Italy has a long and fascinating history. As the centre of the Renaissance, it has been enormously influential in art, music, and architecture. We only need to think of the contributions of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, the ancient Latin poets such as Ovid and Virgil, and don’t forget Dante Alighieri and Niccolò Machiavelli. Then there is Vivaldi and Rossini, whose legacy paved the way for more modern stars such as Luciano Pavarotti. Incidentally Pavarotti is one of Dan’s nicknames, especially when singing very loudly at night. And then there is the architecture – St Peter’s Basilica, royal palaces, and of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Although Italy as a nation really only came into existence with unification in 1861, its capital, Rome, has been a major settlement for almost 3,000 years. With all this history, art, music and literature, let alone its beautiful mediterranean coastline, it is no wonder that Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations.
St Peter’s Basilica is one of the most well-known examples of renaissance architecture. Just look at that dome! It is the tallest dome in the world rising to a height of 136.5 metres. That’s further than the sprints on sports day. All that gold gilding just dazzles the mind. Construction of the church began in 1506 and was completed in 1626 – that’s right, 120 years. Imagine that. The original architects and master builders never even saw it completed. In fact, there would have been a few generations of builders throughout its construction. When you see all the detail contained within those sculptures and reliefs, it is not at all surprising that it took so long. But it does beg the question: where did the money come from? From the sale of indulgences, which led to a certain priest called Martin Luther and his 95 Theses, which led to the start of the Reformation. And yes, it is a church not a cathedral, because a church is only a cathedral when it is the seat of the bishop.
Here is a piece of beautiful architecture that only took a mere 30 years to build – the Trevi Fountain. Built between 1732-1762, the fountain is so named because it is located in the Trevi district. At 26.3 metres high and 49.15 metres wide, it is the largest baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous in the world. Now if you think it looks a little familiar, remember “Roman Holiday” or “Three Coins in the Fountain”, or more recently the “Lizzie McGuire Movie”. Apparently there is an art to throwing a coin into the fountain: using your right hand, toss the coin over your left shoulder. I don’t know what happens if you throw it over the right shoulder – maybe your wish doesn’t come true. It is said there are about 3,000 euros thrown in the fountain – every day. That’s the equivalent of about $4,700 (AUS). The coins go to a good cause, though, supporting a supermarket for the needy. And don’t even think about swiping a few for your own pocket – it’s illegal. I know, there’s a piece missing, but I couldn’t be bothered taking it back. So it’s just 999 pieces, instead of the full 1000.
This last scene is located in the beautiful city of Venice. The Santa Maria della Salute is a Roman Catholic Church that is known as one of the “plague churches.” In 1630 there was an outbreak of the plague in Venice which killed almost a third of its population. The church was built as an offering to God to save them from the plague. Construction began in 1631 – so they didn’t dilly-dally around – and was completed in 1681. Only fifty years, that’s probably a speedy construction for this era. It is located between two canals, the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal and is an octagonal shaped building with not one, but two domes.
You could probably spend an entire lifetime exploring the sights of Italy but I hope these whet your appetite for a trip to Italy some time in the future when Covid no longer dominates our headlines. Meanwhile I think there will be plenty of time to brush up on your Italian while we continue our world trip travelling piece by piece. Tomorrow we travel to another beautiful European district known for its rural connection and tinged with purple.