Pisa, Florence, San Gimignano, Siena & The Chianti Wine Region
15.02.2011 - 19.02.2011
Bongiorno from Tuscany,
We departed Rapallo by car and drove South to Pisa where we stopped to view the leaning tower and the cathedral. We did not spend too much time looking at the leaning bell tower before realizing we were hungry in Italy which just seemed so wrong so we stopped for pasta and vino. After lunch it was time to drive on toward Florence. On the way we stopped in the small town of Montecatini Terme to visit an Olympic gun club that we had been invited to by the owner of a restaurant back in Villefranche. His son represents France in Olympic trap shooting. The gun club was very nice and we enjoyed visiting and meeting his son and his shooting coach. Then it was back on the road to Florence where we returned the rental car and were once again pedestrians. One of the amazing things to me on this last section of the drive through Northern Italy was how many tunnels there are. I wish we had counted how many we drove through but I would guess it was more than 100 between Genova and Florence. There has been a great deal of labor spent boring holes in Mountains in Northern Italy.
The next day after arriving in Florence the previous evening we hired a guide to show us around Florence in a day. We found her contact information in the Rick Steve’s book and she was great! We visited the Duomo, the Palazzo Medici, the Palazzo Vecchio, San Lorenzo and the Uffizi Museum. Unfortunately, the Uffizi does not allow photos of any kind so I can’t show you any of the amazing works of art we saw there but I would highly recommend it if you get a chance while in Florence. It was great to have someone explain the highlights along with some history and background for the places and objects we were seeing. The next day we booked a bus tour from Florence to San Gimignano, Siena and a rural Tuscan Winery named Saint Appiano for some wine tasting. It was a busy two days of hard core touring but we were up to the task. Fortunately for us the wine tasking was the last task on the list.
This entry has MANY more pictures than normal so let’s get to them……………
Here we are at the leaning tower of Pisa. None of those cheesy pictures of us trying to hold up the tower. You wouldn’t believe it anyway…would you?
These next two pictures are of the Gothic Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo Cathedral near our hotel in Florence. It is an amazing building of mixed marble which was started in 1296.
This is the Baptistery of Saint John which is adjacent to the Cathedral. In 13th through 17th centuries they would hold baptisms here for babies once per year so they could make a census of how many people were living in the city.
These are the amazingly detailed doors of the Baptistery. They are bronze relief panels telling the story of the bible in amazing detail.
A picture of down the center section of the Gothic Cathedral. It was supposedly left purposefully void of decoration to represent the austerity of religious life
In the rear of the church was a very unique 24 hour clock with only one hand. The zero hour represented sunset and the position of the hand told how many hours until the next sunset. This way of telling time was used through the 17th century.
The dome took more than 11 years to paint and was begun in 1568. The painting represents the ascension to heaven and fall to hell with heaven represented in the upper most sections and hell on the lower ring of the dome.
As you might imagine the Medici’s had their portraits added to the mural in a respectable high position of the dome seen in the picture above with crowns on their heads.
A picture of the Duomo and bell tower at nightfall taken from atop the Ufizzi museum across town.
There is a huge market area in the old town section of Florence where you can buy just about anything. This was one vendor selling spices where we bought some Saffron threads.
A cheese vendor shows his offerings.
Wild Boar meat is very popular here. This is a try of the meat with a small stuffed boar peering into the container. He must have been nervous.
One of the many meat and deli vendors with an amazing selection of just about any section of any animal you can imagine.
This is a picture of the unfinished facade of San Lorenzo Church. It was started in 1419 as the main chapel of the Medici family and today houses the burial place for the main family leaders of the Medici family. The façade was never completed as the plans kept changing and money for its completion kept being redirected.
This is the Piazza Vecchio which serves as the town hall of Florence. Its construction was begun in 1299 and has virtually been under construction or renovation since depending on its current occupants or purpose. In addition to housing the city government offices it also contains an impressive museum.
This was a memorial to Girolamo Savonarola a Dominican friar who lead an uprising that banished the Medici family from Florence in 1494 preaching a less worldly existence and higher level of morality. When the Medici’s returned four years later in 1498 this was where they had him burned at the stake in the Piazza della Signoria. Nice folks!
This is again the Piazza della Signoria where the original Michelangelo’s David stood for almost 370 years until being relocated to the Academia Gallery in 1873. The statue there today is a replica which is now the only one you can photograph as no pictures are allowed in the Academia.
Here is Benvenuto Cellini’s statue of Perseus with Head of Medusa also at the Piazza della Signoria dating from 1554.
The next eight pictures are from the museum inside the Piazza Vecchio. Very beautifully decorated building showing the early rise of the Medici family.
This is a picture of the Ponte Vecchio built across the Arno River and is one of the oldest bridges in Europe. It was first built by the Romans and is mentioned in a document from 996 AD. It used to house the towns butchers but the waste meats were thrown into the river causing many health problems. Today the vendors on the bridge are just about exclusively jewelers.
The next seven pictures were taken at San Gimignano which was the first stop on our day long excursion trip out of Florence. San Gimignano was founded by the Etruscans in the 3rd century BC and remains a very well preserved mid Evil walled city. It is famous for its towers which were both a means of defense for the families that built them as well as a status symbol. The higher your tower the more important you were considered to be. Funny how little we have progressed isn’t it?
As we were traveling from San Gimignano to Siena we went through another very small mid evil village named Colle di val d'Elsa. As we approached the town I noticed a Deviation (aka Detour) sign for Siena outside of town but the bus driver went straight ahead into town. The street kept getting more and more narrow but I figured “hey he has done this about a million times before right?” When we came to this V in the road there were these town’s people out there waving their arms. We stopped the bus to learn that there was construction ahead and the bus would not fit. This caused a huge problem because we can’t go forward and we can’t turn around and we are blocking all traffic through the town. As you might imagine in Italy there were a number of emotional discussions with arms and hands flying at the speed of sound. Below are some pictures of the, now humorous, event.
The town’s people that originally stood up to stop the bus and who called the highway construction workers to the scene.
The highway construction workers and the bus driver who are trying to talk over a melody of honking horns behind the bus.
Another elderly man looks on just shaking his head.
When your tour guide looks like this……The tour is NOT going as planned!
Town’s people look out their window at the spectacle as the police clear the road and we must back the bus through these narrow streets until it can turn around…. All together about an hour long ordeal.
We finally arrive in Sienna have a fast lunch to make us some time and begin to explore the city with a local guide. Siena is one of the most charming cities we have seen. This city was also founded by the Etruscans between 900 – 400 BC. They were famous for their knowledge of irrigation and the ability that gave them to farm lands previously unusable. The history of the city is turbulent with many conquerors and different rulers. Most of the oldest building seen today date from the 14th and 15th centuries. The next five pictures were taken on our walk from the outside of town to the cathedral.
In the 10th through 13th centuries there was a lot of war and conflict between Siena and Florence. Siena wanted to build a cathedral that would be better than the Duomo in Florence and thus began construction on this church in the 12th century and the main façade was completed in 1380. It is apparent that the desire was not to erect a building void of decoration like the cathedral in Florence but rather to decorate every area of the building possible. From the front façade of the building to the floors, walls and columns inside there are statues, mosaics, paintings and stained glass everywhere you look. It is a visual collage of art like I have never seen anywhere in one building before. A very young Michelangelo was brought into to provide the four sculptures in the lower niches of one side alter (see below) between 1501 and 1504. These next 10 pictures cannot accurately show you the detail of this church but I hope you can get some sense of how amazing it is.
A picture of the main town square where each year a bareback horse race is held with representatives of each of the town’s neighborhoods.
A very nice women who we met while buying some Siena ceramic’s. She spoke some English but not much and we spoke some Italian but not much. It was a great experience.
Next we traveled (without incident) to the rural Tuscan winery of Saint Appiano where we enjoyed a variety of Tuscan wines while watching the Italian sunset.
A picture of some of the vines against the rolling Chianti hillsides.
A picture of the wineries cellar where they store their wines in French oak barrels for varying amounts of time depending on the quality desired.
Tom & Susan in their element as we stand infront of two casks of Chianti in the cellar.
Whew! That was a long blog entry. Thanks for haning in there to the end. Next we will depart Tuscany by train for the Umbria region where our first stop will be the small town of Assisi. This old walled city's history goes back to 1000 BC so it should be amazing.
Until next time…Ciao