Category Italy

Pienza: all Renaissance towns should have a bird that talks like a refrigerator

During a fascinating period of the Italian Renaissance, humanist scholars and architects set out to create the ideal city.  Surprisingly, one of these urban planners was a pope–Pope Pious II.  Pius II (formerly known as Enea Silvio Piccolomini) transformed his home town, Cosignano, into a miniature urban Renaissance Utopia.  He hired the architect Rossellino to […]

In which St. Francis preaches to the birds, tames a wolf and jumps the shark

What saint could be more endearing than St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals?  St. Francis (1182 – 1226) grew up as a rich, fashionable boy in Assisi, but a religious epiphany turned him from a dandy to a monk.  He “married” poverty, founded the Franciscan order of friars, and was a hugely influential […]

Giotto’s Scrovengni chapel: betrayal, revenge and dorky camels

It’s a devastating moment in the life of Joachim, a pious and generous man.  He wants most of all to give to the poor and sacrifice to the Lord, but the rabbi rudely rejects him.  As Joachim and his wife Anna are growing old but still childless, the rabbi declares they are cursed by God and unwelcome […]

Built to oppress: fascist architecture in Italy

While wandering about Naples, we took a detour from munching street food and dodging vespas to oggle fascist architecture.  HOB and I groaned and giggled at the aggressively symmetrical fascist post office and then decided to go in–why not?  We really did need stamps.  On entry a machine instructed us to take a number.  We […]

Lecce, Italy: all the putti

Putti wrapped around columns, garlands of putti, putti with pigeons on their heads, gilded putti holding up ceilings, putti coyly offering bunches of grapes, flying heads-with-no-bodies-putti, actual children that strongly resemble putti…. Arrive in Italy and keep going South, all the way down, right there to the tip of the boot.  Did you find a […]

I hope that you, my friends, might also one day find yourselves at the door to Villa La Rotonda in Vicenza while a security guard sings you the theme to Married… with Children.

“Where are you from?” asked the gregarious guard at the entry to Palladio’s Villa La Rotonda.  After replying, “Chicago, USA” we braced ourselves for the usual “Al Capone, bang bang bang!” only to be surprised by the guard’s delighted smile and cheery rendition of the theme song to Married… with Children. While Chicago may be […]

In which we are ripped off and stood up in Bari, but still enjoy the magnificent Basilica di San Nicola

We arrived in Bari with a long list of sights to check out, beginning with Basilica of San Nicola.  Bari has a reputation for high crime, and the unsavory scene around the train station certainly put us on edge. Since were travelling without a cell phone, I had arranged by email to arrive at a b&b during a certain […]

Urbino: Ideal Renaissance city drowned in a sea of drunken students

How could I help it?  I idealized Urbino. Even though I’ve long maintained a vigilant stance against romanticizing people and places alike, this was Urbino: Renaissance mecca for humanists, scholars, art and architecture.   The location, in the isolated and mountainous region of Italy’s Marche, combined with being a university town filled me with visions of […]

Why you don’t need to be rich to be a cultural tourist, and why it’s probably better not to be (really!)

I remember the exact moment: after a morning of winding our way uphill through the medieval Albayzín neighborhood of Granada in Southern Spain, we reached the San Nicholas Viewpoint. We picnicked while taking in the enchanting view of the Alhambra and surrounding mountains and I mentioned to HOB that, according to our guide book, this […]

Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico: classic geeks, architecture nerds and trompe-l’œil freaks hold hands and say GAH!

I’ve been meaning to write about visiting Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy  in an academic way, letting you all know that it was constructed in 1580 from Andrea Palladio’s plans based on  a reconstruction of an ancient Roman theater ,etc, etc, because you, my readers, need the facts.  But I’ve got to be straight with you: as soon […]