Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque (Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei)

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, often considered as one of the most beautiful Islamic mosques in the Asia Pacific is, aside from being a place of worship (Brunei’s first national mosque) for the Muslim community and solemnization ceremony site for Muslim weddings, a major historical site and a famous tourist attraction of Brunei.

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A side entrance

An example of modern Islamic architecture named after Omar Ali Saifuddien III, the 28th Sultan of Brunei (the current sultan’s late father) who also initiated its construction, the mosque serves as a symbol of the Islamic faith in Brunei and, being the tallest structure in Bandar Seri Begawan, dominates the skyline of the city.

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Sitting on a 5-acre lot, the building was started on February 4, 1954 and inaugurated on September 26, 1958. The mosque is 68.6 m. (225 ft. long), 26.22 m. (86 ft.) wide, 52 m. (171 ft., it can be seen from virtually anywhere in Bandar Seri Begawan) high and has a capacity of about 3,000.

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Pool at the grandiose wudhu (ablution area)

The mosque unites Mughal architecture and Malay styles and was designed by the Italian architect and sculptor Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli (with architectural plans prepared by Booty and Edwards Chartered Architects), probably his last commission (he died in 1963). Construction work was done by Chinese and Malay engineers and total cost of construction was between $7.7 and $9.2 million.

The Brunei River

The Brunei River

Built in an artificial lagoon on the banks of the Brunei River at Kampong Ayer– the “village in the water,” the mosque has marble minarets and golden domes supported by walls of Italian marble (which also forms the mosque’s columns, arches and towers), a courtyard and is surrounded by a mini water fountain, a large number of treesfloral gardens.and benches for congregants and visitors to rest their weary feet.

Mini water fountain

Mini water fountain

Located right outside the mosque are wudhu (ablution areas) for men and women.The musalla (prayer hall) can be accessed through  the main entrance, which is elaborately decorated with verses from the Quran, as well as side entrances. The separate prayer area for women is located towards the left side of the entrance and up a spiral staircase.

The winding rope-shaped design on the exterior columns

The winding rope-shaped design on the exterior columns of the wudhu

The kalat (a very thick rope) shaped design, one of the local elements incorporated into the design, are plastered winding on all the outside columns. In the Brunei tradition of building lapau (halls), the kalat (rope) is actually used to install the columns and it is usually dyed with gold and other colors.

The bridge leaing to the Sultan Bolkiah Mahligai Barge

The bridge leaing to the Sultan Bolkiah Mahligai Barge

A bridge reaches across the lagoon to Mukim Sungai Kedayan in the middle of the river. Another marble bridge leads to a structure in the lagoon meant as a replica of a 16th century Sultan Bolkiah Mahligai Barge from the reign of Sultan Bolkiah, the fifth ruler of Brunei..

The Sultan Bolkiah Mahligai Barge

The Sultan Bolkiah Mahligai Barge

The barge itself, costing US$250,000, was completed in 1967 to commemorate the 1,400th anniversary of Nuzul Al-Quran (coming down of the Quran) and was used to stage the Quran reading competitions. It is a perfect spot for getting a good photo of the mosque.

The author

The author

The mosque’s most recognizable feature, the main dome, is covered in pure gold is made up of 3.3 million pieces of Venetian mosaic covering 520 sq. m. The 44 m, high main minaret, the mosque’s tallest feature, incorporates a unique mix of  Renaissance and Italian architectural styles not seen in many mosques in the world. It is equipped with four 50-watt loudspeakers that allows the voice of the muezzin (official who makes the call to prayer) to be heard as far as 4 kms. away during the azan (call to prayer). The minaret has an elevator and a 244-step spiral staircase to the top, where a visitor can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

A minaret

A minaret

The interior of the mosque, for prayer only, features stained glass windows, archessemi-domes and marble columns and is filled with elements of Islamic art especially the calligraphy, flowers, geometric patterns and the likes.

Chandelier and stained glass windows in the interior

Chandelier and stained glass windows in the interior

The domed ceiling is inscribed with a single Quaranic verse that reads; “Whosoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth glorifies Allah. His is the dominion and to Him belong all the praises and thanks and He is Able to do all things.” (Surah Al-Taghabun, 64:1). To the right of the slender marble minbar (which rises to the right of the mihrah which sits prominently at the end of the prayer hall) is an escalator that leads to a separate enclosure, a quiet sanctum for the royal family. Khutbah (Friday sermons) are delivered by the imam who holds a 179 cm. long staff made of impas wood and capped with a miniature of the mosque’s golden dome.

The gold-clad dome

The dome covered in pure gold

Nearly all the material used for the building were imported from abroad: the marble from Italy; the granite of the outer walls from Shanghai (China); the crystal chandeliers (weighing 2 tons) and stained glass windows (weighing 4 tons) from England; and the handmade  carpets from Saudi Arabia and Belgium.

L-R: Dyan, Karren, Tess, Luchie, Erlie and Rosanna wearing black polyester robes required for entrance into the mosque

L-R: Dyan, Karren, Tess, Luchie, Erlie and Rosanna (with hijab) wearing long black polyester jubahs required for entrance into the mosque

Members of B.E.A.T. at Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Members of B.E.A.T. at Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque: Jalan MacArthur, Bandar Seri Begawan BS8711, Sultanate of Brunei. Tel:+231 88 090 9413. Visiting hours: 8.30 AM to 12 noon, 1.30 to 3 PM and 4.30 to 5.30 PM, Saturdays to Wednesdays, and 4.30 to 5 PM on Fridays. Closed on Thursday and during religious activities. Visitors can walk around the exterior compound from 8 AM to 8.30 PM, daily, except during prayer times. When entering the mosque, shoes must be removed and women should cover their heads with a hijab and not have their knees or arms exposed. There are jubahs (long dresses) available outside the entrance that visitors can borrow while visiting the mosque. Visitors also are not allowed to pass in front of a person in prayer or touch the Quran. They are also not allowed to take pictures inside the mosque.

Royal Regalia Museum (Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei)

Royal Regalia Museum

Royal Regalia Museum

After our visit to the Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, we proceeded to the Royal Regalia Museum (MalayBangunan Alat-Alat Kebesaran Diraja), built on the site of the Winston Churchill Memorial Museum (perhaps the only such memorial to Churchill in this part of the world), constructed in 1971.

The domed ceiling

The domed ceiling

A fire destroyed the previous roof and the domed roof was built by a Japanese company. The builing was modernized and considerably extended and, on September 30, 1992, was opened as the Royal Regalia Museum which has a profusion of exhibits related to the commemoration of the 25 years of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah‘s rule of Brunei.

The Royal Regalia Exhibition Hall

The Royal Regalia Exhibition Hall

This large gold-domed, semicircular structure is fitted with specially-designed mosaics. Gleaming marble has been used extensively in its interior.  The floor is covered with plush carpets and the spectacular, beautifully-lit circular gallery is topped with a mosaic-tiled dome sitting on the cup of the original crescent-shaped building.   

The gold-leafed Royal Chariot

The gold-leafed Royal Chariot

Prior to entering, we all removed our shoes.  On display at the entrance hall is the huge, stunning Royal Chariot, a winged chariot covered in gold leaf, surrounded by regalia from the royal crowning ceremony, that was used for the parade carrying the Sultan through the streets of the city on the occasion of his 1992 silver jubilee celebration of his coronation in 1968. In front of the chariot are a bevy of headless mannequins dressed in traditional attire.

Pedang Dan Perisai

The “pedang dan perisai” are 16 swords, with gold, silver and brass bands on the hilt, and 16 shields that were carried by 16 “awang-awang” (aristocrats)

At the reception desk, we were required to sign our names and nationality in the guest book and then deposit our bags, cameras and mobile phones (photography is only allowed in the lobby) in plastic bins before proceeding on our guided tour. Lockers are also provided free of charge, and you keep the key yourself. A historical review of the present Sultan’s life was then narrated by our guide Mohammad through the Sultan’s family pictures with detailed narrative texts (one particular photograph of interest shows the Sultan smiling at his circumcision ceremony), many of his portraits and a hologram.

The Payung Berwarna

The “payung berwarna” are 40 (8 yellow, 8 green, 8 red, 8 white and 8 black) multi-colored umbrellas with golden tops borne by 40 “awang-awang” (aristocrats) who stand on either side of the area below the “peningkah lapau”

Payung Kawan

40 “payung kawan” (yellow and red umbrellas) are carried by 40 “orang muda-muda” (the young) who stand at both sides at the area below the “peningkah lapau”

Payung Dadu

8 “payung dadu” (umbrellas with gold tips) were carried by “awang-awan” (aristocrats) who stand on both sides of the area below the “peningkah lapau”

It recreates his early childhood, chronicling his schooling in Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and finally in Britain at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. Other historic pictures cover independence, the Sultan meeting his people afterwards in the mosque and in the districts; and his return from the Hajj.

Lembing Kerajaan Dan Taming

The 6 special “lembing” (royal spears) and “taming” (shields), with golden tips, are borne by 6 “beduanda kecil” (pages)

Film footage of the magnificent ceremony is screened in a small theater. A small room also houses the many military honors and decorations to his military service from well over twenty different countries.

Tumbak Benderangan

The 16 “tumbak benderangan” (royal ceremonial spears), plated in gold and silver, are borne by 16 “awang-awang” (aristocrats) decked in ceremonial attire

Artifacts that were used for royal ceremonies coronation in the country were also exhibited.  They included gold and silver ceremonial weaponry; ornate gold crown embedded with jewels; ceremonial costumes;  the symbolic Golden Cats; the silver kris; the Sultan’s costume; a solid golden forearm with  upturned palm  (which are depicted on the Royal state crest) that the Sultan used as a prop for his chin at his coronation; and orchestral instruments used during the ceremony.

Puan Kerajaan

The 4 octagonal “puan kerajaan”” (royal betel boxes), made with silver, are used for keeping flowers and are usually borne by the 4 sons of the “cheterias” (common nobles), in ceremonial attire, on both sides o the “petarana”  (throne)

A large side room on the ground floor depicts the 1968 coronation scene at the Lapau using models, pictures, words and exhibits.  Inside is an enormous, house-like and more modern (the Sultan’s tiger-skin throne was airconditioned) second chariot, equipped with an engine, which was used in the coronation of the sultan.

Sinipit Dan Taming

40 “sinipit” (spears) decorated with red “bendera pisang-pisang” at each tip, an 40 “taming” (shields) are carried by 40 warriors in red suits an “dastar”

Rows of life-size mannequin figures, clad in black and red military uniforms, stand proudly in front and behind the chariot. On the outskirts of the room are life-size photographs of adoring onlookers, probably people who were actually in the crowd that day.

The Chanang

The Chanang is a gong used in the MajlisBerjaga Jaga (before the proclamation and coronation), Gendang Jaga Jaga and other royal ceremonies

There is a scaled replica of the entrance gates of Istana Nurul Iman, the world’s largest residential palace (incidentally designed by my uncle, the late National Artist Arch. Leandro V. Locsin). Also of interest are the costumes worn by the Sultan and his two consorts during the Silver Jubilee. Queen Saleha’s costume is decorated with gold and diamonds while that of Pengiran Isteri Hajah Mariam, the Sultan’s then second wife, is decorated with gold and pearls.

Dian Alam Bernaga

The 8 readily lit Dian Alam Bernaga (candles) are placed before the Petarana (throne), at the time when the Sultan sits on the throne. During the procession, they are borne by 8 Pengarah (overseers).

Also on display are gifts from heads of state to the Sultan. They include gold-plated as well as sparkling glass miniatures of world-famous national landmarks; diamond encrusted vases; delicate porcelain tea sets; ceremonial daggers; stunning wooden carvings;, eye-catching paintings; jewel-encrusted ornaments; commemorative plates with inscribed messages and blessings; objects made from shining silver; ornate coffee tables; decorative glassware; intricate hand-made textiles; and more.

Gendang Labik

Gendang Labik (cylindrical drum)

To the left of the main entrance is the Constitutional History Gallery. Set up in 1984 as part of the country’s independence celebrations, it traces the history and development of the constitution – from 1847 when the first Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed with Britain, to the proclamation of the 1959 constitution.

The author at the Royal Regalia Exhibition Hall

The author at the Royal Regalia Exhibition Hall

Jandy in front of the Royal Chariot

Jandy in front of the Royal Chariot

Inside is the signed APAC plaque from the time Brunei held the conference (November 15–16, 2000.) The plaque contains signatures of the APAC members leaders including then US President William “”Bill” Clinton’s.

Members of B.E.A.T. in front of the Royal RegaliaMuseum

Members of B.E.A.T. in front of the Royal RegaliaMuseum

Royal Regalia Museum: Jln Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, Bandar Seri Begawan, BS8611, Brunei. Tel: +673 224 4545 extension 201. Admission is free. Open 9 AM – 5 PM, Sundays – Thursdays, 9-11:30 AM and 2.30 – 5 PM, Fridays (closed 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM for Friday prayer), and 9:45 AM – 5 PM, Saturdays.  Last entry at 4.30 PM. You can only take photographs in the lobby and visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering the building.

Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque (Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei)

Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

The Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the largest mosque in Brunei, was named after current Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzadin Waddaulah.  The number 29 is significant as the Sultan is the dynasty’s 29th ruler, reigning since 1967 (the world’s third longest reigning monarch).

one of 29 chandeliers

One of 29 chandeliers

The complex is adorned with 29 magnificent golden domes made with 24 carat gold. There are also 29 ornate minarets and inside are 29 crystal chandeliers.

Main entrance

Main entrance

Locally known as the Kiarong mosque (it is also sometimes called the Blue Mosque by locals), it was started in 1988 and opened on July 14, 1994, the night before the sultan’s 48th birthday.

Side entrance

Side entrance

Built to commemorate the monarchy’s silver jubilee rule, it was impossible to miss as we head towards Gadong (BSB’s renowned entertainment an shopping district), about 3 kms. (1.9 miles) from the city center, as its four spectacular terrazzo-tiled minarets (a slight but more colorful resemblance to the Taj Mahal of India) dominate their surroundings. At night, the mosque is said to be lit up like a gold flame.

The golden dome

The golden dome

A minaret

A minaret

Build on a 20-acre lot, this stunning, breathtaking and beautiful mosque can accommodate up to 4,000 worshippers at one time.  The geometric designs are quite intricate and the interior more than matches the mosque’s lavish exterior which features pale stonework inset with gorgeous pale blue tiles.

Hallway were shoes are left

Hallway were shoes are left before entering

The wudhu (ablution hall)

The wudhu (ablution hall)

The wudhu (ablution halls), decorated with white and blue tiles, has a fountain at the center of the hall, beneath which are automatic touchless-control faucets for ritual cleansing.

The central hall

The central hall

The central hall has round columns with funnel shaped capitals. The dome has stunning stained glass with an explosion of colors. The winding marble stairs leading up to the musalla (main prayer hall) swirls around similarly funnel-shaped fountains with its many colorful lights.

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The large, awe-inspiring and serene main prayer, under a great dome decorated with Quranic inscriptions in gold on a white background, is supported by white marble pillars that surround the circumference of the hall. Myriad beautifully-woven prayer mats, custom-made with the image of the mosque imprinted on it, are scattered across the floor of the hall.

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The mihrab, decorated with black marble, is accentuated with gold mosaic. The whole qibla (the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays) wall is decorated with golden mosaics with flower and vegetal motifs and Quranic inscriptions.

The stained glass ceiling

The stained glass ceiling

The minbar (pulpit where sermons are delivered) has a golden dome decorated with golden mosaics above it, mirroring the golden dome above the roof. When the Sultan comes here for Friday prayer (during which citizens can petition him with a personal letter), he has his own personal escalator at his private entrance to the mosque. Its unbelievable extravagance, at every turn, just left me speechless.

Fountain

Fountain

landscaped-garden

Serene and well manicured gardens, with trellises, fountains (which spout colorful jets of water at night) and pools with many species of flowers (mostly orchids) and plants, decorate the landscape.

Jandy and the author at Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

Jandy and the author at Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Highway, Kampung Kiarong, Bandar Seri Begawan, Sultanate of Brunei. Open 8 AM – noon, 2-3 PM and 5-6 PM, Mondays – Wednesdays  and Saturdays, 10.45 AM – noon, 2-3 PM and  5-6 PM, Sundays, closed on Thurdays and  Fridays. When entering the mosque, shoes must be removed and women should cover their heads with a hijab and not have their knees or arms exposed. There are jubahs (long dresses) available outside the entrance that visitors can borrow while visiting the mosque. Visitors also are not allowed to pass in front of a person in prayer or touch the Quran. They are also not allowed to take pictures inside the mosque.

How to Get There: Take No. 1  or 22 bus from the main bus terminal located at the multi-storey car park along Jalan Cator.

Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa (Venice, Italy)

Courtyard o the palazzo

Courtyard o the palazzo

The  Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa, originally the ancient casa da stazio, an L-shaped building located at the intersection of the rios of San

Bronze bust of Antonio Grimani (Andrea Briosco)

Bronze bust of Antonio Grimani (Andrea Briosco)

Severo and Santa Maria Formosa, was the residence of the Venetian doge Antonio Grimani. It was substantially altered in 1532-1569 by his grandsons Vittore, procuratore generale of the city, and Giovanni Grimani, cardinal and Patriarch of Aquileia, giving it a classical stamp.

Giovanni allegedly collaborated with celebrated architects such as Jacopo Sansovino, Sebastiano Serlio and  Andrea Palladio.

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Two new wings, doDSC00364ubling the size of the building, were added.  A vast Roman-style inner courtyard, with loggias of marble colonnades (unusual in sixteenth-century Venice) and asymmetrical porticoes, was laden with artfully arranged sculptures, reliefs and inscriptions.The palace was completed in 1575 by Giovanni Rusconi while Alessandro Vittoria was responsible for the ornamentation of the doorway.

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The palace is composed of three parts with a small backyard. The façade, sporting

Bronze bust of Hadrian (Ludovico Lombardo)

Bronze bust of Hadrian (Ludovico Lombardo)

characteristically massive windows arches, is decorated with polychrome marble.

The most striking feature of the interior is the Sala di Psiche (c. 1540), with frescoes by Mannerist artists such as Francesco MenzocchiCamillo Mantovano and Francesco Salviati.

Other artists who worked to the palace’s decoration include Taddeo Zuccari and Giovanni da Udine.

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Bust of Antinoüs, favorite of Hadrian

Bust of Antinoüs, favorite of Hadrian

The palazzo once held the archaeological collections (one of the finest of the time), strikingly displayed on shelves, mantelpieces and plinths in settings of the high ceiling, specially designed Tribuna and the courtyard, amassed by Cardinal Domenico Grimani and Giovanni Grimani, and donated to the Republic.

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Palazzo Grimani, internationally important for its architectural originality, the quality of its decoration and the history of its development, was purchased by the State in 1981 and, in 2001, a decree of the Ministry of the Cultural Heritage gave responsibility for its management to the Superintendency of State Museums in Venice. On December 20, 2015, it was reopened as a museum.

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An especially valuable addition to its museum circuit, the palace displays a few HiDSC04670eronymus Bosch paintings from the Grimani collection: depicting the dream-like Visione dell’Aldilàl’Ascesa all’Empireo, and la Caduta dei dannati e l’Inferno; and the Triptych of Santa Liberata, and the Triptych of the eremiti (Sant’Antonio, San Girolamo and Sant’Egidio).

Sculpture gallery

The Sculpture Gallery with “The Rape of Ganymede (Reinhard Gomer)” hanging on the ceiling

The extraordinarily high quality decoration of the rooms iDSC04680ncludes outstanding stucco work and frescoes, reflecting the confidently unconventional taste of the Grimanis.

Palazzo Grimani, unique in Venetian history and architecture, is a fascinating treasure house of cultural, artistic and historical riches.

Statue of Laocoon and his sons

Statue of Laocoon and his sons

Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa: Ramo Grimani, 4858, 30122 Venice, Italy. Tel: +39 041 241 1507 and +39 041 5200345. E-mail: info@palazzogrimani.org and sspsae-ve.grimani@beniculturali.it. Website: www.palazzogrimani.org. Open 8:15 AM – 7:15 PM. Admission: € 4.00 + € 1,50 reservation fee.

Church of St. Zacharias (Venice, Italy)

Chiesa di San Zaccaria (1)

Church of St. Zechariah

The large 15th-century, formerly monastic (it was originally attached to a Benedictine monastery of nuns) Church of St. Zechariah (Chiesa di San Zaccaria) is located just off the waterfront, to the southeast of Piazza San Marco and St Mark’s Basilica.  The first church on the site was founded in the early 9th century by Doge Giustiniano Participazio  to house the body, under the second altar on the right, of St. Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist), the saint to which it is dedicated, a gift of the Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian. The remains of 8 early doges as well as the artist Alessandro Vittoria (his tomb marked by a self-portrait bust) are also buried in the colonnaded Romanesque crypt of the church.

Nave

Nave

The original church, rebuilt in the 1170s (when the present campanile was built), was replaced by the present Late Gothic-style church designed by Antonio Gambello.  Built between 1458 and 1515, it was built beside (not over) the original church, the remains of which still stands. Seventy years later, the upper part of the façade, with its arched windows and its columns, and the upper parts of the interior were completed by Mauro Codussi in early Renaissance style. Thus, the façade is a harmonious Venetian mixture of late-Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Tomb of St. Zacharias

Tomb of St. Zacharias

The church’s apse, surrounded by an ambulatory lit by tall Gothic windows, is a typical feature of Northern European church architecture which is unique in Venice. The San Zaccaria Altarpiece, one of the most famous works by Giovanni Bellini (whisked away to Paris for 20 years when Napoleon plundered the city in 1797), as well as paintings by 17th and 18th century artists (at the  walls of the aisles and of the chapels).

Chiesa di San Zaccaria (11)

They include works by Andrea del CastagnoPalma VecchioTintorettoGiuseppe PortaPalma il GiovaneAntonio VassilacchiAnthony van DyckAndrea Celesti,Antonio ZanchiAntonio BalestraAngelo Trevisani and Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo. The organ of the church was built by Gaetano Callido in 1790.

Chiesa di San Zaccaria (4)

The Chapel of St Athanasius, which was most of the nave and right-hand aisle of the old church, was rebuilt for the nuns in the mid-15th century and then converted into a chapel around 1595. It contains a Domenico Tintoretto altarpiece depicting The Birth of John the Baptist or maybe The Birth of the Virgin. To the right of an altar designed by Vittoria is The Flight into Egypt by Domenico Tintoretto. Over the entrance door is the Crucifixion, claimed to be by Anthony van Dyke, very redolent of the Counter-Reformation in its minimalness and drama.

Chiesa di San Zaccaria (5)

Another door takes you through to the Cappella dell’Addolorata, with cases of relics, and then into the lovely Chapel of San Tarasio, the apse of the old church, built in 1440 by Gambello. It features some very impressive frescoes in the vaulting, painted in 1442 by Andrea del Castagno (in collaboration with a certain Francesco da Faenza).  Discovered in 1923 and cleaned in the 1950s, they are the artist’s earliest extant work and feature his only signature (Andreas de Florentia).

Chiesa di San Zaccaria (7)

There are also three well-preserved Late-Gothic gilded altarpieces by brothers-in-law Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna. The central three panels (dated 1385), on the main level of the high altarpiece (Saints Blaise and Martin, with The Virgin and Child in the center), are signed by Stefano di Sant’Agnese, taken from another work and inserted in 1839 in place of a reliquary. The two saints flanking them (Mark and Elizabeth) are by Giovanni and Antonio Vivarini. More saints, said to have also been added later, are found on the back. A recently discovered and restored predella, on the front of the altar, is ascribed to Paolo Veneziano.

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Church of San Zaccaria: Campo San Zaccaria 4693, 30122 Venice, Italy. Open Mondays – Saturays, 10 AM–12 PM and 4–6 PM, and Sundays, 4–6 PM. Tel: +39 041 522 1257

Piazzale Michelangelo (Florence, Italy)

Piazzale Michelangelo

Piazzale Michelangelo

This large, partly pedestrianized Florentine piazza, located across the Arno River from the center of Florence, was designed by Florentine architect Giuseppe Poggi,  known for his creation of boulevards around the center of Florence, part of the so-called Risanamento (“Rebirth”), a late nineteenth-century urban modernization project which also resulted in the creation of the Piazza della Repubblica.  Under the loggia, in the wall of the balcony, is an epigraph in capital letters referring to Poggi’s work, turned into his monument in 1911.

Bronze copy of Michelangelo's David (15)

Bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David (15)

The piazza was built in 1869 on a hill, 104 m. above sea level (and 60 m. above the level of the Arno River), just south of the historic center, during the redevelopment of Oltrarno, the left (South) bank of the Arno River, as part of major restructuring of the fourteenth-century city walls.  Dedicated to Michelangelo Buonarroti (the city’s most famous Renaissance sculptor), the square has bronze copies, set on a large pedestal, of some of his marble works found elsewhere in Florence – the famous David (seen in the Galleria dell’Accademia) and the Four Allegories (seen at the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo, it depicts day, night, dusk and dawn), brought up by nine pairs of oxen on June 25, 1873.

Two of the Four Allegories

Two of the Four Allegories

Poggi also designed the hillside building with loggia as a museum for Michelangelo’s works which, for some reason, was not realized as it was intended. Today, the building is now a restaurant. The loggia, designed by Poggi the in the Neo-Classical-style, dominates the whole sumptuous, typically 19th century terrace.

View of the city

View of the city

A popular spot, most of Piazzale Michelangelo is a parking lot filled with vendors and locals and tourists, dropped off by busses, who come here to enjoy and snap photos of the panoramic and unobstructed views of the Arno valley and the heart of Florence, from Forte Belvedere to Santa Croce, across the lungarni (riverside walks) and the bridges crossing the Arno, including the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, the Bargello and the octagonal bell tower of the Badia Fiorentina. Beyond the city are the hills of Settignano and Fiesole.

The Arno River

The Arno River

Despite the overly touristy commercialism and its being crowded all year round, the piazza is still well worth a visit thanks to the magnificent views over the most important landmarks of Florence, with the Tuscan hills providing a scenic backdrop. The square is filled with a large number of market stalls selling souvenirs and snacks.

L-R: Cheska, the author, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

L-R: Cheska, the author, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

Kyle and Cheska

Kyle and Cheska

How to Get There:  From the city center, Piazzale Michelangelo can be reached by taking either bus 12 or 13 or the red, two-level sightseeing tour bus. On foot, from the Porta San Niccolò (a fourteenth-century city gate near the Arno River), it can also be reached by walking up the stairs or going up the steep winding path from Piazza Giuseppe Poggi (also known as the “Poggi Ramps”), found at the base of the hill upon which Piazzale Michelangelo sits. By car, it can be accessed along the tree-lined, 8 km. long Viale Michelangelo.

Porcelain Museum (Florence, Italy)

Porcelain Museum

Porcelain Museum

First opened in October 1973, the Porcelain Museum (Museo delle Porcellane), a section of the Silver Museum, is an internationally acclaimed institution in the field of ceramics and among the hundred most visited art museums in the world. It is housed in the Villino del Cavaliere, built in the 17th century at the top of the hill that overlooks the Boboli Gardens which was chosen as a retreat for the Grand Duke.

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If you love porcelain, then you will be impressed by its extensive collection of mainly continental porcelain, encompassing almost every famous maker. The labels were predominantly in Italian.  As it is located on one of the highest points of the Boboli Gardens, you have a gorgeous panoramic view of the city of Florence from the terrace.

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The over 2,000-piece, homogeneous collection comprises mainly porcelain tableware, from many of the most notable European porcelain factories, belonging to the royal families that ruled Tuscany and have followed one another at Pitti Palace, starting from the period of the Medici family, to the Lorraines (including the Parma-Bourbon dynasty), to the Savoys up to the unification of Italy.  One of the most important historical collections of its kind in Europe, the oldest pieces are those that once belonged to Gian Gaston de Medici (the last Medici Grand Duke, 1671-1737) produced in the Manufactory of Meissen.

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Among the well represented manufacturers of origin on display are the Royal Factory of Naples (Capodimonte); the Tuscan Carlo Ginori from Sesto FiorentinoFrench manufacturers  Vincennes (founded in 1740 and transferred to Sèvres in 1756 under the direct ownership of King Louis XV) in ParisViennese porcelain, largely collected by Ferdinand III of Tuscany; the German porcelain factory of Meissen, near Dresden.

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Many items in the collection, divided into three sections by periods, nations (Austria, Germany and France) and manufacturers, were specially commissioned by the Grand Ducal court, clearly reflecting their tastes, with several outstanding examples of Italian porcelain objects produced in Doccia (near Florence, founded by the Ginori family in 1737) and at the Royal Manufactory of Naples.  These were especially used by the Grand ducal family for large services of daily use.  All are very detailed, elegant and fine works of arts.

Meissen (1800-1850)

Meissen (1800-1850)

Others were gifts to the Florentine rulers from other European sovereigns. They include fine table sets from Vienna and from the German Manufactory of Meisse.  There were also French several large porcelain dinner services from the Vincennes  (later renamed Sèvres) factory, brought to the Pitti Palace by the Savoy House from the Royal Palace of Parma.

1750 Porcelain (Sevres)

1750 Porcelain (Sevres)

Table services, for daily use, constantly supplied to the Grand Dukes of Lorraine, from Doccia Manifacture, include a flowered porcelain with bouquet or tulip motifs, taken from the so-called “famille rose” Chinese porcelain; and lovely coffee cups with view of Florentine piazzas, from the 1800’s, made using lithographs by the Frenchman Philippe Benoist as models.

Naples Royal Factory (1785)

Naples Royal Factory (1785)

Some typical examples of French porcelain, characterized by various pastel-colored shades, includes some flower vases with scenes taken from Francois Boucher as well as 4 oysters stands from Parma, singular and unique of their kind, made up of 18 shell-shaped bowls and belonging to Louise Elisabeth de Bourbon, the Grand Duchess of Parma, who was, in fact, the daughter of Louis XV, king of France. Sèvres table services for the light first course and dessert, in two central display cases, were gifts to Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi (Grand Duchess of Tuscany, 1809-1814) from her august brother Emperor Napoleon I.

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In the first room is a collection from the Real Fabbrica of Naples.  They include, of particular note, a series of small biscuit figurines depicting personages from Classical antiquity; reproductions from the excavations in Herculaneum; 18 figurines reproducing ‘garments’ from the Kingdom of Naples, two dejeuner services (one decorated with Egyptian motifs and the other with Etruscan motifs).

Biscuit figurines

Biscuit figurines

A rich assembly of Viennese porcelains, in the second room, were brought to Pitti Palace by two Lorraine grand dukes – Peter Leopold (who maintained a constant rapport with the Vienna) and Ferdinand III of Lorraine (an impassioned collector of porcelains and, particularly, of ‘solitaire’ services). Cups and trays, decorated with views of Vienna, and a coffee service, with a trompe l’oeil feigned wood decoration, stand out.

A series of small porcelain statues taken from the Commedia dell’Arte

A series of small porcelain statues taken from the Commedia dell’Arte

Porcelains from Meissen and from other German manufacturers are in the third room. In the display case, towards the window, are 2 turtle-shaped butter dishes, a teapot in the shape of a rooster and a broth cup with scene inspired by a play by Molière, probably belonging to the collection of Gian Gastone de Medici.

Sèvres porcelain of Elisa Baciocchi (1809–1810)

Sèvres porcelain of Elisa Baciocchi (1809–1810)

Early pieces, from the Meissen factory, such as a splendid vase, are decorated with Chinese motifs such as gilded grape leaves and vines in relief. The Harlequin, a series of small porcelain statues taken from the Commedia dell’Arte, representing people in costume (ladies, musicians, putti, gardeners, etc.), was a source of inspiration for the Capodimonte porcelain manufacture in Naples.

Turtle-shaped butter dishes

Turtle-shaped butter dishes

Porcelain Museum: Palazzo Pitti, Piazza de’ Pitti, Florence, Italy. Tel: +39 055 238 8709

Costume Gallery (Florence, Italy)

Costume Gallery

Costume Gallery

The Costume Gallery (Galleria del Costume), the only National Museum in Italy exclusively dedicated to the history of fashion, is housed in a small southern building wing of the Meridiana (Palazzina della Meridiana),  a suite of 14 rooms (completed in 1858) of the Pitti Palace.

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Founded in 1983 (one of the newer collections to the palazzo) by Kirsten Aschengreen Piacenti, it is home to more than 6,000 pieces, including clothing and fashion accessories from the eighteenth century to the present day.  They include a group of about 90 theatrical costumes belonging to the Sartoria Tirelli, gathered by Umberto Tirelli, founder of an important tailoring, and a collection of fashion jewelry of the twentieth century (dating from the 16th century until the present).

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The semi-permanent exhibition of the Lorraine/Savoy rooms display pieces from the museum collection of historical clothes and accessories, previously stored in the palace´s warehouses. They include court and gala gowns (including clothes from Sicilian aristocratic Donna Franca Florio, one of the most famous European personalities during the Belle Epoque), haute couture dresses; ready-to-wear clothes, custom-made Florentine and Neapolitan bridal gowns from the early 1900s; as well as Italian cinematic, theatrical and music divas costumes (including dresses of Eleonora Duse, one of the most famous Italian theater actresses), all organized in chronological and thematic paths.

Donna Franca Florio cape

Donna Franca Florio cape

The collections also feature whole clothes collections of celebrities, also of great historical and documentary value, creations of the most famous designers of the twentieth century – Lucile, Versace, Valentino, Loris Azzaro, Armani, Renato Balestra, Missoni, Roberto Cavalli, Ken Scott, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Gucci, and Prada.

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Some of the exhibits are unique to the Palazzo Pitti. Composed of clothes once belonging to members of the Medici family who ruled Florence during the Renaissance, they include the fine, recently restored 16th-century funeral clothes of Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, and Eleonora of Toledo and her son Don Garzia, both of whom died 15 years before from malaria, worn while they were being displayed in state (they were reclad in plainer attire before interment).

 

Cosimo I de' Medici funeral clothes

Cosimo I de’ Medici funeral clothes

Don Garzia funeral clothes

Don Garzia funeral clothes

The richly-decorated galleries of the museum, equipped with air-conditioned display stands, display dresses on mannequins with female body structure (constricting structures such as corsets often changed the body) typical of the period in which the dress was made. The dancing hall, among other rooms, is used for temporary exhibitions of great interest.

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For didactic purposes and in order to represent the evolution of fashion, the exhibits are updated regularly every two or three years with different selections of clothes, a decision that originates from the need of guaranteeing their preservation.  It also offers the opportunity of displaying the patrimony preserved in the depository, mostly from public and private donations. Visitors can browse the story of costume, from the Renaissance to present day, through an extensive set of dresses and accessories, combined with contextual images and description panels.

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The gallery’s heritage is enriched by an archive paper with drawings, sketches and patterns of important figures such as Thayaht, Cesare Guidi, Simonetta Colonna di Cesaro and Alberto Fabiani. The gallery also exhibits a collection of mid-20th century costume jewellery and accessories. The Meridiana building, close to the gallery, is also the seat of a fabric restoration laboratory which is essential for the maintenance of clothing and accessories.

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Costume Gallery: Palazzo Pitti, Piazza de’ Pitti, 50125 Florence, Italy. Tel: +39 055 238 8611. Amission: € 7.00. Open daily, 8:15 AM – 4:30 PM (November to February), 8:15 AM – 5:30 PM (March, winter time, October winter time), 8:15 AM – 6:30 PM (March, summer time, April, May, September, October, summer time), 8:15 AM – 6:50 PM (June to August). Closed on the first and last Monday of each month, May 1 and Christmas.

Palazzo Strozzi (Florence, Italy)

Palazzo Strozzi

Palazzo Strozzi

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections (3)Palazzo Strozzi, facing the historical Via de’ Tornabuoni, is one of the finest examples of Renaissance domestic and civil architecture.  It has, since World War II, been Florence’s largest temporary exhibition space and, today, the palace is used for the now-annual antique show (founded as the Biennale dell’Antiquariato in 1959), international expositions, fashion shows, and other cultural and artistic events such as “Cézanne in Florence, Two Collectors and the 1910 Exhibition of Impressionism.” During our visit, there ongoing exhibits were “Migrazioni” (Liu Xiadong, April 22-June 19, 2016) and “From Kandinsky to Pollock: The Art o the Guggenheim Collections” (March 19-July 24, 2016)

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections

Designed by Benedetto da Maiano and begun in 1489  , the palace was built for Florentine banker, statesman and merchant Filippo Strozzi the Elder, a rival of the  Medici who had returned to the city in November 1466.  He desired the most magnificent palace to assert his affluent family’s continued prominence and, perhaps more important, a political statement of his own status.

Wooden model of the Palazzo Strozzi

Wooden model of the Palazzo Strozzi

To provide enough space for the construction of the largest palace that had ever been seen in Florence, a great number of other buildings were acquired during the 1470s and then demolished. A wood model of the design was provided by Giuliano da Sangallo. Italian architect Simone del Pollaiolo (il Cronaca), in charge of its construction until 1504, left the palace incomplete and the palace was only completed in 1538, long after Filippo Strozzi’s death in 1491.  That same year, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated it but it was returned to the Strozzi family thirty years later.

Cortile (Central Courtyard)

Cortile (Central Courtyard)

Cortile (Central Courtyard) (3)It remained the property and seat of the Strozzi family until 1937, after which time it was occupied by the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni which made great changes to the building. Since 1999, it has been managed by the City of Florence. The Palazzo is now home to the Institute of Humanist Studies, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi (Palazzo Strozzi Foundation), the noted Gabinetto Vieusseux, with its library and reading room, and the Istituto Nazionale del Rinascimento (Renaissance Studies Institute), the last two occupying the building since 1940.

The dominating cornice

The dominating cornice

StairFrom Palazzo Medici, Filippo copied the cubic form, designing its three floors around a cortile  (central courtyard) surrounded by an arcade,  inspired by Michelozzo. Its rusticated stone was also inspired by the Palazzo Medici but with more harmonious proportions. However, this free-standing structure is surrounded on all four sides by streets unlike the Medici Palace which is sited on a corner lot and, thus, has only two sides. The ground plan of Palazzo Strozzi, rigorously symmetrical on its two axes, with clearly differentiated scales for its principal rooms, introduced a problem new in Renaissance architecture (given the newly felt desire for internal symmetry of planning symmetry) – how to integrate the cross-axis.

The paired mullioned windows

The paired mullioned windows

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong) (3)The three sides overlooking the street each have three arched portals. The palazzo, with its dominating cornice (typical of the Florentine palaces of the time), has paired mullioned  windows (bifore) and wrought-iron lanterns, done by an iron-worker named Caparra, decorating the corners of the palace exterior. As they rise to the keystone, the radiating voussoirs of the arches increase in length, a detail that was much copied for arched windows set in rustication in the Renaissance revival.

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong)

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong)

Palazzo Strozzi: Piazza degli Strozzi, 50123 Florence, Italy. Tel: +39 055 264 5155. Open daily, 10 AM – 8 PM (Thursdays, 11 PM). E-mail: info@palazzostrozzi.org. Website: www.palazzostrozzi.org. Admission: €12.00.

Museum of Dante’s House (Florence, Italy)

Museum of Dante House

Museum of Dante House beside the Torre della Castagna

The Museum of Dante’s House was established in 1965 on the occasion of the seventh centenary of the birth of the Dante Alighieri, the greatest Italian poet and the father of the Italian language. The Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia), his masterpiece, has influenced the love poetry, theology and symbolism and was, for centuries, the basis of the idea of collective Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Paradise (Paradiso).

Libro del Chiodo (Book of sentences of families rebelling against Florence)

Libro del Chiodo (Book of sentences of families rebelling against Florence)

Dante was born, between May and June, 1265, in the shadow of the Badia Fiorentina in the neighborhood of Florence.   In 1868, after completion of several studies and researches of reports in many old documents, the house of the Alighieri family, near the Torre della Castagna, was identified. However, very little remains of the original building but it was rebuilt in 1911. Tucked into the labyrinth of medieval alleys that tangle between the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazza della Signora, it is a fine example of a private upper-class home from Dante’s era, but Dante never actually lived here though there is evidence his brother might have owned it.

Death mask of Dante

Death mask of Dante

A museum, designed and installed by the Unione Fiorentina, was opened to the public in May 1965. In 1990, the museum closed for restoration and, on June 1, 1994, was reopened to the public. From 2002 to 2005, the building was reinforced structurally and architectural barriers were removed resulting in the museum’s reopening on September 27, 2005. 

Plastic model representing the historic Battle of Campaldino

Plastic model representing the historic Battle of Campaldino

The modest exhibition path, arranged on three floors according to the three most important stages in his life, touches the issues in the life of Dante through the events of the Alighieri, the subsequent exile and the features of Florence in the XIV century. A portrait of the poet, of mysterious origin, is engraved on the floor of the square in front of the house.

Dante's dagger

Dante’s alleged dagger

The first floor displays a series of documents on some of the aspects of 14th century Florence and on the youth of Dante, on his christening in the Baptistery of San Giovanni (the “beautiful San Giovanni”), on his public life, on his election in the office of prior of the town and the realities experienced by the poet – his participation in political and military struggles, notably the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, the Battle of Campaldino and the division of Florence into “sestrieri.”

Reproductions of the weapons used at the time

Reproductions of the weapons used at the time

There’s a room dedicated to the art of doctors and apothecaries (Dante’s Florentine guild) as well as a reconstruction of a typical medieval master bedroom.  There’s also an audio-visual room dedicated to the Divine Comedy, a reconstruction of the streets of medieval Florence and an exhibition of traditional costumes of the fourteenth century.

Traditional costumes of the fourteenth century

Traditional costumes of the fourteenth century

The second floor exhibits documents relating to his painful exile of 1301, the year of his condemnation. After visiting several cities (Forli, Verona and Bologna), the poet decided to spend his last years at Ravenna where we would die (1321) in the home of Guido da Polenta.

Typical Medieval master bedroom

Typical Medieval master bedroom

The third floor offers a collection of documents concerning the iconography and fortune of Dante over the centuries.  There are also excellent reproductions of works of art, ranging from the 14th century to the present-day, painted by important artists  such as Giotto, Fra Angelico, Andrea del Castagno, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Luca Signorelli, Raphael and Michelangelo.

Dante's family tree

Dante’s family tree

The museum’s predominantly historical and educational exhibit introduced me to the figure of the “great poet”Dante and the medieval Florence in which he lived. The plastic model representing the historic Battle of Campaldino (attended by Dante) and the reproductions of the weapons used at the time were very interesting.

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Museum of Dante’s House: Via Santa Margherita 1, 50122 Florence, Italy. Tel: + 39 055 219 416. E-mail: info@museocasadidante.it. Open Tuesdays, 10 AM – 4 PM; Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 AM – 3 PM; Saturdays, 10 AM – 5 PM, holidays and Sundays,  10 AM -5 PM. Closed on Mondays and Thursdays. Admission: €4.00.

How to Get There: Take Via dei Calzaiuoli from Duomo to the river and turn left after the third street (Via Dante Alighieri).