Posts Tagged ‘renaissance’

Elegant, Intimate Úbeda

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Dianne Konz has taught Spanish literature, language, and civilization at the University of Texas at Austin and at George Washington University. She has also lectured and published studies on Spanish and Latin American literature, and Spanish culture.

Recently, Dianne and a group of Smithsonian Journeys travelers explored the Paradores and Pousadas of the Iberian Peninsula.


Stepping out of the gorgeous 16th-century palace—our home in Ubeda—onto the plaza ringed by golden brown Renaissance stone, it is hard not to feel the presence of the past. The tranquil elegance of the beautiful square is undisturbed by the occasional passing of locals headed toward the church at one end, or the breathtaking overlook just down the street. To the right, perhaps the most beautiful plaza in Spain, anchored by a majestic and serene Renaissance palace—today’s city hall. A passing shower has left the smooth, timeless stones of the plaza glistening beneath our feet. It is refreshingly cool this afternoon, and the air is fragrant with the scent of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. We are off to get our bearings and discover the town.

Interior courtyard of the Úbeda Parador. Photo courtesy of Flickr user david_jones

Ubeda is a quiet city where single sounds emerge—church bells, lively conversations, children playing, a car passing. As we amble down the narrow streets, we pass palaces that were once homes to wealthy and powerful figures in the 16th-century Spanish court. Elegant coats of arms carved in stone, like silverwork, adorn the surface of some façades, giving quiet witness to the families that lived there. Today, these palaces are the backdrops for thoroughly modern and vibrant—yet traditional—Spanish life. Our street gives way to another beautiful square with a bandstand in the center. It is nearly the end of the school day and boys kick a soccer ball across a sandy playground. The elegant palace ahead with the Italian-style loggia is now the local music school.  As we pass, I ask a teenager which instrument he studies. He smiles, pats the case, and says with a wink, “Saxophone.”

Ubeda plaza

The renaissance architecture of Úbeda. Photo courtesy of Flickr user martinvarsavsky

Down the way, we spot a ceramic store. Beautiful earthenware glistens in the window and fills the entryway.   Warm browns and deep greens are the predominant local colors. A unique cut-out style graces many pieces.  As we enter the store, the rich aroma of burning wood draws us to a fireplace along the sidewall. The crackling fire casts a glow on the ceramics all around. We approach to say hello to the owner’s wife, an attractive, dignified woman seated beside the fire. She greets us warmly and gestures for us to come nearer to admire her three-week old granddaughter in the pram beside her. A lively toddler—big sister—pulls up a small bentwood rocker to join them, singing quietly to herself.

Ceramic of Triana

Ceramic of Triana, Seville. Photo by Annual (own work), via Wikimedia Commons

We wander to the back of the showroom, where the owner is deftly throwing a beautiful botijo—a traditional clay water jug—on a potter’s wheelI ask him about the distinctive cut-out patterns in some of his pieces. It is called calado –“calao” in the softened Andalusian speech—a style introduced by Moorish craftsmen centuries ago. He explains that the tall vases with the intriguing open work were used to burn aromatics—mint, rosemary, myrtle, and more—to “give atmosphere” to the room. Rather suddenly, the store fills with a large number of lively local teenagers, here on an excursion to view the potter’s craft. As they circle around this outgoing artisan, he gives them his full attention, explaining his technique and answering questions. They move down the narrow aisles, examining pieces, snapping photos on cell phones, and talking animatedly.  Amazingly, nothing hits the floor. As they file out, the potter waves to them and returns to his wheel. Once again, I am grateful for an up-close and personal view of modern Spaniards—of all ages—in this ancient and traditional urban landscape.

Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Paradores and Pousadas tour here.

Things you didn’t know about Michelangelo

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Michelangelo's <i>David</i>, a Renaissance masterpiece, in Florence. Photo by Elaine Ruffolo

When any art fan thinks of Florence, there is always a connection to Michelangelo. No artist has put his mark on the city quite like he has. Yet, how much do we really know about him? Although his reputation has spanned centuries, he was human like the rest of us – with ups and downs in his own life. Here are a few things about this iconic artist that you might not know.

1. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born March 6, 1475.

2. The family business was small-scale banking, a trade that had been passed down for generations. But his father struggled to keep the business successful, and took government positions to supplement the family income. Because of this break in tradition, Michelangelo was free to explore other career opportunities.

3. At the age of 17, Michelangelo worked as Bertoldo di Giovanni’s apprentice, as did fellow contemporary Pietro Torrigiano. It was Pietro who punched Michelangelo, resulting in a broken nose that is clearly reflective of every portrait of Michelangelo.

4. When Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the original idea was to paint the 12 Apostles against a starry sky. But the artist insisted on a more complex theme, and when it was finally completed it included 300 figures highlighting stories from the Book of Genesis.

5. Although many of Michelangelo’s most notable works were created earlier in his life—Pietà, for example, was carved when he was 24 years old —He lived a surprisingly long life and passed away at the age of 88.  

Who is your favorite Renaissance artist – Michelangelo, Raphael, or Da Vinci?

Explore the Italian Renaissance with new eyes and perspectives when you travel to Florence with Smithsonian.

Video: Do You Know the Code?

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

We are thrilled to launch our new Smithsonian Studies Abroad program, designed specially for high school students looking for unique experiences this summer. One of our most popular programs is located in gorgeous Florence, Italy, where students will learn Italian while focusing on the art, architecture, and history of the Renaissance.

Even before the Renaissance, Italy had a fascinating history of conflict between pagan Romans and early followers of Christ.  Issues date back as early as 64 A.D., far before Italy became the predominantly Catholic country we know today. To be Christian could mean prison, torture, or being put to death. As a result, codes were required for Christians to travel throughout the region. What kind of codes were used? Find out by watching this video from the show Decoding Christianity courtesy of the Smithsonian Channel.

The deadline to sign up for Smithsonian Studies Abroad for Summer 2010 is quickly approaching! Click to learn more.

Which program do you want to explore? Share below!

World Heritage: Venice

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Allison Dale is Smithsonian Journeys’ intrepid marketing intern. She is majoring in English at Georgetown University, and in her past travels she has explored North America, South America, and Europe. Here, she tells us about her adventures in Venice.

Sunset in Venice

Sometimes called the “City of Water,” “The City of Bridges,” or “City of Lights,” Italy’s Venice  stretches over 118 islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon. This location in the Adriatic Sea naturally lends itself to some of the most spectacular urban scenery in the world. The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as well as a vital center of commerce and art in the 13th to 17th centuries.

The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, in recognition of its architectural integrity and for the presence of some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

Everything I’d heard about Venice I found to be true. The art was spectacular, the architecture enchanting, the cafés quaint. The pizza was thin and authentic and the gelato rich and creamy. The maze of canals and the floating gondolas seemed to have appeared out of a picture book. Not even the sweltering summer sun could disturb my euphoria.

When I visited, I reveled in the opportunity to stand in front of Saint Mark’s Square  with the pigeons pecking around my feet, to explore museums like the Ca’Rezzonico and the Palazzo Ducale, and to study the works of Titian up close for the first time. I discovered that the best way to experience the city was by getting lost in its intricate maze of canals, crossing bridge after bridge and enjoying the happy accidents of grand piazzas and new neighborhoods.

To me, Venice seemed bathed in an aura of romanticism. The Grand Canal, flanked with the pristine colored buildings, was speckled with boats returning to dock for the evening. The dim lights in the Santa Maria della Salute church accented the detailed interior of the opulent church and inspired a stilled awe in the travel-weary visitors. The sun setting on the Adriatic bathed the city in a fiery orange glow. However, as an aspiring world traveler, and curious individual, what I desired most during my visit was to truly experience the culture of Venice rather than observe it. The best way to infiltrate the local culture, it seemed, was through the Italian’s unyielding penchant for fútbol.

The year I visited Venice was also the year the Italian soccer team clinched the FIFA World Cup Championship after narrowly defeating France in the semi-final. Staying true to our American roots, my travel group and I sought out a bar with a television and jockeyed for seats in front of the small screen only to watch Ghana tie with the U.S. team and oust them from the running, paving the way for Italy’s ascension to the final match.

Sitting in the small bar in Venice, we bit our nails and hoped for a U.S. comeback. The Italians laughed at us, and cheered for our opponents. Their cheers were so boisterous and chants so comical that we couldn’t help but laugh, even in the face of our imminent defeat. Bottles of Birra Moretti and Peroni were passed around and the general noise level in the bar heightened and diminished with the excitement of the match. Truly this kind of public enthusiasm for fútbol was foreign to us Americans.

At the end of the match we were somewhat dejected by the U.S. defeat, but more importantly we were enchanted by the Italians’ enthusiasm for the sport. After staring at Renaissance masterpieces and reading the English translations of brochures I knew a lot about Venetian history, but little about Venetian, and Italian, culture. It wasn’t until we interacted with the locals, joked with them despite the language barrier, and opened our eyes to their culture that Venice really came alive. I found the Venetians to be outgoing and amiable. The youths seemed passionate and even hip, despite living in one of the most historic cities in the world.

While sitting in a local bar we started noticing the Venetian life rather than the Venetian past. It was in those lively neighborhoods along the watery canals where my desire to learn about the local history, see the local art, and to experience, really experience, the local culture became a reality. In Venice, my long-term love affair with Italy began.

Start your love affair with Venice. We’ll take you there.

With which foreign city are you already in love? Share below.