Pantheon: Timepiece of the Gods (#37)

The Roman Pantheon is a concrete marvel, a product of mathematical genius and very clever use of space. I was in awe of its thick walls, large marble columns and huge doors. In fact, everything about the Pantheon is huge; both inside and outside. It made me wonder how many slaves suffered and died in the construction of this magnificent structure. The Pantheon dates back to 125AD and until the 20th century, was the largest unreinforced concrete structure in the world, inducing even Michelangelo to study its dimensions before starting work on the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Its ecclesiastical interior design contrasts with the temple’s structural design, but the marble floor, designed in a series of geometric patterns, is still the ancient Roman original.

The still-original bronze doors leading into the building weigh 20 tons each, while the walls of the Pantheon are 7.5m (25 ft.) thick!

 

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Madonna and Child seen above the main altar which is directly opposite the entrance. Previously dated to the 13th century, it was only recently discovered that this icon actually dates all the way back to the 7th century!

But the most remarkable and spectacular part of the building is the dome. It was the largest dome in the world until 1436 when Brunelleschi’s Florence Cathedral was constructed.

At the top of the huge dome is a large opening, the oculus, which provides the only source of light for the entire building. An engineering marvel of the Roman world, no other oculus came close in terms of size! The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 metres (142 ft). This means that it is a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder. Light flows into the interior, illuminating different areas of the room at different times of the day, giving visitors a perspective of the magnificence of the universe. The oculus is never covered and any rain falling into the interior runs off the slightly convex floor and into discreet drainpipes built underneath.

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The oculus is the only source of natural light inside the Pantheon and opens up to the sky.

Nobody can really tell how and why the Pantheon was built. However, considering the dimensions and extraordinary size of its dome, the Pantheon might have been intended as a giant sundial. The emperor entering ‘with the sun’ would have symbolised ‘placing Rome among the Gods’, thereby reinforcing the relationship between religion and the emperor’s divine right to rule.

The famous artist, Raphael and of two Italian kings, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I are buried inside the Pantheon.

It goes without question that the Pantheon is listed under UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

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Sirmoine: Garden by the Lake (#36)

Sirmione is a picturesque town with its own distinctive ambience and style. It sits at the tip of a narrow 6.5-kilometre peninsular, and is almost entirely surround by Lake Garda.

Before entering Sirmione, you need to cross a drawbridge belonging to Scaliger Castle, which stands guard at the entrance to the town. This 13th century medieval castle is the landmark of Sirmione. While it is smaller than most castles in Europe, it has the unique reputation of doubling up as both a fortress and port during its heyday. It is surrounded by a large moat which is also home to many ducks and swans.

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The church of Sant’ Anna located to the left after crossing the drawbridge leading to Sirmione town.

Scarliger Castle offers great photo opportunities and magnificent views of the historic village, harbour and Lake Garda. That is, if you have the luxury of time and stamina to climb the 150 steps which lead up to the ramparts and the 30 metre-high tower.

Beyond the castle and towards the town are narrow cobbled streets, stuccoed buildings with flower boxes lining its windows, linked arches and pretty gardens. Slender alleys open into little piazzas, with outdoor cafés and souvenir shops. It was a delight to just wander around and enjoy the charm of a historical town. I treated myself to five different flavours of gelato piled on top of one huge cone!

Summer blooms add colour and texture to the walls of houses.
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Enjoying the waters of Lake Garda
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Sirmoine’s small piazzas are surrounded by old buildings with painted windows and awnings. You can have a go at the fresh seafood from Lake Garda, or simply enjoy a delicious gelato under the sun.

There are a number of gardens and parks to enjoy the greenery, while the port is still in use for boats and ferries that take tourists out to the lake for great views of the town, cliffs and mountains. For the most part, people come to Sirmione to relax, chill out and enjoy the mineral-rich thermal spas that are well-known for their curative properties.

A number of artists and poets, like Catullus, have praised Sirmione for its beauty. A very enjoyable visit, indeed!

Colosseum: Death Watch (#35)

Millions of people visit the Colosseum every year to get a “feel” of what life was like during ancient Roman times. Those were violent, frightening and cruel days, and I certainly wouldn’t have liked to live in that era!  Built in 72 A.D, it was in the Colosseum that the Roman emperors staged fight-to-the-death games between man and beast.

The Colosseum was built for three reasons:-

i)    as a  gift  to the Roman citizens to increase the Roman Emperor’s popularity, 

ii)   to stage various forms of entertainment, and 

iii)  to showcase Roman engineering mastery to the world.

As a gift to the Roman citizens  to increase the Roman Emperor’s popularity

The Colosseum had over 80 entrances and could accommodate about 50,000 people. Spectators were given free entry and free food to entertain and distract them from the political problems facing Rome.

To stage various forms of entertainment

Besides the gladiatorial contests which became a big hit with the spectators, shows like wild animal hunts, mock naval wars, re-enactments of famous battles, executions and unique performances were staged. Roman audiences loved violent shows to the extent that the smell of blood and burnt flesh would fill the whole arena.

The very first games held in 80 A.D. by Emperor Titus lasted for a whopping 100 days, witnessing 3000 gladiator fights and the slaughter of 9,000 animals! The wild beasts came mainly from Africa and the Middle East. They included elephants, tigers, leopards, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, bears, giraffes, bisons, lions, panthers, ostriches and even crocodiles!

The Colosseum saw its last gladiatorial games in 435 A.D. Over the hundreds of years when these “live shows” took place, about 500,000 people and over a million wild animals were killed.

To showcase Roman engineering mastery to the world

The Colosseum is a product of advanced architecture and became a model for modern-day arenas and stadiums. It took 9 years to build using over 60,000 Jewish slaves. More than 100,000 cubic meters of marble were used for the outer wall of Colosseum, which was set without mortar and held together by 300 tons of iron clamps. Two hundred bullock carts were used to transport marble to the construction site.

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Despite being used as a “quarry” for building other famous monuments at various points in history, the tiered seating, corridors and underground holding areas for gladiators and animals remained intact.

The Amphitheatre has been featured in numerous films like Bruce Lee’s and Chuck Norris’s Way of the Dragon (1972 film) and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000 film).

Today, the Colosseum is no longer able to accommodate large events because of its badly damaged interior. However, large concerts have been held outside with the Colosseum as a backdrop. Music performers who have played at the Colosseum include Ray Charles (May 2002), Paul McCartney (May 2003), and Elton John (September 2005).

In addition to its listing under UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, the Colosseum was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

Leaning Towards Pisa (#34)

I really could not think of how to photograph the Tower of Pisa in a way that has not already been captured millions of times. Furthermore, the place was jammed-packed with tourists wanting to get a picture with the famous monument. Wherever I stood, someone was always in front of me, posing stiffly, doing handstands and other quirky gestures to remember their visit to Pisa.

Eventually, I gave up trying to get a decent photograph and just decided to walk around the buildings that make up the Square of Miracles. On the way out of the main entrance, I turned round to have one last look.. and lo!!…there was my opportunity! There were no people as the spot was considered too far away from the Leaning Tower. Unfortunately, there was no object nearby to draw attention to the Tower, except for a heavy iron chain along the grass verge.

I decided to photograph the Tower of Pisa as the background instead of main subject. I felt quite pleased with the result. The eye is still drawn to the Leaning Tower, even though it remains in the background.

The Leaning Tower is actually the free-standing Campanile (Bell Tower) of Pisa’s Cathedral. Its construction began in the 1173 and continued for about two hundred years. The bell tower is leaning as a result of a poorly laid foundation and loose substrate that caused one side to sink. A spiral staircase with 294 steps leads to the top of the tower, where one can get a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.

The Tower of Pisa stands 56 m (184 ft) high with an estimated weight on 14,500 tonnes. With this weight, you can understand why it was not possible to strengthen the Tower’s foundations and shift it back to its perpendicular position!

Piazza del Duomo, comprising  the Cathedral, with its bronze doors and mosaics, the Baptistery, a round Romanesque building with an early Renaissance pulpit, the Campanile (the Leaning Tower), the walled cemetery Campo Santo with its frescoes, are listed under UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

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Footprints in Florence

Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region in Italy. The city is considered a cultural, Renaissance art and architectural gem. Besides being well-known for its monuments, churches and buildings, Florence boasts of outdoor artworks, piazzas, bridges and elegant side streets. Its walls tell stories of a turbulent past – from the powerful Medici family and feudal battles to philandering kings and Renaissance masters.

The list of Florence’s famous residents goes on and on, and are not limited to the following:-

  • Antonio Meucci (inventor of the telephone),
  • Dante Alighieri (poet and author of the masterpiece, Divine Comedy),
  • Donatello (sculptor),
  • Enrico Coveri (fashion designer),
  • Florence Nightingale (pioneer of modern nursing),
  • Galileo Galilei (Italian physicist, astronomer, and philosopher),
  • Giotto (early 14th-century painter, sculptor and architect),
  • Guccio Gucci (founder of the Gucci label),
  • Leonardo da Vinci (polymath),
  • Lorenzo Ghiberti (sculptor),
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti (sculptor, painter, author of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and David),
  • Niccolò Machiavelli (poet, philosopher and political thinker, author of The Prince and The Discourses),
  • Raphael (painter),
  • Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (19th century English poets),
  • Robert Lowell (poet),
  • Roberto Cavalli (fashion designer),
  • Salvatore Ferragamo (fashion designer and shoemaker), and
  • Sandro Botticelli (painter),

Florence is also regarded by some as the birthplace of modern fashion in Italy. It has served as home to fashion label, Salvatore Ferragamo since 1928. Other luxury fashion houses like Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and Emilio Pucci are also headquartered in Florence. Prada and Chanel have set up large stores here, while brands such as Armani and Bulgari showcase their jewelry in elegant boutiques.

Florence’s has been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.

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Florence’s Duomo has a place among Italy’s ‘Big Three’ (the other two being Pisa’s Leaning Tower and Rome’s Colosseum). Work started in 1296 and took almost 150 years to complete.
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The exterior of the Basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of white, green and pink with an elaborate 19th century Gothic facade.
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Its red-tiled dome, graceful Campanile (bell tower) and breathtaking marble facade are architectural masterpieces. Six hundred years after completion, this is still the world’s largest dome built from brick and mortar.

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Uffizi Museum
Piazza della Signoria is THE place in Florence. Edged by fine cafes, crammed with outdoor Renaissance sculptures and presided over by Palazzo Vecchio, this Square has been the centre of local life for centuries. Left: Perseus with the Head of Medusa & Right: Hercules and Cacus
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The River Arno, cuts through the old part of the city. During feudal times, it was used to transport soldiers from neighbouring cities, as well as bring in shipments from the sea. Historically, the Arno has a love-hate relationship with its local inhabitants – alternating between nourishing the city with commerce, and destroying it through floods.

In spite of engaging in many battles with each other, Florence and its neighbouring rival, Siena, have upheld their elegant appearance throughout the years. Their skylines of medieval towers, russet rooftops, lofty domes, striking buildings, exquisite galleries and treasure-filled churches are befitting testaments toward Italy’s beginnings, struggles and legacy.

 

Photographed in June 2014.

Medieval Tower Houses (#31)

Please bear with me if you are seeing more than 3 posts in a day from me. I promise that this practice will stop as soon as I am able to publish my images to my site and move on. I understand that it can get quite annoying when the same someone publishes four or five posts everyday.

Two days ago, the posts I published went missing! While the pop-up from WordPress.com showed that I had published successfully, the posts didn’t show up on my site. Initially, I thought their non-appearance was merely delayed due to heavy internet traffic. This didn’t turn out to be the case. The frustrating part about all this is that they are not even retained in the Drafts folder anymore!

I have now resorted to backing up my posts offline so that there is a copy I can fall back on.

This is one of my favourite images  – medieval tower houses that line both sides of the narrow streets in Siena. Brilliant architecture and I’m not even talking about the cathedrals and palaces!

Sienese Beams (#30)

Sienese Beams

 

The airy roofs of Siena. Textures, material, hardness and creativity combine to complete the picture!

Medieval Archway (#28)

Somehow, my post titled Medieval Archway (#28), appears to be missing from my site. So I’m reposting.

This picture reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s fantasy book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. In the story, Lucy goes inside an empty wardrobe and emerges out to a land of talking animals and mythical creatures.

The width of the paved road is only wide enough for a horse-drawn carriage to pass through. Quite narrow, really. Before entering this archway, I didn’t know what to expect. Like Lucy, I made my way through the dark archway. On the other side, a corridor of history, romance and lifestyle during the Middle Ages!

 

Archway

 

 

Photographed in June 2014.

Siena: A Morning Walk in A Medieval City

The city of Siena is one of the most beautiful cities of Tuscany. This medieval city follows the contours of three hills, and is bordered by 7 kilometres of ramparts built between the 14th to 16th centuries. These walls, with their bastions and towers, are pierced by gates that are double at the strategic points. Siena is a city of brick, characterised by steep, twisting stone alleys, ancient tower houses and medieval palazzos.

The whole city of Siena, built around the town’s 13th century main square, the Piazza del Campo. This square is Siena’s symbolic heart and was specially designed to blend into the surrounding landscape. It is home to the Palio,  an infamous horse race that occurs every summer.

Piazza del Campo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Below are some snapshots that I took during my 4-hour visit to Siena.

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First view of Siena from Basilica Cateriniana
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Don’t let this inconspicuous landscape from afar fool you. Siena hides dozens of Gothic palaces, unseen rivalries and artwork of unsurpassed beauty behind its medieval walls.
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Mangia Tower ( Torre del Mangia) is a bell-and-clock tower at Piazza del Campo. Built in 1334, it is 290 feet high offering amazing views across the city of Siena. However, you need to be fit to climb up the 500+ steps.
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The facade of Siena Cathedral with its magnificent sculptures. It was built between the 1100s and 1300s in Gothic Romanesque style.
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Siena Cathedral (the Duomo) stands out with its unique striped black-and-white marble.  This photo captures part of the Duomo, the Baptistery and the Bell Tower.
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Siena’s winding narrow streets and tall tower houses. Cars are not allowed on the streets of historic Siena where most of the tourist attractions are found. The cars seen here fall outside the historic area. Parking is fairly easy but not necessarily cheap.
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Gothic houses with wooden window shutters
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Large crowds on Siena’s streets
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Piazza del Campo, the main town square, has been the cultural and civic center of old Siena since the 1100s. The atmosphere in Piazza del Campo is lively and vibrant. Everybody appears happy and stress-free when they are in Siena.
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Piazza del Campo has lots of restaurants, pastry shops and wine bars. This coexistence of ancient with urban, is one of Siena’s main attractions.

The Balcony (#29)

One of my favourite photos taken during my walk along the medieval alleys of Siena, Tuscany region, Italy.

– June 2014.

Souvenirs (#20)

Rows of colourful souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants line the lagoon in Venice. My impression of  Venetian attitude towards tourists  is one of benevolent tolerance. Can’t live with these vulgar tourists, and can’t live without them!

Blissfully Lost (#19)

Getting lost through Venice’s streets and alleys goes a long way towards appreciating the city.

 

Light and Sign (#17)

Another ornate street lantern and sign seen hanging from the walls of Venice’s narrow streets.

Walls (#18)

Walls (#18)

 

The walls of Venice stand out for me. Looking up opens my eyes to more beauty, stories and possibilities.

View Point from St. Mark’s Square (#16)

Seen from St. Mark's Square

 

Look up, look down, look left, right, sideways – history is everywhere. Each wall whispers its own story of days past. When visiting Venice, one is temporarily transported into another lifetime.

St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice (#15)

Basilica San Marco on St Mark’s Square is the most famous and most recognizable of all the churches in Venice. Its spectacular and ornate design is a mixture of Byzantine, Western European, and Islamic architecture, all due to Venice’s seafaring history.