The Splendors of Italy – Part II

This post is the long overdue second part of a three-part series about a recent trip my family and I took to Italy.  As explained in my Part I post, which was focused on our stay in Rome, our tour with the Cosmos tour company took us on a journey stretching from Rome to Venice, with many fascinating stops in between, before completing the return trip to Rome where we tacked on an extra day beyond the scheduled tour. In total, we were gone for 11 days, with two of those days being very long travel days between Texas and Italy.  In this Part II post, the focus will be on the regions of Umbria and Tuscany with their fascinating medieval villages, cathedrals and landscapes in the cities and surrounding countrysides of Orvieto, Assisi, Siena, San Gigminano, Montecatini, Florence and Pisa.  The third and final post in this series will focus on our stay in Venice.

The first stop on our journey from Rome to Venice was at the ancient city of Orvieto.  Situated atop a large volcanic rock outcropping and protected by cliffs on all sides, Orvieto is accessible from a train station below via a cable car system known as the Bracci Funicular. While best known for its majestic cathedral, the Duomo, Orvieto is also known for its ceramics and its unusual Italian dialect.

The Cathedral of Orvieto, also known as the Duomo, is a large 14th-century Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary (Santa Maria Assunta). Construction lasted almost three centuries with the design and style evolving from Romanesque to Gothic as construction progressed. The Gothic façade of the Orvieto Cathedral is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages.

Cathedral of Orvieto

While strolling through the streets of Orvieto, we came across quite a few of these wild boar heads mounted on the walls outside of some of the local restaurants as it turns out that wild boar happens to be one of the local culinary specialties.

Wild Boar

Also located in the Umbria region of Italy is the medieval town of Assisi.  This city where St. Francis was born and died is also home to the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Franciscan Order and one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy.

To the north of Umbria is the Tuscany region of Italy, a region well-known for its vineyards and beautiful scenery.  Our first stop in Tuscany was in the city of Siena, another medieval village built on rolling hills and a city of ancient traditions, including a semi-annual horse race that is held in a large plaza in the center of town.

A Parade in the City of Siena

From Siena, we ventured on to another medieval hill town, San Gimignano.  Although the town is well-known for its museum devoted to medieval instruments of torture, we passed on the museum and chose instead to enjoy our stroll through this ancient town and to admire the beautiful countryside just outside the walls of the village.

View from San Gimignano

Not far from San Gimignano were two vineyards that we visited, first at the Castello Vicchiomaggio where they explained the wine-making process for us and let us do a little wine tasting, and then later at the Fattoria il Poggio where we enjoyed a nice dinner and sampled about a half-dozen different wines with our meal.

Fattoria il Poggio

Our next stop was the city of Florence – known as Firenze in Italy.  Florence is famous for its history, culture, fashion, cathedrals and art galleries and is generally regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance.  Contributing to Florence’s reputation as a major art hub was the influence of the powerful Medici family which commissioned numerous works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli.

The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church in Florence, and is a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about a half mile southeast of the larger and more famous cathedral, Duomo di Firenze. The Basilica di Santa Croce is the burial place of some of Italy’s most famous figures, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini, and is thus known as the Temple of the Italian Glories.

To the left of the Basilica di Santa Croce stands a statue of Dante Alighieri, an Italian poet during the middle ages.  Best known for his Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri is regarded by many as the father of the Italian language and the greatest figure in Italian literature.

Dante Alighieri by Enrico Pazzi

Below is just one example of the countless beautiful architectural details found throughout the city of Florence.

Architectural Details in Florence, Italy

The Duomo di Firenze, the Cathedral of Florence, was built between 1296 and 1436. The cathedral is one of the largest in the world. The dome was the world’s largest when it was completed in 1436 and still towers over the city. The lantern on top of the dome was added later, in 1461, by Michelozzi Michelozzo. The dome, a marvel of engineering, was designed by Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who submitted his plans after he went to Rome to study the Pantheon, which long had the world’s largest dome. Unlike the exterior, which is quite ornate, the interior of the cathedral is relatively simple and unassuming in appearance.

The Duomo di Firenze

Our last stop in Tuscany was in Pisa, where we saw the Cathedral of Pisa and its famous leaning tower.

And, of course, who can resist posing for a heroic effort to keep the tower from toppling over. I’m happy to report that the tower did not fall during our watch.

Leaning Tower Pose

Following our departure from Pisa, our journey continued on to the city of Venice, which I will cover sometime soon in Part III of this three-part series.  In the meantime, to see the complete gallery of photos from the Umbria and Tuscany regions, click these links:  UMBRIA TUSCANY.  To see the complete gallery of photos from our stay in Rome (covered in Part I of this three-part series), click HERE.

Until next time, ciao!

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