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Sightseeing that floors you!

Written by  Professor Barry Goldsmith

When sightseeing, there’s an important architectural feature very few people ever notice - the FLOOR. When earthquakes struck ancient Greece and Rome, walls and roofs crumbled, but the one thing that survived from Delos to Herculaneum to Pompeii were the mosaic floors. Many mosaics have such fine workmanship that you’d think they’re paintings.

Diocletian’s Senate (in the Roman Forum) has the largest, best-preserved, most intricate mosaic floor in Rome. (Surprisingly, it’s not the famous Pantheon with its excellent 19th-century replica floor.) Symbolic of the Roman Empire is the Senate’s 3rd-century floor with different-colored marble coming from different Roman colonies. Sadly, the Roman Senate has become a museum with display cases hiding its #1 attraction - the FLOOR!
Certain cities identify with their floors. Terrazzo flooring, a composite of stones and marble chips bonded together with a liquid composite that hardens, imitates mosaics and is uniquely Venetian.  Even though it sounds cheap, it’s found in some of the most exclusive Venetian palaces.
In Caserta Palace near Naples, the beautiful intarsia marble floors with pieces carefully fitted-together imitate luxurious carpeting. Madrid’s 18th-century Royal Palace also has incredibly patterned multi-colored marble floors. Some patterns are even swirling paisley. However, intarsia wood floors are even more intricate, as well as more delicate than their marble counterparts. They are created from different types of wood in different shades, from ebony to birch. The seams in the floors of Schoenbrunn Palace (Vienna) are undetectable and the floor’s surface is so highly polished that it even reflects mirrors.  
The world’s most beautiful floors are in one of the world’s most beautiful cities - in and around St. Petersburg, Russia.  The palaces of Pavlosk, Catherine Palace (Tsarskoye Selo) and Peterhof have floors so spellbinding you have to slip scuff-resistant plastic covers over your shoes. The Hermitage Museum used to require felt-slippers to protect its floors, until they discovered that felt particles destroyed paintings, and it was cheaper to reconstruct the floors than the paintings.
When it’s closed to visitors, I take tour groups to see what hardly anyone in the world has ever seen in Rome’s Sistine Chapel - The Sistine Chapel Floor.

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