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.

Kampong Ayer (Brunei)

Kampong Ayer - The Water Village

Kampong Ayer – The Water Village

This Water Village (MalayKampung Air), along the banks of the Sungai Brunei (Brunei River), is an area situated over Brunei Bay that is home to a sizable population of 39,000, representing roughly 10% of the nation’s total population.  The district, a culturally important part of Brunei that preserves the nation’s river dwelling origins, has a unique architectural heritage of wooden homes with ornate interiors.

The mainland jetty

The mainland jetty

Built entirely of stilt houses and wooden walkways, it is the world’s largest water village and the most famous water settlement of Southeast Asia.  One of the most important centers of trade in Borneo, people have lived in Kampong Ayer for over 1,300 years. When the fleet of Ferdinand Magellan visited in 1521, Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta dubbed it the “Venice of the East.” Kampong Ayer has been the capital of the Brunei Sultanate for hundreds of years.

The modern-looking, 20-pax bot penambang (covered water taxis)

Boarding our modern-looking, 20-pax bot penambang (covered water taxi)

The author (right) with members of BEAT

The author (right) with members of BEAT (led by president Mr. York Virtucio at left) on board our water taxi

The establishment of the land town, acting as a population magnet, did not lead to its depopulation and arrival of new residents and natural increase maintained the population balance. Most of Kampong Ayer had survived heavy World War II bombardment. Around 2013-2014, smart new, two story stilt houses made of concrete were built in the center of the Kampong Ayer and given to the people in need of a new house but not wishing to live on land. Even today, many Bruneians still prefer the lifestyle of the water village to residency on dry land.

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View of the mainland

The villages on the river’s north bank (the same side as the city center) used to cover a much larger area, but many of the stilt houses have been razed to spruce up the waterfront area around the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.

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Entering the narrow waterway

We were to have a personal experience of this heritage as we took one of the many 20-pax bot penambang (modern-looking, covered water taxis) that provide rapid transit daily between the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, in the center of town, and the water village itself. Our private water taxis resembled a long wooden speedboat. Before leaving the jetty, we all wore life jackets.

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A foot bridge

The Water Village is really made up of a cluster of 42 small, contiguous and relatively cramped stilt villages (kampongs) linked together by more than 29,140 m. of foot-bridges.

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This self-contained, close-knit community consists of over 4,200 structures, including homes, mosques, restaurants, shops, schools and a hospital, all interconnected by maze of 36 kms. of boardwalks. All of the six water village mukims (districts) are collectively known as the water village (Kampong Ayer) but, for administrative purposes, are identified as separate mukims.

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One of two mosques

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The marine fire brigade

From a distance the water village looked like a slum but it actually enjoys modern amenities. The government, through the District Office, has provided it with numerous facilities including foot-bridges, concrete jetties, piped water, plumbing, electricity, telephones, schools, two mosques, clinics, seafood restaurants, a police station, a museum and a marine fire station.

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A colorfully painted house on stilts

Many of the houses also have air conditioning, satellite television and internet access. Some of the residents even keep potted plants, in container gardens, and raise chickens. They even say that if you look at the main roads on the banks opposite the village, you’ll see luxury cars lined up on the shoulder of the road.  Many of these cars belong to water-village residents.

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A village jetty

The wooden, sun-bleached houses, painted with shades of green, blue, pink and yellow, have not been done-up for tourists. From afar, we could see the 30 km. long Temburong Bridge, which is still under construction (it is expected to be completed in 2019), and the golden roof of the largest residential place in the world, the Sultan’s Istana Nurul Iman.  We made our first and only stopover at a village jetty.  Getting off the boat was an adventure on its own as we had to climb some worn-out concrete steps.

A second mosque

A second mosque

The unfinished Temburong Bridge

The unfinished Temburong Bridge

Upon reaching the top of the jetty, we walked along a treacherous, banister-less boardwalk, some with loose or missing planks, again another adventure by itself. Walking along these planked walkways (a bit of balance is required) while observing the various homes is probably what draws visitors here. However, while the houses were far from squalid, we noticed rubbish floating or carpeting the inter-tidal mud at low tide. For an apparently affluent country like Brunei which could afford to tidy it up, it was disgusting and disappointing.

Climbing the stairs up the jetty

Climbing the stairs up the jetty

We finally arrived at a local concrete home which was way too nice to be anything close to an authentic village house. The entry hall even had a chandelier. Just like in a mosque, we had to remove our shoes before entering.  Inside, there were lots of tourists like us. Obviously, it’s part of the tourist trail.  There, a good refreshment was served – 3 kinds of colorful kuih bingka, a local traditional sweet cake, plus tea. Our snack here capped our Water Village tour and we again made our back to our boat for the trip back to the mainland.

Traversing the wooden boardwalk

Traversing the wooden boardwalk

Removing our shoes prior to entering

Removing our shoes prior to entering

Our tour of the nondescript Kampong Ayer wasn’t really a visit into the past. Rather, it was just a peek into the everyday lives of some very friendly Bruneians while seeing some of the changes that has taken place over the last thousand years or so. Interesting but not amazing. Venice it isn’t by a mile.

Three different kinds of kuih bingka

Three different kinds of kuih bingka

Kampong Ayer: Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.  Kampong Ayer is accessible by boat or land bridges. To get across the river, just stand somewhere where a water taxi can dock and flag one down (the fare is B$1, one way). To get to these villages from the Yayasan Complex, itself built on the site of a one-time water village, follow the plank walks, behind the Hua Ho Department Store, that lead west, parallel to the river.

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.

Chiesa di San Zaccaria (8)

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

Basilica of San Miniato al Monte (Florence, Italy)

Basilica of San Miniato al Monte

Basilica of San Miniato al Monte

From Piazzale Michangelo, a five minute stroll up took us to the unique and beautiful Basilica of San Miniato al Monte (St. Minias on the Mountain), a basilica standing atop Monte alle Croci, one of the highest points in the city.  One of the most scenic churches in Italy, it absolutely has the best view of the city.

View of Florence

View of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio (left) and the Duomo (right)

Here, we could see the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio up to the last standing parts of the medieval walls that once surrounded Florence.  A stunning example of original Tuscan Romanesque architecture, it has been described as one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany. Here are some trivia regaring the basilica:

  • The church is dedicated to Miniato or Minas, an Armenian prince or Greek merchant who once served in the Roman army under Emperor Decius.  Miniato was denounced as a Christian after becoming a hermit.  He was brought before the Emperor, who was camped outside the gates of Florence, and was ordered to be thrown to the beasts in the amphitheater.  A panther refused to devour him so, in the presence of the Emperor, he was beheaded.  Miniato was alleged to have picked up his head, put it back on his shoulders, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus, to his hermitage. A shrine was later erected at this spot and, by the 8th century, there was already a chapel built there.
  • The basilica served as an important setting in Brian de Palma’s 1976 filmObsession.
  • On June 16, 2012, Dutch royalPrincess Carolina of Bourbon-Parma married businessman Albert Brenninkmeijer

The present church, built on the site of a 4th century chapel, was started in 1013 by Bishop Alibrando (Hildebrand) and was endowed by the Emperor Henry II. The green (from Prato) and white (from Carrara) marble façade, with strict geometric patterns similar to the facades of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, is the most important element of the façade.

The basilica's Romanesque facade

The basilica’s Romanesque facade

The facade was probably begun in about 1090 although the upper parts date from the 12th century or later.  It was financed by the Florentine Arte di Calimala (the eagle that crowns the façade is their symbol), a cloth merchants’ guild who, from 1288, were responsible for the church’s upkeep.

Eagle symbol of Arte di Calimala

Eagle symbol of Arte di Calimala

The lower part of the facade is decorated by fine arcading.  A fine 12th century mosaic of Christ enthroned between the Madonna and St. Miniato, over a central window, decorates the simpler upper part of the facade.

Mosaic of Christ enthroned between the Madonna and St. Miniato

Mosaic of Christ enthroned between the Madonna and St. Miniato

The campanile, which collapsed in 1499, was replaced in 1523 although it was never finished. In 1530, during the siege of Florence, it was used as an artillery post by the defenders. To protect it from enemy fire, Michelangelo had it wrapped in mattresses.

The unfinished campanille

The unfinished campanille

The tripartite Romanesque interior of the basilica, little changed since it was first built, has three naves (without a transept); a trussed timber roof and ceiling (decorated in 1322) in the central nave; and exhibits the early feature of a choir, elevated on a platform above the large crypt (the oldest part of the church).

The trussed timber roof and ceiling

The trussed timber roof and ceiling

Fragments of 13th and 14th century frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi (1341) may be seen in the vaults of the crypt.  Finished about 1062, the austere crypt is divided into 7 small aisles by 38 slender columns that were decorated “in gold” by Gaddi in 1342. Enclosed by a marble column fence and elaborate wrought-iron gate (1338), this vast space contains an impressive 14th century wood chorus.

The crypt

The crypt

Columns, with alternating polystyle pilasters, divide the naves. The side (lateral) naves were finished in 1070. The patterned pavement, in the central aisle, dates from 1207 and includes marble intarsias representing the signs of the zodiac and symbolic animals.

Central Nave

The central nave

The beautiful, freestanding Cappella del Crocefisso (Chapel of the Crucifix), designed by Michelozzo in 1448, dominates the center of the nave. It originally housed the miraculous crucifix, now in Santa Trìnita, and is decorated with panels long thought to have been painted by Agnolo Gaddi. Luca della Robbia or his family did the delicate glazed terracotta decoration of the vault (the crucifix above the high altar is also attributed to him) while the mosaic of Christ between the Virgin and St Minias was made in 1260.

Cappella del Crocefisso (Chapel of the Crucifix)

Cappella del Crocefisso (Chapel of the Crucifix)

The 11th century high altar supposedly contains the bones of St. Minias himself (although there is evidence that these were removed to Metz before the church was even built). The intimate raised choir, with its fine inlaid wooden choir stalls, and the presbytery contains a magnificent Romanesque ambo (pulpit) and screen, both made in 1207. The lectern is supported by a “column” composed of a lion, a monk-telamon and an eagle with outstretched wings.

Blessing Christ, the Pantocrator, flanked by the Madonna, St. Minias and the symbols of the four Evangelists

Mosaic o the Blessing Christ, the Pantocrator, flanked by the Madonna, St. Minias and the symbols of the four Evangelists

The bowl-shaped vault of the apse (c. 1260) is dominated by a great mosaic, dating from 1297,  of the Blessing Christ, the Pantocrator, flanked by the Madonna, St. Minias and the symbols of the four Evangelistswhich depicts the same subject as that on the façade and is probably by the same unknown artist.

Left nave

Left nave

The figures stand out Byzantine-style against a gold background in a field populated with oriental birds (symbolizing souls). The date palm, on the left, symbolizes Christ Resurrected, while the phoenix on the right, spouting flames from its beak, and the peacock on the left, both symbolize the Resurrection of Christ.

Right nave

Right nave

The great fresco cycle on the 16 stories of the Life of St. Benedict (taken from “Dialogues” of Gregory the Great and from “Golden Legend” by Jacopo da Varagine), illustrated in chronological sequence (almost like a film) by Spinello Aretino (1387-88), decorates the entrance of the sacristy, to the right of the presbytery. The first undertaking of the Olivetans, it was commissioned by Benedetto degli Alberti.

Tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal (1461-66) by Antonio Rossellino

Tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal (1461-66) by Antonio Rossellino

On the left of the nave, stairs lead to the Chapel of St. James or Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal (Cappella del Cardinale del Portogallo), a collaboration of outstanding artists of Florence.  One of the most magnificent funerary monuments of the Italian Renaissance, it was designed by Brunelleschi’s associate, Antonio Manetti (but finished, after his death in 1460, by Antonio Rossellino in 1461).

Madonna with the Child and Saints Francis, Mark, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, James and Anthony Abbot

Madonna with the Child and Saints Francis, Mark, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, James and Anthony Abbot

It was built by the Alberti workshop of Antonio and Bernardo Rossellino in 1473 as a memorial (the only tomb in the church) to Cardinal James of Lusitania, the Portuguese ambassador in 1459, who died in Florence on August 27, 1459.  The chapel was decorated by Alesso BaldovinettiAntonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo. The 5 splendid roundels representing the Holy Spirit and the Cardinal Virtues are by Luca della Robbia (1461-66).

Medallions by Luca della Robbia

3 of the 5 roundrels by Luca della Robbia

A fine cloister, adjacent to the church, also designed by Bernardo and Antonio Rosselino, was planned as early as 1426, financed by the Arte della Mercantia of Florence and built from 1443 to the mid-1450s. The fortified bishop’s palace, to the right of the church, was the ancient summer residence of the bishops of Florence from 1295- 1320.  It was later used as a a convent, barracks, a hospital and a Jesuit house.

Bishop’s palace

Bishop’s palace

 

Defensive walls, originally built hastily by Michelangelo during the 1529-30 siege and expanded into a true fortress (fortezza) by Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1553, surround the whole complex and  now encloses the Porte Santea, a beautiful, monumental cemetery laid out in 1854. Carlo Collodi (creator of Pinocchio), Giovanni Spadolini (politician), Pietro Annigoni (painter), Luigi Ugolini (poet and author), Mario Cecchi Gori (film producer), Libero Andreotti (sculptor), Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta (fine artist), Marietta Piccolomini (soprano), Giovanni Papini (writer) and Bruno Benedetto Rossi (physicist) are buried here.

Porte Santea

Porte Santea

When ascending the stairs of the basilica, the adjoining Olivetan monastery can be seen to the right. It began as a Benedictine community but was then passed to the Cluniacs and, finally,  in 1373, to the Olivetans who still run it. The monks here still make their famous tisanes (herbal tea), liqueurs and honey which are sold to visitors from a shop next to the church.

Olivetan monks

Olivetan monks

Basilica of San Miniato al Monte: Via delle Porte Sante, 34, 50125 Florence, Italy. Tel: +39 055 234 2731.  Open daily, 9:30 AM -1 PM and from 3 – 7 PM; Sundays 3 – 7 PM. Visit the church on Sundays and feast days as the monks accompany Mass in the crypt with Gregorian chant at 10 AM and 5.30 PM. During week days, the Gregorian chant takes place at 5:30 PM in summer. This time might change to 4:30 PM in winter.

 

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.

Porcelain Museum (4)

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.

Porcelain Museum (3)

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.

Porcelain Museum (14)

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.

Porcelain Museum (17)

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.

Porcelain Museum (23)

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.