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Archive for the ‘Gardens of Italy’ Category

It is difficult to imagine a more spectacular surprise on the outskirts of Naples, amidst the “architettura fascista” of the cities notoriously ugly preferia (suburbs), than the Reggia (Royal Palace) of Caserta.

Facade Reggia di Caserta

Facade
Reggia di Caserta

Though Charles VII initiated construction on the palace, he was never to spend one night in the structure. In 1759 he abdicated to become the King of Spain. It was left to Charles’s third son, Ferdinand IV of Naples, to bring the palace to its near completion. Vanvitelli’s original plan included two large colonnades, never realized, comparable in size to Bernini’s monumental installation surrounding St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

Following Luigi Vanvitelli’s death in 1773, his son Carlo assumed responsibility for the project. It was during the sons’ oversight that a garden of over 300 acres was designed and installed. The water garden extends nearly one half mile where, in 1780, an English Garden was designed and installed by Johann Graefer, a German born, English trained landscape architect. The garden design is also complimented by a floral garden on the east side of the palace.

The design and scale of the beautiful and complex water features and garden have been compared to those of Peter the Great’s palace, Peterhof, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

 Visits to the palace offer a number of tour itineraries and options. Visit the web site (see IF YOU GO below) for further details. The most important rooms in the palace are the King’s Theater, modeled after the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Throne Room, Staircase of Honor and Palatine Chapel. The most impressive exterior view of the Palace and estate is from a high point in the gardens.

View Gardens Reggia di Caserta

View
Gardens Reggia di Caserta

Visitors can easily reach the main entrance at the Palace using the regional train system from Napoli Centrale to Caserta. The grand approach to the palace is directly across the Sottovia Carlo Vanvitelli from Caserta’s station.

 Stunning. Breathtaking. Unbelievable. These are words that somehow inadequately describe this palace of unforgettable beauty. If you are planning a trip to Naples and the Amalfi Coast, I highly recommend at least a half-day visit to the Reggia di Caserta and gardens.

 IF YOU GO:

Train service from Napoli Centrale begins very early during the week (5:09AM) and trains run approximately every forty minutes. The trip takes approximately fifty minutes each way. For further schedule details refer to: www.virail.com or www.trenitalia.it.

Reggia di Caserta

Web: Reggia di Caserta

Entrance to both Palace and Gardens: Euro 10.80 per person

Palace Open:

8:30 to 7:30PM daily

(Closed Tuesdays, January 1, Easter Monday, May 1 and 25 December)

 Garden Park:

 Open daily 8:30AM

Closings: January, February, November and December at 3:30PM, March at 4:00PM, April at 5:00PM, May at 5:30PM, June – August at 6:00PM, September at 6:30PM, October at 5:30PM

 

Map  Reggia di Caserta

Map
Reggia di Caserta

 

 

 

 

 

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The Hills of Tuscany

 

We are very pleased to announce a substantial reduction in the price for photography workshop participants. After renegotiating with vendors in Italy, and with Private Italy’s Italian support team, we are now offering this exceptional workshop for $2950.00 per person, land only. This is a nearly $1000.00 per participant reduction from our prior announced price and in no way affects the quality or itinerary of the workshop.

If you book before January 31, 2013, there is an additional $100.00 per person discount applied to the workshop price.

JOIN US!

There are few words on earth that evoke a sense of place more than “Tuscany.”

Visions of villas gold flecked in long afternoon light, hillsides of patterned olive trees, vines bearing luscious Sangiovese grape and hilltop villages whose towers pierce cerulean blue skies are all yours to capture during this photography workshop.

Our first few days are spent within, or close to, the Renaissance city of Florence. The workshop venues balance the well-known with some surprising corners of a city whose narrow lanes and quiet corners offer keen insights into Italy’s elusive beauty.

During the second part of this workshop, we move to a quiet retreat in the hills of central Tuscany. Villas, medieval abbeys, the pattern of cobble-stoned streets and the glory of Italy’s elusive, special luminance await your discerning and creative vision.

Classic Italia – Florence

This is a limited opportunity to join a group of like-minded, passionate, photographers who will learn from world-renowned photographer and teacher, David Simchock. With time for expert critique both during and after days of work ‘in the field’, this workshop will inspire you and expand your creative comfort zone. The texture of earth, the subtle play of light on stucco and stone, luxuriant gardens and the natural palette of one of the most beautiful places on earth are waiting for you.

For full details about this rewarding workshop, including our itinerary and pricing, visit 2013 Photography Workshop in Florence & Tuscany

We look forward to your joining us in bella Italia!

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Firenze at Sunset

Firenze at Sunset

From the high piazza above the city, where a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David keeps a constant vigil over the cradle of the Renaissance, the city seems to contain few green spaces, where visitors and residents can escape the narrow, crowded and ancient streets. Look more closely and you will find shade and beauty throughout the city on the Arno.

This post provides observations and details about many, though not all, of the wonderful gardens that exist above and in the city of Florence. Whether you are a gardener or not, these lovely green spaces offer a break for those visiting the city as well as for those who call Florence ‘home’.

NeptuneIsolotto Boboli Florence

Neptune
Isolotto Boboli Florence

BOBOLI GARDENS:

If there is a ‘queen’ of Italianate gardens in the city, this is it. These gardens were established by Elenora di Toledo, wife of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de’ Medici. Vasari (of “Lives of the Artists” and other Renaissance works of art) advised Barotolomeo Ammanati on the layout of the gardens. It was to the talents of Bernardo Buontalenti that the responsibilities for the sculpture and grotto were given.

Over eleven acres of garden now occupy the hill directly behind the enormous Palazzo Pitti, the home of all Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries, improvements were made, grottos designed and small intimate and intentionally designed forests and plantings (Boscetto) were installed.

Today, visitors can wander freely, either after visiting the Pitti Palaces, home today to no less than seven separate museums (Palatine Gallery, Royal Apartments, Carriages, Costume, Porcelain, Modern Art and Silver). If you wish to only visit the gardens, there are two entrances, one off of the Piazza Pitti in front of the palace along the Via Guiciardini or along the Via Roma where a small side entrance near the Limonaia allows visitors to forgo the crowds at the Pitti and just enjoy the gardens.

florence_bobili_9

Igor Migoraj
Tindaro screpolato

Strolling through the shaded lanes and sunlit avenues of this garden is a step back in time, to a gracious and more staid experience. It is easy to imagine courtiers and the ladies-in-waiting as they made their way to private corners, secretly plotted the next move of a politician or sought intimate privacy.

Near the highest point in the garden, you can follow signs to a recently restored garden that graces a hillside above the Arno at the Giardino Bardini. More on that later. Today, visitors come upon an astounding sculpture by Igor Mitoraj entitled “Tyndareus Broken”. The presence of so modern a sculpture in the midst of the garden would see an anachronism, yet (leave it to the wonderful Italians) it fits right in; the eyes of a Trojan King, tied to the mythologies of Greece, watching over all.

On weekends, Florentines flock to the large green spaces for respite from the city, enjoy picnics, doze in the sun, or stroll through the gardens. This is one garden not to be missed. See “IF YOU GO/BOBOLI GARDENS” below for more details about visiting this unforgettable place of peace and tranquility.

CASCINE GARDENS

It is difficult for me to realize how wild, literally, was this long stretch along the Arno River. Under Cosimo I de’ Medici, First Grand Duke of Tuscany, the garden was expanded to nearly its present form, nearly ten acres. The wide and lovely Stradone del Re, which parallels the main road on the norther side of the river, offers pleasant long walks on any day of the year. The park has become a venue for many other events, including a race track, yet the area nearest the city center retains a calm and serene air.

Stradone del ReGirdini Cascine Florence

Stradone del Re
Giardini Cascine, Florence

See “IF YOU GO/CASCINE FLORENCE” below for more details.

IRIS GARDENS

Spring in Tuscany, and above Florence the Iris,in the garden where more types of Iris than in any other place in the world, bloom. This is an easy visit, no charge. between late April and late May each year, the garden is open at no charge to the public. The entrance is just a bit below the level of Piazza Michelangelo above the city (famous for the view of the city and the bronze copy of the David by Michelangelo). If you are find yourself in the city during this time of year, go. It is an unforgettable experience, with views over the city and frramed by luxuriant Iris in full bloom.

See “IF YOU GO, IRIS GARDEN” below for further details, hours and dates.

BARDINI GARDENS

It was only a few years ago that the Bardini Gardens were a bit of an eyesore above the Arno in central Florence. If you were to look up along the hillsides of the Oltrarno from the Ponte all Grazie, one bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio, you would have seen an overrun jumble, unkempt and abandoned.

No more.

After  intervention by the Minister of Cultural Heritage, and a careful and loving five-year restoration, the gardens once again reflect the Bardini family’s intention that there be a place of beauty on over 4 hectares (app.nine acres) of gardens. Fountains, statues, and a lovely wisteria covered graveled alleyway combine to provide a gorgeous overlook of the city. The view from above the villa is one of the very best in Florence.

Wisteria WalkwayBardini Gardens

Wisteria Walkway
Bardini Gardens

See “IF YOU GO/BARDINI GARDENS” below for further details about tickets and best ways to view this garden.

VILLA LA PIETRA GARDENS

Please note: These gardens are fabulous, private and require booking for tours. Please seen “IF YOU GO: VILLA LA PIETRA” below for directions to the villa, details about booking tours and entrance tickets.

Villa La Pietra

Villa La Pietra

This was a time of the grand tour, of an expanding Anglo-American community when Harold Acton and his wife procured the Villa La Pietra. For the next twenty-two years, the couple laid out and established what is one of the most gorgeous gardens in Tuscany. The Acton’s Will gave the property and garden the New York University who use it to this day as an extension campus for student and faculty.

The Acton Collection, which is displayed throughout the villa, contains over 7000 pieces of art, silver and other precious finds that the family

A Garden CornerLa Pietra Florence

A Garden Corner
La Pietra Florence

began acquiring upon their settlement in their villa.

There are few gardens and villas in all of Italy that can match the perfection of La Pietra. While not in the city center, the 1.8 mile taxi ride from the city center or the #25 ATAF Bus from Piazza San Marco, are more than well worth the effort!

Parco Demidoff Florence

Piazza Demidoff

PIAZZA DEMIDOFF

And now, for a couple of the less known green corners of Florence. There are many, yet these are my favorite two places that often go unnoticed by visitors.

Along the wide expanse of the Arno River, and directly off of the Lungarno (along the river) Serristori, which ends at the Ponte all Grazie is the Piazza Demidoff. The prize of this small garden is the statue of Count Nicholas Demidoff, Tsar Nicholas I’s ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The Palazzo Serristori, directly behind the statue in the Piazza Demidoff, was, at that time, the residence of the ambassador.

Following the sudden death of Nicholas, in 1828, the history of the monument’s completion became a long and rather tragic tale. The sons of Nicholas, Paul and Anatole, commissioned the work after their father’s death. Lorenzo Bartolini, a student of Canova, received the commission. Paul Demidoff died suddenly in 1840 before the statue was completed. Bartolini died in 1850, with the monument left unfinished. It languished until 1871 when a student of Bartolini, Romanelli finally completed the statue.

The site selected for the work was a small green garden located between the Arno river and the Palazzo Serristori, where it remains to this day.

This one of my favorite places to take enjoy a break. There are rarely more than a few people on the benches and, if you take a seat close to the Palazzo Serristori, you can enjoy the beauty of the monument and the park.

Open all year, free.

PIAZZA DELLA LIBERTÀ

Porta San Gallo, one of the many ancient city gates of the city, was located on the north side of the city. Today the large field that existed near that entrance to the city is the Piazza della Libertà. When the Dukes of Lorraine assumed control of the province of Tuscany, they erected a huge ‘Triumphal Arch” to celebrate their ascension to power.

Triumphal ArchPiazza della Libertà

Triumphal Arch
Piazza della Libertà

When the city of Florence took on the mammoth task of creating a wide circular road (Viali di Circumvallazione) around the ancient city center, they chose this location as the northernmost point on that wide boulevard.  It has not always been called the Piazza della Libertà. Through various periods it has been called Piazza Camillo Cavour, Piazza Costanzo Ciano, Piazza Muti. In 1945, following the  end of World War II, the piazza was permanently named Piazza della Libertà or Liberty square.

The large square is often filled with locals who enjoy the opportunity to lounge on the grass, stroll with their families or simply make their way across one of the busiest road interchanges in the city.

Open all year, free.

GIARDINO DEI SEMPLICI

Located close by the Accademia (home of the David) and Piazza San Marco, this small garden offers yet another respite from the noise and traffic of the city. Founded in 1595 by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (his wife, Elenora, began the installation of the Boboli Garden), the space was initially used for research into medicinal herbs. It is a small space, enticing visitors to enter and enjoy yet another quiet and historical garden in the city center.

See “IF YOU GO/GIARDINO DEI SEMPLICI” below for opening hours and entrance ticket details.

PALAZZO CORSINI GARDENS

These gardens are always a pleasant surprise, even after visiting several times. Located within the walls of the gorgeous Palazzo Corsini, the gardens offer peace and quiet in the midst of the city.

Giardini Corsini Florence

It was in 1591 that Alessandro Acciaioli, a botanist, purchased land along the Arno River. He commissioned Bernardo Buontalenti to design a huge family palazzo on a parcel of that land. Financial problems caused the Acciaioli to sell the property to Filippo di Lorenzo Corsini. In 1834, after many years as a summer residence for that family, it became the permanent home of Neri Corsini di Laiatico and his wife Eleonora Rinuccini. The family continue to care for the villa to this day.

There is a small lake, a limonaia (where lemons are stored in the winter months) and a small boschetto (forest grove) that provides welcome shade during intense summer heat.

See “IF YOU GO/PALAZZO CORSINI GARDENS” below for opening hours and entrance ticket details.

—–IF YOU GO:

Boboli Gardens

Entrance Ticket: Euro 7.00 per person

HOURS
Daily:
8.15 – 16.30 (November February)
8.15 – 17.30 (March)
8.15 – 18.30 (April, May, September and October)
8.15 – 17.30 (in the month of October when Daylight Saving Time ends)
8.15 – 19.30 (June August)

Entry is permitted up to an hour before closing time.

Closed on the 1st and the last Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas Day.

The Grotta Buontalenti is open for accompanied visits, depending on the opening hours of the Gardens:
11.00, 13.00, 15.00 all year round;
11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.00 from March to September;
11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.00, 17.00 from April to September.

Cascine Gardens, Florence

Open twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year

Please note that, after dark, these gardens are not the venue to explore.

Iris Garden

Open 25 April to 20 May

Hours: 10AM to 12:30PM and 3:00PM to 7:00PM

Entrance Tickets:  Free

Bardini Gardens, Florence

You can enter the Bardini Gardens by following the well posted signs at the highest area of the Boboli Gardens or you can enter the gardens from the street level below  Via dei Bardi, 1. The climb up is not for the faint of hear. It is much easier to access this garden from the entrance/high point near the Boboli before descending the city.

Costa San Giorgio, 2 – 50125 Florence.
Tel 055 20066206

Entrance Ticket: Euro 8.00 per person

Opening hours:
8:15 to 16:30 (during the months of November, December, January, February)
8.15 – 17.30 (in March)
8:15 to 18:30 (during the months of April, May, September, October)
8:15 to 19:30 (during the months of June, July, August)

Closed on the first and last Monday of each month, 1 January, 1 May and 25 December

Villa La Pietra Gardens

e-mail: villa.lapietra@nyu.edu
tel. +39-055-5007.210
fax. +39-055-5007.333

DIRECTIONS: http://www.nyu.edu/global/lapietra/visitor.information/directions.html

Tours are offered on Friday afternoons (Villa and Garden) and Tuesdays mornings (Garden only).

Le visite guidate vengono organizzate il Venerdì pomeriggio (Villa e Giardino) e Martedì mattina (solo Giardino).

Open Weeks

Villa La Pietra is open to the public for free two weeks each year during our Open Weeks. Open Week tours include an introduction to the art collection of the Acton family and the history of the Villa. The tour continues in the formal Garden, laid out in the beginning of the twentieth century in the Renaissance Revival style. Open Weeks occur on the third week of April and October. Bookings are taken beginning one month before each Open Week.

Palazzo Corsini Gardens

Via Il Prato, 58

Open from 9AM to Sunset. Closed Sunday and Holidays

Tel: 055.281.994

Giradino dei Semplici (Orto Botanico)

Entrace: Euro 6.00 per person

Via Micheli, 3

Open (16 October – 31 March)

Saturday, Sunday and Monday 10AM – 7PM

Open 1 April – 15 October

Closed Wednesdays

All other days 10AM – 7PM

Festival days, closed: 1 January, Easter, 1 May, 15 August and 25 December

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I came to Riomaggiore late in my Italian travel life. It was in 2001 during an extended residency in Florence to write my first book, Tuscan Echoes A Season in Italy, that I took a three day/night trip to the Cinque Terre.

When I stepped off the train from La Spezia and walked through the town to the sea, the beauty of this area of Italy completely overwhelmed me. Fishing boats rested on cobble stoned streets, narrow lanes enticed with their cooling shadows, and always there murmured the sound of the persistent sea as it encountered the breakwater of the harbor. From my room in a small, centrally located, B&B below for If You Go), I enjoyed easy access to the streets of the village as well as the trails that crisscross the hillsides above.

Inhabitants of Riomaggiore can be traced to the 8th Century AD. Those early settlers from a nearby valley discovered the rich volcanic soil in the hills along the coast and the abundant fishing. Vineyards were planted and families created lives from the sea’s bounty. Over the centuries, the political feuds that embroiled most of Italy also brought change to Riomaggiore and the coastal villages. Genoa, Milan and Pisa all vied for control of these easily defensible hills.

What brings visitors today is the ineffable beauty of the place. In 1999, the Italian Government designated the five lands, the Cinque Terre, a National Park (Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre). With the goal of protecting both the sea and land along this stretch of coastline. The parks’ designation also protects the area from further development.

What I most enjoy when visiting this area of Italy is the narrow lanes of the town. When strolling along the Via Antonio Gramsci as it precipitously descends to the sea, or along the Via San Giacomo on the harbor, I gain a sense of uncluttered and unchanged time. There is a special spirit and a special group of locals who make the Cinque Terre a place where unforgettable memories are created.

The Via Dell’Amore

The “Street of Love”. What more appropriate name could this stretch of the pathway between Riomaggiore and Monterosso have? Relatively flat and easy to walk, this is the most traveled section of the hiking trails that connect all five of the fishing villages along the Cinque Terre. From sculptures that portray vision of love to the padlocks of lovers who close their personalized lock on a fishing net then fling the key into the sea, this is a beautiful section of the coast.

Via Dell’Amore along the Cinque Terre

If you are on the coast during the summer months, expect this particular section of the hiking trail to be very crowded. Also, make sure you purchase a Cinque Terre Card, your paid access ticket to the hiking paths of the Cinque Terre. See “If You Go” below for most details.

IF YOU GO:

This area of Italy has become very crowded during the summer months. Standing room only on the trains, packed restaurants especially during lunch, full hotels and hoards of tourists are the norm, June – mid-September. If you plan to visit and wish to enjoy a more peaceful time, I recommend visiting from late April to late May and from early to late October. The weather during these ‘off-seasons’ can be a bit unpredictable, the lack of crowds make it worth the effort.

Trains:

You can purchase a Cinque Terre Train pass at numerous locations in each village as well as in the train station of La Spezia. The cost of the weekday card is Euro 5.00 and the weekend card is Euro 12.00. If you purchase the Cinque Terre Train pass you can use that ticket for access ONLY to the Blue Trail, #2.

Hiking:

The entire section of coastline in crisscrossed with many hiking trails, varying in difficulty from beginner to extreme. Maps of these various trails, and information regarding access to them, are available in train station and tourist information sites throughout the area.

For a great place to start exploring options related to hiking in the area, visit: Hiking Cinque Terre

You can purchase a Cinque Terre Basic Ticket at numerous locations in each village as well as at train station. While this card does not include use of the trains that travel along the coast, you still have access to the Blue Trail, #2 as well as other services along the coast.

For either of these tickets, begin at:

Cinqueterre.com

Hotels Riomaggiore

As is true with all of the villages along the coast, you are strongly encouraged to book your hotel rooms(s) well in advance of your travel dates. If you visiting during late October – late March, then you will find accommodations available for ‘last minute’ arrivals. Regardless, reserve in advance and you will have one less worry for your trip.

La Scogliera

Salita Castello, 174 Riomaggiore 19017 (SP) Italy

+39 3346194505

This hotel prefers that requests be sent via email to: la_scogliera@alice.it

Luna di Marzo

Via Montello 387, Volastra Riomaggiore  19017 Riomaggiore, Italy

+39 0187 920530

Affittacamere Edi 

Via Colombo, 111  19017 Riomaggiore Province of La Spezia, Italy

+39 0187 920325

Restaurants Riomaggiore

During high season, you should reserve for dinner in most places in Riomaggiore. The restaurants are, in general, very small and fill quickly for the evening meal.

Trattoria “Via dell’Amore” di Rosa Rafaella

19017 Riomaggiore (SP) – Piazza Rio Finale, 8

Tel: +39.0187.920.860

web: http://www.trovalaspezia.info/trattoriaviadellamore.htm

Il Grottino

Via Colombo  Riomaggiore, Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.920.938

Cappun Magru in Casa di Marin

Via Volastra 1, RIOMAGGIORE 19017

Tel: +39.0187.920.563

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Cinque Terre Sunset from the High Road

As sunset settles upon the Cinque Terre, the sky becomes a curtain of gold, the sea an undulating sapphire veil.

This is a place of poetry.

Visually stunning, breathtaking in its scope, musical in its winds, poetic to the soul. Cinque Terre, the Five Lands, have long captured the imaginations of artists and travelers alike.

In his poem about a Sunday morning in a village along the coast, Edoardo Firpo captures all that is magical about the coast and villages in his Cinque Terre.

The slope rises rapidly
in the shadow of the houses;
amid the eaves and gutters
appears a limpid sky…

The mule clambers up the hill
in the tinkle of harness bells;
two or three jingling together
make a slow melody
but one with a lower tone
gives a ring every now and then.

The hens scamper down and peck
at pebbles along the ground.

Today is Sunday, and
all of the women stand
before their half-open doors,
all dressed in black because
of vespers still to come.

Withered by years and sun
they chat softly now and then,
saying things already said upon those ancient steps.

Sometimes there comes the hum
from behind the quiet houses
of the young ones in the sun.

Today’s the first day of autumn
and the heat of summer lingers;
the grapes are still on the vine
and not one cloud in the sky.

And I who am passing by
pause on the height, all alone,
in the midst of the sunny vines
close by the silvery veins
that warble as they run down
to lose themselves in the sea.

Edoardo Firpo – Cinque Terre

Along this stretch of Ligurian coastline (the Cinque Terre is within the political boundaries of the Province of Liguria) is a photographers and romantics playground. From the early morning mists that wrap the cliffs above the sea, to the long rays of sunset that shimmer the surface of the sea, the views are ever changing, the memories imparted unforgettable.

In my next five posts, I will focus on each of the villages that encompass the Cinque Terre with information about hotels and restaurants, along with recommendations for a day’s visit in each.

The area now known as the Five Lands encompass a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1998 and 1999, the Italian Government passed legislation to protect the natural environment and to further encourage ecological balance in the water and on the land.

Hiking trails, in all manner of upkeep, crisscross the land. From paved walkways suspended above the sea to rough steep gravel pathways, there is something for everyone who wishes to experience fresh air and views above and along the coast.

IF YOU GO:

Most visitors arrive by train. Between Genoa and Pisa, and easily reached from Florence, this is truly the preferred way to arrive. For those with cars, you might consider parking at the lot at the train station in La Spezia and taking the train from there. Driving into the villages is impossible for some of them. Monterosso al Mare, on the northern end of the Cinque Terre is the most easily reached by car, and that proves difficult with very narrow roads and precipitous drops to the sea. Parking can also be a challenge even in Monterosso, often requiring a good 1/4 mile descent (and ascent!) to walk from the garage or road side parking to the village.

Train passes for travel between all five villages are available at the train station in La Spezia, and in each village’s train station. Here are prices and information about the passes. For most current information, visit: Cinque Terre Train Passes

  • One day, adults: 10 euro
  • Two day, adults: 19 euro
  • Children under 12: 6 euro
  • Over age 70: 8 euro
  • Family Card (2 adults and 2 under 12): 26 euro

For those of you not familiar with ticket validation, you will need to locate a yellow box in the station before you leave, place the ticket in the slot and print a validation stamp on your ticket. Failure to do so will result, if you are asked to produce a non-validated ticket, of a fine from the conductor.

For summer excursions along the coast, click on this link: Gulf of Poets Cinque Terre

Hotels:

This is one of the most popular places to visit in Italy. If you arrive with no hotel reservation, you will probably discover how busy it is! I recommend reserving at least sixty days in advance of your visit. It is always possible to find last-minute accommodations in one of the villages, yet it is always best to book early.

In the next five posts on our blog, I include details about hotels and B&B’s in each of the five villages along the coast.

Hiking Map:

Map, Cinque Terre

This map provides general orientation to the Cinque Terre. For those interested in hiking the trails in the park, or along the coast, maps and detailed information are available at hotels, train stations and at Tourist Information offices in each village. Please note that you should wear very comfortable walking shoes or boots if you intend to attempt any of the trails and walkways in the area.

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Arno River and City of Pisa

If you read the previous post about the Charterhouse of Pisa, you can follow the easy directions in this post to locate the parking area at the Campo dei Miracoli near the Leaning Tower.

On To Pisa!

For those of us who have driven the confusing streets of Pisa, finding a simple way to the parking area near the Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Miracles where the Duomo, Baptistery and Campinele (Bell Tower – the “Leaning Tower”) are located, is often a mind-boggling challenge.

From the Charterhouse of Pisa, you simply retrace your drive back to the intersection of the main road you came on from Lucca. When you reach the intersection with the SS-12, turn left on Via Statale Abetone (SS-12) toward Pisa. Typical to roads and streets in Italy, the SS-12 changes names as you approach the center of Pisa. You will drive on the Via Statale Abetone, the Via Lucchese, the Via Brennero and the Via Contessa Matilda and all are the same road!

Parking Area, Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa

As you enter Pisa, proper, you will  drive along a tall brick wall on your left and, when you come to a traffic circle, look for signs pointing to a parking area (“P”) and the Campo dei Miracoli/ Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower). Follow those signs and you will find the parking area entrance about 100 meters from the traffic circle on your right.

Plan on leaving your car there for the day. This parking area does not permit overnight parking, so be sure to check the open/close times before leaving for the sights of the city. (NOTE: This parking area is open from 6:30AM to 11:30PM daily. Cost is Euro 2.00 per hour, or portion of an hour. Push the button on the entrance gate kiosk. You will receive a round green token. KEEP IT WITH YOU. Before leaving the parking are, you must present that token for payment.)

The Campo dei Miracoli

What more needs be said about the most famous engineering failure in the world? They got it wrong and the world comes to see the bell tower as it leans precipitously over the Museum of the Works of the Duomo. Tickets to enter and climb the Leaning Tower are only available on the day you visit and are strictly controlled. For those of you who suffer from vertigo, keep in mind that there are few handrails, particularly out on the various colonnaded levels of the structure…and its a long way down.

Duomo Pisa, Western Facade

If you have at least two hours to spare, especially during the summer months, you may be able to purchase tickets to visit the tower.

The Duomo of Pisa (1063 -1360) is a huge, gloriously carved, building. The western facade is covered with marble carved statues and busts, the interior an awe inspiring and cavernous space. With Giovanni Pisano’s restored pulpit (1302 – 1311) as a centerpiece of the nave, black and white stripped columns and huge altar, this is a place sure to impress.

My best recommendation while at the Campo is the enter the Bapistery, find a place to sit and wait. Every twenty minutes, or so, the guard of the Baptistery will call “Silenzio” (Silence), close the entrance door and will stand at the base of the Baptismal font. He will begin to sing various notes and the echoes of the Baptistery create their famous magic. I will say no more, other than to go and experience.

Marco’s Recommended Top Nine Things to See in Pisa

1. Museo delle Sinopie and the Camposanto

Museo della Sinopie, Pisa

During WWII, a bomb hit the Campo Santo, the cemetery located on the grounds of Campo dei Miracoli. As roof lead melted from the ensuing fire,  all but a few of the Renaissance frescoes that once covered the interior walls of the cemetery were destroyed. In a few rooms of the cloister are a few restored frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli, one of the most famous Renaissance fresco painters. Viewing them gives visitors an idea of what was lost as a result of the bombing.

Sinope, a red paint, was used to outline the design by the master or one of this apprentices before a fresco was

Frescoes, Camposanto, Pisa

painted. Much like a ‘cartoon,’ these designs were all that was left of most of the frescoes after the fire. The museum offers a unique and unusual opportunity to view these ‘remains’ of what was an incredible collection of invaluable Renaissance art. It is rarely crowded.

I’ve also included with this number One on the list, the Camposanto (“Holy Field” – Cemetery) of the Campo dei Miracoli. As mentioned, the Camposanto was badly damaged during the war. A few of the frescoes were salvaged after the fire, and these can be viewed in rooms of the Camposanto. Even a brief visit to these rooms will give you an idea of the beauty that once covered the walls of the cemetery.

2. Walk from the Campo dei Miracoli to the Orto Botanico

It is a surprising fact that of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Pisa each year, few

Orto Botanico, Pisa

even know that a University even exists in the city. The walk from the leaning tower into the heart of the University and beyond is an easy and fascinating opportunity to learn more about this surprising and historic city.

The Via Santa Maria heads south away from the Duomo and Leaning Tower. You will find the start of the Via Santa Maria just past the store called Barsanti G et Fighli and almost across the street from the Museo del Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Duomo). Head down the Via Santa Maria and turn right in front of the church of San Giorgio ai Tedeschi. Follow the signs to the Botanical Gardens.

In 1544, Cosimo di Medici funded the first ever Botanical Garden in Europe for the University of Pisa. Though the garden has been moved twice since its founding, it now offers a much larger planted space and is a delightful alternative to the paved streets of the city. Entrance is free. See “If You Go” below for further details.

As you exit the Botanical Gardens, continue straight ahead on to the Via dei Mille. This short street ends at the Piazza dei Cavalieri, one of the most beautiful squares in Pisa.

3. Piazza Dei Cavalieri (with three more of the “Nine Top Things to see in Pisa”)

The piazza was once the hub of commercial and political activity in the city. Built on the remains of the ancient Roman Forum, it is a huge space – second in size to the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele on the south side of the Arno River-and offers stunning views of three incredible and historical structures.

Palazzo della Caranova, Pisa

4. Palazzo della Carovana

The large Palazzo (Palace) that fronts the square is famous for its etched exterior walls, referred to as ‘graffiti’. Designed by Georgio Vasari, a famous Renaissance architect, the building was established by Cosimo di Medici (Florence) as the home of the Knights of St Stephen, a religious and military order. The Palace is also called the “Palazzo della Carovana,” which translates to the Palace of the Convoy. Initiates into the order endured a three year training period that was called “The Convoy,” hence the name.

The palace is now home to the Scuola Normale Superiore, the school attended by the most academically gifted students preparing for university studies.

5. Palazzo dell’Orologio

Palazzo dell’Orologio, Pisa

Also facing the square is the Palazzo dell’Orologio. This beautiful building was constructed between 1605 and 1608 by combining two towers.

A clock (orologio) was built in the structure that connects the two towers. The combined buildings were used to house the aged members of the Knights of St. Stephen. There are stories, some included in Dante’s Inferno, about terrible events that befell Count Ugolino della Gherardesco during that family’s imprisonment in 1289. Absent those stories, it is a lovely building.

You can read of the Gherardesco history in the 33rd Canto of Dante’s Inferno.

6. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

On yet another part of the Piazza is the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The church was constructed as the place of worship, the home church, of the Knights of St. Stephen. Construction took place between April of 1565 and December 21 of 1569, the date of the church’s consecration.

When you leave the piazza, follow the Via Frediano Curatone toward the Arno River.

You will pass directly in front of a main building of the University of Pisa.

7.University of Pisa

Ponte Solferino Pisa

Founded in the middle of the 14th Century (most scholars agree that 1343 was the founding date) the University is one of the oldest in both Italy and Europe. Despite turmoil during the Renaissance, the university has survived and thrived, now listed as the best university in Italy. The unique architectural style of the buildings, and the ease of taking time on the campus to explore, gives visitors a fascinating perspective on this historic and famous educational institution.

As you continue along the Via Frediano Curatone, you will come to the Arno River. This wide and muddy river cuts through the center of the city,

eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea at Marina di Pisa.

Turn right and walk along the river. The bridge you see up ahead is the one you use to cross the Arno-the Ponte Solferino. The bridge was damaged beyond repair during the floods of November 1966.  Construction started again in 1969 giving the bridge its present form.

8. Santa Maria della Spina – The Gothic Jewel

As you cross the Arno river, look to your left and you will one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Europe, Santa Maria della Spina. It was constructed in 1230 and is named for a thorn (Spina) that is believed to have crowned the head of Christ at the crucifixion. To protect the building from further water damage, it was moved, stone by stone, in 1871 to its present location. The church’s exterior is far more ornate than the starkly beautiful interior. This church is often missed by visitors and I highly recommend a visit.

9. Arcades of Central Pisa:

Arched promenades in Italy are relatively rare. Much like those of Bologna, the covered

arcades and walkways of Pisa provide protection from both summer sun and winter rains. Along both sides of the Via Francesco Crispi, the street you will enter on the south side of the Arno, are numerous shops and galleries offering everything from housewares to fine art. This is the main shopping area of Pisa and is a delight to experience, regardless of the time of year. Cafes and restaurants abound as well so this is a great place to find an outdoor table and enjoy Pisan life.

Here are a few additional places I love to visit when in Pisa.

Piazza Vittorio Emanuele

As you approach the end of the Via Frediano Crispi, you arrive at the largest piazza in Pisa, named for King Victor Emmanuele II, first King of a united Italy. Very close to this piazza are three places worth visiting.

Church of Sant’Antonio

Founded in the early 13th Century, the building suffered major damage during World War II. In 1952, the church was reopened for services.

Church of San Domenico

This small and unassuming building was built in 1395 and was once the church for a convent of Domenican nuns. The structure was nearly destroyed during World War II bombings. Currently used by the Knights of Malta,  the restored building was finally reopened to visitors in 1998.

Domus Mazziniana

Domus Mazziniana

The Nathan-Roselli home houses the Center for Mazzinian Studies. Giuseppe Mazzini was a hero of the unification of Italy. There are several rooms that house memorabilia of his life and times. A huge library with over 25,000 volumes is available to those doing research on the Italian

Renaissance. Again, a little-known and often overlooked corner of Italy.

A recent restoration of the house included the Young Italy Oath, which Mazzini wrote, inscribed over the facade of the building. The oath was written as a means of uniting the youth of Italy at the time of unification. You can read the entire text at this link-

Oath of Young Italy

The photo shows the current appearance of the house.

Leaning Tower and Duomo, Pisa

IF YOU GO:

First, keep in mind that a number of the widest and loveliest streets in Pisa are now pedestrian only. This makes driving in the city nearly impossible, particularly in light of the many (MANY) cameras which photograph violators of the city’s control  vehicles entering the historic center. Residents, service and public vehicles are issued a reader – and rental cards do not have them.

It is a much better idea to park at either the Campo dei Miracoli, at the parking areas near the train station or at the airport, then take a taxi or bus into the city. You need not  risk the Euro 120.00 per violation ticket in Pisa. Rental car companies sometimes take up to eighteen months to track down violators, and they do catch up with you!

Walking Map of Central Pisa

MAP

1. Museo delle Sinopie

Museo del Sinopie, Campo dei Miracoli

Tickets:

Tickets for the structures and museums in the Campo Dei Miracloi are combined as follows – prices are indicated at the end of each grouping.
1 monument among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 5,00 euro
2 monuments among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 6,00 euro

4 monuments among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 8,50 euro

Walk on the walls: 1,50 euro

Opening hours
:
January, February, November, December: 9:00-16:30
March, October: 9:00-17:30
April, May, June, July, August, September: 8:00-19:30
Closed on January 1th and on Christmas Day

For further informations:
Ph: +39 050560547

2. Botanical Gardens of the University of Pisa

Open weekday mornings

Entrance free

3. Piazza dei Cavalieri

(no web resources needed)

4. Palazzo della Carovana

Sculoa Normale Superiore

5. Palazzo dell’Orologio

Palazzo dell’Orologio Information

6. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

Chiesa di Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri Pisa

7. University of Pisa

Information about the University and its history

8. Santa Maria dell Spina

Lungarno Gambacorti, I-56100 Pisa, Italy

Hours:
March 1 to October 31: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-6pm; Sun: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7pm; Sat: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7pm; Closed: Mon
November 1 to February 29: 10am-2pm; Closed: Mon
Domus Mazziniana

Campo dei Mircoli-Pisa

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Rooftops of Lucca

Let’s see . . . it was in 2004 that I was walking in front of Sant’Alessandro Maggiore in central Lucca with Alessandro Tombelli, a friend from Florence. He saw one of his acquaintances, Wanda Martinelli, standing with a group of tourists. She was able to wave and speak briefly before moving on with her group.

For the past eight years, our small group tours with Private Italy Tours have visited Lucca and Wanda has always been our constant companion during those visits. A Lucchese by birth, she is passionate about her city and shares an incredible level of knowledge during the day that we spend with her. She has become a dear friend.

It has been in the course of those years, visiting Lucca with and without clients, that I have come to deeply love and respect the history of this incredible walled city. There are so many places to visit and sights to see. This post shares some history as well as impressions of my favorite places within a beautiful, and rightly famous, Tuscan city.

From Roman occupation to Silk-A Brief Overview

It is relatively easy to imagine the most important moments in Lucca’s long history by walking inside the city walls. In 177 B.C. a Roman colony was established along the banks of the Auserculus (Orzieri) river. As with all Roman colonies, there were four gates that permitted access to the city along the two main roads.

It was during the 2nd Century A.D. that a large amphitheater was built just outside the northeast gate of the city. By the end of the 2nd Century, there were over 10,000 inhabitants in the area. The main commerce routes of the city were connected to the Via Cassia (linking Rome and Florence) as well as other roads that lead to the sea (west) or to Bologna (north).

Lucca Street View

It was when the silk trade was established with the Far East that Lucca became enormously wealthy. Numerous families used their fortunes to create incredible country estates in the hills outside the city. (see A Day Near Lucca for further details and information about the villas and gardens.)

From the time of the Romans, through the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, Lucca has retained the words that represent the spirit of the city: Libertas (Liberty).  The city has never been militarily nor politically subdued until the unification of Italy in the latter part of the 19th Century.

Inside the walls – The Conservative Lucchesi

Ostentatious displays of wealth, with the exception of Lucca’s churches, were forbidden at the time that the growth of the silk trade made the city extremely wealthy.  When you visit the city you will notice that the exterior of the largest family palaces is, architecturally, conservative while still showing, by size alone, the importance of the owners.

The list of these incredible city villas reflects the names of the wealthiest families: Mansi, Pfanner, Micheletti, Bernardini, Diodati-Orsetti to name but a few. The Palazzo Ducale, now the seat of the Lucca Provincial government, was once the private home of Elisa Baiocchi. Who was Elisa? She was Napoleon’s younger sister. In 1805, and already titled the Princess of Piombino, she was given the Republic of Lucca to govern.

Enormously unpopular among the residents of the city, she tore down blocks of buildings in what is now the Piazza Napoleone so that she could enjoy ‘views’ from her palace.

As you stroll the streets of the city, the sheer number of these huge villas cannot fail to impress upon you the incredible power, and financial resources, of Lucca.

Churches, Churches, Churches

Lucca was once referred to as the “City of One Hundred Churches”. Today, the number has dwindled, yet the style, grace and beauty still impress.

Sunset, San Michele in Foro, Lucca

San Michele in Foro

One of the most beautiful churches in the city is San Michele in Foro, built on the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum that once stood at the intersection of the two main streets of the colony. A façade of four levels, with forty-eight individually designed and carved columns surmount the main entrance of the church. High atop the façade, two angles flank a nearly fourteen foot high statue of Saint Michael.

San Frediano

Opening to a relatively large piazza, the façade of San Frediano never fails to impress visitors with its glass, gold and precious stone inlaid mosaic.  The Basilica was built during the 6thCentury and the current appearance of the

Facade Mosaic
Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca

church, very Romanesque in style, was completed in the 12th Century.  Named  for an Irish Bishop of Lucca (Fridianus), the interior of the church is striking in its austere simplicity.

Duomo (Cathedral) of San Martino

This is one of the most visually stunning churches in all of Italy. When the Bishop of Lucca, Anselm, began construction of the building in 1063, little could he have known (even after becoming Pope Alexander II) that the church would appear as it does today.

There are, much like San Michele in Foro, three levels of colonnaded façade. Thrity-seven individually unique columns support the levels above the portico entrance of the cathedral. A copy of San Martino, Saint Martin, adorns the façade. The original sculpture was moved inside the cathedral several years ago.

Volto Santo di Lucca. Within the vast interior of the cathedral is a gold clad “temple”. The contents of this temple were what brought thousands of religious pilgrims as they made their way along the Via Francigena, the main pilgrim route between Canterbury and Rome.

Duomo of San Martino, Lucca

Nicodemus, who helped bring Christ’s body from the cross and tomb, wanted to carve a likeness of Christ while it was still fresh in his mind. He began working on a large piece of Lebanon Cedar, but fell asleep when he prepared to carve the face. As he slept, an angel came and completed the carving for him.  The wooden carving made its way by boat from the Middle East, eventually arriving on the shore of the Mediterranean near Pisa. From thence, it was brought initially to the Church of San Frediano, and then to its current location in the Duomo.

In the 15th Century, Matteo Civitali designed and had built the chapel in which the Volto Santo today rests. Civitali, a well-known Renaissance architect built the structure from Carrara marble and specially forged, gold covered, iron.

On September 13th each year, the entire walled city is lit only by candles as a procession honors the Volto Santo. The sculpture, heavily adorned with priceless jewels, was carried through the city. To protect the aging wood, the sculpture now remains in the chapel. The jeweled decoration remains throughout the period of the festival.

This is truly an astounding piece of art and further underscores the religious importance of Lucca.

There are many more churches to visit in Lucca. For a complete list, see

Churches of Lucca

The Walls of Lucca

Walls of Lucca

There have been three main walls constructed to protect the city of Lucca. The first, during the Roman era, the second in the early Middle Ages and the final – the ones we see today – were completed in 1644. Though designed to protect the city from armies, the structures were never bombarded or scaled.

Today, the wide promenade atop the walls affords visitors and locals alike to stroll in the shade of countless Chestnut trees while taking in views of both the private gardens of villas and palazzi inside the walls as well as the city and hills outside the fortifications.

There are seven gates into the city: Porta dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio, Porta dei Borghi, Porta San Pietro, Porta Santa Maria, and Porta San Donato, Porta Vittorio Emanuele and Porta San Jacopo. If you arrive in Lucca by train, the Porta Santa Maria will be the gate you most likely will use to enter the city.

Piazza Amfiteatro

In the course of Rome’s demise, the amphitheater that once accommodated 10,000 spectators fell into disrepair. The marble façade was taken

Piazza Amfiteatro, Lucca

down, its slabs of marble used for the construction of churches and other buildings in the city. Homes were built around the now empty oval space. What remains today is truly the most unique ‘square’ (piazza) in Italy, the Piazza Amfiteatro.

The area, once notorious for prostitutes and crime, was cleaned up and became the location of the Lucca farmer’s markets. That activity was moved out the city after World War II and the piazza now offers lovely cafes and shops.  It is a wonderful place to just sit, enjoy a pizza and glass of wine for lunch and people watch.

Torre Guinigi View, Lucca

Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower)

As the wealth and prestige of the Guinigi family grew, they built a number of city villas along the Via Sant’Andrea and the Via Guinigi. During the latter part of the 13th Century, they built a high tower to represent their status in the town. Typical to that era in Italy, towers were being built for churches and by private families as symbols of economic and political power.

Holm Oaks, symbols of rebirth, were planted at the very top of the tower and remain to this day. The climb is well worth the effort and the view is unforgettable.

The town of Lucca now owns the tower and you can visit. See “If You Go” for details about open times and entrance fees.

At Long Last, Puccini!

Puccini, Statue with Family Home
(Left Background)

A visit to Lucca would be incomplete without paying homage to the city’s most famous ‘son’, Giacomo Puccini. He was born in 1858 into a famous musical family. His famly home, in the center of Lucca, has  recently reopened after a lengthy and complicated restoration.While Domenico Puccini, his grandfather, was the most famous of the family’s musicians, it was Giacomo enormous talent (and ego!) that Italian’s love.

Creator of such favoirte operas as La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, La Fanciulla del West and Turandot, Puccini’s fame brought him great wealth during his lifetime. In 1891, to find some quiet away from the city and his demanding schedule, he built a lovely home at Torre del Lago, about fifteen miles from Lucca and closer to the sea. From 1900 – 1921 he lived there with his family. He died in 1924 and is buried in a chapel at Torre del Lago.

Even if you are not interested in Opera, a visit to Pucini’s home – and the bronze statue of him that sits in front of his home – is a rewarding and informative experience.  See “If You Go” below for further details about the Puccini home in Lucca and visits to Torre del Lago.

A Stroll Through Lucca

There are many afternoons when, while the shops of the city center are closed for a long lunch, I have walked the shadowed lanes of the city. While church facades and famous family towers loom overhead, the ancient cobbled streets harken to a peaceful past, of successful merchants and of political stability.

Whether in the spring of each year, when Camellia blossoms burst from gardens in the area or in the fall when a golden shower of leaves accompany an evening stroll around the top of the tree-lined city walls, the ‘feel’ of Lucca is one of ease. Unlike Florence, Rome and the numerous other large cities of Italy, Lucca affords visitors both peace and time; gifts indeed from a city built on the premise of liberty and wealth.

IF YOU GO:

Lucca is easily reached directly off of the A12 Autostrada between Florence and Pisa. If you are visiting Florence, and do not have use of a car, trains run nearly every hour from both Pisa’s and Florence’s train stations. Round trip fare in second class averages Euro 10.40 per person.

Information and schedules can be found at: www.trenitalia.it

From the train station, exit the main doors, and turn LEFT when you arrive at the main circuit road that surrounds the city walls. You can cross the street at a traffic light at the Porta San Pietro (Gate of Saint Peter), the first large city gate you will see within the city wall.

Once inside the city gate, veer to your left along the street and turn right at the second street – the Via Vittorio Veneto.  This street will bring you into the Piazza Napoleone and the Palazzo Ducale. From there, you can easily navigate the city.

Guided Tours of Lucca and surrounding country villas and estates

Wanda Martinelli is the best guide in the region. She can be reached directly through her web site,

Lucca Tours

Whether you seek an escorted walking tour of Lucca, or a full day or more exploring the city and countryside, Wanda and her team offer the finest services available. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

Church Entry times:

San Michele in Foro

Summer (May – end of October):  9:00-12:00/15:00-18:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00

Tel: +39 0583 419689

Basilica of San Frediano

Summer (May – end of October):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12.00/15:00:18:00

Tel: +39 0583493627

Duomo of San Martino

Summer (May – end of October):  8:30-18:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00

Tel: +39.0583.494.726

Torre Guinigi

Web Site: Torre Guinigi

Entrance tickets: Euro 3.50 per person

Opening hours:
March: 9:00-19:00
April-May: 9:00-21:00
June-September: 9:00-24:00
16 September-31 October: 9:00-21:00
November-February: 9:30-18:00

Tel: +39.0583.316.846

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