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
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.
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.
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.
Cyclists already know Lake Garda as a premier cycling destination, but the design and installation of a cycle path that hangs from the craggy cliffs surrounding the lake is going to be a real game changer. At a projected cost of over $130 million, Garda in Bici (Garda by Bike) is being constructed nearly 200 feet above the lake to complete an 86 mile route that circumnavigates the lake. The first three-mile section is set to open this summer, and the entire course should be completed by 2021 which will connect three Italian regions: Lombardy, Veneto and Trento. The area surrounding Lake Garda is already popular with cyclists who ride off-road trails in the Dolomites and with the grueling TransAlp Bike Race.
The sleek steel and wooden route features elegant iron fences built as futuristic balconies with views of mountain peaks, boats sailing by and the picturesque villages that dot Lake Garda's shores. The engineering to complete the installation itself is daunting, at times using using helicopters, mountaineering experts and specialist riggers drilling into solid stone. Thick steel poles drilled into the cliffs support the board treadway, seemingly defying gravity.
The addition of this amazing structure to the many biking paths that already exist around Lake Garda makes this a must-cycle destination.
For more information about cycling in Lake Garda, Click Here.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa sits in the sprawling Piazza dei Miracoli, but there are also other amazing buildings to visit and admire. Construction on the Pisa Duomo (the Santa Maria Assunta cathedral) began in 1063 by the architect Buscheto, paid for with the spoils received fighting against the Muslims in Sicily. The structure is a mix of architectural styles, reflecting the influences of the varied merchants of the day: classical, Lombard-Emilian, Byzantine, and Islamic. The church was erected outside Pisa's defensive walls to show it's lack of fear from outside forces. The cathedral was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II, a member of the powerful Caetani family with links to both Pisa and Rome.
The Duomo is well worth a visit and contains noteworthy treasures, including the marble pulpit and bronze doors, both designed by Pisano.
The construction of the Baptistery of St. John (Battistero di San Giovanni) began in 1152 to replace an older baptistery, and was completed in 1363. The baptistry was designed by Diotisalvi, whose signature is found on two pillars inside the building, dated 1153. It is the largest baptistry in Italy, constructed with marble: 55 meters high with a diameter of 34 meters. It's architectural style is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic--the lower section Romanesque, the upper section Gothic.
The interior, although somewhat overwhelming, lacks decoration. The octagonal font in the center was created in 1246 by Guido Bigarelli da Como, the bronze sculpture of St. John the Baptist is by Italo Griselli, The pulpit is from 1255-1260 by Nicola Pisano, father of Giovanni Pisano, who produced the pulpit in the Duomo.
A little known fact: like the famous Leaning Tower, the Baptistry is also leaning, albeit just a tad 0.6 degrees toward the cathedral. One of the more interesting aspects of the Baptistry is its acoustics, illustrated in the video below...
Built in the 13th century, the Campo Santo (Holy Field) Monumentale is a cemetery built in the form of a cloisters, sitting alongside both the Baptistry and the Duomo in the Piazza dei Miracoli. Admittedly, it is the lesser-known of Pisa's monuments. Legend claims it was built upon a shipload of sacred soil from Calvary where Jesus was crucified. It is said that bodies buried here will rot and ascend to Heaven in just 24 hours. The burial ground lies over the ruins of the original baptistery of the church of Santa Reparata, a church that stood where the Duomo stands today.
Over the centuries, the most illustrious citizens of Pisa have been buried in Roman sarcophagi and more modest graves. The walls were decorated with 14th and 15th century beautiful frescoes which were damaged during WWII air raids, and are still being restored today. Some of the best frescoes to see include the Triumph of Death, the Last Judgment, and Stories of the Anchorites.
The cemetery itself is composed of three chapels: Chapel Ammannati is the oldest one; Chapel Aulla made by Giovanni della Robbia in 1518; and Chapel Dal Pozzo, which was commissioned by Carlo Antonio Dal Pozzo, the archbishop of Pisa, in 1594.
The Jewish Cemetery of Pisa
Just to the left of the Porta Nuova entrance to Piazza dei Miracoli, and just beyond the ancient gates of Porta del Leone lies the Cimitero Ebraico, the historic Jewish Cemetery of Pisa, one of the oldest cemeteries in the world still in use. It is separated from Campo Santo itself by the medieval walls, framed by the Torre di Santa Maria, the Lion's Gate and Torre di Catallo. If it weren't for the walls separating the two cemeteries, visitors would instantly realize that fully two-thirds of the northern boundary of Piazza dei Miracoli is sacred burial grounds for two religions.
In use since 1674, the current cemetery was preceded by at least three other Jewish cemeteries, all located outside the western walls of Pisa. The first official mention of the Jewish community in Pisa dates back to 859 AD, and thirteenth century engraved inscriptions can still be seen to the right of the Porta Nuova. Historians believe that the poorest people were buried at the foot of the walls with their names engraved on the wall, all at the same height.
Tombstones in the cemetery are unusual in that they have Hebraic inscriptions on one side and Spanish or Portuguese inscriptions on the other. This is because they were descendants of families expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. They also are engraved with the date from the the Gregorian calendar and and the Hebraic date. Many tombs are broken or tilted, not unlike the Leaning Tower, because of the poor soil. In the older part of the cemetery, the stones are under tall trees, giving you the impression that you are well outside of the city limits and away from the tourist throngs. Another interesting aspect is the tombstones marking the graves of children who succumbed to the 17th century plague.
You will also find the graves of Jewish soldiers who fell during the First World War, Jews who were victims of fascist violence, German killings and Nazi-Fascist persecutions. A plaque on the wall of the mortuary chapel in the center of the cemetery lists names of those who were deported and disappeared in the extermination camps are also remembered by a plaque on the wall of the mortuary chapel in the center of the cemetery.
As many of you know, it is Jewish tradition to place small stones on the graves of the departed, and you will find many stones in this cemetery as well. Some say the reason is stones last forever, while flowers would fade away--the love for people who have passed on never fades. Others say the stones help hold part of their souls down to Earth, where we can still spend time with those who have left this world. As in the words to a popular song, the Kotel:
“There are men with hearts of stone, and stones with the hearts of men.”
If you visit, leave some stones for their souls and for your own.
To visit, contact the Jewish Community of Pisa.
Via Palestro, 24 - 56127 - Pisa - Tel and Fax: 050/542580
Piazza delle Vettovaglie
In the historic center of Pisa, Piazza delle Vettovagia's name describes its function... vettovaglie means provisions in Italian. Literally, its name means Supply Square. Unlike other town markets in Italy, which have only one day in which a piazza turns into a market, this Piazza becomes a local market each and every morning. Keep in mind, this is a market for where locals shop. Well worth a visit if you want to experience the real Pisa. Residents can buy fruit, vegetables and other food products. You will feel like you've been transported back to the Renaissance, surrounded on all sides by porticoes, the piazza boasting cafes, wine shops, butchers, fish-sellers, bakeries and spice shops. The Piazza is a great place to buy your provisions for the day, or for snacking or dining in a taverna under the portico. It is a particularly lively spot in the evenings where locals congregate, and because it is off the tourist radar, prices are more affordable.
Torre di Santa Maria and the Medieval Walls of Pisa
The Torre di Santa Maria is in the north-west side of the defensive city walls in the Piazza dei Miracoli and was constructed in 1155-1161. In 1499, during a siege by the Florentines, the tower was nearly destroyed and shortened to the level of the walls. It was reconstructed again in the 19th century. The walls themselves took nearly two centuries to complete, stretching nearly 4-1/2 miles with an average height of 36 feet, about 6 feet thick and are built using “Panchina” stone, a form of tufa stone.
After years of restoration, visitors may now attend walking tours on the Pisa walls on selected days. The three-kilometer path affords views of towers and ramparts, where you’ll also walk over the city's four gates: Porta Nuova in Piazza dei Miracoli, Porta a Lucca, Porta San Zeno and Porta Calcesana. Generally speaking, the walls are open from April till September. At the time of this writing, the cost is 3 Euros. Parts of the walls are actually handicapped-accessible via elevators (for short sections of the ramparts). You should be able to by tickets at the same places you buy tickets for the Leaning Tower. The hours are usually from 11am-2pm and 3pm to 8pm. (Please check with the Pisa Tourism Bureau for current dates and times. This is Italy, after all).
Click the map above to see it in high resolution.
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
One of the most beautiful towns we visited in Puglia was Polignano al Mare. We walked the old historic center, took lots of photos, and were amazed by their beach, hugged by rocky cliffs of the Saracen Cove on either side. One of the most unusual offerings is the Grotta Palasezze, a restaurant built into a large grotto hanging just meters over the sea. If you frequent pretty much any social media sites about Italy, I'm certain you've seen photos of the place. It's definitely jaw-droppingly beautiful.
To be honest, Voyaging with an eleven-year old, we decided not to go there for dinner. You see, I had researched this place before our Voyage ever started. Not simply because we thought it wasn't kid-friendly (it really isn't), and not because our (then, 11 year-old) son Lucas wouldn't enjoy it. In actuality, he has a very sophisticated palette and handles him self very well whenever we go to posh places. We're always given compliments about him--ever since he was a toddler. There were two other main reasons...
One is the price. This place is very expensive. You're paying for their uniqueness and the view. They charge €10 per person for cover. They'll charge you €50 for a €10 bottle of regional wine which you can usually find in a local alimentari for around €6, but the rest of the wine list will cost from €100 - €600 a bottle. (We tend to like moderately priced, good wines and never pay over-inflated restaurant prices when we can avoid it). You'll pay another €45 or so for a single serving aperitivo. Then another €45 for la primo of pasta or risotto and €45 per secondi--fish or meat entrees. And be careful about surcharges ("market price") for things like shrimp and prawns (up to €150 a pound or more!) If you want to have a six plate tasting menu instead, that'll set you back €140 each. For dessert, a semifreddo is about €15.
So, given the exchange rate when we were there, if we did three tastings, one bottle of mineral water, desserts and no wine, we still would have spent over $600!
The second reason we opted no to go? This place is way too formal for our tastes. I mean, the waiters usually are dressed better than the clientele. There is an old-school dress code in place here... but the odd thing is, they really don't enforce it (for nicely dressed people), otherwise they'd be turning away most of the more casually dressed tourist clientele. Just don't show up wearing shorts. They will turn you away with a real attitude, reservation or not.
This is the new millennium, after all. "Dress codes" are pretty much meaningless, so why should the wait staff have to dress so darned stuffy, too? It's damned off-putting. Besides, if I'm going to be paying such over-inflated prices, I should be able to dress any damned way I want. In reality, you get an odd mix of tourists dressed nicely but casually, mixed in with a few locals dressed for their "bella figura" having dinner for a special event--anniversary or whatever.
And in the end, there are two things that prove this is an overpriced place marketed to foreign tourists: The menus are printed in both Italian and English--a sure sign of a tourist joint. Secondly (according to many online reviewers, and perhaps most important of all), the staff tends to rush you along through your meal, unlike most ristoranti. It's the Italian custom never to rush through a meal--especially when you're in a restaurant. Most local places expect to have only one cover per table each night. People may take 4 hours to enjoy their meal and conversation. At Grotta Palazzase they are trying to move you out of the way so they can have at least two sittings each evening, perhaps as many as four. Not very Italian of them, is it?
As it turns out, we still enjoyed the views of the sea at a chic bistro-pizzeria at the other end of the little bay, and had wonderful wine, fantastic aperitivi, the best pizzas in all of Italy and amazing desserts--all for around €60 for the three of us--at Terazza Pizzeria.
In the end, if you really want to have the experience of dining in Polignano al Mare, try the Terazza Pizzeria (very affordable, casual), or Il Bastione (affordable, casual) with an outdoor dining terrace hanging on the cliff above the Cove. It has a dramatic view of the Cove and its houses clinging to the cliff with a more affordable and diversified menu. (How does €60 for two sound?) The views will stay with you forever--along with most of your cash! If one compares the photos of the dishes served in Il Bastione and Grotta Palasezze, you'll see the quality looks very similar. This is Puglia, after all... most places serve wonderful food--especially from the sea.
Il Bastione, above - Grotta Palasezze, below
But if you're really hell bent on eating dinner in a cave, I suggest taking a drive to Matera, the Sassi city, where most of the restaurants in the Sassi district are in caves. No sea view, but still a great, romantic experience, especially if you take a passeggiata (stroll) down to the Piazza along the edge of the gorge at sunset.