St. Peter’s Basilica, Part One Sunday, Sep 30 2012 

A visit to Rome should definitely include Trevi, Coliseum, Forum, and various streets and squares, but it can never be complete without a visit to Vatican City and it’s central building – Saint Peter’s Basilica.

"I prayed for you, O, Peter"

“I prayed for you, O, Peter”

Today I wanted to show a few details from the inside of the Basilica, although it’s really difficult to focus on only a few details when you’re in the church. It’s a surprisingly large building, with a lot of nooks and crannies, several altars, numerous sculptures…

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pieta

When we’re talking about sculptures, it should be noted that St. Peters houses one of the most admired sculptures ever created – Michelangelo’s Pieta. It’s now behind bulletproof glass and visitors cannot get a lot closer to it, but there is a recast in Vatican museums, and I’ve even seen books of photographs showing every little detail.

Mosaic, St. Peter's Dome

Mosaic, St. Peter’s Dome

Final two details also have to do with Michelangelo, whose presence in Rome is felt at every corner, especially in Vatican. The mosaic of what seems to be a cherub’s face is one of several such faces on the inside of the St. Peter’s cupola, or dome, which was designed and built by the famous Florentine. The final photo in the post was taken from pretty much the same place, only looking straight up at the ceiling of the dome.

Dome of St. Peter's, inside

Dome of St. Peter’s, inside

The dome will take a prominent role again in the next post, when we explore the outside of the Basilica.

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Coliseum, Rome, Italy Wednesday, Sep 26 2012 

After seeing images from Trevi Fountain and Piazza Venezia, it’s time for the real deal. The most recognizable Rome attraction is the Coliseum, an ancient stadium where the plebs and emperors alike were entertained by gladiators, reenactments and animals.

Coliseum, Golden Hour

Coliseum, Golden Hour

I’m arranging the photos chronologically again, this time by choice. The first photo is a detail I wanted to grab because the “golden hour” window, when the light is best, was closing fast. I took my EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens and isolated this top floor of the Coliseum, showing the bricks placed at the end of the outer ring to prevent further deterioration of the structure.

Then, on the walk back up the Via de Fori Imperiali, after the sun already set, I took a look back and saw the Moon just barely rising over the Coliseum. I had to step into the street, and although the street-level shot is a little too crowded for my taste, it definitely turned out well.

Moon over Coliseum

Moon over Coliseum

A few days later, I would actually follow the crowd and go inside the place. I got a nice tour that explored the underbelly of the Coliseum, as well as its top floor. It was a truly magical time – it was difficult to comprehend that men built this place a few thousand years ago and that it still stands. I imagine people thinking the same at the Pyramids in Egypt.

Coliseum, Mid-day Sun

Coliseum, Mid-day Sun

The mid-day sun wasn’t kind to the photographs, however. Shown here is the look down on the main levels of the Coliseum from the top, or as close to the top as a tourist can get. Buy the extra tour, it’s well worth it.

Coliseum, from Palatine Hill

Coliseum, from Palatine Hill

Finally, here’s a look back to Coliseum from the field across, Palatine Hill. The whole area of Palatine Hill is an active archeological dig — there are even some fairly recent discoveries, despite the foot traffic around the Coliseum. In any event, this last shot is on Fuji Velvia 50 film. A few hours too early to fully take advantage of the golden hour, but still a nice shot from an elevated vantage point. What I like the most is a slightly sideways view onto the inner and the outer rings of the Coliseum. The fact that the outer ring survived all this time, even only at 50% or so, is quite remarkable.

Coliseum is one of those bucket list items, and I’m happy I can cross it off of mine.

City Postcard: Toledo, Spain Wednesday, Sep 19 2012 

Puerta de Bisagra

Puerta de Bisagra

The last few days, I posted about squares, gates and palaces of Madrid. Madrid is obviously one of those cities where you can spend endless weeks sightseeing, soaking in the culture and food. Nevertheless, although my visit was only about a week long, I wanted to take a quick day trip to some of the landmark sites outside of the city. I settled on a quick visit to Toledo, attracted by its ancient architecture.

Toledo Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

Toledo is some 50 miles south of Madrid, in the very center of Spain, and is a capital of both province of Toledo as well as of the autonomous community of Castille-La Mancha. If you’re a literary buff, you may have perked up at the mention of La Mancha – the region is known for Don Quixote, and most of Cervantes’s book takes place here. Toledo is pretty proud of this, and Don Quixote (and his loyal servant Sancho Panza) can be found all over the city, in various forms, from miniature statues to paintings and beyond.

Toledo is an ancient city, built on a hill overlooking the river Tagus which makes a big bend around the city. Most of the streets are essentially canyons – very narrow and rarely straight, so they are sometimes difficult to navigate. I was fortunate (or had enough foresight) to have purchased a map, despite of which I took a few wrong turns.

Does it look like the Chrysler Building?

Does it look like the Chrysler Building?

I entered the city through Puerta de Bisagra, pictured on top of the post, a tall stone gate which reminded me of Dubrovnik in Croatia. That’s not an accident – both Dubrovnik and Toledo were named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, within a few years of each other.

The most prominent of these landmarks is surely the Cathedral, or as the Spanish call it, Catedral Primada Santa Maria de Toledo. Massive Gothic tower is 300 feet tall and shows numerous intricate details, some of which are in the Mudejar style. There’s a little bit of an art deco look to it, too, so one of the local art galleries compared it to the Chrysler Building in New York City.

I’m not so sure about that. What do you think?

Palacio Real, Madrid, Spain Tuesday, Sep 18 2012 

Palacio Real, Madrid

Palacio Real, Madrid

I’ve been posting some photos from my trip to Madrid I took a few months ago, and yesterday I mentioned the grandiose architecture you can find all over the city. Nowhere is that more evident than right here – Palacio Real.

Quick linguistic note – seeing letters “r, e, a, l” together immediately takes me to the English word, but in Spanish, the word actually means “regal” or “royal”. And there are quite a few “real” things about Madrid, the seat of the Spanish royal family.

Speaking of the Spanish royal family, this building was their main home for centuries, until very recently, when it was open to the public. It’s just gorgeous to look at, opulent and extravagant, and I caught it in nice late afternoon light. I even included a tighter crop of the shot I took with my long lens, to show some of the detail on the roof and the facade of the building.

Palacio Real, detail

Palacio Real, detail

Pretty awesome, don’t you think?

Gates of Madrid Tuesday, Sep 18 2012 

Madrid architecture reminds visitors at all times that Spain used to be the most powerful country in the world once, and Madrid needed to convey that sense of grandeur and scale.

Puerta de Toledo

Puerta de Toledo

One of the ways this is evident is in the gates, or arches, that dominate certain points of the downtown area. They are remnants of old city walls and were erected to celebrate different events or rulers. Their locations indicate the spots where major roads would leave the city.

The one on top is Puerta de Toledo, aptly named because it is on the road leading south to Toledo. These days, the easiest way to get to Toledo is by train; we’ll talk about that more in a few days. If you’re in that area, check out the flea market that goes on every Sunday in a neighborhood just a few blocks away.

The other photo is of Puerta de Alcala, a gate on the east side of town, at the end of Alcala street. That part of town seems a bit more high-end – Ferrari store is just a few blocks away, for example.

Puerta de Alcala

Puerta de Alcala

One thing these gates have in common is that I had meals in the immediate vicinity, with great views of the gates. As far as experiences go, I highly recommend that.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain Sunday, Sep 16 2012 

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

As you may have noticed, I started my “365” project a week ago, meaning that I will post a photo each day for a year. There are a lot of photos I haven’t posted, and I’m hoping to take a lot of new ones, so the exercise is mainly in discipline and preparation.

This week, I will post a photo a day from my trip to Spain back in March.

Plaza Mayor is a rectangular square in the middle of downtown Madrid, where you can buy any type of souvenir known to man. From figurines of bulls to Soviet military memorabilia, and everything in between, you’ll find it here. In the evening, the shops close, but the restaurants open, and the waiters entice you to sit at one of the many tables outside.

When I took this picture, I didn’t even notice that the facade is actually full of painted ladies in various stages of undress. Upon further review, there are even a few male nudes. I included a 100% crop of one of the windows, flanked on each side by a beautiful woman. The Europeans definitely think differently about nudity.

Ladies of Plaza Mayor

Ladies of Plaza Mayor, 100% crop

What do you think? Can you imagine something like this on a building in your town’s main square?

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