My Fujitsu boss, Fred Hessler, was quoted in a Denver Post article about the failures of the Denver election system in this month's election. Fred was called in to analyze what went wrong with system and what caused the massive software failures. In his testimony yesterday, Fred testified about a number of failures in testing and software development that led to the election debacle. Read the article at the Denver Post.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006 4:41 PM
On the morning of August 30, Andrea and I got up early to head to Vatican City. Our guidebook said the the Basilica di San Pietro opened at 7, so our goal was to get there early and avoid the long lines. We didn't make our original goal, getting on the subway at about 7:30 for the 30 minute trip to Vatican City.
When we got to Vatican City, we walked through the colonnade into St. Peter's Square. We spent a while looking through the largely deserted square before heading off to attempt to find the entrance to the basilica. We eventually found a long line on the outside of the left colonnade and assumed that this was the line to get into the basilica.
After about 45 minutes of waiting, we finally passed through the metal detectors and x-ray machines. We're finally going to go into the basilica, but the Swiss Guards were guiding everyone off into a building to the left. We continued to follow the crowd into a large auditorium, and ended up getting seated near the back, still having no idea what was going on. There were television monitors up above, so we assumed that we were going to have to watch some sort of video before we could go inside.
After another 45 minutes of sitting, we were getting a little frustrated and were wondering what was going on. We had figured out that the TV monitors were showing a live feed of the square outside, but no one around us spoke English to fill us in on what we were waiting for. At this point the image on the screen changed to show a limousine and a buzz began to build in the room, although Andrea and I still had no idea what was going on.
Much to our surprise, the next person to enter the auditorium was none other than Pope Benedict XVI. At this point we figured out that we had stumbled into the weekly papal audience. As Pope Benedict walked along the aisles during his entrance, I was about five feet from him at one point. The funniest moment of the entrance was when he went to kiss a baby and scared the poor child half to death.
The audience proceeded with a number of cardinals reading from the Gospel of Matthew in their native languages: French, German, Italian, English, and Spanish. After this, each cardinal introduced the various large groups who had traveled to Rome for this audience that spoke their particular language. Most of these groups responded with a ditty or short song to the pope. Pope Benedict XVI then responded by reading his message in each of the five languages and blessing all of those in attendance and their families. The papal audience was definitely one of the top highlights of the trip.
After the papal audience, we went back out into St. Peter's Square which was now filled with people. We got into the line to go into the basilica and waited for about 30 minutes to go inside, going back through the metal detectors and x-ray machines.
Once we got inside St. Peter's Basilica, we were awed by the sheer size of the building. Looking at the incredibly over the top decoration, I can definitely see where Martin Luther was coming from in his complaints about the cathedral. We spent about two and a half hours touring the cathedral. The highlights of the cathedral were Michelangelo's Pieta, the tombs of the many popes, and the throne of St. Peter, crowned by Bernini's Baldacchino. The basilica is truly impressive and the scale of the building is hard to fathom.
At this point we left the basilica and headed around the Vatican walls towards the Vatican Museums, stopping for lunch along the way. The Vatican Museums are a huge treasure trove of art from over the centuries. We spent about three and a half hours touring the museums. We did not spend much time in the Eygptian and Etruscan collections as we moved through the museum, although we were very impressed with the Gallery of Maps.
We continued on into the papal apartments and into the Raphael Rooms. The Raphael Rooms are a series of incredible frescoes decorating a number of papal apartments. Raphael completed all of these rooms in the mid-1500s and they are widely regarded as the height of the Italian Renaissance.
We then continued into the Sistine Chapel, the only location in all of Vatican City where photos were not allowed. The painting on the roof of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo is one of the most famous in the world. It depicts the story of humanity before the coming of Christ in a series of panels along the length of it. Michelangelo also painted The Last Judgement above the altar of the Sistine Chapel. One of the more humorous aspects of The Last Judgement is that Cardinal Biagio di Cesena criticised the indecent nudes of the painting well before it was complete. Michelangelo, not taking kindly to the criticism, painted Biagio's face with donkey ears in Hell. Biagio pleaded with Pope Paul to have Michelangelo remove it to which the pope replied that he could intercede for those in Purgatory, but had no power over Hell. On the whole we were not nearly as impressed with the Sistine Chapel as we expected to be. The room is not large, and while the paintings are masterful, they are hard to see in the dark.
After leaving the Sistine Chapel, we returned to the basilica to tour the papal tombs. All of the popes that are not buried in the basilica are buried in the grottoes below. Of particular interest to us were the tombs of Pope John Paul II and St. Peter himself. We were truly amazed at the continuing outpouring of emotion at the tomb of John Paul II and all of the people asking the guards to touch their rosary beads to the tomb.
We then went back in to climb to the cupola of the basilica. The climb takes you through the interior of the dome and allows a close up view of the inside of the massive dome as well as a bird's eye view of the throne of St. Peter. The top of St. Peter's has a truly commanding view of the city of Rome. We climbed all the way up to the top of the dome and stayed up there for about 20 minutes before coming back down.
Once we were back down, we went and sat at the base of a couple of columns in the colonnade to write our postcards. We mailed all of the postcards from the Poste Vaticane boxes with special Vatican stamps. During this time the sun was setting, casting an array of shadows across St. Peter's Square.
We then decided to head back toward the hotel for dinner since we didn't want to risk missing the subway closing again and have to walk all the way back from the Vatican. We went and took the subway back to Termini Station and then dropped all of our stuff off in our hotel room before asking for dinner recommendations.
The hotel concierge recommended an excellent restaurant just a block from the hotel. We had a wonderful last dinner in Rome, sitting out on the sidewalk complete with another carafe of wine before heading back to the hotel to call it a night.
Monday, November 20, 2006 5:19 PM
On the morning of August 29, we got up early and had a quick breakfast before checking out of Residence la Contessina and heading to the train station for our trip to Rome. Our train left the station very close to on time at about 8 am. The train trip to Rome took about two hours, about half the time it took us to drive it.
After getting off the train at the Termini Station in Rome, we first went and got our tickets for the Leonardo Express to the airport and then went to find our hotel. Hotel Piemonte was only two blocks from the train station, making it a relatively easy walk even with all of our luggage. We checked in and then walked back to the station to catch the subway to the Spanish Steps.
I was truly shocked by how dirty the Roman subway was. All of the trains we saw were covered in graffiti to the point of not being able to tell what the original color of the train was. But after a short subway ride, we emerged at the Spanish Steps.
The Spanish Steps were built to connect the Bourbon Spanish embassy with Trinitia dei Monte above. The Spanish steps offered a beautiful vista of the skyline of Rome. We climbed to the top and looked around before walking back down and heading towards the Trevi Fountain.
The Trevi Fountain is a relatively short walk from the Spanish Steps. Once we got to the Trevi, we wandered down close to throw our coins in. Legend has it that throwing a coin over your shoulder into the fountain guarantees a return trip to Rome. We also went and refilled our water bottles from the fountain. One of the most interesting things I saw in Italy was that the public fountains circulate potable water, and so we regularly refilled there.
After leaving the Trevi, we headed toward the Pantheon. Along the way is a really interesting building where the remnants of the Temple of Hadrian have been integrated into a much newer building in the Piazza di Pietra. Along the way we also found our Travertino marble picture frame in a shop.
Upon reaching the Pantheon, we immediately went inside to look around. The Pantheon was built around 120 AD and is the oldest building in the world with its original roof still intact. The dome of the Pantheon is made of concrete and was the largest self supporting dome in the world until the completion of Brunelleschi's Duomo in Florence. The dome of the Pantheon is also noticable for it's large oculous which is the only light source for the building. Since 609, the building has been the Catholic church Santa Maria ad Martyres which has aided its preservation. The Pantheon is also the tomb to Raphael and Vittorio Emanuele II.
After leaving the Pantheon, we headed out towards the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument and the Roman Forum, stopping for our midafternoon gelato on the way. While walking in that direction, we stumbled on the Area Sacra di Largo Argentina. This complex was originally four Roman temples that were rediscovered during excavation for a new building complex. The four temples are relatively well preserved including some early frescoes on the back wall of what is labeled "Temple A."
From Area Sacra di Largo Argentina, we continued on to the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. This large monument celebrates Italian unification and is home to Italy's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We spent some time walking around the monument and admiring the view from the top before continuing into the Imperial Forums.
The Roman Forums were built in a number of separate stages. We walked along the top of the Trajan's Forum, the Forum of Caesar, and the Forum of Nerva on our way towards the Colosseum. Unfortunately we were not able to walk into the Forums because they were closed for an archaeological dig.
Our next stop was the Colosseum. We opted for the guided tour because it allowed us to skip the line and we figured we would learn more. The Colosseum was definitely an impressive building although we did not learn much from the tour. I personally could not imagine sitting at the games for days on the marble seats that the stadium finished. The marble of the Colosseum has largely been stripped over the intervening centuries as it was used as a quarry for other projects.
After leaving the Colosseum, we raced up to Palatine Hill, under the Arch of Titues, and just managed to squeak in before it closed. Palatine Hill was the residence of choice for the rich and famous of Rome and the home of the Caesars. A recent excavation also revealed the remains of a Bronze Age settlement on the hill. The ruins on Palatine Hill were incredible and lead us to imagine what life must have been like in their heyday. We walked through the ruins of the palaces of Caesar Augustus, and Flavian, as well as the Stadio Palatino before the park guides came to usher us out.
We then stopped to admire the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine in the setting sun before wandering around the back of Palatine Hill near the Circus Maximus. We wandered all the way around the back of the Fora Romana and ending up on Capolitine Hill as we looked for somewhere to find dinner. We stopped to admire the Campidoglio which was redesigned by Michelangelo before wandering back around the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.
We ended up having a good dinner at a small restaurant not far from from the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. We then headed back to the subway to head home, only to discover that it had closed at 9 pm due to construction. So we were left to hike back to the hotel, which was not an insignificant hike. We ended up hiking back past the Trevi Fountain which was even more beautiful at night. We then went past the Fontana di Tritone and through Piazza Barberini before returning to the hotel.
At the hotel, we managed to blow the circuit breaker for the third time in as many hotels. Unfortunately the night clerk did not know which breaker to reset, but he allowed me to charge my camera and transfer all of my pictures to my iPod at the front desk so I would at least have a working camera for the Vatican the next day. We finally got to sleep around midnight after transferring all of the pictures to the iPod and leaving the camera downstairs to continue charging.
Thursday, November 16, 2006 4:31 PM
On Monday, August 28, Andrea and I got up early to go tour the Duomo. The Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore is far and away the most recognized landmark of Florence. After walking all the way around the basilica, we found the entrance to the climb to the cupola of Brunelleschi's dome. The climb to the top of the dome covers 463 steps and 375 vertical feet. In the middle of the climb, you are treated to a wonderful, up-close view of the frescoed interior of the dome and the stained glass around it. Continuing up into the dome, the herringbone brick pattern that Brunelleschi used to make the dome self supporting becomes evident, and the stairs arch to match the curvature of the dome.
From the top of the dome, we were treated to a truly incredible view of the city of Florence. The Duomo is the tallest building in the city by a wide margin, and enjoys a commanding view of the surrounding city. We spent about 30 minutes at the top of the dome enjoying the view and laughing at the irony of one of the workers quite literally weeding the dome before we headed back down.
After we got down from the dome, we went inside to tour the interior of the basilica. The inside of the Duomo was probably the least impressive basilica interior of any of the cathedrals that we visited in Italy. The most interesting point was looking up into the frescoed interior of the dome.
We then descended through the floor of the Duomo into the ruins of Santa Reparata. Santa Reparata was the primary cathedral of Florence prior to the construction of the Duomo and the ruins were an interesting look into the layout of an early Roman cathedral. Their is also an altar in the original location in the ruins and there are evidently small services held in Santa Reparata to this day.
Upon leaving the Duomo and Santa Reparata, we walked around the Baptistry of San Giovanni. We had intended to go in at this point but there was a service in progress, so we paused to view all of the famous bronze doors by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti. The most famous of these doors is the "Gates of Paradise" by Ghiberti.
After leaving the Duomo complex, we went to the Basilica di Santa Croce. Santa Croce is the main Franciscan church in Florence and is famed for its many funerary monuments. Santa Croce has become well known as the burial place of the most famous Italians. The basilica contains the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Niccolo Machiavelli among others. It also contains a funerary monument to Dante Aligheri, although he is not buried here.
We spent about three and a half hours in Santa Croce following the audioguide to the basilica which was very informative and well worth the money. Santa Croce contains a number of famous artworks as well as the funerary monuments. The most notable are Donatello's Annunciation in bronze and the Crucifixion by Cimabue, although the Crucifixion was badly damaged in the flood of 1966. The whole of Santa Croce was submerged in 13 meters of water during this flood.
After leaving Santa Croce, we went to see Tempio Maggiore, the beautiful Jewish Synagogue in Florence. The synagogue is an instantly recognizable building in the Florence skyline because of it's bright green copper roof. Entrance to the synagogue was highly restricted and you had to leave everything except ID and paper money in lockers at the fence controlling access to the building. The interior of the building is beautiful and contains a small museum about the history of the Jews in Florence. The synagogue was used as a garage by the Nazis in World War II and they attempted to destroy it as they were leaving, although they only succeeded in blowing a small hole in one wall. The synagogue was also damaged by waters that were 2-3 meters deep in the 1966 flood. The synagogue did have a very helpful young member of the congregation there to answer questions about the building as well.
Following the synagogue, we went back for a tour of the Baptistry of San Giovanni outside of the Duomo. The Baptistry was an interesting building with a beautiful gilded mosaic ceiling. The inlaid marble walls and mosaic floors were also impressive.
After we left the Baptistry, we went back to the Mercato di San Lorenzo to attempt to find Andrea a leather jacket. We ended up returning to a store we had visited a couple of days earlier, Massimo Leather, where we ended up having her jacket custom ordered. We also ended up visiting a number of other shops where we purchased a number of gifts for our family members.
We then returned to our hotel to drop off our things before going to dinner a restaurant called Ottorino. We both had classic Florentine food to enjoy our last night in Florence, and the food was wonderful. I would definitely recommend Ottorino for someone looking for a slightly more upscale restaurant with good Florentine food and excellent service.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006 4:00 PM
On the morning of the 27th, we slept a little later than normal and got up around 10. We then headed out towards the Uffizi Gallery where we had reservations at 11:45. On the way, we stopped for breakfast and then decided to walk a slightly more circuitous route to the Uffizi so we could see more of the city. We ended up walking down Via Dei Pucci, around the back side of the Duomo, down Via del Proconsolo by the Bargello Museum and Badia Fiorentina before walking into the Piazza della Signoria.
We looked around the Piazza della Signoria for a while before heading into the courtyard of the Uffizi. We picked up our tickets for both the Accademia and the Uffizi at the same time and then went and entered the line. I would highly recommend getting tickets in advance because we didn't have to wait in line at all to get into the museum.
Once in the museum, we spent about three and a half hours touring the entire gallery. The Uffizi is home to a number of important pieces, and our favorites were Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus as well as the extensive exhibition on the mind of Leonardo da Vinci. The Botticelli rooms were particularly impressive because the scale of the paintings is so much larger than you imagine them in pictures. There were also a number of pre-Renaissance pieces from churches in Tuscany that were very beautiful but tended to run together because they were all so similar.
After leaving the Uffizi, we went back out into the Piazza della Signoria. We spent about half an hour looking at all of the statues in the Piazza della Signoria. The original location of Michelangelo's David is right in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and a marble copy stands there now. We found the small engraving of Savonarola on the side of the Palazzo Vecchio that is rumored to have been carved by Michelangelo behind his back as Savonarola was being led to be burned at the stake. We also walked through the Loggia dei Lanzi which contains a number of famous statues. Our favorites were the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the Rape of Polyxena by Pio Fedi. We also were impressed by Cellini's Perseus.
After leaving the Piazza della Signoria, we headed over to the Galleria dell'Accademia where we had tickets for 4:30. We spent a while looking through the exhibition on the work of Lorenzo Monaco and then continued on to the more famous exhibitions in the museum. The corridor leading to Michelangelo's David is lined with a number of Michelangelo's unfinished marble statues known collectively as "The Slaves." These were some of our favorite statues because of the power evoked in the slaves attempting to break free from the marble. There was also an unfinished version of Michelangelo's Pieta in this corridor.
Obviously, the highlight of the Galleria dell'Accademia is Michelangelo's David. The statue is much more impressive in person as it is 17 feet tall. We were highly amuzed by the museum attendant who was charged with keeping people from taking photos. He clearly didn't care if people photographed the statue and only bothered to shout out the occasional "No Photo!" when a supervisor came by. The David was truly impressive and we sat and admired it for quite a while before moving on into the gallery of plaster casts and then to the exhibition of Russian Orthodox icons before leaving the museum.
On the way back toward our hotel, we stopped in the Mercato di San Lorenzo again to look for leather jackets for both of us. We managed to find a really nice one for me and got a great deal on it. We then went back to the hotel and deposited all of our stuff before heading out to dinner.
We had dinner at a wonderful little restaurant near Santa Maria Novella called Osteria delle Belle Donne. We had some phenomenal food there while chatting with a very friendly group from Portugal. We then walked back to our hotel and called it a night.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006 12:22 PM
I just finished a complete redesign of the site. The new site makes extensive use of CSS instead of the old table based layout. The new site also uses the Anthem.NET AJAX controls to improve the responsiveness of the site and to reduce the number of postbacks that occur during the navigation of the site. I have also updated the layout and graphics to a much more modern style. Let me know what you think of the new design in the comments below.
Wednesday, November 8, 2006 10:06 AM
On the morning of August 26, we got up early to head to Florence since our rental car had to be returned by 11 am. Once we finished checking out of Greppi di Silli, we headed up the road and decided to take some pictures in the vineyard. After that, we decided to take a brief stop at the church up the hill from Greppi, Pieve di Santo Stefano a Campoli, just to see it a little closer since we had been driving by for a week.
After the stop at Pieve di Santo Stefano a Campoli, it was on to Florence, about 20 km north of Mercatale. We stopped for gas on the outskirts of Florence to satisfy the rental agreement and then proceeded to try and find our hotel in Florence. The first issue we ran into was that our maps made everything look much bigger than it was, but we managed to find Residence la Contessina relatively easily. I must thank my mom for the wonderful accomodations since she arranged the hotel in Florence. Residence la Contessina is only about 600 yards from the Duomo and is right within easy walking distance of all of the sights of central Florence, and couldn't have worked out better for us.
After checking in to the hotel, we set off to return the rental car. This involved a somewhat circuitous route because of the one way streets and traffic reduction laws in central Florence. After a couple of trips around the block on Borgo Ognissanti, we asked a couple of Carabineri where the Europcar office was, only to notice that they were standing right next to it. The rental return only took a couple minutes and then we walked back to the hotel to plan the rest of our day.
The desk clerks at Residence la Contessina couldn't have been more helpful in setting up some of our plans. They called ahead and got us advance reservations for both the Uffizi and Accademia. They also gave us a much better map of Florence than was in our Fodor's guide.
After talking with the desk, we headed over to the train station to get our tickets to Rome so that we didn't need to worry about that later. On the way we stopped for lunch as a small pizzeria for what was unquestionably the worst pizza that we had in Italy.
Following our trip to the train station, we decided to head over to Santa Maria Novella since it was right next to the train station. After seeing the entrance fee and comparing it to the other places we wanted to see in our guidebook, we decided to pass on touring the church.
We then walked back through the Mercato di San Lorenzo to go tour the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The market is an experience all to its own as there are small carts pushing leather jackets, clothing of all sorts, souveniers, and all other manner of merchandise. We got through to the front of San Lorenzo and decided to go in and tour the church. San Lorenzo was consecrated in 393 AD and is one of the oldest churches in Florence. It is a rather unassuming structure on the outside since the Romanesque stone was never deemed worthy of receiving a marble facade, but it was the city's main cathedral for over 300 years before being replaced by the Duomo. San Lorenzo was also the Medici parish church and contains a number of renaissance artworks, including the pulpit by Donatello.
After our tour of San Lorenzo we walked around the building, looking for the entrance to the Medici Libraries and the Medici Chapel. We never did find the entrance to the libraries, but we did end up touring the Medici Chapel. The Medici Chapel is the large dome at the back of San Lorenzo and contains the tombs of all of the Medici Grand Dukes. We were relatively disappointed in the Medici Chapel despite its high billing because the vast majority of the interior of the chapel was covered in scaffolding. The renovation had evidently begun in 1999 after a large chunk of marble fell from the ceiling, but it definitely made for a disappointing experience since all of the famous marble work was covered by scaffolding.
After touring the Medici Chapel, we went back out into the Mercato di San Lorenzo and paused to check out some of the leather jackets. It was truly amazing how the vendors would show you a coat or two and then end up dragging you a block or two away to their storefronts. We ended up looking at a couple of stores before heading on our way again.
We walked through Piazza San Giovanni by the Duomo towards the Piazza della Repubblica. We paused for a moment in Piazza della Repubblica before continuing on toward the Arno. On the way, we saw the Chiesa di Orsanmichele. The building was originally constructed as a grain market and later converted into a church as the chapel for Florence's trade guilds. As such, it is one of the strangest churches I have ever seen. The arches of the original grain market were filled with gothic style walls, and the altar inside is not centered and is in the front right part of the building from the entrance.
After walking through and around Orsanmichele, we went over to the Mercato Nuovo which was right next to the church. We wandered through the market for a bit before stopping to put a coin in the mouth of the famous bronze boar statue. The legend of this statue is similar to that of the Trevi Fountain in Rome in that if you put a coin in the mouth of the boar and it falls through the grate below, you will return to Florence some day.
Leaving Mercato Nuovo, we continued down to the Arno River. Reaching the Arno, we headed over to Ponte Santa Trinita for a better view of the Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Santa Trinita is also know as a hangout for young lovers so we figured that was appropriate since we were on our honeymoon.
We then walked back along the Oltrarno side of the river to the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is famous for all of the gold shops along the bridge. Originally populated by butchers, Cosimo I de Medici did not like the smell and banished the butchers from the bridge and replaced them with the jewelers. As we walked along the bridge, we were truly amazed at the radiant heat from all of the jewelery cases along the bridge. We were also surprised at how expensive the jewelery was since there was so much built in competition on the bridge.
After crossing the Ponte Vecchio, we walked along the Arno, pausing to look through the courtyard of the Uffizi before walking back across the Arno towards Piazzale Michelangelo. We climbed up the hill through the numerous gardens to Piazzale Michelangelo. The view from Piazzale Michelangelo over the entire city of Florence is incredible. We hung out in the plaza for a while, called our parents, and then headed back down to find some dinner.
On our way down the hill we found a group doing sound checks for a free concert later in the evening, so we sat and listened for a bit. The group was called Gezz Zero Grup and the art series was called FirenzEstate_06. The sound was very interesting with a drum set, saxaphone, and electric cello, so we decided to come back after dinner to listen for a while.
As we wandered down the Arno in search of dinner, Andrea pointed out a building back in a small park that we thought was interesting. It turned out to be Chiesa Luterana, the oldest Lutheran church in Florence. It was a small but beautiful building and it was definitely a highlight to find a Lutheran church in such a Catholic stronghold.
We continued on down the Arno and then back past Palazzo Pitti towards Santa Spirito. Unfortunately the restaurant we were looking for was closed on their holiday for one more day, so we ended up walking back towards the Arno. We ended up having dinner at Restaurante sull'Arno right at the base of the Ponte Vecchio where we ate overlooking the river. At one of the tables next to us was a group of English speaking tourists who were evidently on a bike tour of northern Italy and were presenting "awards" to each other that were absolutely hilarious. The food at the restaurant was also excellent and I would definitely recommend it.
After dinner we went back to Piazza Giuseppe Poggi to listen to the Gezz Zero Grup for a while. The concert was quite entertaining and we listened for about half an hour before heading back to our hotel to call it a night.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006 8:59 AM
Andrea and I went and voted first thing this morning here in Westminster. Go vote! Today is the day that you get to have a say in your government. If you choose not to vote, you get the government you deserve.
Monday, November 6, 2006 9:34 AM
Wednesday, November 1, 2006 4:03 PM
On Friday the 25th, we slept in a bit and then we got up to head to Siena. Siena is renowned for being a well preserved medieval city as opposed to some of the towns we had visited. Siena was a major center in medieval Italy, rivaling Florence, until the black plague devastated the city in 1348.
We stopped at the bank in Mercatale Val di Pesa and then took a half hour or so to wander around the main piazza in Mercatale before getting on the road to Siena. We also spent some time photographing all of the different Italian street signs on the way.
We drove down the Raccordo Firenze-Siena highway to Siena, getting there around noon. As we found a parking place we looked up to the top of the hill where the cathedral and most of the city we wanted to see was at, thinking what a long hike that would be. Fortunately Andrea spotted a sign for escalators. I don't think we've ever been that glad to see electricity as the escalators took us to within about 30 yards of the entrance to the baptistry of the cathedral.
Since it was lunchtime, we stopped to get a slice of pizza from a pizzeria between the Duomo and the Piazza del Campo. We then walked back up and ate our lunch on the steps of the baptistry before heading up the stairs to the Piazza del Duomo and the cathedral.
The view of the front of the Duomo was disappointing since the entire front of the building was covered in scaffolding which was in turn covered with a photo of the front of the building. We stood in line and finally got our tickets to go into the Duomo. The Duomo of Siena is famous for its inlaid marble floors, which are only uncovered for one month a year. Fortunately, they were uncovered when we went so we got to see them.
In the Duomo, we got an audioguide to lead us through the cathedral. This was probably one of the most worthwhile audioguides of the trip and we learned a lot about the building, although we spent a lot longer than we had planned in the cathedral. The marble floors are truly incredible, and the cathedral also contains a number of monuments to the Sienese Popes among its collection of art. The cathedral also contains an impressive marble pulpit by Nicola Pisano, and Duccio's stained glass window is the oldest in Italy. In the late 1200s, Siena planned a major expansion to the cathedral that would have made it the largest in the world, and made the current, already large cathedral into just a transept of the new one. The black plague put an end to these plans, and later reviews showed that the new structure would have been doomed by the inability of the ground to support its massive weight.
After leaving the Duomo, we went down to the Cripta. The Cripta is a misnomer at this point as an excavation below the cathedral in the late 1990s was believed to have found the crypt of the cathedral, but found the remains of an earlier church, complete with a number of well preserved frescoes by an unknown artist. The frescoes are believed to date to between 1270 and 180.
After the Cripta, we walked down the stairs to the baptistry. The baptistry was built in the 14th century to reinforce the Duomo above. The baptismal faunt in the baptistry is by Jacopo della Quercia and also is ringed by panels by Ghiberti and Donatello. We were also impressed by the frescoes on the ceiling of the baptistry.
After the baptistry, we walked back up to the Museo dell'Opera della Metropolitana. The museum contains the originals of many of the works that were in the Duomo and is housed in what remains of the planned expansion of the Duomo. The museum also contained one of my favorite sculptures in Italy of a young girl on a velvet cushion. The highlight of the museum is the climb to the top of what was to be the new cathedral. From this vantage point, you can look down on the Duomo as well as the entire city of Siena and the surrounding countryside. The view is truly incredible.
After leaving the museum, we walked back down the stairs past the baptistry towards the Piazza del Campo. On the way we stopped in a candle shop where we watched them make hand dipped and carved candles. We even purchased a small blue and gold one as one of our souvenirs of Siena.
We then continued down to the Piazza del Campo. The Piazza del Campo sits on the site of the Roman Forum, and is the seat of the government of Siena. The plaza is divided into nine sections for the medieval Council of Nine. The Pallazo Pubblico dominates the Piazza del Campo and is probably the most recognizable building in Siena. The Torre del Mangia in the Pallazo Pubblico is the tallest in Italy and was built to the exact height of the Duomo's campanile to assert that temporal and spiritual power were equals. They were setting up for an evening concert while we were there, and we ended up wandering around the Piazza del Campo for a while as we waited for the restaurant we wanted to eat at to open.
We had a phenomenal dinner at Hosteria il Carroccio where we met a pair of Australian women and chatted for the entire meal. They were in the midst of a seven week vacation through Africa and Europe, and we discussed some of the differences we had seen between where we were from and Italy as well as all of their travels. After dinner we got up and listened to the concert in the Piazza del Campo for a few minutes before heading back to the car and driving back to Greppi di Silli.