Marking time

Marking time in September 2010

Friday 24 September 2010

Climbing Brunelleschi’s cupola

In Florence, at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, tourists are welcome to climb to the top of the dome. The other day we joined the horde queueing in the piazza outside, bought tickets and threaded our way through a turnstile and along passages and up stairs. Many, many stairs. Stone stairs spiralling up inside the walls until I was giddy. Stone stairs stepping up the curve of the inner dome. Stone passages low and narrow, patinated with the sweat of visitors accummulated since the completion of the dome in 1436, and decorated with mundane graffiti.

Near the springing point, where the dome starts curving inwards from the supporting walls. On the left is the upper surface of the inner shell, on the right the outer shell.

For the final climb to the top of the dome, stairs run radially on top of the inner shell. A round hole in the outer shell lets in light and air (and water, when it rains).

For parts of the climb people move upwards and downwards through the same passageways, their progress stymied by people headed the other way. We climbed early in the day, in autumn, and general good humour prevailed​—​in summer afternoons these blockages would be unpleasant, and outright disturbing for the claustrophobic.

In the nearby Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, among a fabulous collection of scupture, pictures, vestments, models, drawings and architectural relics connected with the cathedral, is this set of moulds used for making the bricks for the dome.

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Wednesday 22 September 2010

Street numbers

Florence has a confusing dual address system. Each street has a double set of numbers: a red number indicates a shop, restaurant or business, while a blue or black number refers to a hotel or domestic residence. When writing to a busi­ness, insert an “r” after the number to distinguish it from a residential address. Each set of numbers has its own se­quence, so business premises at, say No. 10r may well be next to a residential address at No. 23. [Eyewitness travel: Florence & Tuscany (Dorling Kindersley, 2007) p. 298.]

From the top: A street sign, on a large hand-painted tile inset into the wall, indicating Via Del Campuccio where our apartment is; red number 59, a business premises in the same street; Blue number 7, the entrance to the building our apartment is in.

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Monday 20 September 2010


In Florence, home of wonderful hole-in-the-wall grocery shops.

Via del Parione 19, Firenze.

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Thursday 16 September 2010

Uses for a mobile phone

In my little box of 19th century prints is a steel engraving of a drawing by Thomas Allom of the interior of the Panthéon in Paris. It’s not especially rare or valuable, but I like it for the quality of the print and the connection with my former archi­tec­tural partner Richard Allom (distantly related to Thomas).

I wanted to ‘re-photograph’ the scene that Thomas Allom drew, so I needed a copy for reference. A google search turned up a print-dealer’s online catalog with an image of the Panthéon print, which I copied to my phone. With this in my hand, I found the right spot to stand. I can vouch for the general accuracy of the drawing, with a proviso. I think it is based on a properly set-up perspective drawing, but using a point of view outside the building​—​impossible, in other words, because this view is blocked by the front wall of the building.

With my widest lens (Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L on EOS 5D), and with my back against the wall, I could not get all the parts of the ceiling that Allom showed into the picture. Not, that is, unless I tipped the camera up and caused the columns to topple, and that would never do.

On the left, the Allom engraving displayed on the screen of my phone. On the right, my picture of the same scene

Since some time back in the nineteen-eighties, as a member of Australia ICOMOS, I have received each year a plastic card from the ICOMOS secretariat in Paris. Now, for the first time, I am using the card. In France, ICOMOS members enjoy free ad­mis­sion to various historic sites. Of direct relevance to me this week, I flashed the card at the Panthéon (save €8), the Palace of Ver­sailles (save €25), the Musee d’Orsay (save €8), the Institut du Monde Arabe (save €12)​—​a total saving of €53 (say A$73) over a few days, better than a poke in the eye.

My ICOMOS membership card, seen inside the Pantheon.

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Friday 10 September 2010

Portland stone

I had somehow forgotten how many older London buildings are built of the lovely Portland stone. Yesterday was a day for visiting Sir Christopher Wren’s churches, each of them built of Portland stone by the barge load. Lucy and I started with St Paul’s Ca­the­dral where, for the first time, I climbed to the top of the dome. My legs are sore still​—​this was a climb equivalent to three very tall lighthouse towers stacked one on top of another. I am sad that I have no photos of the interior of St Paul’s​—​cameras are forbidden there, so the sanctity of the place is not degraded nor the quiet meditations of the visitors intruded upon.

An entrance to a handsome Portland stone building designed in 1935 by Edwin Lutyens, beside the alley off Fleet Street leading to St Bride’s Church. How many architects have bars named after them?

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Climbing Brunelleschi's cupola
Street numbers
Uses for a mobile phone
Portland stone

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