Il Duomo, Firenze: urban climbs

My birthday was last month and I marked it in a big way this year.  A fellow-January birthday girl and I got tickets to climb to the top of the Florence cathedral dome.  It is a bit of a hike.  You climb up more than 500 steps, many very steep, and, even in January, the stairways are crowded.  It was worth every step!

You must be very careful on these stairways, some narrow, some steep, some filled with people going down while you are going up.  I was very, very careful, bc who wants to fall on a stairway from the roof of the duomo?

This post covers the exterior, a separate post is coming soon on the interior of the dome.

So, the first stopping place is the terrace level below the dome, as seen here:



The views, even from this lesser level, are outstanding!  There’s the dome of San Lorenzo:



Beguiling views of the baptistry:


So, as I said, I was extremely careful as I climbed up the duomo stairways.  And then, 2 days later, I missed a step on a small stairway in my apartment building, lost my balance and twisted my ankle.  And I’ve been laid up ever since!  I finally got an X-ray and nothing was broken, thank goodness, but the ligaments were torn, so we think.

Anyway, feeling sorry for myself with my foot elevated for several weeks, I haven’t felt like talking about the dome climb.  I am almost back to walking well by now, and this is my post to celebrate that fact!



Above and below, shots of the January skies over Florence:



Ahoy down there!



Looking to San Lorenzo: when I’m high up above Florence I realize again how small this city really is!



Looking toward Fiesole:



Looking up and thinking: “can I climb that many more steps to get up there?” Not completely convinced.



The quality of the sculptural details at this height was amazing to me.  The architects and sculptors could have been excused for skimping on details: I mean, how many people will ever see the work from close-up?


But they skimped on nothing:







So, okay, chicken, let’s keep climbing.  You made it this far.  So, up we go, and the climb got more severe:


This sweet woman encouraged me every step of the way, which was a lot of steps!




Above: Looking south, way across Florence, we see Forte Belvedere with its tower:



Below: looking across Florence to San Minato al Monte:



Looking over to the synagogue with the green dome:



Looking towards Santa Croce:


In the middle ground, the Bargello and Badia:



Looking toward the Mercato Centrale, with the green roof:



San Lorenzo with train station in background:




Looking way across town to the church of Santa Maria Novella:


Another shot of San Lorenzo with its entire complex shown:


Orsan Michele in foreground, Palazzo Pitti in front of forest (Boboli Gardens).


Below: looking to Piazza della Repubblica:




Below: details inside the Giardino Boboli:







Art nouveau church in Paris

There’s a beautiful church in Montmartre that was a revelation (ha ha) to me on my recent visit in Paris.  Here it is:771161497_7c94bcdbb6_b

The church is Saint Jean de Montmartre.



I think it is fair to say I’ve spent a lot of time visiting churches, to study Renaissance architecture, sculpture, and paintings.  But, this church in Montmartre was the first ever Art Nouveau church I’ve ever seen and it was as lovely as it was interesting.












So, here’s what Wikipedia shares about this interesting church:

The Church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre is located at 19 Rue des Abbesses in the 18th arrondissement.  Situated at the foot of Montmartre, it is notable as the first example of reinforced concrete in church construction. Built from 1894 through 1904, it was designed by architect Anatole de Baudot, a student of Viollet-le-Duc and Henri Labrouste. The brick and ceramic tile-faced structure exhibits features of Art Nouveau design while exploiting the superior structural qualities of reinforced concrete with lightness and transparency. The Art Nouveau stained glass was executed by Jac Galland according to the design of Pascal Blanchard. Interior sculpture was by Pierre Roche.

The reinforced concrete structure followed a system developed by the engineer Paul Cottancin. Construction was attended by skepticism over the properties of the new material, which violated rules laid down for unreinforced masonry construction. A lawsuit delayed construction, resulting in a demolition order that was not resolved until 1902, when construction was resumed.

There is a guided tour of the church on every fourth Sunday of the month at 4:00 PM.

The Church of Saint-Jean-Montmartre was commissioned by Montmartre priest Father Sobbeaux. The population of the town was growing and the only other abbey church, Saint-Pierre de Montmartre was too small. Saint-Pierre de Montmartre was located at the top hill of Montmartre, and could only serve those living up there. The new church was part of Fr. Sobbeaux’s personal mission to evangelize the population of the lower part of the hill, and he was responsible for raising all the funds for construction.

Using reinforced concrete on Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre resulted in the church being quite ahead of its time and, and building codes had not caught up yet. Cottancin’s system was so new and revolutionary, it was difficult for people to believe the structure would actually stand. Even other architects opposed the plan, and believed it would collapse.

The church was built in ten years, the reason for it taking so long was because construction had to be stopped as a result of a lawsuit filed in 1898 due to ” non-conformity of town planning”.

Next came an order for the demolition of the building. This resulted in the performance of innumerable tests to ensure the structural integrity of the building. To save the church, Baudot and Sobbeaux set up technical demonstrations. They recreated the pillars and flagstone floor in the garden of the church to prove the strength and stability of the building. This demonstration reassured the skeptics and the order for the destruction of the church was lifted.

Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre is the first religious building to be made from concrete, understandably there was some concern over the aesthetic qualities of the material. The red brick facade, is used for decoration as well as additional support an insulation. The exterior is also embellished with geometric designs made from multicolored sandstone pearls. Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre is in the architectural style art nouveau, one of the few Parisian churches in this style.[6] The theme of the exterior and interior design is based off the writings of St. John- The fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse.




Versailles in 3 minutes

Few tourists making their first trip to France go home without having seen Versailles. But why do so many want to see Versailles in the first place? Yes, its history goes all the way back to the 1620s, with its comparatively modest beginnings as a hunting lodge built for King Louis XIII, but much in Europe goes back quite a bit further. It did house the French royal family for generations, but absolute monarchy hasn’t been a favored institution in France for quite some time. Only the most jaded visitors could come away unimpressed by the palace’s sheer grandness, but those in need of a hit of ostentation can always get it on certain shopping streets in Paris. The appeal of Versailles, and of Versailles alone, must have more do with the way it physically embodies centuries of French history.

You can watch that history unfold through the construction of Versailles, both exterior and interior, in these two videos from the official Versailles Youtube channel. The first begins with Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, which, when the “Sun King” Louis XIV inherited its site, had been replaced by a small stone-and-brick chateau. There Louis XIV launched an ambitious building campaign, and the half-century-long project ultimately produced the largest chateau in all Europe.



Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Firenze


The palace of the De’ Medici Family has a troubled history.

When Filippo Brunelleschi presented his project of a palazzo to Cosimo De’ Medici, the latter considered it to be too fancy and gave up the idea.

Then came the draft by Michelozzo Michelozzo, Donatello’s pupil, but this time the Florentines said ‘No’ to what at the time must have seemed an urban mess in the San Lorenzo district.

Finally, the works began with the erection of the famous ashlar walls (with protruding stones), the small and narrow windows with grates, heavy doors, all aimed at intimidating everyone who passed or entered the building.

However, beyond the heavy door, the building takes on a much kinder style, with a courtyard that is a real open-air museum with sarcophagi, inscriptions and statues. 


In 1659, Gabbriello Riccardi, Marquis of Chianti, became the owner of Palazzo Medici and sold it to the Lorenas, the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, in 1814. After many renovations, it became the seat of the administrative offices and headquarters of the Interior Ministry, in the period when Florence was capital of Italy, between 1865 and 1870.

Since 1874, the Medici Palace is the seat of the Province of Florence and also a museum with works such as the Magi Chapel with frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli.

Les Marais, part 3: Jardin Saint-Gilles-Grand-Veneur-Pauline-Roland

Le Mairie de Paris is full of fascinating things!  I’ve already posted twice about Les Marais and there is still more to discuss.

One the 9 Rue du Grand Veneur is located another small, lovely garden: the Jardin Saint-Gilles-Grand-Veneur-Pauline-Roland. The name is a homage, in part, “ à Pauline Roland (1805-1852), une féministe socialiste française.”


Tucked away within a maze of narrow streets, far from the hustle and bustle of modern Paris, is this little known, rarely visited, but utterly charming haven of peace – the Jardin Saint-Gilles-Grand-Veneur, with its magnificent view of the façade of the Hôtel du Grand Veneur townhouse. Visitors come here is for some peace and quiet, or to settle down on the stone benches in the lovely rose arbor for some calm.

The mansion surrounding the small garden is the Hôtel du Grand Veneur,  a prestigious 17th-century mansion in Le Marais. Listed in the Register of Historic Monuments since 1925, the building consists of three buildings forming a U around a large paved courtyard, in which is located the garden.

In 1733, Vincent Hennequin who was the captain who organized the king’s hunts, purchased the mansion. He had many hunt-related images carved and applied to the decorations of the Hôtel.





The hotel was confiscated during the French Revolution; it was then purchased in 1823 by the Franciscan ladies of St. Elisabeth who occupied it until 1901.

apmh00004609 Late 19th century photo of exterior


As impressive as this mansion is, it was the garden that drew me in.



And, here it is!  Remember it was a cold December morning I paid my visit, but the garden had its charms even then.





I wasn’t the only person drawn to this fine garden that day.  I saw a fashion photography shoot happening in the courtyard.









A new way to see Ancient Rome

Ambitious VR Experience Restores 7,000 Roman Buildings, Monuments to Their Former Glory

You can take an aerial tour of the city circa 320 A.D. or stop by specific sites for in-depth exploration

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