In 2011 I was fortunate enough to travel to Italy as part of a trip organised by my School of Architecture at Unitec and given Italy’s immense architectural history, it was only poignant to visit during our studies. It was lead by our Head of School Tony van Raat who had visited a dozen times giving us an extremely well thought-out itinerary and guide to the country’s architectural masterpieces.
The Pantheon, built 113–125 AD is by far my favourite building in Rome and Italy. A former Roman Temple, now Church is to this day (after 2000 years), it is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns with a rectangular vestibule linking the porch to the rotunda. The concrete dome houses an opening to the sky (43m high, which is the same diameter as the rotonda; therefore encapsulating a sphere inside). I remember entering the rotonda and being mesmerized by the ray of light penetrating the space via the opening in the ceiling - a feeling that can only be described as spiritual and out of this world.
St Peter’s Basilica, designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, it is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. The grandeur of the basilica is truly breathtaking.
Our journey from Rome to Florence was via bus which enabled us to stop through beautiful Tuscan towns. Our first stop was Montepulciano, a beautiful medieval hilltop town overlooking rolling green hills and vineyards. There’s something magical about medieval towns and walking around it’s narrow streets with small apertures out towards the landscape beyond was amazing. The houses also had small balconies with flowers with local Italians going about their day lives, far attached from the bustling, modern 20th Century.
Siena, one of my favourite cities and a place you can immediately fall in love with. Again, this medieval town sits on the hilltops of Tuscany but in it’s heart is Piazza de Campo - the principal public space and historic centre of Siena. It is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares with Palazzo Pubblico, Torre del Mangia and surrounding palazzi signorili curved in the shell shaped piazza.
Uniquely, the piazza is shell shaped, divided into 10 wedges by 9 divisions which converse at a drain in front of the Palazzo Pubblico. The number of divisions is held to be symbolic of the rule of The Nine (Noveschi) who laid out the campo and governed Siena at the height of its mediaeval splendour between 1292-1355. From the piazza, eleven narrow shaded streets radiate into the city.
Once again the narrow streets are rich of history and as you wander aimlessly, you find yourself descending into the Campo which opens up into a vast beautiful piazza. One of our best memories was buying half a dozen vinos and pizzas, sitting on the piazza’s tile floor and watching the sun go down, drinking into the evening.
We left Siena and made our way to Florence, the Renaissance heart of Italy. Our trip involved some work with the University of Florence and also due to scheduling, we had to take our exams here! Due to this we had 16 days in Florence and at first we thought this would be too long, but it turned out to be one of our greatest stays. In 2011 there was no AirBnB but there were numerous other websites so we managed to book an apartment in the heart of San Lorenzo for the stay - with the Duomo right outside our window! By the end of our stay we felt like locals; shopping at the local supermarket and walking the streets in the evenings to find the next gelato.
When people ask, “what was your favourite part of the trip”, our group of friends collectively respond with Florence. It may not be as beautiful as Venice but there is a certain charm about the city with the grand Duomo di Firenze at it’s heart. Perhaps it was the fact we stayed for more than 2 weeks and allowed us to ‘live’ like a local. Either way these experiences along with the beautiful Renaissance history made it of my most memorable parts of the trip.
Venice does not need an introduction. One of the most beautiful cities in the world, it truly mesmerizes you as you step out of Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia (Venice’s Central Terminus). I recall stepping out of our train, rolling our luggage out on to the steps and being immersed with the colourful facades lining the Grand Canal with hundreds of boats bustling through.
You can’t drive in Venice so your only means of transport is either boat or walking. As we had our luggage and needed to get to the other side of Venice, we caught a water taxi and caught a ride. I don’t think words can describe this place. Merely walking the narrow streets, crossing the small bridges and canals makes it feel like no other place on earth.