The country has graced a significant position in the history of the human civilization. The fanciful myth of its origin has captured the collective imagination of mankind for centuries. The Roman Empire is attributed to the twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were raised by wolves. Romulus established Rome, and later, the empire flourished under rule of the senate. Italy is rich with history, in marble columns of the vestiges of the Roman Empire, and in comparatively recent churches with dazzling paintings and splendid stone figures. Present day Rome is an extremely beautiful city. Its historical treasures are well maintained and it adopts an accommodating nature towards tourists.
Situated in the innermost part of ancient Rome is the architectural marvel, the Colosseum. It is considered to be one of the greatest achievements of the Romans, and it still stands today, despite being ruined by earthquakes and stone robbers. Once used for gladiatorial contests and public events, the Colosseum is no longer used, except for small, special events.
Vatican city, the sovereign papal state is a landlocked city in the heart of Rome. Replete with architectural and artistic gems, Vatican city is a must visit. In the same vein as the Colosseum are the Vatican museums. Comparatively recent than the monument, they too occupy a unique place of pride in Italy. Home to many treasures of historic and artistic merit, the Vatican museums are a must visit for any history buff. The most famous structure in the Vatican City is quite possibly the Sistine chapel. It is the home to the papal conclaves, when a new pope is to be elected. The ceiling of the chapel was painted by the famed sculptor Michelangelo.
Due to these structures and the rich history of the city, Rome has always been considered an artist’s paradise. One of the recent structures in Rome that has gained notoriety worldwide is the Esposizione Universale Roma, or the Universal Rome Exhibition. Commissioned by the Italian fascist leader Mussolini, the architecture in this area, though derived from the Romans, is straight and hard-edged.
Rome has a great passion for food. One of the most famous dishes of the area is Supplì, a street snack. It consists of mozzarella and raw egg wrapped in deep fried balls of rice. Gelato, an ubiquitous Italian frozen dessert is a type of ice cream, surprisingly thick and deliciously creamy. Though it’s not the most romantic of Italian cities, Rome, with its monuments and churches, exhibits the atavistic spirit that can be traced to the original inhabitants of the city, the Romans.
The most romantic city of Italy, without a shred of doubt is Venice. Nothing can quite compare to the feeling of drifting down one of its numerous canals in the pretty gondolas. This fairy-tale experience has been immortalised in many Bollywood songs and has indeed struck a chord within all of us. Venice is an island city, standing on drained marshes and reclaimed land. The Grand Canal of Venice is the main waterway of the city and is connected to over 200 original canals. The Rialto Bridge crosses the Grand Canal at its narrowest point and is perhaps the most iconic structure that has come to represent Venice in the popular culture. The waterways of the city and the narrow lanes on land have contributed to limited usage of cars. With a veritable list of heritage structures, and sites such as the Basilica di San Marco, Doge’s Palace, and Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice has always been glorified in literature and art by writers and artists.
Basilica di San Marco or St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the most renowned churches of the city. It lies at the eastern end of St. Mark’s square. It is a resplendent example of Byzantine and Italian gothic architecture, with the entire upper order of the interior covered in a mosaic of gold, bronze, and stones. The Basilica, built alongside the Doge’s palace served as a chapel for the Doge or the Duke of Venice. The Piazza di San Marco, or St. Mark’s square is an elegant paved square, and is surrounded by various buildings like Basilica di San Marco, Doge’s palace, and many small outdoor cafes.
Perhaps the most famous festival of Venice is the biennial, an art exhibition, featuring dance, music, architecture, and cinema, in summer every two years. It was started in 1895 to promote art without distinction by country, and has since then been a host to many notable artists and performers. Venice also celebrates a carnival every year. One of its primary features is the mask that is worn as a part of the festivities. Indeed, one of the most important competitions of the festival is for the ‘most beautiful mask’ and is judged by international designers and fashionistas.
But nowhere in Italy is fashion as religiously worshiped as in Milan. The mecca of fashion lovers, Milan has a lot to offer to those who are enchanted by history. The painting, ‘Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci is on display at the church of Santa Maria Della Grazie. It is undoubtedly one of the most famous paintings of the Renaissance era. The third largest church in the world is also located in Milan. The Duomo took 500 years to be built and beholding it is a sensory delight. Lavishly decorated with statues, spirals and sculptures, the Duomo is a work of complexity and beauty. A trip to the top of the cathedral can enable one to see the Alps in the distance. Milan is also famous for La Scala, which is one of the leading opera and ballet theatres around the globe. Guided tours are conducted in the opera house.
The Fashion in Milan congregates at the ‘rectangle of gold’. Designer stores populate this rectangle and even if the prices are sky high, there is joy in admiring the displays at the store windows.
On the other hand, Florence still holds the essence of Renaissance in its buildings and culture. It is often called the cradle of Renaissance. Situated in the sunny region of Tuscany, Florence witnessed many political and social upheavals and invasions. It has an enviable artistic inheritance from many master artists. Uffizi Gallery hosts the works of many Italian artists and sculptors including Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio. Florence Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore is the most important church of the city. It is the largest brick dome structure in the world, constructed by Brunelleschi, the engineer-architect of Italy. The beauty of Florence, however, is not only in the buildings. In the Giardino dell’Orticultura, tranquility can be found amidst the lush trees and lawns. It is the perfect place to spend afternoons, by playing on the grass or napping in the shade of towering trees. It has a huge greenhouse and a cafe where you can have lunch. The Accademia Gallery in Florence houses the most famous sculpture of the Renaissance – Michelangelo’s David. Accademia Gallery is an art academy, which has the distinction of housing many Renaissance paintings by Paolo Uccello, Botticelli and Giambologna’s original plaster for the Rape of the Sabine Women.
The culinary tradition of Tuscany is based on the concept of sharing food with friends. Bistecca ala Florentine is a popular local dish, which is a T-bone steak cooked in Florentine style. Panino in Florence is more than a sandwich. Made from fragrant bread and fresh produce, the panino made in Florence becomes a way of life! Lardo di Colonnata is a typical Tuscan dish, made from pork, the typical livestock of the area, and marble brought down from the Alps. The pork is cured in marble basins and aged in warm, fresh caves. Lardo di Colonnata is fiendishly delicious, creamy, and without doubt, a Tuscan obsession.
A stunning place near Florence is Cinque Terre, a group of five villages- Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, located on the Mediterranean coast. Unspoilt, picturesque, and tranquil, they are rare places on earth where time loses all meaning and remains suspended to make way for enjoyment of little things in life. The quaint villages latch on to the slope of the mountain, and face the sea. There are many hiking trails in the area, and cars cannot be taken to Cinque Terra. Pesto in Cinque Terre is particularly delicious and so is the Limoncino, a dessert wine. The area is well connected by trains, but cars can be taken only as far as Monterosso. The other villages can be accessed by hiking trails or trains.
No piece about Italy is complete without a mention of the Leaning tower of Pisa. It is the freestanding bell tower of the Cathedral of Pisa and has sometimes been included in the list of the ‘seven wonders of the world’. The tilt in the tower is due to the unstable soil that it was built upon. The attractions in the city of Pisa are not limited to the tower. The Field of miracles, which houses the Leaning tower, is an UNESCO world heritage site. It also has the Pisa Cathedral, the Baptistery, and the monumental cemetery. Pisa also has numerous museums which cannot fail to charm art lovers. The roadside cafes of Pisa are particularly enchanting.
Italy is entrancing with its rich art and culture. Its love for life, appreciation of fine food and wine, and an enchantment with love is apparent in every town and city. But away from the cities frequented by tourists, there exists the less explored parts of Italy. In the next post, we delve into the pizza at Naples, drive the clichéd Vespa through the countryside of Tuscany and lose ourselves in the fiery works of Dante. Stay tuned to The Wander Girls.
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