Martin Orr's Blog


Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 14 August 2006 at 11:58

Rome is huge - everything always takes longer to walk than you expect. There are so many things to see that even without that there would have been lots I wanted to see but didn't have time to. Fortunately I did have three full days which was probably the minimum time worth anything. The things to see are also very varied, with lots of ancient ruins as well as many more recent things (indeed most Roman churches seem to be a couple of hundred years newer than those in the north of Italy).

The queue for the Vatican Museums two or three times longer than the one in Florence but it moved much faster and only took 45 minutes. These museums are huge and have lots worth seeing (the most famous being the Sistine Chapel, but I preferred the Raphael Rooms) but they close early on Saturdays and I only got 2.5 hours inside - I could have spent much longer.

Centuries of Christians have quite a lot to answer for in their treatment of their Roman ruins - many have been turned into churches or had statues stuck on top of them. I suppose this does at least preserve the buildings; many other ancient buildings had their stones removed to build things like St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Now in: Belfast

-- Martin

no comments Tags art, holiday, italy


Posted by Martin Orr on Thursday, 10 August 2006 at 16:42

One thing that struck me about Florence was how old the city centre is - all the modern shops are in good, solid stone buildings from the 15th century. It is claimed that the Renaissance began with the competition the city held in 1401 to select the artist to decorate the doors of the Baptistry; today you can't see the doors very closely due to the number of other tourists in front.

The Uffizi, the main art gallery, is also packed with tourists; I queued for two hours to get in. On the other hand the Bargello, the sculpture museum, had no queue at all and some equally interesting works of art, including two of the entries for the baptistry doors competition (for which you had to submit a bronze panel showing Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac).

Now in: Rome

-- Martin

no comments Tags art, holiday, italy


Posted by Martin Orr on Tuesday, 08 August 2006 at 16:59

Yesterday I went to Pisa for the day. The main sights are collected in a small area called the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) on the opposite side of town to the station. This is not a problem as it's a fairly small city. They are pretty amazing, in the harmony of the different buildings and in their location. It really is a field, or at least extensive lawns, and instead of being in a bustling city centre two sides are against the old city walls. There are four buildings - the cathedral, baptistry, cemetery and Leaning Tower - all in the same Romanesque style and same black and white stripes of marble.

I was disappointed not to see any evidence of Fibonacci, who introduced Arab mathematics to Europe in the 13th century, or of Galileo, except for one street named after the latter.

Now in: Florence

-- Martin

no comments Tags holiday, italy


Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 07 August 2006 at 08:37

Yesterday I had to change trains in Bologna, so I stopped there for a while and looked around. It is the site of the oldest university in the western world, founded in 1088. In the twelfth century, they were already running out of accommodation for students, and so existing buildings were extended by adding portici: arcades which cover the pavements and have more rooms on top. Newer buildings have continued to add these, and most streets are lined with portici. This is nice because you can walk in the shade; it must be handy when it rains too. With all these advantages, more cities should adopt this style.

The cathedral looks pretty odd: it was intended to be bigger than St Peter's in Rome but in 1565 (after 175 years of building) Pope Pius IV told them to stop and spend their money on a new university building instead. This means that the bottom third of the facade has been covered with marble but the rest is still all brick.

Now in: Pisa, but staying in Florence

-- Martin

no comments Tags holiday, italy


Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 07 August 2006 at 08:33

Apologies for the double post, but I will build up quite a backlog if I don't.

During the fourth century, the centre of the Roman empire moved east to Byzantium and Rome itself was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. After this the capital of the Western Roman Empire was moved to Ravenna, and for a few hundred years it was about the only city in western Europe not to be overrun by barbarian tribes. So it has a large number of fine fifth and sixth century churhces, which have somehow survived.

The buildings are all in reddish-brown brick, and they seem to have liked octagons. But what makes them really special are the mosaics of Biblical scenes and saints which decorate the walls and ceilings. These are wonderfully colourful, in blue and green and gold tiles. The Basilica San Vitale is particularly splendid - and still in regular use as a church.

-- Martin

no comments Tags art, churches, holiday, italy

San Marino

Posted by Martin Orr on Friday, 04 August 2006 at 18:36

Today I went on a day trip to San Marino, the third smallest country in Europe and, according to its leaflet, oldest extant republic in the world. The main city is perched on top of a very steep 750m hill, but it actually rules a decent amount of territory around that - 61 sq. km. The town is packed with souvenir shops, restaurants and assorted little museums (curiosities, waxworks, ancient and modern weapons, instruments of torture) designed to extract tourists' money.

Rimini, from where you get the bus to San Marino, is the biggest seaside resort in Italy. That's about all I have to say about it - I didn't go to the beach but I gather it's packed.

Now in: Ravenna

-- Martin

no comments Tags holiday, italy, sanmarino


Posted by Martin Orr on Thursday, 03 August 2006 at 14:50

The most obvious thing about Venice is of course that it is built on a collection of islands. Every block or two you come to a bridge over a canal. All transport is on foot or by boat: the streets are just too narrow for wheeled vehicles (I saw one child on a bicycle). They are also impossible to navigate, twisting in unexpected directions. And to make it harder to find anywhere, the buildings are numbered from a single sequence in each district (my hostel was number 5170 Castello).

Most of it is also pretty run-down. Once you lift your eyes above the shops on the ground floor, most buildings are lacking in paint and the bricks are crumbling. Apparently the non-tourist population of the island city is falling rapidly. The exception is the churches and museums maintained for tourists. The Doge's Palace is grand and well-presented but I didn't like St Mark's Basilica: it was more like a tourist attraction that a church. I suppose I'm being a bit hypocritical going there as a tourist myself and complaining, and with the number of tourists who want to see it perhaps there's not much else can be done.

Now in: Ravenna

-- Martin

no comments Tags churches, holiday, italy