Travels in Italy–Part Three

IMG_0409Pat here:

As many do, I fell in love with Umbria and Tuscany, the hill country of Italy. It’s hard to define why this area is so special. Perhaps because I’m not a fan of cities and the rural countryside with rolling hills and olive orchards appeal to my introvert self. But I think it’s also a matter of seeing the layers of Italy’s ancient history, largely untouched in some areas, that made it come alive for me.

In my last blog, I mentioned that Orvieto sat on an enormous, not easily accessible hill (image above is Orvieto hillview from road. Fortress on right is view from parking lot). Scientists believe  the hill was formed by an ancient volcano. (the history link calls the rock the town is built on tufa. So did our guides. But in my research, I learned tufa is a limestone formation from hot springs, while tuffaceous or tuff rock is volcanic. I would love it if someone could clarify!) This particular formation allowed the Etruscans as early as 9th century BC to create their religious and political center in the safety of a hill with a view that encompasses miles of surrounding countryside. But in the 3rd century BC, the Romans took over. Now the remains of the temple, a necropolis, and tunnels through the hill are almost the only evidence of Etruscan heritage and the early Roman city is long gone except for a spa. But it’s all right Orvieto viewthere to touch and admire and part of the landscape—history on top of history.

Orvieto dumomSo the majority of the city we see today dates back to the Medieval era of riches. Italy in the 1200s was a series of warring city-states. Orvieto housed the palaces of a duchy and a countship along with the papal palace of Pope Urban IV, who retreated from the civil war in Rome. While he was there, he began the construction of the magnificent Duomo to be built beside his palace. We saw many fabulous churches and obviously, many larger, but the exterior of this building is fabulous, and the paintings inside are exquisite, reflecting the changes occurring in art at the time. Because the church considered human images profane (graven images, right?), most paintings of the early era showed flat-faced, robed figures no more active than a stick. But Italy’s popes loved art as much as artists did, and several of the churches in the area reflect the changes created by Renaissance artists who Orvieto chapel muralbrought to life the faces and people in their painted dramas—medieval action films!

There was so very much to see there, but I’ll leave you to peruse the websites if you wish to know more so I can spend a little time on a couple of other cities.

Since it was nearby, we visited Assisi, of St. Francis fame. It’s a fabulously walkable town if you don’t mind steep grades! If Assisi roman wallyou can take a tour bus, find one that starts at the top. There, you can see the Roman buildings where cars are parked in garages under ancient walls. I find seeing the stones of ancient civilizations in use today more fascinating than gazing on the empty Colosseum in Rome. If you start at the top, you can walk down instead of climbing that hill! At the bottom is the famous Basilica of St. Francis, which has a lower and upper church containing priceless frescoes that survived the 1997 earthquake.

After leaving Orvieto, we drove up to Siena, Florence, and San Gimignano. I think most of you are Florence Borgia bridgeprobably familiar with Florence with its fabulous art museums and the walkwaySienna flags that the House of Borgia built over the Ponte Vecchio so they didn’t have to walk with hoi polloi from their palace to the seat of Sienna race daygovernment. And Siena is known for the Roman forum that has been converted to a racetrack in the city center. The city is divided into districts, each with its own flag. Entire families identify with the district in which they were born, and the rivalry comes to a head during the annual horse race.

San G entranceBut it’s San Gimignano that I’ll write about because as a World Unesco site, it’s utterly unique and probably unfamiliar to many. The town was an important stopping point for pilgrims going to and from Florence in the 1200s. In order to establish their wealth and significance, the local nobles and wealthy merchants built enormous towers, many of which were totally useless except as a symbol of wealth. At one point this tiny San G towerhilltop city had as many as 72 towers, although time has reduced them to 14. The truly fascinating part is that this extravagantly wealthy city was virtually abandoned about 1350 because of plague and wars and basically, a lack of tourist trade. With this abandonment, the medieval walls and buildings remained intact. Today the streets and houses are little changed from the original built nearly a thousand years ago. Only local traffic can go past the ancient city walls, so you can walk the cobbled streets the way our Medieval ancestors did centuries ago, see the same buildings and views, and enjoy the city square, fountain, and cathedral as if you’d slipped back in time.

Venice canalOur final stop was Venice. We spent a glorious three days there, taking water taxis and a gondola, walking down side streets so narrow and complex one could get lost just turning around. We took a tour out to the islands to see Murano glass being made and admire the lace I would never dare wear! We toured the duke’s palace and the Duomo and the museums and still didn’t walk off all the food we ate! (on the left is the Bridge of Sighs between the Doges Palace and the prison used by prisoners for hundreds of years.)Murano glass blower

As the new Covid panic sets in, I am immensely grateful Venice bridge of sighsthat we managed this trip that we’ve dreamed of for years. We hope to go back since there is so very much more to see! But I need time to recover from that sixteen-hour plane trip. . .

I could easily have written a blog on each city we visited, but I thoughtfully spared you. <G> I know many of us are armchair travelers these days. Do you read books about places you'd like to visit? Any recommendations?

50 thoughts on “Travels in Italy–Part Three”

  1. One of the fascinating things about Italy is the way centuries are sort of piled on top of each other. On one trip, driving from Florence to Ravenna, we stopped in a small town. I don’t remember its name, but its claim to fame was that when Dante was in exile in Ravenna, he came to this town to meet representatives from Florence. I wondered why this place was chosen, and then I realized this was not only the road to Ravenna, but it was the ONLY road to Ravenna and had probably been that in the 14th century too. It felt kind of like a time slip.

    Reply
  2. One of the fascinating things about Italy is the way centuries are sort of piled on top of each other. On one trip, driving from Florence to Ravenna, we stopped in a small town. I don’t remember its name, but its claim to fame was that when Dante was in exile in Ravenna, he came to this town to meet representatives from Florence. I wondered why this place was chosen, and then I realized this was not only the road to Ravenna, but it was the ONLY road to Ravenna and had probably been that in the 14th century too. It felt kind of like a time slip.

    Reply
  3. One of the fascinating things about Italy is the way centuries are sort of piled on top of each other. On one trip, driving from Florence to Ravenna, we stopped in a small town. I don’t remember its name, but its claim to fame was that when Dante was in exile in Ravenna, he came to this town to meet representatives from Florence. I wondered why this place was chosen, and then I realized this was not only the road to Ravenna, but it was the ONLY road to Ravenna and had probably been that in the 14th century too. It felt kind of like a time slip.

    Reply
  4. One of the fascinating things about Italy is the way centuries are sort of piled on top of each other. On one trip, driving from Florence to Ravenna, we stopped in a small town. I don’t remember its name, but its claim to fame was that when Dante was in exile in Ravenna, he came to this town to meet representatives from Florence. I wondered why this place was chosen, and then I realized this was not only the road to Ravenna, but it was the ONLY road to Ravenna and had probably been that in the 14th century too. It felt kind of like a time slip.

    Reply
  5. One of the fascinating things about Italy is the way centuries are sort of piled on top of each other. On one trip, driving from Florence to Ravenna, we stopped in a small town. I don’t remember its name, but its claim to fame was that when Dante was in exile in Ravenna, he came to this town to meet representatives from Florence. I wondered why this place was chosen, and then I realized this was not only the road to Ravenna, but it was the ONLY road to Ravenna and had probably been that in the 14th century too. It felt kind of like a time slip.

    Reply
  6. Gorgeous piece of virtual travel, Pat — thank you. Having been stuck and in Lockdown for most of the last two years, and as many of us are still locked out of attending the 30th annual Romance Writers of Australia conference in Queensland this weekend, (the Queensland borders are closed until Monday) it’s lovely to have some virtual escape.
    I’d happily join Mary Jo and other wenches in San Gimignano — or anywhere in Italy, really.

    Reply
  7. Gorgeous piece of virtual travel, Pat — thank you. Having been stuck and in Lockdown for most of the last two years, and as many of us are still locked out of attending the 30th annual Romance Writers of Australia conference in Queensland this weekend, (the Queensland borders are closed until Monday) it’s lovely to have some virtual escape.
    I’d happily join Mary Jo and other wenches in San Gimignano — or anywhere in Italy, really.

    Reply
  8. Gorgeous piece of virtual travel, Pat — thank you. Having been stuck and in Lockdown for most of the last two years, and as many of us are still locked out of attending the 30th annual Romance Writers of Australia conference in Queensland this weekend, (the Queensland borders are closed until Monday) it’s lovely to have some virtual escape.
    I’d happily join Mary Jo and other wenches in San Gimignano — or anywhere in Italy, really.

    Reply
  9. Gorgeous piece of virtual travel, Pat — thank you. Having been stuck and in Lockdown for most of the last two years, and as many of us are still locked out of attending the 30th annual Romance Writers of Australia conference in Queensland this weekend, (the Queensland borders are closed until Monday) it’s lovely to have some virtual escape.
    I’d happily join Mary Jo and other wenches in San Gimignano — or anywhere in Italy, really.

    Reply
  10. Gorgeous piece of virtual travel, Pat — thank you. Having been stuck and in Lockdown for most of the last two years, and as many of us are still locked out of attending the 30th annual Romance Writers of Australia conference in Queensland this weekend, (the Queensland borders are closed until Monday) it’s lovely to have some virtual escape.
    I’d happily join Mary Jo and other wenches in San Gimignano — or anywhere in Italy, really.

    Reply
  11. Oh, Anne, your lockdowns have been heartbreaking, but I suppose it’s far better than thousands dying. Our news stories are full of the depression this pandemic is causing–so at some point, deaths from depression may start equaling those from the disease itself. Italy, anywhere, here we come!

    Reply
  12. Oh, Anne, your lockdowns have been heartbreaking, but I suppose it’s far better than thousands dying. Our news stories are full of the depression this pandemic is causing–so at some point, deaths from depression may start equaling those from the disease itself. Italy, anywhere, here we come!

    Reply
  13. Oh, Anne, your lockdowns have been heartbreaking, but I suppose it’s far better than thousands dying. Our news stories are full of the depression this pandemic is causing–so at some point, deaths from depression may start equaling those from the disease itself. Italy, anywhere, here we come!

    Reply
  14. Oh, Anne, your lockdowns have been heartbreaking, but I suppose it’s far better than thousands dying. Our news stories are full of the depression this pandemic is causing–so at some point, deaths from depression may start equaling those from the disease itself. Italy, anywhere, here we come!

    Reply
  15. Oh, Anne, your lockdowns have been heartbreaking, but I suppose it’s far better than thousands dying. Our news stories are full of the depression this pandemic is causing–so at some point, deaths from depression may start equaling those from the disease itself. Italy, anywhere, here we come!

    Reply

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