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Art Italy

Florence, Italy: It’s All About the Art

And other observations during a two-night trip to Florence

Excuse me, but how did this post that I published on Medium.com a few years back not make it onto my blog?! Here it is, regardless. (In case you’re wondering how I figured out about the literal missing link… it’s because in attending a class to prepare for another trip to Italy in May, I started scrolling through my previous posts, and dear old Florence was missing. Not anymore.

My daughter spent three months living in Venice in 2017 as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. Her time there was magical, challenging, beautiful, and life-changing. During her last week in Venice, she and three of her intern friends spent three days in Florence, home to 705,000 residents and located on the Arno River in central Italy. Since her return, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about her time in Italy.

The interview answers are just the two of us talking; see the photo captions for more detailed notes and facts about her trip.

Marilyn Yung

How far is Florence from Venice? It’s about a two-hour train ride. We left from the Santa Lucia train station around eight o’clock and got to Florence mid- to late morning.

What did you do first? When we got there, the first thing we did was walk to find our Airbnb. After dropping off our bags, we confirmed exactly what we wanted to do over the next few hours. On the train, we had talked about what we wanted to do. Our goal was to see as much art as possible — obviously, we were in Florence — and there were five or six major things that we knew would require extra planning and waiting in lines for. We had looked up the opening hours of all the museums, cost, and the amount of time to plan for each one. We didn’t give ourselves time to meander.

So what was first on your itinerary? The first thing we went to was the Medici Riccardi Palace. It’s got three levels of distinct architecture (see the caption for photo below). The palace is absolutely huge and nearly impossible to photograph from the outside.

This photo shows the exterior of Medici Riccardi Palace in Florence. The bottom level is rough in keeping with the era’s sumptuary laws that forbade ostentatious displays of wealth. Building of the palace began in 1444. The second level looks less rustic and the third displays a more refined, smooth texture on the stone. By Yair Haklai [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

What was next? The Medici Chapel. Absolutely incredible! The exterior is very misleading. It doesn’t look that big on the outside but then you go inside and it’s massive! The inside uses a really dark marble pretty much throughout. The dome is painted in frescoes. There are relics everywhere. The chapel is covered in ornate paintings. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Inside the Medici Chapel’s Chapel of the Princes mausoleum, built from 1604–1640. The mausoleum reveals the dark stones and marbles used on the interior. Sourcing such rare stones caused the construction of the Medici Chapel complex to span two centuries. | Photo: K. Yung
Frescoes painted in 1828 by Pietro Benvenutti adorn the dome of the Chapel of the Princes mausoleum. The Medici family dynasty ruled Florence for several centuries. The dome features scenes from the Old and New Testaments. | Photo: K. Yung

So after the Medici Chapel, what did you have for lunch? We went to a little cafe that was very good. I decided to try gnocchi for the first time. Gnocchi are soft dumplings made from potatoes. They can be made from other things like flour or cheese, but potato gnocchi are the most popular. I really had no idea whether I would like it or not and it was very good. I followed that up with a lemon and mint gelato, which was amazing.

It’s hard to believe, but this is lemon-mint gelato. | Photo: K. Yung

And then? After that, we went to The Brancacci Chapel. It’s part of Santa Maria del Carmine church. The main purpose to seeing this chapel, other than the architecture, was Masaccio’s paintings called “The Tribute Money” and “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.” These are discussed in any art history textbook. These two paintings are important because they are some of the first that show one-point perspective used correctly.

The Brancacci Chapel is located within the nondescript Santa Maria del Carmine church. One would never know that inside this chapel are the masterpieces that follow in the next photos. Photo: giovanni sighele [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Focus on the top half of this image. At the far left is Masaccio’s “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” one of Masaccio’s most famous paintings. Why is it important? It shows non-idealized human figures showing horrified emotion. “The Tribute Money” is the main panel. Art history buffs visit the chapel specifically to see these works. | Photo: K. Yung

The Brancacci is a teeny tiny chapel actually, and it’s weird to think that super-famous paintings are inside a room that’s about the size of someone’s living room. But compared to the Scrovegni Chapel, I would say it’s larger. One chapel within the church is about the size of the total Scrovegni. Also, all of the paintings in the Scrovegni are by Giotto, whereas in the Brancacci, there are works by Masaccio and others. For example, one chapel had paintings from the Baroque era…a totally different time period and style.

What did you see after the Brancacci Chapel? We went to the Palazzo Strozzi to see an exhibition of video installations by Bill Viola. He’s an American artist and the show was called Electric Renaissance. It was kind of nice to see this contemporary art — made by someone from Queens, New York, no less — contrasting with the old. They brought in some Renaissance paintings and placed them near Viola’s work.

So enough contemporary work, right? You’re in Florence after all. What was next on the agenda? A friend had recommended to us that we go to the Museo Nove Cento. It was a big disappointment, however, The curation was poor and by that I mean that there was little direction for visitors inside. We couldn’t tell which direction to start walking. There were many pieces without wall texts, those cards that are mounted next to the painting or whatever the art is that tells you about the artist, the media, the date and such. Sometimes there were way too many works placed on the wall, which would make it hard for a piece to stand on its own with space to contemplate it. None of us was impressed with it at all. And we were starting to get really hungry, so we went back to our Airbnb to relax for a bit before going out for dinner.

Did you find a great Florentine restaurant? Well, actually we found a restaurant called La Petite and of all things, I decided to get a burger and sticks. Sticks was the name they gave to classic French fries. It was all very good. We passed on drinks that night and just had waters.

What was on tap for Saturday? We went to the Uffizi Gallery. This is where the two of Botticelli’s most important pieces are: The Birth of Venus and Primavera. The Uffizi is probably the most revered museum in Florence.

My daughter looking at Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” inside the Uffizi Museum. This is one of the Renaissance’s most well-known and iconic paintings. | Photo: K. Yung.
Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera.” | Photo: K. Yung

There are also other incredible works by Raphael, Van Der Goes, da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Parmigianino. The Uffizi is seriously a huge museum chock full of art and hands-down the most renowned. It’s a sin to go to Florence and not go there.

The Uffizi Gallery in central Florence. Photo: Mariamichelle on Pixabay

After the Uffizi, where did you go? We went to the Convent of San Marco. This is a convent with incredible cell-like living quarters. Inside each cell is a beautiful fresco that’s painted on the wall.

Beautiful frescoes inside a cell at the Convent of San Marco. | Photo: K. Yung

Even though those are interesting to see, the main reason people go to the convent is to see a fresco called the annunciation” by Fra Angelico. It’s amazing. You can find it at the top of the stairs. The convent also has a collection of antique books owned by former residents.

The Annunciation at the Convent of San Marco. | Photo: K. Yung

Where did you have lunch on Saturday? After that, we got lunch at a little nondescript café –have no idea what it was called — and then we decided to take a break from art and went shopping at a Cos store on Via Della Spada. I had never been to Cos before and I thought it was the coolest place ever. Several of us tried a few things on and made a few purchases. We also went to Zara, a popular, inexpensive clothing store. The place was absolutely jam- packed. There was a 45-minute wait just to get into the dressing room. So that didn’t last long because we still had to get to the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David.

How was that? Seeing The David was the most amazing thing. I’ve never been stopped in my tracks by something until that moment. It is presented beautifully. You walk down a hall, turn a corner and it’s at the end of a long entry hall.

The hall leading to The David provides a prelude to this great work of art. | Photo: K. Yung

Sunlight streams in from above. It is majestic. Stunning. The David makes you ask, How did someone create that? Its size is part of the spectacle because I didn’t expect it be that large. The hands on The David are disproportionately large to highlight the importance of his hands in slaying Goliath.

Notice the oversized hands on the David designed by Michaelangelo to emphasize the hands that slay Goliath. “Before it was moved to the Accademia in 1873, it stood guard outside the Palazzo della Signoria, Florence’s city hall, for 370 years…,” according to this Mental Floss article. | Photo: K. Yung

We spent about an hour looking at The David, awestruck, and then suddenly we realized it was just about time for dinner.

Another burger? Very funny. No, even better… Mexican! We went to Tijuana Mexican Bar and Restaurant. Actually, it was excellent. I had the best tequila I’ve ever had there. I also ordered a quesadilla with black beans on the side. It was delicious. That night while we were eating, I had this bittersweet realization that it would be one of the last times I would be out with my friends since my internship would be over in about four days.

So you were sad to be leaving? Yes, I guess… sad to leave Florence the next morning, but then also sad to be leaving Italy. I was ready to go home, but at the same time, not ready at all for my time in Italy to be over. I felt like I was just becoming accustomed to living in Venice. I knew my way around. I could manage the language better that I ever dreamed I’d be able to. I could have stayed another three months, honestly.

What was still on your bucket list for Florence? Well, we still hadn’t been to the Duomo, so we knew the next morning would be when we would go see it. However, we had found out on the way to Florence that tickets were sold out for touring the Brunelleschi dome, so we decided to go up the bell tower — Giotto’s Campanile— nearby instead. So we got up on Sunday and by 10 a.m. we were in line to get tickets to go up.

It was still so soon after the campanile ticket office opened that there wasn’t a line yet. So we decided to go on up. Climbing was tiring and you’re just squished up against the walls, rubbing along bodies — there were already other people coming down — as you climb. We got the pictures of the actual dome … the Duomo from the top of the campanile (see image at top of this article). It was a beautiful moment. Incredibly picture-worthy!

After we got back down to the ground, there was a huge line to go up. It was easily a two-hour wait. We’re glad we got there close to when they opened.

The line to Giotto’s Campanile grows very long by mid-morning. | Photo: K. Yung

Then we grabbed a sandwich at a spot near the Duomo and we still wanted to go inside the baptistery of St. John and see the Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. As we were eating, we noticed a really long line to get inside, so two of us decided to wait in line while the other two of us went inside the baptistery where the gates are. And then we switched off.

Gold sparkles on the ceiling inside the baptistery at the Duomo . Because many visit here primarily to see the Gates of Paradise, they are surprised at the beauty of the interior of the baptistery. | Photo: K. Yung

Inside the baptistery, I totally did not expect that it would be completely gold. In art history classes, you usually just study the Gates, which are gold, but the inside of the baptistery is also covered in gold mosaics. The gates show biblical scenes

As for the Duomo, which by the way is part of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the exterior of the building is spectacular with its green, orange and white marble stone.

This photo doesn’t show the extreme ornamentation of the Duomo at Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, but it does convey how the Duomo is prominent in many views of the city. | Photo: K. Yung

The entrance to the museum at the Duomo is underground and that’s also where the original Gates of Paradise are. But for some reason, the museum was closed that day. So, I still haven’t seen the original gates, but I have seen the two copies that exist. One copy is in the baptistery above the museum and the other is at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

A copy of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise were recently added to the permanent collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. | The original gates are in the baptistery of St. John at the Duomo in Florence. Lorenza Ghiberti, a goldsmith and sculptor, created the gates from 1425–1452. | Photo: K. Yung

So was that the end of your time in Florence? Not quite. After that, we went to go see Santa Maria Novella church because we had passed it coming into Florence, and since we were heading out to leave we thought we should go ahead and see it.

The Santa Maria Novella church in Florence. | Photo: K. Yung

Inside there is Masacchio’s Trinity. It’s very important in that it shows the first official correctly-used one-point perspective. It’s actually just a fresco on the wall. And while the church has so much more to see, seeing Trinity was our priority. I remember wishing I wasn’t so tired and could have enjoyed it more, but we were so exhausted from just going-going-going the previous three days.

The Santa Maria Novella church in Florence. | Photo: K. Yung

Any unexpected surprises? Yes. I know it sounds funny, but seeing the trash being collected was amazing. There are above-ground trash bins with large in-ground canisters below them. These automated trucks came along and a huge arm with a giant magnet on it pivots over and picks up the canisters and empties them into the truck. I thought it was interesting to watch, really.

Trash haulers remove garbage from underground vaults. | Photo: K. Yung

How was your Airbnb, by the way? It was great. The owner was really helpful. I definitely remember it being very loud there with all the traffic. In Venice, it’s relatively quiet without all the cars and I think I was just used to that. It was a gated apartment. There was a loft with a queen-sized bed and another bedroom with a twin bed. Down below on the main floor there was a nice couch. It also had a full kitchen. Everything was stone and so nothing absorbed any sound.

So, after seeing Santa Maria Novella, it was time to board the train? Yeah, we went back and got our bags, got on an express train and returned home to Venice for a party that evening. We left around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and got back to Venice around 6. Then we took the vaporetto to Guidecca for a party. We all chipped in for some pizzas and then hustled our way out to the party.

How would you sum up Florence? So. Much. Art. Everywhere you look there is something important. Florence is all about the art. Rome has the coliseum. Venice has the water. Florence has the art.


I make no apologies. As a writer and parent, I feel perfectly entitled to take full advantage of my daughter’s 2017 experience in Italy by wringing every possible story from it! Yes, our family did visit her there for a week that year and while we saw so much in that short time, we envied the luxury of time her three-month internship allowed.

We’ll be returning in May 2023 for a two-week trip to Florence, Siena, Venice, and Rome. Become a follower to catch those posts when they publish. Thanks for reading!


Featured Photo Credit: The Duomo of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore as seen from Giotto’s Campanile in Florence. | Photo: K. Yung

Categories
Italy

A Walking Tour of Naples, Italy

I’m reblogging this post from The Gen X Travels, a fellow WordPress blogger, for two reasons: 1) it has some great “in the moment” photos that I think my travel readers will enjoy and 2) because I want to be able to find it later when I’m planning my own trip to southern Italy. All of my Italian travel has involved northern Italy and I’m dying to head south. Enjoy!

I traveled to Italy, April 2022 and my first stop was Naples, where I enjoyed a walking tour of the old town. This trip was with a group of women and…

A Walking Tour of Naples, Italy
Categories
Italy Uncategorized

How I found connection in the Basilica of San Vitale

On this Easter Sunday, my thoughts turn to the redemption and salvation provided by Jesus Christ, and our visit three years ago to one of the most beautiful churches in Italy, the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna.

Marilyn Yung

Of tenacity and Easter cupcake sprinkles in Ravenna, Italy

IMG_6531These aren’t paintings, but mosaics made of thousands and thousands of tiny glass tiles known as tesserae. The gold tesserae are actually two clear glass tiles that sandwich a layer of gold leaf. The entire surfaces of these walls are mosaic; the only areas that aren’t mosaics are the windows and the marble columns.  | Photo: Katherine Yung

Here’s a scenario: Your daughter requests sprinkles on the Easter cupcakes you’re baking. However, pretend the shaker needed to sprinkle on the dotted decorations has not been invented yet, and the only way to get the sprinkles perfectly placed and evenly dispersed on the cupcakes is not by scattering them with your fingers, but by applying them one by one… with tweezers perhaps.

sharon-mccutcheon-569839-unsplashPhoto: Unsplash

Adding sprinkles to the cupcakes now will take days, weeks or longer. The task will be one of…

View original post 1,352 more words

Categories
Italy Uncategorized

Time to spare in Bologna, Italy is a good thing

Missing a Renaissance masterpiece isn’t

One Saturday last June my daughter and I wandered into the Church of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna, Italy.  We were killing time as we waited to meet friends (my daughter’s Italian language tutor, actually) for lunch and a quick tour of the public library before heading back to Venice.

That morning, after arriving by train from Venice, we had savored cappuccini and croissants  and then toured the main attraction in Bologna, the Basilica de San Petronio. We spent about an hour there marvelling at the centuries-old church with the unusual brick and stone facade. Plan to read a future post on that experience soon, but here’s a taste.

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Basilica de San Petronio | Photo: M. Yung

We had also explored the Piazza Maggiore with its beautiful Fountain of Neptune and saw the city “square” rigged and ready with row upon row of temporary seating for hundreds plus a huge movie screen. Among other movies, Gone with the Wind was on the menu at some time during the summer season. How fun would that be?!

In our hour or two of free time, we also strolled down beautiful loggia-lined avenues. Eventually, we happened upon a church, the Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita.

It’s the copper-domed church in the large photo at the top of this post. While it’s quite a standout in a Bologna skyline photo, at street level it’s easy to miss. Tall buildings and narrow streets together conceal your vision of things in the upper reaches.

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Bologna, Italy | Photo: M. Yung

It was a warm and achingly brilliant sunny day. Taking a short break in a quiet place of worship enticed us to escape the Italian noonday rays.

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Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita | The architect Giovanni Battista Bergonzoni designed the church. It was built between 1687-1690.

Inside, sounds of the street faded to a cavernous quiet. The majesty and somber tone of the interior both cooled and stunned me.

The soothing soft green interior wall colors caught our attentions first. The ornate Baroque stylings caught our attentions second. The dome, completed in 1787 and designed by architect  Giuseppe Tubertini, was beautiful as well.

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But if only I had Googled to see what more this structure had to reveal.

Because here’s what we didn’t see: Lamentation Over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca (1435-1494). Italy Magazine describes the work as “A life-size group of six separate terracotta  figures lamenting in a semicircle around the dead Christ.”

I stumbled upon this sculpture as I was researching the church and I still can’t believe that I was in this very building and missed this very powerful example of Renaissance art.

I can’t get over the expressions on the faces.

Terror. Despair. Uncontrollable grief. 

Truth be told, I often feel detached from historical art. The expressions are often glum and sullen, especially in depictions of Jesus Christ and the suffering he endured on the cross. That goes, too, for the the emotional suffering of those nearby who loved him. Sometimes it’s just hard to identify.

With Arca’s work, however, the emotions of the figures are real and painfully so. I understand that kind of hurt and sorrow and panic. We see humans in painful grief daily on the news and in our modern media. To think that an Italian Renaissance artist was able to capture it accurately — in terra cotta — six hundred years ago — baffles my small mind.

_Lamentation_over_the_Dead_Christ__by_Niccolò_dell'Arca_by_Joy_of_Museums
Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, by Joyofmuseums [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Words are not needed in the picture below. The emotion is palpable and horrible.

_Lamentation_crop

And on that note, I’ll close this post with this final thought: When travelling, it’s a good thing to have time to spare. However, once you arrive home, it’s heart-breaking to discover something wonderful that you missed.

Lesson learned: Next time, slow down, google it, and learn what more there is right in front of you.


Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more posts about the details in travel far and wide.

Categories
Italy

When you finally meet your online Italian language tutor

Desperately seeking Clara in Bologna, Italy

Last Saturday, my daughter and I ventured out of Venice to Bologna. The purpose of our trip was to meet Clara Ori. Clara teaches online lessons in the Italian language and she and my daughter have been working together since last September. Once or twice a week, they meet online via Preply.com.

The famous towers of Bologna.

Clara and Katherine hit it off right from the start and found it challenging to remain focused on their lessons because they had so much fun just chatting and becoming friends.

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Leaving Venice at 7 a.m.

So, when Katherine was awarded her internship at the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in late April, she knew that a visit to meet Clara would be in order.

The two had decided to arrange to meet for lunch around noon. We had subsequently planned to leave Venice early in the day, do some sightseeing in the morning, have lunch with Clara and her boyfriend, Victor, and then return to Venice in the afternoon.

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The Italian countryside

We left Katherine’s neighborhood of Santa Elena in the Castello sestiere on a vaporetto at about 6 a.m., and arrived at the Ferrovia train station about thirty minutes later. Our Trenitalia train left at 7 a.m.

A mere two hours later, we were dining on cappuccini and croissants near the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna’s city center, and deciding which major sights to see.

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Piazza Maggiore

Sitting close to the major square of the city, the Piazza Maggiore, I considered how I had always thought Venice felt old. After all, it was founded in 421 AD. However, strolling into Bologna, I realized that it feels and looks older and has a more primitive feel. And for good reason: Bologna was founded in 500 BC. That’s quite a difference!

Another difference: compared to quiet Venice, Bologna is raucous with its cars and scooters. Plus, there’s all that beautiful red masonry and all the loggias, those covered archway thoroughfares along the Via Indipendenza that shade pedestrians as they saunter along the timeworn marble-paved and mosaic walkways.

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Loggia along Via Indipendenza

Next to the Piazza Maggiore and its Basilica di Petronius is the Fountain of Neptune within the plaza of the same name. When my daughter last visited Bologna during her first internship in Venice, the Fountain of Neptune was encased in scaffolding for maintenance. She looked forward to seeing it in person this time.

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The Fountain of Neptune

We strolled around the major buildings of the plaza and stopped inside the Palazzo d’Accursio to see the city’s Town Hall. The oldest parts of this building date to the 14th century.

It’s interesting to see where Bolognans go to pay, oh for example, their water bills. Paying a utility bill in a spot such as this would make the bill easier to pay, I would think. This facility also includes art collections, the city libraries, and a museum.

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Palazzo d’Accursio… the city’s administrative buildings

The highlight of the morning was touring inside the enormous, medieval Basilica di Petronius. Inside many churches (whether a cathedral or basilica), signs request that visitors respect “the holy place” and that knees and shoulders be covered. If you don’t have the appropriate clothing, you won’t be allowed in or you may purchase for 1€ a dark blue, gauzy kimono to wear. We saw one or two women wearing these as they milled around the cathedral. Luckily, I had tucked a cardigan inside my bag for the day to wear over my tank-style dress.

In addition, for 2€, you may take pictures, presumably even with flash. So, I paid the man at a lectern-type kiosk, who in turn looped a bright orange band around my wrist. Then we were free to roam and photograph at our leisure. (Surely, the woman walking around boldly wielding her GoPro camera had paid, right?!)

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Basilica di Petronius
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Inside the Basilica di Petronius
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Inside the Basilica di Petronius
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Inside the Basilica di Petronius

You can only take so many pictures inside a beautiful cathedral before it starts to seem pointless. Pictures simply do not suffice. I would dare to say that just admiring the view with your own eyes–and not through a lens–is a much more efficient use of your time.

Even with all its incredible architecture and history, Bologna offers still more. In fact, you can experience Bologna’s charm just walking around. Find a park bench in the shade, and then sit and watch.

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Sitting and people-watching 

While we sat in a shaded square off the plaza, a mother, father, and two daughters were dropped off by taxi a few feet from our park bench.

The oldest teenage daughter’s flowing royal blue chiffon gown swayed in the breeze as she stood with her mother who wore an a olive-burgundy-bronze brocade knee-length chemise. The father, in a white dress shirt and gray plaid fitted trousers, seemed to be searching for someone. The younger daughter, in her awkward middle school years, stood off to the side in a champagne-colored sundress.

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We loved sitting near these storefronts. Notice the hand-painted lettering!

The group discussed directions, peered left and right, walked away down the nearby alleyway, came back, and straightened their clothes. Continually rising on tiptoe to peer into the surrounding clusters of pedestrians, they never seemed to accomplish much other than to exude Italian chic.

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A typical street in Bologna’s city center

After people-watching for about an hour, we started out to meet Clara, who told us she would be arriving via train from Padua with her boyfriend, Victor. (They had been to Padua that morning for Victor’s eye appointment and they had planned to return to Bologna for the afternoon.)

We headed back to the Via Indipendenza, which is closed to automotive traffic on the weekends. Pedestrians filled the brick paved boulevard and sauntered through the loggias on each side of the street. We scanned the oncoming walkers for Clara and Victor.

But here’s the thing: Clara is blind and Victor has very limited eyesight.

Spotting them was our goal; listening for Katherine’s voice would be Clara’s.

Clara had told Katherine that Victor would be very tall and that she would be using, in her words, “my inseparable white cane.”

Within a few minutes, at the very far end of the loggia, just a block from the train station, we spied them. Katherine called out, “Clara!” and that was that. We found each other!

After greetings and hugs, Clara and Victor said they would select a place where we could have paninis and visit. They knew of such a cafe just down the street. We followed the couple, Clara and Katherine chatting the entire way.

After ordering our lunches (and admittedly, following their lead was not as difficult as you might imagine), we sat down at a table outside and talked for more than an hour.

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Talking over paninis

After eating, we had an hour or so of free time, so Clara and Victor told us they would like to take us to the Salaborsa public library in Bologna just a short distance away inside the Palazzo d’Accursio facility. This library was built in 2001 and is the central public library funded by the municipality of Bologna. We followed Clara and Victor into one of the most beautiful libraries I will probably ever see.

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Salaborsa Library
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Salaborsa Library

There wasn’t much time left after going to the library, so we all four headed back to the train station. We took some photos and Clara and Victor made sure to direct Katherine and I to the correct platform area to catch our 4:08 p.m. train back to Venice.

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The four of us: Katherine, Victor, Clara, and me
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Waiting at Bologna departures for the train back to Venice 

The day had gone exactly as planned.

Our goal of meeting Clara and Victor was met and we arrived back in Venice with time to hop off the vaporetto at the Zattere for a grocery run to buy salmon fillets.

Later back in Santa Elena, Katherine made dinner (score one for Mom!)… she served the salmon with Basmati rice and her own chutney salad made with mango, avocado, cucumbers, and bell peppers. It was a delicious end to a perfect day.

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Making our way across the Venetian lagoon at the end of the day

Thanks for reading! It’s becoming more and more challenging to post daily, but I’m using this trip to get in the habit of producing work daily. We’ll see how that continues. Follow my blog to see how and if I keep up.

Click here for yesterday’s post about the Venice Biennale.

I traveled to Venice from Skopelos, Greece, where we are staying before continuing our trip through the Peloponnese. Click here for a post from Skopelos. 

Categories
Italy Motherhood parenting

How far will you go to teach your daughter to lead?

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Photo: Lorri Lang on Pixabay

And there I was, simply her mom letting her be brave so she could develop this thing called courage.

When it comes to teaching our daughters to lead, how do we do that? How far should we go? Encourage good grades? Encourage career over all else? Do we teach them to forge ahead first? To seek and take advantage of each and every opportunity that comes along?

How about if we teach our daughters this: to have courage. “Courage, fortunately, is a teachable and learnable skill,” according to Bill Treasurer, Kimberly Adelman, and Laura Cohn of Giant Leap Consulting in their article, “The Power of Courage for Women Leaders.”

“The trick to building courage competency is to purposefully move outside of your comfort zone on a regular basis. Don’t move so far out as to become petrified with fear, but enough that your body starts to give you the physiological cues that you’ve become uncomfortable,” write the authors.

My daughter knows these physiological cues. Two years ago, she was completing a three-month internship in Venice, Italy at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a well-known modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. At first, her foray to the floating city caused much stress and worry, especially in the early days of her time there. She experienced stomach aches, anxiety, and a lack of appetite.

She also experienced environmental and social challenges: Venice’s maze-like corridors, the language barrier, new colleagues and workplace. And then there was the peeping Tom.

However, as her internship continued, she became accustomed to her experience there, and she was able to enjoy it completely. It was good to feel courageous despite the difficulties. I remember my daughter saying this about her day-to-day experience alone in Italy: “I became comfortable being uncomfortable.” She even said one day about a month after she returned home that she missed the feeling of discomfort she had become so accustomed to.

“Moving into your discomfort zone is how you learn and grow,” writes Treasurer. Believe it or not, true discomfort will build courage. And courage is at least part of the solution to overcoming the organizational biases that “inadvertently favor men” for leadership roles, writes Treasurer, Adelman, and Cohn.

Well, guess what? My daughter recently returned to Venice for two months for another internship… to help staff the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the renowned international exhibition of contemporary art from countries across the globe.

In the weeks prior to her departure, my friends and co-workers asked me how I felt about her return to Italy. They asked me:

“It’s so far away. That doesn’t bother you?”

“How are you handling it?”

“Aren’t you worried about her?”

I told them that I was fine with it. I told them that I encouraged her to apply for the opportunity.

And then I doubted myself and wondered…

Should I feel this unfazed?

Am I being careful enough?

Should I be so willing to let her go so far?

This was followed by a confident second or two when I asked myself, “Aren’t I just doing what mothers should do with their daughters?”

Shouldn’t I let my daughter be brave? Let her travel? Let her get so far outside her comfort zone that being uncomfortable feels comfortable? Isn’t this what the authors of The Power of Courage for Women Leaders are getting at? After all, aren’t I just allowing my daughter to grow in ways I was never encouraged to? Independently? Without commitments?

Don’t we encourage our sons this way?

And yes, I get it, she’s an adult and completely able to navigate across time zones, oceans, and mountain ranges. And yes, she did eventually meet up with a roommate. But until then, she was simply my daughter venturing forth alone in a big, big world. And there I was, simply her mom letting her be brave so she could develop this thing called courage.

So, is this the price I must pay—this apprehension and fear that comes and goes when I imagine her navigating Venice, alone, head down, leaning into the misty winds of early May? Is this the price I must pay to demonstrate to my daughter that she deserves to be brave and to venture forth into the world?

Is this the price I will pay to teach her to lead with courage? Will I go farther or have I gone far enough?


These are the wonderings of an anxious mother’s heart. Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts. Have you ever watched your child venture forth into the world, yet had your own reservations about watching them do just that? Follow my blog for more posts on parenting, travel, and education.

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Italy Italy (Venice)

Dear Venice… We have to talk.

Finally, I’ve found a city I can trust myself with — Ravenna, Italy.

I didn’t mean to fall in love. I wasn’t looking for someone new. I had never even heard of Ravenna until I went to Italy.

But, Venice, I’m torn. In so many ways, Ravenna attracts me.

It’s untouristy. Affordable. Strangely familiar.

And yes, I’ll admit that although our relationship was brief and passionate, it has withstood the test of time, Venice. After all, I still long for your watery passageways and roaring, rushing boulevards. I fantasize over your shimmering lagoon and all those glossy gondolas slicing through the wakes of vaporettos, taxis, delivery boats.

But Ravenna, well… Ravenna is different. It grounds me. Located just three short hour away from you by train, its rugged stability thrills me in a comfortable, predictable way.

Finally, I’ve found a city I can trust myself with.

Ravenna is real. For one thing, there are cars. There are people looking right and left. There are horns blaring instead of gondoliers chanting gondullah gondullah gondullah.

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And Ravenna’s mosaics! That austere 6th-century Byzantine architecture! I can’t deny that jewels such as these drew me in: Sant Apollinare Nuovo, the Basilica of San Vitale, Galla Placidia’s Mausoleum, the Archiepiscopal Museum, and the Neonian Baptistery.

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In Ravenna, the sights are spectacular, seductive, strong, and silent. And a quick glance in any guidebook shows that my new love interest holds thirty more palazzo and churches from antiquity.

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Photo: Katherine Yung

Frankly, Venice, I never thought I would say this, but I see a future in Ravenna, but not necessarily in you. I fear you’re too exotic for a long-term relationship.

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After all, I’ve stood in St. Mark’s, your gold-drenched basilica. I’ve felt the reflections from the ceilings and walls warm first my cheek, my neck and then my shoulders as the afternoon sun dipped below the Adriatic. In fact, you’re so beautiful it terrifies me.

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Yes, Venice, you have the glitz, the passion, the prestige. You have those opulent icons: St. Mark’s, Santa Maria Della Salute, the Grand Canal. Rialto.

What am I leaving out? Oh, your cruise ships. Your crowds. Your selfie-stick vendors on the Accademia Bridge.

And that’s another reason why I’m torn, Venice. You make me dizzy with love and desperate with doubt at the same time. Have those annoying tourist trappings driven me away?

Four words: Possibly and I’m sorry.

Despite your glamour, Ravenna captivates me. This quiet city has stolen my heart with its own brand of starry-eyed elation. Its warm, steady embrace just feels right.

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Thanks for reading! Have you been to Ravenna, Italy? Have you ever traveled somewhere only to find a hidden gem you weren’t expecting to find? Feel free to leave a comment!

Categories
Art & Architecture Italy

Sins of the flash in Torcello, Italy

The quiet rebellion of women who take pictures anyway

When you visit the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon, you observe a sign inside the basilica that forbids photography. Ugh, you think. But it’s so beautiful. Inside, the apse—a half-dome of sorts—is encrusted in gold mosaic. The Virgin Mary resides in its center, alone, regal, royal. It’s graphically arresting and elegant in its simplicity; it contrasts with the opposite wall, a riot of colors, shapes, lines… Biblical scenes of the Last Judgment.

The cathedral is exquisite. One simply must have pictures to remember. So you plan to purchase them in the form of postcards from the adjacent gift shop when you leave. Problem solved.

Why then, the click? Why then is that woman over there snapping away? Lost in thought, she roams the chapel, gazing at the art, studying the expressive scenes, recording her visit on her sleek 35mm Canon.

Your immediate thought: she must have special permission. She must be a researcher working on a project. You explain as much to your husband. No, he says, she’s just ignoring the sign. His nonchalance startles you. As if this is just what people do, and in this case, a woman.

Oh, you reply, secretly envying this woman’s quiet rebellion that allows her a certain freedom that you will never claim. Disobey a sign that clearly states no photos? You shake your head. It’s right there in 96-point Times New Roman even. You roll your eyes at her audacity. This disregard for convention and rules astounds you.

You wonder how much inevitable damage each click does to the Byzantine masterpieces. Over the decades, who knows? She could be causing irreparable harm, you think. This should go down on her permanent record, wherever those are.

You ask your husband about the inevitable damage. Probably doesn’t hurt the art at all, he explains, adding something he read reported most cameras have filters that limit or remove UV waves.  Doesn’t damage a thing, he says.

Here I’ve been, you think, following all the rules all this time.

You continue to stare at this renegade designing her destiny, staking her claim with a few flashes that you still cannot bear to sneak on your measly iPhone. It’s true, you think, this woman has shown you to be the fool that you are.

She clicks another shot and checks the tiny screen. It must have been good, you think.

Her crimes finally and fully committed, the woman strides purposefully across the nave, stuffing her camera into a turquoise canvas tote bag. On the side of the bag is a design: two kitschy, feathery angel wings protruding from behind a shield. The design is cliché and you abhor that about things.


Thanks for reading! This is another story generated by a week-long trip to Italy I took in 2017. There are more stories on the way. Feel free to leave a comment and click follow for more.

Categories
Italy

A dull ache for a sharp object left in Italy

When Mom’s pocket knife gets confiscated

 

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Photo: Paul Felberbauer on Unsplash

When the security employee at the gate asked me to step aside, I remembered. My pocket knife. Oh no, my pocket knife, I thought, realizing I had left it earlier in the little cosmetic bag inside my purse. I had forgotten to check it with my luggage and now I was at the gate and my knife was going away.

The uniformed employee explained in her thick Venetian accent, “We must take this from you. If it’s you really need, you go downstairs, fill out the form, and it be sent to you.”

Standing there, I knew we wouldn’t have time to make those arrangements. And besides, it wasn’t a valuable possession. But then again, it was.

For twenty-five years, I had carried that pocket knife.

Back in 1990, I had chosen it from a mound of identical ones heaped in a small cardboard box next to a cash register in the sporting goods department at a Kmart in Topeka, Kansas. It had cost my boyfriend (now my husband) an entire dollar. It featured a steel blade, a wooden casing, and bronze hardware that over the years, had polished to a golden shine from being nestled in my purse for so long.

Similar to how candy bars are placed at checkout stands to captivate small children, that box of $1 knives held equal allure for the fishermen and hunters who visited that department. Not that I was one of them. We had gone to the store to use the restrooms tucked away behind the restaurant at the back of the store. As he waited on me, he spotted the knives and bought one for me.

“Keep it in your purse. It’ll come in handy,” he told me. He was right.

That little knife had been many places… all over Missouri and Kansas, Nashville, Asheville, several cities in Maine and Vermont, Columbus, Atlanta, Sarasota, Highland Park, Phoenix and other Arizona locals, multiple sights in the Los Angeles area, Oregon and Washington State, Cape Town and other South African cities, DC, New York City, Taos, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Dallas, New Orleans. Over the years, we had journeyed across the country to attend annual family reunions, exhibit my husband’s ceramic art at festivals, and accompany him as he served artist residencies.

And now, its final destination would be Venice, Italy, where it would be left behind, a hindrance to a quick departure, discarded inside a gray plastic tub under the counter.

I regret leaving that silly little knife because it wasn’t just a pocket knife. It was a symbol of family life and motherhood and had been more often used for non-cutting tasks. That knife spread peanut butter on sandwiches many more times that it ever cut into a fish or snipped a cord on a tent or tarp. It was this mother’s indispensable tool. As such, it was always easy to locate.

My son and daughter both knew I carried a pocket knife and I passed it back to them at least once or twice on every road trip we took over the years. Need to break open a family-sized plastic bag of M&Ms? Get Mom’s knife. Opening a DVD? Get Mom’s knife. Got a stray thread hanging from your hem? Ask Mom to hand back her pocket knife.

Just prior to leaving Venice, as I buckled up inside the plane, regretting my decision to leave my knife, I recalled how six years earlier, I had flown from Johannesburg to Atlanta with a knife my son had purchased as a souvenir. Despite its massive four-inch blade, he had somehow forgotten to pack it in a checked bag. I offered to stow it inside my purse, warning him it would likely be confiscated at our first departure.

Nope. X-rays and inspections by hand never discovered it. Of course, that would happen to a brand new knife without any peanut butter experience. And of course, that knife has since been long forgotten, I might add.

As for my knife, I have since replaced it, but the blade on my new one is narrower and not quite as functional as the one left in Venice. I mean, you can spread peanut butter on a slice of bread if you really want to, but it’s the not the same as my Kmart special.

I’m one of those people who feels sorry for the last Christmas tree on the lot. So it’s no surprise that I’m still feeling nostalgic for my lost pocket knife… a year and a half later.

Somewhere in Italy, it’s languishing in a gray bin of confiscated sharp objects. Maybe it’s been recycled by now. Maybe it’s been donated to a charity. Hopefully, it’s performing some mother’s mundane tasks, making her life a little easier, and definitely more memorable.


Had an experience similar to mine? Like this post, follow my blog, and feel to leave a comment about any precious object that’s drifted out of your life. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Categories
Art & Architecture Italy

How I found connection in the Basilica of San Vitale

Of tenacity and Easter cupcake sprinkles in Ravenna, Italy

Here’s a scenario: Your daughter requests sprinkles on the Easter cupcakes you’re baking. However, pretend the shaker needed to sprinkle on the dotted decorations has not been invented yet, and the only way to get the sprinkles perfectly placed and evenly dispersed on the cupcakes is not by scattering them with your fingers, but by applying them one by one… with tweezers perhaps.

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Photo: Unsplash

Adding sprinkles to the cupcakes now will take days, weeks or longer. The task will be one of intense devotion and labor, simply because of the time involved and the perseverance needed to complete it.

Now imagine that each one of those precisely placed sprinkles is similar—I know it’s a stretch, but stay with me—to a shimmering miniature glass tile positioned into a mosaic inside the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, a city of 160,000 near the Adriatic Sea.

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A detail of Empress Theodora, from the mosaic in the apse of San Vitale. | [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One by one, each tile is placed into the scene. One by one, each tile forms a bit more of the image. This will take twenty years at least. It’s a painstaking process and creating the picture would be much faster with brushwork, but glass is the medium and a stunning mosaic is the goal.

Each tiny piece of glass—some are half the size of your pinky nail—symbolizes perseverance and an acute attention to detail and artistry, and—by extension—to Jesus Christ.

Cupcake sprinkles are the comparison that came to mind when I began to write about the mosaics inside the Basilica of San Vitale. My family visited the basilica in March of 2017, during a much too brief daytrip to Ravenna. The church, whose namesake was a Roman soldier martyred during the Christian persecutions, was begun in 526 and consecrated in 548.

The mosaics of San Vitale are so well-known in art history circles that they have earned the basilica the description, “the most glorious example of Byzantine art in the West,” according to Ravenna: City of Art.

On the morning we visited, the interior of San Vitale glowed in the sunlight that streamed in through the windows of the church.

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A photo from across the basilica. Notice the intense patterning even in the marble floor. It’s difficult to stand close to the tesserae at San Vitale. Most of the mosaics are positioned above eight feet. The patterns you see below the windows are mostly marble mosaics. | Photo: M. Yung

As I stood in the grandeur of San Vitale, sheer awe at the handiwork overtook me.

Sheer wonderment… 

…at the dedication and tedium.

Sheer astonishment…

…at the skill and collaboration it required to not only conceive the images contained in the mural, but also to source the materials, create the artwork, and execute their application and installation on the high walls of this old, old church.

In the sunlight, the golden tesserae dazzled.

These are actually pieces of gold leaf sandwiched between pieces of clear glass. When they were pressed into place by medieval workmen, the gold tiles were angled to best reflect the sunlight, or the glow of a candle or lantern.

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A closer photo of the apse and the mosaic that shows Jesus Christ resting on a globe surrounded by angels. The far right figure in brown carries a miniature version of the basilica, offering it to Jesus in service. | Photo: M. Yung

As we took our self-tour, I stared up and pondered the mosaics and felt nearer to those laborers and artists who spent many years of their lives creating these mosaics. I marveled at their tenacity to produce these works without power tools and machinery, electricity, plumbing and other conveniences.

Would this sort of devotion be practiced today?

I don’t think so, but then maybe it was different for these medieval workers.

Even though creating the mosaics may have been their “job,” would the tedium of producing these masterpieces have been more endurable for those to whom the time of Christ was only four hundred years earlier? True, four hundred years is a long time, but wouldn’t the time of  Christ have been within their mental grasp?

To compare, would I find it easier to devote myself to glorifying the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock? I don’t know of anyone from that era, but I do feel a connection of sorts. I know about their concerns and their motivations. I can identify with them to a degree, while I find it nearly impossible to identify with people of Biblical times. Perhaps medieval workers could.

As I continued in my thoughts, my husband and daughter sought the two mosaics-within-the-mosaics below.

The mosaics of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora are considered the masterpieces of San Vitale.

The first photo below shows Justinian surrounded by his court, clergy members and soldiers. The emperor holds a bowl that contains bread for the Eucharist. Justinian never visited this basilica, according to Dr. Steven Zucker in this Khan Academy video lesson, but this mosaic was his way of asserting his power and authority from Constantinople, the Byzantine capital.

The figures in both mosaics are highly stylized. Laura Morelli, art historoian and author of The Gondola Maker, explains it this way:

“A more eastern aesthetic characterizes the mosaics completed in Ravenna during this early period. Elegant, slender, flattened figures on a shallow spatial plane stare out with huge, staring eyes.”

The two famous mosaics clearly reveal this style.

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The mosaic that shows Emperor Justinian with his court, clergy, and soldiers at left. Even the borders and frames that surround the central image are mosaic. | Photo: Katherine Yung

The mosaic of Empress Theodora rests on the opposite side of the apse and mirrors Justinian’s mosaic. In this piece, the empress carries a chalice of wine for the Eucharist. Wearing a finely detailed gown, Empress Theodora is surrounded by her imperial court and attendants. She wears elaborate jewelry, and, like Justinian, is surrounded by a halo.

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The mosaics of Justinian and Theodora are the “pieces de resistance” of Basilica San Vitale. They are found in art history textbooks as supreme examples of medieval Byzantine art. | Photo: Katherine Yung

Ready to finally move my gaze from the brilliance of the gold, I focused on the frescoes that cover the ceiling of San Vitale.

They were completed much later—in 1780—by artists from Bologna and Venice. While they are beautiful, they cannot compare, in my opinion, with the luster of the mosaics.

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Frescoes, water-based paintings on plaster, adorn the center dome of San Vitale. Photo: M. Yung
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My husband and son, at left, gaze up at the frescoes that surround the mosaic-drenched apse. | Photo: M. Yung

I felt our visit was coming to its end, and I noticed that even the floors of San Vitale were intricately decorated. Minuscule marble tiles did their best to distract me from the golden “eye candy” above. Over the centuries, the floor tiles do show some wear, but are amazingly colorful and durable. The most wear is to the floor surface itself, which, in some places within the basilica, contains depressions from heavy traffic patterns from worshipers and tourists.

The detail in the flooring reinforced my thoughts about the devotion of those early medieval artists; they spared nothing—not even the floor—in their pursuit to create a beautiful place to glorify God.

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Photo: M. Yung

As we exited the basilica, we took photos of its rustic appearance and its unusual structure of two stacked octagons. Its unusual shape does not follow cathedrals designed in the typical shape of the Latin cross, but instead evokes eastern influence from Byzantium.

From the outside, one would have no idea of the grandeur within.

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The contrast between the exterior and the interior of the Basilica of San Vitale is striking. The bricks were repurposed from demolished structures in Rome. Photo: M. Yung

Visiting the Basilica of San Vitale was a lesson in humility, reverence, and connection.

As I walked across the same floors, gazed up at the same artwork, and whispered in the same hushed tones that countless others whispered down through the ages, I knew that my visit was not about sprinkles on Easter cupcakes.

It wasn’t even about the magnificent golden mosaic masterpieces. It was instead about connecting to Jesus Christ and historical Christianity… and in a broader sense, to humanity.


Thanks for reading! Please click “like” so others can find this post more easily. Feel free to leave a comment about what your mind wanders to when you gaze at something truly beautiful.