Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day Four- Palazzo del Te

Day four began with a decent breakfast at our place- this one had fresh eggs, baked goods, cheese, ham, and assorted other goodies in a nice, light-filled room. Not fancy, but not a bad deal for around $??/ night. As soon as we had eaten we took off for the Palazzo del Te, trying to beat the heat that we knew would be in full effect by 11 am. It wasn't a long walk to the palazzo, passing through a shaded park and getting there pretty fresh. The Palazzo (del) Te was built in the 1520s for the dynastic heir Federico Gonzaga as a pleasure palace outside the city walls for the soon to be Duke to escape the pressures of court with his mistress. Pretty funny when you consider it can't be more than about a half hour walk to the Palazzo Ducale at the far end of town. But pleasurable it is, with thick walls surrounding a courtyard, and a playful architecture that gently mocks the pretenses of classical style. But I came for the interiors, and I was not disappointed. 

Both the architecture and the art inside were commanded by Giulio Romano, a pupil of Raphael's who worked on the Vatican Loggias and the Villa Madama, which he took over after Raphael died. Romano's humorous touches are everywhere, from oversized architectural elements to an odd collection of murals, including large photo realistic portraits of horses in the main salon, and a room where giants are seemingly crushed by the falling walls of the room itself. Photos were banned here too (damn them picture cops!) but it wasn't too hard to sneak, and there was pretty good natural light in many of the rooms. There was an unfortunate contemporary art exhibit going on in several rooms, including the Giants, with an intrusive sculpture that emitted lightning flashes and loud thunder, making it very difficult to take in the room. Still, it was very enjoyable, and just when I was getting a bit frustrated with the prying eyes of the photo pigs, we hopped out and across the former entry court over to a small grotto area, where there were some beautiful grottesca style murals and nobody around to prohibit picture taking. Ahhh!

By this time we were ready for lunch, so we headed down to our favorite grocery store to restock on the usual fare, which we ate in the same park we had eaten in the day before. This time there was a crew (just two guys actually) trimming the topiary with a loud power shear. Wasn't too awful, but I kept thinking about how pleasant it would have been with someone doing the same job with hand shears. So many things about our current economic state that don't always make sense. After lunch we took in a beautiful 11th century round brick church that was only recently disentangled from the surrounding buildings and restored. It had a very serene feeling inside it.

We also went over to the Basilica of Sant'Andrea, which we had not been able to visit thoroughly the day before. Commissioned by the Gonzaga family in 1462, the church was designed by one of the most influential Renaissance architects, Leon Battista Alberti. It wasn't actually finished until 328 years later, but it is still considered to be one of Alberti's most complete designs. It was unfortunately hit pretty hard by the earthquake of 2012, but repair work was in motion, with a gigantic scaffold in place. The scaffold did cover quite a bit of the decoration, and it completely blocked the view of the large dome, but there was still plenty to see on the walls and what could be seen of the vault. I really wished I could climb up on that scaffold and look at that stuff up close, but it didn't look like a possibility, and Marianne didn't look that patient.

We now had a pretty good handle on which streets to follow to stay out of the sun and see pretty vistas, so we headed back slowly, with a gelato and a pack of cookies, to the room for a short rest, then reemerged at the dinner hour, stopping at one of the fine little hosterias on the Piazza delle Erbe, the traditional market square. I had a local specialty, a freshwater fish in green sauce, while Marianne tried the totelli di zucca, pumpkin filled pastas. Both were delicious, and our waiter was from Puerto Rico, so I completely addled my language brain by switching back and forth from Italian to Spanish. For some reason, maybe because the two are fairly close to each other and because I'm more familiar with Spanish, this always ties my tongue up in little knots. Still, it was fun, and the piazza was very romantic with lights strung across and loads of mostly Italian tourists visiting and chatting. We went back to our place with a real desire to come back again to this town.

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