Katerina Vignau: Grand Tour 2022

Italia Grand Tour- “Mosaic”

Broken pieces.

Made for a purpose.

Made for art.

Made for a masterpiece.

As we embarked on the Italia Grand Tour, I had no expectations.  Little did I know, there was so much to learn and experience.  This Grand Tour Reflection will focus on the different regions of Italy that my group visited.  This is an amalgam of several pieces of my Grand Tour through Italy.  I titled this piece “Mosaic” because it’s a collection of pieces that, when put together, make the masterpiece that was my trip.  The name was inspired by all the beautiful mosaics we encountered in the churches across Italy.

Pantheon in Rome

Before coming to the Pantheon I only had name-recognition of the place.  I knew it was a tourist site and one of Italy’s largest attractions but didn’t have an actual idea of what it would look or feel like.  

The Pantheon is a massive structure that was made for theworship of the Roman gods and then later was repurposed as a Catholic church.  Walking into it, your eye is drawn upwards right away.  My jaw dropped as I peered through the oculus that loomed high above my head.  What makes the Pantheon such an architectural feat is the height and width of the expansive dome.  For that reason, it was revolutionary for the time.  For hundreds of years afterwards, people tried to accomplish a dome with dimensions that large but were unsuccessful due to the fact thatthey had forgotten the Roman recipe for concrete. To achieve adome that size that wouldn’t collapse, the Romans adjusted the weight of the concrete.  They made the dome’s top gradually lighter than its base (Muench).  The Pantheon is also important because it the oldest standing Roman building (Muench). Because it stayed intact (except for the bronze on the roof), it gave people an idea of how Roman buildings actually looked like and therefore the magnificence of their Empire.

Thankfully, because we saw the Pantheon near the beginning of the trip, I had time to reflect on it throughout the Grand Tour.  The image of its ceilings were imprinted in my head and Italy wouldn’t let the image get erased from my head.  The visual of the Pantheon kept showing up.  Everywhere I went around Italy,I couldn’t get away from the influence of the Pantheon.  Almost every church or museum, had the same design as the Pantheon on its ceilings.  Sometimes they would mimic it exactly and other times they would vary it slightly.  Artists would even paint the illusion of Pantheon ceiling design instead of making itthree-dimensional like it was on the original.  

I loved being able to make connections with what I had already seen but I always thought that it would be better to make seeoriginal designs.  That’s probably American’s influence on my thinking.  Americans are always encouraged to be individualsand innovators.  But then I realized that this mimicry is just a reflection on how important and amazing the Pantheon was toItalians.  It makes sense that one of their oldest standing pieces of history would inspire Italians artists across time.  

San Lorenzo in Florence

Speaking of a churches with coffered vault ceilings inspired by the Pantheon, the Basilica di San Lorenzo of the San Lorenzo area is a prime example.  The San Lorenzo area’s most noteworthy site is the Basilica di San Lorenzo.  This church is near the center of the area and was made by some of the most renowned artists.  The two most notable were Filippo Brunelleschi and Michelangelo.  The Medici family commissioned the making of this church for the predominant reason that they wanted their own private chapel to have and to be buried in.

The church is unlike other churches because of all the marble.  All sides are covered with beautiful and colorful inlaid marble. This church felt like it was made for nothing more than just showing off the just showing off the Medici’ opulence and wealth.  Even their church felt like a manipulation and power move.  

The Medici family were more than just opportunists.  They climbed and pushed their way to the top.  At the time, nobility was a very small portion of the population and you were born into it. The Medici were a notable family but were not technically royal or with real legislative power for a few years.  They started as doctors and bankers.  Doing different businesses, they accumulated wealth and a strong name but had yet to achieve the official status.  Eventually, they achieved it by marrying two of their daughters into royalty.  They also find their way into papacy which in many ways is as high as royalty in influence.  

Nothing the Medici achieved was by chance.  They fought their way to power and fought to maintain it.  Now, although they had many questionable tactics, they were anything but passive. Sometimes I find it difficult to see historical figures as human beings.  And I think the Medici would have preferred to be seen more like figures that are divinely and perfected placed into their positions of power, detached from the rest of humanity but, they really slipped up.  Their flawed humanity is blazing apparent.  

They were corrupt and would climb over people and protocol to get to where they wanted to be.

You need look no further than their association with the antipope, John Paul XXIII.  This pirate-turned-pope becomes cardinal with no religious studies background and Cosimo Medici makes him Pope so the Medici can take control of the church money accounts.  Pope John Paul XXIII turns out to be one of the most infamously corrupt popes in history.  But instead of denouncing him, they give him a church and give a respectable burial ground to prove to the citizens that it was divine for the Medici banks to have control of the papal accounts.

It’s obvious how corrupt they were and their façade started to be uncovered.  They became hated by a lot of the people.  So much so that people tried to kill them in the Pazzi Conspiracy.  It’s not hard to see why they would start to become unpopular.  Yet, they fueled the Renaissance and changed history.  I believe in moral integrity but there these are people.  They’re existence is not fully good or fully bad.  We can’t categorize like characters from a little kid’s fairytale.  It’s not easy to fully support the Medici family but then would we have all the wonderful art and architecture they funded without their unethical behavior?  I believe we can resolve to appreciate the art and industry they left behind while still acknowledging their broken humanity.

Manarola in Cinque Terre

Crystal clear coasts, waves lapping and undulating, tourists rushing past.   That’s what welcomes you as you enter Cinque Terre’s Manarola.  

Although Manarola is beautiful on its own, I believe Manarola is even more beautiful after doing the 2 hour trek from the previous island.  For me, Manarola represented a much needed break and a source of fresh water.  

Although the hike to Manarola was the most rigorous, it was also the most rewarding.  The hike was the means to allow you to go through quaint towns in the mountains, vineyards and picturesque nature spots.  Without it, you wouldn’t haveexperienced the several different bird’s eye views of Manarolaand experienced the hike with people from all over the world.  

I wonder how the original Grand Tour adventurers thought of the hike and Manarola.  They must have also seen Manarola as a very welcome sight after the long hike.

Manarola was also a place for spiritual rest.  The Church of San Lorenzo in Manarola is one of beautiful simplicity.  Though still having areas of art and lavishness, the church presents a mostly white interior and exterior.  Unlike many of the churches that we visited, it wasn’t difficult to focus on a few things.  The church wasn’t overwhelming with visual stimulation.  For me, and maybe for others on the pilgrimage, it was a welcome contrast to the busyness of the cities beforehand and to the beautiful sights of Cinque Terre.

Cannaregio (Jewish ghetto) in Venice

When I first came to Venice, it felt extremely cramped.  There was barely any space in a walkway for two people to walk past each other.  Part of this feeling may have been aggravated by the fact that I was lugging around two big book bags and it was raining so people were holding umbrellas and rushing past.  Even though there were piazzas every once and awhile, it didn’t feel enough for me to feel like I could breathe.  Venice seemed crowded with tourists and dead ends.  

Thus, Venice was ranking really low on my list of my Italian city rankings.

This changed on the very last night of our stay in Venice.  We decided to check out our neighborhood, Cannaregio.  As you walk over what used to be the main canal of Venice, intoCannaregio, the city opens up to you.  The streets and canals are several times wider.  While still touristy, I could see the appeal of actually living in Venice.  The moon reflected the water as you could meander through the streets comfortably with friends or family which is probably part of the reason Cannaregio is more residential. There were several restaurants with pleasant outdoor seating.  International influence was shown through theItalian fusion outdoor restaurants.

Though Cannaregio was beautiful, it also has a dark past.  This area is home to the oldest Jewish Ghetto (“City Walk: Jewish Ghetto Tour, Venice, Italy”).  They would force all the Jewish Venetians into this corner of the city.  The Jews there were subject to curfews and loss of freedoms. Venice had strict rules.  Jews always had to wear a yellow cap and couldn’t be out at night.  The only professions they were allowed to do was doctors and usurers

(“Walking through the Sestiere Di Cannaregio…”).  To this day, you can still visit the gateway that would be closed at night.  When we heard of this gateway we thought it would be something eye-catching because it was so significant to the history of these people.  But, the entrance wasn’t noteworthy at all which shows how little they cared about the Jews. If you weren’t looking for it, you would walk right past the small entrance.  The gateway was a glorified hallway which seemed to be a side-note used for practicality and nothing more. 

Coincidently, right next to the gateway we spotted a small Kosher restaurant full with a group of Jewish men and boys singing.  The melody was beautiful and it felt like God was giving us the perfect background movie score as we entered into the Jewish confines.

On the other side of the gateway, we met the first piazza of the Old Ghetto.  At night, it felt like the Ghetto itself was mourning. It was eerie.  The place felt dark, but not only because it was minimally lit.  Across from the gate, on the other side of the piazza, was a Holocaust cemetery and memorial for all the Venetian Jews who were never able to return alive.  The list of names on the wall was extensive and heartbreaking.  Right beside it, we happened upon an Orthodox Jew praying aloud next to the memorial.  You could feel the weight of what had happened there.  The place demanded space in your thoughts and prayers.  There wasn’t anyone near us but we felt the need to stay silent.

I left feeling pensive and as though I had truly connected to a piece of history and to Venice on that last night.

Photo taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0


There was so much more to learn from every city I visited.  Much like how you realize different things when you reread a book, I know that revisiting the cities I went to would teach me entirely new things.  For the stage I’m in right now, it taught me to be open to new opportunities, that I can do difficult tasks, and that I can be more courageous moving forward.  I’m grateful for every single piece of my mosaic.

A presto Italia!/ See you soon, Italy!

Works Cited

“City Walk: Jewish Ghetto Tour, Venice, Italy.” GPSmyCity, www.gpsmycity.com/tours/jewish-ghetto-tour-1956.html. Accessed 14 June 2022.

Muenchen, Stephen T. “Construction and Behavior of the Pantheon.” Brewminate.com, 23 Jan. 2018, brewminate.com/construction-and-behavior-of-the-pantheon/.

“Walking through the Sestiere Di Cannaregio: Discovering the Most Authentic Venice | Visitvenezia.eu.” https://Www.visitvenezia.eu/En/Venetianity/Walk-Venice/Walking-Through-The-Sestiere-Di-Cannaregio-Discovering-The-Most-Authentic-Venice, http://www.visitvenezia.eu/en/venetianity/walk-venice/walking-through-the-sestiere-di-cannaregio-discovering-the-most-authentic-venice. Accessed 14 June 2022.

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