Our walk-about in Siena .. part two

Please join hubby and I as we continue our stroll through the maze of narrow streets in Siena ..









The Baptistery .. on a lower level than the Duomo



Steep steps up to Piazza del Duomo ..





IMG_7612IMG_7611Siena’s  Duomo ..


The Pisan-influenced Romanesque-Gothic Duomo was built between 1215 and 1263 .. the lower part of the façade being built in 1285 and the upper half was added in the 14th century.

The 14th century was a time of great wealth and power for Siena, and plans were made to expand the cathedral into a great church that would dwarf even St. Peter’s in Rome. The already large Duomo would form just the transept of this huge cathedral.”  Expansion got underway in 1339 with construction on a new nave off the Duomo’s right transept. But in 1348, the Black Death swept through the city and killed 4/5 of Siena’s population. The giant cathedral was never completed, and the half-finished walls of the Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral) survive as a monument to Siena’s ambition and one-time wealth.”

Unfortunately we didn’t go inside

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The Campanile was added in 1313 ..


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Time to leave this amazing historical city, sadly .. but while we waited for our coach at the city’s gate, Antonella had organized for us to have, only one each, freshly made Ricciarelli .. a traditional Italian biscuit from Siena, dated to the 14th century.  Legend has it that they were introduced by Ricciardetto della Gherardesca in his castle near Volterra upon his return from the Crusades.  The biscuits are made using an almond base, with sugar, honey and egg white.   When prepared the traditional method, the almonds are ground and the finished mixture is formed into oval shaped cookies that are set aside for two days before baking.  Once baked, sprinkled with icing sugar.    Yummm!!!    I must find a recipe!


And so …. we made our way back to Rome ..

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..through beautiful Italian countryside ..

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Our final hours in Italy  :(   ….. follows

Trafalgar Tours : Best of Italy : June 2013

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Walk-about in Siena, Tuscany

Here’s another place I would have loved to spent longer, much longer ..  ambling through the narrow streets of Siena, the historic centre of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscapes and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year in July and August.

Gateway to Siena .. (from the inside looking out)


Siena was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (c 900 – 400 BC), thereafter a Roman town was founded at the site in the time of Emperor Augustus AD 70.  The Roman origin accounts for the town’s emblem : a she-wolf suckling infants Romulus and Remus

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Siena is a hilltop town.  Walking from the coach stop (at the entrance to the town) to the medieval square, Piazza del Campo and further up the hill to the highest point, the Duomo  .. was quite hectic!  A long, gradual climb!

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IMG_4280 (2)Piazza del Campo  …. prepared with barriers, seating and layers and layers of hardened soil around the square ready for the Palio which was to be held 4 days later ..

IMG_7570” The Palio is Tuscany’s most celebrated festival.  It is a bareback horse race first recorded in 1283.”  “The jockeys represent ten of Siena’s 17 contrade (districts); the horses are chosen by the drawing of lots and are blessed at the local contrada churches.  Preceded by days of colourful pageantry, costume processions and heavy betting, the races themselves last only 90 seconds each.”  “The winner is rewarded with a silk palio (banner).  Festivities for the winners can last for weeks.”

IMG_4284 IMG_4285 The fan-shaped piazza is on the site of the old Roman Forum and for much of Siena’s history was the principal marketplace.

The red brick paving was laid in 1327 and completed in 1349, its distinctive nine segments designed to reflect the authority of the Council of Nine and to symbolize the protective folds of the Madonna’s cloak.   The Piazza has been the focus of city life ever since, a setting for executions, bullfights, and the Palio

Wished I’d had my wide-angled lens for these photographs

IMG_7571Palazzo Pubblico (1297 – 1342)  ..

IMG_4289IMG_4291IMG_4290 (2)IMG_7576 IMG_7577 IMG_7578IMG_7579IMG_7572IMG_7573IMG_4293 IMG_4294 IMG_4295  Drainage at the lowest point of the piazza ..





IMG_7586IMG_7587 IMG_7588Colourful silk flags flutter in the breeze.  Wished we’d been there to witness the flag-throwing ceremony

IMG_7581IMG_7580IMG_7596 IMG_7597 IMG_7598IMG_7591Fonte Gaia .. a 19th century copy of the original fountain carved by Jacopo della Quercia in 1409-19.  Its reliefs depict the Virtues, Adam and Eve, and the Madonna and Child.   The fountain’s water is still supplied by a 500 year old aqueduct








We continue our walk-about in Siena .. next post

Trafalgar Tours : Best of Italy : June 2013

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Last look at Florence

Day 12 .. last full day on our tour around Italy, and what a memorable and truly wonderful tour it was!!!

Up early ..  we made our way towards Siena, home to one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares ….  but not before saying our goodbyes to the beautiful Renaissance city of Florence ..

IMG_7521 IMG_7520-early morning

Magnificent panoramic view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo ..











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From Ferrari’s to Fiats …. cars were parked in Piazzale Michelangelo ready for a rally over the weekend ..






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And then we were on our way again ..

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Established in 1944, 12 km from Florence, is the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial.  It covers about 70 acres on the west side of the Greve River.

”  Most of those buried here are from the Fifth Army who died in the fighting that followed the capture of Rome in June 1944; others fell in the heavy fighting in the Apennines between then and 2 May 1945. It is run by the American Battle Monuments Commission.”

There are 4402 burials

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A moving experience walking amongst all those white crosses.  So many.  Too many.

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Copy of IMG_7554On leaving, we were all given a remembrance poppy ..

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Next stop .. Siena

Trafalgar Tours : Best of Italy :  June 2013

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Dining in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

In the early evening on our last night in Florence ( Day 11 ) we drove passed part of Florence’s original city wall …


…  into the Tuscan countryside ..

IMG_7439 IMG_7440   …. through a village ..






…  until we reached Ristorante I tre pini ( The Three Pines) our Tuscan dining experience for regional cuisine, wine and song ..  what a wonderful evening !!!


Stepping off the coach we were greeted with a welcoming drink and a smiling guitarist :)  ..




IMG_7451Then we were very warmly welcomed by Chef Libero   of Tre Pini, a 500 year old restored farmhouse which in by-gone days was a post house where travellers stopped to rest and change their horses before continuing along the road known as The Wine Road of the Chianti Colli Fiorentini.

Two generations of the Saraceni family .. hoteliers, restaurateurs and wine makers …  have been here since 1956 .. transforming a small cellar “into a leading player on the Italian wine scene.. ”  As well as the restaurant Chef Libero runs Tuscan cooking courses which sound amazing !!!  He goes with you to the leading market in Florence before your Tuscan culinary experience begins!!!

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Before being seated at long tables in the garden, on this beautiful evening, we were  ‘introduced to’ and had a glass of their blue sparkling wine !!!! Pretty pretty blue!!!!!    Lovely lovely taste !!!

IMG_7462   Blumond .. ” Italian blue sparkling wine made from Prosecco grapes with an added flavour of fresh and sweet peaches”   “Excellent as an aperitif, with desserts, as well as for cocktails or simply on its own.”


Cheers !!!

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First there was one .. then there were two ..


.. and then there was Roberto !!!  A charming gentleman ..


.. who sang popular Italian songs and had us all singing along too …

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… and who took ladies by the hand for a twirl on the dance floor …


… including me !!


The meal was incredible!     There was a table with an array of delicious anti-pasta ..  yum yum yum !!

IMG_7465 There was a choice for the main course, but I think most of us chose the succulent rare beef !!!!!    How could you not have a taste this …


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Kathy celebrated her birthday with Roberto leading the singing of “Happy Birthday ”  ..  very special !

IMG_7501 Cannot recall what the cake was tho’ , could it have been a cheese?   I think so ..


…..  also cannot recall what we had for dessert !!  Maybe too much yummy Libero wines !!!!

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I took pics of almost everyone who joined us on this fabulous evening ..

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And it was .. a fabulous evening!!

Thank you, Chef Libero and family,  for your warm hospitality and delicious Tuscan food .. an experience my hubby and I will always remember

Trafalgar Tours : Best of Italy : June 2013

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Walk-about in Florence .. part three

Continuing from my last post, and leaving the crowded Piazza dell Signoria behind, please join hubby and I during the rest of our walk-about in Florence while we stroll back to our hotel for a short R&R ..


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We bought a small watercolour from this chappie ..



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Walking past the Piazza degli Strozzi again we heard the sound of jazz coming from a courtyard and took a peek.  The area around the courtyard is the Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina (CCCS) where a wide variety of activities, exhibitions, events and lectures are held ..




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We popped in here to grab a bite to eat while we walked ..


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IMG_7430After a short rest back at our hotel .. Croce di Malta Hotel, we walked to Ponte Vecchio for a closer look ..

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Ponte Santa Trinita .. the oldest elliptic arch bridge in the world.  Originally of wooden structure (1252) .. swept away in a flood .. rebuilt in stone and swept away in 1333.  Again destroyed by flooding in 1557 .. rebuilt .. statues were added in 1608.  Not the luckiest of bridges with flood waters!!!!    Retreating German troops destroyed the bridge in 1944 and was reconstructed in 1958 with original stones raised from the River Arno ..



Ponte Vecchio from western side ..

IMG_7408IMG_7407IMG_7411IMG_7413IMG_7414 IMG_7415On the bridge .. one jewellery shop after the other, on both sides of the bridge ..


IMG_7417IMG_7418On the other side ..


IMG_7420IMG_7421 IMG_7422I could have gone wild in this shop  .. I love the ceramics !!!!!!    I did come away with a small colourful trinket box and wine stoppers for everyone back home ..

Copy of IMG_0751We walked as far as the Palazzo Pitti ( Pitti Palace) … dates from 1458 and was originally the town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker.  Bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

In the late 18th century, the palazzo was used as a power base by Napolean.  The palazzo and its contents ( a treasure house of paintings, plates, jewellery and luxurious possessions) were donated to the Italian people by King Victory Emmanuel III in 1919.  It is now the largest museum complex in Florence ..


Walking back .. time was getting short as we had a deadline for our group gathering to catch the coach for our country dinner …

IMG_7424 (2)… back over the Ponte Vecchio ..

IMG_7426Midway is a bust of the goldsmith Benevento Cellini (1500-1571) .. one of the city’s most famous residents, and an accomplished painter, soldier and sculptor


Walking back from where we came … as far as Ponte alla Carraia .. a bridge that met the same fate as Ponte Santa Trinita with flooding, rebuilding, destroying by German troops and was finally rebuilt in 1948 ..  (yet another unlucky construction!)


Church of San Frediano in Cestello ..


Next .. dinner the Ristorante I tre pini in the hills of ‘Chianti Classico’

Trafalgar Tours : Best of Italy : June 2013

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Continuing our walk-about in Florence ..






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Plaque shows the level of the high water line from the devastating floods of November 1966.  I remember my Mum and Dad went to Europe in 1967 and took photos of water marks still visible and I think, if I remember correctly, quite a few places were still closed




Santa Croce … construction began around 1294 on the Gothic church of Santa Croce, which contains tombs and monuments of famous Florentines, such as Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli, as well as “radiant early 14th century frescoes by Giotto and his pupil Taddeo Gaddi.  In the cloister alongside the church stands the Cappella de’Pazzi  (Pazzi Chapel), a Renaissance masterpiece designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.

IMG_7307Sadly, we didn’t go inside ..

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The Piazza was a little chaotic as there was scaffolding/seating all around with the sand in the middle.  During the traditional feast of St John, held every year on June 21 ( a few days prior to our visit), a tournament is held in the Piazza called calico .. a tradition which was restarted in 1986

It’s a mix of soccer, rugby and wrestling played in 16 century costume without any set rules.    The match is played between the city’s four districts : Santo Spirito, Sante Croce, San Giovanni and Santa Maria Novella.  The aim is not to score goals, but to hospitalise your opponent!!!  Sounds rather brutal !!!!!   Although I’m sure it’s not as drastic as that!!  The winning team is presented with a white calf which provides the “‘where-with-all for a vast communal feast to end the celebrations”‘



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Italian leather shops groaning with enticing goods …

IMG_7312Another high level flood line ..





Antonella ushered us into Peruzzi .. a shop filled with genuine top quality Italian leather goods.  Ahhh the smell of real leather !!!!  Before we browsed and/or bought (those lucky enough to!!) we had a demonstration …


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The Peruzzi family is one of the oldest families in Florence, starting as leading bankers in the middle ages.  In 1948 Mr Rino Peruzzi began the business of making and selling a vast array of leather goods, most of which were embellished with gold leaf inlays and decorations.   Peruzzi is now one of the most important leather producers with exports worldwide

After the demonstration we were shown jackets made from various leathers .. oh my .. the one I tried on was made of the softest softest leather ..

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Unfortunately, while we were there, there was another very large tour group that came in, pushing their way in front of us, and thus pushing us out of their way while we were looking at all the smaller items trying to choose keepsakes and suitable gifts to bring home.   Hubby and I don’t like fighting through crowds, so we left with only coin purses for the girls in the family ..

Copy of IMG_0754From that point on, we all went our separate ways … meeting up again in the early evening for a delightful dinner in the Tuscan countryside

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After strolling up and down streets we found ourselves at the back of Palazzo Vecchio.  We spotted this open door, which lead into a courtyard.  Enormous door with an extremely thick double door and huge bolt !

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A wedding photoshoot in the courtyard of the Palazzo ..




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Putto with Dolphin ..

IMG_7347We ended up back in Piazza della Signoria .. now jam-packed !!!  So pleased we came early with our local guide ..


Moving away from the crowds ..

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Trafalgar Tours : Best of Italy : June 2013

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Walk-about in Florence

Brief history: Florence began as a Roman colony in 59 BC .. captured by the Lombards in the 6th century.  By 13th century, trading in wool and textiles, with a powerful banking sector,  the city became one of Italy’s leading powers.  The Florentine Republic was in control until power passed to leading noble families, of which the most influential were the Medici, “a hugely wealthy banking dynasty.”  The Medici family controlled Florence and Tuscany for three centuries.  During this time the city was at the cultural and intellectual heart of Europe.  Artists, sculptors and architects flocked to the city “filling the city with the world’s greatest Renaissance works.”

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We  …  our tour group …  gathered in the foyer of our centrally located hotel – Croce di Malta - for our walk-about with a local guide .. please join us ;)

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An old small door on the side of a building, through which the owner of the tavern exchanged money for drinks after hours … dates and times of which are displayed  in stone, above the door.  Includes public holidays too !

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Palazzo Strozzi :  Commissioned by wealthy banker Filippo Strozzi in 1489 and  completed in 1536


The exterior is built of huge rusticated masonry blocks with the original holders, lamps and rings for tethering horses.  A stone bench along the sides is quite an interesting feature for people to rest ..


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IMG_7231 19th century Piazza della Repubblica ..

IMG_7232IMG_4215Really strange artwork!!!  I thought the colourful jugs were for sale, but it’s a piece of art!!!


From a narrow ancient street, we turned a corner and came face to face with Florence’s most famous symbol .. the white, green and pink marble Baptistry, Duomo and Campanile!!  Wow!  Impressive sight indeed!!!


The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Baptistry dates back to the 4th century, one of Florence’s oldest buildings .. the Duomo – built 1296-1436 and the Campanile- built 1334-1359


The Baptistry : It is believed to have been built over the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to Mars, in the 4th century.  It was consecrated in 1059, dedicated to St John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence, and served as a church until 1128.   Up until the end of the 19th century all Catholics in Florence were baptised here

IMG_7253I realise now that I didn’t take many photos of the octagonal Baptistry, sadly, except for the East doors, and even then it was tricky with other tourists always in the way !


Having spent 21 years working on the North Doors, Lorenzo Ghiberti was commissioned to make the East Doors (1425-1452) .. 27 years for he and his workshop to complete.    Also known as the ‘Gates of Paradise’ so named by Michelangelo, who is believed to have exclaimed “they are so beautiful that they would be perfect for the gates of paradise”.


The doors consist of 10 rectangular panels, displayed in two lines.  They depict scenes of the Old Testament from left to right and top to bottom.   In each panel, Ghiberti described more than one scene so that there are over fifty scenes depicted.


All around the frame of the doors Ghiberti added 24 small bronze busts of famous Florentines, including his own self-portrait (middle of pic)


The original panels of the ‘Gates of Paradise’ are now exhibited in the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo.  Those on the Baptistry are copies


South door of the Baptistry panels created by Andrea Pisano in 1329, completed in 1336  ..




The Duomo – Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint May of the Flower) – construction began in 1296 and was consecrated in 1436, is one of the largest churches in Italy.       The Neo-Gothic façade in white, green and pink marble, designed by Emilio De Fabris in 1871 is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.  Work began in 1876 and completed in 1887

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The huge bronze doors (1899-1903) are adorned with scenes of the Madonna…

IMG_4226IMG_7252The Campanile … clad in white, green and pink Tuscan marble … 85m high and 6m shorter than the dome … truly beautiful structure ..



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Campanile reliefs (on either side of the corner) by Andrea Pisano are copies of the original which are kept in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.  The reliefs depict the Creation of Man, and the Arts and Industries ..


The Dome .. Brunelleschi’s dome, finished in 1463, as the largest masonry dome to be built without scaffolding.   Made entirely of bricks set in marble ribs in a self-supporting herringbone pattern – a technique Brunelleschi copied from the Pantheon in Rome.   The inner shell (herringbone pattern bricks) and a horizontal stone chain, reduces stress and allows weight to be evenly distributed.  The outer, much smaller shell, supports the roof and protects the inner shell from elements.  Between the two shells is a staircase, which leads visitors to the base of the lantern



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Orsanmichele – built 1337 (a church)

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Piazza della Signoria  …






Palazzo Vecchio .. completed in 1322 still fulfils its original role as the Town Hall ..



Michelangelo’s David symbolizes triumph over tyranny.  The original – which we saw the previous afternoon in the Galleria dell’ Accademia - stood in the Piazza until 1873.   On the right .. Bartolommeo Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus



Michelangelo’s  self-portrait carved into stone on the Palazzo Vecchio ..


Fountain of Neptune .. by Bartolomeo Ammannati commissioned in 1565 ..



Cosimo I de’ Medici – 2nd Duke of Florence from 1537-1569, when he became the first Grand Duke of Tuscany ..

IMG_4246 Loggia dei Lanzi .. (1382) is named after the Lancers, the bodyguards of Cosimo I who were billeted here ..


IMG_4248 IMG_4249Perseus by Cellini – bronze statue (1554) of Perseus beheading Medusa was intended to warn Cosimo I’s enemies of their probable fate ..

Copy of IMG_7281 Rape of Polyxena (1865) …

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The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583) was carved from a single block of flawed marble ..


Uffizi …. Italy’s greatest art gallery, was built in 1560-80 to house offices (uffici) for Duke Cosimo I ..




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Ponte Vecchio  .. the oldest surviving bridge in the city, was built in 1345


It was originally the domain of blacksmiths, butchers and tanners (who used the river for disposing of waste).  They were evicted in 1593 due to their noise and stench and replaced by jewellers and goldsmiths

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IMG_7296Our walk-about continued .. next post

Trafalgar Tours : Best of Italy : June 2013

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