The True Taste of Umbria @ARNALDO CAPRAI – Montefalco

“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy,”

– Benjamin Franklin

This year’s Cantine Aperte weekend has been filled with time with friends in the countryside around Montefalco. It was about tasting gorgeous wines, strolling through the vines, and enjoying stunning views over some of Umbria’s finest landscapes.

And what better place to learn about the local superstar grape Sagrantino than at the Arnaldo Caprai vineyard.

 

Umbrian families have been perfecting their crafts for generations. And that goes for harvesting olives, sculpting ceramics and, of course, winemaking.

 

Visiting this beautiful winery was on the top of my ‘to do’ list for years. They are evangelical about taking visitors on tours, tastings, or even gourmet picnics among the vines – the setting makes for the perfect al fresco dining experience.

 

The man himself, Mr Marco Caprai.

Since 1988 Marco Caprai has been leading the company in his pursuit of giving the tradition an innovative approach. Harnessing his personal talent and skills, he made a commitment to produce high quality wines through environmentally conscious innovation, sustainable winery and farming operations. This, and the desire to preserve the landscape and regional identity, has lead to years of research in the agronomic and enological fields, which also involved the University of Agriculture of Milan.

The wine is just as amazing as the views. In the glass: Colli Martani Grechetto DOC Grecante.
Savour a glass of delicious Arnaldo Caprai wines while taking in the stunning panorama!
Arnaldo Caprai Grechetto Colli Martani Grecante 2015: #1 on Wine Spectator’s list of Italian white wines for summer.
The exclusive cases filled with a hand-picked selection of superb wines.
One to drink, one to cellar 🙂

For more info visit www.arnaldocaprai.it

 

Chocolate Kisses @PERUGINA – Perugia

An incredible journey awaits you once you set foot in this factory. A behind the scenes tour  into the world of chocolate making!

 

You will learn about the history of the brand, as well as the aspects of top-quality chocolate production – this place has been home to the famous Baci (Kisses) wrapped in multilingual love notes, and then come the finest truffle and praline fillings, chocolate bars and so much more.

Since Perugina launched  its first store in 1919, it has grown into an internationally known brand, which has conquered our hearts, one bacio at a time.

This is also a story of the lady behind it all, Mrs. Luisa Spagnoli, who realized her ambitions of creating not only a brand of women’s fashion clothing, but also a small chocolate making enterprise in the centre of Perugia.

The past comes to life thanks to a selection of photographs and objects that recreate the history of Perugina from its humble origins in 1907 to the present day.

The record-breaking bacio (Bacione) by Perugina.

In a relaxed atmosphere of the chocolate atelier  you can create your very own chocolates under the expert guidance of maître chocolatiers, or practice the art of chocolate making by visiting chocolate workshops.

Easter creations during Easter time.

Our knowledgeable guide Luigi made the tour a very unique experience. He gave us an interesting insight on the company’s history.

An introduction video was followed by a wonderful visit of the factory, an explanation as to the origins of the coco bean and how chocolate is made, and of course, tasting the entire range of Perugina chocolates!

Cocoa pods, which host 30/40 cocoa beans each, cushioned in a soft white pulp.
One bacio, two baci…

They also have a shop for you to go mad in – a wide selection of chocolate gifts to take home at the end of the tour.

Visit this site for more info, reservations, and an unforgettable experience at Casa del Cioccolato Perugina.

Bomarzo a Marzo

The Sacro Bosco of Bomarzo is an extraordinary and mysterious garden in the province of Viterbo, where grotesque figures carved in situ out of peperino came to life in the mid 16th century.

The area, once homeland of the Etruscans, is extremely unique and beautiful – we are in Tuscia, northern Lazio, the Cimini mountains in the backdrop, and the Tiber River Valley marking the border with Umbria.

Lazio is not just Rome, even if hugely influenced by its nearness and its classical past. Characterized by the volcanic crater lakes – think Bolsena, Bracciano and Vico, Lazio has some important river flows and lavish green forests. Washed by the Tyrrhenian Sea, it is mainly a hilly region, with few mountains on one side and the plain towards the coast.

Rome’s noble families would have luxurious retreats set in the beautiful countryside. Just like the Orsini family palace that dominates Bomarzo, a small town perched on a tufa rock hill. Pier Francesco (Vicino) Orsini (1523- 1583) and Giulia Farnese moved into the palace surrounded by a sacred wood with lumps of peperino rock emerging from the ground.

The park was conceived by Vicino Orsini during the 30 years of his adult life. His intention was to impress his friends and visitors, to make them wander in wonder, and enter into a deep state of spiritual questioning.

The sculptures are spread all over the woody land. With no logical order nor designed route, the garden is unconventional and unlike any other. The guests would leave their horses at the entrance and stroll along the twisting pathways, fascinated and overwhelmed by curiosity to interpret the meaning of the sculptures.

The Ogre/ (the Mouth of Hell)
Hannibal’s Elephant

There is also a Leaning House with an intentionally shifted centre of gravity, which gives you an odd wobbly feeling when inside.

Intended to astonish, the gardens was where Vicino Orsini tried to cope with his grief after his beloved wife Giulia died.

The Temple

The monumental complex with its looming stone monsters, dragons, exotic animals, giant men and women, obelisks and mythological figures around every corner (some feature inscribed verses and mottoes) is an enigmatic example of the Italian High Renaissance.

Despite being a 16th-century architectural project, it is unlike any other garden of the time. Spring is a good time to visit. Take your time to enjoy this magical garden, which has inspired many artists.

 

The park is one of a kind, very educational and worth visiting. You get here by car. Go early or late to avoid crowds (and maybe get nicer photo ops). Allow an hour or two for your visit, maybe more if you bring a picnic lunch. There is also a small play area for the children.

Carefree Days @HOTEL SCHNEEBERG Family Resort & Spa **** – Val Ridanna

The Valley of Ridnaun (Val Ridanna) will greet you with pure Alpine nature, bright sunshine and fresh air that stimulates the senses, while the Kruselburger family will leave none of your holiday wishes unsatisfied.

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Like its sister valleys ,Val Racines and Val Giovo, Val Ridanna is relaxed and truly beautiful, and offers easy-going and friendly atmosphere.

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For almost 40 years now Hotel Schneeberg and its knowledgeable and helpful staff have been taking good care of their guests. It is also known as one of the most family-friendly hotels in Alto Adige.

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A fully equipped safe play area and an excellent spacious nursery (Mini-club), with well trained staff to look after the children. Our daughter enjoyed all of the fun activities and brilliant entertainment.

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You’ll eat very well here. The restaurants combine the best of Italian cuisine and South Tyrolean cooking. The buffets and the 4-course dinner in the evening are great and  can please everyone.

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The location and the area are beautiful. The hotel offers great indoor and outdoor activities: the Schneeberg spa facility of 8000 m2 has saunas, steam baths, relaxation rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, solarium and fitness area, not to mention the slides, pools and castles of the Bergi-Land aqua park.

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There is also a bowling alley, bars, a pizzeria, and a  disco pub. The cross-country ski trails are just outside the hotel, as well as the natural pond with pedalos, the huge open space for games, swings, and mini-golf.

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Relax and Alpine mountain scenery
Relax and Alpine mountain scenery.

There are lots of activities to try out both in summer and winter. Follow the call of the mountains and go hiking, climbing, mountain biking. Enjoy the surroundings and visit traditional festivals, events and concerts. Have fun on the 25 kilometers of snow-sure slopes of the Racines-Giovo ski area, which features 8 ski lifts, including the new eight-seat cableway, terrific ski runs, the Racines Funpark, a ski school and a children’s area. At these high altitudes the snow is almost certain from December through March, or anyway guaranteed thanks to the slopes equipped with snowmaking even when nature doesn’t cooperate.

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You’ll find plenty of things to do here in your off-slope time, as well. You can visit the Wolfsthurn Castle, Mareta, which hosts the South Tyrolean Museum of Hunting and Fishing, and the Mining World Ridnaun-Schneeberg.

The hotel is about a 15-minute drive from the beautiful town of Vipiteno (Sterzing), read my earlier posts to learn more about the region.

Arezzo Is Always a Good Idea

Arezzo, a town about 80 km south-east of Florence, is universally known for its gold-working (since the Middle Ages) and the medieval jousting contest La Giostra del Saracino performed twice a year in the main piazza.

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Arezzo is the capital of the easternmost province of Tuscany, which gets far less attention. The town was once part of the Etruscan League, then turned into the flourishing Roman Arretium, and later a medieval commune.

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Among its native sons and supreme citizens were the poet and educated humanist Petrarch (1304-1374) and the talented artist and architect Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). Here Guido monaco taught music and went on to invent the basis of the modern system of musical notation. Roberto Benigni filmed in Arezzo the scenes of his Oscar-winning tragicomedy Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella, 1997).

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Start at the Duomo (Cathedral of San Donato), it’s magnificent. Facing the same piazza is the 14th-century Palazzo dei Priori.

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If you walk through the gardens, you’ll get to the 16th-century Fortezza Medicea. Situated atop the San Donato Hill, it was one of the three fortresses built to defend the city. It offers great panoramic views of the city and witnesses various periods of construction.

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A monument (1928) in the Prato Gardens honoring Francesco Petrarca.
A monument (1928) in the Prato Gardens honoring Francesco Petrarca.

Walk down the corso (Corso Italia), past the shop windows, cafés, and the beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria della Pieve with its unmistakable bell tower called “of the hundred holes”.

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From here you get to the most beautiful square of Arezzo (and one of the most beautiful in Italy) –Piazza Grande, with fine medieval buildings and the Vasari Loggia.

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Here the Giostra del Saracino takes place twice a year (in June and September). A historical re-enactment of a medieval knights’ competition between the four districts of the town.

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Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici in Piazza Grande.
Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici in Piazza Grande.

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Basilica of San Francesco
Basilica of San Francesco

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Inside is an amazing fresco cycle by Piero della Francesca – the extraordinary Cappella Bacci with the Legend of the True Cross;  not to be missed!

Numerous Etruscan tombs as well as remains of ancient Roman buildings have been recovered within the modern town. A trip to Arezzo wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre and Archaeological Museum: an interesting itinerary, where you can walk amongst the amphitheatre ruins and discover Arretium through the gems of the museum.

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You may also wanna visit Casa del Petrarca (in via dell’Orto, not far from the Cathedral, now the seat of Petrarch Academy of Arts and Science) and Casa Vasari (in via XX Settembre, rebuilt and frescoed by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century).

Around every other corner I stroll past there is something to explore and discover, like this interesting Fauna Selvatica exhibition.

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Envisioned by the province of Arezzo, the project owes its existence to the group of experts. 600 different pieces from birds to mammals represent the local fauna as well as the exotic wildlife. An insight into the biodiversity of our planet, with particular regard to environmental problems. The museum is a few steps away from the Cathedral, at n.3 of Piazza della Liberta. Open every first Sunday and the preceding Saturday of the month, free entrance, 9:30 – 13:00 and 15:30 – 19:00, or by appointment.

Advent in Alto Adige

You can’t beat the sensory experience of Alto Adige in December! For a Christmas enthusiast like myself, the magical Christmas markets of this region are a MUST!

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The beautiful squares of Merano, Brunico, Bolzano, Bressanone, Vipiteno set the atmosphere for the most beautiful time of the year. Advent singing warms the hearts of visitors, and the smell of Christmas pastries, mulled wine, and other seasonal culinary delights lingers in the air.

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South Tyrol regional capital Bolzano and its Christmas market that fills the central Piazza Walther, where you can buy handcrafted holiday decorations and gifts that you won’t find in usual shops. It is the biggest and one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Alto Adige.
South Tyrol regional capital Bolzano and its Christmas market that fills the central Piazza Walther, where you can buy handcrafted holiday decorations and gifts that you won’t find in usual shops. It is the biggest and one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Alto Adige.
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Each market is unique. Bressanone is well worth the visit during the Advent!

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Inside the beautiful Cathedral of Bressanone
Inside the beautiful Cathedral of Bressanone.

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The market in Vipiteno is also a favourite.

Countless events help shorten the wait until Christmas, such as Krampus runs organized early in December. The scary-looking furry and horned figures, Krampuses, roam the streets of Bressanone, followed by St. Nicholas and his angels, who represent a victory of good over evil. You are in for a truly unforgettable experience!

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Spend the most wonderful time of the year in Alto Adige. Each market has a unique personality and  should not be missed.

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Coming to Alto Adige is always a treat, whether it is winter or summer. We really enjoyed the holiday atmosphere here. I can’t wait to start planning our return trip next year!

Buon Natale!

A Toast To Autumn @Fattoria COLSANTO -Bevagna, PG

Umbria never fails to surprise me. I sometimes forget what a beautiful region it is. The landscape is simply fascinating, and autumn is the right time of year for a scenic back-road drive, with vineyards whose leaves paint the countryside red, orange, and gold.

If your Umbrian dreams feature these amazing vistas, set your sights on Montefalco, known as the ‘balcony of Umbria’ for its dramatic hilltop perch. There are few better places to connect with all the charm and authenticity of this beautiful region than Fattoria Colsanto, situated right in the heart of Umbria. It makes a great base to visit all the main towns, with so many sights and treasures to choose from:  Perugia, Spello, Bevagna, Spoleto, Foligno and, of course  Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, are all within easy reach.

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The area is known for its wine and Livon is one of the best wine producers from this corner of Umbria. The family also owns wineries in the most famous regions throughout Italy. They did a superb job in renovating the 18th-century farm house, adding today’s modern comforts to the estate, with five comfortable rooms for the guests. The cellar offers quality wine tastings, including the region’s signature Sagrantino di Montefalco and Montefalco Rosso.

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The area is so incredibly pretty. And what better way to experience it than stay in such a relaxed and charming place!

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How’s this for an inviting view?

Umbria’s Green Gold @ MARFUGA -Campello sul Clitunno, PG

November is the right month for a sensorial tour in the genuine Umbrian way of living made of good wines, freshly picked truffles and newly-pressed extra-virgin olive oils.

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Umbrian countryside is authentic, with a rich cultural and artistic heritage. And while paintings, sculptures and frescoes from the greats such as Raffaello Sanzio, Perugino, Luca Signorelli, Rosso Fiorentino, the Della Robbia family, fill the museums, churches, galleries and squares of many beautiful Umbrian towns, other art expressions await you here, in the vineyards, olive groves, factories and rustic farmhouses, as Italian quality products are very famous and appreciated all over the world. These masterpieces derive from the same history and culture, geographical position, love and pride, determination that producers put into their products.

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Olive harvesting and pressing has just started. I got really involved this year at local olive oil mills during Frantoi Aperti – the most important annual event dedicated to oil. Held in November, the festival celebrates the extra virgin olive oil of high quality Italy is so renowned for. Gastronomic itineraries and cultural events of all kinds are organized on November weekends in villages and tiny hamlets throughout the boot. Workshops, regional menus, guided tastings… olive oil can tell many stories, just follow the oil route to discover the best mills of the territory and spend a blissful time in this beautiful country.

A little stroll around Spoleto, before I head out of town for a very special experience.
A little stroll around Spoleto, before I head out of town for a very special experience.

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Frantoio Marfuga near the beautiful hill town of Spoleto. This morning begins with a memorable visit to the mill and the estate with Serena, who turned out to be a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide. The passion is almost tangible. Here olives are being turned into some of the best Italian extra virgin olive oils. Fruity and fragrant, they boast an extraordinary flavor, good intensity and persistence, and an unmistakable mildly peppery, bitter after-taste..

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Olives don’t have to be too ripe to be picked. When it comes to extra virgin olive oil, the timing is crucial. The harvest must start early in the olive’s natural maturation process. Olives are picked when they are only partially dark and the fruity flavor is at its max, which assures a low degree of acidity. The olives are harvested mostly by hand. After the olives are gathered into small containers, they are brought to the mill (or frantoio). The olives are separated from the leaves, washed, crushed into thick paste, and pressed into oil.

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Umbrian oil makes up only about 2 percent of Italy’s olive oil production, but these oils win a far larger proportion of awards.

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The award-winning company Marfuga with their D.O.P. UMBRIA Colli Assisi-Spoleto, and other oils. By the way, Umbria was the first Italian region to receive the D.O.P. designation in 1997 for the entire territory – a recognition of the authentic Umbrian oil, it’s basically a stamp of excellence and ‘protection of origin’.

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And as for the skin care, here are some EVOO beauty products, for a charming gift. Olive oil is a great moisturizer, and first uses of olive oil were on the body and not in it.

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Marfuga olive oil themed products include creams, soaps, lotions, and scrubs.

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Best way to savor the liquid gold?  On bruschetta, of course! MARFUGA NOVELLO Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the first oil of the year. Bottled without being filtered in order to maintain its precious qualities, it should be poured with gusto on your bruschetta. Happiness!

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Known as green gold, Umbrian olive oil is an expensive treat. But avoid olive oil with a low price; the idea is that you must eat quality and not quantity. It is good for you, the health benefits of olive oil are unrivaled. Characterized by its intense green colour with golden highlights, fresh and fruity fragrance, this liquid gold is peppery, spicy and absolutely delicious!

Proudly an olive oil sommelier and a member of AICOO

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Ravenna, the Capital of Mosaics

Today we are in Ravenna admiring the unique Byzantine mosaics that decorate the city’s 1500-year-old churches! Here we can go back to the dawn of Christianity, with EIGHT well-preserved monuments UNESCO World Heritage Sites, an amazing experience for lovers of history and architecture!

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Ravenna was the residence of western Roman emperors, Ostrogothic kings, Byzantine governors of Italy, and thrice the capital city.

In AD 402 Emperor Honorius, the younger son of Theodosius I, transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire to Ravenna. The model taken as example was the Byzantine city of Constantinople. Its architecture, decorations, and mosaics in the first place, became a fundamental reference point. The city was progressively enlarged, and turned into a truly cosmopolitan city, an important political, cultural, religious and artistic centre. Many of its marvels still survive. And this is the historical period when three characters link their personal stories to Ravenna.

Galla Placidia

The earliest and hypnotically colourful mosaics  are in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (386-452). Emperor Theodosius’ daughter and Honorius’s sister, Galla Placidia was a very powerful woman who ruled Western Roman Empire in place of her son, Emperor Valentinian III, until he was old enough to take over.

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The mausoleum, which Galla commissioned for herself, her husband Costanzo and her brother Honorius, is made of re-used ancient Roman brick. The bare and sober exterior is diametrically opposed to the amazing interior decoration, inspired by the Byzantine model Galla was so attracted by. Covered with marble panels in its lower part, and above that – the uniqueness of the artistically perfect mosaics created partly by the Byzantine masters.

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In the dimly lit interior: the golden cross surrounded by 570 stars lighting up the deep blue of the nocturnal sky, in the centre of the dome vault – symbol of heaven in itself.

Justinian I

In the 6th century AD, Ravenna’s bishops and archbishops, who ranked second only to the popes, embarked upon a notable building program of churches. The remarkable sites include the Basilicas of San Vitale and Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

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Basilica di San Vitale (526-547 AD), founded by Bishop Eclesio, is one of the most important churches in early Christianity. The lavish mosaics that decorate its interior were commissioned by Archbishop Maximian in 546/556 AD. They are some of only a few that remain from the time of Emperor Justinian I, who turned Ravenna into the westernmost pillar of the Byzantine Empire. With Justinian Ravenna lived its period of maximum splendor. He dreamt of uniting the Latin west with the Greek east, bringing together both military and church leaders, all reunited into a peaceful political and religious system.

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As we lift our gaze, we encounter the beautiful ceiling of the basilica. Lots of windows let the light in and invite you inside, where you can really be taken by the beauty of countless vibrantly coloured chips the size of your fingernail, as well as fabulously decorative columns made of a high quality marble brought from the east.  Justinian himself, and his wife Theodora are depicted in a pair of mosaics flanking the altar. Their faces look like realistic portraits. The large lunettes located under the vault depicting Old Testament sacrifices are especially noteworthy. There is so much to look at! All those tiny tiles of stone and glass, brightly coloured in blues, and greens, and reds; and gold, which was ‘sandwiched’ between pieces of glass.

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The octagonal shape of the 1,400-year-old Basilica of San Vitale, and the adjacent Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

Photo taken at Italia in Miniatura Theme Park.

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Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe (c.533-549), is one of the most perfect basilicas in Ravenna. An imposing building with its impressive forms, cylindrical bell tower and spacious interiors. Built in the first half of VI century and consecrated by Archbishop Maximian in 549, it is famous for its wonderful mosaics. It was once facing the Adriatic shore, but nowadays positioned in the countryside just entering Ravenna, near the huge archaeological area of the ancient military harbor of Classe, an important station of the Roman Fleet.

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The greatness of the Basilica, as seen at Italia in Miniatura Theme Park
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View towards the early Christian Byzantine apse with a hemispherical semi-dome in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

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Theodoric (454-526), the Ostrogoth King of Italy, brought further development to the city. Various cult buildings were erected in and around Ravenna, witnessing the two centuries of the maximum splendor and artistic fervor. These include the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, and the Mausoleum of Theodoric, just outside the walls. The roof of the mausoleum is made of a single piece of Istrian stone, 11 metres in diameter.

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The richest heritage anywhere of mosaics from the 5th and 6th centuries preserved in the basilicas and baptisteries of the city is a clear evidence of the extraordinary period Ravenna had lived centuries ago. The heritage that has come down to us, of universal value, will leave you breathless, overwhelmed and willing to say “I’ve been here, and I’ve seen all this!”

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, FLORENCE

‘…broad enough to cover with its shadow all the peoples of Tuscany’

   – Leon Battista Alberti, 1435

The largest in Europe when completed in the 15th century, and the 5th by size now, Santa Maria del Fiore is a marvel in the heart of Florence, a majestic church carefully decorated with attention to the finest detail.

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Everything in Santa Maria del Fiore is extraordinary: the splendid floor decoration in coloured marble, designed by Baccio d’Agnolo, the famous frescoes and busts honouring illustrious men. The whole cathedral interior is charged by surreal atmosphere. The brilliant colours of the stained-glass windows saw even Donatello involved, despite his personal antipathy towards Brunelleschi.

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The circular stained-glass window high above the altar depicts the Coronation of the Virgin (1434-1437), and it is the only known surviving two-dimensional work by the greatest Florentine sculptor.

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A vast cycle made up of 44 windows created in less than 50 years constitutes most gigantic single glass project in 14th and 15th century Italy. Outstanding for its chronological consistency, for the high percentage of original glass still in position today, and for the level of the artists who prepared the designs.

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 The Assumption of the Virgin, the glass oculus of the façade designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, was restored in 2015 to revive its original colouring.

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The one-handed liturgical clock over the main portal painted by Paolo Uccello in 1443 shows the 24 hours of the hora italica.

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1478 : Firenze faces a period of great political and cultural fervour: the commerce runs smoothly, the Florentine banks are among the most enterprising in the world, and there is a state of constant economic and socio-cultural ferment. Florence is the residence and meeting place of the main artists and thinkers. Its streets, washed by the Arno, are walked down by the greatest humanists and the most famous and appreciated architects of the time: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Perugino, Arnolfo di Cambio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Della Robbia, Filippo Lippi, Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, Giotto, Paolo Uccello, Vasari…

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Upon the death of Piero de’ Medici, known also as Il Gottoso (the Gouty), the city is ruled de facto by Lorenzo and Giuliano, who take over their father’s power, at the age of 20 and 16 respectively. They are fortunate enough to see the majestic Cathedral in its full beauty, standing proudly in the heart of the city. There is art everywhere. Priceless artworks created by the greatest artists of the time and rich colours of the monuments – bronze doors and statues, marble sculptures, mosaics and stained glass.

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But, on Easter Sunday April 26, 1478 the cathedral was the scene of the Pazzi conspiracy, when Lorenzo and Giuliano were attacked during the Mass. Giuliano died aged 25, while Lorenzo managed to escape. The Pazzi, a rich and powerful Florentine family, would not be satisfied with their number two position and, supported by Pope Sixtus IV, had planned the attack. The Pope and Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, might have organized the military operation to seize the city of Florence and steal it from the Medici’s hands.

But Lorenzo survived and became even stronger, the patron of the arts and humanities, the ruler beloved of his people. It was his duty to treasure, transmit and glorify all the beauty born in those years, for future generations to come and admire.

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Piazza della Signoria, the lively beating heart of Florence, can be recognized as the scenario of crucial events in the city’s political life. Here in the late 1200s a series of projects were submitted, willing to showcase the status of Florence as one of Europe’s economic and cultural capitals and to affirm its supremacy.

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In 1294 the Florentine government decided to build a new cathedral on the site of an ancient church of Santa Reparata (the city’s cathedral till that time which was “crumbling with age”) – an enourmous church, far bigger than the cathedrals of rival Tuscan cities Pisa and Siena. The work on the new church designed by Arnolfo di Cambio began in 1296, when on September 8th the first stone was laid. The Cathedral as we see it today is the result of 140 years of work. After Arnolfo’s death in 1310, Giotto was appointed to oversee the project, succeeded by Francesco Talenti, Giovanni di Lapo Ghini and other architects.

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18 July 1334: construction work begins on the Bell Tower, to a design by Giotto, who had designed it more as a decorative monument rather than a functional bell tower, carried on after his death in 1337 by Andrea Pisano till 1348, then finished in 1359 by Francesco Talenti.

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The gorgeous sculptural decoration of the bell tower comprises 56 reliefs on two registers and 16 life-size statues in the niches by Florentine masters Andrea Pisano, Donatello, Luca della Robbia and others.

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The lower register reliefs facing the Baptistery depict biblical scenes (the creation of man and woman), the beginning of human work and also various trades (sheep-herding, metal-working, music and wine-making). Here the Florentines were displaying what made them proud and prosperous. While in the upper register are the seven planets, beginning with Saturn at the north corner. The originals of all these works are now in the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum.

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Looking up at Brunelleschi’s Dome

By 1418 only the Dome remained incomplete. The architectural design competition for erecting the dome was won by Filippo Brunelleschi, who astonished everyone by proposing to carry out a project with no flying buttresses to support it. Lorenzo Ghiberti was appointed co-superintendent. Their lifelong competition remained sharp, and Filippo, forced to work side by side with his rival, faked illness, taking over sole responsibility of his project when Ghiberti admitted he was unable to carry out this field on his own.

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Brunelleschi created the most elegant dome, the greatest affirmation of Renaissance architecture. The dome’s interior remained white for over a century. As we lift our gaze now, we can feel the mystical atmosphere emanating from the majestic Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. This is the largest single area ever frescoed (with its 3,600 metres²), finished after 7 years of work, inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (which took him 4 years to paint), with a lot of space given to Dante’s Divina Commedia.

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“And then did I make another dome on top of this, to preserve it from the damp, and to give it a more magnificent and swelling appearance”, – in his own words Filippo Brunelleschi sums up the simple grandeur of his architectonic immagination – a dome inside a dome.

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The Cathedral, consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on March 25, 1436 (the first day of the year according to the Florentine calendar), is dedicated to Madonna del Fiore (St Mary of the Flower), that is to Florence, and the ‘flower’ is in fact Christ – first fruit of our salvation.

When entering the Cathedral, one is struck by its vastness, as well as the simplicity that underscores the church’s dimensions.

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The Baptistery of San Giovanni, across from the Cathedral, dates back to 897-1128. Built atop an ancient pagan temple dedicated to Mars, it is the oldest building in the square. Its octagonal shape symbolizes the octava dies (the eighth day without end) – the time of the Risen Christ. Embellished with costly marble in the 11th century and three sets of extraordinary bronze doors it is famous for between the 14th and 16th centuries. Once again, a competition. Once again, Brunelleschi vs. Ghiberti. This time Ghiberti was victorious.

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The North Doors, by Lorenzo Ghiberti at the beginning of his career (1402-1425), with scenes from The New Testament.

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The Gates of Paradise, to the east, with scenes from The Old Testament by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1425-1450). Only a few years ago they were black with grime, but now all the original gilding is visible. These bronze panels allow us to look into an infinitely deep space and admire all the extraordinary detail, so we can really understand why the Florentines were so proud of them and wanted to move them to the most prominent place.

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The façade, completed between 1871 and 1887 to Emilio De Fabris’ design, in a neo-gothic style. The façade’s sculptures were dismantled in the late 1500s and it was left bare till 1800s.

The whole area includes the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the beautiful columns, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (il Duomo) with the excavations of Santa Reparata, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the new and enlarged in size Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum, all these sights have religious roots. Great artists of the past created their marvellous works to express their devotion to culture and Christian faith in order to enrich the life of Florence and all of humanity.

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Santa Maria del Fiore represents a real jewel in the heart of Florence, a masterpiece that helps us fully grasp the splendour Florence lived at the time, celebrated and praised by Dante. You could take forever just walking around this beautiful city. There’s something new to see down every street, around every corner…

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“Florence, exult! for thou so mightily Hast thriven, that o’er land and sea thy wings Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell!” – Dante Alighieri