Not only is the Uffizi Gallery museum Florence’s most significant museum, it is also its most popular. Work on the Uffizi Palace, brainchild of Giorgio Vasari, began in 1560 under orders from Cosimo de’ Medici. Although the original purpose of the building was a central location for offices of administration, a number of rooms on the third floor were used to store the Medicis’ most prized artworks. These were added to over time by other members of the clan. 200 years later, in 1737, Anna Maria Luisa, the last of the Medicis, left the masterpieces and the palace itself to Florence in her will.
The 15th century building that houses the Museum of San Marco is a tourist attraction in itself; let alone what is inside. It originally was a Dominican convent, and later was completely renovated and extended for Cosimo the Elder de’ Medici. As a result it is completely intact, giving the visitor an insight into the layout of a convent from this period in time and what life must have been like within the walls. The cloister, as well as the bright library, together make this one of the best preserved Renaissance interiors.
A unique feature on Venice’s cultural landscape are the scuole. These originated in the 1200s as places for wealthy people without much social standing to socialise and mix with others of a similar social status. By the 1400s, Venice had six scuole grandi and up to 400 minor scuole. The scuole grandi were frequented in the main by professionals with many financial resources; the scuole piccole were frequented mainly by religious groups, foreigners who wanted to connect with their own ethnicity and trade guilds. Many of the scuoles that were frequented by people with money were highly decorated by their patrons; in some cases a well regarded artist would be commissioned to paint an entire building (for example, Carpaccio at San Giorgio degli Schiavoni and Tintoretto at San Rocco). Hence nowadays, these buildings are regarded as works of art in their own right, therefore serving a dual historic and artistic role. Anyone with an interest in art history should walk around these fascinating buildings.
Just to the east of campo Santo Stefano, you will find Campiello Pisani. The imposing Palazzo Pisani music conservatory dominates campiello Pisani, and was the scene of the shoot-out at the end of Casino Royale, the James Bond film premiered in 2006. The Torre dell’Orologio was the scene of a fight scene in an earlier James Bond film. Fans of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now should check out the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, which featured in the film, as well as Palazzo Grimani, where the grisly concluding scene was shot.
The squares of Rome are what many visitors associate with the city. In essence, they are a part of what gives the modern capital city its character. The inhabitants of Rome use the Piazzas as meet up points, entertainment, general socialising, parties and festivals or the daily ‘happy hour’. Situated on Capitol Hill, Piazza del Campidoglio is where the Government sits. Meanwhile, Piazza Venezia is considered the heart of Rome, while Piazza Navona is famous for its magnificent Baroque buildings, and Piazza di Spagna is known for being the home of the Spanish Steps. Those visiting St Peter’s Basilica first pass through St Peter’s Square. In all, the Piazzas tell the story of Rome that spans over a millennia of history.
Over 200 chapels and 19 basilicas are encircled by the ancient Aurelian Walls. The most notable of the basilicas are St Peter’s, the biggest on earth; St John in Lateran, the world’s oldest church, where the bishop used to live; and Santa Maria Maggiore. A number of the chapels date from early Christianity, when they originated as centres of protection for believers who were escaping persecution. These religious refugees met in buildings which were termed domus ecclesiae. As the years wore on, churches grew up around these buildings which were over the centuries altered, renovated or in some cases completely rebuilt.