You will find Antico Forno Santa Chiara in the southern region of Puglia behind the walls of Altamura, where their world famous Altamura bread is made. In fact, Altamura bread can only be made in Altamura... it has D.O.P. designation and is under strict standards to be able to use the name "Altamura" bread.
Vito Macella, is the owner, baker and a bit of pirate and showman. He loves to show off his historic forno (oven) that dates from 1423. His is one of of the first public ovens in Altamura, used for cooking meats, biscuits, pretzels and other Pugliese baked specialties, and of course, the famous Altamura Bread. A short walk inside the walls of the historic center and you'll come to the Forno. You can park your car on the Corso Vittorio Emanuale II just outside of the old arched porto where Via Madonna dei Martiri begins. Take a stroll three intersections until Via Corte D'Appello and then you'll see tiny Via Luca Martucci on your left. It's really like a very small piazza with the Forno Antico at the back left corner. You'll probably see a large round table outside with an umbrella over it. There might be people sitting, chatting and eating. Sit with them and join in.
When Vito comes out to greet you, tell him you would like una degustazione (a tasting) of whatever he feels like putting in front of you. Depending on what he baked that day, and what other local ingredients he had to create with, he might bring you a plate of antipasto, focaccia, squares of pizza, olives, tomatoes, tiny bocconcin (mozzarella balls), sliced caciocavallo cheese, prosciutto, lardo, or carpaccio--paper thin slices of raw veal marinated in red wine. Oh, of course, he'll always have some of his Altamura Bread for you to taste. We consider unexpected lunch we had at the Forno as one of the best we ate in all of Italy.
Inside the doors of the Forno you can see Vito at work at his rustic oven. The stacks of wood are what he uses--early each morning--to fire up this massive cavern. It takes lots of hard work and many hours to get the mass of stone inside the oven up to temperature. The bread of Altamura is made according to traditional methods and with high quality, local ingredients, the two most important (as Vito told me) being the water and the local Durham flour. Altamura bread was the the first product in Europe to bear the D.O.P. logo in the category "Bakery and baked goods". No wonder--it's such a special bread. The loaves are quite large with a shape like a floppy chef's hat or a sort of fat beret. It is airy and full of bubbles inside with a dark brown crust nearly 1/4 inch thick. Unlike Tuscan bread, they use salt in Altamura Bread, so there's loads of flavor. One more thing: The bread can stay fresh for weeks... some say for a month! A loaf we bought Vito's bakery lasted up for several days all the way back to Rome.
But again, there's more than just the bread to experience here. Vito offers the biggest dose of Southern Italian hospitality that anyone can find. He is charming, roguish, funny and inviting. You'll meet his kids and sit with strangers talking many languages, but somehow you will all be friends in the end. By all means, buy some bread and other treats here, but just soak in the atmosphere, the personalities and the wine.
Don't pass by Altamura. You won't be disappointed.
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BARI, Italy - This is Bari’s Column of Justice (Colonna della Giustizia). It is next to the city’s Palace of Justice in Piazza Mercantile. The white marble column, which was put up in 1546, is topped with a ball and has a stone lion crouching at the base. On his chest are the words “Guardian of Justice.” The column was used to punish loan sharks, slackers who didn’t pay their bills and other non-violent offenders. The condemned had to sit on the lion with their bare backsides up in the air and their hands tied to the column. They were left there for a day or two while those they had offended, along with the townsfolk, circled around them and called them names.
--Phyllis Macchioni, This Italian Life
Firstly, a marionetta is a puppet that is manipulated into motion by the use of strings, rods or wires. Marionettes have been found as early as 2000 BC in Egypt, and archaeologists have found terracotta dolls with articulated joints in the graves of children. Aristotle and Plato both wrote about puppetry hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Some experts claim that the Iliad and the Odyssey would have been performed using marionettes, especially to teach children about the Gods and the battles of good over evil.
Italy, being part of the Greek culture before becoming the Roman Empire, was really the birthplace of the marionette. Marionette performances were not just for children, however. They were morality plays for the mostly illiterate masses. Political themed satires would also be portrayed in marionette performances--throwing insults or lewd behavior by marionettes was easier to take from a doll than if delivered by a human performer. Perhaps people made decisions on political matters by watching marionette shows, the same way peoples' political views can be shaped by watching the Daily Show today.
In Greece and Rome, clay and ivory dolls dated from 500 BC had articulated arms and legs, with an iron rod extending from the top of their heads. The rod was used to manipulate the doll from above, the same method used in classical Sicilian puppetry. In Sicily, romantic poems were performed in traditional puppet theaters with hand-made marionettes of wood, an art form called L'Opera dei Pupi (Opera of the puppets). Both puppetry and L'Opera dei Pupi and the Sicilian tradition of Cantastori (singers of tales) are rooted in the troubadour tradition in Sicily during the reign of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, in the first half of the 13th century. Still today, you can see this form of puppetry in the puppet theaters of Palermo.
The marionettes, which take the form of knights in armor, sword and shield, told their stories and spread throughout Sicily. The shows depicted their amazing feats in small theaters or in the piazza of towns. There were tales of war, rebellion, boasting chivalry. The knights defended their religion, a beloved woman or their lords. They always fought on the side of Right.
The puppets themselves are made of a variety of materials and can be surprisingly heavy--from 25 to 75 pounds! Wood was primarily used for the heads, torso and limbs. Metal is used for the joints between legs and torso. Long, thin rods support the puppet and to move the right arm (holding the sword) while the left holds the shield. The armor is beautifully ornate copper or tin with ornamental designs distinguishing the different characters. Sicilian puppets are operated from above close to the backdrop of the stage. During battle scenes, both puppets and puppeteers often need to run the entire 20 foot length of the stage. Puppeteers obviously need to be in great physical shape to perform these shows. And historically, puppeteers were not only responsible for the performances, voices and acting, but also built the puppets and props and painted backdrops used in the shows.
In the 17th century, not long after they had become wildly popular in Italy, marionette performances spread throughout Europe and to England, where Italian puppeteers would exhibit their performances. Marionette were elevated into high art in Czechoslovakia and Germany, where still today they perform full blown operas.
And in Sicily, you can still see the "rod" type of marionette show performed. Taking in a marionette show is is a definite must-do for a visit to Sicily. Here are a couple of links...
Piccolo Teatro Dei Pupi in Siracusa, Sicily
Teatro dei Pupi Fratelli Napoli
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The Trompia Valley is one of three main valleys in the province of Brescia in the Lombardy region with the Mella River winding through the territory for more than 20 miles. The presence of a large amount of raw materials, such as iron, made mining such a large part of this region's industry and success ever since Roman times... in fact, the Val Trompia was a center for weapons production throughout history.
The valley lies at the foot of the Brescia Alps and extends from the first mountain peaks to the north, to the lands of the Po Valley to the south. The valley can be explored along 70 miles of roads and hiking trails. The Valtrompia is a land rich in traditions, hunting, myths, legends and folk tales. There are also many sagre, fairs and festivals which take place throughout the year showcasing the most typical dishes of the local cuisine. It's well worth a visit for Voyagers wishing to discover the beauty and culture of the Italian Alps.
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In the summer when I was a kid, our family would head to the Jersey "Shore" for a week to enjoy the sand and surf of the Atlantic. One of my favorite things back then was finding sea glass--shards of broken bottles and such that had been tossed into the ocean as garbage. Time and waves and grinding sand would smooth the pieces into colored gems in all colors of the rainbow. They were smooth, yet sandy to the touch. The shapes often looked like faces or an animal shape, and if I found a cobalt blue one it would become my new lucky piece to be carried daily in my dungaree pocket.
In Italy, you can also find pebble beaches. For instance, near the famous Murano glassworks in the Venice lagoon, there are places that were used to dispose of broken glass for hundreds of years. Divers bring up buckets of the stuff and sell the gems to jewelry designers. You can walk the shores around Murano, or even go as far as the Lido beach at low tide and see what colorful treasures you can find.
You can also try your luck in Scalea, a pebbled beach in Calabria or in Positano on the Amalfi Coast. Some sea glass hunters had luck on the coastline of Capri, the rugged beaches of Cinque Terre and even the Gargano Peninsula north of Bari.
And here's another idea... If you are ever in Vietri sul Mare near Salerno on the Amalfi Coast, try beach-combing in the area. Vietri has been a center of ceramic production for generations. The broken pieces were tossed into the sea, which has created soft-edged shards of colorful pottery to be found on the beaches. If you're lucky and find a lot, perhaps you can use them to create your own ceramics treasure.
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Deep in the southern part of the island of Sicily, near the town of Sciacca is a sad, yet wonderful story of a man, his madness and the amazing fruit born of his troubled mind. With no artistic training, this disturbed shell of a man carved thousands of stone sculptures at Castello Incanto, the "Enchanted Castle" at his farm.
Filippo Bentivegna_ was born in Sciacca on May 3, 1888--his father was a fisherman, his mother a housewife. In 1913 he emigrated to the U.S., following two older brothers and a sister, as many southern Italians were doing in the early 20th century. In America he suffered a serious blow on the head, which brought on amnesia and the inability to earn a living. Some claimed that he had been assaulted and sustained brain damage while others said a woman broke his heart which caused him to injure himself. He was subsequently considered unproductive and declared unfit for work and was repatriated to Italy in 1919.
Things went even worse for him after his return to Italy. It was determined that the time he spent in America was essentially an act of desertion from participation in WW I. He discovered that while he was gone, a judgement was handed down for desertion with a three year prison term--this was his new burden. But before he could be put in jail, he needed to undergo a psychiatric evaluation--which he failed. Not considered a threat to the public, he wasn't jailed, but some would say was thrown into a much darker place--his clouded and troubled mind.
With the little money he had, he bought a small plot of land on the outskirts of Sciacca. Living alone, he built a small hut and began to develop the rocky land... he began to carve heads from the outcroppings. In his mind's eye, he was carving the likenesses of people he had met in real life, both in American and Italy. He sculpted for over 35 years until there were more than 1000 heads. His work was never recognized while he was alive, and his eccentric behavior earned him the title of village madman.
The villagers mocked him as Teste Filippo (Phillip's Head) or Filippo il Pazzo (Phillip the Crazy) for his bizarre attitude--he demanded he be addressed as Excellency because he was the king of his little domain.
After his death in 1967 at age 79, his family turned the site into a tourist attraction and garden. People visit the site to admire his heads, the gardens and a series of frescoes Bentivegna painted inside his little house. The place was dubbed the Enchanted Castle. It is an amazing place to see these primitive works of art and try to understand the visions in the mind that created them.
Visit the Castello Incantato on Facebook.
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If you are ever in Palermo, you might want to take a ride out about 7 miles to the village of Bagheria, where you will find a Villa full on monsters--Villa Palagonia. This architectural gem, while rough at the edges, is full of eccentricity, oddities and hideous and grotesque sculptures that adorn the garden walls. In fact, this is a perfect choice for the modern Grand Voyage of Italy simply because it was also a popular stop for Voyagers taking their Grand Tour of Europe during the 18th and in the 19th centuries.
Built in 1715,Villa Palagonia became one of the most loved examples of the Sicilian Baroque style. However, it wasn't until a bit later that the villa became haunted by its monsters. The mentally unbalanced Prince of Palagonia, in 1749, ordered the gargoyles to be added atop the garden walls. Hunchbacks, soldiers doing battle (raping and pillaging), dragons, and various freaks in both human and animal form peer down at Voyagers here. One legend claims that most horrible faces resemble the many lovers of the prince’s wandering wife.
On the interior you will find a Hall of Mirrors (the ballroom) with many different kinds of birds and portraits of the Lords that the Prince associated with (er... the Lords, not the birds... although he was a bit flighty).
The Villa has been privately owned by the same family from 1885 til the present day, and is partially open to the public. It has also be used in various movies over the years. Personally, I could easily picture a version of Beauty and the Beast here... this Villa is well suited to La Bete and La Belle... or perhaps Dracula would feel right at home here...
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CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO, Italy (NY Times)— Forgive Sandro Rocchi if he seems a smidgen satisfied as he enjoys a midday glass of red wine at his children’s restaurant and relishes the unlikely revival of this stunning hilltop village. He moved away in the 1970s for lack of prospects. Now there are shops, restaurants, boutique properties and gobs of tourists.
“The place has come back to life,” Mr. Rocchi said.
There is a teensy problem, though.
Civita di Bagnoregio is slowly, steadily collapsing, and it has been for centuries. Landslides have incrementally eroded the sheer cliffs, at one point slicing off the ancient stone residence of the village’s most famous native, Giovanni di Fidanza, the medieval theologian canonized as St. Bonaventure. For years, this losing war of geological attrition was not such a big deal because barely anyone lived in Civita, and not too many people visited.
The year-round population is still tiny — maybe six people, maybe eight — but Civita, 75 miles north of Rome in central Italy, is now a tourism dynamo, with more than 500,000 visitors expected this year. It is a candidate to become a Unesco World Heritage site. It is the centerpiece of a regional tourism campaign and is featured on city buses in Rome. It is, everyone agrees, a marvel.
Photo Tourists played on the columns outside the San Donato Church in Civita. More than 500,000 visitors are expected this year. Credit Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times And it is still collapsing, if very slowly. In May, a hillside gave way near the elevated one-lane road that leads to the footbridge that leads to the village. The road remains stable as crews are working on the hillsides; tourists have not seemed to notice. A local geologist estimated that Civita had suffered about 10 landslides during the past year, some of them small, others more damaging.
“Rain is the main problem,” said the geologist, Giovanni Maria Di Buduo, who oversees a local museum dedicated to the geology of Civita and the surrounding region. “Rain gets into the fractures of the volcanic rock and creates alterations. In the last five centuries, we’ve seen a reduction of the cliff by about 20 percent due to landslides.”
Given the newfound tourist trade, as well as the historical and cultural significance of a village first built by the ancient Etruscans, the Lazio regional government is moving to respond. One possibility is to push for a national law granting special status and funding to Civita. Also, Lazio officials say they will draft a 10-year plan for a holistic approach to reinforcing and protecting the village, after more ad hoc efforts in the past....
(Read the entire article here)
From its altitude of 750 feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea, Voyagers can enjoy the unforgettable vista Terracina far below, the Pontine plain, Mount Circeo and looking far out to sea, as far as the Pontine islands and Ischia.
Since the year 2000 the Temple is protected as a “Natural Monument” in the Lazio Region, and is host to the famous Anxur Lumina Sound and Light show. The temple is open all year long and offers a panoramic cafeteria located inside the archaeological area.
The God Jupiter
Jupiter (also called Jove) was the King of the Gods and the God of Sky and Thunder in Ancient Roman religion and mythology. Jupiter was the chief deity of Roman state religion throughout the Republican and Imperial eras, until Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire.
Jupiter is usually thought to have originated as a sky god. His identifying implement is the thunderbolt, and his primary sacred animal is the eagle, which held precedence over other birds and became one of the most common symbols of the Roman army. The two emblems were often combined to represent the god in the form of an eagle holding in its claws a thunderbolt, frequently seen on Greek and Roman coins. As the sky-god, he was a divine witness to oaths, the sacred trust on which justice and good government depend. His sacred tree was the oak.
(Halfway between Rome and Naples, perfect for a weekend getaway)
Terracina is snug against the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Riviera of Ulysses; so-called because legend has it that Odysseus sailed through on his travels. Nothing says "Odysseus was here" like Mount Circeo, rising out of the sea like the jagged profile of a reclining witch. The sorceress Circe is said to have lived there, plotting to turn Greek sailors into beasts. This uniquely-shaped rock formation is visible from other towns along the Riviera of Ulysses but Terracina is at just the right distance to create the perfect panorama of sea, sky, and mountain. The Mount Circeo is visible from most points in the city, perhaps none as overwhelming as when you're standing in the sea, looking North. Each evening, the mountain goes up in flames: no two sunsets are ever alike.
Terracina's centro storico has ochre colored houses with green shutters on narrow cobblestone streets. There are the ruins of a mosaic-covered Capitolium and a massive rose colored square. The old quarter's nightspots attract live music fans, tourists, and locals alike.
Don't forget that Terracina is a beach town, so fresh seafood is great here. Restaurants run the gamut from family-run trattorias to seafood shacks and small osterias with young Foodie chefs. Voyagers can enjoy risotto alla pescatora, calamari fritti and spicy boar sausage, while deep-fried filled Zeppole (doughnuts) are eaten hot in the evenings. Terracina hosts a number of sagre (festivals) including a strawberry festival in late Spring, a chestnut festival in the fall, and a muscatel grape festival in late Summer. Terracina's muscatel wine was the wine of Ulysses and still claim to be sweetest in the region.
As for music, there is traditional folk music, Italian reggae, and Italian rap. The Anxur Festival draws the area's best musical acts.
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In Northern Italy, if you want to experience the rustic charm, fresh air and home grown richness of Italian food, you find an agriturismo to stay in. We stayed in two in Tuscany--one which was family owned and run and who grew and produced their own wine and olive oil. The other was a more bastadized, corporate owned affair, caharging extra for vineyard tours and tastings, with an over priced little restaurant on site and overpriced low quality "tourist wine". There are still others who are much more authentic--and where you can participate in taking care of animals, tending crops or making cheese, pasta and such. When traveling in Southern Italy the equivalent is staying in a masseria.
Most masserie are very old... built between the 1500-1600s when Spain ruled the South. A masseria is a rather large farm complex to house not only the landowners, but also the peasants who tended the crops and farm animals. The complex usually included several other specialty buildings to house animals, to store crops, to make wine or cheese, etc. Some masseria developed into essentially small villages surrounded and protected high walls with a central courtyard surrounded by all the other structures.
Many of the masserie today have been renovated and turned into vacation rentals and are mostly found in Puglia, in eastern Campania, on the plateau--or Murgia--of Basilicata, in Calabria, and in Sicily, Abruzzo and Molise. A masseria gives Voyagers a vacation that combines nature, local culture and home-grown (or Slow Food) cuisine with all the creature comforts of a world class vacation rental. You'll find modern plumbing, air conditioning (although often not as cool as we Americans would like it) and internet (slow or limited wireless connections due to thick walls), and satellite TV (often limited on station offerings). Some of the overly developed (in my opinion) masseria even offer spa treatments, golf courses and other offerings that have little to do with saturating yourself in local flavor or customs. I'd avoid these "resort" types and search for facilities that offer a more genuine Southern Italian experience. If you find a family run masseria you will find people go out of their way to make your stay a comfortable, memorable one. That was out experience when we stayed in a similar place, a small masseria of Trulli (pointed stone houses). Southern Italians are simply more hospitable than up in the North. There, I've said it.
When staying at a masseria, you will get the feel of a farm along with a definite level of comfort found on a country estate. I think this is a great way for Southern Italians (if they are the ones who developed and run the properties) to preserve and reuse these historic structures, along with preserving this period of history in Southern Italy. If you decide to book a stay in a masseria, you will most likely be welcomed like family members, sample their own olive oil and wine and even cheese made on these farms (beware of Ricotta Forte!). You will also learn about the local culture and history--of Puglia, Basilicata or Campania.
Owners will often join guests for home-cooked dinners using products from the farms... many types of pasta with vegetables, parmigiana di melanzana, seafood (the sea is all around in the South), pizza made in outdoor wood ovens, roasted vegetables, insalata caprese, polpette (meatballs) or beefsteak, home made breads (they use salt in Southern bread, unlike the Tuscan breads), thick jam-like honey, and to drink... good Southern varieties of red wine (Primativo is out favorite!). I strongly suggest looking for an organic masseria that uses no chemicals to grow their olive trees, vines, cherries, almonds, and vegetables. You will not believe how simply food can taste so damned wonderful. Imagine having a real Italian family meal—excellent, simple fare pared with a great local wine and great, hand-waving conversation. You will never have experiences like these staying in hotels.
Some masseria offer classes in cheese making, pasta making, cooking or show you how olive oil is made. Visit in the fall and help with the harvest or grapes, almonds or olives. Some of the largest and oldest olive trees grow in the South... I took a photo of Lucas standing with a 2000 year old specimen! There are many masserie throughout the region and accommodation ranges from simple apartments to luxury suites and even trulli (circular stone huts), and most are in peaceful settings in the countryside surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. You usually need a car (rent in Bari or Naples) to access them and some can be difficult to find but it’s worth it for such unique accommodation and the opportunity to experience the warm hospitality of Southern Italians.
If you want to stay in an organic masseria, use those words on Google... "organic masseria" and see what you come up with. The cost for a stay in a masseria stay might run from $60 to over $200 a night per person including breakfast.
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The most fascinating thing about Italy is its age and history. Sometimes you come up with ancient stories that boggle the mind... here's one:
The so-called Lovers of Valdaro, also dubbed as the "Valdaro Lovers," are a pair of human skeletons dating back 6,000 years discovered by archaeologists at a Neolithic tomb in S.Giorgio near Mantova, Italy, in 2007. (My post about Mantova here). The two skeletons appear to have died or were interred facing each other with arms around each other, thus reminiscent of a "lovers' embrace". Although it is not the only Neolithic burial to contain more than one person, double burials are rare, and the pose and the positioning of this couple are unique. Scientists believe that the pair is a man and woman no older than 20 years old and approximately 5'2" in height.
After the story made the news with a myriad Stone Age Romeo and Juliet headlines, the site had to be guarded night and day to protect it from the carelessly curious and would-be looters. After all, Mantua (also called Mantova) is the city where Shakespeare's Romeo was exiled and was told that his Juliet was dead. The composer Giuseppe Verdi chose it as the location for his opera Rigoletto, another story of star-crossed love and death.
The landowner discovered the couple while excavating to build a warehouse, which he still needed to do, so archaeologists decided to remove the entire grave. To keep the couple in their entwined position, archaeologists cut away and lifted the entire section of earth in which they were entombed. The whole burial, all six and half feet cubed of it, was then taken intact in a box to a Musei Civici in Como for further analysis.
The male skeleton (on the left side of the embrace) was found with a flint arrowhead near his neck. His lady friend had a long flint blade along her thigh, plus two flint knives under her pelvis. There was initial speculation that the weapons might have been the cause of death. Osteological examination however found no evidence of violent death, no fractures, and no trauma, so the most likely explanation is the flint tools were buried along with the people as grave goods. Scientists say that given their discovery in a necropolis, it’s unlikely that they died by accident while hugging, to keep warm during a freezing night, for instance. They speculate that they were positioned that way after death.
I think the story could be more like Romeo and Juliet that the scientists are likely to admit. One could imagine angry parents forcing them into a grave and making them take each other's lives using the flint blades. Perhaps they used poison--difficult to find traces of after 6000 years--just like Juliet. Perhaps they were the prince and princess of a long forgotten tribe that died while together out in the cold and their people buried them in the positions of lovers. This is really a story to ponder...
The skeletons were displayed briefly in public for the first time in September 2011 at the entrance of Mantua's Archaeological Museum, thanks to the effort of the association "Lovers in Mantua" which is seeking a permanent home for the ancient couple.
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The Pyramid of Cestius is an ancient pyramid in Rome, Italy, near the Porta San Paolo and the Protestant Cemetery. It stands at a fork between two ancient roads, the Via Ostiensis and another road that ran west to the Tiber along the approximate line of the modern Via della Marmorata.
It's location caused it to be integrated into the ancient Roman city wall, which helped it in being one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Rome.
The pyramid was built about 18 – 12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a powerful Roman magistrate and religious leader. It's interior is concrete with a brick veneer, itself covered with slabs of white marble on a travertine foundation. It measures about 100 feet square at its base and stands 120 feet tall.
Its interior contains a barrel vaulted room--the burial chamber. It's a fairly small space for such a large pyramid--about 15' x 12' x 15' high. When discovered in 1660, the chamber was found to be decorated with frescoes. The tomb was a victim of plunder in ancient times. There is no way to enter this massive structure today but it's a wonder to ponder an ancient pyramid in Rome...
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It is the work of Pier Francesco Orsini, called Vicino (1528–1588), a patron of the arts, dedicated the garden to his wife Giulia Farnese, daughter of Galeazzo Farnese, Duke of Latera. What a strange garden to be created in memory of someone... one wonders, what strange memories did he have? It's said that Pirro Ligorio, designed the garden and its creatures, who later continued the work of Michelangelo at the Vatican. The gardens took 30 years to build, almost half of Orsini's short life.
To many, this place is fun, to others it's a scary place. The monsters are and beasts magnificent and huge. Hannibal's war elephant is carrying a just-killed Roman soldier in his trunk. Next is a tilting building, called Casa Storta or Twisted House. Push on one side to hold it up, push on the other and perhaps it will fall. The Titans are in mortal combat. Elsewhere, you'll see Pegasus taking flight. Winged griffins and a snake-legged goddess await to shock your soul.
There seems to be no real plan of the placement of the monstrosities... they are randomly positioned in the garden. The symmetry of garden design popular during the period it was built is nowhere to be seen. There is nothing orderly here, just surprise and shock. There is an inscription on one monument that says Just to set the heart free.
After Orsini’s death this strange garden was abandoned and fell into decay. The forest began to reclaim the place with vines, moss and lichen growing over his creatures. The half-camouflaged monsters must have seemed much more frightening to locals who happened upon the place, a source for many wild tales and superstitions about the monsters and the garden.
In 1951, Giovanni Bettini, a real estate agent, traveling around Italy discovered the place and saw the magic in it. He purchased and restored Bomarzo, freeing the beasts and monsters from the woodlands grasp. Today, the garden received 40,000 visitors a year.
Nonetheless, Vicino Orsini was a visionary when he created the garden. No one knows what was in his mind or heart--light or darkness--when he conceived of the creatures the garden possesses. He ordered the following to be cut into stone, “Thou, who enter this garden, be very attentive and tell me then if these marvels have been created to deceive visitors, or for the sake of art”.
Why go where the typical tourist is going when there are treasures like this in Italy? Just 42 miles from Rome awaits this fantasy...
Contatti Parco dei Mostri
loc. Giardino s.n.c
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Seven miles north of Florence rests a giant treasure from the Renaissance known as Colosso dell'Appennino, or the Appennine Colossus. The 35 foot tall gigantic sculpture is found in Villa Demidoff and was built by the 16th century Italian sculptor Giambologna. He guards the pond in front of him and the grottoes inside his belly. His beard is heavy with stalactites and by his pose one can tell his heart is heavy with time itself. But the Colossus isn't merely a statue... it's also a building. There are chambers inside his body, and even a fireplace in his head that when lit would allow smoke to come out of his nose. One special room could hold a small orchestra to play music for people visiting the site.
He used to have other neighboring bronze statues, many of which were lost or stolen. The massive brick and stone structure has stood for centuries in the same spot, weathered and worn, but still magnificent. The park that the colossus is situated in, once built as an estate for the mistress of an Italian duke, serves as the perfect setting for the gentle giant. The colossus suggests a bond between man and Nature himself.
Perhaps if Giambologna had built his Colossus in a grand piazza in Florence, it would would now be considered one of the greatest masterpieces in the world, but alas, it resides off the beaten path and is little known. The masonry Colossus once had rooms, caves and inner passageways, and even a hydraulic system that connected the head of the giant to the various water sources in his body, and the fountain that poured from the fish he is squeezing. Today it has some visitors, but no where near the number it deserves.
Truth be told, the Park of Pratolino, where the giant resides, is one of the most beautiful parks in the area surrounding Florence. Other treats here include the beautiful Chapel of Buontalenti with its hexagonal plan; behind the Colossus is a fantastic Dragon; below it is a decorated grotto. If you don't go behind the immense statue, you might miss seeing it. There is also the Cupid's Grotto by Buontaltenti; the large aviary; the Maschera Fishpond originally used for hot baths; and the Fountain of Jupiter. Some of these can be visited only upon request. The park is open every weekend and has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Guided tours, even during the week, can be booked by directly calling the park, and all at no cost. Yes, there is no entrance fee to this park.
So if you are in Florence and are looking for the unusual, just 7 miles north of the town this Giant slumbers waiting to awaken your imagination. I'd recommend lunching in Fiesole, then moving on to Pratolino afterwards. Or do it in reverse and watch the sun set over Florence from Fiesole and enjoy a dinner and wine with talks of dragons and giants...
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Vie Cave (vee-ah cavay, meaning cave roads) are mysterious pathways cut by Etruscan hand tools into the mile high tuff stone (tuff or tufa are layers of solidified ash from volcanic eruptions) of the Maremma area of southern Tuscany. The Etruscans lived 200-800 years before the birth of Christ and are the ancient ancestors of most Tuscans.
The paths are an unusual opportunity for hiking, horseback riding and nature photography. They are cut into the tuff to a depth of 30 meters or more. Some are fairly wide and could have handled small carts while others are very narrow and could only be used for human and animal transport, such as pack animals, as donkeys are still used in Italy today. The Vie Cave also incorporates both Pagan and Christian sites and a necropolis.
The vie cave roads radiate like a messy spiderweb from the towns of Pitigliano, Sovana, and Sorano. Some of the roads have more modern sacred Christian images, carved symbols and shrines that were installed to protect against evil Pagan spirits. You will also find ancient tombs. Some paths are green and lush, while others are rocky havens of moss and lichen.
If you decide to visit the Vie Cave, plan ahead, perhaps hire a guide or plan a horseback tour. If walking, be aware that hiking shoes should be worn--some of the paths contain rugged steps and others are uneven due to erosion. This is a true Italian adventure, not just another cookie-cutter tourist destination. Have fun!
If you'd like to feel what it was like to be the richest, most influential and regal of people in the Renaissance world, you're in for a treat if you visit the little known Vasari Corrodor. Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari in 1564 to build a way to get from the Uffizi Palace to the Pitti Palace without having to mix with his subjects, soil his silk shoes or have to walk on cobbles laced with human and animal waste, or muddy puddles. The Corridor winds its kilometer long regal path above the hoi polloi from the Uffizi Palace, across the Arno River along the top of Ponte Vecchio and on up to the Pitti Palace, a newly built palace when the Corridor first conceived. There are stories of the Medici racing chariots pulled by big cats in the Corridor. They also used it to stayed out of harms way from rioting dissidents, walked to their private chapel for mass overlooking away from common worshipers, or conducted affairs of state (or had more notorious affairs) whilst moving between their palace and parliament.
The Vasari Corridor currently contains a self-portrait gallery of the artists who were courting the Court of the Medici for commissions. There are also modern artists' self-portraits recently added to the collection. However, if you visit the Corridor only for the art, you might very well be disappointed. Much of it pales in comparison to the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery itself, and many are suffering neglect and lack of climate control (a problem in many Italian art museums, even the Vatican Museum). It's a very dry presentation of art in the Corridor. Unlike the heat of the Uffizi, the Corridor is typically cool (and a bit damp)--a refreshing change if you've just come from trudging around the Uffizi.
When walking the Vasari Corridor, down below the streets will be filled with sweaty, shoving tourists (read, "commoners" or "illetterati"), while YOU will be like the Medici, strolling through your private covered walkway. Rain will never fall on your royal head. For the length of this exclusive tour you will become Medici. Your nose won't be bothered by the smells of the gutter--or cheap tourist food. You will be led by a Royal guard at the front and one at the rear of your very small tour group (so you don't try and pocket any art... so, OK, they don't really treat you like a Medici.) A warning if the tour group is a bit large... be careful about the many marble busts on columns throughout the Corridor. It is far to easy to back into one and knock it to the floor. In general though, tour groups tend to be less that 15 people or so and are well staggered. Touring the Corridor is an extreme contrast to visiting the Uffizi with it's heat and enormous crowds.
If you want to stay away from the throngs of tourists and generally stay off the beaten path, then the Vasari is for you. If you're a history fanatic, then you'll love it. The tour will start at a fairly mundane door in the Uffizi before heading down stairs past old masters damaged by a Mafia bombing. You then move into a series of corridors alongside the Arno, over the Ponte Vecchio, and wind your way through private apartments and a church and finally arrive at the Pitti Palace itself.
The real benefit is the unusual and unexpected views out the many windows along the Corridor. Views of the river, great architecture, looking down at the tourists below--all from very different vantage points--are the great photo opportunities that await. There is also a surprise: The Corridor has a small set of glass doors that opens onto the private Medici balcony high above the congregation of the beautiful Santa Felicita church. Imagine that--they were too elite to mix with the lowly congregation below.
You can plan to visit the Uffizi first, then the Corridor (there are tours that give you both) and then come out into the Pitti Palace. As a bonus, the Boboli Gardens are right next door to Pitti. There are also combo tours which include the Corridor and Boboli Gardens. A great way to spend the day in Florence while experiencing both sides of the Arno River and four of Florence's best sites.
Please check THIS WEB SITE to make sure the Vasari Corritor is open for tours. Recently, the Florence fire brigade shut down tours, but they should open them again soon.
Between the 2nd century BC and the 3rd century AD, Testaccio was Rome’s river port. Supplies of wine, oil and grain were transported here by ships in huge terracotta amphorae, which, when emptied, were dumped in the river. But when the Tiber became almost unnavigable as a consequence, the pots were smashed and the pieces stacked methodically in a pile, which over time grew into a large hill – Monte Testaccio--about half a mile around and 120 feet tall.
Today, Monte Testaccio (literally in Latin, "Broken Pot Mountain") near Aventine Hill, is now in nightlife district of the city. When pondering the massiveness of the hill one can't resist thinking that it's the result of feeding, housing and lighting (olive oil was used in lamps) over a million people in Ancient Rome. The "mountain" is actually a vast rubbish heap of millions of broken storage jars and clay roof tiles. Any old terracotta went here, but most came from large 70 gallon amphorae used to transport olive oil. The shards weren't thrown, however... but stacked in an orderly structured manner, layer by layer. Excavations carried out in 1991 showed that the mound had been raised as a series of level terraces with retaining walls made of nearly intact amphorae filled with shards to anchor them in place.It is not often open to the public, but you can still exposed layer upon layer of pots at the back of the restaurants and bars around its base.
During the Middle Ages jousts and tournaments were held on top of the hill. In the 1800s festivals were held there and Garibaldi even used it for a base for guns to fend off the French. Because of all that terracotta, the interior of the hill is very cool causing some to excavate caves for the storage of wine. Popes would often lead a procession to the top of the hill on Good Friday to erect crosses to represent the crucifixion of Christ and two thieves. There is still a cross on top. Nowdays, Popes, jousts or festivals... just partying the night away...