Tag Archives: photography

An Ode to Florence: The Ponte Vecchio

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

The Ponte Vecchio (literally “Old Bridge” in English) doesn’t figure too much into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence (Simonetta sees it and mentions it in passing once or twice), but as it’s one of the most famous landmarks of Florence, I had to include it in my blog series!

The Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno River, and is lined with shops on both sides. Starting in the 13th century, the shops on the bridge were of all sorts: butchers, fishmongers, tanners, etc. Many years later, however, it was decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have shops on the bridge, to both show off the wealth and fine goods of the city and also eliminate the foul odors and waste that the butchers and tanners and such generated from such a well-traveled walkway. To this day, the shops on the bridge consist of fine jewelry stores and it is always a fairly crowded tourist attraction.

Running above all the shops is the Vasari Corridor. Built in 1565, this “secret” passage that connects the Pitti Palace – home of the Medici grand dukes – with the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall. This way the Medici could get to their offices without having to walk among the common people.

The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence that was not destroyed by the Nazis as they retreated from the city in August of 1944. The rest of the city’s bridges were blown up and later rebuilt in their original spots after the war.

The Ponte Vecchio at night, viewed from one of the nearby bridges, makes an excellent sight as you’re enjoying a post-dinner gelato 🙂


An Ode to Florence: Santa Maria del Fiore, aka the Duomo

Similar to my An Ode to Venice series, in my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

 

Easily Florence’s most well-known and recognizable landmark is its cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers) or, as it is more commonly known, the Duomo. Despite what you may think, Duomo does not mean “dome” in Italian, but rather “cathedral”.

Construction began on the Duomo in 1296, and by 1380 the building was mostly complete, save for its massive and distinctive dome – for years there was simply a giant hole in the ceiling. Then, in 1420, architect Filippo Brunelleschi came along and was able to design and begin construction on the dome. It was completed in 1436. Even after its completion, many Florentines believed that something so massive simply could not stand and were constantly expecting the dome to collapse.

 

In The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Simonetta attends Mass in the Duomo and marvels at the great and terrifying fresco on the inside of the dome, a depiction of the end of days:

 

As she grows accustomed to her life in Florence, she also learns to navigate in the city by the great dome: something that visitors today, myself included, still do, as the dome is visible from almost anywhere in the city.

Today, not only can you go into the Duomo itself, but you can also climb the stairs to the top of the dome. At 400+ stairs (no elevator) and some pretty tight stairways, it’s not for everyone, but you get a wonderful up-close look at that fresco on the way up, and once you get to the top the view of Florence is unparalleled.


An Ode to Venice: Santa Maria della Salute

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my fourth An Ode to Venice post, I’ll be talking about one of Venice’s many landmarks, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.

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I mentioned the Salute in my post about the Grand Canal and the Accademia Bridge – it is the massive, domed church that sits at the entrance to the Grand Canal. For as large and imposing as its Baroque exterior is, though, inside it is surprisingly small and simple.

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The church’s name translates to St. Mary of Health, and was built in thanksgiving for the majority of Venice’s population being spared from a bout of plague in the 1630s. It was designed by the architect Baldassare Longhena, and was completed in 1687.

In The Violinist of Venice, Adriana comes here to pray and clear her head after something upsetting happens (I won’t give anything more away than that). It is a place of solace for her, as before her mother died she would bring Adriana to the basilica to pray. She is accompanied by Giuseppe, her servant and friend, and they have a conversation and brief argument.

This same scene originally took place in Piazza San Marco, where Adriana and Giuseppe take a turn about the square, and but I had to change the location upon learning about Venice’s tides and acqua alta, and realizing that at that time of the day in December (which is when that scene takes place) Piazza San Marco would be completely flooded. So I moved the scene into Santa Maria della Salute, which I had visited while in Venice and thought was so beautiful that I had to work it into the book somewhere. It was also fitting that Adriana would want to pray and reflect at that point in the story, so it was the perfect location.

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An Ode to Venice: Piazza San Marco

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my third An Ode to Venice post – which I know has been a long time coming! – I’ll be talking about what is arguably the center of Venice, Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square.

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One of Venice’s most recognizable and famous landmarks, Piazza San Marco was called at one time “the most elegant drawing room in Europe”. In many ways the center of public life in Venice, this largest public square in the city was where people congregated to meet one another, to do business, and for civic and religious holidays, among other things. The picture above was taken from the balcony of the Basilica di San Marco, which dominates the square, along with its campanile or bell tower.

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Just to the right of the Basilica one can see a corner of the massive Doge’s Palace, the home of Venice’s elected duke as well as the seat of Venice’s government: the palace, which faces the lagoon, also houses the chambers where meetings of the Grand Council, the Senate, and the mysterious Council of Ten took place in Venice’s heyday as an oligarchic republic.

During the seasonal flooding – caused by tides – that Venetians call acqua alta (literally “high water”), the square can be under several feet of water – including the floor of the Basilica and other nearby buildings. The acqua alta typically occurs most often in the winter, though it can happen at other times of the year as well based on the weather. The first time I went to Venice (in mid-May), there had been a big thunderstorm with heavy rain the day before, and the square had flooded. By the time I got there, there were still some big puddles, but nothing extreme.

Today the Piazza San Marco is perhaps Venice’s most densely populated tourist site. Just as it was once where native Venetians would congregate, today it is something of “home base” for tourists, as it contains many of the city’s biggest attractions. There are vendors selling souvenirs every few feet, and cafes rings the piazza’s edges, including the famous Caffe Florian, one of the world’s oldest caffes. In its day it was a hangout for the likes of Giacomo Casanova, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens. The coffee and food is ridiculously expensive, but it’s worth the experience, in my opinion.

How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: Piazza San Marco is where Adriana and Vivaldi go for Carnevale entertainments in chapter 25, and indeed the square was host to numerous festivities during Venice’s annual Carnevale, when the populace went about in masks for months at a time, parties happened in every house and on every corner, and all sorts of scandalous and debauched behavior occurred. Later in the novel Adriana returns there with her friends for Carnevale again, at a very different time in her life.

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An Ode to Venice: The Rialto Bridge

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my second An Ode to Venice post, I am highlighting one of the landmarks of the city, the Rialto bridge.

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The Rialto Bridge (or Ponte di Rialto) is the oldest of the bridges that span the Grand Canal. Today it is usually mobbed with tourists walking across it, posing for pictures on it, and taking pictures of the view of the Grand Canal from the bridge (and it is a pretty nice view):

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Two rows of shops run up the center of the bridge, mostly souvenir and glass shops.

The Rialto area is one of the oldest sections in Venice, and was the site of the original food market, which necessitated the building of the first bridge on the site, a wooden one built in 1255. As Venice grew as a mercantile power, the Rialto district became the center of commerce and trade in the city as well. The current stone bridge was designed by Antonio da Ponte and was completed in 1591.

Like much of Venice’s magnificent – and old – architecture, maintenance and restoration is conducted on the Rialto bridge. On my visit there this past May, half of it was covered in scaffolding as such maintenance took place. It’s a bummer not to be able to fully see such a wonderful structure – and I was especially disappointed for my father, who had never been to Venice before and was seeing it that way for the first time – but of course, whatever has to be done to preserve such wonderful pieces of our history should be done where possible, in my opinion!

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How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: During the time that the novel takes place, the Rialto was the only bridge that crossed the Grand Canal, thus my characters would have been using it a lot. The bridge and the surrounding economic/market district are mentioned a few times throughout the book. And the first time I visited it, as I walked across it I was vividly aware of the fact that Antonio Vivaldi would have walked just where I was walking. It was a very cool feeling.