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The Certosa di Padula, belonging to the Carthusian order, is the largest in Italy. It is one of the undiscovered jewels of the South, not far from Salerno. It has an immense cloister and a famous staircase leading up to the large library.
Construction on the Charterhouse began in about 1300. The altar frontals in most of the chapels are inlaid, not with marble, but with some of the most spectacular 18th century scagliola work ever created. This is the highest concentration of such work in one place. One of the centres of production was in Naples.
Torre di Pisa
The Leaning Tower took two centuries to build, starting in 1173. The tilt was evident from the beginning, and is due to an inadequate foundation on unstable soil. Several measures taken in the last two decades have stabilized the tilt - the Tower is in no danger of toppling over
Interestingly, the Tower was saved from destruction by an American sergeant in WW2, who, impressed by its beauty, refused to bomb it even though it was used by the Germans as an observation post.
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The ancient Abbey of Montecassino, in Central Italy, was bombarded by the Allies in 1944. The image above shows how it looked after the bombardment. The below image is what the interior looks like today. Peace is better than war!
Monte Cassino was founded by Benedict in the 6th century, and became the model for the monastic orders that proliferated during the Middle Ages. Though destroyed and rebuilt many times, it remained a beacon of culture and learning throughout the Dark Ages and beyond.
One of the most historic cities in Italy, Ravenna was in succession the capital of the Late Roman Empire, the capital of the first Kingdom of Italy, the capital of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna, and finally the seat of the Kingdom of the Lombards.
Ravenna's churches possess the most stunning mosaics in the Western world, representing the apex of Byzantine art, shortly before the advent of Cimabue and Giotto.
Everyone knows Capri, and many people know Ischia and Procida, but few know Li Galli, a cluster of tiny islands in the Gulf of Naples. These islets float in a sea of breathtaking beauty and limpidity. They are privately owned and closed to the general public. The famed dancer Rudolph Nureyev owned and lived on Gallo Lungo the last few years before his death.
This is what a marble quarry in Carrara looks like. Massa and Carrara, in northern Tuscany, have been supplying marble for Italian and Vatican palaces for centuries. And marble, because of its physical and optical properties, has been highly prized by sculptors since Greek times. Today Italy leads the world in marble exports. Many important buildings, including tha Taj Mahal, are clad in marble
This imposing basilica, of Italo-Byzantine architecture, was built in the 9th century. For its opulent design, gold ground mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro. Today, it is one of the main tourist destinations in Italy.
Via della Conciliazione
Via della Conciliazione is the main thoroughfare connecting Saint Peter's Square, in the Vatican, to the city center. The idea for such an imposing access to Saint Peter's goes back many centuries, but serious planning began only in the 16th century, in baroque Rome, at the time still the independent temporal domain of the Pope. Sixteenth century plans, however, came to nought, and it remained to Mussolini in the thirties to actually achieve the long-delayed project. But not without controversy.
Not far from Salerno lies Paestum, an ancient Greek site on which three pre-classical (7th and 6th centuries BC) temples still stand in an unattended field. They are dedicated to Hera, to Poseidon, and to Athena, and are among the best-preserved in the world. Bring a sack lunch and a blanket and picnic surrounded by 2600 year-old columns and the ghosts of Solon and Socrates. Chances are you will be alone and undisturbed.
One of Italy's little hidden gems, this Cistercian abbey is one of the finest examples of the Burgundian Early Gothic style in Italy, dated from around 1135. Consecrated in 1208 by monks of the mother abbey of Hautecombe, retains the bare architecture, the magnificent rose window and finely carved capitals, reflecting the prominent role within the area. It lies close to Latina, about 40 miles south of Rome. Best of all, the street vendors have not arrived yet.
Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, St. Peter's is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It has been described as "holding a unique position in the Christian world" and as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom". Contrary to popular misconception, it is not a cathedral because it is not the seat of a bishop; the Cathedra of the Pope as Bishop of Rome is in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.
Like so many other places in Italy, this tower not far from Nettuno, in the Lazio, reeks of history. Here is where Conradin of Swabia, last of the Hohenstaufen emperors, took refuge after his defeat at Tagliacozzo. And here he was betrayed to the French and eventually beheaded at Naples. Historians regard the advent of the Angevins in South Italy as a key moment in the history of the country. The French invasion more than 200 years later, based on claims arising from their victory at Tagliacozzo and from papal sanctions, marked the beginning of the decline of Renaissance Italy.
Another hidden gem, the Valvisciolo Abbey is a Cistercian monastery in the province of Latina, central Italy, near the towns of Sermoneta and Ninfa. It was founded in the 8th century by Greek monks, and restored in the 13th century by the Knights Templar. It is an example of rigorous Romanesque-Cistercian architecture, considered a masterpiece of that style in central Italy second only to the nearby Fossanova Abbey.
It has no skyscrapers, but Giotto's belltower and Bramante's cupola together make up one of the world's best known skylines. Firenze, the engine of the Italian Renaissance, exercised for centuries a cultural, artistic, and economic influence far out of proportion to its tiny size. Today it is still an important artistic and cultural hub, and probably the number one tourist destination in Italy.
Amalfi today is a tourist destination renowned for its mediterranean ambience, its vistas, and its sea. In the early Middle Ages it was an economic powerhouse, the first of the Italian maritime republics who reopened the trade routes between the Arab Levant and western Europe. Long before the rise of Venice, amalfitan ships were plying the mediterranean sea lanes with their Amalfitan Tables and the newly discovered compass.
The Duomo di Amalfi, dedicated to the city patron, Saint Andrew, towers over the main square. It is a fascinating blend of several architectural styles, including elements from Arab architecture.
Cava de’ Tirreni
The bravehearted sportscar driver can continue south on the coast road from Amalfi, cross the Lattari mountains, and end up in Cava dei Tirreni. This charming little town has a porticoed downtown reminiscent of northern cities such as Bologna. Inhabited since prehistoric times, it was relaunched around the year 1000 AD, at about the time the Normans were carving out their southern kingdom.
Cava's church and the greater part of the abbey buildings were entirely modernized in 1796. The old Gothic cloisters are preserved. The church contains a fine organ and several ancient sarcophagi. The archives, now national property, include fine incunabula, documents and manuscripts of great value, including the Codex Legum Longobardorum of 1004 and the La Cava Bible
La Grotta Azzurra is a natural sea cave located on the island of Capri. It is accessible only at low tide, and then you must lie down in a tiny boat as it is towed through the narrow entrance. Once inside, you are treated to an amazing natural light show! And no, you may not swim in the Grotta Azzurra (though I did, many years ago.)
The Grotta Azzurra was used in imperial times by the emperor Tiberius, as his personal swimming pool. At the time it was adorned with statues of sea-nymphs and sea-gods. A current project aims to restore the ancient sculptures in the Grotta Azzurra.
The Roman Forum
Occupying now a few thousand square meters in the center of Rome, the Roman Forum was for centuries the center of Roman public life: the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the nucleus of commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city's great men. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history.
If you are at all history-minded, you cannot visit these ruins without a shiver of awe. These is where Rome, the Mother of civilizations, deliberated the fates of peoples and nations.
Verona, a city in the Veneto, on the Adige river, is known for its Arena, an amphitheater built by the Romans about 100 AD. It is still in use today and is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances given there. It is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind. In ancient times, nearly 30,000 people was the housing capacity of the Arena. Nowadays, for security reasons, the maximum attendance is 15,000 people.
Verona has a rich history. During the Renaissance it was a major center of art and culture in Italy. Three of Shakespeare's plays are set in Verona.
It is impossible to describe the feeling of timeless serenity and well-being one experiences sitting on a balcony overlooking the Gulf. The complementary colors of sea and sky, the sweetness of the air, the beauty of the cliffs, the aroma of lemon groves all conspire to seduce the visitor into a state of near transcendence. And the food at these clifftop restaurants? Don't even get me started!
Terme di Riolo
Riolo is a charming little city in the Romagna region of Italy. It is well known for its thermal baths, to which many Italians flock every year. The thermal bath culture, originating with the ancient Romans, is widespread in Italy. The establishments that provide this service are true palaces of relaxation and fitness. The waters are carefully controlled as to temperature and mineral content, and immersion programs are carefully crafted and followed to ensure maximum benefits. The beneficial effects of mineral baths are recognized to the point that visits to such baths are part of the national health care available to all Italians.
They are having a good time, but being able to swim in Piazza San Marco highlights the difficult problems faced by Venice in its fight against pollution, rising sea levels, and the ravages of tourism. Warnings are issued and ignored regularly, as for so many other things. This is not just an Italian problem, it is at least a European, and perhaps a world, problem. Unless the collective mindset of the Western world changes drastically, the Queen of the Adriatic as we know it will be no more in a few decades
Sotto la bandiera di Dozza
Dozza is a beautiful little town on a hilltop in Romagna. Every other year it hosts a mural-painting contest in which artists participate from all over Italy. The murals are painted on public walls, private homes and storefronts, and blend in with doorways, archways, and other architectural features, functioning effectively as decorations. They fade with time, but they are meant to: a new crop will appear in two years.
Fontana di Trevi
The Trevi Fountain, featured in a number of notable films and beloved by tourists, was built in its present form the 18th century. Its roots, however, go back to imperial Rome. Legend holds that in 19 BC thirsty Roman soldiers were guided by a young girl to a source of pure water thirteen kilometres from the city of Rome. The discovery of the source led Augustus to commission the construction of a 22 km aqueduct leading into the city, which was named Aqua Virgo, or Virgin Waters, in honor of the legendary young girl. The aqueduct served the hot Baths of Agrippa, and Rome, for over four hundred years.
Teatro San Carlo
While Milan’s La Scala is Italy’s most famous opera house, the Real Teatro di San Carlo in Naples takes credit for being the oldest. It was founded by the first Bourbon king, Carlo VII, in 1737, some 41 years before La Scala and 55 years before Venice’s La Fenice. At that time, Naples was at the cutting edge of the music world in Europe, and major artists and composers performed there.
Today, a visit to the theatre is tinged with thoughts that this is where opera giants like Giuseppe Verdi and Gioachino Rossini premiered operas that are now regarded as masterpieces.
The basilica of Santa Chiara, located on Spaccanapoli, was built in the fourteenth century at the will of King Robert of Anjou and Queen Sancia of Majorca. Famous is the cloister of the Poor Clares, transformed in 1742 by Domenico Antonio Vaccaro with the unique addition of majolica tiles in Rococo style.The brash color floral decoration makes this cloister, with octagonal columns in pergola-like structure, likely unique and would seem to clash with the introspective world of cloistered nuns. This is however not the case: if you are lucky enough to visit it in the absence of crowds, you will experience a spiritual uplift that you will long remember.
Across the Adriatic from Venice, hard against the Slovenian border, lies the storied city of Trieste, rated by Lonely Planet as the most underrated tourist destination in the world. In Italian historiography Trieste holds a special place: Italians are taught that their country went to war against the Habsburgh empire in 1915 to recover Trieste and complete the work of the Risorgimento. But they almost lost it again after the Second War. Perhaps because of this, Triestini feel their Italianess more than most other Italians. The city is lovely and prosperous, the main square is called Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia, and nearby lies Miramar Castle, built for Maximilian of Habsburgh, brother of Emperor Franz Joseph. The ill-fated Maximilian would later be executed in Mexico after the failure of the Second mexican Empire.
Statua della Liberta’
America is not the only country with a Statue of Liberty! A statue of the same name can be found in the Republic of San Marino. Presented to San Marino by Countess Otilia Heyroth Wagener of Berlin in 1876, the statue is of a female warrior proudly striding forwards, with an outstretched hand and a flag. On her head is a crown with three towers, representing the fortified city of San Marino.
Riomaggiore is one of the Cinqueterre on the riviera ligure. The other four “terre” are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Manarola. Here’s what UNESCO had to say abouth this corner of Italy: the eastern Ligurian riviera of the Cinqueterre constitutes an exceptional cultural environment of high value which represents the harmonious interaction between man and nature. This has yielded a land of unmatched quality, which allows for a traditional lifestyle while continuing to play a first-rate socioeconomic role in modern society. But if you want to see it you need to hurry: commercialism has unfortunately arrived.
On the hills overlooking Palermo you will find Monreale, a town dating back to the Normans of the 12th century. In Monreale you will find the Duomo di Monreale, without a doubt one of the architectural marvels of the Western world. Blending Byzantine, Romanesque, Norman, and Arabic elements, this splendid structure is a testament to the artistic and spiritual power of humanity. The interior fairly glows with splendid mosaics depicting the entire history of Christianity. Legend has it that the Virgin appeared in a dream to William the Good, revealed to him the location of a buried treasure, and told him to build a Cathedral with it. William found the treasure and built the Cathedral.
Lago di Como
The Lago di Como, at the foot of the Alps, is probably the most beautiful lake in Italy. The surrounding mountains form a natural bowl in which the waters nestle. Around the lakeshore, picturesque little towns are strung like a necklace of pearls. Bellagio, renowned for its art, lies in between the two branches of the lake. The Lecco branch was made famous by Manzoni in his epochal novel, “I Promessi Sposi”. Moto Guzzi, the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in Europe, still build bikes at Mandello sul Lago.
Definitely a place for the well-heeled, the lake is the venue of a number of splendid villas purchased over the years by royalty and by the merely rich and famous
McDonalds in Italy
Castello di Gradara
Construction on the Castle of Gradara, in the region of the Marche, began in the 12th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries it was enlarged and reinforced by the Malatesta family, lords of Rimini. The castle was subsequently a major protagonist in the strife between the popes and the local “signorie”. Today it belongs to the state and it is a major tourist attraction in the area. Unfortunately, the street vendors have arrived in force.
Acording to legend, in this castle took place the unfortunate affair of Paolo and Francesco, told by Dante in what is probably the most famous canto of the Inferno. The two lovers, surprised by Gianciotto, husband to Francesca and brother of Paolo, were summarily murdered by the aggrieved husband/brother.
In some southern Italian towns the annual street festival is graced by the presence of the “Giglio”. This is the name given to an obelisk which can reach a height of nearly 100 feet. Made of wood and dressed with colorful papier-mache panels representing religious and secular themes, the tower rests on a wooden scaffolding capable of being lifted by the cooperative effort of the able-bodied young men of the town, for whom the ceremony becomes a kind of rite of passage. On each day of the festival, and bearing on a platform a band playing medleys of popular tunes, the Giglio is carried aloft down the city’s main street, swaying and dancing as it goes, with a dense crowd (mostly male) hard on its heels.
What you see above is a civilized sidewalk in a civilized city. As emblematic of Bologna as its famous towers, the Tower of the Asinelli and the Garisenda, the porticoes of Bologna offer refuge against inclement weather for strollers and shoppers. Multile generations of porticoes are in evidence, depending on where you are in the city.
Bologna, one of the most livable big cities in Italy, is home to the oldest or the second oldest university in Europe (depending on your definition of “university”)
The “City of Rock”, in the Basilicata, has gained international fame for its ancient town, the "Sassi di Matera" (meaning "stones of Matera"). The Sassi originated in a prehistoric settlement, and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy. The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Puglia. Many of them are really little more than caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. People lived in the Sassi until the 50’s, but, now that the tourists have arrived, you will pay admission to see the inside of a Sasso.
The House that Enzo built is the winningest race car marque in the world. Enzo Ferrari started out as a driver for Alfa Romeo, then began building his own cars. Ironically, his uncompromising attitue and his disdain for purely commercial considerations have resulted in world-wide brand recognition probably second only to Coca Cola.
With the takeover of Ferrari by Fiat in 2008, there were fears of brand dilution and loss of cachet and prestige. This did not come to pass. In 2014 Ferrari split off from Fiat-Chrysler to become again an independent brand.
This is a picturesque, walled town in the vicinity of Siena, built by the Sienese as a strong point in their wars against Florence. It was the object of the Great Betrayal: the Sienese handed command of the town garrison to a Florentine exile, trusting in his enmity against his former countrymen. The exile, wishing instead to reconcile, handed the keys of the city to a besieging Florentine force. The turrets of Monteriggioni are evoked by Dante in the Inferno, where they are used as a simile for the giants encircling the infernal pit.
The Alps are perforated by several tunnels that allow motor and train traffic between Italy and Northern Europe. Above the Alps you have roads like the one pictured above, for those who hate the smell of exhaust fumes in confined spaces. Why would anyone in his right mind want more than a road like this, a humming topless Alfa Romeo, a warm spring day, and a special Italian friend in the other bucket seat?
The Italian immigration experience to the East Coast is recounted in a wonderful documentary by Gianfranco Norelli. Just like for other ethnic groups, it took Italians decades to rise from disdained laborers to successful and productive citizens. This moving film documents some of the most important stages along the journey. You can find the DVD online if you are interested; it is in American-compatible format.
Italia in Miniatura
What, is Florence being attacked by giant Mutant Teenagers from Outer Space? Nope, they are non-mutant children from Earth exploring Italia in Miniatura, an amusement park near Rimini which features miniature reproductions of the most famous buildings in Italy. So, tired of hotfooting it from Piazza San Marco to the Colosseo to Santa Maria del Fiore to Monreale? Check out Italia in Miniatura!
It is one of the enduring mysteries of the cosmos that it is impossible to get a good espresso north of Rome. Outside of Italy, then, fuhget 'bout it! In America, even worse. So I've given up searching and drink american coffee in America and espresso in Italy. A fresh cup of american coffee is actually good; you just have to stop thinking of it as a substitute for espresso.
The Presepe is the Nativity scene that, at Christmastime, is a preferred alternative to the Christmas tree for many people. Usually a homemade project, crafting a Presepe became an art form in 19th century Naples, with notable artists giving the new art form their best efforts. A Neapolitan Presepe is eclectic, untrammeled by considerations of time and space and of accurate historical and architectural settings. And all are welcome to the adoration of the Baby, not just the Wise Men and the shepherds. Everyone from the African king to the tailor, butcher, and candlestick maker.