New rooms opening, a valuable collection finally on view, compelling exhibitions, and, alas, a price increase: here’s what’s new at the Uffizi for 2018.
Let’s start with some not-so-good news: peak season ticket prices (March 1 through October 31) are now €20 (an increase of more than 50% since they previously cost €8). (If you travel in the low season - November 1 to February 28 - then the cost drops to €12.) But hey, art is priceless, and the art contained in the Uffizi even more so.
And now there’s even more incredible art to see there, thanks to the opening of eight new rooms devoted to Caravaggio and 17th-century painting. Painted in a bright cinnabar red meant to evoke the fervor of that century, but also a color that was often used in fabrics and wallpapers depicted in paintings at the time, the rooms contain such Caravaggio masterpieces as La Medusa, Il Bacco and Il Sacrificio di Isacco, alongside works by Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Gherardo Delle Notti, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Artemisia Gentileschi, in a confrontation between Florentine and Italian art with European art.
More welcome news comes with the recent opening to the general public of ...
The early 2016 news that Cinque Terre would be imposing caps on the number of tourists allowed to access the picturesque towns was "just a provocation," admits Patrizio Scarpellini, director of Cinque Terre National Park, but “it had reached a point that we had to do something.”
That something — a dramatic statement to the press by the park’s president, Vittorio Alessandro — has raised awareness of the problems faced by this UNESCO Heritage Site, but the solution is much more complex than closing a door. Cinque Terre is a stretch of particularly rugged coastline in the Italian region of Liguria, halfway between the busy ports of Genova and Livorno. Day-trippers from the cruises that stop here stream into the five towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, which grow up from the sea into a steep hillside that has been transformed, over the centuries, into terraced parcels of agricultural land.
Tourism in Italy boomed in summer 2017, with an increase in visitor numbers expected to continue throughout the colder months. In total, almost 50 million people spent the night at an Italian hotel during June, July, and August this year.
The exact number was 48.3 million, according to figures shared by Italian hotel trade association Federalberghi and the Cultural Ministry, and represented a two percent increase compared to last year.
On top of that, a further three million spent the night at an Airbnb accommodation, a huge 20 percent increase year-on-year. Seaside resorts reported a dramatic rise in visitors, with 16 percent more people visiting beach resorts this summer than in the same period in 2016.
But tourists were also attracted by culture, and museums saw a 12.5 percent increase in visitor numbers, with Puglia leading the way.
Italy is in the middle of the worst heat wave to hit the Boot in years. It is expected to only get hotter in the coming weeks as Ferragosto (the Italian vacation season) is set to begin on the 15th.
Yesterday, 16 Italian cities reached the rank of Bollino Rosso (a Red Alert), expected to rise to 24 major cities in the next few days. Every major city center is affected except for Genoa in the northwest part of the country. Temperatures are expected to break all past records, with some temperatures reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the south-central region!
I pity the residents and tourists in Florence with scorching temperatures rising to 107F. And people trying to escape the heat in the mountains of Abruzzo were disappointed when temps rose to 104 F... very unusual for an altitude of 2500 feet above sea level. Even in Potenza--huddled in the mountains of Basilicata--the temperature equalled body temperature... 98.6 F, offering no relief. The worst is in Naples where it rose to 116 F... and if anyone thought they would cool off by taking a ferry to Capri, the heat there wasn't much better--111 F! Water temperature in Capri is a un-refreshing 82 degrees. One blogger living in Naples said that her pool felt like someone had "drawn me a warm bath".
This is the fifth heat wave to hit Italy this summer.
If you want to know how to stay cool while Voyaging in hot, hot Italy, check out THIS POST.
Check out this fantastic article by Veronica Di Grigoli on The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife blog that I came across. It profiles a wonderful Easter festival in Sicily where a fantasy village is built out of bamboo and artistic panels and decorations all made out of bread. Well worth a look! Loads of great photos...
Loafing around in Sicily’s Gingerbread Village
The people of San Biagio Platano, a village in south-western Sicily, have celebrated Easter every year since the 1700’s by decorating their streets with arches and towers made of bread. The entire community spends three months turning the place into a gingerbread village… yet Hansel and Gretel never come!
In a land ravaged by earthquakes, floods and volcanoes from time to time, it's no wonder that in Italy, one will occasionally discover one of the many Ghost Towns...
Perched high on a rocky outcrop, with buildings precariously built under overhanging cliffs, is the beautiful remains of Pentedattilo, a village in southern Calabria. (The look of this village--tucked under dolomite cliffs--reminds me of the twin villages of Pietrapertosa and Castellmezzano we visited in Basilicata.) The village is a 45 minute drive from Reggio-Calabria. It got its name from the Byzantine word Pentedáktilos, which means five fingers, a reference to the five deep valleys surrounding the mountainous village. First inhabited in "Magna Graecia" period and then the Romans, Pentedattilo offers a wonderful view of the sea.
Being one of the oldest Ghost Towns of Italy, the town was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1783, which led to large parts of the population moving to the nearby seaside port town of Melito Porto Salvo. Today a modern-day with the same name of Pentedattilo was built on another hilltop a bit closer to the sea. The residents still attend Catholic services in the restored Chiesa dei Pietro e Paolo (Church of Saints Peter and Paul) standing proudly against the threat of Nature under the cliffs in the old town.
After some restoration in the 1980s, the old village today has a few new residents, although many ruins still sit without roofs, windows or doors just waiting for the Voyager with camera to capture its haunting beauty and solitude. Oddly enough, the village becomes the site of the International Pentedattilo Film Festival... with appropriate their motto, "Don't be a Ghost".
Italian fireworks are very special and well known for two main reasons: their exemplary quality and the intensity of their colors.
Around 1292, when Marco Polo was alive and actively trading European goods for Eastern merchandise, he brought back with him a mysterious black powder. This powder could somehow miraculously explode when ignited, so (as you might expect) it was immediately put to military use throughout Europe. The Italians, however, found a much more creative use for this extraordinary powder and created the first European fireworks with it. During Europe’s Renaissance (approximately 1400–1500 AD), the Italians further improved and developed their fireworks and turned chemical explosions into a consummate art form.
First of all, New Year's Eve is called Capodanno in Italy... and Fireworks are called Fuochi d'Artificio...
In 1830, advances in science and a much better understanding of chemistry in southern Italy made it possible to create flammable powders that would burn in different colors. For the first time, fireworks could be red, green, blue or even yellow! Ongoing research during the 19th century by both the Italians and Germans made newer and more vibrant colors possible, and it has continued ever since. During the last decade, pyrotechnic chemists have even gone one step further: they have managed to make pyrotechnic chemical reacts so they explode in colors as unusual as magenta, orange, aquamarine, lemon-yellow and even turquoise!
As for the shells that deliver these chemical wonders: In Italy the cylindrical shell is the most popular. (The Chinese and Japanese prefer spherical shells). Unlike spherical shells, however, cylindrical shells don’t have to be categorized as multi–break shells, even though they may contain a single-effect, like a willow, peony or a peony with reports.
Reports and salutes play a very important role in Italian culture–particularly during their religious festivals. Unlike may other parts of the world, daylight shows are very popular there, and they are filled with single-effect and/or multi-break shells. Color, of course, plays a much more important role during the evening displays; whereas the daylight displays are all about rhythm, and those rhythms are created using a variety of salutes, reports and colored smoke shells.
Italian shows generally contains three parts: the opening (apertura), the show itself (with the “fermata” shells), and a pré–final (the “giapponesata”) with the final happening immediately afterwards. Timing is critical for both the evening and daylight displays. The final is somewhat comparable to the way a train starts off slowly but increasingly gains speed, power and intensity.
As you might expect, most of the major competitions and displays are fired during religious feasts and festivals to honor local saints who protect the villages, towns and people living in each city. Generally, most of the larger competitions and festivals take place in southern Italy. Some locations and dates of some of the bigger festivals:
Cicciano in the province of Naples, Sant’ Antonio Abate, in January .
Cimitile in the province of Naples, San Felice in Pincis, in January .
Rapallo in the province of Genua, Santa Maria Del Campo, in July .
Scorrano in the province of Lecce, Santa Domenica, in July .
Vibonati in the province of Salerno, Sant’ Antonio Abate, in January .
Adelfia in the province of Bari, San Trifone Martire, in November .
Trecastagni in the province of Sicily, Festa di Sant’ Alfio Filadelfo e Cirino, in May.
During these fireworks competitions and religious festivals, several different companies (sometimes six or more) compete in the daylight festivities and then again during the evening competitions. If you want to see large multi-break shells and admire professionalism and exquisite artistic technique–southern Italy is the place to see it! Of course, there are a myriad of other magnificent shells (particularly characteristic of Italy’s pyrotechnic arts) displayed here as well.
The Real Deal on Italian Fireworks by Jerry Finzi
The video below is about Molfetta, where my father was born. This illustrates the typical News Year's Eve in Italy... local ordinances tend to ban fireworks but people buy them anyway and set them off on the streets of their towns--not on their own properties in rural areas (like here in the U.S.), but right on the streets of big and small cities alike. It's mayhem and chaos with explosions everywhere. Check out the video of Naples above and notice that the fireworks are going off everywhere--not in one organized, permitted location. I'm sure if you could look at the whole of Italy from space at midnight on December 31st, you'd see pulsing lights going off all over The Boot.
Over the past four years, illegal fireworks have resulted in four deaths and 1,950 injured. Last year, 561 were injured, including 76 children under 12 years of age. The animal rights groups claim that each year about 5,000 deaths of animals are caused by stress or accidents arising from fireworks.
As is typical for Italy, the laws vary from town to town and region to region. In general, no one under 18 can buy fireworks. They also are not allowed to be set off in public spaces, but it's obvious that the police are lax in their enforcement of the laws.
So, if you are in Italy this Capodanno (literally, the Head of the Year), be careful. Fireworks will start going off all over the city or village you are in... and we're not just talking about a few small firecrackers, either. I've seen videos of the type of rockets meant to go skyward shooting across a large piazza at ground level into a crowd!
Stay safe and Felice Anno Nuovo!
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While La Bafana, the good Christmas Witch is something only found in Italy, Santa is really the same all over the world, but in Italy, his name is Babbo Natale--Daddy Christmas. Babbo Natale is who we call Santa Claus in the States, or Saint Nick or more formally, Saint Nicholas, but his roots are in many European countries' traditional folklore. To the French, he is Pere Noël (Father Christmas), Father Christmas in England, Julenisse (Christmas Elf) in Scandanavia , Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, and Sankt Nikolaus or Weihnachtsmann in Germany.
All children know that Santa Claus comes from the North Pole, is bearded and overweight and that on Christmas Eve brings presents to children around the world traveling on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. They also know that he is magic--the reason why he can pull off this time-stopping feat, somehow getting into each and every house, whether or not it has a chimney. But the idea of Santa Claus was really born on the shores of the Mediterranean, evolves later on in Northern Europe and assumes its final form (Santa Claus) in the New World as an advertising gimmick.
Santa Claus, as we know him today in American, was made popular throughout the world by Coca Cola ads and Clement Moore's story "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ('Twas the Night Before Christmas) so there are many similarities. They all are kind and give presents. Most wear red. Some are fat and short, others are thinner and taller.
Santa has a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, and so does Babbo Natale. Their names are a bit different, though: Cometa, Ballerina, Fulmine, Donnola, Freccia, Saltarello, Donato, Cupido (in place of our Comet, Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Vixen, Donder, Blitzen, Cupid).
In reality, in the beginning there was St. Nicholas, a greek born around 280 AD who became bishop of Myra, a Roman town in the south of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Nicholas earned a reputation as a fierce defender of the Christian faith in the years of persecution and spent many years in prison. None of the early representations of St. Nicholas look fat and jolly. As recently proven by forensic anthropological studies of the saint's actual remains resting in a cathedral in Bari, Puglia, Nicholas was an thin, old man, with olive skin, a broken nose with a beard and gray hair. So much for that jolly, red nose and rosey cheeks.
Still, the legend lives on all around the world, with Santa Claus and Babbo Natale representing the Christmas Spirit--Spirito di Natale. His jolly, kind, all-knowing face is a sign of love to children... a reminder than in fact, they are loved... by God, by Santa and by their parents and siblings. He is a symbol of what Christmas is all about--the Good Life that God gave us.
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Even in Italy, Santas have been scaring kids for over a hundred years. Sleep well, kiddies.
Each year at Christmastime, inside the church of St. Isidore Agricola in Palermo, an ancient brotherhood of bakers creates a Presepe di Pane (Christmas Nativity of Bread) made entirely of bread, and they've been doing so since 1991.
The Presepe of artistic bread is baked and displayed in the beautiful ChiesaSt. Isidoro Agricola (...of the Bakers). St. Isidore was built in 1643, belonged from the beginning to the Society of Bakers.
The Presepe is made completely out of bread, a representation of the importance and symbolism of bread to Catholics... Bread is the Christ. All the characters are made painstakingly by the skilled hands of the bakers.
The Presepe di Pane is on display from December 9 to January 6 hours 9: 30-12: 00 16: 00-19: 00
Here is a video (in Italian) that profiles the Presepe di Pane....
In the next video, a baker-artisan works his magic and creates a detailed human figure. If you bake, this is well worth watching!
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