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"Mark Leslie" "Beyond the Pasta"

A view into Siena’s il Campo, decorated for Christmas.

Growing up north of Chicago meant that school field trips often meant going downtown. One of the ways we were instructed on how to be “safe” in the big city was to not look up. Looking up was a telltale sign to nearby ne’er-do-wells that you were a stranger to town, and were fruit ripe for the picking. However, I never really worried about getting robbed. In school it was always about fitting in, and if you went downtown and looked up, upper classman would tease you for being a hick. At that age, getting teased was a fate worse than being burgled.

When traveling, particularly overseas, it took me a while to get over my adolescent scars from looking up. Friends would excitedly say, “Look up there!” and without moving my head, I would cast my eyes upward—mostly into the back of my head, unsuccessfully trying to get a glimpse. Don’t be a hick, don’t be a hick, don’t be a hick was running through my mind the entire time. One day I cast caution to the wind, and began throwing my head back in enthusiastic ecstasy, absorbing every bit of wonder that soared into the sky. “Yes, Big Ben is big!” “Wow, look at the light shine from the top of the Eiffel Tower!”

At this time of year, we hear a lot about the story of the star in the east. Lots of people were tossing their heads back in wonderment—shepherds, wise men, perhaps even some people in the little town of Bethlehem. This “looking up” has me thinking about what causes me to pull out my camera, crook my neck, and gaze heavenward while on vacation in Italy—the inside of church cupolas.

Used as a huge canvas to convey a message, the interior surfaces of church cupolas, or domes, are spectacular. No two are alike; famous painters more artfully render some, while others are simply white plaster. Almost all domes have a lantern at the top. I don’t mean a literal electrified or fueled lighting fixture. The lantern is a series of windows that allows light to shine into the church to help illuminate it—it’s a round skylight. [From the outside, the lantern is the “nipple,” if you will, that sits on top of the cupola.] Often, on the inside ceiling of the lantern is an image of a dove or of God. It is as if the entire inside surface of the dome pushes your eye heavenward toward the light. How’s that for symbolism!

Here are photos of my favorite Italian cupola interiors. I hope they will inspire you to look upward whenever something catches your eye—even if you look like a hick or a stranger!

"Beyond the Pasta"

Ceiling of the Duomo’s Baptistery, Florence.


"Beyond the Pasta"

Ceiling of the Duomo, Florence. The ring around the base depicts Hell and each successive ring upward is a level closer to the Divine: moving from martyrs through the saints to the apostles.]


"Beyond the Pasta"

The dome of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome, is my favorite dome of all. It’s white geometric design, coupled with the dove at the top of the lantern, takes my breath away.

"Beyond the Pasta"

Once a pagan temple, the oculus of the Pantheon was used as an astronomical instrument. However, the Pantheon is now a church, consecrated around the year 608 or 609.


"Beyond the Pasta"

The patron saint of Viterbo is Santa Rosa, and the cupola of the curch bearing her name is spectacular with its flaming cherubs. If you ever visit here, make sure you pay a visit to Santa Rosa herself. Her preserved body lies in a glass shrine for all to see.


"Beyond the Pasta"

Siena and Florence were rivals and enemies for hundreds of years. Even their Duomos were at “war”—Siena’s Duomo was in renovation to become larger than Florence’s Duomo when the plaque hit, killing most of the town—the builders. The inside of Siena’s cupola is a starry vision with painted trompe l’oeil panels that mimic the real panels of the Pantheon’s cupola.


"Beyond the Pasta"

With limited visitation hours, the inside cupola of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza can be a difficult one to see. The complex houses the National Archives, and from outside, Saint’Ivo is recognizable by its ornate spiraling pinnacle of a lantern.

From my home to yours ~ Buon Natale ~


"Beyond the Pasta"

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.