ITALY 2008

    Day 5 Sunday, May 11th


    We slept until 7:30.  We hadn’t had a chance to buy any groceries so we drove into Fiesole.  The road was unbelievable.  We just held our breath when a car approached.  The views were spectacular. There was the only way into Fiesole.


      Fiesole was a charming little town about five miles north of Florence and has a number of substantial Roman and Etruscan remains. Settled in the 7th century BC, Fiesole was a powerful force in central Italy by the the 5th century BC.  It began to decline after the Romans founded Florence in the lst century BC, but kept its independence until 1125, when Florentine troops razed most of the city.  Eyewitness Travel guides on Florence and Tuscany suggests a two hour walk through Fiesole.  Unfortunately we never did take the tour.    We found a parking place on the street and stopped at a café for breakfast – coffee and pastries.  From Fiesole there is a magnificent view of Florence and particularly the Duomo (cathedral). The bus stop was located across from the café in the Piazza Mino da Fiesole.  We caught the bus to Florence but we didn’t know how to pay.  There was a toll box in which you inserted your ticket, but not everyone put their ticket in slot, so we had a free ride.  It was only a 15 minute ride. We got off the bus at the Duomo.

    Our first visit to Florence was on our Globus Italian Tour in 2004.  Although we spent three nights in Florence, we had only one day to see the sites.  The second day we visited several other towns in Tuscany.  So now we have a week to enjoy this wonderful city plus several surrounding towns.

    Florence, the seat of the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, is a town rich in history, architecture and art.   There are thousands of books and hundreds of websites devoted to every aspect of this magnificent city.  I could not add anything original to what has already been written so I will not discuss the history of Florence; however, I will comment on the highlights of the churches that we will visit. A great resource that I would like to recommend is The Teaching Company course on The Italian Renaissance by Professor Kenneth Bartlett.  In addition to  individual books on various Florence churches,  I have enjoyed studying two art and architecture books – Florence Art and Architecture published by Tandem Verlag GmbH and Art and Architecture Florence by R.C. Wirtz.  The first book is a large, coffee table size with over 500 pages of full page Florentine artwork.   The second book is a treasure filled guide to Florence.  It measure about 6” X 6” with 560 pages of maps, pictures, and information about everything in Florence.  It is small enough to carry with you.  This book was very helpful in dividing up Florence into areas so that each day we were able to take a different section of Florence and explore all the churches in that area before going to another part of town.  We had made notes on what we wanted to see each day of our visit. A tour book that is also very informative is Eyewitness Travel Guides –Florence and Tuscany.  It has great maps, pictures and descriptions.

              Our first stop was THE BAPTISTERY, located across from the Duomo.  It was open so we went in – it had not been open on our first visit.   The Baptistery is an octagon shaped building. The Baptistery with its famous doors is one of Florence’s oldest buildings. Tradition is that it was built on the site of a temple to Mars, dating to the 5th century. 

    The ceiling contains a 13th century mosaics illustrating the Last Judgment.  It was a beautiful building.  I took a lot of pictures as photos were allowed. 




    The three sets of doors are spectacular.  



    The south doors, with 28 panels, were designed by Andrea Pisano and cast in bronze - 1330-36.   The twenty upper squares depict events from the life of John the Baptist.  The lower eight show representations of Christian and worldly virtues.



    The north doors are the result of a competition held in 1401 which was won by the 23 year old Lorenzo Ghiberti.  Like Pisano’s south doors, the north doors contain 28 squares.  The top twenty are scenes from the life of Jesus.  The bottom eight portray the four  evangelists - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and four church fathers - Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory and Augustine.

    The east doors – facing the Duomo- are called The Gates of Paradise.  These doors were done by Lorenzo Ghiberti who spent 27 years working on these doors.  He began them in 1425.   Giorgio Vasari described these doors as the most complete and beautiful work of art to be found on the earth.   Instead of 28 panels as in the other two sets of doors,  these doors contain only ten square reliefs which represent - Paradise, Noah, Jacob and Esau, Moses, David, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph, Joshua, and King Solomon and the queen of Sheba.   These highly polish relief panels are reproductions as the originals were place in the Duomo museum several years ago to protect them from the weather.

    Again the information that I carried in my travel notebook, was a sheet showing the three doors with the names of the panels.  I took a picture of every panel and wrote the number of the photo in the proper panel on my paper.  This preparation made it easy to identify the panels when looking at them and later in identifying the photos.

    Our plan from the beginning of the “cathedral quest” was to attend the Sunday service at the Duomo.  We especially wanted to do this because that Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost, and we knew it would be a very festive service.  Last year we were in Trier on Pentecost and attended a very festive service at the ancient cathedral plus a Bach Mass in a Baroque Church – St. Paulin - later in the afternoon.


    We had chosen to attend the noon day Pentecost service at the DUOMO as the information said that it was with organ and the earlier service was choral.  What we didn’t know was that the 10:30 was the major service complete with organ and choir, and the Bishop and clergy all vested in red. We were able to enter the church to attend the last few minutes of the 10:30 service.    After the congregation left, we were able to move up front, right under the dome.   This service was rather plain with only one priest and an assistant.    We were able to follow along with the Italian.  The lessons for Pentecost were printed in several languages including English. It was the same readings as back home.   After the service I was able to take a number of pictures under the dome because we had been sitting there.  When we went back later, that area was blocked as well about half way down the aisle. We were glad to have been there for the service and been able to see the dome and take pictures.  Even though we had been on a guided tour on our visit to the Duomo in 2004, our visit had been quite short as there were many sites to visit in one day.  It was nice to be able to walk in and out of the Duomo at will and visit it several times during our week in Florence.

    The Duomo – Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore – is one of the world’s largest Christian church and one of the most recognized because of its very large and distinctive dome.  Work on this building was begun 1296 under its first architect Arnolfo di Gambio on the site of an earlier and much smaller basilica.   Gambio died in 1302 with only one story of the façade and a few bays of side aisle wall completed.   Various architects continued the building, each making sufficient changes.  Finally in 1368, 72 years after its beginning, a specially appointed commission agreed on a model of the church which that would be used until its completion.


    It was not until 1871 that agreement was reach on the construction of the neo-Gothic redesign of the façade.  An older unfinished façade was demolished in 1588.

    The Famous dome can be seen all over Florence. The size and shape of the dome to be built over the crossing was determined by the model of 1368.    The serious technical problems posed by the enormous dimensions remained unsolved for several centuries. 

    The base of the dome was 148 feet and was almost 330 feet high.  As a result of suggestions and competition by a number of builders, Filippo Brunelleschi won the commission in 1418 and completed the dome in 1436.    To understand the problems and marvel of building this dome, I would recommend reading Ross King’s fascinating book, Brunelleschi’s Dome.

    It is possible to climb the 463 steps to the top of the dome and view Florence from the top platform.  Sorry, but I didn’t think that I could do that, so I didn’t even try.

    The inside of the Duomo is constructed with three aisles on a Latin cross plan.  Much of the lavish interior decorations have been removed over the centuries.  Some of these are preserved in the Duomo museum located behind the church.  The building is over 500 feet long with a height of 75 feet.

     The interior of the dome is a fresco of the Last Judgment by Giorgio Varasri which was begun in 1572.  Normally the area under the dome is blocked off,  but we were fortune to sit under the dome for the service and were able to stick around a while to admire it and to photograph each section.

    The interior walls have a minimum of stained glass windows.   There are several painting on the walls including the famous painting of Dane and the Divine Comedy.

    Before leaving the Duomo for now, I must mention the Bell Tower – in Italian called the Campanile.  The building of it was supervised by three successive architects.   It was designed by Giotto and was begun in 1334.  It was completed in 1359, twenty two years after Giotto’s death.   The height of the Campanile is 278. It is also possible to climb the 416 steps to the top.  Again, I didn’t try it.

    After church we walked around the back of the Duomo to take pictures.  We went to the Duomo museum but they were closing.   By this time we were getting hungry so we found a nice café behind the Duomo. The wind had started to blow, and it turned cool so we decided to eat inside.  My wife had carbonerra, and I had the special which was pasta with mushrooms, cheese and olives plus four slices of thin pork and small roasted potatoes.  After lunch we walk around Duomo.

    Walking down the street to the south of the Duomo, we came to CHURCH OF  ORSANMICHELE.  The small  oratory of Orsanmichele was located in the middle of a vegetable garden as early as the 9th century.   The original building was replaced by a covered grain market in the 13th century.  The multi-story building which stands today was erected in 1337 following a fire in 1304.  The upper stories were used for grain storage and the first floor for religious purposes.



    On the outside are 14 niches assigned to the leading guilds of Florence which had the obligation of filling them with statues of their patron saint.  I had brought a paper which identified these saints and was able to photograph each one.  I particularly like the one of St. Thomas talking to Jesus by Verrocchio.  Thomas has a bare foot on the ledge with a rather prominent big toe as Jesus blesses him.  

    Then we went in.  It was a beautiful large room with two chapels. While inside our phone rang, and it was Mike who said that they had just gotten to the apartment.  We decide to go back to Fiesole later on in the afternoon, and meet them for dinner.

     We then walked further south to the Piazza della Signoria.  We stopped in an outdoor café.  My wife had coffee and chocolate cake.  I had perfideroles and Jack Daniel—a good combination!  The Piazza della Signoria contains the Palazzo Vecchio,  and the Loggia dei Lanzi plus a number of large outdoor statues including a replica the Michelangelo’s David and Neptune’s fountain.    The Palazzo Vecchio is one of the most important secular buildings in Florence.   The foundation stone was laid in 1299 and housed government offices.  The attached tower is 308 feet high.  

    The Loggia dei Lanzi is an open building that contains several well known statues including The Rape of the Sabine Women.

    We walked back to the Duomo to get a book, but no one was behind the counter. We will go back later. We bought a bus ticket and caught the bus back to Fiesole to meet Mike and Mary at 6:00 pm. 

    We got back at 5:30pm and went  over to the Fiesole Duomo to take a few pictures.  The Cathedral of SAN ROMOLO was begun in 1028.


    The building is a typical basilica, with a central nave and two aisles separated by colonnades, and though it has been modified or restored several times over the centuries, it remains one of the best preserved Romanesque churches in the Florentine area. It is also one of the few that still has a crypt. As frequently occurs in medieval buildings, the builders recycled decorative elements from earlier structures, and took the capitals of the fourth columns from the ruins of a Roman building. It has a very high bell tower which can be seen from Florence.

    We found Mike and Mary and went to a café on the square for dinner.  I had scampi which were hard to eat….they still had their head and legs.  My wife had scaloppini. After dinner we stopped in a gelato shop.  Nothing like good Italian gelato!! Then back to the villa. 

    We talked to Paolo, the owner of the villa and a doctor, about a dentist for my wife’s lost tooth filling for tomorrow.  He said that there was a dentist in his office building Sieci on the other side of the mountain. He would help us out.

    This had been a wonderful day.  We have had wonderful sunny, but not hot days since we began our trip.  Today was a little overcast with some wind.


    Day 1 - PADUA

    DAY 2 - PADUA

    DAY 3 - PADUA








    DAY 11 - VENICE

    DAY 12 - VENICE

    DAY 13 - VENICE

    DAY 14 - VENICE

    DAY 15 - VENICE

    DAY 16 - VENICE

    DAY 17 - VENICE