Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our Italian vacation comes to an end

It was Canada Day when we visited Verona.
For the final three nights of our Italian vacation, we stayed in Brescia in the north of Italy. We would return our rental car to Milan on our final morning, but the other two days were spent exploring two more Italian cities.
Verona lies on the Adige River. The tower of Santa Anastasia dominates the skyline in this photo.
A tourist on "Juliet's balcony" looking at her Romeo.
An hour's drive east of Brescia is Verona, a city we had stopped in on our way to Venice on our first visit to Europe almost 40 years ago. It attracts many tourists because of its association with Romeo and Juliet, but it has much more to offer than a medieval balcony.
Part of the arena
For one thing, Verona has many ruins which serve as reminders of the Roman empire. The most impressive of these is its arena which stands in the city's largest piazza. Large metal sculptures of gladiators stand outside the amphitheatre, contrasting the old and the new.
A fountain in one corner of the piazza stands in front of the arena
Lots of restaurants to choose from
Bob and I had lunch in this piazza, seeking out the same restaurant where we had dined so long ago. Bob wanted to re-experience the flavour of the lasagna he had eaten in the late 70's. After our meal, we were not sure if we had found the same place, although we both enjoyed the dish we were served.
The Castelvecchio

The bridge
A short walk from this area, we approached the gothic Castelvecchio, with its "M" shaped menions on top of its walls and the Castelvecchio Bridge, a medieval structure built in 1356. Red brick sits on top of a marble base here. We crossed the bridge twice, enjoying the views over the Adige as we did so.
A view from the other side of the river.
Porta Borsari
Nearby, we walked through another Roman ruin, the Porta Borsari. It is absolutely beautiful, made even more so in the photo above because of the flowers in the foreground.
The west front of the Duomo
The cloister
When we arrived at the Duomo, we discovered that we had the option of purchasing entrance to it alone, or buying a combination ticket for it and three other churches. We chose the latter option and were very happy we did! Our walking tour took us from one fascinating structure to another.
Sculptures on the façade
The bell tower
The Duomo is Romanesque in design. The stone on the façade is quite lovely when looked at closely, with rose and white tones perfectly suited to the warmth of the climate. Unlike other Italian cathedrals we visited, its campanile does not stand separately, but rather is attached to the building on one side.
The font
Ancient frescoes
The interior is a visual feast. An older wing of the building houses the church of St. Elena, built in the 9th century and then renovated after an earthquake in 1117. Attached to it is San Giovanni in Fonte with a magnificent sculpted baptismal font from the ninth century. The main cathedral building is decorated with frescoes and marble columns, and so much more! There are chapels built over the centuries along the sides and an elevated choir in the front.
Marble and frescoes in the interior
Painted ceiling above the elevated choir
Santa Anastasia was the next church we visited. Here was an entirely different experience. While it lacked the extensive history of the duomo, it was no less stunning to look at.
The interior of Sant'Anastasia
One of the hunchbacks
Built for the Dominicans, and completed in the 15th century, it is a breathtaking structure. The magnificent ceiling draws the eye up to the heavens first, as befitting a monument to god. The art on the walls is very fine, too, but we particularly liked the two stoops containing holy water, held up by sculptures of hunchbacks.
A scene of martyrdom
The front of Sant'Anastasia
In this church like so many others in Italy, the frescoes tell stories of Christ and the saints, often in great and gory detail. You could spend hours studying them.
A monument in the Scaliger tombs
Palazzo del Capitano
Our walk took us next through the centre of the old city. We passed by the Scaliger tombs where an impressive monument stands in memory of a ruling family of Verona. Close by, we had a look at the Palazzo del Capitano, one of the many fine buildings near the Piazza dei Signori. Like the Castel, "M" shaped menions stand atop these buildings.
The stairs Bob climbed
The Sword of Liberty and Justice pointing at the Torre dei Lamberti
Bob climbed a staircase in the square only to discover that the buildings were closed to the public. At the nearby Piazza della Erbe, we had a good view of the Torre dei Lamberti, a famous Veronan landmark. It is another monument to an important Veronan family.
Porta Leoni
Roman Verona under the streets
Next, we headed south along the Via Cappello towards the third of our great churches. We passed the Porta Leoni along the way, another Roman ruin. Nearby, excavations revealed Roman flooring below street level.
San Fermo
I enter San Fermo
Our final stop in Verona was San Fermo, the last church we had time to visit. It was first established in the 5th or 6th century, but has gone through many restorations since then. Its most unique feature is that it has an upper church and a lower church, each with its own style.
Inside San Fermo
Art in San Fermo
The upper portion is more modern and more ornate than the lower, with frescoes on the walls but not on the wooden ceiling which is in the shape of the bottom of a ship. It is quite lovely and peaceful; of course, we were the only visitors that day, so that added to the mood.
The lower church 
Modern statues in the lower church
The older lower portion is rather dark and atmospheric, but quite interesting nevertheless. Unlike the church above it, the ceiling is an area of brightness, and the columns are decorated with fading art works. In contrast to the ancient feel of the place, some modern art works are on display in this old church, as you can see above.
The view from the castle in Brescia looking west.
Entering the castle through a gate built by Venetian rulers. The lion of St. Mark is clearly visible above the doorway.
Our day in Verona was very rich, so we did not expect as good an experience in Brescia on our final day of touring. The city was unknown to us, and we had not researched it very well, having chosen it as a destination in large part due to its proximity to Milan. As we discovered, we need not have sold it so short. It was a gem of a place.

The pathway into the fortress and the beautiful tower of the prisoners
The tower of the French
We first headed to the castle which sits on Cidneo Hill, and was the closest site to our hotel. It still retains much of its medieval character. Called "The Falcon of Italy" due to its imposing position above the city, it is one of the largest fortifications in all of Italy. It took us a good hour to explore its exterior and grounds, but we did not go inside to visit the museum there.
The castle tunnel
Another view of the Tower of the Prisoners
Like many other European structures, this complex provides a little bit from every century of its existence. A more recent addition is a tunnel used as a protected exit from the complex. In my mind, the most beautiful feature was the Tower of the Prisoners. I have included it in two photographs. Of course, I am sure the prisoners held there would not appreciate it as much as I did.
On the streets of Brescia
Palazzo della Loggia
When we descended from the castle, we headed west into the city, looking for a large domed building we had spotted from the castle. We found it in the Piazza della Loggia where that morning a market had been set up. The Loggia building was a palace at one time, but now it houses the town council. It looked lovely inside, but we were not permitted to enter..
Cafe tables in front of the arcades
The astronomical clock in Brescia.
At the opposite end of the square, a lovely arcade is made even more impressive with an astronomical clock situated in the centre of the building.
Piazza della Vittoria

A peaceful corner of Brescia
We explored a few other piazzas in the city as well, as we moved south from the Loggia, looking at shops. To this point, the city had not stood out. This all changed when we arrived at the Piazza del Duomo.
The two cathedrals
The Duomo Vecchio
Here the old and new cathedrals stand side by side, but they couldn't be more different. I love it that the people of Brescia had had the wisdom to keep both buildings as living histories of the times in which they were erected.
Inside the Duomo Vecchio
Dome in the Duomo Vecchio
The Duomo Vecchio (old cathedral), also known as "La Rotunda", is an important example of Romanesque architecture in the circular style. It is a delightful building, but it would have become too low and too dark to suit tastes during the Renaissance. I particularly loved the domes in the building which were beautifully painted.
Duomo Nuevo and the Palazzo Broletto beside it.
Looking up into the grey dome in the Duomo Nuova
The Duomo Nuovo, built in the 17th Century, is grander from the outside, standing almost twice as tall as the other building, but I found it less interesting on the inside. Perhaps that is because I have seen so many churches in Italy and this one was not as spectacular as many. Perhaps, too, it was the lack of colour in the interior that left me less impressed than usual.
Ornate interior of Santa Maria della Carita
Santa Maria della Carita
I was certainly charmed by the next church we visited. Chiesa di Santa Maria della Carita is a smaller 17th century building, but it certainly is ornate with frescoes, gold and Calegari marble everywhere.
Parts of the Templo Capitolium
I stand among the ruins
A little further along the road, we arrived at the Templo Capitalino; the Romans had a strong presence in this city too.  The columns of the temple were buried for a long time, and were only uncovered in the early part of the 19th century. Now these ruins have become a major tourist attraction, and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The lapidarium
The theatre
Entering the compound, we saw various ruins but none were as impressive as the beautiful columns out front. One of them, the tallest, is made of entirely original materials. It is quite amazing that it has lasted so long, escaping plunderers.
Winged Victory from the Capitolium

Roman artifacts
Our final tourist stop of the day was the very extensive and beautifully organized Santa Giulia Museum. Once a Benedictine Monastery, the building has been redesigned to chronicle Brescia's story. Much of what we saw first were Roman artifacts, including the most famous among them, a statue of Winged Victory.
Inside the basilica inside the Museum
The chapel of the virgin in Basilica San Salvatore
Part of the complex comprises the Basilica of San Salvatore, all three floors of it. We were blown away by the choir loft, called the chapel of the virgin. So very beautiful.
Inside Santa Maria in Solario 
The Cross of Desire
In another part of the museum, we visited another church, Santa Maria in Solario, much smaller but no less magnificent. In particular, the ceiling of stars is quite transfixing. In the centre of the room stands a stunning crucifix, the Cross of Desire, one of the most treasured items in the complex.
This cloister was part of the Museum too
When we exited the the museum, it was time for dinner, our final one in Italy. We loved our time in this sun-bathed, beautiful country. We hope to return someday soon.
Our final pose together on our Italian vacation.