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Under the Azure Sky—Italy

Cruising in the world’s fastest cars and consuming a mountain of cheese—these are only a few of the misconceptions generally associated with Italy. After spending countless hours navigating through the long, narrow streets, and the countless pizzerias, I finally understood the crux of the Florentine and Roman lifestyle. They may not be as clean as their European counterparts, but the streets of the Italian cities sure have a story to say.

Florence

Florence has always had a lot to offer to the world. While Dante Alighieri took the world by storm through his most popular work—’The Divine Comedy’, sculptors like Michelangelo and Donatello left their mark with a chisel, producing wonders like “David” and “St. John the Baptist”. Leonardo da Vinci is quite possibly the greatest creative mind to have ever existed, with paintings like the “Mona Lisa”, and the “Vitruvian Man” to justify his genius. Scientists like Galileo Galilei approached the world differently, with discoveries which served as the stepping stone for modern science.Moving to The Prince of philosophy, Niccolò Machiavelli’s principles earned him a place in the list of men who changed the world. All these men hailed from the great land of Florence.

Firenze, globally known as Florence, served as the hotbed of the Italian Renaissance. Proud of its vast history and heritage, the city remains ensconced in its medieval setting. The sheer uniformity which characterises the buildings of Florence is soothing to the eye. While their colours may vary, the strikingly similar architecture reminds one of an enormous library.

Pisa

The train system in Italy turned out to be the most convenient source of transportation to Pisa. The day I reached Florence, I decided to visit the town that houses the most popular architectural mishap of all time—the Leaning Tower. The fact that the Tower still stands (though, not erect) is half as astonishing as the fact that the Italians have managed to market an architectural fallacy as a tourist destination.

After clicking a mandatory picture with the illusion that you are preventing the tilted tower from coming crashing down, make the long climb to the top. Even a tilted view of the entire landscape is worth the walk.

Basilica di Santa Croce

Basilica di Santa Croce is one of the few churches in Italy which cannot be judged by its facade. Despite looking like an ordinary structure initially, the interiors of this Basilica are bound to leave you spellbound. Being the largest Franciscan church ever created, the high ceilings protrude a sense of majesty. A gigantic sculpture of Christ is present at one end, with mosaic paintings adorning the background. Donatello’s evergreen “Annunciation” is located just beside the cross.

The main attraction of the church, however, is the presence of the graves of several influential Italians who put Florence on the map. Also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories, extremely well-crafted structures depict the death-beds of Dante Alighieri, Niccolo Machiavelli, Ugo Foscolo, Michelangelo, and Galileo Galilei among many others.

Galleria dell Accademia

With an entire hall dedicated to the unprecedented craftsmanship of Michelangelo, there is no doubt who the Belle of the Ball is at the Academy. His major works like the Pieta, the four unfinished Prisoners, and the statute of St. Matthew adorn the gateway to his greatest work—the David. While it was originally meant to be erected at the Piazza Della Signoria (known as the Parliament of the Florentine Republic), it now serves as the main attraction of one of the largest sculpture galleries in the world.

Florence is a city which is meant to be explored without a destination in one’s head. Get onto a bus, and get off at a destination which appeals to you the most. However, certain popular tourist destinations like the Fountain of Neptune cannot be given a miss.

Roma

All-conquering, now conquered, because
She is Time’s prey, and Time conquereth all

And quietly flows the Tiber, every drop of which screams of a glorious period long gone. Teeming with history, the streets of Roma have tales to tell—be it the great mythological Gods that had protected humanity from the scourges of evil, or the majestic Roman Empire that conquered the whole world. This ancient city serves as a time machine because every street relates a unique story of an era long lost.

It would be a travesty to come to Italy and not visit Roma. Everyone comes to Roma with a destination fixed in their minds; some approach the city with innocence and fascination after watching “Roman Holiday”, while others commensurate the present scenario amidst the majesty and gore of the gladiator period. In an attempt to preserve the magnificence of centuries of development and craftsmanship, industrialisation never crossed the other side of the river. This action policy ensures that tourists get to imagine a Roma that Julius Caesar had witnessed and developed.

Vatican City

The ease with which one can simply walk into Vatican City, a separate country and the global centre of the Papacy, is extremely amusing. Thousands of tourists gather to enter the Sistine Chapel, which houses some of the most exclusive paintings and sculptures ever created.

Halls with frescoes lead to the most exquisite exhibition of art—the Raphael Rooms. Walls of several adjacent rooms have embraced the smooth caress of Raphael’s brush. Intricate details galore, the paintings depict several stories and incidents of the Papal Church in the Vatican. Multiple staircases lead to a contemporary gallery—which exhibits a popular painting by Salvador Dali. These works of art seem to be right at the pinnacle of artistic beauty until one walks into the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling of the Chapel, designed by the evergreen Michelangelo, is meant to leave you awestruck, at least for a few minutes.

Conclude the Vatican journey by visiting the Basilica.  If lucky, you might get to see a congregation of marching bands from several provinces of Eastern Europe passing through the central passageway of the church. The diversity of colourful uniforms and musical instruments, associated with great discipline, leaves a lasting impression in everyone’s minds.

 The Pantheon

I would strongly recommend travelling in and around Roma on foot, mainly because of the manner in which architectural marvels are scattered throughout the city. In the most unbecoming of locations, one can find the Fontana di Trevi, an intricate fountain adorned by sculptures. One of the popular Roman traditions involves tourists throwing coins into the fountain to ensure their eventual return to the city of Rome.

Down the road lies the famous Pantheon. It has a Grecian facade with Corinthian pillars at the entrance. Mounted on a temporary scaffolding, the Pantheon dome, with an oculus atop, serves as the perfect source of light. Raphael is buried here under one of his most famous paintings. The galleries are filled with paintings and sculptures, providing valuable insight into the intertwining of Greek and Roman forms of art.

The Colosseum

Beaten by nature and men for many years,
“ nothing beside remains” today.
It is now “ that colossal wreck” that is visited and admired by thousands—not due to its current form,
But for what the stone walls and benches represent.

One can still hear the ring of the gladiators’ swords that echo through the walls of the Colosseum. It is visited and admired by thousands—not due to its current form, but for what the stone walls and benches represent. Tourists walk around the Colosseum, while learning more about the structure and ancient Roman lifestyles, courtesy the information boards and excavation sites.

The Roman Forum is located right across the street. Surrounded by the Colosseum, the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, and the Vittoriano, the Forum features the ruins of the Empire. This area is the excavated heart of ancient Roman public life and one can imagine Julius Caesar living (and eventually being assassinated) amidst these ruins.

Italy is like an empty book, and its empty pages are waiting to be scribbled upon by memories of all the tourists that visit it. Despite a language barrier that made me miss some landmarks, despite walking right past them, the rolling hills, the endless meadows and the Gelato shops beside the greatest monuments on earth are bound to satiate the wanderlust within you.

 

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