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I visited a small portion of Italy years ago before I had a travel blog. At the time I had established a mail list for my more exotic travels, but I just didn't consider Italy all that exotic (in that it was a well-known and well-traveled-to country), so I didn't compose any emails nor did I write a personal trip journal (or if I did, I have no idea where it is). Recently I had occasion to revisit photos I took on that trip and was surprised at how many of them I liked. I had only a small point-and-shoot camera at the time and had not really "gotten into" photography yet, though my interest was certainly picking up momentum by then, having first sparked two years earlier with my first trip to China.

I decided to include some of the photos on my photography website, SKJ Photography, and then I decided I liked enough of them from the trip that it might be worth sharing in some posts on my travel blog. Especially in this pandemic era of restricted travel, while people may not be getting on as many airplanes, I think armchair travel is up! So I'm putting together a few photo posts, this being the first. I don't have much to say about the trip (being so far in the past) or the photos but I'll give a little lightly-researched background on some of the sights. Mostly these posts are just scroll-through photo collections. 

Below is Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) in the town of the same name in Tuscany. The exterior, as you can see, is incredibly detailed; I could have spent an hour just inspecting the outside (but my traveling companions may have bored so I didn't). The cathedral was built on the site of a previously existing structure and took roughly 45 years to complete during the early to mid 13th century. 

Exterior of medieval Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Exterior of medieval Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Exterior of medieval Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Exterior of medieval Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Exterior of medieval Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Below, this is known as the rose window, designed by famous 13th-century Italian painter, Duccio di Buoninsegna. Originally inside the cathedral, it was removed for conservation (a three year project) and placed in this darkened, temperature-controlled room in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. It was made in 1288 and is one of the oldest preserved stained glass windows of this magnitude in the country. I posted this photo on Instagram and one of my followers who is a consummate captioner really made me laugh with this one: “But Archimedes, how in heaven’s name did we get get trapped inside of this kaleidoscope in the first place?” The statues are actually saints rather than scientists and inventors, but you can totally envision the guy in the foreground saying that, right?

Rose window, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, inside Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

The interior of the cathedral isn't significantly less impressive in terms of all the details. As I have run out of energy to really compose descriptions and histories and the significance of various features, I leave it to you, dear readers, to pursue more information if you like. A simple Google search brings many results. Here I will just provide you a visual sample. :-) 

Interior Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Lantern hanging in interior Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Interior Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Large candles in front of painting, interior Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

There are some old choir books on display, preserved in glass cases. They are beautiful books, and I enjoyed capturing some of them with the ceiling of the room reflected on the glass. I like the way these came out, as the book pages and ceiling merge so well together. 

Ancient choir books under glass and ceiling reflected on glass, Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Ancient choir books under glass and ceiling reflected on glass, Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), Italy.

Below, some street scenes in Siena with rather more humble buildings. I love the old alleyways of medieval European towns. 

Alley among brick buildings, Siena, Italy.

Street in Siena, Italy.

Pigeons drinking from a public fountain, Siena, Italy.

View of Siena, Italy.

We visited some popular Tuscan villages, including San Gimignano, the center of which (pictured below with the well in the courtyard) is a UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO says of it: "a cultural site of exceptional value, since it has treasured its architectural homogeneity and its original urban layout. The buildings within the town’s double wall provide a shining example of medieval architecture with influences of Florentine, Sienese, and Pisan styles from the 12th to the 14th century. The Historic Centre of San Gimignano contains a series of masterpieces of 14th and 15th century Italian art in their original architectural settings."

We are obviously looking down from the top of a tower, and you can see a couple others before you. This town in its heyday, in the 12th and 13th centuries, had 72 such towers! They were built by noble families and wealthy merchants as symbols of their power and wealth. Today only 14 remain. 

Looking down on village square from a tower in San Gimignano, Italy. UNESCO World Heritage site.

Well in a courtyard, San Gimignano, Italy.

We visited the Abbey of Sant'Antimo near Montalcino because I wanted to hear the Gregorian chants which are still performed by the monks, and the public can hear them at the afternoon church service. I think it's cool that this musical tradition has been kept continuously alive here, and as a music major for awhile at university, we studied these chants, and their harmonies have always stuck with me.

The abbey is beautiful in its own right, simple and austere inside, and I love the tall tree who is a companion to the tower.

Approaching Abbey of Sant'Antimo, Montalcino, Italy.

Abbey of Sant'Antimo with tall tree, Montalcino, Italy.

Abbey of Sant'Antimo with tall tree, Montalcino, Italy.

Abbey of Sant'Antimo, Montalcino, Italy.

We were in Tuscany during poppy season and vast stretches of land were bright orange with flowers in bloom. This was a typical landscape of vineyards and olive tree orchards with tan stone buildings among them. 

Tuscany landscape of vineyards and olive tree orchards, poppies in bloom. Montalcino, Italy.

Pienza, below, not far from Montalcino is also a World Heritage Site and a very pleasant town to stroll around. As I recall, there were lots of kitty cats roaming around here. 

Flower baskets in Pienza, Italy.

Another reflection photo of the building across the street reflected in the window of a cheese shop.

So what is a post about Tuscany without some Tuscan kitties? This is before I really got into photographing kitties abroad. In fact, this trip to Italy (which also included a few days in Greece), was my first experience with loads of cats everywhere. Our next trip was to Tunisia, and that time I was prepared to catch them a little more purposefully into my camera. 

But below is a very unique cat ... it was hard to get a clear photo of it from the car with a little point-and-shoot camera as the cat ran up the hillside. But we're pretty certain that this kitty has two tails! 

A few more random village shots.

A community drinking fountain where villagers could fill containers with water. It still works. 

*

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