Visitors can see famed Florence baptistry’s mosaics up close
By Francesco Sportelli in Florence
FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Visitors to one of Florence’s most iconic monuments — the Baptistry of San Giovanni, opposite the city’s Duomo — are getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see its ceiling mosaics up close thanks to an innovative approach to a planned restoration effort.
Rather than limit the public’s access during the six-year cleaning of the vault, officials built a scaffolding platform for the art restorers that will also allow small numbers of visitors to see the ceiling mosaics at eye level.
“We had to turn this occasion into an opportunity to make it even more accessible and usable by the public through special routes that would bring visitors into direct contact with the mosaics,” Samuele Caciagli, the architect in charge of the restoration site, said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Caciagli called the new scaffolding tour of the baptistry vault “a unique opportunity that is unlikely to be repeated in the coming decades.”
The scaffolding platform sprouts like a mushroom from the floor of the baptistry and reaches a height of 32 meters (105 feet) from the ground. Visits are set to start Feb. 24 and must be reserved in advance.
The octagonal-shaped baptistry is one of the most visible monuments of Florence. Its exterior features an alternating geometric pattern of white Carrara and green Prato marble and three great bronze doors depicting biblical scenes.
Inside, however, are spectacular mosaic scenes of The Last Judgment and John the Baptist dating from the 13th century and created using some 10 million pieces of stone and glass over 1,000 square meters of dome and wall.
The six-year restoration project is the first in over a century. It initially involves conducting studies on the current state of the mosaics to determine what needs to be done. The expected work includes addressing any water damage to the mortar , removing decades of grime and reaffixing the stones to prevent them from detaching.
“(This first phase) is a bit like the diagnosis of a patient: a whole series of diagnostic investigations are carried out to understand what pathologies of degradation are present on the mosaic material but also on the whole attachment package that holds this mosaic material to the structure behind it,” Beatrice Agostini, who is in charge of the restoration work, said.
The Baptistry of San Giovanni and its mosaics have undergone previous restorations over the centuries, many of them inefficient or even damaging to the structure. During one botched effort in 1819, an entire section of mosaics detached. Persistent water damage from roof leaks did not get resolved until 2014-2015.
Roberto Nardi, director of the Archaeological Conservation Center, the private company managing the restoration, said the planned work wouldn’t introduce any material that is foreign to the original types of stone and mortar used centuries ago.
“It is a mix of science, technology, experience and tradition,” he said.
The origins of the baptistry are something of a mystery. Some believe it was once a pagan temple, though the current structure dates from the 4th or 5th centuries.
‘A big part of my life’: Orillia mourns hometown legend Gordon Lightfoot
Two men pay respects at Gordon Lightfoot’s Golden Leaves statue at Tudhope Park in Orillia, Ont., on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. Flowers were placed on the tribute after news broke that Lightfoot passed away at 84 years old Monday May 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Drost
By Sharif Hassan in Orillia
It didn’t take long for the flowers to appear at the statue of Gordon Lightfoot in his Ontario hometown.
The legendary folk musician, claimed by the City of Orillia as its “favourite son,” died of natural causes at a Toronto hospital on Monday at the age of 84.
Barely 24 hours later, Orillia residents stopped by the bronze sculpture of Lightfoot that stands in a city park to pay their respects.
Cam Gardy, who brought yellow flowers to lay at the base of the statue, said his mother went to school with the musician and would tell tales of how he’d perform for students.
“He has been a part of my life as I have grown up,” Gardy said, adding that while he never met Lightfoot personally, he had been to one of his concerts.
“Mr. Lightfoot is iconic, not only to the residents and the city but obviously to the people across Canada.”
Lightfoot put Orillia on the map, Gardy said, and was an “incredible ambassador” for the city.
“He always spoke of his town fondly,” Gardy said.
Joanna Bell, who brought a rose to place at the statue, said she cried when she woke up to news of Lightfoot’s death on Tuesday morning.
“Gordon Lightfoot was a big part of my life, my childhood,” she said, adding that she is one of seven siblings. “He was loved by all of us, and of course he wrote the most beautiful music.”
Lightfoot’s music brings to mind the beauty of Canada, she said.
“He is such a well-respected Canadian,” she said. “That is why I came today, I felt compelled to come.”
Heather Placken, who said she’s been a fan of Lightfoot’s for 40 years, said she only learned of the singer’s death when walking by the entrance of the Orillia park hosting his statue – an announcement had been posted by the entrance.
“I feel really honoured and grateful that I had the opportunity to see him here last summer,” she said.
Lightfoot was more than just a songwriter and musician, she said.
“Every song he has ever written and sang, it tells a story of something significant that everyone of us can relate,” she said.
“He was an amazing individual and for Canadians, to have somebody of that stature to look up to in the music industry is phenomenal.”
Lightfoot was born in Orillia in 1938, sang in a church choir as a boy and dreamed of becoming a jazz musician.
He later emerged from Toronto’s Yorkville folk club scene in the 1960s, and went on to record more than 20 studio albums and hundreds of songs, including “Early Morning Rain,” “Carefree Highway” and “Sundown.”
Orillia Mayor Don McIsaac said Lightfoot was highly regarded in the city.
“His homecoming concerts at the Orillia Opera House and appearances at the Mariposa Folk Festival have always been celebrated by Orillians as they welcomed him home,” the mayor wrote in a statement.
“Many of us who knew him will remember his soft-spoken demeanor, generous personality and infectious laugh.”
There are reminders of Lightfoot throughout Orillia, McIsaac said, noting that the singer’s name graces a city auditorium stage and a trail, while a bust of him sits at the Orillia Opera House, in addition to the sculpture honouring him in the city’s J.B. Tudhope Memorial Park.
“His deep roots in our city are woven into the fabric of Orillia,” McIsaac said. “Our community is mourning together along with the rest of the world.”
The city has lowered its flags to half-mast, the mayor said. Books of condolences for the music icon are available at the Orillia Opera House and Orillia City Centre.
A concert tour to celebrate Lightfoot’s music had been set to begin on Saturday, on the stage named after him at the Orillia Opera House. It will still go ahead, with the show’s creator saying she hopes it will serve as a celebration of Lightfoot’s music and life.
“My band and I were huge fans of Gordon Lightfoot. The reason that we created this concert is because his music has impacted all of our lives so much,” Leisa Way said in an interview.
“He’s just shaped who I am as a Canadian, certainly growing up in northern Ontario, and now it will be very emotional for all of us.”
Way said the concert, called Early Morning Rain: The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot, had premiered for three weeks in February 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic meant it had to stop.
She said she hopes Saturday’s concert will be a special event for the residents of Orillia.
“There’s nothing that Gordon Lightfoot would love more than knowing that audiences are getting together in theaters and singing along to all of his songs,” she said. “I think he’ll be smiling down on us.”
– with files from Maan Alhmidi in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.
Antiquities, plucked from storeroom, on Roman Forum display
Archaelogical findings are stored in plastic tubs in the antiquities storeroom inside the Roman Forum in Rome, Wednesday, April 19, 2023. The pieces today on display at the Forum were part of the myriads of findings still kept in the Colosseum storehouse that is not open to the public. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
By Frances D’emilio in Rome
ROME (AP) — Hundreds of remnants of ancient Roman life — including colored dice, rain gutter decorations depicting mythological figures, and burial offerings 3,000 years old — have long been hidden from public sight. Until now.
For the next few months, a limited number of visitors to the Roman Forum, Colosseum or Palatine Hill can view a tantalizing display of ancient statuettes, urns, even the remarkably well-preserved skeleton of a man who lived in the 10th-century B.C. All the exhibits have been plucked from storerooms in the heart of the Italian capital.
Indeed, so many artifacts are kept in storerooms that “you could open 100 museums,” said Fulvio Coletti, an archaeologist with the Colosseum archaeological park. On Wednesday, Coletti stood at the entrance to a “taberna,” a cavernous space which had served commercial purposes in ancient Roman times and belonged to the palace complex of the 1st-century Emperor Tiberius.
Three such “tabernae” now double as exhibition rooms for once-hidden antiquities. To give an idea of just how many more artifacts are still not on display, curators stacked enormous see-through plastic tubs, chockful of discoveries from some 2,000 years ago and bearing minimalist labels like “Ancient Well B Area of Vesta,” a reference to the temple in the Forum erected to the goddess of the hearth.
One display holds row after row of ancient colored dice — 351 in all — that in the 6th century B.C. were tossed into wells as part of rituals. Also in the exhibit is a decoration from a temple rain-gutter depicting a bearded Silenus, a mythological creature associated with Dionysus, the wine god.
Some artifacts are displayed in showcases custom-made by archaeologist Giacomo Boni, whose excavations in the first years of the 20th century revealed dozens of tombs, including many of children. Some of the tombs dated from as far back as the 10 century B.C., centuries before the construction of the Roman Forum, the center of the city’s political and commercial life, when the city’s inhabitants dwelt in a swampy expanse near the River Tiber.
In one display case is the largely intact skeleton of a man who was a good 1.6 meters tall (about 5-foot-4 inches), on the taller side for his time, in the 10th century B.C. He was buried with some kind of belt, whose bronze clasp survived. Found in his tomb and on display are a scattering of grains, remnants of funeral rites. Layers of mud, formed in Rome’s early days, helped preserve the remains.
The director of the Colosseum’s Archaeological Park said staff were working to make an inventory of artifacts kept in more than 100 storerooms, whose contents up to now have been accessible to academics but few others.
“We want in some way to make objects come to light that otherwise would be invisible to the great public,” Alfonsina Russo, the director, told The Associated Press.
“We’re talking of objects that tell a story, not a big story, but a daily story, a story of daily life,” Russo said.
Every Friday through July, visitors can admire the antiquities pulled out of the storerooms during 90-minute guided tours. The “tabernae” are small exhibition spaces, so only eight visitors can enter during each tour. Reservations are required, and visitors must buy an entrance ticket to the archaeological park. Park officials indicated they hope the initiative can be extended or renewed.
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