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.
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
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.
Ostuni is known as White City of Apulia because of its stark white buildings perched high above the plain below. Located about 5 miles and within sight of the Adriatic coastline, it has a year-round population of about 32,000 inhabitants, but can swell in the tourist season to over 100,000. Part of the province of Brindisi, a region with high production of both wine and olive oil. The town is a popular popular place for expats, especially British and Germans.
The region around Ostuni has been inhabited since the Neolithic era, with Neanderthals living here over 40,000 years ago. The town itself was settled by the Messapii tribe, destroyed by Hannibal during the Punic Wars. It was rebuilt by the Greeks, its name deriving from the Greek Astynéon ("new town").
The town came under rule of the Romans until the Normans conquered it in 996 AD and built a medieval town around the summit of the 950 feet high hill, including a castle and four gates (ruins today). In 1507, rule passed to Isabella, Duchess of Bari, and under her rule Ostuni thrived during the Italian Renaissance, with an abundance of Renaissance architecture left behind.
The white color of the town had practical advantages. Since at least the time of the Middle Ages, the lime whitewashing helped keep buildings cool by reflecting the heat of the southern sun. Lime whitewash also has disinfectant properties, helping to slow the spread of disease--this was proven during the Middle Ages, lessening the spread of the Plague.
Lime is readily available in the surroundings of the city since the town itself is built upon three hills of Cretaceous limestone. The White City has become such a popular destination for tourists that the government pays for half the cost of homeowners repainting their homes every two years to keep them looking their whitest.
The centro storico (historic center) is still fortified by the ancient walls. The town's largest buildings are the Ostuni Duomo and the Bishop's Palace, together with a number of palazzi of local aristocratic families. In the surrounding countryside there are typical Pugliese masserie (fortified large estate-farms), as well as trulli (pointed roofed structures), many of which today have been converted into hotels and B&Bs. Since 2010, there has been such a large influx of British expats buying properties, that the town has been given the tongue-in-cheek nickname of Salentoshire.
La Processione della Grata - On the second Sunday of August, this procession leaves the Sanctuary della Grata to go to the center of the city and, and in the evening the candles of over six thousand people light up the countryside which can be viewed from the city's walls.
Sagra dei Vecchi Tempi - Feast of the Old Times. August 15th is a local food festival with many traditional dishes.
Cavalcata di Sant’Oronzo - a celebration of the town’s patron saint, takes place between the 24th-27th August. The high point are costumed knights and a procession on horseback.
Festa di San Biagio - On February 3rd, thousands of pilgrims go to the sanctuary of San Biagio carved into the side of the limestone hillside, just outside of town. The Sanctuary is notable for a huge, ancient sinkhole considered by speleologists the biggest underground cavity in Puglia. Visitors can enjoy the natural landscape in the surrounding area.- Via dei Colli, Ostuni, Puglia
Just remember to bring your sunglasses if you plan on visiting Ostuni -- it's that white.
In the baroque town of Caltagirone, Sicily, the main attraction is its ceramics industry. The name of the town derives from the Arabic word qal’at-al-ghiran, meaning Castle of Vases. There are ceramics everywhere you look... as tile murals on buildings, as signs, and in the many ceramics shops just waiting for a savvy Voyager to select a few special pieces to take back home.
But the tiles also adorn its stairways, the most majestic being the Scale di Santa Maria del Monte, built in 1608. Start to climb the 142 steps and you will be reading the town's history, each step telling their stories on hand-painted ceramic tiles that clad each stair’s riser. There are many fantastic characters, battle scenes, landscapes and symbolic patterns. It's a wonder to think that the staircase was rebuilt by the town after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 which destroyed most of the town. The Scale is a symbol of the town's resilience and rightfully, was honored as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002.
When you arrive at the top of this kaleidoscopic ascent, you turn around only to notice that the steps' colors have disappeared, seemingly to allow you to focus on the wonderful views of the town itself with its Baroque architecture. With tiles and ceramics being part of the architecture of the town, anyone who loves colorful ceramics would love visiting Caltagirone.
You can see wonderful tile installations in its churches and palazzi, the Majolica Bridge of San Francesco, as well as in the Giardino Villa Comunale, a well cared for public garden. Worth a look are elaborate balcony of Casa Ventimiglia in Via Roma and Palazzo della Magnolia, in Via Luigi Sturzo with its terracotta embellishments.
If you go:
Caltagirone is located 43 miles southwest of Catania in southern Sicily. You can get there by bus from Catania but a car is recommended. Today the town thrives on tourists and ceramic collectors who visit over 130 ceramics studios and shops. The style of ceramics here is called Maiolica (Majolica) and is distinctively different from other areas of Sicily.
Museo Regionale della Ceramica
Examples of Sicilian ceramic objects dating from prehistoric times to the present day. One enters the museum through the so-called Teatrino (Little Theater), a belvedere dating from 1792 with steps and its decorated balustrade.
Teatrino del Bonaiuto, Giardini Pubblici 96041
Caltagirone, Sicily, Italy
Tel: 39 0933 58423
Palio della Rana
The Palio della Rana is a frog race--well, sort of. It's a wheelbarrow race with frogs. It usually takes place the weekend after Easter in the town of Fermignano, between Urbino and Urbania in central Italy's Marche region. Contestants, representing each of the seven contrade (neighborhoods) dress in historic costume and race with frogs atop small wheelbarrows, trying to reach the finish line before the frog hops off. Each frog is placed on a blue wooden carriola (wheelbarrow). The scarriolanti (wheelbarrow runners) race to the finish line while trying to keep the frogs on their wheelbarrows. If a frog jumps off, the competitor must stop, place the frog back on the wheelbarrow platform, and then keep going. There's also a procession in historical costume and food.
The date of Rome's founding (in 753BC) is celebrated on April 21 so if you're in Rome, watch for festivals, concerts, and special events. There's usually a fireworks display over the Tiber River and gladiator shows around the forum area. Find out more in April Events in Rome.
Palio dei Buoi
In the towns of Asigliano and Caresana on April 23 (the saint day of San Giorgio) the Palio dei Buoi (oxen race) takes place every year. Historically in this area, oxen were used in pairs to tow the plow and to carry out other heavy jobs in the countryside. Both the Caresana and Asigliano races have been held for over 700 years. San Giorgio is the patron saint of farm workers. Recently, the race has been delayed due to protests from animal rights activists.
Festival of San Marco
The Festa di San Marco is a traditional celebration dedicated to Venice’s patron St Mark the Evangelist, believed to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. Several relics from the saint still remain in the city, who is also said to have founded the Church of Alexandria. Festa di San Marco is also known as the Rosebud Festival or Festa del bocolo (rosebud in Venetian dialect) where traditionally men gift the woman they love with a single red rose, to commemorate an old legend connected to the history of Venice. A highlight of the festival occurs in Saint Mark's Square on April 25 including a procession to the basilica. (See Liberation Day below)
International Handicrafts Fair
Since 1931 in Florence, the Mostra Mercato Internazionale Dell'Arginianto, the world's premier market of artistic crafts, will be held from April 21 through May 1. Spread out over 55,ooo square meters in the Fortezza da Basso, over 800 exhibitors from all over Italy and from 50 countries will display and sell their beautiful Italian and international handcrafted items. All sorts of crafts are on display including lamps, pottery, rugs, fabrics, musical instruments, masks and statues. There will also be food to enjoy and taste, with many artisinal products, wines, gelato and more.
The Race of the Ring
The Corsa all'Anello in Narni in Umbria is part of the celebrations held from April 24 through May 13 this year. During this medieval jousting competition, horsemen try to snare rings. There are also a historical procession and other events.
The artichoke (did you know it is an aphrodisiac?) is the object of a three-day Festa di Carciofo (artichoke festival) held from April 12th through 14th in the coastal town of Ladispoli, just outside of Rome in Lazio. It's been a tradition now to honor the Roman Artichoke at this special festival. It forms the foundation of a wide selection of dishes created specially at this event. Visitors can sample the artichoke-related dishes on offer, which contain a delicious and unique combination of flavors.
But the most interesting thing to see is artichoke sculpture competition. Entrants can create anything they wish, from boats to life-sized animals such as tortoises, horses and elephants!
San Biagio Day
San Biagio is the Patron Saint of Avetrana in Southern Puglia. He was known in his time for being a doctor and saver of lives, and for being the Bishop of Sebaste between the third and fourth centuries. He was also known for his firm religious beliefs, and unfortunately, these were to ultimately cost him his own life. Having been imprisoned for his Christian beliefs, he was put on trial and – having refused to renounce his faith – was beheaded in 316. April 28th and 29th sees a two-day celebration of San Biagio with a combination of sombre procession and later upbeat fireworks, luminarie (display of lights) and music from bands as well as street fairs, food and drink.
Liberation Day (National Holiday)
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the day that Italy was released from the Nazis and the rule of Mussolini by Allied troops. The following year in 1946, the first national holiday was held to mark this occasion. The country will come together to remember those that fell in the war and to honor the dead. In addition, there will also be festivals, concerts and bands to mark the day.
In Venice, it will be a doubly special day – in addition to Liberation Day, Venetians will also be marking the Festival Of St Mark, the city's patron saint. Bands and musicians will provide a series of aural treats, while markets and carnivals will add to the fun. The famous boat race, Regata di Traghetti, will also see teams of gondoliers competing to win first prize while ferrying passengers.