Last month (October 2006), my wife and I traveled in Italy for two weeks covering many popular and famous historic cities such as Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples, Sorrento, Capri and Rome. Italy’s history is fascinating, the artistic accomplishments are outstanding and the archeological sites are amazing. The country side especially in Tuscany is dotted with vineyards, olive orchards, rolling hills sprinkled with medieval castles and fortresses. Our tour group had a local Italian guide during the entire fourteen days; in addition at every major destination we had local expert tour guides. Because of that, we really got to see, learn and enjoy so much more of Italy.
Our tour started in Milan, which is the industrial capital and fashion center of Italy. It is the second largest city in Italy, after Rome. It is located in the middle of the plains region in northern Italy, close to the Swiss border. As a result of it’s location, historic interactions with Germany, France and Austria have been very heavy and in this way , it is quite different than other cities in Italy.
DUOMO (THE CATHEDRAL), MILAN
Main symbol of the city is the massive cathedral known as the Duomo. The superb high gothic architecture is a direct influence of the countries above the northern border. People who have been to Paris, London and German towns can see the similarities of architecture.
THE DUOMO, SIDE VIEW
The Duomo is over 600 years old and is one of the largest churches in all of Europe. It is approx. 500′ in length, 300′ in width with a capacity for over 40,000 worshipers. The actual construction went on for several centuries, still the original gothic style was maintained throughout the period and the cohesiveness of the entire structure was maintained.
THE DUOMO..THE ROOF TOP
The cathedral has all around numerous tall spires pointing to the sky, some reaching over 350′ high. On top of the tallest spire stands the gold covered Madonna. There are more than 3000 decorative statues. One can walk up to the roof level by climbing the main stairs or by taking an elevator (at the back of the church) half way up and then climbing to the roof level. We walked around the entire building at the roof level, enjoying the vast vistas of Milan and surroundings.
LA SCALA OPERA HOUSE, MILAN
In Milan’s must see list is the world-renowned opera house, known as " La Scala" and in Italian " Teatro alla Scala". La Scala has been the home of many famous opera premiers with legendary conductors such as Verdi, Puccini, Bellini and a long list of great opera singers. We were fortunate to get tickets on short notice (after we arrived in Milan) and enjoyed the opera "Don Giovanni". The singing and the acoustics were of supreme quality.
From Milan, we headed North towards the Swiss border. It is not too far, about an hours drive. The road goes via the village of Como and then after passing through a series of tunnels under the Swiss mountains reaches Lake Lugano. I have already published a picture of this lake under " Captured moments" a few weeks ago. Southern part of Lake Lugano juts into Italy. Lake Como is entirely in Italy. This is in the Lombardy region in the shadow of the Alps. The weather is pretty temperate most of the year and the pristine beauty of the mountains, hillsides and the glacier lake makes this a much sought after place for the rich and famous.
All around the lake there are exquisite villas and castles belonging to a long list of "who’s who" ..? There is also the renowned resort hotel Bellagio. During World War II, this was also a center for the German military planners and their fascist allies in Italy.
There are several others important and beautiful lakes in this region. The village of Como is nestled in the valley and the mountain slopes. It is very picturesque. Como has been always known for the skills of its builders. It is the center of silk industry in Italy and is also the home of Alexander Volta, pioneer in electrical engineering and inventions. Volt in the electrical engineering field came from his last name.
After returning to Milan and staying there for another day, we started our journey to Venice. Venice is almost due east of Milan on the Adriatic Sea. On our way to Venice, we stopped at the beautiful city of Verona, which is known as the home town of "Romeo and Juliet", romantic tragic love story immortalized by Shakespeare. Verona was at it’s gloriest during the 13th and 14th centuries. It is a well preserved city with many important historic structures and monuments
COLLISEUM, "THE ARENA" , VERONA
The arena in Verona is one of the best preserved monuments.from the Roman times. It is a massive structure made of pink marbles and has the capacity for 22,000 spectators. Every year, this amphitheater hosts one of the most exciting opera festivals in the world.
STREET SCENE, VERONA
In front of the arena, there is a large square surrounded with city hall, many restaurants, bars and gift shops. Locals and the tourists are strolling and enjoying a fine day, making stops for cappuccinos, gelatos ( Italian ice cream) and delicious pastries.
JULIET’S BALCONY, VERONA
As we know by the Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet’s love story happened in Verona during the middle ages. The house in the picture was the real home of Juliet’s family (the Capuletis). As the storyline goes, above is the balcony, where Juliet would receive and see Romeo standing below.
Venice is a city that floats physically on water and literally in your mind forever once you have seen it. It is one of its kind, a marvelous, enchanting place. There are canals and canals everywhere. No streets for the cars, buses or mopeds. The city was built on 118 small islands connected with numerous bridges.
Transportation is by boats, gondolas and vaporettos. There are no avenues and streets, only small streets and inner squares full of small shops, trattorios ( family style restaurants) and coffee , pastry houses.
GRAND CANAL, VENICE
Grand Canal is like the main street, which used to be the main harbor. In the 15th century or so, rich merchants began building their palaces and the canal became the center of residential area.
HOTEL WHERE WE STAYED, VENICE
We stayed in one of a smaller, beautiful hotel close to the St. Mark’s square, which is the center of Venice. The hotel lobby was practically touching the canal. Behind the hotel, we could walk on the narrow cobble stone streets and alleys, passing several courtyards and go to the main square and the Basilica in a few minutes.
REALTO BRIDGE OVER THE GRAND CANAL, VENICE
This bridge is the most famous bridge in Venice. On the bridge and on either side on the streets there are numerous stores and gift shops. This area gets very busy with tourists. Many of the shops seem to be family owned and it is interesting to explore and get a feel for the people and the place. Both sides of the canal are lined with outdoor cafes. We were here in the middle of October, which was not the heaviest tourist season and you can see some empty choice seats for a cup of cappuccino and some gelato, overlooking the bridge and the canal as the gondolas go by.
ST. MARK’S SQUARE, VENICE
This is the city center. St. Mark’s Basilica, The Clock Tower, The Doge’s palace are on the square. There are numerous stores and cafes in the buildings that form the edges of the square. There must be millions (!) of pigeons fed by millions (!) of tourists. At night, there are bands playing classical music, jazz and showtunes and is a great place to sit on the steps or to stroll while soaking the view of the magnificent buildings and enjoying the Adriatic sea breeze.
ST. MARK’S BASILICA, VENICE
The Basilica is close to 1000 years old. You can see the wealth and opulence in the fine mosaic and marble work of this fabulous church. In the ancient times. Venice and the merchants of Venice controlled the sea and the trade routes between east and the west. Venetian coffers were full of treasury from the taxes and dues that the traders had to pay. As you can see the face of the Basilica, you see the distinct Byzantine style that got its heritage from the east, Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). Inside the church is truly marvelous. The floors are uneven, as the city is slowly sinking. There are large thick steps at the entrance, that block water from coming in during times of heavy floods.
DOGE’S PALACE, VENICE
Doges means Dukes in English. This palace was the seat of the Venetian power. Doges ruled the city for more than 1000 years (AD726 to AD1700). The palace is full of great paintings and sculptures. It was the place where the courts were conducted and also where the city jail was located. The jail is connected with the "Bridge of Sighs" , upon which the prisoners were brought into the jail. As the prisoners walked over the bridge, they knew they will not come back to freedom and so the name for the bridge.
ADRIATIC SEA, VENICE
The history of the Roman empire, barbarian invasions, Adriatic Sea routes for trading, strategic location on the silk road, expansion of the Turkish empire, fall of Constantinople and subsequent opening of a new shipping route around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 are some of the major events that have shaped the historic glory and decline of Venetian power. Nonetheless the beauty of Venice endures, and is a must place to visit and enjoy. This is a city that is so unique and a treasure among world’s great historic cities. Preserving and saving Venice from the flood, rising water levels and other environmental factors present some contemporary daunting challenges.
The City of Pisa, that is famous for the "Leaning Tower" , is in Tuscany, central Italy. It is situated on the mouth of the Arno river (river that also flows through Florence) where it joins the Tyrrhenian Sea (sea on the West Coast of Italy), Our travel to Pisa took us via Bologna, which is a famous University town.
THE BASILICA AND THE TOWER, PISA
Inside the courtyard of a large walled area, on a beautifully maintained vast green lawn, there are three imposing beautiful marble structures – The Baptistery, The Basilica that is about 1000 years old and The Tower.
THE LEANING TOWER, PISA
The most distinctive monument among the three is the Leaning Tower. The practical purpose of the tower is as a bell tower. Architecturally, it became very famous because of its unique circular design and the leaning of the whole structure. It is over 180 feet high with eight stories. Inside there are 294 spiral steps to climb to the top. The construction of the tower began in 1173, but even as only the third story was finished, the slant or the tilt was visible. It was a result of the poor foundation and the soft, uneven subsoil. Then the construction stopped, corrections were made and construction restarted. This cycle was repeated for many centuries.
During the last twenty years or so, major engineering work has been done to sustain and control the tilt and supposedly the movement has been stabilized and under control. They allow a limited number of people to go up at any one time. Due to time constraints, we did not try, but the view of the unique Tower standing at an angle beside the beautiful Baptistery is a sight to behold.
To be Continued…
Author: J. M. Bhandary- USA