UMBRIA : Green Umbria, Holy Umbria, the Region of 100 Towns: slogans old and new have attempted to distill the soul of this region. Umbria is a region with many faces, all different, but all genuinely native.The dialects differ, as do the culinary specialties, wich create original combinations out of elements from Tuscany, the Marches and Latium.Also different in this region, one of the smallest in Italy, are the natural environments, wich from an exceptional "jigsaw puzzle" of landscapes. The land of Umbria has few rivals in its capacity to surprise, delight and capture the heart of the traveler. It is never easy to explain the reasons of the "heart", as it is a subtle, intangible pleasure to travel in his multiform land rich in aesthetic delights. The call to the pleasure of the sense is irresistible, stimulated by scents and colors of changing landscapes, so steeped in history as to be inexhaustible gold mines of art and culture.
ORVIETO : Symbol of the city is the DUOMO AND CHAPEL OF SAINT BRIZIO a jewel of Romanesque Gothic architecture. Its construction began in 1290 at the will of Pope Nicolò IV. The synthesis and harmony of style are sublime in their upward movements. They are exhalted by the splendour of the mosaics on a gold background that grace the facade. This is the work of Maietani. In the chapel of the Corporal, wich features frescoes by Ugolino di Prete Ilario, the altar cloth that was stained with the blood of Christ during the miracle of Bolsena 1263 is preserved in the Reliquary of Ugolino di Vieri. One of the major fresco cycles from the Renaissance is found in the Chapel Saint Brizio: the frescoes, begun by Beato Angelico with the help of Benozzo Gozzoli, are the work of Luca Signorelli. Of great importance are the frescoes in the apse, from the end of the 1300s, the Madonna with Child by Gentile da Fabriano, and a marble group of the Pieta' by Ippolito di Scalza.
ASSISI : THE BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS AND THE SACRO CONVENTO - The Basilica complex is composed of two churches built one above the other, the lower one dating from 1228-1230 and the upper one from 1230-1253 and a crypt dug in 1818 wich houses the Saint's tomb. The lower Basilica was decorated by the greatest painters of the 13th and 14th centuries: Cimabue,Giotto,the Lorenzetti brothers and Simone Martini. The stained glass windows are especially beatiful. The Upper Basilica is adorned by Giotto's frescos illustrating the life of St. Francis. There are also works by Cimabue, Cavallini and Torriti. The monastery houses are remarkable "Treasury" composed of rare illuminated manuscripts and the Perkins collection. THE BASILICA OF ST. CLAIRE is an example of Italian-Gothic architecture. It was constructed between 1257-1265 and contains precious paintings dating from the 12th and the 14th centuries and the famous Crucifix venerated by St. Francis at San Damiano. The body of St.Claire is preserved in the crypt. S. MARIA DEGLI ANGELI an imposing Basilica constructed between 1569 and 1679 and crowned by the magnificent dome designed by Alessi. It encloses the Porziuncola (the nucleus of the first Franciscan monastery and the place where St. Claire received the Fraciscan cowl from St. Francis 1211) and the Cappella del Transito where St. Francis died on 3rd October 1226. To the side of the Basilica is the Chapel of the Roses with frescoes by Tiberio d'Assisi. The museum annex contains works by the Maestro di S. Francesco, Giunta Pisano and others.
EXCURSIONS / TUSCANY
FLORENCE : The religious heart of the city, is dominated by the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto's bell tower and the Baptistry, dedicated to St.John the Baptist.
THE CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE When it was completed in the XV century, the cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore (of the flower, because of a flower, the lily,wich is the symbol of Florence) was the largest religious building in all Europe. It was built over the ruins of the early Christian basilica of Santa Reparata (the crypt with IV-V century mosaics is open for visits). The works were begun by Arnolfo di Cambio (1296-1302) and then continued by Giotto, Andrea Pisano, Francesco Talenti and others. In 1436 it was completed with Filippo Brunelleschi's dome. The polichrome marble façade is a XIX century addition. The interior, in a shape of a Latin cross is divided in three naves to culminate in the choir with the main altar. The cathedral houses some important artworks such as the Equestrian Monument to Niccolo' da Tolentino by Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello's monument to Giovanni Acuto. The two sacristies (the one on the left is decorated with bronze doors by Luca della Robbia and Michelozzo and wooden inlays by Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano) are surmounted by splendid glazed terracotta sculptures by Luca della Robbia. On the inside wall of the façade there is a funerary monument by Tino da Camaino and the famous Clock by Paolo Uccello. The stained glass windows of the drum were made by Donatello, Paolo Uccello, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Andrea del Castagno.
THE DOME OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE : Designed (1418) and built (1420-36) by Filippo Brunelleschi, this is an extraordinary feat of engineering. The dome was built without reinforcements and supported itself during constructions thanks to a double vault. The interior of the dome is decorated with frescoes of the Last Judgement (latter half of the XVI century) painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. The dome culminates in Brunelleschi's lantern that is surmounted by a gilded copper ball topped by a cross (the one we see is a copy of Verrocchio's original that was destroyed by lightning in the VII century). The stairs along the two vaults lead to the lantern that offers an extraordinary view of the city.
THE BAPTISTRY OF SAINT JOHN : The baptistry that is dedicated to John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence housed the city's baptismal font that was dismantled in the XVI century. It is octagonal in shape and is dressed with polychrome marble (prior to 1100) and surmounted by pyramidal roof with the lantern (XII century). The floor is a Romanesque marble inlay and the original dome is decorated with grandiose mosaics (XIII century) dominated by the figure of Christ the Judge. The mosaics were done by Coppo di Marcovaldo, Cimabue and others. The bronze doors to the baptistry are famous troughout the world: the oldest, facing south was made by Andrea Pisano (1330-36),while the north and east doors, 1404-24 and 1425-52 respectively, are by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Michelangelo considered the east door, the one facing the cathedral, so beautiful that he dubbed it the "Door of Paradise" (Ghiberti's original panels are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo).
GIOTTO'S BELL TOWER : The 85 meter high bell tower comprises five stories. It was designed by Giotto who began the actual construction in 1334. Upon his death the work was continued by Andrea Pisano who created the level with the slit windows and the niches for the statues (some of these are by Donatello:the originals are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo). The last three levels that complete the tower were made by Francesco Talenti (1359). The lower portion of the tower is decorated with panels by Andrea Pisano and his contemporaries such as Luca della Robbia. The view of the city fom the top is spectacular to say the least.
PALAZZO VECCHIO AND PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA : it has been the political heart of the city from the Middle Ages to the present day. It is a singular urbanistic creation that began taking shape from 1268. It gets the name from the most important monument there, Palazzo della Signoria, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1298-99 (much of it already completed by 1302, only three years later) for the seat of the Republican government and wich was later to host the Gonfalonier of Justice and the Priors of the Arts (it was in fact at first called Palazzo Priori). The palace continued to maintain this politically representative function in the city during the reign of the Medici and later Duke Cosimo I, who lived here between 1540 and 1565, commissioning his court architect, Giorgio Vasari, to double the building in size. When the Grand Duke and his family moved to the new palace of Pitti in 1565, Palazzo della Signoria began to be known as Palazzo Vecchio (the old Palace). The square is not just the “civil” centre of Florence, it is also a splendid open air museum where to admire THE LOGGIA DEI LANZI (1376-1382), whose late Gothic roof covers 15 statues wich also includes Benvenuto Cellini’s wonderful PERSEUS holding up the head of the Medusa.
THE UFFIZI GALLERY : is one of the most important collections of art of all times, including classical sculptures and paintings on canvas and wood by 13th to 18th century Italian and foreign schools with works made by artists like : Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Beato Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Duerer and Goya.
Very interesting are also the GALLERIA PALATINA in the PALAZZO PITTI, the National Museum of BARGELLO and the GALLERIA DELL’ACCADEMIA with the worldwide known DAVID of Michelangelo.
THE PONTE VECCHIO it is the oldest bridge in the city with the typical jewelry shops.
SIENA : The city dominates a sea of rolling clay waves. It is a ship of stone wich has risen up over time and has spread out in space. Its geometry reaches perfection in PIAZZA DEL CAMPO, where an alchemy of corners, curves and slopes keeps light and shadows in constant movement. Twice yearly it is overcome by humanity, emotions and expectation, by weariness and sighs, by disappointment and hope, the PALIO a traditional horse race is held over here. Siena was created by and for its inhabitants. It refuses to accept the frenetic lifestyle of today’s “modern” cities.
EXCURSIONS / AMALFI AND SORRENTINE COAST
THE SORRENTINE PENINSULA : The marvellous natural scenery makes the Sorrentine Peninsula one of the most famous tourist destinations in Italy. Art and tradition characterise the numerous towns. The great attraction of this land is its natural beauty: the coastal road is one of the marvels of Italian scenery. Citrus groves, vineyards and olive groves that softly pour down the slopes towards the sea, the road follows the tortuous coastline, where curve after curve opens up incredible views of the Gulf of Naples, Vesuvius and Capri. The coast is high,craggy and rocky, with sheer limestone cliffs that crumble into the sea, coves and rocky shores.
SORRENTO : The city sits high above the sea on an imposing tuff outcrop with deep gorges. The houses are immersed in luxuriant green and surrounded by groves of olive, lemon and orange trees. The town became famous in the 1800's, but its history has much deeper roots. The name Surrentum is possibly tied the legend of the siren and theories of Phoenician foundation are entertained. What is certain is that in Roman times it was the favourite dwelling of the aristocracy.The lemons of Sorrento are famous for having created Limoncello liqueur.
THE AMALFI COAST : The incomparable beauty of the Amalfi Coast has enchanted visitors from all corners of the earth. The lush green terraces, suspended over a sparkling sea, the wealth of art and the architectural characteristics, make it one of of the most celebrated places on earth. Wild, daring and romantic, the Coast is an obligatory stop in any journey to Italy.
POSITANO : Set into the mountain, surrounded by rich mediterranean vegetation, Positano is so picturesque as to seem a spontaneous stage setting. Seen from the sea it looks like a huge nativity scene, a waterfall of little multicoloured houses clinging onto its sides. The town develops vertically. The homes, one on top of the other, are characterised by arched porticos that give onto the sea, and are painted in pastel colours, giving it the look of a multifaceted precious stone. It is not for nothing that Positano is called "the gem of the divine coast".
AMALFI : In the serene blu of the sky and the sea, Amalfi guarded by its port, seems held in the palm of a hand. Above, the scenic drapery of the mountains, hinged like a backdrop, dotted with houses; below, a picturesque weaving of alleys and steps, all the way to the Piazza, where the Cathedral dominates from the top of its majestic stairs. A unique scene, where historic memory intertwines with unforgettable natural beauty. Suspended between the slopes of the Lattari Mountains and the sea, the picturesque alleys of Amalfi today host a large number of tourists, but there was a time, when the powerful Marine Republic had its moment of maximum splendour between the 10th and 12th centuries, that they kept the outsiders (Longobards and Saracens) at bay.
RAVELLO : is one of the gems of the Amalfi Coast, 350 meters above the sea level, where the light effects and magical architecture create a vision of rare intensity. Its name is immortalized in Boccaccio's Decameron. Famous for its tranquil and serene atmosphere, Ravello offers architectural gems of rare elegance. VILLA RUFOLO Immersed in a verdant park of exotic and mediterranean flora, the original structure dates back to the 13th century; and even today some of its arab-siculian architecture is evident. The polychromatic arabesque colonnade is splendid. The garden is one of the most beautiful in Campania. Nature and man's touch compete to create a highly evocative atmosphere: villas lined by lime trees and cypresses, cascades of flowers. From the belvedere the sea seem infinite. Wagner's inspiration for the Klingsor Garden, in his opera Parsifal, came from the gardens of Villa Rufolo. VILLA CIMBRONE Originally it was a simple hut. It was bought in 1904 by Ernest William Beckett, who transformed it into an exceptionally fascinating Villa. It has hosted many celebrated personalities, from Winston Churchill to Greta Garbo.
EXCURSIONS / POMPEII
POMPEII : The most fascinating aspect of Pompeii, the event that makes it a one in the world city, from a historic and artistic point of view, is the possibility to put together step by step, along the lava basalt paved roads, the everyday life of the inhabitants of a city wich became immortal after the catastrophic eruption in 79 A.D. Pompeii, with four fifths of its urban area already excavated, is the most famous and evocative archeological site in the world. The eruption of Vesuvius buried the city in a 6-7 meter thick layer of ash and cinder. Most of its inhabitants, escaping from their homes, found their deaths on the shore.
The remaining few, in a vain attempt to save themselves in their basements, died asphyxiated: the moulds of their agonized bodies, obtained by pouring plaster into the cavities left by the bodies in the layers of ash, give moving testimony of the tragedy. A walk amongst the excavations of Pompeii is a unique experience. It is a journey into the past: one captures the feeling of life in ancient times, public, and, above all, private. The most surprising aspect is, in fact, the high number of homes, luxurious or humble, that have preserved their bottles, glassware and ovens. Even more surprising the amount of furnishings that have remained intact, permitting us to see into the most personal aspects of the life of the inhabitants.