It was all going so well up to the mid 14th Century and then someone had to get sick...
Siena, a city and area mostly unchanged because the plague wiped out 75% of the population, whilst at its height of its creative and administrative influence. Artist.s artesans, bakers... nearly all disappeared due to death or distance. (Not only the well to do fled the area thinking it was possible to outrun the epidemic, "the ne'er do wells" of artist colony fame also created a dust cloud from sandalled feet trading hard on dirt roads.)
Rumour has it that the concept of the free market economy was born here. A flourishing yet feudal agricultural system enabled the canny and somewhat scarily named "The Council of IX" or just "The IX" to make their own rules as is the want of the wealthy. They decided the manner of taxes, tithes and payments of all things commercial. It was the IX who also made money by bank-rolling the Papacy ~ though it came with a sizeable interest charge. (Think the Bank of Bravos for the GoT fans.)
The local Duomo didn't do too badly out of it all of course. Like St Peters B, trying to take in the art work and the adoration of all things Godly, is a real challenge. To help out, I have used an external snap. It tells a story about what might lie inside I suggest.
Ok... can't help myself... Of the internal narrative, one thing is obvious, beyond the adoration factor, the Senesa were a blood thirsty bunch who seemed to like nothing more than a good killing whenever possible. Divided into areas within areas and quite happy to fight with Firenze, Lucca or whoever, the Game of Thrones reference seems once again to be apt. From the floor of the Duomo, a small piece of story outlined in marble. Killing babies, women and children... an oft taken optional extra.
Just a thought... Siena might also be the birth place of splatter films...
The Romans conquered the Etruscans from whence comes the name Tuscany, so the town of Siena decided to adopt the She Wolf and Romulus and Remus as its symbol in recognition of its heritage and contribution... oh, and the claim that R&R were suckled here in Siena.
For the first time ever, (yep, slow learners) we took a spin on a Hop on Hop Off Bus service. Having discussed the values of such many time in different cities, we finally took the plunge... thrill seekers living dangerously right...? It seemed like the right city to do a blockie in.
Great chance to re-visit some places already snapped and we took a walk along the Tiber in places new to us near the VC (Vatican City)
Sure, this is not the usual snap of the Basilica one shares. But Vatican City has a million stories beyond the towering edifice of St Peters. In the background of this snap is the hotel built initially (and relatively recently) for the cardinals who are instrumental in the voting system for each new Papa. Its a system a tad akin to that used by the Eurovision Song Contest... ( or is it the other way round?) but it involves lock down. Previous to the construction of the hotel, the Cardinals slept the corridors. Dorm party anyone? Actually no, as the 70+ year olds all shared one or two bathrooms...
So here is the front view, looking almost devoid of folk compared to those moments in the year when it is filled to capacity with the faithful.
The Galleries which surround the Basilica are remarkable, extensive and illuminating. Impossible to absorb in one tour. One passes through kms of internal walls and ceilings crammed with paintings and statues including the odd Caravaggio, Ciccarello, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.
Despite being able to take photos I found the paintings impossible to capture. Too overwhelming. Sculptures and artefacts were easier.
"This man is a dentist so we can't show you his face..." or groin (... for non-Aussies and younger ones, its a reference to a toothpaste ad from the 70s)). Our tour leader felt this was as finer set of glutes one might encounter in VC.
So, still didn't find any basil... but 400 year old olive trees that still produce fruit... yep.
Inspiration for The Terminator look... the English Gardens at the Vatican.
A bonus of the Vatican Tour with Tick Italy was it is one of three companies who can access the Bramante Stairs. Oh the privilege of being led through secret doors. I felt the eyes of envy fall heavy upon us as those less fortunate who assumed we were taking a secret passage directly to El Papa himself, gazed on.
Donato Bramante was the architect behind the rebuilding of the Basilica San Pietro... okay... the church of St Peter in the Vatican city... and a few others to boot. Bramante was a good friend of Pope Julius II who reformed the ways of the Church after the ravages of the Borgias. The stairs that bear his name is a spiral access for materials and services required in the building of the church. Whispers suggest it is one of many routes that snuck up a back passage in the Vatican.
At the top of the stairs one can stare out upon Roma. Not too shabby at all.
... and so a likely explanation of the word "acapella" came to mind as we pitch perfected the galleria shuffle as demanded by the crush of humanity who were all keen to get to one of the highlights of any Vatican visit, the Sistine Chapel aka Cappella Sistine to the locals.
The scope of images and the narrative behind the many scenes is overwhelming at first and then second... the realisation quickly dawned that I lacked the knowledge and understanding to comprehend all that was laid out before me in any depth (what comes after pig ignorant I ask?) akin to a 10 year old child's interpretation of Romeo and Juliet that describes it as a story about a house party and a boy called Romeo liking a girl called Juliet.
Luckily our guide provided a pre-Cappella briefing that gave some clues about technical aspects of the works and the political commentary to be found. Like Taylor Swift whose acerbic lyrics regarding her ex lovers cut to the bone, Michelangelo was not to be trifled with. In short it seems that any upstart Cardinal whispering artistic criticism in the Pope's ear needed to be wary lest you end up in Hell looking like an ass with the snake of sin taking a crack at your nether regions. The Pope of the time was a huge fan Mickey A and when said Cardinal complained of his depiction the big fella allegedly replied that Michelangelo had painted the Cardinal in Hell where he had no power to assist. If he had been placed in purgatory, then there would have been some chance of redemption.
We had 15 minutes to gaze upon the wonder and I felt enormously better when a priest offered up a prayer to all present. (Actually, I loved the timbre of his voice as he cried "Silencio!" at the throng from across the world. Irony anyone?
The iconic image... Fingers almost touching. It was fabulous to see this central on the ceiling in context of all that surrounds it.
I am compelled to momentarily ignore a whole range of issues I have with the Catholic Church to wax lyrical about the Vatican Gardens. Despite that on average 25,000 people visit the Vatican each day, we had the privilege to wander through the extensive gardens for a few hours feeling like we were sharing the experience with just the other 16 pax (check out my latin!) on the tour.
As has been the want of many of the rich and powerful to respond to desires and whims of those in charge, the Vatican Gardens have both renaissance and english style designs. English you ask... Not because of a professed love of the Brits down through the ages, but for the simple fact a previous pope or two didn't mind a hunt. Something which proves little challenge if the gardens are laid out in standard renaissance style. Papal hunting plans needed vegetation in which animals could hide and present some level of challenge. (I know, I know... give the animals a firearm if we are talking a fair challenge.) Being on the right hand of God (Mano Destra di Dio) does inevitably create a sense of entitlement and forgiveness ~ two bastion concepts of Catholicism.
Siggy our guide provided a cheeky commentary that showed a delightful level of respect and irreverence. She worked the bottle necks by taking us in the reverse order around the gardens and timed the access to the Galleries and the Cappella Sistine to avoid some of the crowd.
I did cop a thwack from Anne when I commented a little too audibly about Cardinal George Pell and the diocese of Ballarat when we passed by his tower office ~ which of course I immediately named the "Pell Tower".
No bell in the Pell Tower but nearby is the millennium bell. A one piece of foundry work from one of the older families of Rome.
The maze style garden never seems to go out of style and this is certainly evident on the lower levels of the gardens.
The name conjures up for me an image of a tall glass of alcoholic cocktail goodness italiano style. But no, Ostia Antica is one of the best preserved examples of an ancient roman city (oh, wait, there IS Rome) Take 2: Perhaps more accurately described as best preserved example of an abandoned Roman city. Ostia Antica was once the most important sea port of Roman Empire, handling more goods than any other. Situated at the mouth of the Tiber, it proves that all roads do lead to Rome, this one is just wetter than the others. Sea faring ships loaded their cargo directly to smaller vessels that could navigate the Tiber or into storage until this transfer could be effected.
The area of ruins is extensive and the accompanying narrative similar. There are distinct parts to the layout of the city and the challenge is to try and imagine the bustling metropolis with all the stucco in place. Its a bit like seeing a whole lot of modern houses without the weatherboards, brick work or plaster walls. A close look at the photo shows a hint of how it may have looked.
Technically we visited a day spa whilst here. Below is the pool I imagined swanning about in... its just that we were a few thousand years too late for our time slot.
Legend has it... that you had to be "this tall" to have this ride named after you. The namesake of the edifice was apparently this tall... anything short of this and the word Collosuss just won't swing it. The Colliseo ("check out the big brains on Brad") is a mighty structure. Way ahead of its time and I suspect the structural engineers of today might do well to spend a bit more time studying those who came before them and learn from them. This is the polite way of describing the Romans who, once again legend has it, stole... sorry learnt the technique of the arch from the Etruscans right after they conquered them.. and then improved it.
Those in charge deserve some congratulations for the manner in which this site is preserved and the visitors moved around the structure. (Advice Alert: pay the extra Euro for a "skip the line" tour. We sailed past hundreds of souls clearly totally over the waiting in a far queue game. (Only the well practised Russians seemed happy)
The fact that there remain aqueducts and bridges in use today that were built by the Romans... and perhaps to be more precise the lads down at the SPQR Roman Legion who, apparently did more than murder, rape and pillage (or was that just the Vikings who made a habit of such approaches..?) and as God is my witness (actually more precisely my iPhone 6 as my witness) the lads are still at it today... building things I mean.
Actually, the SPQR is part of a PR strategy that clearly worked. The People's Republic of Rome or Senatus PopulusQue Romanus was used on documents, announcements... and the banners of the all conquering Roman Legion.
Ah Roma, you wily and surprising mistress doling out delights at nearly every twist and turn. And yet you have kept hidden until now the true meaning of your bustling metropolis. Try as you might impose misdirection upon us all with your fine food, wine and history, it has become apparent to me that you are not just the city of love but in fact the city of the small car.
Pfft! to conventions of parking normally demanded by traffic bureaucrats around the world. This is Roma we don't do "normale". The hotblooded italians don't give a fig about parking rules, let creativity be applauded. Pedestrian crossing marking of white paint on a road appear to be a runway guide, footpath space, always at a premium, is scoffed at in this city where the small car is a god. Forget Mars and Jupiter, Venus and Cupid. Whilst their static likeness may adorn many an edifice, these moving representations are far more important.
Hard to see I know, but these cars are indeed parked and the owners supping in some nearby trattoria.. or so I imagine.