Revisiting Draguignan

Before moving to our present village home just off the Italian border, we used to live in Provence, the land of vineyards, olive orchards and lavanders and where the sea is not so far away in fact the small fishing village made famous by Brigitte Bardot – St Tropez – is just 50 km from our town.   The name of that town is Draguignan and living there for  eight years got me extremely familiar with its geography like the back of my hands, or so I thought.  

Surprisingly today, I discovered the real Draguignan like I’ve never seen it before.  We were there today for one of H’s regular errands and while he attended to his rendezvous, I went photo-scouting in the old town. 

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Standing on a rock is the Clock Tower (Tour de l’Horloge) that has withstood more than 4 centuries of existence.

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A 16th century Roman gate.  Nearby is the site of an ancient pharmacy where a young son of the town, Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès, worked as trainee and eventually in the 1860s invented our present-day breakfast fare, the margarine. 

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Rue de l’Observance, from the 15th century, was the road where the aristocracy and men of law resided.  This is the part of Draguignan that really amazed me particularly  the facades of the houses and the wooden doors dating back to the medieval age

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The old signage of rue de l’Observance

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If only these doors can speak….how beautiful they sculpt doors in those days

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A 17th century door facade

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I really love the design of ancient floor tiles! 

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A little varnish and polish, this door would come out alive again!

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You will often find holes such as this one (covered in green iron grill) in facades, they were used to ventilate the basements….

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A Gothic window frame

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Front shops like this one are now a thing of the past, but thanks to the owner of this property for not erasing history

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Free music concerts such as this, almost all year round, is one reason why France is the best place to live in the world!telephone.JPG

This historic telephone building now houses the Post Office

Night Photography …in the village

Every Christmas season, it’s a tradition in our village to put up  Christmas nativity scenes in public places and they are particularly more interesting to look out at night when they are lit up so armed with my tripod and wrapped up from head to foot to protect myself from the winter cold, I, with H in tow, went scouting for cribs to photograph.

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Still searching for more cribs, I thought these village steps make a good night scene.    Doesn’t it look mysterious at night?

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… and this series of windows across the road with some Christmas lights a-twinkling

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Crib-scouting over, time to go back home.  Really freezing cold tonight!

Florence: People-watching

This must be my lucky year:  seeing Florence twice in five months!  This city is simply amazing:  architecture, art, culture, fashion, chic, shopping, parks, good food, and as always…loads of people-watching!

Enjoy browsing!

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A hotel doorman

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Tourists awed by the magnificence of the Duomo

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Battle of the boots

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It’s the boots’ season

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Boots for all sizes

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Guards of Palazzo Vecchio

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Working hard for the money

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The tourist guide……is easily recognizable as one holding an umbrella even if it’s not raining, or even sunny

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Love in Florence

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Backpackers in colour

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Ambling along the Ponte Vecchio

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A fashion model on holiday?  she looks very much like it

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Vetulonia

We made a last minute visit to Vetulonia the day before we left Tuscany.  This fortified village of 400 inhabitants is just twenty minutes drive from where we are in Scarlino and we thought it would be a shame to end our Tuscan adventure without even seeing a trace of  24 centuries-old Etruscan history.

A few of us know that before the Romans rose to power in Italy, there was the Etruscan civilization that existed for around 900 years.  A post-Bronze age society, they developed their own language, art and architecture as evidenced by the archaeological relics that were found mostly in the north of Italy.  It was only in the 1800s during an excavation conducted by the self-taught archaeologist Isidoro Falchi that an ancient city and a necropolis containing over 1,000 tombs were discovered below the village of Vetulonia that the place was soon declared as one of the twelve most important cities in ancient Etruria.  What is most interesting is that it was only last year,  in May 2010 that an Etruscan “domus” (residence) was found.  It appeared to be the basement of a family villa which was used as storage for food and wine; a clay pot for keeping the grains, an olive press and broken pieces of pottery, vessels and plates.   The sun-baked clay bricks making up the wall and the worn clay floor are still intact  There was also the presence of nails which are believed to have come from the wooden beams that used to support a second floor made of wood and clay.  They even found a door handle and the remains of bronze furniture.

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Lying just below the village is this ruin site of limestone walls and network of roads.  Regrettably, we went there in the afternoon where it was too late to do any decent exploration of the necropolis.

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Vetulonia is 300m above sea level and the view from the top is that of the mediterranean sea at a distance and the agricultural landscape of south-western Tuscany

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Vetulonia houses as seen from the piazza of the old town.

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This village restaurant is the first one you see upon entering the village. The writings above say: “The old wine cellar, traditional food of quality and quantity.”

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Cassero Senese, the name of this medieval relic which is the only part left standing of an  8th century castle. 

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A shrine infront of the Cassero

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Mura dell’Arce, remains of a cyclopean wall dating back from 6th-5th century BC. 

Cyclopean wall or dry stone wall is a method of building a wall of stones without using a mortar to bind them together

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A bar named “Il Frantoio”,  probably an ancient site of an olive mill  

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The Christmas tree of  the village

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This house for sale could be transformed into a Bed and Breakfast house for tourists…

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The Church of Saints Simon and Jude

Stunning Sienna

If you dream of stepping back to the Middle Ages for a first-hand grasp of an Italian city, then SIENNA it has to be, undoubtedly the jewel of Tuscany.   

As one of the greatest artistic centers of Medieval Europe, you will be treated to an incredible display of ancient architectural splendors, elegant paintings of world renowned Sienese School,  various artworks and well-preserved buildings which inscribed the city on the Unesco World Heritage list. 

Our one day visit to Sienna was simply not enough.  I wish we had the chance to stay the night to get a feel of its mysterious dark streets and low-lit alleys, then getting up early the next morning to watch the locals slowly start the day while sipping our capuccino from a caffé in the Piazza del Campo, then be the first on the queue to enter the Duomo so we could explore its magnificent religious artworks and the Palazzo Pubblico for its allegorical frescoes! 

Oh well, who knows, maybe we could go back there again at some point.  But one thing is certain,  another city has just been added to my list of “Most amazing places I have ever visited!

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Siena is perched on a hilltop 322 meters high so it is a good idea to conserve your energy for that much-needed foot exploration of the city by taking the elevator.  Driving in the historic center is almost an impossible feat so we parked the car on the side of the road  500 meters away from the foot of the hill and it’s free.  The elevator ride  took about 8 minutes  as it is quite a long way up the top, but we didn’t get bored as there are pictures of celebrated Italians and world personalities displayed on each landing with stories on how their lives had greatly influenced and improved the world we live in today.

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There are also the occasional art publicity banners such as this one.

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The monumental steps leading to the Sienna Cathedral or more popularly known as “Duomo”.  The structure on the right is the back entrance to the cathedral.

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The Piazza del Campo dominated by the Palazzo Pubblico now housing the Town Hall, with its tower, the Torre del Mangia.

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The Torre del Mangia as seen from the courtyard of the Palazzo.  Torre del Mangia in English is “Tower of the Eater” which referred to its 14th century guardian who used to spend all his money on food. 

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When it was built, this tower of 88 meters was the tallest in the whole country.  Now it takes second place after Cremona’s Terrazzo.

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The saint sculptures on the facade of the Palazzo

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The front wall of the Palazzo with its rein rings that used to tie horses in the medieval age.  It is still in use today for securing the horses participating in the bi-annual “Palio” and also for holding publicity banners.

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A close-up picture of a rein ring.

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Also situated in the Piazza del Campo is the Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy) built in 1419.

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One of the marble bas reliefs on the Fonte Gaia

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A cafe in the Piazza next to the Fonte Gaia

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The symbol of Sienna – the she-wolf suckling the young twins, Romulus and Remus.  This statue is located in the courtyard of Palazzo Pubblico

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Another she-wolf sculpture in one of the piazzas

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A gothic-styled street lamp

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Sienna is divided into 17 districts or contrade where each one is represented by an animal.  This is the insignia of the contrada of Tartuca (turtle) situated in the southern end of the city.  Its residents are mostly sculptors.

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Various images of the turtle is shown in the Tartuca district, like this one of a fountain.

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This is the contrada of Selva represented by a rhinoceros standing at the bottom of an oak tree hung with hunting tools.  Most of the residents are weavers.  They live west from Piazza del Campo, the center of the city.

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Still in the Selva district with the rhinoceros symbol adorning the top of this noticeboard.

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Selva district’s rhinoceros fountain.

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A relief of a naked woman peeking out of the window in the Bruco (caterpillar) district

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She’s actually looking at an inverted pomegranate with a caterpillar crawling on it.

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In the contrada della Giraffa (giraffe) in the north-east, we saw this poster on the door which announced the participation of the district to this year’s Palio.  Ten of the 17 contradas of  Siena take part in the horserace which has been a tradition dating back to the 16th century.  

The contrada della Giraffa won the race last August 2011.  The title “contrada imperiale” was bestowed by King Vittorio Emanuele III when it won the palio in 1936, the year the race was dedicated to Italy’s empire in East Africa.

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The town is dotted with medieval reliefs.  This one, as seen in the inscription, is located in the contrada of Chiocciola (snail)

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Territory of the contrada of the Chiocciola (snail).  I wonder why a slow-moving creature  is chosen here but surprisingly, their motto is:  “With slow and deliberate steps, snail leaves the battlefield triumphant.”   The residents of this district worked as terracota makers.

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Laundry day, seen here in the contrada of Oca (goose).  Notice the image of the goose on the street lamp.

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A shrine in the Oca district.  It is situated to the west of Piazza del Campo and the residents here were mostly dyemakers.

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A Sienese car plate.

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Medieval doors

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A church in brick red 

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The gothic-style  Basilica di San Francesco was built in the 13th century out of donations from thieves and usurers for the pardon of their sins.

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The cloister of the Basilica and convent.  Part of the convent was sold to the University of Siena to house the Faculty of Law and Economics.

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Found inside the Basicilia are fagments of sculptures dated between the 14th – 16th century and are now displayed on the walls. 

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San Bernardo Tolomei
Born in Siena, he founded the Olivetan congregation of Benedictine monks in the 14th Century. When the plague of 1348 hit the town, he was among the first volunteers to come to the aid of his plague-stricken monks, but alas, he himself, along with 82 monks, fell victim of the Plague.

Almost 3/5 of the population of Siena was wiped out by the Plague.

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An altar of the Mother of Perpetual Help inside the church

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A wooden sculpture

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The altar

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Churches are found in almost every corner in this city.  This one, particularly quiet, is the perfect place to have a break…

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..and eat our sandwiches in peace

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Sometimes three ladies or two would walk past us but it’s okay.  Picnicking on little corners in Italy is well-accepted!

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As is typical of Catholic Italy, shrines can be found every few meters away.  In Sienna, they are mostly about the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus…..

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In Siena, there is a strict rule on preserving the city’s medieval age look, and that includes commercial signages.  

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….like this 5-star hotels are no exception. 

I wonder how a McDonald’s letter “M” would look like.  I did not notice any in the old town though. 

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This Roman well inside a shopping arcade has been turned into a table, cool!

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The Public Library

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Gates to the Sanctuary and house of Santa Caterina, the patron saint of the town

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The Sanctuary which houses the miraculous 12th century crucifix from which the saint received her stigmata.

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A view of the Sanctuary

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The old town of Siena with the Torre del Mangia dominating the scene.

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It has a population of 56,672 with some of the residents living in the outskirts. This figure could easily triple up in the summer when tourists from around the world come to visit.

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And beyond those houses, the famous Tuscan scenery

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But I’m glad we were there on a quieter season, the best time to explore this beautiful city without the crowd

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The Cathedral of Sienna as seen from the ramparts of Fontebranda.

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The basin of the Fontebranda,  the oldest and the most famous of the numerous fountains in Siena. While it used to provide drinking water for the city as well as the running of the tanners’ mills, it is now home to various fishes.

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A town fountain

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A 3-star hotel in historic Sienna

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Walking past the hotel, I noticed this autumn view coming from its courtyard.  I took this shot through the glass door.

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Found another old fountain on this narrow street (right).

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This public telephone booth, at first glance, gives the impression of a public toilet

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and speaking of toilet, this sign says:

“Questo muro.  Non e gabinetto per cani.  I condomini.”

(This wall.  It is not a toilet for dogs.  Apartment owners)

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The only problem is, dogs can’t read.

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Souvenir shopping ideas.

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Sienna is famous for its ceramic art

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Shops are not allowed to change the original look of the town’s facade

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but they can make use of the medieval walls to display their wares 

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such as this Chianti wine.

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I am assuming that outside shelves are not allowed hence shopkeepers have to improvise

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“Agrumaria” derived  from the word agrume referring to all fruits of the citrus genre.  Hence this shop specializing in everything citrus.

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The Italian gelato

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pasta of all shapes and colours…

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A cheese shop  that is sure to attract the children’s attention, which is a perfect advertising strategy, mind you!

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“Pizzicheria” means grocer’s shop.  Here you can also buy boar’s meat as shown on the display.

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You can also take home a Tuscan landscape painting.

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A statue of Savina Petrilli, born in Siena on August 29, 1851, beatified in 1988, was the founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena to meet the needs of girls in need and the poor.

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The statue of Sallustio Bandini in piazza Salimbeni. 

Born in Siena in 1677, he received a Jesuit education and later took a degree in philosophy and law at the University of Siena.  In 1701, shortly after becoming an expert in canon law, he began his ecclesiastical career which led him to hold the office of Archdeacon in 1723.  His great love of culture led him to amass a number of books and manuscripts so great as to constitute a veritable library, which in 1759, a year before he died, he decided to donate to the city of Siena.  (wikipedia)