OUR FIRST FULL DAY IN FLORENCE!

This morning, after waking up to a croissant breakfast, we donned colorful rain jackets and headed outside.  As we were descending our hotel steps, Ms. Schultz joked that the Etruscan king of Rome Tarquinius Superbus must be angry with us and must be expressing his rage through the inclement weather.  (Note: we are now in Tuscany, the third and final region that we will visit on our trip, which the Etruscans used to inhabit.)  Huddled together, we then made our way to the Duomo museum, Il Grande Museo Del Duomo, where our tour guide Francesco was waiting for us.

We were initially excited to be at the museum because it was a dry place to seek refuge from the rain, but soon another, even greater discovery prompted our excitement: that of the baptistry doors.  The museum has two sets of the large, bronze doors on display, sculpted by Lorenzo Ghiberti and originally attached to the baptistery of St. John (who is the patron saint of Florence).  The first set is the East doors, dubbed the Gates of Paradise after Michelangelo remarked on their divine beauty, which have 28 panels encased in quatrefoil frames.  The second is the North doors, which are composed of ten, larger, square panels instead.  Each set of doors took Ghiberti more than 20 years to complete and magnificently displays stories from the Old Testament.  However, as we learned from our tour guide, Ghiberti was not the only Early Renaissance artist vying for the honor of sculpting the doors; six other artists, including Brunelleschi, challenged him in a famous competition run by the Florentine merchant guild in 1401.  35 judges of the contest reviewed the required submission from every artist, a panel depicting the sacrifice of Isaac, and they chose Ghiberti as the victor.  Ghiberti’s victory catalyzed his life’s work, and we enjoyed admiring the beautiful scenes on the doors, over which he labored.

Also in the museum was the old facade of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral designed by the architect Arnolfo and removed from the cathedral in the 1500s.  There were many sculptures of biblical figures contained in the decorative facade by illustrious artists, such as Donatello.  In the next room we saw Donatello’s Mary Magdalen from the 1450s.  This work stood out to us because of Mary’s very expressive face, the unidealized depiction of her after her long journey in the desert, and the fact that it is made form wood.  After Mary Magdalen was Michelangelo’s Pietà that he made in his 70s, and it is one of three other Pietàs attributed to him–including the one we saw in Rome.  We were informed that the topmost figure in the sculpture, Nicodemus, is actually a portrait of Michelangelo himself, and this Pietà constitutes one of only two self portraits made by the artist.  Next, we ventured to the upper floor of the museum, which houses more panels and sculptures that previously adorned the cathedral’s exterior.

Our final stop in the museum was to a viewing platform where we caught an incredible, panoramic view of the Duomo!  We marveled at Brunelleschi’s creation, and our tour guide shared information about the creation of his dome.  We could not believe that it was made without wooden support during the building process and were also extremely impressed that the nearly 142-foot tall dome has been standing tall without collapse since the end of the 14th century.

We then exited the museum and headed towards the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral.  Our day brightened–both literally and figuratively!–as the sun came out and brought into view the illuminated marble exterior of the cathedral.  As we entered, we realized that the inside was fairly plain compared to the lavish decoration outside.  Except for several stunning stained glass windows, paintings, and an old fashioned giant clock, the cathedral was adorned only with simple stone.  Also, because it was Holy Week, some areas were blocked off, and we could only get a glimpse of the inner, painted dome and the depictions of hell on its surface.  (However, this was probably for the best because Renaissance portrayals of hell tend to be particularly jarring.)

After the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, we journeyed to another cathedral, the Basilica de Santa Croce.  There we saw funerary monuments funded by the Medici family for the likes of Galileo, Michelangelo, Rossini, and Machiavelli.  Many of us thought about leaving some kind of tribute to these famous thinkers, artists, and musicians, whom we so admire.  Also in the Basilica de Santa Croce are family chapels, and in the Refractory of the Basilica is a wall painting of the Last Supper.  Our tour guide told us that it was the “first Last Supper,” at which point we replied in unison, “what?,” and he went on to explain that it was, in fact, the first painting of the Last Supper to alleviate our confusion.

At this point, we were all getting slightly hungry and sleepy from the day’s many adventures, so we started walking back to the main square, the Piazza della Signoria, to get lunch.  On our walk, we stopped for a moment outside the Orsanmichele cathedral of the Florentine guilds, who, in modern day terms, are essentially unions for each profession.  Statues represented each guild, including those dedicated to banking and sculpting, and one sculpture was the first larger-than-life sculpture made in the West after Roman times!

Upon arriving in the square, which displays, among many other sculptures, a replica of Michelangelo’s David in its original location, we broke for lunch.  In addition to eating real food, some of us sought out pastries and hot chocolate at a place highly recommended by Buzzfeed.  The treats were delicious!

Following our busy morning, we had the option of a quiet afternoon.  Many of us either explored, shopped, or napped.  A particularly energetic group went back to the center of Florence and climbed 463 steps to the top of the Duomo!  We split for dinner and then returned altogether to the hotel for a celebration of Ms. Schultz on her last Winsor Italy trip!  It was bittersweet, as we fondly reminisced about some of our favorite class memories with her and teared up when realizing how much we will all miss seeing her every day at Winsor.  Finally, we had a celebratory dessert and headed to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

OUR FIRST FULL DAY IN FLORENCE!

Winsor Alumnae in Italy!


We have been lucky on this trip to be able to meet up with two Winsor alumnae from the Class of 2013 who are spending a semester abroad in Italy. Wendy Wiberg is studying art history in Rome, while Kate MacLean is studying both ancient and modern Italian culture (and Italian!) in Florence. Both young women are definitely enjoying “la dolce vita” in Italy. They send warm greetings to all their Winsor teachers and friends!

 

Winsor Alumnae in Italy!

Sienna and our new hotel!

After three wonderful days spent sightseeing and shopping in Rome, we hopped on the bus to head toward Florence. On our way, we stopped in Siena. We were given two hours of leisure time to eat lunch and explore. We were happy to discover that we arrived during a chocolate festival! The square was filled with kiosks selling yummy chocolate. We enjoyed shopping and eating chocolate. Did we mention there was chocolate? 

    

We left Siena for an hour and a half long bus ride toward our new hotel; our guide told us that it was a unique family owned hotel that was once a villa to members of the Medici family (the godfathers of the Renaissance). It certainly is nothing like any hotel any of us have stayed at before! We arrived at our new hotel around 6:30pm and were welcomed by the nice bell boy, Jimmy, to the joyful sound of birds. (We later realized there was a motion sensors bird you alarm next to the front door). The walls are covered in interesting paintings, and the building possesses a gothic aura. After climbing an eerie spiraling staircase adorned with antique busts, we were surprised to find tidbits of history at our fingertips. Each room on the top floor is dedicated to a strong Renaissance woman, as we discovered upon reading the small laminated packets provided in each room. One such woman, Isabella de’ Medici, the daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, lived in the 16th century and died of strangulation by her husband. Bianca Cappello, another noblewoman, was poisoned with arsenic along with her husband shortly after her marriage. 

     

 Dinner was a refreshing array of pasta and vegetables; we are excited to see what the rest of our two night stay here will bring! 

 

Sienna and our new hotel!

Friday – Rome Day 3

We awoke to a beautiful morning and a substantial hotel breakfast with a plethora of pastries and many beverages to choose from (thanks, Best Western!). Afterwards, we set out to explore the basilica of San Clemente, where saw the modern church built in the 12th century. The adventure continued as we traveled beneath the crust of the earth to discover a 4th century basilica built in the Middle Ages. But the fun did not stop there as we delved even deeper and found the remains of a Roman pagan church from the 1st century AD. There we found a spring that connects all the way to the Tiber River and drank from its fabled healing waters. After reemerging and once again feeling the light of day, we grabbed a quick lunch and made our way to the Roman forum where we paid homage to Caesar and admire Trajan’s Column.

Our next stop was the Domus Romae, an extremely well preserved house from the 4th century AD that is now an underground exhibit. We got to go on one of the guided tours of the house, and were astounded by the use of lights and projection to outline certain features and give us a picture of what the house would have looked like in its prime. Outside, we met up with a Winsor alumna studying abroad and walked our way to our next stop…the Pantheon.

When we (finally) arrived at our destination, we were greeted by the suave sensation of street music. There was an opera singer in a blue velvet tux singing in Italian in the square and selfie stick sellers roaming the streets. In the Pantheon itself, we found a very different form of art and wonders of architecture. There were oil paintings on every surface and statues in the alcoves. The ceiling was a compilation of geometric patterns with perfect circles and squares. Upon emerging from the Pantheon, we were greeted by the sound of a new street musician, this time an electric guitarist (and singer) who performed two Pink Floyd songs (to Dagny’s great delight).

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a statue of Julius Caesar and reenacted his murder and Mark Antony’s speech afterwards (as written by Shakespeare), starring Fiona Duckworth as Caesar’s corpse and Babette Kania as Mark Antony.

Friday – Rome Day 3

Colosseum, Forum, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s (Thursday)

After an early wake-up and a wonderful buffet breakfast, we were ready for our first big day in Rome. We met our guide Antonino, who proceeded to give us headsets that transmitted his every word (and hum/song) into our eager ears (as long as we were within 15 feet or the static was too much to bear). Antonino was extremely charming and informative. Antonino brought us into the heart of Rome, where we saw two very attractive guards and and more importantly what is perhaps the most famous Roman monument of all time, the Colosseum. As we waited in line, Antonino told us that this amphitheater, completed in 80 BCE by the Emperor Titus, was the stage for countless gladiator fights and mock naval battles. Sadly, a past earthquake destroyed a significant chunk of this famous monument, and the pieces that were destroyed were used to rebuild other monuments, such as the facade for Saint Peter’s Basilica. However, to this day the majority of the Colosseum still stands, a tribute to the architectural ingenuity of the Ancient Romans. We were given free time to wander around this beautiful structure and observe the maze of underground tunnels that operated ‘behind the curtain’ to create the magic of the infamous Roman spectacles.

A View of the Colosseum 


After our Colosseum adventure, Antonino brought us past the intricate Arch of Constantine to the amazing Roman Forum.

The Arch of Constantine as seen from the Colosseum

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Arch of Constantine


It was amazing to see this fixture of ancient life which features so prominently in all of our Latin stories. We had 40 minutes to see as much of the area as possible, and, boy, did we try hard.

Highlights included:

an unidentifiable building which possibly might have maybe been the Temple of Jupiter Stator, where Cicero made his first oration against Catiline. Please enjoy this re-enactment of the first few lines of this famous speech!

The Temple of Romulus

 


The Temple of Antonino (not our guide) and Faustina

 


The Curia (Senate House)

 


The Temple of Saturn


And the Golden Mileston (Milliarium Aureum), once thought to mark the center of the world, which is the inspiration for the phrase ‘all roads lead to Rome’.

Milliarium Aureum

After our incredible exploration of the Forum, we caught a bus to our next destination: Vatican City, the home of Pope Francis (and more gorgeous Italian guards. Through qualitative observation, we have concluded that a handsome face must be a requirement for enlistment in the Italian military). After navigating through the dense crowd on the sidewalks, we entered the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museum), where we had approximately an hour to explore. We had the opportunity to see many notable works, including the Stanza della Segnatura, Apollo Belvedere, Laocoon and His Sons, and the Sistine Chapel. The Stanza della Segnatura is one of the most well known rooms of the papal apartments. The room was decorated by Raphael and features his The School of Athens. As we entered the Sistine Chapel, we were greeted by the shushes of guards; however, we did not allow the guards’ constant “friendly” reminders not to take pictures to distract us from marveling at the mastery of Michelangelo. Then, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica. At St. Peter’s, we saw Michelangelo’s Pietà, a sculpture depicting the body of Jesus on the lap of the Virgin Mary after the Crucifixion. This sculpture is one of Michelangelo’s earlier and most notable works and is the only piece that Michelangelo ever signed. After exploring St. Peter’s, we hopped on the extremely crowded train (being packed in like sardines next to strange men was quite an experience) back to our hotel where we rested (or watched an intense episode of Blindspot) before heading back out for dinner.

Laocoon and His Sons

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Apollo Belvedere 

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The School of Athens

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St. Peter’s Basilica

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By the end of the day, we had walked over 8 miles and taken over 20,000 steps! Needless to say, we’ll be sleeping well tonight!

Colosseum, Forum, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s (Thursday)

Naples, Cumae, and Pozzuoli! (Wednesday)

Hello from Rome!

In the morning, we ate breakfast and then finally left from Sorrento to Naples (Goodbye Sorrento!). We had a lot of fun in Sorrento, exploring and walking through the city, and of course eating gelato 🙂 It was particularly interesting to see orange and lemon trees everywhere–not a common sight in Boston! In the first few days of the trip, we learned that Sorrento is especially famous for its lemons, usually in the form of limoncello.

Once we got to Naples, we toured the Naples National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli in Italian). In the museum we saw incredible pieces of artwork: the Fresco of Sappho from Pompeii, the mosaic of Alexander the Great, the Farnese Bull Marble Statue, and the Farnese Statue of Hercules. After the museum, we had a quick pizza lunch!

A  shot of the interior of the museum!
A shot of the interior of the museum!

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We then drove to Cumae, which was where the Sibyl gave Aeneas a prophecy which would help him reach the underworld. Unfortunately we were not able to enter the cave because of a previous landslide, but we did recite a small scene from the Aeneid. (Hopefully video to follow!) We walked up to the temple dedicated to Apollo where Daedalus landed after he escaped from Crete. The views were amazing and perfect for photographs 🙂

The Cave of the Sibyl
The Cave of the Sibyl

After Cumae, we took a short drive to Pozzuoli, where we toured the Flavian Amphitheater, which was able to hold 40,000 people. At the amphitheater, we learned that the basement of the amphitheater is seven meters deep and that animals were lifted up into the amphitheater through a system of pulleys.

The Flavian Amphitheater
The Flavian Amphitheater

We left Pozzuoli and went on a three hour drive to Rome. It was a great time to eat some snacks, relax, and take great photographs of the sunset. We had a great dinner in Rome and we are excited for our upcoming adventures!

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Naples, Cumae, and Pozzuoli! (Wednesday)