Italian Cities in Review: Torino (Turin)

San Lorenzo Turin

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n an attempt to spread our travel net ever further afield, we grabbed our camera and boarded a three-hour train to Torino, the first capital of unified Italy and home to its once Royal family, the House of Savoy. This city has been given two strikingly dissimilar mottos: “the Detroit of Italy” and “little Paris.” While car manufacture is one of its most important industries, I think you’ll agree from the photos below that the French influence dominates in this mini Paris on the Po.
 
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Ten Books to Read Before Coming to Florence

Saving_ItalyBooks have played a large role in my relationship with Florence, Italy and I wanted to share my some of my personal favorites. Here are ten books to read before coming to Florence, while you’re in Florence, if you miss Florence, or if you always wanted to go to Florence.
 
1. Saving Italy, Robert M. Edsel, 2013. By the author of the popular (and adapted for the big screen by Mr. Italy-loving George Clooney himself) Monuments Men. Saving Italy narrows his focus in this compelling read. He looks at the repercussions of war in a new way and pays respect to the unsung heroes who protected and saved Italy’s greatest artistic treasures during World War II.
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Going #2 in Pompeii (and other things you never knew you wanted to know about)

pompeiiWhen I first travelled to Pompeii as an undergrad, I had read all about it in my art history textbook and thought I had a handle on what to see and where to go (I had been elected official guide by my group of friends who I had dragged there with the pretext that it was near the Amalfi coast). Instead I was completely overwhelmed and admittedly, a little disappointed. Ok…I was a lot disappointed. I had imagined it full of artifacts, art, plaster casts of various things, with, of course, educational signage and helpful personnel. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was so struck by how much was not there (based on what I had imagined in my head) that I couldn’t see the many things that were there.
 
So in this post, I want to take the opportunity for those of you who haven’t been or for those of you who have, but perhaps didn’t have an outstanding guide, no guide at all, or else just one of those generic guidebooks, to try and show you a glimmer of the magnificence of this incomparable site. Because the truth is that to the untrained eye (and under the blazing southern Italian sun), this magnificence can sometimes be a little hidden.
 
What I have learned now, however, thanks to these last few visits and some research of my own, is that not only are there many, many things of significance to see at Pompeii, but that the best things are not what you would necessarily expect and perhaps a little harder to see. These tend to be the things that really help our understanding and appreciation of the Roman World circa 79 AD and once you realize they’re there, they have the potential to change your entire experience.

So, without further ado, here are just a few of those wonderful details you don’t learn about in your average Art History survey course and that are not necessarily the easiest to see but are definitely easy to appreciate (warning: there will be discussion of toilets and materials that go into toilets so if you’re squeamish…well…get over it):
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Photo of the Week: Milan’s Cathedral Facade

Photo of the Week: Milan’s Cathedral Facade

Last week I took a train to Milan for the day to see some friends who were visiting. Neither had been to Milan before and while site-seeing was not their top priority, I insisted we at least see the cathedral. “It’s one of the largest cathedrals in the world and the only Gothic cathedral in Italy!” I told them. But I didn’t follow the very advice I have given students hundreds of times for countless summers. It was so nice that day that I left my shawl at my friend’s hotel and arrived at the cathedral in a skirt with nothing to cover my legs. Milan is rather strict about who enters their cathedral (a police guard checks each person’s attire before letting them in). Unlike other churches, however, they do not provide a little cape to wear (the cape or poncho of shame, as we call it). So I walked up to the door, got the look over, and that was it. I couldn’t go in. I sent my friend inside and stood outside to wait. Then a funny thing happened: I looked up at the facade. And I mean really looked, maybe for the first time.
 
While the building itself was begun at the end of the 14th century, the facade, like many church facades in Italy, was not started until much later. Though a series of attempts and design competitions were held, the final version was not begun until the 17th century and wasn’t finished until the 19th, and only then by order of Napoleon. Due to the extensive length of time it took to complete this building and its facade, there were many architectural visions involved that, at times, also clashed. For example, under the archbishop Carlo Borromeo in the 16th century, there was an attempt at a Classical Roman redesign of the gothic structure. A Baroque design for the facade was begun but quickly interrupted by the archbishop’s death. The new patron and his chosen architect opted to return it to its original Gothic splendor. As late as the 20th century, some of these less Gothic elements on the facade were replaced to make it fit more accurately within traditional Gothic style. However, in this photograph we continue to see the unusual blend of Gothic architectural details, as seen in the pointed arches and decorative elements, with figures, such as the two men supporting the base of the two piers, that are clearly Baroque. It may be this uncommon combination of styles over centuries that give the facade such an enduringly unique appearance. One that I am so glad I had the opportunity to fully take in.
 
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Photo of the Week: Lucca & Alfredo Catalani

Photo of the Week: Lucca & Alfredo Catalani

While this may look like a dream, it is in fact a real place. A place that feels a little like a dream every time I go there. A place called Lucca. This photo was taken from atop the city’s 16th-century walls that are now home to a park/promenade that circles the city. A park on top of a wall, you ask? Well these are not just any walls. They are more than 10 meters (almost 33 feet) tall, and up to 30 meters (almost 100 feet) thick at the base. On top of all those fun measurements, this massive defensive structure is almost 2.5 miles long. There is a whole other world happening on top of these walls. You can walk on them, ride bikes around them, take a nap in the grass that grows on them, or just enjoy the view from 33 feet above the stunning city of Lucca.
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