Monday, November 4, 2013

Travel Days and Siena

I realize I haven't written about the past three travel days. Travel days are when we all hop on a big tour bus and go from one city to the next, and stop at places along the way.

From Venice to Florence, we stopped at a cemetery by Aldo Rossi. I've mentioned him before in this blog, he was an iconographic architect. He incorporated shapes and symbols and icons into his work to create associations for his visitors. Usually it's successful and kind of nice, but his cemetery missed the mark for me.

The complex itself is still unfinished, after 20 years of work. There are spaces for mausoleums (mausolei? mausoleae? Forgetting my 8th grade Latin here), for coffins, for bones, and for other remains. And it was almost All Saint's Day, so the graves were all covered in flowers.

It felt so institutional though. I immediately thought of the idea of the "business of death" while I was there. The spaces were small and there wasn't any private area to speak of. There were over 1000 spaces in the bone house in the center- how would you fit 1000 families there on All Saint's Day? It is not a place I want to take my "forever nap", as I put it to Erica.


The complex actually is an addition, and the shapes of the buildings mirror the shapes in the cemetery next door. And Rossi's iconic ideas were still visible- blue roofs to represent the blue sky, symbols of pitched A-frames to address that this place is a home (just for dead people), etc. It all felt wrong to me though. I don't know if it's my culture to blame, my own views on death, or my dislike of overcrowding, but that cemetery did not sit well with me.


From Florence to Siena, we wanted to stop at a monastery, but the monks were doing All Saint's Day services all week and visitors were not welcome. So, we spent a couple hours in the small town of San Gimignano, a little village in the heart of wine country.


I sat in the square and sketched and journaled. Gene talked about the staggering of the buildings, how the topography of the land influences the location of the buildings, and other things. Someone pointed out to me that the Italy section of this trip is more about Urban Planning than it is Architecture- and the old Italians were GREAT urban planners. They can make a plaza that makes your heart sing. And it's so interesting to have a truly public place. We in America have "public" places like parks, but crime is such a big issue in our society that you almost can't have public areas for fear of misuse. I don't know if it's less of an issue in Europe or if the plazas are just designed in such a way that there is nowhere to hide, but there hasn't been any crime to speak of and people just respect and value these public areas more.

Erica, Mattie, Leanna and I did a quick wine tasting before hopping back on the bus. When in wine country...


From Siena to Rome (which was November 4th), we stopped at Hadrian's Villa. It is the site of the former palace/villa of Emperor Hadrian of Rome, who was Emperor when the Roman Empire spread from England to Iran. The ruins are still visitable today, and are incredible. Absolutely incredible. We've seen domes and arches on this trip, but these ruins reveal the wall section, the thickness of slabs, and the construction methods of the past. It's so cool to be able to see just HOW these incredible forms are made, all from examining and drawing their ruins.


We spent 3 hours at the Villa, and it almost wasn't enough. The air smelled of olive trees, which is a very distinct smell I had never encountered before then. I don't really like my sketches all that much, they were all very analytical and just me trying to construct the shapes and forms on paper. Kinda difficult, kinda didn't succeed very well... But hey, I tried.


Siena was essentially a pit stop on our way to Rome. There are two very impressive things to see, and nothing else- the Piazza Campo, and the Cathedral. We spent a few hours at each place during our time in Siena.

The Campo is the big public plaza. The land slopes down towards the center, and alleyways cut through the buildings from the main street above to the plaza. We were tasked with drawing two of those alleyways, and Gene complimented mine. SCORE.


The Cathedral is, obviously, the cathedral. It was magnificent and sat at the highest point in the city. I stared up at it one day, and the way the clouds were blowing past made it look like the facade was about to fall straight onto my face. It was a weird sensation. Inside is a beautiful dome and a library full of old handwritten monk manuscripts. On the floors are inlaid medieval drawings of people- Gene suggested we try to draw one of them, but from upside down. It was a fun exercise, but really difficult to explain to all the curious non-English speakers who tried to ask me what I was doing. Womp womp.

A passageway from the back of the cathedral to the front

Exterior facade, and the library! You can see the monk-uscripts in the bottom of the photo

And the crux of the church!

But now I am in Rome!

1 comment:

  1. Lol monk-uscripts. I like it. That cathedral is seriously impressive. I get what you mean about the cemetery, but at the same time, most countries don't have the luxury of space like we do here. We still have plenty of room to build huge cemetaries where everyone has their own space. Maybe that's why it felt so weird. Maybe there's also a personal space thing that's different there. We like our personal space here. Maybe they don't mind being so close to one another there? I dunno. Just a thought!