Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio means Old Bridge.  The original bridge was built by the Romans around 996 to cross the Arno River at it’s narrowest point, but was swept away in a flood nearly 100 years later.   It was rebuilt of stone and swept away in another flood in 1333, and rebuilt again in 1345.  The Upper portion was built in 1565 and is known today as the Vasariano Corridor which connects the Ufizzi Gallery and the Pitti Palace.

Bridge in Florence behind the Ponte Vecchio

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Italian Countryside and Olive Oil

The Countryside of Florence is so very beautiful.  We drove from San Gimingnano to this little place that made Fattoria Olive Oil in San Donato where we had lunch, and got to taste Grappa.  It’s a good thing we weren’t driving.

San Gimignano, Italy


San Gimignano, Italy became a town in the 10th century.  It was named after the poet Folgore da San Gimignano who was born there in 1270.  It boasts five museums and nine monuments and is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.  We had a great afternoon wandering through the town and through the shops.  Many shops sell sketches of the Italian countryside done by local artists that are quite good.

Courtesy of Google Maps

The Temple of the Italian Glories

The Basilica di Santa Croce, also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories because of the number of famous Italians entombed there is located on the Piazza di Santa Croce 800 meters south of the Duomo.  It is the principle Franciscan Church in Florence, has 16 chapels, and was probably started in 1294.  There are a total of 16 tombs and monuments of famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Rossini.  The neo-gothic façade dates 1857-1863 however, and the campanile 1842.  Some 19 artists have contributed to the artwork.

Duomo is Dome in middle of photo


Galileo

Machiavelli

Undergoing restoration…

Michelangelo

The Catacombs of Saint Callixtus


Built in the 2nd century, the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus contain dozens of martyrs, sixteen popes, and countless Christians over a 33 acres within 5 levels of 12 miles of tunnels.

We took a cab from the Spanish Steps which was about a 20-25 minute ride.  There is a walking tour of the grounds, and another tour of the catacombs, or you can combine the two.

There is no photography allowed in the crypts, however more information can be found here, with photos.

Below are the grounds at Saint Callixtus.

The Vatican Palace II, The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is one of six chapels in the Vatican Palace.  It was built between 1475 and 1483 duringPope Sixtus IV della Rovere and designed by Giovannino de’ Dolci.  The artists who painted the walls were Sandro Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, and Luca Signorelli.  The subject matter to be painted was the biblical history of the world divided into three eras:  the time between the creation of the world and when Moses received the ten commandments, the time between the ten commandments and Christ’s birth, and the Christian era following Christ’s birth.  All the scenes were painted as frescos while the ceiling was painted blue with gold stars.

In 1508 Pope Julius II “requested” Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Michelangelo did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  He considered himself a sculptor, not a painter, and he had never painted using fresco technique prior to the Sistine Chapel.  Information that renders his work even more amazing when you consider the detail.

The ceiling dimensions measure 30 feet by 140 feet.  The ceiling is curved so that the center is just shy of 68 feet high.  This makes the amount of space to be painted around 5000 square feet.  Over this space he would paint nine scenes from the book of Genesis, the Creation of Even, The Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Flood.  Surrounding these in a historical timeline are a variety of old testament prophets and ancestors of Christ–a total of 336 figures.  He also used a technique called pozzolana which uses lime, water and volcanic ash to create the “plaster”.

Michelangelo painted from 1508-1512.  He wrote a poem when he was finished, expressing his feelings about his work on the ceiling.  It’s short and worth the read–quite humorous as he describes the physical consequences of being upside-down for so long.

The Sistine Chapel is truly and amazing work of art, especially the ceiling, and especially when you consider it was painted by someone who didn’t really want to do it.

A small travel tip;  we went in August, and all the heads you see in the photo above show the crowds.  It was literally wall to wall people in the Sistine Chapel–shoulder to shoulder, packed with people.  The only time I’d ever seen anything like that was Jackson Square in New Orleans on New Years Eve.  We were told this is the heaviest tourist time for Rome.

Spynie Palace and Elgin Cathedral


The morning after arriving in Inverness, John asked us what we planned on seeing.  He then asked if we were fans of the Outlander series books, to which I said yes, Robyn not so much a fan was more tentative.  He asked if the next day we might be interested in joining an organized “Outlander” tour with another family staying at Ardconnel House.  We told him with some trepidation that we might be interested, but we didn’t want to trespass on the other family’s outing.  He pointed out that the more people that go the cheaper it would be, and thought we’d be a good match.  We agreed to let him negotiate the deal, and he could let us know that evening.


We did a self guided tour of Culloden and Clava Cairns, but since we would end up going back the next day, I plan on covering those in the next post.  Spynie Palace was built in the 12th century on  Spynie Loch and is 36 miles East of Inverness. It served as the Bishops seat for the Bishops of Moray for 500 years.  It was a fortified dwelling, and was referred to as Spynie Castle.  There was unrest about it’s location, as it was far from market and difficult to defend, hence the added gun holes in 1500.  Eventually it was moved to Elgin Cathedral 2.5 miles west to the city of Elgin.  Here is a link to read more about Spynie Castle.

There were two things that amazed me about this place.  The first was that it had been on Spynie Loch–a lake–where now there is none.  Over time the silt and earth filled in the Loch naturally creating dry land.

The second was the kitchen space, which was amazingly large, and sufficiently impressive to allow them to entertain any number of important people over the years.  James I, James II, James the IV and Mary Queen of Scotts all have stayed at this place that must have been quite impressive at one time.

I found photography difficult here with the camera I had brought with me.  I used a Sony PAS, with a really good zoom and panoramic capability.  I had thought at the planning stages that it would be easier than my Cannon EOS 50, because it’s lighter and easier to travel with, and the panorama function is so easy.  While the photo’s are not bad, I didn’t have a lot of flexibility in my shots.  Wide angle was out of the question, and while panorama is a nice feature, wide angle for some of these might have been a better choice.  Just another reason to go back with the right camera.

I found the same pangs of regret at the next stop, which was Elgin Cathedral in Elgin.  A very wide, flat open space, it was difficult to photograph to my liking.

As I mentioned earlier, Elgin is 2.5 miles from Spynie, and we were pleased that when we arrived it was still open.  I had been continually surprised by the short summer hours of most things in the UK, closing promptly at 5:30 when there is still so much daylight left in the day.

Upon arrival and parking, which turned out to be really easy as we were able to park at the curb right across the street, we were amazed at the entrance.

The first church on this site was built in the 13th century, but burned with much of the town in 1390 on the orders of Alexander Stewart, Wolf of Badenoch.  For the next 200 years it was slowly repaired until it fell in 1560 during the reformation when the congregation moved to Saint Giles in Elgin and the lead roof was stripped and the bells were taken.  It is known even now as The Lantern of the North.  Without a roof, it’s degradation became more rapid, until 1807 when a cobbler took measures to halt further decay.

They have a wonderful gift shop on the premises where the employees were willing to help us with anything.  This included pulling out a map and showing us wonderful places to drive and see.

“If you take this road here, it is the most beautiful drive.  You won’t be disappointed,” the young girl behind the counter said.

Robyn and I squinted at the tiny road on the map that most certainly did not look like an A road or even a B road.

I cleared my throat.  “Um, those aren’t single track carraigeways, are they?”

The young girl looked up, nonplussed as if this shouldn’t matter.  “Well, yes they are.”

We smiled.  “I think we are done with anything that doesn’t have two lanes.  But thank you for the suggestion.”

She truly looked disappointed.  Maybe I’ll give a try the next time I’m there.