Italia 2005

April-may 2005, i took a study abroad course, Art and Culture in Firenze. Firenze (Florence) is the capital of Toscana (Tuscany) in Italia (Italy). The course was offered through the University of Waterloo through both the italian and fine arts departments. This type of course is compressed into just a few weeks with daily lectures, and assignments are due after returning. Prior to traveling to any place, i would recommend reading some books and watching films to familiarize oneself with the legends and local customs — this also makes a trip far more meaningful and impressive.


Firenze is one of my favourite cities, and has plenty to do — even for a few weeks. The old city is humanist, and easy to walk around. Its narrow streets are full of interesting architecture, and house a plethora of excellent shops, including world-class jewelry and leather. It has a top notch art gallery, museums, and parks. One can talk a city bus to Fie Sole, a suburb on the top of a mountain with a superb view and ancient amphitheater. Firenze has quick train and bus connections to Roma, Prato, Siena, San Gimignano, and Pisa.

Palazzo Vecchio was the first great residence of the Medici family. It is right next to Gli Uffizi, where the governmental offices used to be but now a famous art gallery.

Firenze gained notoriety in the 1300s with the rise of the great Medici family, and it played a central role in trade and banking throughout Europe. Famous personages from Firenze include the poet who first wrote an entire book in modern italian, Dante; the painter who brought realism not seen for over a millennium, Giotto; and his predecessor Cimabue; as well as his chain of deciples of the florentine school whose names need no introduction: Masaccio, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelagelo, Donnatello, Raphaele, and Varsari.

Shooting photos at night captures dramatic lighting. Nearly all yards are inaccessible from the street, which are contained by walls. It is common for vines to overflow from the gardens hidden from the public.

Palazzo Pitti began under influential banker Luca Pitti in the mid 1400s, but had to be sold when the family ran into financial trouble. About a century later, it was bought by Cosimo I de' Medici, who also constructed the formal Boboli gardens. At this time, a walkway designed by Varsari was constructed leading past Santa Felicita, over il Ponte Vecchio, and all the way to Gli Uffizi.

The view from I Giardini Boboli overlooks il duomone and la Signoria.

The necropolis at San Miniato al Monte is full of interesting monuments. At first it might seem strange or disrespectful to tour graveyards, but these are truly miniature cities of monuments and mausoleums. Many of these were constructed out of vanity and the desire to be remembered, for the inhabitants could have chosen more modest dwellings, so they would most likely be honoured to have visitors.

Toscana is a renowned wine region, and in the provinces of Firenze and Siena lies the famous Chianti, known for wines made from the Sangiovese grape variety. Shown here is the duomo of Siena and a wine cellar.

For those who are somewhat versed in wines, the black rooster is known as the symbol of Chianti Classico wine. How it became the symbol dates back to an old dispute of lands between Firenze and Siena. To settle the dispute, it was decided to send two knights out when the rooster crowed and where they met would be the border. The Sienese had a red rooster and the Fiorentini a black one. Unfortunately, the red one was overfed and slept in while the black one in Firenze was underfed and got up early. Firenze consequently won about 80% of the territory of Chianti, and the rooster consequently became the symbol.


Caserta is a city slightly north-east of Napoli. It was the capital of Europe under Chales IV, Bourbon King. For some reason, it is not yet popular with foreigners but a common destination for italians. The old city and hotels on Via G. Verdi are easily walked from the central train station, which an ICE stop on the Roma-Napoli line.

The greatest attraction is Reggia di Caserta and its gardens. Commissioned by Charles IV, architect Luigi Vanvitelli built a palace and grounds even grander then Charles' predecessors'. Only a small fraction of its 1200 rooms are open to tourists, many are EU offices today.

The interior of the palace was used for Princess Amidala's palace in Star Wars episodes 1 and 2. It was one of the few places that needed little touch-up, and the film shows much of what it is really like!

The city of Caserta is enjoying an economic boom. After the fall of the Bourbon emperors, it is finally finding a base in high tech and industry. There are many delapetated buildings, but these are being restored at a rapid pace. Below: A mural painted on a school, a house, and a view of a nearby mountain.


It is central to getting around Campania, but apart from this don't bother. A few persons have liked it, but most travelers find the streets too full of trash. Its central train station offers frequent trips to Roma, Caserta, Pompeii, and is the central hub for trains in southern Italy. It has ferries to Capri and Positano, among other destinations.

The ruins of Pompeii, on the bay of Napoli, were discovered in about 1600 while constructing an aqueduct. Excavation started in the 1700s and continues today. Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash in 79CE when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.

Driving the Amalfi coast offers some of the most spectacular scenery.

Many travelers see only the surface of what a place offers, looking only at city façades and landscapes. Often, however, what lies beneath is just as, if not more, spectacular. Caves, mines, snorkeling, and even catacombs or aqueducts often are intriguing. Below, a tour through Grotte dell'Angelo (Caves of the Angel) dramatically highlights stalactites.

When traveling, don't forget to stop and smell the flowers! These were found by a scenic lookup on a highway in Calabria.

Photos were taken with a Panasonic-Lumix FZ20 digital 5MPx camera. The night flowers where taken with a Minolta Dimage F100 digital 4MPx compact.

© Matthew Bells, 2005
mbells and are trademarks of Matthew Bells