On The Road Again!
Here is our bus. It will take all 42 of us to Florence (Firenze) by way of the hilltop town of Orvieto.This is Orvieto from below. The site of the city is among the most dramatic in Europe, rising above the almost-vertical faces of tuff cliffs that are completed by defensive walls built of the same stone called Tufa. This is our helicopter view of Orvieto. The Duomo is on the right. It’s a small town reached by a funicular rail car.
The car is pulled up the mountain by a cable. Another car is lowered down by the same cable. They pass in the middle. The 2 cars are counter balanced.This is the Duomo (cathedral) in Orvieto. In 1290, Pope Nicholas IV laid the cornerstone for the present building. The church is in the Italian Gothic style. It is striped in white travertine (the same stuff that originally covered the Colosseum in Rome) and greenish-black basalt in narrow bands. It is similar in many ways to the cathedrals of Siena and other central Italian cathedrals of that era.
The Corporal of Bolsena, on view in the Duomo, dates from a eucharistic miracle in Bolsena in 1263, when a consecrated host began to bleed onto a corporal, the small cloth upon which the host and chalice rest during the canon of the Mass.
Pope Urban IV had the cloth carried to Orvieto and, to commemorate the miracle, he established the sacred holiday of Corpus Domini.
Two of the many fresco in the Duomo are really neat: The top one is a scene in Heaven with lots of happy angels playing music for some happy residents. The bottom one shows a lot of angry demons tormenting poor souls in Hell.
Orvieto is in an Italian wine region. The region has been producing wine since the Middle Ages, when Orvieto wine was known as a sweet, golden-yellow wine. Today’s white Orvieto is dry, but a semi-sweet styles are also produced in small quantities.
Mary Ann and I were married in 1965. As a gift, the local package store owner gave us a bottle of Orvieto wine in a green glass “fish” bottle. I was hoping to get another as an anniversary gift. No dice! The empty ones are now antiques and one is advertized for sale on eBay for $9.99.
While we were walking around town, we bumped into one of our favorite small grocery stores: “Cespar”. We managed to find a “Cespar” near every place we stayed. We bought wine, cheese, and crackers which often became our dinner when we were “on our own for dinner”.
This “Cespar” had a neat meat counter.Can you guess what this is? Give up? It’s coniglio.No, This is not coniglio. It’s wild boar. While it may not be the nicest of sights, one must not forget that wild boar here are a serious pest. A group of wild boar can – and will – destroy any field in a few nightly hours. Much like the wild boars in south Texas.
52 wild boar were shot already this hunting season: That is 6 weeks of hunting in the fall and they can only hunt three days a week. All the meat is shared and eaten by the hunters and their families.Orvieto pottery is a favorite tourist item. No, she didn’t buy anything! These are two interesting lanes in Orvieto. Narrow and winding.
This is the Church of St. Andrea. This wonderful church has ancient origins. It is located where once stood the city center of the Etruscan city “Velzna” The original construction of the church dates back to 1013, though it has had a lot restoration and interventions since then. What we see today is the result of the last renovation in 1926.
We were running out of time in our 2 1/2 hour stopover here in Orvieto so we didn’t explore the church. Supposedly the archeological excavations in the cellars and crypt is something to see.We also missed the Pozzo di S. Patrizo near the funicular station. This is “St. Patrick’s Well”. It an historic well in Orvieto. It was built between 1527 and 1537, at the behest of Pope Clement VII who had taken refuge at Orvieto during the sack of Rome in 1527 by the French Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He feared that the city’s water supply would be insufficient in the event of a siege. The well was completed in 1537 during the papacy of Pope Paul III.
The name was inspired by medieval legends that St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland gave access down to Purgatory, indicating something very deep.
The architect-engineer surrounded the central well shaft with two spiral ramps in a double helix, accessed by two doors, which allowed mules to simultaneously carry empty and full water vessels separately in downward and upward directions without obstruction. The cylindrical well is 174.4 ft deep with a base diameter of (43 ft). There are 248 steps and 70 windows to provide illumination.
In case you’re trying to figure out what a double helix stairway looks like (I was!), here is one in Paris. I’m sorry we missed it! But, you can only do and see so much…
PS The coniglios are rabbits.
We took the funicular back to the bus and headed off for a 4 day stay in Florence (Firenze).
After checking into our hotel, our Guide Eva (picture later) took us on an orientation walk in the area around the hotel. She pointed out the local “Cespar” store and a perfumery.Santa Maria Novella is the oldest perfumery in the world. First founded in 1221 in Florence by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions to use in the monastery. Their reputation became world-renowned and the pharmacy, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, opened to the public in 1612.
Here is the main showroom. Pretty fancy for a perfume shop. The prices were fancy, too. Mary Ann is a sniffer, not a buyer.In the distance, over the roof tops, we could see the dome of Florence’s Duomo. We would see it all the next day.
Back at the hotel, we had a GCT dinner and an excellent “Discovery Series” presentation on “The Art of the Renaissance” given be Simone (picture later).
Thus endeth our bus trip to Florence
In next the morning, our first stop with our Florence Guide Simone was at The Accademia Gallery. It was about 9AM note The crowd already assembled outside to see Michelangelo’s “David”. Simone did some magic and got us right in.
Here is our first view of David over the heads of the crowd.
I preferred this view. Look at his hands. They are large. Not what you’d expect on a young man.
Here is a thumbnail story of David: He volunteered to fight Goliath – a giant Philistine warrior. David was a shepherd and was used to defending his flocks. Goliath was defeated by the young David who hurled a stone (in his right hand) with a sling (in his left hand) and killed Goliath, David became the future king of Israel, according to the Bible’s Books of Samuel.
Here is the rest of the story:
Because of the nature of the hero it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an small independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome.
The statue was moved to the Galleria dell’ Accademia, Florence, in 1873, and later replaced at the original location by a replica. We’ll see this later.Here is David’s face. Note the fearless determination in his eyes. How was Michelangelo able do that with a piece of stone??
We wandered around and looked at other sculptures. This one “The Rape of the Sabine Women” caught my eye because we learned of it in Rome.
The Rape of the Sabine Women is an episode in the legendary history of Rome, traditionally dated to 750 BC, in which the first generation of Roman men acquired wives for themselves from the neighboring Sabine families. The English word rape is a conventional translation of the Latin raptio, which in this context means “abduction” rather than its prevalent modern meaning in English language of sexual violation.
The sculpture by Giambologna (1579–1583) depicts three figures (a man lifting a woman into the air while a second man crouches) and was carved from a single block of marble. This sculpture is considered Giambologna’s masterpiece.We left The Academia Gallery with our city Guide Simone. He was one of the most knowledgeable and interesting city guides we had on the tour. He was an expert on the Renaissance and Florence. I also took this picture because I was curious about the police outfits. We see more of these guys later. You can see a bit of Florence in the background.
Naturally, the first place we headed was to the Piazza Duomo. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (English, “Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower”) is the main church of Florence. Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style.
Work started on the dome in 1420 and was completed in 1436 (like Boston’s “Big Dig”). It was the first ‘octagonal’ dome in history to be built without a temporary wooden supporting frame: the Roman Pantheon (remember that?), a circular dome, was built in 117–128 AD with support structures.
The decoration of the exterior of the cathedral, begun in the 14th century, was not completed until 1887, when the polychrome marble façade was completed. The exterior walls are faced in alternate vertical and horizontal bands of polychrome marble from Carrara (white), Prato (green), Siena (red), Lavenza and a few other places.
For the hardy, there are 463 steps to get you to this viewpoint. Mary Ann and I didn’t climb them.From the inside you can see the beautiful dome ceiling. It is the biggest artwork within the cathedral. It is Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9): they were designed by Vasari but painted mostly by his less-talented student Frederico Zuccari by 1579. I can’t even begin to describe it. It’s complicated and confusing. I much prefer Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in St Peters in Rome.
We then went to the Piazza della SignoriaThis is where the reproduction of David now lives’ He is keeping an eye out for another political Goliath. Note the police. This is why that earlier picture showed the 2 dressed in ceremonial outfits.I don’t know what the ceremony was about. There were a lot of drums and bugles and fancy costumes. Perhaps they were celebrating Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Florence wedding. Mary Ann and ate our scavenged lunch here and enjoyed the show. After lunch we walked the short distance to the Ponte Vecchio. It is the iconic bridge in Florence. (Like the Rialto Bridge in Venice.)
The Ponte Vecchio bridge has been home to fine jewelry shops since the Medici family ruled Florence in the Middle Ages. (A bit of history: Butchers were the previous tenants on the Ponte Vecchio, but the Medicis didn’t like the smell-they had to cross the bridge to get to their palace so they decreed that jewelers take their place.)
Both sides of the bridge are lined with very expensive jewelery shops. Bright lights shine down on gold and jewels. There were a lot of looking, but Mary Ann wasn’t buying. Whew!! Note the police. They must have been at the ceremony.Some of you might be familiar with “bridge locks”. We’ve seen these in many cities. The ritual is to lock your lock on the bridge with your sweetheart and your initials on it. Then throw the key in the river. Supposedly your love will last as long as the lock does. The bridge over the Arno in Florence continues this tradition. We have our own tradition: Gelato! At the far end of the Ponte there was a gelato stand the we couldn’t pass up. Note the two spoons in the cup. Mary Ann noticed that the cup bottom was indented so she thought we got less gelato than we paid for.That evening we split into 3 groups for a long bus ride to a small town outside of Florence for our “Home Hosted Dinner”. Our group went to this restored 6oo year old farm house.Our hostess was Christine. She spoke excellent English and has hosted many of these dinners for GCT. She had an interesting old home with all the old and modern conveniences.
Her condiments included a jar of “Roasted Garlic Onion Jam” (upper left) From our own “Stonewall Farm Kitchen” in York, Maine (where we spend our summers).We sat down to a delicious roast pork and potato dinner complete with wine from a local friends winery and a really sweet dessert. It was a delightful dinner and Christine joined for a lot of informal discussions. Her husband stopped by to say “Ciao” (he spoke little English.