction). Located in front of the Palazzo Vecchio is a Palace of the Assicurazioni Generali (1871, built in Renaissance style).

Statue of Heracles by Baccio Bandinelli in front of Pallazzo Vecchio

The tiger and the Leos (me) next to Loggia dei Lanzi, works by Flamini

Cosimo Medici Statue

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower) is the main church of Florence, Italy. It is ordinarily called as “Duomo di Firenze”, was 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. The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. The 3 buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting the region of Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Standing proud with the bronze door, a Papal symbol at Duomo Basilica Cathedral Church. The door is showing a coronation of Mary Bibilical images

The octagonal Baptistry stands in both the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza di San Giovanni, across from the Duomo cathedral and the Giotto bell tower (Campanile di Giotto). It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, built between 1059 and 1128. The architecture is in Florentine Romanesque style. Florentine style has not seen the spread of the Pisan Romanesque or Lombard, however, its influence was decisive for the subsequent development of architecture, as it formed the basis of which drew Francesco Talenti, Leon Battista Alberti, Filippo Brunelleschi and the other architects who created the ' Renaissance architecture.

Another beautiful renaissance wooden door of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore

Standing adjacent the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistry of St. John, the Campanile di Giotto is one of the showpieces of the Florentine Gothic architecture with its design by Giotto,  rich sculptural decorations and the polychrome marble encrustations. The slender structure stands on a square plan with a side of 14.45 metres, a height of 84.7 metres sustained by four polygonal buttresses at the corners. These four vertical lines are crossed by four horizontal lines, dividing the tower in five levels.

Campania di Giotto @ Bell Tower at Piazza del Duomo

Standing next to impressive door at Palazzo Vechio

I snapped numerous statues of David, the duke Cosimo Medici, Neptune fountain, Dante Alighieri etc a renown figures in mythology, biblical and founding history of Florence and Italy in Palazzo Vechio. Every statues has it's unique and acceptance by who appreciate arts. As there were too many, I'm sharing few of the statue photos in this entry for you and for me to appreciate a contribution of arts beside appreciation of the history behind it.

Statue of Dante in the Piazza di Santa Croce

Uffizi Gallery external view 

The reason why I took the 7 panels was to relate to 7 verses of surah Al-Fatihah from the Quran, where I thought to explore the interpretation of the surah in relation to other Holy Books

We had another Chinese food as a diner in the Florence city before we were put to rest for a night at Hotel Ercolini & Savi - Montecatini Terme. I would recommend the hotel to all due to it's location and excellence service. The hotel is situated in Pistoia, a city and comune in the Tuscany region of Italy. The capital of a province of the same name, located about 30 km west and north of Florence and is crossed by the Ombrone Pistoiese, a tributary of the River Arno.

Stay tune to another adventure on day 5 in the city of romance, Venice.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Italy - Pisa (2006)

Day 4: 3rd May 2006

I was fallen deeply in love with a sight of Pisa, the famous leaning tower in Italy and started to built a silly dream to witness the rest of 7 wonders of the world. When I returned home, I informed hubby who later agreed to have family vacation in China where we visited The Great Wall of China on 5th December 2006. On 4th July 2009, I went alone to see the 3rd wonders, The Taj Mahal in Agra, India. It was only 3 sites achieved thus far. Another 4 to go.

We put a night at the Hotel Hortensis situated in Umbria, having address at via Enrico Berlinguer, 4, Cannara Province of Perugia a night before. The hotel is about 20 minutes drive from Assisi historical city. On 4th day, we headed to Citta' Di Pissa at 8.30am and we reached the site at 12.30 noon. Depending on the route and chosen road (260 - 280km in distance), some might travel a bit faster in less than 3 hours but it was a 4 hours journey for us in a bus, from Perugia in central region to Italian region of Tuscany.  

The map of Pisa site

Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa. Although Pisa is known worldwide for its leaning tower (it is actually the bell tower of the city's cathedral), the city of over 88 thousand residents (around 200,000 with the metropolitan area) contains more than 20 other historic churches, several palaces and various bridges across the River Arno. Important to note that there are 3 important buildings within Pisa site, The Duomo, The Baptistery and The Bell Tower.

Overall vie of The Piazza del Duomo ("Cathedral Square")

The Piazza del Duomo ("Cathedral Square") is a wide walled area, recognized as one of the main centers for medieval art in the world. It is a sacred area as a Catholic Christian religion being dominated by 4 great sacred edifices: the Duomo (cathedral), the Campanile (the cathedral's free standing bell tower), the Baptistery and the Campo Santo (the monumental graveyard). Partly paved and partly grassed, it hosts also other buildings such as the old hospital and the Museum of the  Cathedral Square museum.

The heart of the Piazza del Duomo is, obviously the Duomo, the medieval cathedral of the Archdiocese of Pisa, entitled to Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption). This is a 5 naved cathedral with a three-naved transept. The church is known also as the Primatial, the archbishop of Pisa being a Primate since 1092. Its Construction began in 1064 by the architect Busketo which set the model for the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style of architecture. The mosaics of the interior, as well as the pointed arches, show a strong Byzantine influence. The façade of grey marble and white stone set with discs of coloured marble, was built by a master named Rainaldo, as indicated by an inscription above the middle door.

1 of the entrance door of Duomo

The Baptistery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, stands opposite the west end of the Duomo. The round Romanesque building begun construction in the mid 12th century as stated in 1 of the wall that "In the month of August 1153 was set up here...". It was built in Romanesque style by an architect known as Diotisalvi, who worked also in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in the city. His name is mentioned on a pillar inside, as Diotosalvi magister. The construction was not, however, finished until the 14th century, when the loggia, the top storey and the dome were added in Gothic style by Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano.

It is the largest baptistery in Italy. Its circumference measures 107.25 m. Taking into account the statue of St. John the Baptist on top of the dome, it is even a few centimetres higher than the Leaning Tower. The portal, facing the façade of the cathedral, is flanked by 2 classical columns, while the inner jambs are executed in Byzantine style. The lintel is divided in 2 tiers. The lower one depicts several episodes in the life of St. John the Baptist, while the upper one shows Christ between the Madonna and St John the Baptist, flanked by angels and the evangelists.

the historic door of The Baptistery

The Baptistery

The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italian: Torre pendente di Pisa) or simply the Tower of Pisa is the Campanile, or freestanding Bell Tower, of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa, known worldwide for its unintended tilt to one side. It is situated behind the Cathedral and is the third oldest structure in Pisa's Cathedral Square after the Cathedral and the Baptistery. The tower's tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure's weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The Bell Tower and the Fountain

The height of the tower is 55.86 m measured from the ground on the low side and 56.70 m on the high side. The width of the walls at the base is 4.09 m and at the top 2.48 m. Its weight is estimated at 14,500 metric tons. The tower has 296 or 294 steps; the 7th floor has 2 fewer steps on the north-facing staircase. Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees but the tower now leans at about 3.99 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 metres from where it would be if the structure were perfectly vertical.

Shopping arcade seated nearby to the 3 monuments

Depending on how details you would want to explore the Piazza, for those who are not wishes to stay long after sufficient photos and videos may explore the shopping arcade just nearby the Bell Tower. There are various stalls selling local gift items that you can bring back to the love 1 back home, but be careful when bargaining as Italian does not like to negotiate. Unlike Asian, the seller normally puts the price at a higher rates allowing the buyer to bargain as low as possible. Not here in Italy, they will be very rude to you if you wanted to waste their time. I bought a miniature of Bell Tower as a memento and it was good to remind that I was there in 2006.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Italy - Assisi (2006)

Day 3: 2nd May 2006

Collection of St Francis robes in Assisis - all sold to finance church repair

We departed immediately after breakfast and group checked out from a resort Hotel in Sorrento. On day 3, we passes some of Italy’s most impressive coastal scenery departing the resort of Sorrento. The morning journey over steep white cliffs offers fantastic views over the Bay of Naples to reach Assisi.We were travelling more than 400 km to reach Assisi, a birth place of St Francis and duration time of nearly or more than 6 hours before reaching a small medievel town on a hill in Umbria region of Perugia region, the heart of Italy. Assisi hold a religious, historical and a unique artistic significance, well preserve since 1208.

The scan photo does not did any justice to the a beautiful view of Sorrento resort, my apology

I was reading passionately about the life journey of Christian saint, St Francis of Assisis who left a rich and comfortable life seeking wisdom from God, similar to the story of Luqman, the wisemen in 1100BC as told in Chapter 31 of the Holy Quran (also similar to life story of a Greek wisemen, Aesop (620-564BC)). 3 of them, St Francis, Luqman and Aesop are described as a perceptive man, always watching the animals and plants of their surroundings, and tried to understand the world based on what they saw. St Francis heard Jesus calling in his dream  "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins". His devotion to christianity leading him to Rome and as far as to Egypt to convert the Sultan Al-Kamil. I must say that I feel really bless to feel his presence in my visit.

Pleasant walk by the city of Assisi

Beautiful building as soon as approaching the city from the main parking space

The first church in Assisi town that we entered was the Basilica of Saint Claire which is dedicated to and contains the remains of Saint Clare of Assisi, a follower of Saint Francis of Assisi and founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, known today as the Order of Saint Clare. Construction of the church 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.

Basilica of Saint Claire in the background photo
I entered the Temple of an ancient Roman building in Assisi as a second stop. The temple currently houses a church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, built in 1539 and renovated in Baroque style in the 17th century. The temple was built in the 1st century BC by will of Gneus Caestius and Titus Caesius Priscus, who were two of the city's quattuorviri (governor), who had also financed the construction. 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. In the Middle Ages the temple housed a tribunal with an annexed jail, as testified by one of Giotto's frescoes in the St. Francis Basilica, which portrays the church windows with bars.

Temple of ancient Roman houses church of  Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

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. The cell was completely demolished during the church's construction, in the 16th century, while a small section of the temple was found in the 20th century near the altar. The temple was visited and described by the German poet Goethe during his travels in Italy, as the first ancient structure in good condition seen during his life (1786).

Inside view at a prayer hall of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva church

The last place we stopped after a quick pizza and coffee break was the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor,  commonly known as the Franciscan Order. The basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. With its accompanying friary, the basilica is a distinctive landmark to those approaching Assisi. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

The mother church in Gothic style

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, and include works by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti and possibly Pietro Cavallini. The range and quality of the works gives the basilica a unique importance in demonstrating the development of Italian art of this period.

Cannot resist to take picture next to a beautiful vases garden 

Assisi was hit by two devastating earthquakes, that shook Umbria in September 1997. But the recovery and restoration have been remarkable, although much remains to be done. Massive damage was caused to many historical sites, but the major attraction, the Basilica di San Francesco, reopened less than 2 years later. Historical Assisi is very small and easily explored on foot, but I would advised you to go slowly, or the hilly streets will put you out of breath. You may take an occasional rest in one of the cool churches or enjoy an ice cream break in between a cool walk. It is advisable to begin your tour at the top of the town (which is the oldest part), so you can enjoy the city going down the hill (our group was doing bottom up as we dont have to walk down after diner. The bus was waiting just nearby).

The ice cream shop operating inside the ancient building, how nice :)

There are many shops display a variety of local arts and crafts, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics and reproductions of medieval weapons and tools. Embroidery and chocolate manufacturing are also typical of the area. Religious items are best purchased at the gift shop behind the lower level of St. Francis basilica. I purchased quite a lot for souvenirs and for home furnishing including the local embroidery items selling in the area. I have the last 2 photos taken during our diner after we have done exploring the lower and courtyard of St Francis Basilica. The restaurant seated not far from there. 

Sunset view by the restaurant balcony

Zuri & I enjoying our Italian diner for the day. The food was excellence and I kept on mentioning about it until 1 day Zuri presented me a thick cookbook of Italian Pasta for my birthday.