#1141. Caramella d’occhio Italiano – primo capitolo (Italian eye candy – part one)

By Pascal Ollier | Travel Photography

Sep 22

For those who like Italy in general, and, like me, Tuscany especially, the source of eye candy is nothing short of inexhaustible.

While I already presented some treasures of Florence and Lucca (which I will dare to revisit courtesy of some new shots taken recently), let me share with you the delights of Siena as well as another special place, designed and built by a famous American artist.

First, yes, I cannot say and repeat enough how much “simply” returning to Florence is a special event, despite the number of visits already paid.

Shooting in Florence with my 9mm Laowa was fun – I hope it shows

I never tire of that moment when I rediscover the Duomo, and this spring was yet another occasion to pay homage.

But this will be the subject of a second chapter in this “Caramelle” series.

This time, we decided to go south and make a first stop in Siena along the way. This was around Easter when restrictions were in full force, and meant there were still few people around, mostly Italian.
Foreigners who came in droves over this Summer, fellow Belgians, Dutch and Germans, stayed home.

Siena is a town where traffic is severely limited. To reach the center, you basically park outside the city and walk along uphill streets.

You can of course get a glimpse of your final destination from afar…but nothing like the real McCoy.

When, huffing and puffing, you reach the top, your heart starts pounding, and your mind keeps racing where do I start, to share with and bring back the emotion to the faithful readers of Dear Susan.

There are two locations, both utterly spectacular, which one cannot miss when visiting Siena, the Piazza del Campo, which hosts a very famous horse race, the Palio, where various “contrade”, or teams, fight it out in two rounds, in July and mid-August.

Piazza del Campo, nothing like an ultra wide angle for a large piazza!

The building which stands in the middle is Palazzo Salimberni, heardquarters of one of Europe’s oldest banks, Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Exceptional weather is not an exception in Italian spring and it does help photography

Seen from the other end, that piazza is just as gorgeous and spectacular.

As the pictures will hopefully allow you to appreciate, Piazza del Campo is vast.

One has to imagine that when the Palio takes place, it is overcrowded with people in the center together with riders careening on horseback on the outskirts.

Next visit in this spectacular city was the Duomo whose construction began in the 12th century.

If the front may be not as large, spectacular, as the one in Florence, it is just as ornate if not more, and in its own way, very beautiful.

Second stop on that trip is something we had wanted to see for a long time. It lies in the extreme south of Tuscany and is, well, quite different.

According to the official story, Nicky de Saint Phalle discovered the works of Gaudi in Barcelona in 1955 and they impressed her a lot.

They gave her the inspiration to create what she called the “Giardino degli Tarocchi” or Tarot gardens.

When one arrives, it is clear that this place is absolutely unique.

You may like or dislike her art, but most definitely, Nicky de Saint Phalle’s will not leave you stone cold.

From the moment work started on this colossal project, it took no less than twenty years until the official opening.

During our visit, there were, unfortunately, many people, some of whom thought that what is her chef d’oeuvre was some theme park, with their children climbing on statues…they are not part of this Caramella ;-).

During part of those twenty years, the artist lived on site to supervise the construction in the largest and most famous sculpture, the Sphinx.

Yes, indeed, this gigantic work of art includes a kitchen, a dining room, as well as bed- and bathrooms.

Mosaics galore, in mind boggling perfection…

This is, for example, the bathroom; the shower head is located in the snake’s mouth…

Both outside…and inside

Not sure a “normal” human being would want to live in such an glittery environment, but then again Nicky de Saint Phalle was someone very much out of the ordinary.

It takes a good two hours to walk around these gardens and one can only marvel at the painstaking detail of each sculpture.

To me, it unquestionably illustrates some form of genius.

There are many more statues in this tarot garden but not wanting to bore you, I hope it has sparked some sort of interest, titillated your curiosity and who knows, perhaps even generated enough interest to encourage a visit.

It is now time to say goodbye until Caramelle part two gets readied, closing this post with one picture typical of the beautiful Tuscan landscapes.

Ciao !


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  • Dallas says:

    Pascal, I love your UWA shots, you do them so well. I agree Tuscany is a lovely part of the world, as for the Theme Park you are in Italy!!! Cheers Dallas

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank you Dallas, glad to see you like these shots I enjoy so much taking and sharing!

      Cheers, take care.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    What fun, Pascal! Love the wide angle shots of Siena which perfectly capture the immensity of the plaza. Nicky’s garden of sculptures is amazing and so cleverly playful that I’ll just have to plan another visit to Italy. Thanks for sharing!

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Dear Nancee, so happy, on the eve of a weekend, to read your kind comment. I am again very glad that my fun photography is appreciated, by you especially. Cheers.

  • Philberphoto says:

    Contrasting the oh-so–classical art of Florence and Siena with the oh-so-not-conventional art of Nikki de Saint Phalle, what a great idea! And you carry it off so well, with -again- a mix of the best of classical focal lengths and images and also the best of the unconventionnally wide…. Kudos and congrats!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Pascal, I hope you don’t take offence at this remark. But after all the spectacular and glittering beauty of everything in all of the preceding shots, the final one – of a field post harvest – seems rather flat.

    I love Gaudi’s creations – I hadn’t heard of Nicky before (no doubt she’d say that, about me!), so I’m pathetically grateful for this “cure” and for the introduction to her works. Sculpture, water colours and pastels head the list for me – they are all “art with a supercharger”! Mosaics have a similar impact – so combining mosaics with sculpture is a certain recipe.

    And Florence or Siena – how could anyone sensibly choose? – why bother? – take both!

    When I was in Prague in 2019, I shot panoramas around Old Town Square. The Laowa produces much the same output, with far less effort. I wonder whether anyone will ever produce a “shift” variant of a 9mm lens? In the literature, you get all sorts of “reviews” and “appraisals” and “comparisons’ of different gear. Some by highly technical firms, others by highly opinionated people, and the rest by photographers.

    In the end, the assemblage of talent in DS all seem to shoot by the mantra of classic photographers – “it’s not what you have, it’s how you use it – it’s not the camera that take the shot, it’s the person holding it”. Accordingly, whatever the qualities or defects of the Laowa, they are of no importance. Your photos, using it, are simply sensational.

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Dear Pete, thank you so much for your extremely kind words about my usage of my ultra wide angle lens.
      No offense about my last shot. De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum.
      Inasmuch as I will agree with you that this field picture is not Tuscan unique, I liked the rendering of this sunset shot just around the corner of the Giardino degli Tarocchi.
      I’ll take due note of your comment for Chapter two.
      Thank you again for the very warm comments. Much appreciated. Cheers.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Sorry – I was distracted and lost my thread of thought.

      This passage – as intended as an introduction to the concept of Laowa lenses.

      Fortunately, amongst photographers we don’t all live by the creed that “everyone is a critic”.

      One or two do. And I’ve seen their negative crap about Laowa.

      Like you, I have a couple of their lenses. They aren’t auto focus – but you know that when you buy them – so that can’t be an “issue”. They’re solidly built – hardly anything out there is “better built”. And the results are stunning.

      • Pascal Ollier says:

        I fully agree with you about what you say about Laowa lenses, Pete, I would just add that I would wish them to add contacts to have the exif data for my shots. Not sure that’s coming though.

  • Steve says:

    Pascal, the wide angle images are great; no surprise there as I also have an uwa Laowa that I love! The comparison between the wonderful architecture of Sienna (with so few people) and Nicky’s wild creations is fun too.

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank you Steve! I am glad that you liked this contrasting set. Which UWA are you using as a matter of curiosity? Cheers.

  • Auke says:

    Very interesting wide-angle shots of Brunelleschi’s beautiful cathedral in Florence and the Piazza del Campo in Sienna! I was wondering how we should view them. I use a small Ipad, so I can only see them as deformations, but I guess if you use a computer with a large monitor you can get the original wide-angle experience back by looking at them from a small distance. Do you have any thoughts about this?

    The wide-angle shot of Nicky’s bathroom works great for me.

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank you for your appreciation on the Florence and Siena shots!
      I looked at them both on a desktop and tablet screen and in both cases, since you are dealing with wide angle lens pictures, you do have some deformation.
      The screen size has no influence.
      Thank you again for the kind comments

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