Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy

Michelangelo’s David is considered by many as the greatest artwork ever made.

Its creator, Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), was pretty great too. Not only was he a sculptor, but also a painter (think, Sistine Chapel), architect (dome of St Peter’s Basilica), and even penned a few poems in his time.

Nearly a century prior to the creation of the David by Michelangelo, the Overseers of Florence’s Cathedral decided to commission a dozen sculptures representing Old Testament figures. Joshua was made by Donatello in 1410 and Hercules by Agostino di Duccio in 1463, both in terracotta. The following year, Agostino was given the go-ahead to make another statue, this time of David, to be carved in marble that was transported in from the famous Tuscan Carrara area.

Agostino made a start on the figure, however for some reason the project was abandoned, before being taken up again by Rossellino a decade later. However, even he did not complete the David statue and some 25 years passed before the Florentine powers that be decided to complete the statue so as not to waste the valuable marble.

In 1501, Michelangelo – at just 26 years of age – was commissioned to complete the statue of David. It took two years for him to complete the impressive figure of David. Towards its completion, it was decided to abandon the initial idea of placing the statue atop the Cathedral of Florence – not least because it weighed some 6 tons.

It was eventually decided to place Michelangelo’s David in front of Florence’s Town Hall building, Palazzo Vecchio, in the Piazza della Signora.

There it stood, exposed to the elements, from 1504 until 1873. At this time, the local government decided to move it to a specially-constructed room in the Accademia Gallery, Florence, where it stands to this day.

A replica was eventually placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in 1910.

Being quite a small exhibition space, the Accademia museum in Florence can be (and usually is) fairly crowded and entry queues quite long. Tickets cost approximately 11 euro each. Advance bookings (with an additional 4 euro) are highly recommended, either directly through the Firenze Musei or by booking our David – Accademia Tour.

What else is there to see in the Accademia besides the David? The Accademia also holds several other incomplete statues by Michelangelo, a cast of the Rape of the Sabine Woman by Giambologna, a small collection of Renaissance and Florentine Gothic paintings and a unique collection of Russian religious icons.

So how much time do you need to spend in the Accademia? Except the time you want to spend hanging out with ol’ Dave, you don’t really need much more than a half-hour or so.

Don’t forget to make use of the restrooms within the Accademia, as bathrooms can be hard to find in the Renaissance city.

We’re happy to share with you some photos of David that we took on a winter’s day when the museum was delightfully uncrowded.

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Fun times in Venice, Italy: Carnevale di Venezia

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Carnevale di Venezia is one of Venice, Italy’s most spectacular events.

Now held annually, the tradition of the Carnival of Venice dates back to 1162, when the Venice locals held massive celebrations after a victory in battle. In the Renaissance times, the anniversary of this military success grew into the Carnevale di Venezia.

Today, Carnevale in Venice concludes on the first day of the Christian Lent, acting as a big hoorah before six weeks of prayer and penance.

As if Venice itself doesn’t hold enough beauty and mystique, the Venice Carnival sees the locals don elaborate and ornate masks and fancy costumes to match, mostly harking back to the rich styles of the Renaissance.

During good times, this adornment of masks and costumes allowed locals to let themselves go, celebrating with anonymity that meant you were free to act without problems of social repercussions. During periods of hardship however, the festivities allowed the locals to forget their woes and be happy, if just for a short period.

From the start of the 1700s, the Carnival in Venice also helped put the city on the world map, bringing great fame and esteem to Venice.

However, in 1797, the ruling King of Austria banned Carnevale and the wearing of masks altogether. Despite several attempts to bring back the famous festival in Venice, it was only officially reinstated in 1979 as a governmental attempt to bring back cultural and historical traditions in Venice, Italy.

Today, around 3 million people flock to Venice during Carnevale.

One of our wonderful Venice tour guides took these photos around Venice during the Carnevale di Venezia to share with you!

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Tuscany, Italy: Snow White

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Taking a drive in the Pistoia province in Tuscany, on the way to the small town of Abetone.

Less than 700 people call Abetone home, although they have a lot more company during the winter when many skiers flock to the area to take advantage of the snowy slopes.

The history of Abetone dates back to the 1730s when a large fir tree (an ‘abetone’) was cut down to allow for the building of a customs point for between Tuscany and Modena.

Today, it’s a lovely place to go for a white weekend away for those who like to ski, or just relax by the fireplace.

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Artisans: tips for traditional items in Italy

Best shopping in Italy

Artisans in Italy turning their trade since Medieval times.

Travelling to Italy and planning to do some shopping? Looking for something special and traditional? You may want to turn your eye to the Italian artisans, or “artigiani”.

The tradition of handmade in Italy stretches back a long way throughout history, and thankfully holds strong to this day. Throughout time, artisans have been admired as highly-skilled workers, whilst Master artisans rather were those who owned their own business and held a higher status in society.

If you are looking to buy handmade items in Italy, many artisan wares are sold direct from the workshops or in specialty stores, often family-run through the generations. The skills for producing these specialty items were usually passed down by fathers and grandfathers, as is still often the case to this day.

So strong was the tradition of handcrafted goods that in Medieval times, the workers formed specialty guilds which remained until well into the 1700s.

Each region and even each town has their own range of specialty items to buy in Italy.

One highly prestigious artisan item from Venice Italy is glass from the Island of Murano. Indeed, the master glassblowers were even forbidden from leaving  Murano to stop their trade secrets from spreading. Venice’s Burano Island is well-known for its hand-woven lace. Venice is of course also famous for its handmade Carnivale masks, some of which are decorated with another signature artisan item from Venice – marbled paper.

From Sorrento come beautiful ceramics, often decorated with designs featuring the local lemons that go into making the Limoncello sweet liquor that is also famous from this Italian coastal village. Another artisan craft from Sorrento is the stunning inlaid wood items.

Florence‘s artisans produce gold and silver jewellery, wools and fabrics and leather items – all of which have rendered Florence a famous fashion hub!

In the Tuscany surrounds, you can find artisan ceramic and terracotta items with traditional shapes and designs. Then of course there is the fantastic foodie finds around Tuscany including cured meats, cheeses and wines.

In Naples, head to Via San Gregorio Armeno where you will find store after stores selling figurines for nativity scenes. The same skills have also been applied to renderings of non-Christmas statuettes of well-known figures in history and popular culture.

In Florence from 24th April-3rd May, 2015 Florence is hosting the 79th edition of the Mostra Internazionale dell’Artigianato – The International Handicrafts Trade Fair.

 

Watch our complete Top Travel Tips for Trips to Italy series! Be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.

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6th January: Epiphany in Italy

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If you thought January diets were hard to stick to, spare a thought for the Italians.

6th January marks the date of the Epiphany, a much-celebrated feast day in Italy.

Yep, that means Italians are all geared up for yet another great festive meal together.

Families gather for the Epiphany to celebrate the date on which it is said Jesus was discovered to be the son of God.

Throughout the night, children can expect a visit from La Befana.

La Befana

She may not be much to look at, but she is much loved in Italy. Flying from house to house on a broom, she  leaves a small gift for well-behaved children and a lump of coal for the naughty ones.

Where Santa Clause may be left  milk and biscuits/cookies, La Befana is left a left a glass of wine. And as a thank you, she even sweeps the floor for you on the way out.

On the 6th January around Italy, expect much fanfare to celebrate this special feast day.

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In Florence, there is the “Cavalcata dei Magi”, the procession of the Three Wise Men that crosses through the city.

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In Rome, there is also a historical parade from St Peter’s Square featuring the Three Wise Men. Events for families will also be held in Piazza Navona throughout the day. Other events are being held around the city, including a lights show in Piazza del Popolo and family activities at the Rome Zoo.

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6th January officially marks the end of the festive season.

But to stave off any end-of-holiday blues, there is some good news. The big after-Christmas sales start on the 7th January!

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Delicious Italian Christmas Recipes

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Planning a great (and easy) Christmas meal?

Italians have a great traditional festive menu that allows for much advance preparation so everyone can enjoy the most family time together during the Christmas lunch and dinner meals.

A traditional Italian Christmas feast will begin with some simple starters like crostini, a simple platter of  ham and cheeses or perhaps even Pinzimonio to whet the appetite.

The first course will likely be a pasta dish that can be prepared ahead of time then reheated on the day. Commonly served is Tortellini in Brodo (Tortellini pasta in Broth) and a baked dish such as Lasagna. Don’t be surprised if there are even two first course dishes served!

Then comes the main. This again will usually be something that can be prepared ahead of time, such as roast meat served with baked potatoes and vegetables.

On the menu at Christmas in Tuscany, it is common to have Bollito Misto – mixed meats that are boiled then served with a range of homemade sauces. A vegetable side will also be prepared, possibly the delicious Tuscan  pea recipe.

Dessert will likely be Panettone, Panforte or Pandoro. It is also common for mandarins or other fresh fruit to be placed on the table for guests to enjoy as a palate cleanser either before or after dessert.

To conclude the meal, a liqueur such as limoncello or grappa will be placed on the table to enjoy with an espresso coffee.

And after this delicious Christmas lunch menu?

It’s traditional to go for a lovely walk though the local town or village to visit the Presepi (nativity scenes) around town. Many locals will be about doing the same thing so it also offers a great opportunity to wish Buon Natale to the fellow locals!

***

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Italy’s sweet Christmas treat: Panettone

Panetone: great Italian Christmas recipe

Panettone: a great Italian Christmas recipe

For foodies like us, the first sign of Christmas approaching in Italy is seeing the bakeries stocking fresh-made Panettone*.

Panettone is light and fluffy, meaning that a slice of this traditional Italian Christmas recipe may be as big as both your hands cupped together.

Translating to something like ‘Big Bread’, it’s a kind of a bread that is kind of big, and filled with candied fruits and spices so it’s also kind of sweet.

But not too sweet.

So you can certainly eat it for breakfast, for afternoon tea or even as a simple and yum Italian dessert.

The posh Italian dessert version would see it served with Zabaione – a kind of Italian custard – or with whipped cream or even drizzled with hot chocolate sauce.

Italians love giving food gifts for Christmas and it’s totally not weird – is it? – to be given a whole cheese wheel and some jam (home-made, obviously) as a gift, or extra virgin olive oil (ditto), or a Panettone together with a bottle of Spumante sparkling wine.

Panettone traditionally hailed from Milan, where it began as a sweet bready treat by the poorer folk.

Alternatives to Panettone are the Pandoro (from Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet) or Panforte from the Tuscan town of Siena. that is much more like an English-style fruit cake.

The last of the Panettone (or Pandoro) is usually served as the dessert on New Year’s Eve.

Learn more about local food on our Italian Food Tour in Florence.

Prepare delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal with our hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

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Friends in Florence

Botticelli Room at the Uffizi Gallery to be restored, with Friends of Florence as benefactor

The Botticelli Room at the Uffizi Gallery to be restored between 2014-2016, with Friends of Florence as benefactor

According to UNESCO, Italy is home to more than half of the world’s most important artworks, and around half of those are in Florence alone.

Some of them, being centuries old, are in desperate need of restoration.

For the past 16 years, the Friends of Florence organisation has been dedicated to identifying important works in need of some TLC, arranging funding and overseeing the restoration and preservation of the works together with Florence’s Fine Arts Department.

There are two current artworks of invaluable cultural and artistic value for which they are seeking funding to restore and protect them for future generations.

The first is in the Cloister of the Vows in the Church of the Santissima Annunziata – one of the city’s great treasures – where restoration is underway on frescos by Florence master artist Andrea del Sarto, as well as Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, and others. However, to complete the restoration, an additional $255,000 is needed.

Another restoration project is the  Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Fresco of the Last Supper in the Badia a Passignano. Located in the Chianti area just a short distance from Florence, it has been closed to the public for many years awaiting restoration. Friends of Florence  are seeking $150,000 for the completion of this work so it may be reopened to the public.

Even if you don’t have a cool hundred thou’ to drop, you can make equally-as-welcomed partial contributions. Every dollar helps.

Friends of Florence also organises a host of events, lectures and other programmes outlined on the Friends of Florence website, where you can also make contributions to the restoration efforts.

We rather can help you see Florence’s greatest artworks in The Uffizi Gallery, housing what is arguably one of the finest collections of Renaissance art, and Michelangelo’s breathtaking David!

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Florence in December: top special events

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December is a wonderful time of year to be visiting the beautiful Italian city of Florence. Throughout the period leading up to Christmas and New Year, Florence boasts an exciting selection of special activities and events to keep the whole family entertained whilst getting all into the festive spirit.

If you are currently planning your visit, you could book your accommodation in Florence on the Venere website. With this in mind, here is our guide to some of Florence’s magical festive events.

The “Gran Concerto di Fine Anno”
Each New Year’s Eve Florence’s celebrated Piazza della Signoria comes to life through the hosting of a fabulous concert. This open-air party features world-class musicians performing beautiful and suggestive arias from some of Italy’s favourite operas.

The Chiostro Grande in Santa Maria Novella
This December the fabulous Chiostro Grande is set to welcome visitors from all around the world during a number of exciting and festive extraordinary openings. The stunning architecture is sure to impress alongside the complex’s many frescoes.

Musei da Favola
This charming children’s museum is offering children of all ages the chance to creatively explore Florence’s artistic and archaeological wonders on the 7th of December. Be sure to book online beforehand to avoid disappointment.

La Traviata
This December Florence’s Auditorium del Duomo will play host to two phenomenal performances of Verdi’s La Traviata on the 6th and the 29th of the month. Tickets to see this romantic tragedy vary in price and can be purchased online.

 “Concerto di Natale del Maggio
Florence’s renowned opera house boasts an annual unforgettable Christmas concert held on the 23rd of December. The concert programme includes a vast number of talented artists including the opera house’s very own orchestra and talented sopranos.

The Fierucolina Christmas Fair
This Florentine association will be holding an unmissable festive fair on the 21st of December in piazza della Santissima Annunziata. Visitors we have the opportunity to sample an array of delicious regional produce in a warm and welcoming ambience whilst joining in with the Christmas celebrations.

There is so much to see and do in Florence during the festive period that you and your loved ones will no doubt be spoilt for choice during your winter break. It’s precisely for this reason that we advise planning your itinerary beforehand to ensure that you make the most out of your sensational Florentine vacation.

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Florence’s 1st Cultural Kickstarter Campaign Kicks Off

Pazzi Chapel Loggia in Florence, Italy

Pazzi Chapel Loggia in Florence, Italy

A new international crowdfunding campaign is being launched to restore the historic loggia of the Pazzi Chapel in Florence, Italy. It is the first time such an endeavour has been undertaken for a restauration in Florence, being led by the Opera di Santa Croce.

Located within the cloister of the Santa Croce Basilica in Piazza Santa Croce, The Pazzi Chapel is considered a true masterpiece of the Renaissance.

The main use of the Pazzi Chapel was as a chapterhouse to hold meetings and seminars, even if the underlining intention of most such endeavours was to increase the esteem of the financial sponsor. This was particularly so with the Pazzi family being fierce rivals of the Medici family.

The chapel dates back to the 1440s when the head of the Pazzi family, Andrea, undertook construction of a design by famed Florentine architect, Filippo Brunelleschi (he of the great dome of Florence’s cathedral).

By the time it was completed around two decades later, Brunelleschi was no longer around to see the finished architectural masterpiece. It is believed that building was completed by Michelozzo and Giuliano da Maiano, who are likely to have also come up with the addition of the loggia that runs across the front of the Pazzi Capel.

Its barrel-vaulted form features a central dome that has been adorned with rosettes. The loggia was constructed in such a way as to provide continuity for the pre-existing cloister structures on either side of the chapel.

The crowdfunding campaign #CrazyForPazzi is being launched on Monday, 17th November 2014 with the support of The Florentine, the great English-language newspaper in Florence.

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