TRAVELS TO ITALY
In 2012 I took a long overdue vacation and for this trip I made the choice to go to Rome and Verona, Italy, by myself. Being a student of history (my degrees from university are in history and anthropology/archaeology) and tradition, I felt that this would be a perfect area to start. Italy, as in much of Europe is rich in history, art, architecture, religion and tradition. The first place I went to upon arriving in the eternal city of Rome was to find my way to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican (which as anyone should know is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church). I have always seen pictures of The Sistine Chapel and Vatican, as well as and watched masses from St. Peter’s Square on television and what a thrill it was for me to actually be there in person!!! The Vatican is an enclave of Rome and a sovereign possession of the Holy See, the supreme government of the Roman Catholic Church. Rome hosts foreign embassies to both Italy and the Holy See, although frequently the same ambassador is accredited to both. The Bishop of Rome (the Pope) is important since the early days of Christianity because of the martyrdom of both the apostles Peter and Paul. The Bishops of Rome are also seen as the successors of Peter, with St. Peter as being the first Bishop of Rome. While at St. Peter’s, I saw the tombs of both Blessed John XXI and Blessed John Paul II as well as The Pieta by Michelangelo which I found to be very impressive. I also had the opportunity to attend mass on Sunday at St. Peter’s. That in itself was very impressive. In addition to touring the Vatican, I was able to see many of the other historic churches in Rome such as the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica di San Clemente, and the Church of the Gesu. I went to see the Catacombs as well.
I got to the Coliseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Ruins as well as the Pantheon, and many other places. There is just so much to see and do in Rome, that you just can’t do it all in a short time. I spent time exploring and went to the Trevi Fountain (of fame from the movie “Three Coins in the Fountain”), I did throw coins in over my shoulder, saw the Spanish Steps, the Gardens of Villa Borghese. Public parks and nature reserves cover a large area in Rome, and the city has one of the largest areas of green space among European capitals. The most notable part of this green space is represented by the large number of villas and landscaped gardens created by the Italian aristocracy. While many villas were destroyed during the building boom of the late 19th century, a great many remain. Rome contains a vast and impressive collection of art, sculpture, fountains, mosaics, frescos and paintings, from all different periods. I also had the chance to go to the Etruscan Museum while there (very interesting in light of the fact that one of my courses at University was on the Etruscans). Plus I had the change to take in a production of a local opera’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata. Which I felt was excellently mounted and produced. Well worth the time and was quite enjoyable.
On a totally free day, I took the train from Rome up to Pisa, and spent time exploring the Leaning Tower and the Cathedral (Duomo) of the Miracles. The Leaning Tower actually is the Bell Tower for the Cathedral. One thing I learned that Pisa was the birth place of Galileo. The detail and architecture on the Cathedral and the Tower is like no other that I have ever seen before and is so unique. I think it would look out of place anywhere else. The pictures you see of the Cathedral and Tower don’t do it adequate justice. If you desire, you can actually go to the top of the Tower and have an impressive vantage point of the city. I was thoroughly impressed and blown away by it all. I highly recommend that if you are visiting Italy, definitely take a day trip to Pisa like I did. You won’t be disappointed. That evening I took the train back to Rome. It’s about a three hour train ride each way (for those unfamiliar with train travel in Italy, I equate it to taking Amtrak from Union Station , Washington, DC to Penn Station in NYC and back).
Even a year later, I get many people asking me why go to Verona, when there are more other important places to go to and see. Yes, there are many interesting and important places to visit in Italy, but there are many fascinating and important things to see and do in Verona as well. Far too many people forget that Verona is the setting for 3 Shakespeare plays set there (The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentleman of Verona and Romeo and Juliet). The city has been awarded World Heritage Site status because of its urban structure and architecture.
Verona is an important and dynamic city, very active in terms of economy, and also a very important tourist attraction because of its history, where the Roman past lives side by side with the Middle Age Verona, which in some senses brings about its architectural and artistic motifs. Verona has a preserved many ancient Roman monuments no longer in use. It is a great city for walking around and taking in the sites such as the Roman Amphitheatre, the arena is found in the city’s largest piazza, the Piazza Bra. The arena was completed around 30 AD; it is the third largest in Italy after Rome’s Coliseum and the arena at Capua. The shows and gladiator games that were performed within its walls were so famous that they attracted spectators from far beyond the city. The current two-story façade is actually the internal support for the tiers; only a fragment of the original outer perimeter wall in white and pink limestone with three stories remains. The interior is very impressive and is virtually intact, and has remained in use even today for public events, fairs, theatre and open-aired opera during warm summer nights. It makes a very interesting venue.
Of all of the churches I visited in Verona, the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore is considered one of the great achievements of Romanesque architecture. The present structure is the third on its site, built from 1123–1135, over the 4th-century shrine to Verona’s patron saint; St. Zeno (died 380). The façade dominates the large square, and is flanked with a beautiful bell tower (mentioned by Dante in Canto 18 of Purgatory). The weathered Veronese stone gives a warm golden glow, and the restrained lines of the pillars, columns, and cornices, and the gallery with its double windows, give the façade an air of harmonious elegance. The huge rose window is decorated like a Wheel of Fortune. The inner bronze door panels have 48 primitive but forceful depictions of Biblical scenes and episodes from the life of St Zeno. The vaulted crypt contains the tomb of St. Zeno, the first Bishop, the first Bishop of Verona, as well as the tombs of several other saints. North of the church is a pleasant cloister. Up until this point I had never heard of St. Zeno. The small Romanesque Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the finest and most important in the city. It dates from around 1177, but is built on the site of a Paleochristian church, some fragments of which remain. The church is built of alternating tracks of brick and stone, and has two cylindrical towers, housing spiral staircases to the women’s galleries. Inside, the atmosphere is rather severe, but still quiet and peaceful. The striped bands of stone and brick and the graceful arches complement the setting. Santa Maria Antica is a huge Romanesque church that served as the parish church of the Scaliergi clan, and is famous for the Gothic Scaliger Tombs. The Duomo is also a notable Romanesque church. Sant’ Anastasia is a huge and lofty church built from 1290–1481 by the Dominicans to hold the massive congregations attracted by their rousing fundamentalist sermons. The Pellegrini chapel houses the famous fresco St. George and the Princess of Trebizond by Pisanello. The square also holds its art festival in May. Plus many other equally fascinating and historic churches. Every church is unique into itself as well as its architecture and is worth visiting.
There is so much to see and do. The very noble Piazza dei Signori is the heart of Verona. The perimeter is surrounded by historical buildings that accentuate the important role the piazza has played in the city’s spheres. On the piazza one finds the Palazzo del Comune, the Palazzo Capitanio, and the Loggia del Consigsiglio. The buildings are joined with elegant arches and styles. The Piazza is very close to Piazza delle Erbe (Market Square) is surrounded by old houses and towers and the central area, and is occupied by the characteristic umbrellas of the daily market. Along the centre are the Market Column from 1401, the berlina (the 16th century marble shrine used for the investiture of citizens elected for public duty – podestà or signori), the Madonna Verona fountain with its roman statue and the 1523 San Marco’s Column. On the left of the piazza is the 14th century Merchants’ house with mullioned windows and crenellations. At the end of the piazza are the 1370 Gardello Tower and the baroque palazzo MaffeI and on the right the 14-16th century Mazzanti houses (decorated with fifteenth century frescoes) and the 1470 Costa Arch, so called due to the whale rib that hangs from it. Very interesting and worth visiting daily especially for the fresh produce (which reminded of going to the farmer’s market at home).
It would be worth it to go back to both Rome and Verona, as there are many other things I did not get a chance to see and/or experience and would like to be able to do.
Not that long from now I will be traveling to another part of Italy, this time to Milan, then on to Florence. One of the things I will be doing while in Milan will be going to La Scala. Naturally taking many pictures in both cities to be posted and shared. And some of the pictures to be added to the articles about the trip.
There are other areas of Italy that I would love visit, such as Pompeii, Venice, Naples, Sicily plus more, but those will have to wait…