Italy 2008: Florence and Venice

by Kate Withey and Eric A. Hulteen

Table of Contents:

Clicking on the images will display a larger version of the image.
All images were taken by and are copyright © Kate Withey & Eric A. Hulteen 2008.
Edited on Friday 5 March 2010.


We went to Florence because the SIGCHI 2008 conference was there. Eric's employer generously paid for him to go.

One publication about the city stated that, according to the UN, half the art in the world was in Italy and half of that was in Florence. Certainly you'd have to quibble about their definition of "art", but it's difficult to ignore the incredible artistic heritage of the city.

Another publication noted that in the 1966 flood of the River Arno in Florence some 6,000 (or 8,000) paintings were damaged. I suspect that most of those weren't on display; they were stored in basements. Florence has so much art that much of it may have been relegated to basement storage.

The picture with the suns rays was taken from our hotel room showing clearing skies after a rain storm.

The other picture shows a spherical sculpture made from compact fluorescent light bulbs. It was approximately 14 feet in diameter.

Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio (I love this: Italian for "Old Bridge") spans the Arno River in Florence. It is covered with shops selling jewelry, gold, art, and (of course) souvenirs.

It's strange that both the cities we visited on this trip have famous bridges with shops on them—the Ponte Vecchio and the Rialto Bridge.

Weir on the Arno River

The Arno River flows through the center of Florence and there's a weir on it. A weir is a dam that the water flows over the top of (usually along its entire length). This is the river that flooded in 1966 (as mentioned above). That storm, on November 3rd and 4th, simultaneously caused the worst-ever flooding of both Florence and Venice.

Dome of the Florence Cathedral

The dome of the Florence Cathedral (the Duomo) is alone worth the trip to Florence. Designed and built by Filippo Brunelleschi it was the largest dome built at the time and is still the largest masonry dome in the world.

Even as the rest of the church was constructed, it was still unknown how a dome to span the 42 meter wide space could be built without scaffolding to hold it up during construction (which, given the size, was impractical). This dome was to be larger than the Pantheon's dome in Rome (43.3 meters) and no dome that big had been built since antiquity. Furthermore, the Pantheon's dome had been constructed of concrete (the knowledge of which had also been lost) so the Duomo would have be constructed of masonry (bricks, more than 4 million of them, weighing about 37,000 tons).

You may have noticed in the previous paragraph the implied assertion that 42 meters was larger than 43.3 meters. Apparently, there is some disagreement about both the size of the domes and about what is to be measured to determine its "size". There are conflicting numbers for the diameter of the Duomo: 45 meters, 43 meters, and 42 meters. Also, the height of the domes is different—the Pantheon being a flatter/rounder dome (43.3 meters) and the Duomo being taller (103 meters). I don't trust those numbers either.

It seems that the Pantheon has unambiguous claim to the title of largest unreinforced solid concrete dome and the Duomo to the title of largest masonry dome. The Pantheon held the title for the largest dome in the world for more than 1750 years.

Pictures show Kate in her new Florentine red leather jacket climbing the stairs between the inner and outer layers of the dome and the view of us at the top.

Optical Illusion

How tall is Eric? This door seemed right for experiements in relative scale.


Venice is beyond a doubt one of the most beautiful and great cities of the world. From its unique beginning as a refuge from invading, land-based armies to its modern struggle to maintain its artistic and cultural heritage under an onslaught from tourists and the waters of the Adriatic, Venice has persevered. It will take a great deal of work and money to save the city from the water, but it's worth it.

Venice doesn't have large bathtubs, but it does have a large abacus with great glass beads, in case you want to calculate the value of the US dollar against the Euro (that's Kate hiding behind it).

Canals and Water

Canals and water were everywhere (including falling from the sky — water, not canals). Eric, who has a (maybe not so) minor obsession with water, was delighted (it can't get much better than replacing streets with water even if you can't ride a motorcycle there).

One of the pictures shows what is purported to be the last bridge in Venice without railings. Another, a lovely wooden boat tied up beside someone's house. Kate was very fond of taking pictures straight down side-canals as we rode down the Grand Canal (you can see one next to the orange building).

Calatrava Bridge

There's a new bridge by Santiago Calatrava under construction on the Grand Canal. It's the fourth bridge across the Grand Canal; the first new crossing in many centuries (although some of the other Grand Canal bridges have been replaced in the intervening centuries).

There is a significant amount of controversy about the bridge, particularly with regard to its modern style, cost-overruns, and lack of wheelchair access. Much of the deck and all the side rails are transparent.

Rain & Storms

The weather was poor most of the time we were in Venice. One picture shows the rain as we arrived in the city on the train (you can see the railing of the train bridge); the other shows a storm we experienced while riding the water taxis (you can see the bow wave of the boat). The rain and storms were beautiful in the city, although inconvenient.

The Island of San Michele

Also known as the Island of the Dead. The contrast between the color of the water and the sky was quite striking.