Back After 2 Weeks

I've taken a blogging hiatus for two weeks while I took the family away for a real adventure. We were on a bit of an Adriatic odyssey, exploring our favourite parts of Tuscany, Venice, and then heading into the unknown for a week in the beautiful Istrian riviera.

We flew into Venice and picked up a car which we then drove down to Florence where we stayed in an apartment just 5 minutes from Piazza della Signoria and 10 minutes from the Duomo.

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze.
Piazza della Signoria is the focal point of the origin and history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political hub of the city today. It is located near Ponte Vecchio and Piazza del Duomo and forms the gateway to the Uffizi Gallery.

I've been to Florence once before for a brief visit and really loved it. This time, I totally fell in love with the place! It also was extremely educational for my sons. They really enjoyed it and immersed themselves in the culture, the art, the history, and the wonderful cuisine!

Lou & I with glorious Florence behind us.
On Sunday, we met up with friends from home for Mass at Santa Croche. This is the principal Franciscan church in Florence, and a minor basilica. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 metres south-east of the Duomo. The site, when first chosen, was in marshland outside the city walls. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell'Itale Glorie).

The Main Altar at Santa Croche  - Virgin and Saints by Giovanni del Biondo.
 The Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world. Its most notable features are its sixteen chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils, and its tombs and cenotaphs. Legend says that Santa Croce was founded by St Francis himself.

The construction of the current church, to replace an older building, was begun on 12 May 1294, possibly by Arnolfo di Cambio, and paid for by some of the city's wealthiest families. It was consecrated in 1442 by Pope Eugene IV. The building's design reflects the austere approach of the Franciscans. The floorplan is an Egyptian or Tau cross (a symbol of St Francis), 115 metres in length with a nave and two aisles separated by lines of octagonal columns. To the south of the church was a convent, some of whose buildings remain.

The Primo Chiostro, the main cloister, houses the Cappella dei Pazzi, built as the chapter house, completed in the 1470s. Filippo Brunelleschi (who had designed and executed the dome of the Duomo) was involved in its design which has remained rigorously simple and unadorned.

In 1560, the choir screen was removed as part of changes arising from the Counter-Reformation and the interior rebuilt by Giorgio Vasari. As a result, there was damage to the church's decoration and most of the altars previously located on the screen were lost.

Will & Mary in front of Santa Croche.
The bell tower was built in 1842, replacing an earlier one damaged by lightning. The neo-Gothic marble façade, by Nicolò Matas, dates from 1857-1863.

A Jewish architect Niccolo Matas from Ancona, designed the church's 19th-century neo-Gothic facade, working a prominent Star of David into the composition. Matas had wanted to be buried with his peers but because he was Jewish, he was buried under the porch and not within the walls.

In 1866, the complex became public property, as a part of government suppression of most religious houses, following the wars that gained Italian independence and unity.

The Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce is housed mainly in the refectory, also off the cloister. A monument to Florence Nightingale stands in the cloister, in the city in which she was born and after which she was named. Brunelleschi also built the inner cloister, completed in 1453.

In 1966, the Arno River flooded much of Florence, including Santa Croce. The water entered the church bringing mud, pollution and heating oil. The damage to buildings and art treasures was severe, taking several decades to repair.

Being as close as we were to the Duomo, we had the great privilege of attending morning Mass there. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (English, "Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower") is the main church of Florence, Italy. Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, 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, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. The three 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. The cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence, whose archbishop is currently Giuseppe Betori.

It is really is an extraordinary building, so imposing when you see it in the square. Morning Mass was very quiet, without any tourists and it was a lovely time to spend in prayer and experience the feel of the place without the crowds. The last time we came, it was October, and I am sure that there were nowhere near as many people around. The queue to get in once it opened went right around the Piazza. We felt privileged to be allowed in to go to Holy Mass.

Leaving Florence, we moved deeper into Tuscany, and stayed in sight of San Gimignano in a lovely hotel with panoramic views over the Tuscan countryside. This was our base for exploring wonderful Siena, San Gimignano itself and Volterra, which really is one of the most beautiful hilltop Tuscan towns and much under rated in my opinion.

The view from the great tower in San Gimignano
In San Gimignano, we climbed the great tower for the first time, which wasn't easy with Mary who was utterly determined to do it all on her own. This place was mum's favourite place when we visited before, so it was lovely to see how happy she was at returning in the sunshine. We wandered the medieval streets and did some shopping, as well as sampling the wonderful ice cream!

The view from our hotel balcony in San Gimignano

Volterra is believed to have been continuously inhabited as a city since at least the end of the 8th century BCE. It has bags of class and is very quaint and medieval with a lovely piazza. It is very high on a hill and provides beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.

Evening in Volterra
Siena was as beautiful as ever, and somewhat bizarrely, we bumped into a family from our parish having lunch in the Campo!
The Campo- the main square- is unusually for medieval cities insofar as it was built around the civic offices rather than the Cathedral. It was paved in 1349 in fishbone-patterned red brick with ten lines of travertine, which divide the piazza into nine sections, radiating from the mouth of the gavinone (the central water drain) in front of the Palazzo Pubblico. The number of divisions is held to be symbolic of the rule of The Nine (Noveschi) who laid out the campo and governed Siena at the height of its mediaeval splendour between 1292-1355. The Campo was and remains the focal point of public life in the City. From the piazza, eleven narrow shaded streets radiate into the city. The genesis of this unique space coincides with the growth of the medieval city and the assertion of communal power. Financial and commercial activities were concentrated halfway along the Via Francigena, the entire lengths of the present-day Via dei Banchi Sopra and Via dei Banchi Sotto, and the market-place proper was located in the Piazza del Campo, at that time divided in two sectors.

At the end of the 12th century, the communal government decided to unite the two sectors to create a unique semicircular open space, and promulgated a series of ordinances which regulated only commercial activities but also the services and dimensions of the houses (their style twin-arched or triple-arched windows), in order to make the facades around the piazza uniform. The building of the Palazzo Pubblico, the seat of the communal government, began at the same time. Its gently incurving and crenellated facade is highlighted by the Gothic triple-arched windows. There is a number of masterpieces of medieval paintings inside, such as the Maestà of Simone Martini and the allegorical Ciclo del Buon Governo of Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The Palazzo Pubblico was in all probability the model for the Gothic palaces of the great families of the nobility or the merchants (Palazzo Tomei, Palazzo Buonsignore), which are characterized by an increase in breadth, the use of brick, large windows, and the so-called 'Guelph' crenellation.

Once the public authorities were installed in the Palazzo Pubblico, work began on embellishing the piazza with the laying down of the paving, construction of the Fonte Gaia, decorated by Jacopo dalla Quercia, the Torre del Mangia, and the Cappella della Piazza, the latter two built up against the palazzo. Under the Medici, the piazza became the ideal setting for spectacular festivals and was opened up to the palio , the famous horserace between teams from the different quarters of the city.

The highest point of the town is crowned by the Cathedral of Santa Maria. Its facade, the lower part of which is the work of Giovanni Pisano, was completed by Giovanni di Cecco after construction of the Nuovo Duomo (New Cathedral), a vast project inspired by the Gothic cathedrals of north of the Alps. The cathedral preserves a remarkable pavement and the pulpit carved by Nicolà Pisano.

Mary enjoying the sunshine at the Campo in Siena
On GCSE results day (Mikey was extremely nervous), we hit the road again and headed north, to spend a couple of days in Venice. It's been about 14 years since we were there last and because we had a car to park, we had booked a hotel in Mestre, from where the bus was a 10 minute ride into Piazzale Roma. I had forgotten how extraordinary Venice is and we really enjoyed our visit. We did Piazza San Marco at night as well as in the day and made the most of the Vaperetto, visit San Georgio as well as getting around that way.

All of us enjoying a sunny Vaperetto ride to Ponte Rialto

San Marco at night from a Vaperetto
The Bridge of Sighs

Pallazola Ducale taken from the Vaperetto

Basilica San Marco

San Marco at night

On Ponte dell' Academia

The Ponte dell'Accademia is one of only four bridges in Venice, Italy, to span the Grand Canal. It crosses near the southern end of the canal, and is named for the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia. I think Mike, having achieved 100% in his art GCSE, is now planning on studying there!

Venice was amazing, but by this point we had done so much travelling and exploring I was feeling like I needed a rest, so we headed off down the other side of the Adriatic to the Istrian Riveria, where we had booked a villa in a little village called Mofardini, a few miles from the coast.

Our Villa "Robur" in the beautiful Istrian Countryside.
None of us had been to Croatia before, so this seemed a real adventure for us all. The drive was going to be about 21/2 hours from Venice. The reality was 4, largely due to a huge delay at the Slovenian/ Croatian border. This was probably because it was a Saturday and there were a lot of people travelling to/ from holiday. Certainly when we returned on the following Friday, there was no such delay and the journey took about 3 hours all told.

We were very impressed with Istria, which is very Catholic, and has a lot of history connected with Italy and the Venetian Republic evidenced throughout in terms of its prevalent architecture as well as fortifications with prominent winged lions.

The name is derived from the Castellieri culture tribes of the Histri (Greek: Ιστρών έθνος), which Strabo refers to as living in the region. The Histri are classified in some sources as a "Venetic" Illyrian tribe, with certain linguistic differences from other Illyrians. The Romans described the Histri as a fierce tribe of pirates, protected by the difficult navigation of their rocky coasts. It took two military campaigns for the Romans to finally subdue them in 177 BC. The region was then called together with the Venetian part the X. Roman Region of "Venetia et Histria", the ancient definition of the northeastern border of Italy. Dante Alighieri refers to it as well, the eastern border of Italy per ancient definition is the river Arsia. The eastern side of this river was settled by people whose culture was different than Histrians. Earlier influence of the Iapodes was attested there, while at some time between the 4th and 1st century BC, the Liburnians extended their territory and it became a part of Liburnia. On the northern side, Histria went much further north and included the Italian city of Trieste.

The coastal areas and cities of Istria came under Venetian Influence in the 9th century. On 15 February 1267, Parenzo was formally incorporated with the Venetian state. Other coastal towns followed shortly thereafter. Bajamonte Tiepolo was sent away from Venice in 1310, to start a new life in Istria after his downfall. You can still see the Venetian influence throughout Istria, with many fortifications in Porec bearing the winged lion of St. Mark, symbol of Venice. Even as far inland as Sveti Lovreč the symbol can be found on arch ways and fortifications.

We will certainly return to beautiful Istria another time. Now we're back, it's time to get back to blogging business!


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