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A Journey through the Renaissance era and the Eternal City


This journey started when I decided to apply for the exchange program overseas, stepping on a journey taking me ten thousand miles from Taipei to Madrid. As an architecture history lover, it’s only fitting to start my journey from the land of renaissance art and the city made out of stone. My dad is an architect, back in his days it’s more difficult to travel internationally, when he was studying in GSD, his first trip to Europe started in Italy, it’s only fitting for me to start my year of adventure this way.

← Sketch pad from Musei Capitolini

Rome is one of the most important cities in urban planning the alleyways connected by pocket squares and agora, beautiful mysterious churches popping up in unexpected places. First stop was the Twin Church on the Piazza del Popolo, munching down gelato looking at the exotic obelisk on the plaza and the twin church with the summer heat rushing down on me, I started walking to the Ara Pacis Museum designed by Richard Mier, the museum greeted me with a splash of cool spritz from the entrance fountain, light shedding into the exhibition space through the curtain wall onto the atlas with cool conditioning air contrast to the extreme Tuscan sun. The day ended with a trip to the MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo by Zaha Hadid, the modern art collections tell a great story about how Italy is thriving with modern art now, and how the new generation of artists and architects are changing the scene.

↑Sketch of Campidoglio, with a whole new sketch pad from Musei Capitolini

←Beautiful bottom of Emanuele II’s horse

This trip to Italy is mainly focused on seeing renaissance art and these beautiful cities with my own eyes. Waking up early to see Campidoglio was very exciting since I studied Michelangelo as an essay the year before, excitement cumulated as well as my breath walking up those steps, with street vendors yelling: “ONE EURO, ONE EURO” for those ice waters. Getting up on the hill, seeing the oval square running around the museum, soaking in all the history and learning about the site, I bought my sketch book that will accompany me through this adventure, I spent some time sketching the space as the first sketch of my trip. It’s time for Altare della Patria, which is famously featured in “ The Belly of an Architect, “ this astonishing stone structure that shaped like that boullee birthday cake in the movie. Such a magnificent view in this short distance, the exquisite sculptures and the Italia Flag waving in the sky, thinking about the history that made this place, these monuments built after the war, these beautiful objects were born out of horrendous circumstances, sitting behind the butt of Emanuele II, thinking bout war, life and the beauty of Italian craftsmanship while avoiding the sun with a view of the Eternal City.

Passing through Colonna Traiana, trying to see if it’s possible to read those story on the column, walking along the Via dei Fori Imperiali to see the famous Colosseo and the Roma Ruin, standing in line with the bustling tourist couldn’t help but think of the scene from Roman Holiday as Audrey Hepburn rides through these attractions on a Vespa with Gregory Peck. Seeing the Colosseo and reading about the history on the plaque, this place was used for uncivilized entertainment which turned into such iconic hotspots for modern entertainment. I guess ruins do inspire people’s imagination, with all broken down walls stripped of all decoration what’s left of it is the actual ruins and the story that’s told over time. Imagining all the knowledge in the Library of Alexandria, the city design, the main streets, and the beautiful Arch of Septimius Severus, how architects should design a city like that tens of thousands of years ago.

Pantheon, “The temple of a Million Gods” when translated in Chinese. As I brought along a copy of my father’s “Pantheon, by William L. Macdonald” bought in Havard’s Coop bookshop, reading all the notes taken on the fragile pages of this book, I felt a sense of intimacy as I’m walking the same path as my father. Commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus and rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian, trying to find the details in the architecture on the walls of Pantheon chronicling the history of this temple. The scale of this Roman temple is unimaginable off the page, standing outside the green gate of Pantheon I was anxious and scared, seeing people bustling, tourist guide with dolls on the tip of their wire stick, I just stood there, preparing myself for the vision I’m about to witness. Hurried by the guard overseeing the entrance, I stepped into Pantheon, the light cascading down the dome, sparkling with dancing dust in the air, colorful marble stones telling stories from exotic conquered countries of ancient Rome, the tomb of Raphael just within reach, and people looking around in awe…, I sat down to take it all in, which is still too much to handle at once, to be honest.

After coming out of Pantheon, I sat in the outdoor cafe in front of Pantheon with a nice cup of cappuccino in my hand, sketching this extraordinary view in front of me.

The last stop was the Vatican after reading all about renaissance artist and rewatching my all-time favorite movie “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (I can pretty much dubb the whole movie’s dialogue by myself), holding my print out e-ticket to the night opening of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, going through security and picking up the pamphlet, I see the famous Bramante Staircase, the dark staircase contrasting the white steps defined by the green marble slab, forming the perfect spiral movement, the experience of walking through the staircase with warm yellow light lighting the dark green marble wall is vivid till now. Through the Pinecone Courtyard taking mandatory selfies with the giant pinecone, I remembered walking through the golden lit Map Room, with all the tapestries hanging on the wall of the hallway, the window reflecting pink and purple sky at the “magic hour” of the days ending, finding the Raphael room trying to take it all in, finally ending up in the Sistine Chapel, the giant prophets overlooking us, seeing Michelangelo’s working diligently on the ceiling when security guard’s loud hush and “ No Photo” brought me back to reality, bending my sore neck back to the normal position, I left the Sistine Chapel into the dark blue night sky of Rome. After walking on my feet all day, I sat down on the Piazza San Pietro sketching away and trying to find which window belongs to the Pope.

After a long day, before going back to the hostel I visited Ponte Sant'Angelo, which is much more beautiful at night times in my opinion, the angels standing on the two sides of the bridge with upward lighting, look peal white against the night sky, opening wings as if they were to fly away.

↑ Quick sketch of Ponte Sant'Angelo& Castel Sant'Angelo

Packing up all my memories of Rome, the next city on the list is Firenze. Arriving at Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station, with my whole years' luggage in my hand it’s extremely difficult to walk through the roads made out of stone., I arrived at Novella House the b&b I booked of, I have a quaint room with classic murals on the ceiling walking distance from all the attractions. I grabbed my camera and my notebook and headed out to the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, every architecture student in the world studied this façade in their first or second year of school, the pattern, the language of this façade is so perfect for this place. The first night in Florence ended with spending time at a restaurant near the Piazza della Signoria with a good plate of pasta. After dinner I just sat at the Loggia dei Lanzi, watching tourists walking around and admiring all the street artists painting tourists and this beautiful city.

Early morning I woke up and tried to catch the market at the Fontana del Porcellino and did not realize it was closed, so I head on to Uffizi. The best part about traveling in Italy is that museums are mostly free for art and architecture students, I took all the pictures I could and spend the whole day in the museum, seeing and reading as much as I can, before leaving the museum with two new pocketbooks about Michelangelo and the Medici family from the gift shop.

The thing I love about Florence is that the city has an extremely intimate scale, everything is within walking distance, and it doesn’t require early planning to see all the sites in the city, sitting in front of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore with a good take out pizza listening to street musicians on the stone road of Firenze is a great way to end the day. After reading up on the history of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore & Battistero di SanGiovanni, I was excited about my plan to get into the cathedral and onto the Duomo’s Terrace to see this beautiful city, it’s sad that I did not get the ticket to see the Brunelleschi’s Dome and now during Covid time it’s impossible for me to revisit. The genius in constructing the dome in Renaissance time, and the art that covered such a masterpiece is unseen after the time of Medici’s. Ascending the terrace of Palazzo Vecchio, I stopped to sketch the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore as it’s one of the most perfect scenes of the view, as I’m almost finished with my sketch the security guard came down the stairs and told me to keep moving, it’s not allowed to linger so I took a picture of my sketch in a hurry then left.

The visit to the Cappelle Medicee was more than what I expected, I thought I was there for the Bibliotica Medicea Laurenziana, but as I walked into the Cappella dei Principi it was one of the most breathtaking places I’ve seen on this trip, The green marble room covered by a golden dome full of magnificent art with an intimate scale lit by natural light, there’s no one but me in the space. It might be the fact that I never learned or at least saw a colored photo of this chapel, the architecture history teachers were always talking about the staircase of Bibliotica Medicea Laurenziana or how the façade of the Basilica di San Lorenzo or how magnificent is the structure of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, I’ve never learned about this small chapel in class or on a book besides quick written words that’s not memorable as it was not designed by any famous architect but probably a very talented craftsman. As I stepped into the Cappella dei Principi the colors filled my eyes with surprise, the contrast of the humble exterior of the church the interior is breathtaking and almost decadent but fitting for the resting place of Cosimo III, I spent a while by myself inside the space, forgetting to take any picture with my camera, just looking at the marvelous of pure art.

Later stepping into The Sagrestia Nuova by Michelangelo, all the memories I saw in books and films are coming back to me, the proportion of the chapel space, the lining of the interior is almost modern, the Day and Night protecting Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici and the Dusk and Dawn protecting Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici, the marbles are so perfectly sculpted as if the skin will be warm to the touch, with no barrier between viewers and the tomb, one can just imagine being at the time of geniuses.

↑Sketch of Ospedale degli Innocenti, Firenze

↓Pages I brought with me on my phone from the book: Design of Cities, by Edmund N. Bacon, part of my father’s book collection.

I also spent a few days in Vicenza – hometown to Palladio and Scarpa one of the most magical towns I’ve visited so far, filled with architecture students and visiting the Venice Biennale, seeking out every piece of Scarpa that I could find. Accidently spending an afternoon in Lido and see the real Matt Damon. But the best memories of my architecture travel are seeing all these magnificent sites with my own eyes with all the history there is, even more for me to look forward to while studying upon the greats and revisiting these places in my head. And wishing one day, I’ll be there again.


  • 2017.08.23 Taipei - Rome: Emirates Airline (tip: Student ticket more luggage space)

  • 2017.08.24 - 26 Generator Rome (Via Principe Amedeo 257, Stazione Termini, Rome, 00185)

Twin Church on the Piazza del Popolo

Ara Pacis Museum by Richard Mier

MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo by Zaha Hadid

Campidoglio & Musei Capitolini&Altare della Patria

Colonna Traiana & Colosseo & Roma Ruin & Pantheon

Vatican :night opening of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Ponte Sant'Angelo& Castel Sant'Angelo

Rome Termini - Firenze SMN: .Italo 9932

  • 2017.08.26 - 29 Novella House(Via del Porcellana 53, Santa Maria Novella, Firenze, 50123)

Uffizi Museum

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore&Battistero di San Giovanni

Palazzo Vecchio&Palazzo Medici Riccardi

Cappelle Medicee&Basilica di San Lorenzo&Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

Museo Casa di Dante&Cappella Pazzi

La SS. Annunziata di Firenze&Ospedale degli Innocenti

Firenze S. M. Novella à Venezia S. Lucia: Frecciargento 8434

  • 2017.08.29 - 09.01 Hotel Gabrielli (Riva degli Schiavoni 4110, Venice)

Piazza San Marco&Basilica di San Marco&Palazzo Ducale&Olivetti Exhibition centre

Museo di Palazzo Grimani (not in the story, but my favorite secret museum in Venice)

Ospedale SS Giovanni e Paolo

Biennale di Venezia

Punta della Dogana&Gallerie dell'Accademia&Palazzo Grassi

Fondazione Querini Stampalia

Local Train - Vicenza

  • 2017.09.01- 02 Mi&Ti Bed&Breakfast (4 Contrà Porti, Vicenza, 36100)

Palladio Museum&Teatro Olimpico&Basilica Palladiana

Villa Rotonda del Palladio

Vicenza - Milano Centrale: Frecciarossa 9720

  • 2017.09.02 - 03 B&B Baldassarre (Via Boscovich 22, Stazione Centrale, Milano, 20124)

  • 2017.09.03 Milan à Madrid: Iberia Airline


station & a print of Rotunda. Palladio’s shirt from a bookstore at Vicenza train ↑

← A book of Michelangelo and another about the Medici Family from the Uffizi Museum.

Sketchbook from Musei Capitolini ↓

← Tickets to the Venice Biennale Arte.

Books from the Venice Biennale. ↓

← Matt Damon in my camera, not sure if this counts as a souvenir…

↓ Bag from the Olympia Theatre, Palladio.

← Souvenirs from Palazzo Vecchio

Emirates Airline eyepatch for my teddy bear. ↓




Tsae-Wei Kao also known as Trinity, graduated from the Architecture department Chung Yuan Christian University in Taiwan with a semester of exchange program in CEU San Pablo, Madrid Spain, where she studied architecture and currently working as an architectural designer. She loves to sketch as well as travel, sketching on site as a form of documenting these adventures. As a lover of architecture history and theory, old cities like Rome, Firenze, Venice, Madrid, Barcelona, Tokyo… have always have a pull towards her. To travel through a cities while understanding the history and urban texture is mesmerizing to her. Looking forward to the pandemic being over and to travel the world again.


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