Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Tale of Three Cities – by Gary

Venice, Florence and Siena, we gave them a day each – long enough for general impressions only – but the crush of other tourists made it quite sufficient.  All three are World Heritage Sites - Italy unsurprisingly has more than any other country in the world.

Mum and I had been here on our European odyssey (in fact to all three of these cities) and back then I had considered it the most romantic city ever - not the sort of place I really wanted to be with me Mum (no offence Mum).  But Zeke was instantly un-impressed with the place, reckoned the buildings were run-down, dirty and shabby, and even though the boats were great he couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.  And seeing it through his eyes he certainly has a point, many of the city’s buildings appear to have some serious problems.

The Grand Canal is still magnificent with the church of Santa Maria della Salute in the background, and I’m smiling coz this time I was there with my sweet-heart.

And the Plaza St Marco is still a fabulous urban space.

But the problems!  On a king-tide lots of ground floors go under – but some now go under just on a regular spring tide (bottom right).  Subsidence issues can be seen everywhere, Church towers that lean, bridges that crack, walls that sag all over the place.  Render falls off and bricks and mortar fret away.

Zeke just couldn’t resist pushing a few over.

The boats we all loved, delivery boats, garbage truck boats, gondolas ...

... but somebody should tell this gondolero that answering your mobile phone on the job doesn’t quite fit the image.


Florence is the traditional home of the Medici family, one of Europe’s most wealthy and successful dynasties, and through the Renaissance they were great patrons of the arts. Much of the fabulously rich artistic inheritance still on display in this city can be directly or indirectly attributed to them.

The Boboli Gardens, the gardens of the Medici family residence.

The jewellery shop lined Ponte Vecchio, the covered bridge across the Arno
that links the Medici family residence with the centre of town.  It used to have stinky butcher shops on it, but under Medici orders they had to go!

Above the city at the Piazzale Michelangelo is this copy of David, the original being carved from a single enormous block of fine white Carrara marble by Michelangelo in 1504 when he was just 29 years old.

The view across the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo.

The Piazza Della Signoria, where the original David stood until 1873.  It is now protected in a museum and another copy stand in its place.  The amazing tower, the 94m Torre d’Arnolfo was completed in 1340.

A medieval hilltop town (though it has grown so much in recent years it’s hard to pick), Siena’s houses are a symphony in shades of pink, orange, brown and yellow, baking under the Tuscan sun.

The colour sienna.

I was a bit puzzled by these sculptures found everywhere in Siena, but Zeke and Nina quickly filled me in (how they know these things frequently astounds me).  They represent Romulus and Remus, twins brought up by wolves, who wanted to create a city. Fighting over its location Romulus kills Remus and goes on to found Rome.  The local creation myth has it that sons of Remus founded Siena.

Some of the town’s shop displays are exceptional.

Piazza del Campo, site of the town’s famous horse race!

The Italians seem keen on these striped marble duomos (churches) and campaniles (church towers), and to be sure the effect is striking, but to my eye not altogether pleasant.  According to our guide, work begun on this one in 1196 and continued in phases for some time, but the plague of 1348 held up an extension!

I was more appreciative of some of the tiny backstreets away from the crowds.

Siena street lighting!

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