Dwight Peck's personal website

Tuscany in the off-season

Arezzo and the neighborhood in February and early March, 2015

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Our sojourn in Arezzo and thereabouts is sadly at an end, we're headed home, but stopping off in Cremona for a few days on the way.

A few days in Cremona

A last view of Arezzo, 7 March 2015, as we head north . . .

. . . over the mountains towards Bologna, then northwest on the autostrada past Modena and Parma, finally to . . .

. . . Cremona in the Valley of the Po. We're outside our hotel, debating which of us will carry in the Squirrel in her inhumane cat-carrier and which, the litter box.

This is the Albergo/Ristorante Duomo, a fabulous choice on Kristin's part: relatively inexpensive, clean and beautiful, a superb restaurant, and a staff who were memorably solicitous over three days for Kristin's welfare, who'd just come down with bronchitis. Why is it called the Hotel Duomo?

That's why.

The impressive Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, or Duomo di Cremona, facing the spacious Piazza del Comune. Work on the Romanesque brickwork cathedral began in 1107, in the flush of the new Comune era, but faltered after an earthquake in 1117. It was finished in the 1160s, and consecrated in 1196. The façade was added in the 13th and early 14th century and the huge arms of the transept were added during the same period, but the upper part of the façade and completion of the marble front covering were done in a Renaissance renovation beginning in 1491.

Beside the Duomo, its 113m-high belltower, the Torrazzo, is the 3rd tallest brickwork tower in the world and the oldest extant brick structure over 110m tall in the world. It was probably begun in the 1230s and heightened throughout the century as a square civic defensive tower with embattlements still visible across the flat top, and then completed as the belltower with the octagonal drums on top in about 1309.

The interesting Renaissance portico, called the 'Bertazzola' after the wife of some local hero at the end of the 11th century, connects the Torrazzo with the breadth of the front of the cathedral.

Alongside the Duomo, the octagonal Baptistry, the Battistero di S. Giovanni, was built in 1167 with Lombard-Gothic brick walls, and the marble covering on the sides facing the piazza, as well as the porch over the entrance, were added in the 16th century.

Kristin at the gates. Like the Duomo itself, the columns of the narthex rest upon big lions. Old-timers gather by the doors to yawn over old memories.

This huge tank, made in 1531 from a single block of 'Ammonitico Rosso', a kind of red fossil limestone from the region of Verona, is said not to be a baptismal font but rather a reservoir from which the Bishop could bless the Easter holy water to be distributed out to the city parishes.

A baptismal font from the early 12th century

Wooden statues of Saints Philip Neri and John the Baptist

A 14th century crucifix over the altar of St John

The altar of the Addolorata or grieving virgin, by Giacomo Bertesi in the late 17th century

The prophets Enoch and Elias, early 12th century

Crossing the Piazza del Comune in front of the Cathedral, with the Palazzo del Comune or City Hall and Kristin returning to the hotel with a troublesome cough

The Via del Gonfalonieri (' of the city bosses'), home of the Hotel Duomo: on the left, the Loggia dei Militi, or Soldiers' Loggia, built in 1292 for the assembly meetings of the Società dei Militi or neighborhood citizen military groups, and on the right, the Palazzo Comunale, founded in 1206, modified in the early 16th century, and modernized for later uses in the mid 19th.

The city's coat of arms in the portico of the Loggia dei Militi, supported by two rough-looking gentlemen without trousers

Back to the Duomo. The main portal dates from the early 1100s and the narthex surrounding it from the 13th century with the addition of the façade.

The narthex or porch of the Cathedral, with the Baptistry

One of the lions with prey. The young girl has got stuck and her mom is hurrying to get her free.

Three naves with apses -- the long arms of the transept are (I paced them off) each the same length as the nave from the centre of the crossing by the presbytery to the front door.

The Duomo di Cremona is most famous for its multi-gazillion frescoes celebrating Old and New Testament tales and Cremona's nine favorite saints, mostly from the 15th and some from the 16th century.

'The Crucifixion' or 'Golgotha', by Il Pordenone (1521), reminiscent of battles in The Lord of the Rings.

Up above, the nuns' gallery, so they could observe all the action without being compromised by being seen by any non-nuns.

The altar (built in 1630) of Saint Rocco, or Roch, the 14th century son of the governor of Montpellier in the Languedoc who gave away his riches and came to Italy to cure people of the plague by making the sign of the cross over them, and who is iconographically portrayed revealing the plague sores that he inevitably contracted for himself.

The pulpit

The main altar with its large silver and gold altar cross

The altar of St Homobonus (S. Omobono = 'nice man'), patron saint of business people, shoemakers, and the city of Cremona; he was a rich Cremonesi businessman who used his profits to console the poor and afflicted and was canonized by Innocent III a year after his death in 1197.

The Torrazzo belltower soaring

The Torrazzo sports the largest astronomical clock in the world, built in 1583 to replace an earlier clock with an updated works to embody the Gregorian changes in the European calendar; the zodiac has been repainted many times but the works are original.

This is the façade of the northern transept, dating from the late 13th century

The northern transept and the Torrazzo, all in brickwork

Cremona is presently a town of 70,000 (down from ca. 80,000 in 1301), capital of the province of the same name in the region of Lombardy. Its economy is based upon agricultural products, many of them specialty products, some heavy industry, and commercial transport through its barge-port on the river Po. Tourism is also important, particularly in light of its 900-year-old history as a musical centre, not least for the production of lutes and violins.

On a Cenomani Gallic settlement established in ca. 400 BC, Cremona was adopted by the Romans, with nearby Piacenza, as their first military coloniae north of the Po, and it soon became one of the largest towns in northern Italy. The poet Virgil went to school here, but lost his family's land holdings in 40 BC when Octavian, later Augustus Caesar, confiscated the whole place for having sided with Julius Caesar's assassins, and gave it all out to reward his legionaries.

Cremona was destroyed in AD 69 by Vespasian's army in his quest to become Emperor, and though rebuilt, it didn't significantly recover for several centuries. Under the Lombard kingdom, it remained a resistance outpost of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna until 603; the Lombard queen Theodelinda, however, rebuilt the city and re-installed a bishop in 615, and administration of the city remained under its bishops' control, as vicars of Charlemagne's Franks and the Saxon dynasty of the Empire.

This is the southern side of the Town Hall complex one block south on the Via del Gonfalonieri (the Gonfalonieri, named for a city's gonfalons or banners (= 'standard-bearers'), were the equivalent in medieval Italian towns of mayors, chief justices, chief diplomats, etc., depending upon the circumstances).

An impromptu dance recital in the Piazza Stradivari. Cremona escaped from imperial and ecclesiastical control and entered into the era of communes by allying with the Gran Contessa, Matilda of Canossa, in 1093, along with Milan and other cities, to resist the Emperor Henry IV in his struggles with the papacy called the 'Investiture Controversy'. The city entered into a time of prosperity and expansion, but at the same time (as everywhere else) it began to fracture internally between pro-papal Guelph and pro-imperial Ghibelline factions.

From the Piazza Stradivari, looking at the Torrazzo and the northern side of the Town Hall. Two generations later, Cremona switched allegiances and sided with Friedrich Barbarossa when he showed up to reassert imperial power in Italy in 1154, and in 1162 Cremona and the Emperor's forces destroyed Milan. That was a bit opportunistic, and five years later Cremona joined the new Lombard League and assisted in defeating Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano in 1167 and went on to defeat the League of Milan, which included Brescia, Como, Crema, Lodi, and Novara, in 1213.

That's a statue of Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), part of an upper-class Cremona family, who was an accomplished luthier and builder of all sorts of string instruments, including of course the Stradivarius violin.

The Cremona Cathedral since the 12th century has been the centre of organized music studies and performance and is still prominent for its festivals of Renaissance and Baroque music. The Stradivari were amongst a number of Cremonese families who were famous for the same reasons, amongst them the Amati, Guarneri, and Ruggieri, and Claudio Monteverdi was born and studied here; there are still thriving craftspeople at work in the city, a major museum of string instruments in the Palazzo Comunale, and the site 'Traditional violin craftsmanship in Cremona' was accepted in 2012 in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In the 13th century, Cremona backed Emperor Frederick II, 'Stupor Mundi', who frequently used the city as his peripatetic capital, but suffered for it when the pro-papal forces in Parma broke the Emperor's siege in 1248 and captured two thousand Cremonese soldiers, amongst others. By 1276, Cremona had passed into a period of Signoria strong-man rule under Cavalcabò Cavalcabò and his son until 1322, under whom some of the grandest surviving church and public buildings were created. Thereafter, the city fell under the intermittent control of the Visconti and later the Sforzas of Milan (in 1441 Cremona hosted the marriage of the condottiere Francesco I Sforza and Bianca Maria, the Visconti heiress to the Duchy of Milan), and thus passed through the control of Venetians, Spanish, French, and Austrians, until the Unification.

The Public Garden of Pope John Paul II in the Piazza Roma (with a special statue dedicated to the Pope?)

A colorful road-train from the Coast-to-Coast-Express line of tourist attractions from Italpark LLC.

Back to the Hotel Duomo to see how Kristin's bronchial recovery is progressing.

This is our room.

Next day, 8 March, we're off to take more photos that Kristin can reflect upon later to see what she's had to miss.

The interior courtyard of the Palazzo Comunale, facing the Duomo across the piazza

The view out the skylight

The Baptistry again

Another view of the front door of the Duomo; there's an early frieze just under the three niches of the central loggia, and 14th century statues in the niches of Madonna and Child with St Omobono, the patron saint of Cremona, on the right and St Himerius of Cremona on left. Himerius was actually Calabrian, but his relics were brought here by Bishop Luitprand of Cremona in 965 and lots and lots of miracles immediately ensued. So he gets a niche, too.

The Palazzo Comunale as the tour buses are pulling in

The view along the southern side of the Baptistry and façade of the Duomo

The façade of the southern transept, apparently completed in 1374. We're off now on walkabout to see some more sights.

This is the basilica of San Lorenzo, home (with the larger building on the right) of the new archaeological museum (which was closed today). Tant pis.

The parochial church of Saint Michael, or San Michele, founded by the Lombard Queen Teodelinda in 615, obviously somewhat modified over time. But it's closed until the monk's lunch is over, so we'll wander round the neighborhood and come back later.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 11 May 2015.

Arezzo trip,
Feb.-March 2015