A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

Getting About in Padua

semi-overcast 15 °C

As we resume our journey through the great cities of central and eastern Europe we were concerned that we had reached saturation point regarding medieval architecture – and then we came to Padua. How can we not show you the murals painted by Giotto in 1303 that completely cover the walls of the Cappella degli Scrovegni...
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If you are not impressed by 700 year old paintings how about an 800 year old palace of justice...
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The Palazzo dell Ragione was originally Padua's courthouse. Today it houses the public market and it is surrounded by stalls selling all manner of fruits, vegetables and foodstuffs.
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Padua has a wealth of historic buildings, but this blog is about the way the old city has come to grips with the traffic woes that dog so many densely populated communities. Firstly, private cars are totally banned on many of the city's narrow cobbled streets. Other streets are one way only and priority is always given to pedestrians, buses, taxis and cyclists. These cycles are parked in the square in front of the 15th century clock tower...
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The builders of this, and other, Italian cities from the 15th to the 18th centuries knew that shoppers would be more likely to dawdle if they were sheltered from the heat and the rain, so they covered all of the sidewalks with lofty colonnades...
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This was not just good for business. It enabled the developers to build the upper stories right to the edge of the road without impeding traffic and the contrasts of light and shade makes for interesting photographs...
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Perhaps Padua's greatest success has been with the ultra-sleek single track electric trams that run almost silently through the cobblestone streets. This tram is circumnavigating one of Europe's largest public squares - Prato della Valle...
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But how does a tram operate using only a single track? And why is a city the size of Vancouver unwilling to invest in such an excellent mode of public transit? Answers on a postcard please to the mayor of Vancouver, BC. Canada.

Our time in Italy is very short on this trip as we are racing to keep ahead of winter. The first snows are already falling in the Alps so we are pushing further east to Slovenia. Arrivaderci Padova - we will return.

Posted by Hawkson 01:51 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Syracuse - Sicily in a Nutshell

sunny 22 °C

In so many ways Sicily is a microcosm of Italy. It has volcanoes, mountains and beaches, together with ancient cities containing a wealth of historical architecture. Its volcanic soils and sub-tropical climate nurture an abundance of oranges, lemons, almonds, olives and grapes, and the surrounding Mediterranean is rich in seafood. The city of Syracuse in the south of the island has a little of everything – including a fabulous array of produce at the Saturday market…
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Roman orator Marcus Cicero described Syracuse as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all" in 54 BC. Much of the history of Syracuse lies on the Island of Ortigia which has been joined to the mainland by bridges for the past two thousand years, (thereby setting a well-established historical precedent for real islands having bridges).
This beautiful fountain is in Ortigia’s central piazza…
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Syracuse was a Greek city for a thousand years before the Romans arrived and evidence of this can still be seen in the architecture - particularly in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception…
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This cathedral was first built as a Greek temple in 1100 BC. It was rebuilt in 480 BC with great Doric columns and dedicated to the Goddess Athena (venerated because she was a virgin who gave birth to a son of god – sounds familiar?). When the Romans took over and eventually adopted Christianity they simply changed the temple to a church and kept the original columns. Then the Muslim Saracens took over in the 9th century and changed it to a mosque before the Normans booted them out in the 11th century and turned it back to a cathedral.

Being seen to be close to god was important for the Syracusian aristocrats in medieval times and the richest built their palaces in the cathedral square…
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Not everyone lived in a palace and Ortigia is filled with narrow streets lined with more modest buildings…
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Syracuse is stuffed with ancient architecture. There is an enormous Norman castle, a two and a half thousand year old Greek theatre and this Roman coliseum with a gory past…
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This is the triumphal arch through which gladiators marched nearly two thousand years ago…
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We have now left Sicily and are in London. The pavements are wet for the first time in nearly two months and the temperature has dropped nearly 20 degrees, but we are still warm from our time in the sun. Sicily is fabulous and so are the wonderful people we met there – especially the hosts at the guesthouses who made us feel so welcome. This is Nicoletta at the Shuruq B&B in Avola who put on the most fabulous buffet even though we were the only guests…
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Sicily – amazing sights, lovely weather and wonderful people… who could ask for anything more?

Posted by Hawkson 03:44 Archived in Italy Comments (6)

The Baroque Cities of Sicily

sunny 22 °C

At 9.00pm on January 11th 1693 a massive earthquake struck southwestern Sicily. It completely levelled several cities that had already been badly damaged by an earlier trembler and killed more than 60,000 people. The epicentre decimated Noto – a medieval mountainside city. However, Noto rose gloriously from the rubble at the beginning of the 18th century and Italian art historian Cesare Brandi described it as “The Stone Garden’ when he wrote about at the beginning of the 20th century. These are his words accompanied by our photos. This is the entrance gate to Noto…
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===The Stone Garden ===by Cesare Brandi

About 50 churches and religious institutes together with 15 noble palaces, residences of ancient aristocrats, are the flowers of this garden…
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The Baroque dwells in this town…
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It is splendid and conceited in the historic centre…
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It is tender and almost elusive in the high areas of the town and in its characteristic quarters…
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There are many climbs, many staircases and some streets that are less large than one metre…
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Let curiosity guide you and Noto will show you itself.

The nearby cities of Ragusa and Modica were also decimated and although rebuilt in the Baroque style they lack the grandeur of Noto. However, the cathedral in Modica is a splendid sight…
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…and the somewhat dilapidated backstreets and lanes are very atmospheric…
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Our circumnavigation of Sicily is nearing its end with just one more historic city to visit – Syracuse – see you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 02:06 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

Picture the Past

sunny 23 °C

Look around you; look out of the window; look down the street. Then wonder just how much of what you see will still be around more than a thousand years hence, or even five hundred years, or just a hundred. Pause for thought… then look at this villa's mosaic floor in the mountains of central Sicily which is more than one thousand seven hundred years old…
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Yes – these young Roman girls playing ball are wearing bikinis…
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…and these two female athletes are being awarded prizes.

The luxurious Villa Romano Casale was built at the beginning of the 4th century AD for the family of an aristocratic Roman landowner. The villa had numerous centrally heated state rooms, guest suites and private chambers, in addition to thermal baths, a toilet complex and its own basilica. Every room and even the surrounding courtyards are paved with the finest Roman mosaics ever discovered. This is the somewhat suggestive scene on the floor of the master bedchamber…
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While this is one of a group of whimsical chariots racing around an amphitheatre in another room…
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And this ancient stallion might just still bite
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Room after room; mosaic after mosaic… the quality and detail of the artwork is simply stunning. And where walls have survived they are covered with equally elaborate frescoes…
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However the villa’s finest feature is a wide hallway running the length of the building with a mosaic floor depicting the capture of numerous exotic beasts including rhinos, tigers and elephants. It is believed that the artists came from the Nile Delta in Egypt…
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The entire mosaic is far too large for one photo and has to be seen to be appreciated, but here is another snapshot…
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The incredibly detailed mosaics of the Roman villa near Piazza Armeria in Sicily are not reproductions nor have they been enhanced in any way. They have survived so perfectly due to the hand of nature: when the villa was nine hundred years old a massive landslide carried away the walls and engulfed the rest in deep mud. These mosaics lay undisturbed for the next seven hundred years until they were excavated in 1929,
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Posted by Hawkson 09:47 Archived in Italy Comments (6)

Hellenic Sicily

sunny 23 °C

Some folks love Sicily for the warm seas, the sandy beaches and the cheap wine, and if that’s your idea of heaven then you might want to switch off for awhile because we are going in search of the past. Many of history’s notorious tyrants, conquerors and empire builders had a hand in shaping this land and, despite nearly three thousand years of wars, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Sicily is scattered with monumental reminders of their supremacy. Our historical expedition begins with this Greek temple in Selinunte
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The Greeks weren’t here first by any means, but the locals must have been awestruck back in 628 BC, when the Hellenic invaders set up shop and built one of the richest and most powerful cities in the world. This temple complex in Selinunte on the west coast of Sicily predates the Parthenon in Athens by two hundred years…
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Selinunte was a vast and complex city for two centuries before it was attacked and virtually destroyed by the Carthaginians in 409 BC. Most of the city’s fine stone buildings were reduced to rubble – but it is very impressive rubble…
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Our next stop is a short step up the chronological ladder to the city of Agrigento also on Sicily’s west coast. The year is 488 BC and, under the tyrant Terone, the Greeks are still putting up enormous temples to deify their gods and to make sacrifices to protect their fishermen and seafarers. This is the Temple of Juno …
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Agrigento was better defended than Selinunte and its army not only resisted the Carthaginian attacks but actually defeated the invaders. However, the city changed hands many times over the next thousand years until the fall of the Roman Empire in 480AD. This is the Temple of Concord built in 450 BC minus the terracotta roof that the Romans put on it when they were in charge…
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The Byzantines from Constantinople (Istanbul) ruled here after the Romans until the Normans finally took the city by siege in 1086. The French then spent centuries defending it against the Arabian Muslims - the Saracens. Here’s another view of one of the magnificent temples…
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We are now temple’d out, and our heads are spinning with almost inconceivable spans of time. so we are leaving the coast to head into the mountains in search of one of the best preserved Roman villas in the world. We hope we haven’t metaphorically lost you in the mists of time and that you will join us at the Villa Romana Della Casale – a two thousand year old archaeological youngster in this ancient land.

Posted by Hawkson 08:07 Archived in Italy Comments (6)

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