After visiting St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Peggy and I travelled on to Florence where we were awed by the Duomo and Santa Croce churches, which we found even more beautiful than the Basilica. These two churches are the focus of my re-post today from our 2015 trip to Europe and are part of my armchair travel in the age of Coronavirus series.
Note: Peggy and I are off on another adventure. This time we will be exploring the back roads of America. Carefully. Covid-19 continues to rage across the country. We have our face masks along and enough sanitizer to bathe in. Even Bone and Eeyore are wearing their face masks! I apologize for not reading posts and comments the past few days but will catch up. One challenge of remote America is the lack of good Internet service. Yesterday, for example, I was in the middle of the Nevada desert on “America’s Loneliest Road” following the route of the Pony Express. I have several more posts in my Adventure Travel series and will then start my Backroad series. Peggy, Eeyore and Bone say hi and urge you to be safe! –Curt
There are at least three reasons for visiting Florence’s Cathedral, commonly known as the Duomo. First is the Church itself, second is the magnificent bell tower, which stands next to the church, and third is the octagonal-shaped Baptistery, which stands in front.
The dome of Duomo was one of the great works of the Renaissance. (The church had been waiting since the Middle Ages for its top.) Filippo Brunelleschi, who built the dome, first studied the ancient Pantheon in Rome. Like so much of the Renaissance, the dome represented a return to, or a rebirth of, the Greek and Roman cultures that had thrived 1000 years earlier before the Dark Ages had arrived along with the Barbarian hordes.
The 270-foot tall Campanile or Giotto’s Tower, which is located next to the Duomo, was actually completed 100 years before Brunelleschi put his finishing touches on the church. Many consider the bell tower to be among the most beautiful in Europe.
The Baptistery features Ghiberti’s bronze doors. Michelangelo believed these gates were so beautiful they could have served as “the Gates of Paradise.”
The Basilica of Santa Croce, a 14th Century Franciscan church, also had some great doors but is better known for the people buried inside including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini and Galileo. As we stood in front of the church admiring its doors, a man sent bubbles floating into the sky.
NEXT POST: Exploring a tiny bit of Florence’s art.
In my last post we stood in St. Peter’s Square and looked at St. Peter’s Basilica. This time we go inside plus visit the Vatican Museum as part of my armchair travel series. This post is based on a 2015 post.
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is one of the world’s great churches. It is simply breathtaking. Walk inside and you are ready to join the Faith… whether you are faithful or not. The church was built during the Renaissance utilizing the greatest artists of Italy when Italy had the greatest artists in the world.
Visiting, you might say, is an indulgence of the highest order. In fact the church was built on indulgence… or, more correctly, indulgences: lots of them. Let’s say you committed a very, very BIG sin. No problem, if you were very, very wealthy. The church was willing to sell you forgiveness, an indulgence if you will. It was a guarantee you’d make it through the Pearly Gates.
The practice was so widespread, and so profitable, and so corrupt in fact, that it led a relatively unknown monk by the name of Martin Luther to tack up a list of 95 demands on the doors of a German church and kick off the Protestant Reformation.
But that is all far behind us in the very distant past. I, for one, am glad that the Pope found a way to pay for his splendid monument. And, I suspect, given a few minutes alone with Michelangelo’s Pieta, the most protesting of Protestants would agree.
If St. Peter’s isn’t enough to pull you into the Vatican, its magnificent museum with over four miles of art should. The tour ends with the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo spent four years on his back filling 5900 square feet with art.
Our tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum was far too short. Even cutting out half of the museum, I felt like an Olympic sprinter. Give yourself a couple of days to explore these outstanding treasures.
Today we will visit St. Peter’s Square as part of my armchair travel series for the Age of Coronavirus. This is based on a post I did in 2015 after a visit to Rome.
Our hotel in Rome, the Giulio Cesare, was within a mile of the Vatican. We walked over twice, getting mildly lost both times. It didn’t matter. Rome is chock-full of fascinating architecture and tantalizing history.
The first time we went via the Tiber River, passing by the Castle St. Angelo and its neighboring bridge, the Pont St. Angelo. Eventually this brought us to the broad avenue leading up to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. Mussolini built the avenue to provide visitors with a better view of the church. He also gave the 100-acre Vatican its independent nation status. Today the Vatican serves as the religious center for some one billion Catholics.
I’ve been reading Mary Beard’s history of early Rome, “SPQR,” so I had fun going back and revisiting Rome with my posts from 2015. In fact, I had so much fun, I’ve decided to share them with you as part of my armchair travel series. We will go on a walk-about where Peggy and I barely avoid pickpockets, visit the ancient Forum, stop off at the Vatican, and take a trip to Rome’s grand Colosseum where I met a ghost of the great cats that once fought gladiators.
I first viewed Rome’s grand memorial to gladiators in 1967 on my way home from serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. I was as impressed with the number of feral cats living in the ruins as I was with the structure. Massive renovations have taken place since then. Today’s Colosseum is crowded with tourists instead of cats. We joined the throngs.
Originally the Colosseum was known as the Flavian Amphitheater, after the family of emperors who built it. Nero, who had a bad case of self-adulation, built a huge statue of himself nearby. It was known as the Colossus. At some point, the name was applied to the Colosseum. A later emperor removed the head from Nero’s statue and affixed his own stone likeness on top. Why pay for a whole statue? It became the custom with each succeeding emperor. So much for everlasting fame…
When completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum could seat 50,000 screaming people. During its 100-day inauguration, some 2000 gladiators killed each other and 9000 animals.
While their taste in entertainment left much to be desired, the Romans’ engineering abilities were superb. The Colosseum is high testament to this. Modern stadiums are still built on a similar model, designed to move large numbers of people in and out quickly. I was amused to learn that the Romans called the entrance/exit passages vomitoria– hence our word, vomit.
Spectators were issued tickets on pottery shards that listed their entrance gate, section, row and seat numbers. The higher your rank, the better your seat. The top rows were saved for slaves, foreigners and women. Some people, such as actors and gravediggers, weren’t allowed in the Colosseum at all. Now actors are idolized and even elected as presidents and governors. Gravediggers still dig graves.
The top could be covered for bad weather by a large canvas awning that was put up and taken down by sailors from Rome’s navy. The true gem of engineering was the floor, however, which covered a network of tunnels and cages where wild animals and props were stored. Eighty different elevators operated by pulleys served to bring scenery and wild animals to the surface. You might be in the middle of an African jungle for one scene and a Greek city the next. Imagine the job of being prop master! The floor could even be flooded for sea battles.
You never knew when or where the next wild animal might pop up, which could be bad news for gladiators. Cats at the Colosseum then meant lions and tigers with long claws and sharp teeth. There were also elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles and even giraffes— although I can’t imagine why or how you would fight a giraffe. I once chased a herd across the Serengeti Plains in a Volkswagen beetle, however.
Gladiators came from the ranks of slaves, poor people, and criminals. (Contrary to legend, there were very few Christians.) The most successful earned fame, fortune and freedom. Rick Steves, in his book, Mediterranean Ports, reports they even gave endorsements. I can see it in neon lights, “Barbarian Bob eats at Papa’s Pizzeria.”
Another post from my armchair travel series during Covid-19. This time I’ll take you on a window shopping tour of Venice with an emphasis on glassware, including face masks that come with a long nose…
I promised a window-shopping trip in Venice so window-shopping we will go. Staring in store windows is fun. Like people watching, it falls under the category of vicarious pleasure. And it’s free. Of course the shop owners have other objectives in mind.
Venice does a fabulous job with window displays. We saw mouth-watering pastries, chocolate fantasies, clunky shoes, a bejeweled rear end, and an interesting ceramic cow.
What impressed me the most about the window displays in Venice were those featuring glassware and masks. Both reach back into the city’s ancient history.
How many places can claim they have been “supplying quality glass products since 1291”? That’s the year that a Venice made of wood required all of its glass makers to move to the island of Murano in the Venice Lagoon. Community leaders feared that the glass making process would burn the city down. Venice quickly became the center of Europe’s trade in beautiful glass objects.
The upside for the glass makers was that they were invited into the highest ranks of Venetian society. The downside was they were threatened with having their hands chopped off or assassination if they moved and took their talents elsewhere.
Venetians apparently carried out numerous activities they felt were best done while wearing masks. For example, in 1339 Venice passed a law that forbade inhabitants from visiting convents while wearing masks. One can only wonder. During plague times doctors wore long nose masks they believed protected them from the disease. Today masks are a central part of the Carnival of Venice that ends on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras).
NEXT POST: Continuing on our armchair journey during Covid-19, it’s off to Pompeii to visit with the gods.
Peggy and I are continuing to self-isolate ourselves, as are so many of you. Medford, Oregon, the medium sized town where we do most of our shopping, is on the edge of becoming a coronavirus hotspot. (Nowhere is safe.) We have zero desire to go there and have enough food— and wine— that we don’t have to for a couple of weeks. I even have older blogs to repurpose. (Grin.) Something like 900. I’ve been blogging for 10 years. Last week I re-posted a blog on the Greek island of Corfu. Today is Mykonos. Stay safe.
The maze-like town of Mykonos (Chora) was designed to discourage invasion. It was easy for invaders to get lost in the narrow, winding streets that ran into other narrow, winding streets that ran into other narrow, winding streets.
Modern day invaders, otherwise known as tourists, also find it easy to get lost. But that’s half the fun. Except for finding a restroom when you really, really need it, there is no danger. You can easily spend an hour or several wandering along the town’s crooked roads and paths. There are beautiful white buildings slathered in stucco to admire, shops to explore, and cats to photograph. You may even find a Greek musician playing the bouzouki, a mandolin-like instrument that produces what most people think of as Greek music. Picture Zorba dancing.
We managed to get both lost and separated. There was no hope of finding each other in the labyrinth, but fortunately we had a plan. We would meet at the island’s famous windmills. Long since retired, five of them remain hunkered down on a ridge south of town. Mykonos is noted for its winds. The locals even have names for them based on their intensity: bell-ringer, chair thrower, and knock you off your horse. We experienced a brief example of chair thrower but fortunately missed knock you off your horse.
The windmills used cloth sails to capture the winds and run mills for grinding grain. Local bakeries then turned the grain into sea biscuits, aka hardtack, which is flour and water baked several times into a consistency of hardness just this side of rock. The value of sea biscuits is they are basically indestructible. Before modern refrigeration, they were used on long sea voyages. Throw in a lime plus a generous dollop of rum and it was dinner. Producing these ‘delicacies’ was the island’s main industry.
Following the coastline back into town we came upon Little Venice (pictured above), a community where sea captains of yore built mini-mansions perched on the ocean edge. Since it neither looks like Venice nor has canals, my thoughts are its name is derived from its proximity to water. Either that or a real estate agent was involved. The community is quite colorful, however. I’d be glad to call it home.
Mykonos has some 70 churches to meet the needs of its 7000 residents, which seems like a lot. I am reminded of the number of Baptist churches found in the rural South of the United States. When I was traveling through East Texas on my bicycle in 1989, I estimated there was one for each family. The Mykonosians had a unique use for their churches, however. They enshrined the bones of their dead relatives in the walls. I doubt the Baptists do this but it might give new meaning to the old saying, “the family that prays together, stays together.”
Scrunched between Little Venice and the harbor is the Church of Panagia Paraportiani, the most unusual church on the Mykonos. Once upon a time five different chapels existed side by side. Then they morphed together into what has become one of the most photographed sites on the island, with reason. We contributed our share of picture-taking.
The small harbor area of Mykonos definitely fits the description of picturesque. It was our last stop (except for lunch) on our way back to the ship. That’s where we met Petros the Pelican.
Unfortunately, it was Sunday and the local fishermen had taken the day off. We satisfied ourselves with admiring the boats. The area also features a small beach that would be crammed with sun worshippers in the summer. Now all it featured was golden sand and blue sea.
WEDNESDAY’S BLOG: Santorini. I’ve posted on this more recently but this beautiful island is always worth revisiting.