If you’re looking for a quintessential Italian experience then look no further than Florence and Siena. Both are steeped in culture and have a long history stretching back to Etruscan times around 200BC. These cities have helped the development of art, literature, music, cuisine as well as science in Italy, not to mention their immeasurable beauty and impact on culture. Should an opportunity to visit Tuscany arise you owe it to yourself to experience these cities, if only for a few hours.
I first came across Florence as a naive teenager. I still remember playing Assassins Creed at 19 and climbing the dome of the Florence Cathedral. That day I said to myself that I have to see this architectural gem for real and 7 years later my dream came true. The work on Il Duomo di Firenze, (as it is ordinarily called) begun in 1296 and was not officially completed until 1436. The dome itself took around 16 years to complete. This period in Italian history (1300s through the 1500s) helped set the tone of the Italian Renaissance and the construction of Duomo Cathedral of Florence allowed the city to display its growing power and wealth.
The Duomo of Florence was especially important because of three unique features that helped spark the Renaissance and inspire artists and engineers across Europe. Brunelleschi’s dome pushed the limits of what architecture could achieve by using new techniques to reduce the weight of a massive structure; Giotto’s bell tower used geometric symmetry to create a classically beautiful structure; and Ghiberti’s doors re-introduced spatial realism to Italian art. Together, these created the foundations of Renaissance thinking, the benefits of which are still felt to this day. (SOURCE)
Less than 100km south of Florence we find another beautiful Italian city Siena. Described as a giant, open-air museum celebrating Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture, Siena is equally famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year. Visitors can also spend time wandering its mazy streets, visitings the Piazza del Campo as well as the Siena Cathedral and its surrounding museums.
We ended up visiting the Santa Maria della Scala museum (which used to be a hospital) as I wanted to experience their famous interior frescoes with my own eyes. This main section of Santa Maria della Scala is called the Pellegrinaio, or Pilgrim’s Hall. The Pilgrim’s Hall is a vast arched room entirely decorated with a cycle of frescoes depicting the hospital’s history in the 14th century. I decided to spend 30 minutes sitting in one place just to take the shot you see here and yet I don’t feel that it captured the size or the beauty of the area as a whole. Just like the Sistine Chapel you have to see it for real to really appreciate how something like this was made hundreds and hundreds of years before you were born. The subterranean areas of the museum are dedicated to archeological finds and the Etruscan history of the city. Although less spectacular than the 14th-century frescoes this city within a city is well worth worth the price of admission.
If history isn’t your cup of tea there are plenty of other activities you can try to keep busy. If you have a camera with you why not try your hand at street photography? Anyone can shoot tourist traps or a building that doesn’t move, but snapping that perfect shot, capturing that fleeting moment is what photography is all about. You can Google pictures of Siena and see the essence of the city but taking that perfect shot that you can look over years later, and be reminded of the feelings you had at the time is truly unique. So that’s my challenge to anyone reading this. Go out there and take some interesting pictures that you will be proud of years down the line. You don’t need to have an expensive camera (literally and iPhone will do), all you need is enthusiasm, a general idea of what you want to shoot and a little bit of confidence. You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve if you just put your mind and a bit of planning into it. So go, explore and in the wise words of Robin Williams “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary”.
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