The Dolomite Mountain Range (Dolomiti, in Italian), is one of the world’s most impressive and scenic ranges. They are so unique that they’re collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A month ago I was lucky enough to drive through them, from Bolzano in the west towards the Veneto in the east, passing near Belluno. Every turn brought new and magnificent vistas. Mostly I travel and work in sunny places, but to be honest it was nice to see some snow and have a bit of chill in the air for a change. The range gets its name from the French geologist de Dolomeiu who first evaluated the specific limestone that the mountains are made of. Hard to believe they were once the floors of ancient seas.
Here’s another, a snow-clad rocky peak, like the previous image, in the eastern half of the Dolomiti not far from Belluno. The Dolomiti were the proving ground for young Reinhold Messner, the greatest of all mountaineers, who grew up in South Tyrol or Süd Tirol, an area once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but which was ceded to Italy after the First World War (Italians call the area Trentino-Alto Adige). Many Süd Tirolers still feel more culturally attached to Austria ; they speak German and their ethnic identities lay with south German alpine cultures rather than Mediterranean Italic. Messner conquered all of the great peaks of the Dolomites before going on to conquer the world’s most challenging mountains. Among his many accomplishments, he was the first person to climb all 14 world peaks over 8000 meters (26,247 ft) and also summited Everest without oxygen tanks.
This is a view from the castle of San Gimignano to the northeast, over the lovely Tuscan landscape of verdant, rolling hills. Such a classic view: undulating fields of grapevines and orchards of olive trees, giving out finally to the shadows of the Apennine Range in the distance.
One of the attractions in Venice–as if it needs any more; indeed, it could use a few less–are the works of contemporary art produced for the Venice Biennale (which takes place every two years, not twice a year…I’m putting this part in for me because I can never tell). This is a picture taken from the spectacular terrace atop the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which is now an upscale mall with fancy shops. The building was originally the German traders’ inn and warehouse during the renaissance and its sides were once decorated with frescoes by, no less, Giorgione and Titian. The fondaco had a huge cortile or open courtyard (now roofed over). The large ground-floor rooms were used for the storage of goods, while the upper stories were residential rooms, which numbered about 160. German merchants were required to stay there during their trading junkets so the Venetians, ever vigilant, could keep track of them. Its position on the Rialto also marked the importance of German trade relations. It was built in the first decade of the 16th century, replacing one that had burned down (that one built in the 13th century). For most of the 20th century the building served as the Central Post Office of Venice, but renovations by Rem Koolaus have now returned the building to a commercial function. Happily, the view from the terrace is free; you take the escalators up to the top floor then take some stairs and wait in the upper room to get to the terrace. This view is to the northwest, up the Grand Canal. Look closely and you can see the ‘Hands’, a work by the artist Lorenzo Quinn for this year’s Biennale. I think you can figure out the meaning of the work.
I guess everyone knows who these two fellows are: Plato on the left and Aristotle on the right. Plato carries his Timaeus (written 360 BCE) under his arm, and Aristotle cradles his Ethics (written c 349 BCE). This famous image of the duo appears in a fresco painting by Raphael, which has come to have been called ‘The School of Athens’, but it should more properly simply be called ‘Philosophy’, as this is what the whole painting is meant to embody. The frescoes decorate a series of rooms called the stanze in the Vatican in Rome. This room, decorated during the pontificate of Julius II, was meant to serve as the pontiff’s library, and the library books on philosophy were meant to be arranged below this painting; hence its subject matter.
Ah, this is the way to see Italy! I have to say I’m envious of the person who owns this classic little roadster. Can you imagine toodling along Umbrian country roads in this little beauty? I’ve never driven in Italy, amazingly enough (wise beyond my years), and have never gone on a bike tour either. Though lately I’ve had fantasies of kayaking the length of the Arno or Tiber Rivers. Stay tuned!
Here is proof, if any further proof be needed, that Italians know how to get married in style. This couple went for a big statement, getting hitched in the medieval Amalfi cathedral, one of Italy’s most striking. Most impressive of all is the giant staircase. They descended very slowly, letting both relatives, friends, and a thousand tourists take their pictures. Here, they’re exiting out the bottom of the picture to their all white Jaguar….I would have expected a Masterati.
Ensconced in the wall of the medieval ‘city hall’ of Assisi, Italy (a town more famous for being the home of Saint Francis), is an interesting thing: the standardized sizes of bricks, roof tiles, and other measurements. If you thought someone from whom you were buying bricks was shorting you, you could bring one of the bricks here and check it against the standard; so, too, your roof tiles or lengths of cloth. As always, it’s buyer beware; and, as it should be, good government helps keep things just.
When people visit Rome they focus on the ancient pagan-era monuments, but for me the Early Christian mosaics in churches such as San Clemente, Santa Pudenziana, and San Prasede, among others, are real treats. This is a detail of the vast mosaic program in the apse of San Prasede, showing the elect being greeted at the gates of heaven by an angel, all carrying the crowns of salvation.
Lorenzo Maitani (1275-1330) was the medieval architect and sculptor responsible for the most beautiful church in Italy: the Orvieto cathedral. Around 1310, the same year that Giotto was painting the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Maitani sculpted his magnum opus, the reliefs at Orvieto. They are marvels of the period and, to my mind, the most extraordinary works of sculpture of their age. Here, a scene from Genesis, the Creation of Eve. God draws Eve from the rib of Adam as angels with magnificent wings watch on the right.
The classic view of Florence is from the Piazza Michelangelo, from a low hill on the east side of the Arno River. I was there yesterday morning and it was, as always, spectacular. But the clouds and the sky were competing with the famous skyline, so I thought to take a picture like some of the Dutch landscape painters who included mostly sky and just a sliver of land. At the far left you can see the famous Ponte Vecchio over the Arno, the only pre-World War II bridge to survive. Further right is the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio or Palazzo della Signoria, then the campanile of the cathedral and its famous dome by Brunelleschi, then on the right the bell tower of Santa Croce. In the distance the hills of Fiesole.
The renaissance painter Raphael only lived for 37 years, and yet his influence and fame was great. I took this picture, his golden signature, from the famous painting of the Deposition of Christ in the Palazzo Borghese Museum in Rome. He put his name, Raphael Urbinas, ‘Raphael of Urbino’, and the date MDVII (1507); he was merely 24 years old when he painted that brilliant work. This almost invisible fragment, the artist’s signature in golden letters in Roman-style lettering, was in a dark corner of the canvas.
The initials SPQR are found on many ancient Roman monuments, standing for Senatus Populusque Romanus. The ‘que’ means ‘and’, thus ‘The Senate and People of Rome’. It’s kind of cool to see that the manhole covers of Rome still sport these initials, giving a marvelous sort of continuity to the history of this great city.
By popular demand: all of Pauline Borghese.
Pauline Borghese (1780-1825) was a Bonaparte, the sister of Napoleon. She married into the Roman noble family of the Borghese and it was while in Rome that the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova did a reclining, semi-nude statue of her. Commissioned by her husband, no less. Pauline was rumored to be a bit promiscuous, and the sculpture didn’t help quell the gossip. I took this picture from behind her and like imagining that she was turning her head as she became aware of me taking her photograph (see post below).