Italian Exploration: Traveling While Absorbing Architecture

by Heather Cooper on May 7, 2019

How do people in architecture spend their time on vacations? Well to see and experience more architecture of course! One of the number one questions I get often is “How can you find the time to travel internationally every year?” Well, first I’d like to say travel isn’t just a luxury but a lifestyle I chose to live. I save up my time to allow myself to enjoy new places, people, cultures and of course architecture around the world.  As one of my favorite quotes, I enjoy states, “It is a big and beautiful world. Most of us live and die in the same corner where we were born and never get to see any of it. I don’t want to be most of us.” Oberyn Martell, Game of Thrones

Each year, extensive planning and budgeting go through months to even over a year in advance, to determine which city(s) or country(s) that will be visited during a typical two week period. After doing this process for 11 countries and counting, I’ve got this down to an art.

For this 2019 calendar year, the destination that has been on my bucket waiting list for about five years was Italy. The outstanding history and iconic architecture of both past and present were the reasons for wanting to visit this country in the first place. By seeing this country in person, it was something to experience beyond a history class from school and to learn even more between the lines of those textbooks. It was time to dérive with a purpose.

Rome was the first city in which four days were spent seeing the Coliseum, the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Patheon, Alter of the Fatherland and about 20 other landmarks.  The highlights of this city after wondering on cobblestone and narrow alleys was the Vatican and the Alter of the Fatherland.

The Vatican was something to see. The church, the museum, and the city were outstanding. The museum showed how all the Italian families and eons of generations who were employed by the church to do cartography, sculpture, paintings, and the overly decorative interiors, where every square inch is ornately covered.

Vatican Museum-Cartography Hall

Vatican Museum-Cartography Hall

Vatican Museum-Statue replicas and originals

The Altar of the Fatherland was an unexpected place to see as it doesn’t get as much fame with what is around it such as the Coliseum since the structure being newer.  It was originally built for the first king of unified Italy. However, it currently serves as a memorial to Italy’s wars, especially for WWII. The scale of this structure was massive yet beautiful as it’s white marble stood out from the rest of the landscape. It was the perfect marker to locate yourself in the city while touring different landmarks.

The Altar of the Fatherland

The Altar of the Fatherland-Interior

The Altar of the Fatherland

Next stop was a day Trip to Pompeii. This was probably one of my favorites of Italy. It is the archaeological site of the 79 AD volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, where everything was frozen in time from the ash. The city is over 6 miles wide in each direction, but to see the homes of varying classes of the people, gardens, roads and public squares was beyond intriguing. It was very eery walking the old streets as if you can almost feel how it would have been during that period. Ancient plaster murals are still on walls in homes but are quickly fading due to exposure; streets still show where the carts and horses wore out deep ruts out of the massive cobblestones, and the old bathhouse where the hot baths still could work today if they ran. After some studies by some of the archaeologists, they found out that all of the city streets ran in certain directions to keep the flow going, just as we have for our modern day roads and streets.  This site makes you feel like an archaeologist for a day, which is pretty awesome in itself. So I highly recommend this as a must see site, which is about two hours outside of Rome.

Pompeii-Road ruts in cobblestone

Pompeii-Home with plaster mural that is fading

Pompeii-A nobles home looking in.

After leaving Rome, Florence was the next destination. Florence was a nice break from the high energy of Rome, as it was quieter and more forgiving (at least to my feet). Midway through this trip walking 8 to 14 miles a day was starting the wear already. However, as this city is quieter, the main attraction was the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or The Duomo for short. This structure was massive like the Alter of the Fatherland in Rome, as its scale was almost too big where it stood in that city. The statue of David played a massive role in Florence as there are three of them in town. One original, and two other replicas. The statue of David was originally supposed to be placed on the exterior of the church itself, but it caused too much political and regional drama during that time. Therefore it was never placed where it was originally intended. Also, for a side fact, Leonardo Da Vinci ran away from the Vatican to Florence where the Mancini family helped him hide for a few years. However, the church found out and dragged him back and banished the Mancini’s from Florence as punishment.  You can visit the Mancini’s mansion, as it serves as a museum today.

The Duomo-Exterior

The Duomo-Climbing the dome interior

The Duomo-Looking out on the city

While in Florence I took a day trip to Pisa to see the famous tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower itself was corrected in the 20th century where a tunnel was dug, and reinforcements were placed to adjust and to stabilize the tower. It was a super quick trip just to see the tower and the buildings around it but had to experience walking its staircase that leans just ever so slightly. Watch out for the those worn out marble steps; they are very awkward to walk on!

Leaning Tower of Pisa-Exterior details

Leaning Tower of Pisa-Interior supports for the tower

Leaning Tower of Pisa-Worn out marble steps near the top of the tower

Last on the itinerary for Italy was Venice, which became my favorite city by far. The island was like a mouse maze with winding small alleys, no cars of course and canals everywhere. It was amazing to come out of the train station to see such beauty. The city was more than I expected where I planned originally to see Carnival or their version of Mardi Gras. It was party time there where pretty much everyone was dressed up in renaissance costumes having fun. For Venice, the interesting part is that flooding is a massive issue for this city. When it does flood with salt water, it forces all the masonry and foundations to spread and become unstable. In the past few years, Venice designed a louver system out in the outskirts of the bay, to buoy water from coming in too quickly. Not only does it affect the structures but the infrastructure such as sewage used to come up through city wells which caused major health concerns. Outside of Venice, the city is growing very fast where new modern architecture is going up almost on every corner. Within Venice and the rest of the famous historic Italian city’s, they do have laws not to have any modern architecture built within the historic towns. Venice is a great place to have fun and to enjoy the locals.

Venice-View from the main canal outside of the train station

Venice-Typical alley and pedestrian walks in the city

Venice-Carnival or Mardi Gras Venetian costume

Venice-Watch your head when going through some of the walks

Venice-Gondolas on the canals

Venice-Piazza San Marco or main square on the main island

Overall this trip is on my top 5 recommended destinations other than Scandinavia, Japan, Netherlands, and Switzerland.  The historic aspects were outstanding, and it was worth seeing everything in person, as no textbook could fill in the nuances of what can be experienced in person.  I hope everyone can get a chance to see this beautiful country, at least once in their lifetime.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”, Mark Twain.

 

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