Calascio is a small village and "Rocca" (fortress) in the province of L'Aquila, in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. It is located in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park.
The earliest village on this site was of Norman origin since the 9th century AD. From the year 1000 onward, it came under control of the Barony of Carapelle (14th century), the Piccolomini family (15th century) and then to the Medici family (16th century), each in succession adding to and enlarging the massive fortress on the rocca above the village.
Rocca Calascio, situated at 4800 feet in elevation, lies in an imposing landscape and is one of the most interesting military-defensive structures of its type. It is the highest and one of the oldest fortresses in Italy and affords amazingly dramatic photography, especially at sunrise and sunset. In fact, even Hollywood has been here before--as example--for the filming of Lady Hawke.
The fortress dominates the southern side of the Gran Sasso mountain range. It has all the characteristic features of a medieval watchtower. The tower would have been transformed into the current Rocca during the 15th century.
At first, there was only a single watchtower for military purposes. There is a walled courtyard with four cylindrical towers at the corners. A taller inner tower was added in the thirteenth century that collapsed during an earthquake centuries ago. The central tower was never rebuilt and today only the exterior walls remain. Curiously, during the time of the Medici, it was used to guard the paths used to move the royal flocks of sheep to their pastures.
Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso
e Monti della Laga
The real draw to this part of Abruzzo is the surrounding natural landscape with amazing biodiversity... flora, fauna, waterfalls and gorges. Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park covers an area of 580 square miles and is one of the largest parks in Italy. It offers skiing, trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding, mountain climbing, paragliding and more. In addition, from June through October there are over 200 festivals and sagre (food festivals), so your culinary and cultural apetite will surely be satisfied.
The Park consists of three mountain groups: Gran Sasso d'Italia chain, Laga massif, and Gemelli Mountains. The Park is also characterized by the presence of the highest peak of the Apennines, Corno Grande at nearly 10,00 feet tall. The most southern glacier in Europe is located here too--the Calderone. Trekkers might be surprised by the prescence of the Osservatorio di Campo Imperatore, a telescopic observatory high up on a mountaintop along with its own botanical garden. In the town of Fonte Cerreto, there is a large funivia (cable car) to take you up to the top of the mountain.
Bottom line... if you love mountains, nature and back country activities, a visit to the Park and Calascio will be a great alternative to the "must see" tourist site in Italy.
Palmanova is located in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in northeastern Italy, about 70 miles east of Venice. The town is protected inside its massive star-shaped fortress walls, a wonderful example of this type of the Late Renaissance fortressa built by the Venetian Republic in 1593. The fortifications were included in UNESCO's World Heritage Site list in 2017.
The unique thing about Palmanova is that the entire town and expansive piazza was designed and built within the shape of a nine-pointed star fortress, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi. Between the points of the star, ramparts protrude so that the points could defend each other from attacking forces.
A moat surrounded the town with three large, guarded entry gates. The construction of the first circle, with a total circumference of 4 miles, took 30 years. A second phase of construction took place between 1658 and 1690, and the outer line of fortifications were completed between 1806 and 1813 under the Napoleonic domination. The final fortress consists of: 9 ravelins, 9 bastions, 9 lunettes, and 18 cavaliers.
Since Palmanova was built during the Renaissance, its design fit in extremely well with Thomas More's social philosophy of a Utopian society. The Utopian concept requires geometrical harmony in the design public spaces, supposing that if the living space was protected from harm, plus offered esthetic beauty, comfortable public and residential spaces, and a pleasant place to live, its citizenry will be healthy, successful and content. Think of it as being the Renaissance's idea of Feng Shui.
Each road and street were carefully calibrated and each part of the plan had a reason for being. Each person would have the same amount of responsibility, living or working space, and each person had to serve a specific and balanced purpose. Even the fortifications were built with the Utopian concept in mind, with the outer ramparts looking simply like a forest as the town was approached, essentially hiding the town from potential enemies. This effect is still evident today in stark contrast to the very visible hill towns common in most other regions of Italy.
Although Palmanova was praised as one of the most successful Renaissance planned towns, at first regardless of its elegant and rational layout, almost nobody moved to the town. Venice was forced to pardon criminals, offering them free building lots just to help populate the town. Still today, even though Palmanova is a pristine, well laid out town, to visitors it has a totally different feel than most Italian towns, which evolved gradually, in a hodgepodge manner with varied building styles, sizes, colors and textures. This town definitely looks like it was designed and built almost like a modern development... all the buildings are similar style, similar height and the streets are laid out in mathematical precision. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) types will feel right at home here.
Still, today Palmanova is a wonderful place to visit, its Piazza Centrale being the perfect place to host many sagre and festivals. Visit in July and you can enjoy an historical re-enactment which takes places on the day of the Festival of the Redeemer. Tourists can enjoy guided visits to the fort and experience the Venetian cuisine of the 15th century.
There is also the Museo Storico Militare (Military History Museum) with an amazing array of exhibits of Renaissance and Napoleonic era weapons and technology. You can enjoy cycling around the bastions in warmer months. The Duomo Dogale (formerly the Duke's palazzo) is a wonderful cathedral to visit during the Christmas season if only to enjoy the wonderful display of presepe (nativity scenes).
Just two miles from town is the train station Scalo Ferroviario. Venice is about 90 minutes away by car on the A4. Trieste is less than an hour east via the A4. The beach town of Grado is only 30 minutes by car and itself can be a great place to stay, keeping Palmanova on your itinerary as a day trip.
From our contributor, Anthony J. DiLaura
A lesser known and less frequently touristy region of Italy is that of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
It is bordered by Austria and the Dolomite mountains, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea. The Capital City is Trieste and the area was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the nineteenth century.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is populated by 1.2 million inhabitants, characterized by the spectacular beauty of its snow capped mountains to the North, its verdant valleys and pastures, mountain sloped vineyards and deep blue waters of the Adriatic.
The region, although part of Italy, is one of five autonomous regions with special statute. The regional capital is Trieste. The city of Venice (Venezia) is not in this region, despite the name. Friuli-Venezia Giulia has a rich ethnicity of Austrian and Slavic origin, reflected in the language spoken there and the amazing cuisine found in the local eateries. I had the pleasure of visiting there a few years ago traveling from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Venice.
Things to Do in Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli Venezia Giulia Trekking Guide
Prosciutto di San Daniele Tours in Udine
Frulian Wine Tours
Ancient Roman Archeological Site at Aquileia
Grotta Gigante, the Largest Cave on Earth
Alpine Bob Coaster in Tarvisio
Gorizzia Castle and its Musical Instrument Museum
Cross-Border Skiing and Snowboarding
Starting a new tradition to celebrate the holiday season in 2018, the town of Itri in Lazio hosts Notte di Luce, illuminates its historic center with over 22,000 glass jars with candles. The lights are artistically designed by scores of volunteers in magical and surprising ways, turning the village into a glorious flickering wonderland. It's amazing that the candles all get lit within a short period of time at the beginning of this wonderful evening. The luminaries are hung on windows, doors, over streets, on facades of buildings and even on the steps and stones visitors walk upon.
If you want to enjoy the holiday festivities of small-town Italy, Itri might be just the place to be. This is certain to be a tradition that continues for years.
City of Itri Tel: -07717321
Web Site: comune.itri.lt.it
On an average day, Venice can have up to six large cruise ships docking in its harbor--to the tune of about 600 large ships each year. In a town with fewer than 55,000 native inhabitants, this can can be overwhelming. In fact, they let loose up to 30,000 passengers each and every day into the overcrowded streets of this historic gem of a city!
What makes matters worse is the geography of the historic center of Venice, comprised of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by over 400 bridges. On most days it seems like the majority of tourists are concentrated in only a few "must see" locations: the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), St Mark's Basilica, the Rialto Bridge and Bridge of Sighs, the Jewish Ghetto and Piazza San Marco and it's Campanile (bell tower). At any given time at least some of the tourists are not in the narrow streets and alleys, but on the water--taking expensive gondola rides, less expensive water taxis, and traveling to other islands in the Lagoon, like Murano, Burano or the island cemetery of San Michele.
There are so many tourists that many have taken to sitting anywhere they can find a spot to enjoy the views, watch the passersby, or to have a quick snack, drink or lunch. They sit along canal embankments, front steps of churches or shops, or simply squat right in the middle of a piazza. I've done this myself on occasion when needing to rest weary legs or to have a gelato and soak in the living, breathing post card that is Italia.
But just wait a second. Sitting? Anywhere you please? Shame on you for wanting to sit, and wanting to sit anywhere you can because the cafes are full--and too expensive. Think about this: Venice won't limit the number of cruise ships allowed to dock at one time, but if the mayor of Venice has his way, the city will start fining tourists for sitting or eating in public spaces, on steps, in the piazza and other places... to the tune of $580! Such behavior (unknown to the masses of tourists) is already forbidden in Saint Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.
Here's the situation: Venice overcharges and overtaxes the tourists through high prices and city taxes built into gondola and taxi fees or hotel and B&B fees. Then they allow cruise ships to dump an unlimited number of tourists, which causes the overcrowding in the first place. So, Venice makes a ton of cash on allowing an unlimited number of people into the limited space of this small city, and then wants to make more when people simply want to sit down somewhere--and apparently can't find many public places to sit!
Hey, Mayor Brugnaro, have you ever thought of installing enough benches and picnic/dining areas? Take Campo Santo Stefano for example: This huge piazza is about 600 feet long by 170 feet wide and there are only two benches. ONLY TWO. Nearby Campo Sant'Anzolo has no benches. How about in your largest public space, Campo San Marco? This huge public space has nowhere for anyone to sit--no benches anywhere.
How about taking an idea from the public spaces in Paris and put out folding cafe seating that tourists can move around? No... of course not. It's perhaps a better idea to hit them with a hefty fine!
They Need Tourists, but Really? "Loitering"?
Recently, the mayor of Florence implemented a new regulation forbidding "loitering" (standing in one place too long or sitting) and eating in four streets in the historic center which are very popular with tourists. Certainly the politicians will say these new regulations are for the common good, citing trash left behind by tourists as the main reason. But again, I can't count how many times I've been in touristy areas of Italian cities that didn't have enough trash receptacles. Italians know it, too. This is why they toss trash just about everywhere. And when there are bins, they are overflowing from a poor schedule of trash pick-up. It's common knowledge that many local Italian governments can't seem to get their heads around trash and how to remove it in a timely fashion. Is this the tourists fault?
Although Venice's canals, bridges and alleys are picturesque, its Mama & Papa shops have pretty much been gentrified--according to the local residents who claim life in the city has become more expensive, because many alimentari (grocery stores), bookstores and bakeries have been closing down and reopened as souvenir or label designer shops. It seems to me that the politicians of Venice have to make a choice... either give in totally to unrestricted, massive numbers of tourists and the potential of destroying this beautiful city, fine and up-charge the tourists in hopes of correcting the problems... or simply use logic and restrict the number of large cruise ships (perhaps no more than 2 at a time docked) to ease the burden and wear-and-tear on the treasures of Venice. Give Mama & Papa alimentary and bistros an incentive to stay in business. Install enough trash bins and seating to match the numbers of tourists flooding your piazzi.
There are hundreds of thousands of appreciative Voyagers that would appreciate the gesture. --Jerry Finzi
Italians love their presepe (nativity scenes). They buy them, they collect figures, they even make them from scratch and compete in their local competitions. And no where do they celebrate and promote the presepio as much as on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples. In fact, it's an all-year-round thing, so if you visit Naples in the summer, plan ahead and buy a presepe and some figures for next Christmas. If not, try visiting when the shops are gearing up for the holiday rush and putting out their newest creations during September or October.
This street is packed full with shops selling artistic Italian style nativity figures and structures on which to display them. Many of these are actually wonderful examples of artistic talent, a craft passed on from generation to generation. Visitors can even watch how they are made in the workshops and studios--hands, feet and heads in terracotta, and clothing from fabrics or cartapesta (Papier-mâché). Still other craftsmen create all manner of structures like barns, villas, temples or entire villages out of plaster and paint.
In recent years, presepe figures have been made to mimic popular culture. You'll find not only the Pope, but soccer players, movie stars, politicians and recording artists.
Want to see what the inside of the Leaning Tower of Pisa looks like?
Now you can... take this 360 degree interactive tour!
Click on the photo above to view the video,
then navigate with your mouse.
Click the photo BELOW to see a 360 degree video of the Piazza dei Miracola!
Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) is a medieval church in Siena, Italy, dedicated from its earliest days as a Roman Catholic Marian church, and now dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Previously the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Siena, from the 15th century the Archdiocese of Siena, it is now that of the Archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d'Elsa-Montalcino.
The cathedral itself was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has the form of a Latin cross with a slightly projecting transept, a dome and a bell tower. The dome rises from a hexagonal base with supporting columns. The lantern atop the dome was added by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The nave is separated from the two aisles by semicircular arches. The exterior and interior are constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, with addition of red marble on the façade. Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena, representing the black and white horses of the legendary city's founders, Senius and Aschius.
Nearly 2500 feet above the boundary of the Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean Seas is the ancient town of Erice with its two castles, Torretta Pepoli and Castello di Venere (Castle of Venus). The mountain-top town has amazing views overlooking the city of Trapani, at the northern tip of the western coast of Sicily. A cable car joins the upper and lower parts of the beautiful town and with belvedere views from every corner of the town, it's well worth the trip.
In the northeastern portion of the city there are the remains of ancient Bronze Age Elymian walls dating back to several thousand years before the time of Christ. The name Erice comes from the Greek hero, Eryx, even though the town was originally colonized by the Phoenicians. It was then ruled by the Greeks, the Carthaginians, and then the Arabs (the Aghlebids), until the Normans conquered it in 1167 and gave it the name Monte San Giuliano, a name that stuck until until 1934.
Pepoli Castle dates from Saracen times, and the Castello di Venere dates from the Norman period, built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus. According to legend, the temple was built by the Trojan hero (Venus' son), Aeneas to honor his goddess mother. Legend claims that an important cult used the temple for its sacrifices, and that the animals chosen for sacrifice would voluntarily walk up to the altar to be killed.
Today, there are no sacrifices, so you can safely take the cable car (funivia)--newly rebuilt after a forest fire--from the outskirts of Trapani to the town of Erice.
Text & photos by our Facebook friend, Anthony J. DiLaura
Sharing photos from a recent trip to Venice, some were taken from the top of the Campanile, (the Bell Tower in Piazza San Marco). Other photos are of various points of interest, not necessarily in order: Grand Canal, Doge’s Palace, Giudecca Island, San Salute Cathedral, Saint Marks Cathedral, Rialto Bridge, Bridge of Sighs and some others.
We were fortunate while there, not to have to deal with the crowds from cruise ships. This has become an increasingly difficult problem as thousands of passengers are dropped off along the waterfront and scurry about with very limited time to see as much as they can. Craziness is a good word to describe it.
All photos copyright, Anthony J. DiLaura - All Rights Reserved