If the universe had commissioned Walt Disney to create Italy, what he would have crafted, in my opinion, would have looked like today’s Verona. Verona is that exquisite, and magical.
Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. The entire city of Verona has been named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. Often, a UNESCO site is something more specific, such as the church in Milan which houses Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, or the ancient dwellings known as trulli in Puglia’s Alberobello. Many Italian cities, such as Florence, Siena and Naples, do find themselves on the heritage list, but it is specifically for their historic city centers (i centri storici). In Verona, the UNESCO powers that be found the city’s urban structure and architecture so captivating, that they honored the entire city with World Heritage status.
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In spring this year we spent a couple of days on gorgeous Ischia, one of the islands in the spectacular Bay of Naples. Our lovely friends Stephanie and Paul took us on a tour of the island on a rickety bus which hurtled around the narrow road at breakneck speed.
One of the highlights along the way was the pretty little church, Santa Maria del Soccorso, which sits on a promontory jutting into the sea, Punta del Soccorso.
The facade is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The church has had many transformations since it was rescued from an old Augustinian monastery founded in the 14th century.
The entrance is via a semicircular staircase decorated with polychrome majolica tiles.
The tiles are repeated in the wall around the church and on the cross at the side.
The interior is a cool respite from the heat of the day.
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I descended 60 feet below Rome’s surface into a mysterious past I knew little about…
Standing outside of the ancient Basilica of San Clemente, named after Rome’s third pope, hardly drew my attention. I had approached it from the side by mistake and missed the grander entrance fronted by a small courtyard with palm trees.
photo credit Wikimedia Commons
Located just a short distance from the Colosseum, I knew it embodied three levels of ancient church history. Harboring this thought, I stepped inside the 12th century Basilica.
High above me was a vaulted ceiling with a dazzling mosaic in the apse depicting Christ on the Cross surrounded by doves. I walked across the uneven tile floor as it dipped and swayed through the centuries of visiting pilgrims and worshipers. A faint smell of incense, mingled with the cool and earthy surroundings, grew stronger as I began my journey into the depths of San Clemente
photo credit Wikimedia Commons
I soon found…
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Nestled in the perfectly preserved walled town of Monteriggioni in Tuscany is the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
Despite my love affair with Brunelleschi’s famous dome in Florence, it’s this little unassuming church which is my favorite chiesa of all which I’ve seen in Italy thus far.
Built over an ancient church, Santa Maria Assunta was consecrated in the early 1200s following a peace treaty between the notoriously warring Siena and Florence.
Small and peaceful, this tiny stone church doesn’t boast murals from any of Italy’s rock stars from art history. But it’s exactly that simplicity to which I’m drawn.
Monteriggioni is not far from Florence and is a fantastic stop to include if you are visiting the more popular Tuscan towns of Siena and San Gimignano. If you’re traveling with kids, Monteriggioni is highly recommended!
Recently I posted an article about the historic and picturesque Tuscan town, San Gimignano.
In the article, I described the memorable balcony room we had in the 12th Century Hotel la Cisterna. Sorting through photographs, I missed one The Counselor shot from within the room, looking out over San Gimignano to the surrounding countryside. As much as any photograph from years of seeing the world, I’d choose this one as a representative of the allure, pleasure and — yes — romance of travel. As we know, the days aren’t always so halcyon, the rooms aren’t invariably inviting, sunny and blessed with a balcony view. Sometimes, fortune smiles.
May all your travels be so providential.
© Brad Nixon 2016. Photograph © Marcy Vincent 2016, used by kind permission.
If you missed the full article and its photos of San Gimignano (with this photo now in place), including the interesting coincidence concerning that balcony room, CLICK HERE
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Arguably the most memorable skyline of any city in Italy can’t be claimed by Rome, Milan, Venice or Florence. It belongs to the “Town of Fine Towers,” San Gimignano.
San Gimignano is located approximately halfway between Florence and Siena.
Occupying a prominent hilltop along a major trade and pilgrimage route to Rome, San Gimignano escaped destruction in the 5th Century by Attila the Hun (purportedly thanks to its patron saint and namesake, Saint Germinianus) and prospered through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The town, with narrow, serpentine streets, is a trove of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
San Gimignano is most famous for the fortified towers that arose in the 13th and 14th Centuries as warring families took steps to defend themselves during the long conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. The same thing happened in innumerable Italian towns and cities, and at one time there were 72 towers in San Gimignano. While most of the…
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