Visiting the Lucca Cathedral was one of the highlights of the time that we spent touring the city of Lucca in Italy. One of the most fascinating things about the cathedral is the different colors of the bell tower due to the different materials that were used in its construction. The base of the tower is made of quartz stone, while the top floors are made of white limestone, making for an interesting contrast. Another interesting feature of the cathedral are the three arches that are part of the entrance. One of the arches is smaller than the other two due to the fact that the bell tower existed at the time of the construction and the architects reduced the size of the third arch to accommodate the tower.
Construction began on the Lucca Cathedral in 1063, but there were many changes over the years, including Gothic features that were added in the 14th century. There is some very interesting artwork and reliefs within the church, but one of the most important objects within the cathedral is the Holy Face of Lucca, also known as the Sacred Countenance. It is a wood crucifix with the image of Christ that was carved in the 1st century and is the most precious relic in Lucca. Another interesting feature within the Lucca Cathedral is the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, which is considered to be a masterpiece.
Another interesting feature of the Lucca Cathedral are the columns on the façade that are of varying styles. Legend has it that the city commissioned three different artists to design the columns for the cathedral. When the artists presented their work, the town’s people apparently decided to use the columns from all three without paying them for their work. In addition to the columns of the façade, the marble entranceway is quite stunning with more unique columns and detailed reliefs above the doors.
Lucca Cathedral is definitely one of the most prominent buildings in the city of Lucca. With its unique coloring, beautiful artwork, and interesting design, it is different than most of cathedrals that we visited in Europe. Lucca itself is a wonderful walled city with medieval architecture and is worth at least visiting when in Tuscany. In addition to the Lucca Cathedral, there is also the Torre Guinigi, which is a tower with trees on the roof that provides wonderful views of the city.
Located about halfway between the Pantheon and the Colosseum, the Atare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), which is also known as the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II, can be seen from throughout the neighboring streets. It is a huge, marble building that also has the tomb of the unknown soldier, the army museum, and a panoramic viewing platform. There is also the busy Piazza Venezia located across from the building as well as the Santa Maria di Loreto church. What certainly stands out are the different statues, including the two of the goddess Victoria riding on a chariot being pulled by four horses known as a quadrigas.
After the death of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy, in 1878, the government approved construction of the monument. It was built on the northern side of Rome’s Capital Hill and construction began in 1885. It stands out due to its grand size, bright white marble, and tall columns on its façade. As you walk up the stairs to where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located, which is below a statue of the goddess Roma, the views of the city start to become impressive. In addition to the tomb with its uniformed guards, there is also the eternal flame located there as well. The statue of Victor Emmanuel II on horseback is certainly a dominating feature.
To enjoy even more amazing views of Rome’s skyline, take the lift to the rooftop that was added in 2007. From the rooftop, the unique buildings and architecture of this historic city spread out all around you. You can also see the Colosseum and the Roman Forum from the rooftop viewing platform, which is almost more impressive than seeing it from the ground below. The views of the city are probably the highlight of the monument, but the army museum is interesting as well. From the stairs or the rooftop, the beautiful Piazza Venezia with its busy roundabout stretches out before you and there are many restaurants in the area. We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant that had seats on an outdoor balcony that was directly across from the monument building.
From what we’ve read, there are some mixed feelings for locals regarding the Altare dell Patria, some of national pride and others feeling that it is a little too ostentatious. Either way, since it is centrally located and has the rooftop viewing platform, it is certainly a location that should be part of your walking tour of Rome. We visited on our second day and found it an easy walk from the Pantheon through Rome’s winding streets.
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with a rich history that includes architecture, art, and politics. There are so many wonderful sights to see when spending time in Florence, but if you have limited time in the city there are a few things that should certainly be on your itinerary. We would certainly recommend spending at least 3 days in Florence if at all possible as there so much to see and do. Depending on the time of year that you visit, you can expect plenty of crowds in Florence, so going during the off-season is advisable. Here are our top things to do in what we would consider to be the order of priority depending on the amount of time that you have to spend in Florence.
The Duomo – Officially the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo dominates the city skyline. There is the cathedral itself, with the largest brick dome in the world as well as the bell tower and the baptistry. Although you could consider each of these as separate places to see, we have grouped them together as a single highlight when visiting Florence.
Piazzale Michelangelo – There are many reasons to make the effort to visit the square with the bronze replica of the Statue of David, but the main reason is the incredible views of the city. You will find many vendors selling food and trinkets and it is a wonderful spot to just sit and enjoy the beauty of Florence. There is also a restaurant located near the square, which was a great place to enjoy a wonderful glass of wine after the somewhat strenuous walk up to the top of the mount.
Galleria dell’Accademia – The Accademia Gallery is best known for having the Statue of David on display, but obviously there is a lot of other famous artwork on display. With seven different halls to wander and enjoy the incredible artwork, you should give yourself at least four hours when visiting the museum.
Piazza della Signoria – The plaza is an open-air museum that was built in the 1400’s and has a variety of statues on display. Two of the more famous statues are the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna as well as Cellini’s Perseus. Considering it is free, it should definitely be one of the places that you make time to see.
Ponte Vecchio – This medieval bridge is certainly a highlight of any visit to Florence. Today it is filled with vendors selling a variety of local products, but it was originally the location of the butchers in the city. Like many other locations in Florence, expect plenty of crowds in the area and be careful of pickpockets taking advantage of tourists on the crowded streets.
Uffizi Gallery – With many great works of art from artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Machiavelli, it is certainly one of the most famous museums in the world. After all of the members of the Medici family had died out, a deal was made to donate all of the artwork to Florence and it is now housed in the Uffizi Gallery. Just like the Gallery Accademia, be prepared to spend at least several hours seeing all of the amazing works of art.
Local Restaurants – Obviously you need to eat and there are so many wonderful restaurants to choose from. There are probably few locations in the world that bring to mind the food of the region as much as Tuscany where Florence is located. We would certainly recommend eating at one of the restaurants that can be found along the Arno River as the scenery is quite beautiful, especially at night.
Needless to say, there are more sights to see than these, but we would recommend that you put all of these locations on your itinerary when visiting Florence. With so many beautiful sights, seemingly around every corner, just walking the streets of Florence is a magical experience. If you have enough time, taking a day trip to Lucca and to the Leaning Tower of Pisa is definitely a worthwhile experience.