We took a day trip to San Gimignano from Florence today. We took the regional bus that cost us 13.60 euros each to take the round trip. Tip for those who are taking bus day trips in Tuscany, get to the bus station early to buy your ticket and get on your bus. The bus is normally there early and the first people on it get the best seats ( if there are not enough seats you need to wait for the next bus which can be an hour later). This bus took us to a train station in the town of Poggibonsi, where we had to wait about a half hour for another bus that would take us to San Gimignano ( the trip to the city took about 2 hours).
It’s pretty easy to navigate the bus system, as a lot of it is automated. Many stops have electronic signs that announce expected arrivals and departures (but I suspect they’re just schedules, and if your bus is late it won’t be reflected on the sign). This one is at the transfer point in Poggibonsi, and gives the schedule time, route, destination, and boarding area for each bus expected soon.
San Gimignano is a medieval time capsule with 12 tower homes still in place. In the 11th through 12th century rich people built tall tower homes with few windows and wooden stairways. If they were attacked by other city states or sadly from other people in the town that they were feuding with, they burnt the stairway into the tower. As they ran up the ladders for each floor, they pulled the ladders up with them until they were in the stronghold in the top of the tower where they stayed hopefully safe from the bad guys. In the 12th and 13th centuries there were about 72 tower homes in the town. The Florentines attacked them in the 14th century and made them take down all but 12 towers . The black death came to the town and its population went from 13,000 people to about 4,000 people. The town never recovered but stayed in a medieval time warp. Now that time warp is the main tourist attraction. Here is the main city gates that we arrived at with the bus.
When you walk in the town it is like you are in the 14th century again. The buildings have remained the same ; some of them like the town hall were built in 1245 and they are still in use. Here are some photos; these two towers are the oldest remaining ones in SG. around the 10th century. They are still standing and you can even spend the night in one of the rooms, Most of the plazas had a well in the center for water when the town was under siege. Here is the well in the city hall. The tallest tower house that you can climb the 200 stairs to the top is called the Torre Grossa. It is 177 ft tall and was built in 1300. We decided to look at it from the bottom as I am afraid of heights. The Duomo or main church is called the Collegiata. It has a beautiful set of frescoes painted in the 14th century. We purchased a ticket and went into the church but they did not allow any photos inside. Here is a photo of the plain outside of the building. We had a late lunch in a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves called Locanda di Sant,Agostino. We had the sausage pizza which is like a tortilla with cheese, tomato sauce and a little bit of sausage on it. But it was filling and the service was good. Here is David tasting the white wine that the town is famous for. When you walk off the main street into the side streets you can almost imagine you are in the 14th century. Here are some photos; This is a hill town and so there were wonderful views of the Tuscan landscape like this one; The bus rides home took only 1.5 hours and we were quite happy to see our little apartment in Florence.
People in Italy do a great job dressing up in medieval costumes and having parades on special commemorative days. In addition to colorful costumes there are flags and drums. “Every May in Florence flowers are donated in memory of the Dominican friar, Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola”.
Savonarola had a complex, love-hate, nine-year relationship with Florence and her rulers, but things kind of came to a head and he was hanged, his body burned, and his ashes thrown into the Arno in 1498, along with 2 other friars accused of being heretics and speaking against the corrupt pope. (He does not look like a happy man)
“The Fiorita Commemoration takes place at the circular plaque embedded in the stones in Piazza Signoria, at the very spot in the square where this historic event took place.
Just as the townspeople had done the morning after the death of the preacher, today the citizens of Florence leave flowers for Savonarola who dominated the Florence republic from 1494 to 1498.
The ceremony is followed by a procession in period costumes leading to the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge that Savonarola’s ashes were scattered from. ” ( from The Florence Web page the photos are mine). Girolamo Savonarola (Italian: 21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498) was an Italian Dominican friar and preacher active in Renaissance Florence. He was known for his prophecies of civic glory, the destruction of secular art and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. ( wikipedia) He also preached that the Pope in Rome ( Alexander VI ) was corrupt . This was true; Alexandra was the Borgia pope who had 3 of his children and his current mistress living with him in the Vatican. But on the other hand, Savonarola was responsible for inspiring Florentine people to burn their ancient books , jewelry and art treasures in his Bonfire of the Vanities. Unfortunately for Savonarola, the Pope had more power and people were tired of being told they were terrible sinners for enjoying life.
Here is a quick and easy tutorial on how to make a travel smash book or travel journal . It is important for me to keep my tickets and memorabilia ( plus I like to keep the prices of things like food and tours for future reference) from a trip because all the days sometime melt into each other and I cannot remember. Later, David will ask “When did we do that?” and I cannot recall. In addition, when we are traveling like this, it is hard for me to find the time to record all of our activities everyday. This is where a travel smash book comes in handy.
It’s a journal where you just tape or glue in receipts, tickets, itineraries and menus as you go. Here are two photos; one of two pages already prepared at home and another of the cover of my smash book that is not decorated yet. This is not an art journal like I would make at home. I only take a small amount of art items with me due to packing space. ( watercolor pencils, double stick tape, scissors, a small stapler, pencil, black sharpie pens, paint brushes, glue sticks, eraser and dry watercolor paints). I prepare my journal before the trip by lining the pages with papers themed to where we are going and/or painting different backgrounds .
Then all I have to do is add the date to the page and a couple of comments. Some times when I have larger brochures I glue some pages together and put the brochures inside.
I take lots of photos but I will not have time to get them printed until later so I leave space for them in the smash book. Another trick that I use is to purchase postcards that have three photos on them in places we visit and cut them up and paste them into the book as I go along. Here is a post card that I purchased and how I made a page from it.There is a pocket I made from some manuscript paper that I purchased here to put the tickets in to.
By the way, if you are short of packing space, you can acquire most art supplies here in Europe, and at reasonable prices. Here in Italy there are “99 cent only” stores, and a chain of Danish stores called Tiger. These last have lots of low-cost items ranging from spices to socks, including many office supplies and small craft materials. Here in Florence, every museum and many other stores offer high-quality wrapping paper, two sheets for €2.50. They have Florentine motifs and are great for use in smash books. You can see a couple of sheets in the pictures above.
These are just a few suggestions. If you have any other ones you would like to share , just leave a comment below. Happy traveling and smash booking.
I just finished reading The Inferno by Dan Brown. The movie The Inferno just finished filming here in Florence with Tom Hanks and Ron Howard.
Much of the action in the movie takes place in the Palazzo Vecchio which is the ancient and the current town hall of Florence. It was also the home to the Medici duke and his family in the 16th century.
Dave and I took the Palazzo Vecchio secret passages tour ( cost 21.5 euros each, 10 for the entry into the museum and 10 for the private guided tour which got us past the lines) . If you have read the book you will recognize the descriptions of the secret doorway in the room of maps ( we saw the room but not the secret doorway on the tour), the top of the great hall of 500 ( alternative name Salone dei Cinquecento. and the Duke of Athens secret stairway.
We started the tour with the secret stairway which you can enter through a 4 foot door on the side of the fortress. Our very good tour guide , Julia, told us this was used in the 15th century for spies and mistresses. It also has a key part in the Dan Brown book . After we went in the tiny door Julia showed us a diagram of the secret staircases It must have been dark ( only candles to light the way up really tiny stairs) cold and somewhat frightening to use this way in. From the bottom floor in the wall we climbed more tiny stairs and went into the Studiolo of Francesco I. This was a small hidden workroom for the strange Count Francesco who fancied himself a scientist. There were no windows so the light must have made it a problem to work in this space. It is covered with frescoes on the ceiling and paintings on wooden cabinet doors, why? Perhaps he just wanted to hide out in the dark and play with his treasures (coral, shells , pearls etc) which were hidden behind the cabinet doors. His mother Eleanor was painted over the doorway into the room to keep an eye on her wayward son.In this room there was another secret doorway behind one of the painted cabinet doors. Up a few more secret stairs and we find Francesco I’s father’s secret study. This room had a window that you could open and was much smaller. We were told this was his study where he could get away to think and read his large collection of books.
From here we crossed a balcony that is over the room of 500 ( spoiler, this room is involved in the death of one of the characters in the book) and up into the space above this great hall. Vasari ( the artist/ architect who designed the ceiling of the room of the 500) basically hung the canvas paintings on the ceiling with a set of trusses to suspend them. Here is a wooden model that shows how they fit under the regular ceiling of the great hall. Here is a photo of what it actually looks like in person. That was it for the tour but we were free to look at all the other parts of the fortress/ducal home that are open to the regular public. Here is a photo of Dante’s death mask David in front of one of the giant fireplaces ( luckily they had a lot of servants to clean and haul wood) and to finish our tour off, here is an indoor toilet. This door was set into a regular room wall about 3 feet above the floor they must have had some stairs to get up to it. Inside there is a seat with a hole and if you look closely there is a small vent to the outside for light and ventilation? Well, now you have seen some of the secrets of this old palace and some of the areas which will probably be featured in the film. Hope you have enjoyed the tour.
I am getting behind in my chronicles of Florence. It seems like there is history and wonderful photographs everywhere. Today, I am going to take you to the church of San Miniato which is located in the hills above Florence. “St. Miniato or Minas (Armenian: Մինաս) was an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under Emperor Decius. He was denounced as a Christian after becoming a hermit and was brought before the Emperor who was camped outside the gates of Florence. The Emperor ordered him to be thrown to beasts in the Amphitheatre where a panther was called upon him but refused to devour him. Beheaded in the presence of the Emperor, he is alleged to have picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage. A shrine was later erected at this spot and there was a chapel there by the 8th century. Construction of the present church was begun in 1013 by Bishop Alibrando and it was endowed by the Emperor Henry II. ” ( from Wikipedia). There are an order of monks who have been in residence at this church since the 15th century. We got to hear Mass and Vespers sung in Latin by this group. It is very inspiring to go to Mass in a church that is that old. We also looked at the Porte Sante cemetery that surrounds the church. This is a large cemetery with lots of marble statues and gravestones. Some of them are quite unusual, for example; “Mario and Maria Mazzone. The life-size statues of these two young people who died so very long ago make even the most casual observer stop and look for details of this love story. One sees a young man in an airman’s uniform with a broad smile, looking squarely at the young woman whose gaze is turned slightly aside and downward, with just a hint of a smile on her face, their hands just about to touch. One looks closely and reads in the inscription that Mario, born in 1919, was killed in Hamm, Germany on 22 April 1944; Maria, born in 1922, died some 11 months later, in May of 1945. No other Mazzones are buried there, nor are there any clues as to who these people were. Were they lovers? Husband and wife? In fact, according to Graziella Cirri, who has done an exhaustive analysis of the sculpture in several Florentine cemeteries, Maria and Mario were in fact brother and sister and the statue was commissioned in 1947 by their mother.” ( from The Florentine). Another interesting grave belongs to Silvia Marini Nei de Rogati 1886-1947 . She is shown standing with a cape outstretched behind her and 4 young children in front of her. I also came across a couple of kind of creepy graves. The first thing I saw of this particular grave were his feet. Then I worked my way around to find the sculpted body of a life sized naked man lying over his grave. Click on the photo to enlarge it . Then there is this grave with a child being covered with an octopus. I could not find any information on the web about it or the person, Maria Elizabetta Giustini whose dates were 1955-1956. There were also many large mausoleums that were made like mini churches; here is one that was quite large. Here are a couple of other statues that I found interesting.. It is a different kind of art; one that expresses a little bit of what one person’s life meant to other people they left behind.