Sometimes photos say it all and very few words are needed. One warm evening last September, my friends and I experienced a surprise meeting with a tall dancer on the winding medieval streets of this ancient seaport town just SW of Rome. She graciously waved us toward a tiny art gallery hosting an open house and party afterward. We decided to indulge….and very glad we did.
While in Rome, I usually set some time aside to visit a few of the 900+ churches in the eternal city. Each one is packed with historical events, intrigue, mystery or various holy relics that are interesting to check out. I’ve seen St. Catherine’s head in Siena’s Church of San Domenico, and the tongue, jaw and larynx of St. Anthony in his basilica in Padova. The saints relics, typically body parts, were highly prized during the middle ages and considered a protection for the town where they were housed.
While walking through the Lateran district of Rome, I stepped inside the ancient Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. As one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, its origins began in the early 4th century initiated by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine.
It was here as well that I learned about a dramatic discovery that was made in 1492.
Inside the church stands the colorful nave with a fresco of Christ Blessing, surrounded by cherubs. The mosaic floors are dazzling in design. Roman era columns support the side isles.
Below the nave and down a flight of stairs is the Chapel of St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. The church stands on what originally was a Roman Imperial estate, with the chapel plus two adjoining rooms built into the Sessorian Palace at the time, owned by the empress St. Helena.
Interesting to note, the chapel lies close to 6 1/2 feet below the nave of the church which was the street level during the time of St. Helena and Constantine.
Below the statue lies scattered soil from the Holy Land, brought here by St. Helena from her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 4th century. She claims to have discovered the true cross and other relics. She came back and set up a shrine here for pilgrims unable to make the pilgrimage.
Paper notes and prayers from the faithful scatter across and underneath a glass case. This is how the church got its name. Santa Croce (Holy Cross) of Gerusalemme (in Hierusalem, meaning Jerusalem. It is explained that the basilica is “in Jerusalem” because of soil brought back from the Holy lands to Rome to be placed at the foundation. But there was also a discovery that greatly impacted the name as well.
Here is the mystery. As I mentioned at the beginning, there was a dramatic discovery in 1492 made while workers were repairing mosaics inside the church. What they found was a brick inscribed with the words Titulus Crucis, meaning Title of the Cross. This refers to the wooden title nailed above the cross of Christ.
Sealed behind it was a fragment of wood with the inscription “Nazarene” written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. All are written from right to left, suggesting it was done by a Hebrew. It is believed that it was placed here to hide from Visigoth invasions around 455 AD. Today, this wood relic can be viewed upstairs in the Chapel of the Relics enclosed in a glass case.
A quote by Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford may truly reflect the thoughts of many ~ “Almost everybody accepts that it is legend (the Titulus). I would put it on the level as seeing the face of Mohammed in a potato.”
We may never know the authenticity of this relic, but stranger things have happened. No one can say for sure…..and there we rest our case. But for the faithful, it is a step closer to God.
Amazing Rome. There is no one like you….Sounds like the beginnings of a song. But Rome demands its place as the Eternal City with all of its multi dimensional aspects of life over thousands of years. She has an old yet elegant presence about her that is difficult to ignore. And for those who are willing to let her take them on a journey through the depths of her soul and afterward rise up again to meet Rome of today, you will be in for an unforgettable experience.
Follow along as I introduce you to some of my favorites…
Fine dining from the rooftop of the Hotel Raphael near the Pantheon is an intoxicating experience. The terrace is multi-level and the views of Rome from all around are magnificent. I love watching the sun set over the city as I drink a glass of wine and see how many monuments I can recognize.
The Italians know how to make delicious food, which is not a surprise. I love pasta and the way it is served with a special touch. It is never smothered in sauce but instead embellished with a delicate herbed olive oil or light wine sauce. This pasta below had chunks of white sea bass that was tender, mild and disappeared in no time.
I must also give the Italians my hearty approval on good pours of wine in the glass. The house wines in Rome are always very good. Most are locally produced. Frascati, grown in vineyards around Rome, is a common white wine that is served in Roman restaurants.
Desserts don’t take a backseat to the main dishes. This pistachio gelato was a work of art. As a city known for its outstanding architectural designs and centuries old famous fresco paintings, this should be no surprise.
Sometimes it’s just fun to enjoy a simple gelato while walking the streets of Rome and taking in the sights. My quota is one, sometimes two gelati a day.The old Jewish Ghetto is one of my favorite landmarks to explore. Outdoor cafes offer kosher food, some with recipes used centuries ago.
Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichokes) are a specialty in the Jewish Ghetto. Deep fried and served in a crispy layer, they are delicious. The outer leaves taste like potato chips. Battered and fried pumpkin flowers are also very popular and, unlike the Carciofi, they are tender and delicate.
Markets at Campo dei Fiori are a lot of fun to shop. Produce is bright and freshly picked.
Outdoor cafes are everywhere in Rome. It’s obvious that food and socializing are very important to the Italian lifestyle.
Ask anyone where to find good coffee and they will direct you to Sant’Eustachio il caffe. There you will generally see a line of people waiting. Established in 1938, it is only steps away from the Pantheon. This is the only coffee in Rome roasted by wood and not fossil fuel. All of the coffee is roasted on the premise. I was fortunate and found an outdoor table to seat myself while I sipped my coffee.
The Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero dei Protestanti) is in the Testaccio neighborhood. I found this place to be immensely interesting. It is very green and well-kept, with sculptures and statues over graves. Here is a famous one called the Angel of Grief, sculpted in 1894 by William Story to be the gravestone for the artist and his wife.
Trastevere is Rome’s nightlife central. It comes alive with cafes and street music, vendors and whirligigs that light up the night sky. Delicious smells of food coming from eateries as I pass by mixed with the lively chatter of people enjoying time together brings a festive feel to it all. I love to linger here and experience the charming ambience of this ancient part of Rome.
Fountains are everywhere, from the old famous ones in Piazza Navona to small expressions outside of buildings. This one caught my attention in passing. Water trickled down from underneath while turtles balance along the edge, encouraged by the men below.
Walking the back streets of Rome can bring many delightful surprises. As I rounded a corner, this is what I saw. Someone had an amazing green thumb. I couldn’t begin to imaging the amount of work and attention that went into keeping it all so green and healthy.
As I put these photos together, I began to feel that old familiar tug again. Of course, it is Rome demanding my presence once more. There is so much more to see, so much that you could never imagine, she whispers to me. Will I succumb? Probably….in time.
Today is a special day for me and I must share my good news with you. Timelessitaly has just been shortlisted on the 2014 Italy Magazine Blog Awards! I am thrilled beyond belief and so thankful. I have been nominated for two categories ~ Best Art & Culture Blog and Best Travel Blog. Please take a look by clicking on each one and check out the amazing blogs in the running. If you think my blog is the cat’s meow, please vote for me. I would so appreciate your support!
My great love for Italy wouldn’t be the same without your encouraging feedback. Italy is a treasure trove of endless surprises. There is nothing I enjoy more than to bring you along with me to share in the adventure. I love your responses!
The Italy Magazine Blog Awards voting will end February 27, 2015. Winners will be announced on March 3, 2015. You can find me, timelessitaly, under Best Art & Culture Blog and Best Travel Blog. Just click on these links.
Amore e apprezzamento a tutti voi!~ love and appreciation to all of you!
Emperor Augustus, Formia, Italy, La Terazza di Mimi, Mediterranean, Pandataria, Piazza Castello, Pontine Islands, Ponza, Restaurant Il Giardino, Romans, Santo Stefano, This Is Your Time Travel Blog Tour, Tyrrhenian sea, Un Mare di Sapori, Ventotene, Villa Giulia
If the best things in life come in small packages, then Ventotene is a perfect example. Just a tiny island in the Tyrrhenian sea off the west coast of Italy, Ventotene is all of two miles long and almost a half mile wide. It is one of six islands called the Pontine Islands, of which Ponza is the largest and most developed.
The Romans discovered Ventotene over 2,000 years ago and named it Pandataria. Emperor Augustus banished his promiscuous daughter Giulia here in 2 BC. The crumbled remains of her prison-palace, Villa Giulia, can still be seen today.
The early Romans heavily used and depended on this small piece of land for very good reasons. Off the beaten tourist track today, this easily missed island packs a big punch.
My blog team, This Is Your Time, arrived in Ventotene for two days in September. We took a boat from Formia on the mainland and arrived in the modern port before reaching the old Roman port on foot. Built into the side of the volcanic island, the Roman port is lined with fisherman’s boats and scuba shops.
Ventotene is very photogenic and reminded me a little of the Greek islands. Breathtaking 360-degree views of the Mediterranean sea can be seen from several spots.
Ventotene is very walkable. The streets are undeveloped and narrow, allowing only one small car to pass at a time. But the traffic is seldom, making for perfect walking and hiking.
Dinner happens late in Italy, so with good appetites we arrived at Restaurant il Giardino (The Garden Restaurant). Authentic and tasty island cuisine is served consisting of fish and seafood freshly selected from the Port of Ventotene each morning. Chef Candida Sportiello transforms this seafood into magical dishes that dazzle the eye while her son, Luca, serves them with flair. Take a look!
Freshly caught fish from surrounding ocean waters topped with tender green beans and island herbs dressed to perfection. Superb!!
Several other dishes arrived just as gorgeously displayed. Each one was well worth mouth-watering praise.
After dinner, we strolled through the village streets to the central square, Piazza Castello. The Town Hall commands center stage in matching yellow with white trim. A line of flags on poles grace the front. The piazza has a few cafes, alimentari and restaurants. But this is not the place for nightlife. It is quiet and serene. A lovely place to be for a mellow evening experience.
The next day for lunch, we were greeted with big smiles by Pina (center) and her family at their restaurant, Un Mare di Sapori. It is inside a grotto on the old Roman port. A table was prepared for us with great care. Wine was poured and island cuisine began to arrive in various dishes. The lentil is cultivated on the island, and the resulting soup that Pina served was absolutely delicious….earthy and flavorful.
Antipasti from the kitchen…four different kinds of cheese, olives, salami, artichoke, and eggplant rolls.
We were served a bottle of delicious Falerno wine, made from a grape varietal cultivated in first century Rome. It was the favorite drink of the emperors and was also a red wine. In fact, Pliny mentions in his writings that it was the only wine that would ignite when a match was put to it. Falerno was obviously much higher in alcohol then!
Pina’s restaurant is also a shop with shelves of local products for sale.
A lighthouse rises on the edge of the rock at the old Roman Port. Santo Stefano Island with its sprawling prison stands just off to the left. Mussolini detained his adversaries here during WWII. The prison is now abandoned.
Below the surface of the waters of Ventotene, evidence was found of five ancient Roman ships with cargoes of wine, olive oil and garum (fish sauce) still intact in large clay amphora. Ventotene was perfectly located on the trade route between Rome and North Africa.
Ventotene is rich with history, beginning with the Phoenicians and Greeks and continuing into the present. It was used as a listening post by a German garrison before being captured by allies in 1943.
The next day after a full morning of sight-seeing, we dined at La Terazza di Mimi. The ocean view and exotic dishes combined with sea-scented gentle breezes created a memory that will linger for many years.
Pietro owns the restaurant and has named it after his father Mimi. He shared his many exciting plans for the development of his properties on the island that is sure to increase tourism with a new, ecologically sound twist. He has a great love and respect for the natural environment of Ventotene.
Bright island flowers give sprightly accent to the shimmering Mediterranean.
Ventotene has several terraced views that instill a strong sense of exotic ambience. My favorite location is the hotel Borgo dei Cacciatori. Owned by Pietro as well, it is in the process of a complete restoration. The new Borgo dei Cacciatori will be eco-friendly which includes the swimming pool. Earthy tones and colors of the island will be used to decorate the hotel, providing a peaceful and relaxing environment.
Imagine the large sweeping terrace on a warm evening. Long white tables are laden with sumptuous island cuisine and sparkling white wine. The Tyrrhenian ocean spreads out before you in a vast expanse reaching to the horizon. Surrounded by good friends, you watch the golden sun set as brilliant colors streak across the sky. Soft breezes caress warm faces and inspire a sense of well-being. Borgo dei Cacciatori is such a place.
Barely touched by international tourism, Ventotene enjoys a natural existence. The subject of ancient Greek myth, Homer intended this to be the place where Ulysses confronted the sirens during his long journey home. Ventotene makes it easy to believe that they still exist today.
When I’m in Italy, one of the sights that never fails to grab my attention are the many glass display cases well stocked with delicious food. I switch to cruise mode as I pass by and hungrily admire thick meaty paninis on focaccia bread, thin crust veggie pizzas, deep-fried potato balls, fresh-baked croissants, rainbow-colored salads and mouth-watering gelato. The Italians have a way of making food a constant festivity and these glass cased tidbits are no exception.
A well-dressed display case puts everyone in a good mood. No matter how long the line is, people seem to be having a good time, including the sales staff behind the cases.
These appealing focaccia paninis are layered with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. They were delicious and didn’t last long. I admired the way they were so attractively arranged on my plate.
The thick and the thin….just how hungry are you? The thin ones are heated with meat and/or cheese.
On a typical hot summer day in Rome, bowls of fresh fruit sell quickly.
Who doesn’t love a gelato? There are so many different flavors it’s difficult to choose, but cioccolato or nocciola (hazelnut) are my favorites. I especially enjoy a gelato cone as I stroll down the street on a warm summer evening.
Everything is freshly baked, flavorful and tender
Although Italians are not typically big on sweets (dolci) like we are, there are tempting treats to be had.
Insalata displays entice me the most. All of the ingredients are fresh and tasty. Seafood, olives, eggs, cheese, the Italians can really dress up a salad. Combined with olive oil and vinegar, it is a complete meal in itself.
So the next time you are busy checking out the sights in bella Italia, stop to visit these glass cased works of art. In a culture notorious for its many famous masterpiece paintings, not all of the most sense inspiring are from the Renaissance.
“Whether it be hiking along the rugged coastal mountains or shopping in the busy downtown thoroughfare, Gaeta is truly one of Italy’s hidden treasures.” Nicola Tarallo
Nicola Tarallo is very passionate about his hometown of Gaeta. Acting as the town ambassador, Nicola not only knows everyone but also little secrets that guide books don’t tell you.
Just south of Rome by 86 miles and 59 miles north of Naples, Gaeta is a stunning seaside village with golden sandy beaches. It is still a bit undiscovered, but if you find Nicola there it won’t remain a mystery for long. On his website, he has a long list of fans that have visited him in Gaeta. His authentic friendship and helpfulness are highly regarded. His enthusiasm and warm-hearted friendliness will convince you that you have a solid friend that you can depend on.
Have you ever heard of tiella? I never had, until I “met” Nicola on Twitter. He was excited to discover not only my passion for Italy but that my hometown of Portland, Oregon is where he spent a year attending college.
Nicola has learned the secrets of traditional family meals handed down through many generations. His nonna, mother and aunts cooked over a wood fired oven, teaching him their recipes for traditional local cuisine. One popular specialty in particular is called the tiella. This is a pie shaped dish made of thin layers of dough crimped around the edges to enclose a seafood or vegetable filing. They have become so popular that Nicola has written an e-book, Mangia Tiella, complete with photos and instructional videos. Tiella can be found in almost every bakery and pizzeria in Gaeta. It can be eaten hot or cold and always eaten with one’s hands. Nicola teaches cooking classes on the fine art of making tiella in his home.
Born in a family committed to high standards and a deep love for their hometown of Gaeta, it is no wonder Nicola fosters the same passion and talent for creative cooking and writing. His grandfather, Nicola Magliocca, wrote several books about the traditions of Gaeta and about the unique dialect of the “Gaetanos.” He received the gold medal from the President of the Republic for good service in the public school system.
Enjoy the following interview I had just recently with Nicola Tarallo.
Were you born in Gaeta? If so, what was it like growing up in Gaeta? Do you have a particular memory about it?
I was born and raised in Gaeta. It is a safe place to grow up. Gaeta is a very small city with a population of 22,000. You can walk the streets and beaches freely. I finished school through high school. I have good memories of when Gaeta was less populated, and there was more space in the town and on the beaches.
What inspired you to carry on your family’s tradition of writing books, teaching how to make tiella, and promoting Gaeta?
My lifelong passion for cooking has developed throughout my life while watching and helping my grandmother Maria and my mother Nives prepare delicious Italian dishes in the family’s kitchens. All of my books originate from my love of Gaeta and of my family: I helped my grandfather, Nicola Magliocca, draft and prepare several books about the traditions and history of Gaeta and on the unique dialect of the “Gaetanos.” I also published a book of my grandmother’s poems written about their beloved Gaeta.
Your grandfather Nicola and grandmother played a big role in your life. What more do you remember about them?
While my Grandfather and Grandmother were writing their books they did not have a computer, everything was finished with a typewriter, after everything was written by hand.
What are the regional foods of Gaeta?
La Tiella is the most distinctive dish in the city of Gaeta – kind of a double crusted deep pizza or pie. Traditionally is made with seafood (squid, anchovies or catch of the day) or vegetable. Any seasonal vegetable is suitable for la tiella: zucchini, escarole and spinach are popular favorites. Also Olives of Gaeta are very popular all over the world. Easter Cake (Tortano) and traditional Christmas Cookies (Mostaccioli, Roccocò, Susamieglie, Sciuscèlle)
When you aren’t busy teaching and promoting Gaeta, what other passions do you have?
I enjoy riding my beach bike, and walking on the beach, or up the Regional Park of Monte Orlando.
What is your definition of authentic Italian cuisine?
Using fresh products in every dish you make.
Do you teach tiella making in your home?
I teach Tiella making in my home, and I share my grandmother’s wonderful tiella making tips and techniques. I teach how to prepare the different fillings (zucchini, cheese, anchovy, onion etc.). how to knead the dough; how to roll out the dough; how to seal the two layers of dough in the shape of waves of the ocean.
What brought you to Portland for a year?
I was in Portland to attend College to study English and to practice at a Hospital for the Sleep Disorder Technician program.
What are the local wines and do they play a big part in the everyday life of the people?
Local wines do play a big part in the everyday life of the people. A small amount is usually served at the lunch and dinner hour every day.
What is the dialect of Gaeta?
The dialect of Gaeta is similar to the dialect of Naples area.
Why should one visit Gaeta ~ what makes it stand out from other cities in Italy?
The weather is always nice all year round, it never gets too cold during the winter, and not to hot or humid during the summer. You are able to get fresh fish everyday from the local fish market. There is much history steeped between the narrow streets and churches to discover. One can be easily enticed into wanting to spend an extended amount of time basking on the golden, sunlit beaches and swimming in the warm summer waters. Whether it be hiking along the rugged coastal mountains or shopping in the busy downtown thoroughfare, Gaeta is truly one of Italy’s hidden treasures.
*Visit Nicola’s website for exciting articles and information about his beautiful Gaeta and family traditions at ladolcegaeta.com
*E-books by Nicola, including how to make tiella, sweets, touring Gaeta and the history at ladolcegaeta.com
Click on Nicola Tarallo to follow on Facebook
Considered to be one of the oldest and most enchanting wine estates in Tuscany, the vast 14th century Renaissance Villa Vignamaggio contains all of 85 rooms on a 400 acre wine estate in the Chianti region. Hills, vineyards, castles and cypress trees create a mythical landscape appropriate to the mysterious shroud that surrounds the villa.
Much debate exists concerning Mona Lisa’s place of birth. A noblewoman by the name of Lisa Gherardini and wife of rich silk merchant Francisco Giocondo, she is famous for her portrait by Renaissance painter Leonardo di Vinci. It was her husband who commissioned Leonardo to paint his wife, yet Leonardo refused to part with the painting. He took it into France and kept it with him until his death when it became part of the French royal collection.
Those of the Villa Vignamaggio claim that she was born within its walls in 1479. It has been noted by some that if one looks closely at the background of the painting, they will see the same view as that from the Villa terrace, suggesting that the picture was painted from there.
Leonardo scholar Giuseppe Palanti, after studying the city of Florence’s archives for decades, is convinced that Mona Lisa was born in a house on the side street of Via Maggio in Florence. Later, Mona Lisa lived very close to Leonardo in San Lorenzo as a young married woman.
Much Ado About Nothing, a 1993 adaption of William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, was filmed at Villa Vignamaggio in Chianti. In the movie, Kate Beckinsale and Keanu Reeves duke it out as the one accuses the other of infidelity just prior to her wedding day. However, merriment and love eventually find their way into the elegant Italian gardens surrounding the estate with much singing and dancing.
It is interesting to note that both Leonardo and Shakespeare came from insignificant backgrounds but rose to universal acclaim.
Passing through the entrance gate on a visit last September was like walking into a pristine medieval realm. Tall stately trees lined the side of the stairs, reminding me of attentive soldiers. At the top a vast garden spread out before the long and palatial villa. I ran my hand over the prickly forest green hedges trimmed with care. Bright red geraniums and pink impatients brought splashes of color against the variegated foliage. A young couple conversing softly in a corner nook is all I could hear in the surrounding silence.
Fine gravel walkways crunched under my feet and rambled all throughout the grounds, accentuated with occasional terracotta pots of flowering geraniums.
The winery at the Villa is a major supplier to the Quirinal, or Presidential Palace in Rome as well as to the Senate of the Italian Republic. Vignamaggio produces 230,000 bottles of wine each year. After over 500 years of winemaking, the winery has gained prominent standing. The harvested grapes are processed through a strict regiment of fermentation which afterwards leaves the wine in oak barrels for 4 years. It is then divided between Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva I.G.T., and Vinsanto del Chianti Classico DOC. Roughly two-thirds of the bottles are exported, while the remaining third are sold within Italy and at the estate.
A host of amenities include swimming pools, horseback riding, bicycling, cooking classes, a spa center, and meandering walks among vineyards and olive groves.
Castello Verrazzano, another Renaissance wine estate and the birthplace of seafaring explorer Captain Verrazzano, can be seen on the neighboring hilltop.
My previous posts, “Captain Verrazzano’s Castle Wine Tour,” and “Tuscany’s Castle Winery Leaves a Dashing Legacy” will reveal some exciting aspects that many are not aware of. Take a look, and understand the deeper spirit of Chianti.
Adige River, Carlos Scarpa, Castello di San Martino in Acquaro, Castelveccio, Dante, equestrian, Equestrian Statue of Cangrande I della Scalla, Foxglove, Giotto, Gonzaga, Lord Cangrande I, Lord Cangrande II della Scala, Lords of Verona, Mastino II, merlons, moat, Petrarch, Ponte Pietra, Romeo and Juliette, San Martino in Acquaro, Scaliger, Scaliger Bridge, Sforza, Venice, Verona, William Shakespeard
Mystery surrounds Lord Cangrande I (1291 to 1329), early Lord of Verona, like a dark shadow. Historical documents claimed he expired suddenly from polluted drinking water but doubt remained among scholars. Shocking results from a recent exhumation revealed toxic levels of digitalis, a strong poison from the Foxglove family, discovered throughout his liver and colon. It appears that he was likely poisoned under the cloak of medical treatment in the midst of his astounding military victories. One of his physicians was hung afterwards by his successor, Mastino II. Foul play? One would think so.
Lord Cangrande I was the most celebrated of the Scaliger family, the Lords of Verona, who ruled from 1260 to 1387. A noble ruler who was a warrior, prince and patron of Giotto, Dante and Petrarch, he didn’t live to set foot inside Castelvecchio.
Lord Cangrande II della Scala had the castle and bridge built in 1355 for his protection and that of his ruling family. With a reputation opposite that of his predecessor, he was a cruel and tyrannical governor who needed a safe escape route from his abundance of enemies. Venice, the Sforza family and the Gonzaga were a constant threat. He had no lack of forceful neighbors who surrounded his keep in Verona. If needed, the bridge would allow him to escape northwards to relatives in Tyrol.
William Shakespeare was smitten by the walls of Verona and immortalized them through the words of his Romeo ~
“There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself. Hence “banished” is banished from the world. And world’s exile is death.” Romeo and Juliette, Act 3, Scene 3
The Adige River in Verona passes gently beneath the red brick segmental arches of the Scaliger Bridge. Graceful in bearing, it was the world’s largest span at the time of its medieval construction. White marble lines the lower sections of the nearly 49 meter length, which connects to the powerful fortress of Castelvecchio.
The day I visited the Castle was grey and chilly, making this imposing Gothic structure all the more real. As I crossed the bridge toward the castle, I passed striking M-shaped merlons (see in photo above) that ran along the top of the walls. The brickwork opened regularly to offer a view of the river and surrounding countryside. Peace and tranquility permeated the ambience of this visually romantic castle fortress.
According to records, a tiny little church existed on this site prior to the castle’s construction. It’s name, San Martino in Acquaro, was adopted by the castle. It became known as Castello di San Martino in Acquaro. In 1404 it was renamed Castelvecchio, Old Castle, and became part of the Venetian Republic as their military compound.
Seven towers in a pentagonal shape give a magnificent character to the castle, which is divided into four buildings. The super lofty castle keep has four main buildings inside. And, a castle is rarely without a moat that surrounds it.
The castle remained steeped in historical events. It was brutalized by French troops during the Napoleonic Wars of 1796 when the population reacted violently to the anti-French revolt. During WWII, the retreating Germans destroyed the bridge and tower (Ponte Pietra), which was rebuilt by dredging the river for the original mortar and bricks.
Carlos Scarpa, famous architect of his time, implemented a final restoration of the castle in 1958. Born in Venice, he was an artist very sensitive to historical times. As a result, the Castelvecchio was carefully repaired to its original design.
The early Fall morning in Chianti is crisp and quiet. My first night at the Castello Verrazzano (yes, the bridge in New York is named after Captain Verrazzano) in Greve leaves me refreshed and eager to explore the new surroundings. I hike up the half mile to the castle from my farmhouse lodgings and eat an early breakfast of artisan cheese and rustic bread washed down with a rich brew of fresh coffee. My fellow lodgers and I share our plans for the day, from winery tours to B&B shopping. Gazing off the deck high above the valley, rows of vineyards swell gently over the landscape. Every row is straight and precise. Another castle sits like a crown jewel on the next tall hill a short distance away.
Back at my car, I head south through Greve on Via Chiantigana. This route cuts through the middle of the famously picturesque Chianti Classico wine zone. With no itinerary, I lean back and absorb the fresh green ambience. No radio, just me and Chianti. Only 20 minutes down the winding road I come upon the town of Panzano. The brickwork framed with bright flowers and towering church on the main square entice me to stop and take a look around. Following are some of the highlights of my village stroll.
Someone with an obviously incredible green thumb lives here. The clay pots on the steps and across the wall sprout colorful flowers which add a rich texture to a stately entryway. If only I could make my doorway at home look like this.
Door Panels on the church built in 1964 depict scenes from church history. At the top is Pope John XXIII.
The village streets bring out the shopper in me. To the right are rows of shirts with a cartoon wild boar on the front. Of course, I have to buy one. Chianti has its share of wild boar, called cinghiale, and they are hunted for their tasty meat that often accompanies a pasta sauce or hearty stew.
Intrigued by a green door outside an old medieval aristocratic residence, I enter into this wine cellar run by three entrepreneurs. Although I did not eat here, the food is traditional Tuscan with a modern twist. I was taken by the rustic atmosphere with a stone terrace that offers both indoor and outdoor dining.
I stop here for a cappuccino at II Vinaio, an enoteca and bar. Covered completely overhead with a thick green canopy of leaves, the lively chatter of people below entice me to linger. Afterwards, I find some stairs straight ahead that lead down to the lower part of town.
Most of the doorways are clean and tidy with lots of greenery. Today the village is very quiet except for some tourists roaming the streets.
Poor old Mr. Boar has been reduced to only a head. Yet he symbolizes an important landmark for tourists. Inside, the famously winsome owner Stefano will let you try some of Chianti’s most remarkable wines. He also offers samples of local honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Shallow doorways in rustic brickwork are around almost every corner. Small and pristine, village life in Chianti is the perfect week away for anyone seeking impeccable streets, medieval ambience, tasty authentic Tuscan cuisine and panoramic vistas.
When I dream of Italy, i’m wandering along the shimmering Bay of Naples. The mountainous backdrop rises up to meet a baby blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. A faint smell of citrus drifts on the breeze and tugs at my hair as I watch several white boats skim the water’s surface, leaving a bubbling trail behind them. An old castle fortress stands high on a hilltop, its many levels adding dimension to the landscape.
My life has been blessed with the good fortune to travel to Italy several times, and I am passionate about every region. Italy never ceases to fascinate me and each time I visit, I feel myself pulled deeper into its history, culture, exotic beauty and friendly people. A return visit is always on my mind.
Although the south of Italy is poorer than the north, to me it is the real Italy. It is true that transportation by train or bus is slower and sometimes undependable, but to really see Italy and experience the culture it is essential to leave oneself a bit vulnerable. Who knows what kind of adventures await you at a bus stop when the bus shows up late? A slow train provides the opportunity to meet the locals and strike up a conversation.
It is the people who I have met along the way in the south that have put heart and soul into my experience in Italy. This young woman and her son run a tiny restaurant next to my hotel in Naples. The hotel manager personally walked me over to her and introduced us. She wined and dined us with delicious home-made food and charged only a couple of euros. Of course we couldn’t allow it, but she staunchly refused to take any more. After the meal, she took out a laptop and brought up her Facebook photos. We had a wonderful evening even though it wasn’t easy to communicate.
This young lady is the educational director aboard the glass-bottom boat Cymba, which takes people out onto the shallow waters of the bay in Baia to see the underground ruins of the palatial palaces and statues of the rich and wealthy of the first centuries. When I arrived and found no excursion was leaving for the day due to murky water conditions, she brought me aboard and spent an hour educating me on the ancient luxury resort of Baia.
After we spend a morning walking through the wonder and grandeur of Naples, we stop for pizza. This young couple, who are attorneys in Naples, sat next to us. They encouraged us to order Margherita with extra cheese which we did. I never imagined pizza could be so delicious. As you can see by our plates, not much was left. They were delightful to meet and spend time with. Now, when I order pizza, it must have extra cheese!
Three brothers who own a cameo shop in San Martino, a neighborhood just above Naples, welcome me like I’m the Queen of Sheba. Warm and talkative, they graciously let me observe them hard at work bent over lovely pieces of mother-of-pearl while they carve them into delicate cameo’s.
I love the passeggiata on the waterfront in Naples during the early evening hours. Families, friends, lovers, kids, all kinds of people from every walk of life enjoy themselves as they intermingle with the crowd. It is warm, friendly and full of life. It signifies the beginning of a slower pace before mealtime, which is typically after 7:30pm.
Where else can you join a Sunday crowd of locals and take part in rooting for the teams playing water polo? The splashing and fast action is thrilling, and I am welcomed into the group. We all pack together tightly and cheer on the players.
This next Spring of 2015 I plan to return to southern Italy and the culture I have come to understand and love. But this time I’m excited to push further south and discover the ancient regions of Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia and forgotten Molise. They, too, have stories to tell, ones that go back to the early beginnings and developed a culture. Genuine, authentic travel among real people doing what they have done for centuries; simply live.
How is it possible to miss the yearly Easter celebration, you may ask. Quite easily, we found, if one’s mind is preoccupied with other matters. Let me tell you just how we temporarily ‘fell off the grid.
Throwing caution to the wind and taking temporary retirements, my husband and I backpacked through western Europe for three months in the Spring of 2004. With only 25 pounds each, which allowed us two changes of clothing and our basics, we embarked upon the adventure of our lives. Flying out of Portland International Airport on March 9th, we found ourselves in Amsterdam the following day. From there we took a flight to Athens and spent the remainder of March exploring the wonderfully diverse landscape of southern Greece.
On March 27th, Easter Sunday for the western world, we were curiously investigating all the nooks, crannies and tiny chapels of a monastery, Eloni-Chynuria, north of Kosmas on the Peloponnese. Sitting on a mountainside shelf, it was nearly hidden from a distance. A winding road through desert country took us up to the monastery, where I donned a skirt over my jeans (requirement for modesty) and absorbed the Greek Orthodox ornate Byzantine decor. Panoramic vistas of low valleys and rugged mountains dominated the landscape from the rock walls above.Taverna in Kosmas
Continuing our drive down the rocky Peloponnese, we had lunch in a lively, down-home taverna in Kosmas run by a local family. We enjoyed a simple but tasty dish of chicken and spaghetti, cooked spinach and rose wine. Next to us an elderly woman sat at a table in a traditional black Greek dress, quietly enjoying her own thoughts. The warm open friendliness of these local people transformed a simple lunch into fond memories.
A few weeks later we were at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome when it dawned on us that Easter had come and gone while we were in Greece. What a surprise! On May 5th, while dining on the glistening sun streaked water of Lake Como, it never occurred to us that Easter was happening in the East.
Easter had ‘passed over’ us unnoticed. Explorations of the multi-layered Peloponnese with its Byzantine fortresses, mystic monasteries and homey tavernas kept our thoughts far from home. Italy intoxicated us with the ruins of Pompeii, vineyards of Campania serving ancient wines of the Greeks and Romans, the Eternal City with its multiple layers of history, and the richness of the north. Although surprised and a bit saddened by it, we knew it was probably a once in a lifetime occurrence. At least we hope so.
While driving through Tuscany I couldn’t help but pull off the road to snap a shot of this old abandoned church. It was small, but very ornate. As I surveyed the facade, I wondered how many abandoned churches there were in Italy. As the stronghold of the Catholic Church, it’s not surprising that Italy has thousands of churches. I read recently that it is estimated at about 26,000, but I’m unsure about the reliability of the source.
As a result of Italy’s crippled economy combined with hard times experienced by the Catholic church and a general decrease in attendance, thousands of churches are deconsecrated and sold to private buyers who then turn them into night clubs, theaters, banks and even a car repair shop.
Local photographer Andrea Di Martino photographed 70 former churches. Following is a list of a few of them ~
1. Madonna della Neve church in Como ~ this church was deconsecrated in the 1950’s, sold and turned into a successful auto repair shop by the new owners.
2. St. Philomena Church ~ located in the port town of Ugento, this church is now used for court hearings.
3. Santa Lucia church in Montescaglioso ~ now occupied by sports fans. The walls are decorated with football posters and there is a Ping-Pong table in the former church.
4. Church in Salerno ~ Built in 1,000 AD, it is now the museum of a local medical school.
5. Santa Sabina church ~ completed in 1063, it has operated as a bank for the last 40 years.
6. Milan’s former Church of Santa Teresa ~ 1694, now a multi-level library.
7. Church in Viareggio ~ deconsecrated in 1977, is now a pizza place called ‘La Chiesina,’ (the church).
When a church is deconsecrated it is usually due to structural danger or because the attendance has drastically declined. These former churches sell fairly easily because of their solid condition, high ceilings and usually located in the center of town.
The Mass is Ended, an award-winning photographic work by Andrea Di Martino, displays deconsecrated churches in their new roles. Click to take a look.
Nestled in the heart of Chianti Classico lies the veritable Castello di Verrazzano. Surrounding Renaissance gardens give way to a late Romanesque tower that served as a lookout over the Greve valley to control the trade between Florence and Siena. The estate is truly picturesque.
The Castello became Verrazzano family property in the 7th century. Interestingly enough, the word Verrazzano is “verres” in Latin, meaning boar, or “land of the wild boar.” On the estate there is a wooded pasture where wild boar are kept.
However, the Verrazzano family is no ordinary brood. The famous navigator, Giovanni da Verrazzano, is credited with being the first to explore the east coast of the U.S. of America by persuading King Francis I to fund the expedition. Giovanni was convinced he could find a passage to the west from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It was on April 17, 1524 that he reached New York Bay. But on his third expedition in 1528, he fell in with a tribe of cannibals. Thus ended his illustrious explorations.
He wasn’t forgotten, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York was dedicated to Giovanni. Designed by O.H. Amman, famous for the Golden Gate in San Francisco, it was inaugurated November 21, 1964. Three stones were removed from the foundation of the Castello Verrazzano in 1963 and walled up at the entrance of the bridge. On the same day, three stones from the bridge were extracted and fixed to the front of the Castello villa in Greve.
All this talk about Castello da Verrazzano could not be complete without mentioning the outstanding and world renown wines grown on the estate. Among them are the Chianti, Chianti Classico, Super Tuscan such as Sassello di Verrazzano and Bottiglia Particolare. In the ancient cellars are housed vintages since 1924.
Below is a link by Mercedes-Benz which hosts Castello da Verrazzano’s owner Cavaliere Luigi Cappallini driving around his estate in beautiful Chianti…a must see!
Do you know basic Italian but would like to take it to the next level? Imagine improving your Italian by reading about a “much-loved and romantic little chocolate” from Perugia? Or about enticing food selections and outrageous costumes at Carnevale in Venice? Did you know that the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, is stepping down this year from the presidency as the only person in history to have served two terms in the Quirinal Palace? Read all about his political and personal life…while learning Italian.
I’m personally convinced this is the most effective way for me to keep improving my delicate knowledge of the Italian language.
These are the reasons why ~
Tutto italiano, a Rome-based audio magazine for language learners, offers all of the above and more. It consists of a bi-monthly (six issues a year) audio magazine for intermediate and advanced learners of Italian. Colorful photos fill the pages, embellishing articles of interest about bella Italia, which I love. Not only does it further one’s abilities in the Italian language, but it is also a fun and effective way to learn more about Italy by introducing places that are well-known along with those off the beaten path. Learn about outstanding personalities in the news and current projects affecting tourism. Typical articles include subjects such as the arts, cuisine, travel, popular culture and sports. With so much at your fingertips, it makes improving your understanding of Italian much more fun than the typical textbook or classroom. Get acquainted with the contemporary life in Italy. And, you can take it at your own pace.
What I find unique about Tutto italiano is that each article in the magazine has an icon at the top which indicates the level of difficulty. Graded exercises to test comprehension and improve grammar are included at the end of most of the articles, using the levels of the Common European Framework (CEFR) and the Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera (CILS). Your measure of progress is tracked throughout the entire subscription. In addition, the main articles in the magazine are narrated by different people on each 60 minute audio CD that comes with each magazine, providing a variety of voices to learn from and to effectively build confidence in comprehension and speaking Italian. Wouldn’t it be cool to converse with Italians and be able to contribute effectively to the conversation while understanding what they are saying?
The editorial team at Tutto italiano is led by Livia Borghese, a seasoned Italian journalist and reporter for major broadcasting networks such as BBC and CNN. The team is also accompanied by Vanessa Polselli, a recognized professor of the Teaching of Italian to Foreigners.
Tutto italiano is the only printed Italian audio magazine produced in Italy. To improve your language skills, this is a great way to engage in Italian as it is really spoken ~ and now with Tutto italiano you can. Improve your cultural knowledge of Italy at the same time through lively, relevant and up-to-date content.
If you have any interest in improving your basic Italian skills, I encourage you to take a quick look at this program by clicking the link below. Personally, this is the only program that truly excites me, because I’m learning all about the things that make Italy such an enticing place to be while learning Italian. In my opinion, it’s the next best thing to actually being in bella Italia.
While clicking through my photos of Italy this morning, I stumbled across this one. Immediately, I felt a rush of warm affection as I recalled my encounter with ‘Sylvia.’ She was a nun at the monastery in Chiavari, where I found lodging for a few nights while exploring parts of the Italian Riviera.
So what did I find so special about Sylvia? To be honest, I didn’t get to know her very well at all. She spoke little English which is typical of the nuns in Italian monasteries. I was usually gone exploring so we didn’t spend much time together. But what I do recall is her spirit of hospitality that tenderly touched my own.
Sylvia seemed to pop out of the woodwork whenever I came down for breakfast or walked down the hallway toward the lobby. She was there when I left in the morning and when I returned at night. Her eyes and smile always found me and with unspoken words communicated a love and affection that humbled me. I knew I had a true friend, someone who genuinely cared.
In the breakfast room she always brought a heaping plate of meat and cheese with rolls for my husband who accompanied me. When we left on the last day, she came outside and crossed the parking lot to wish us ‘buon viaggio’ as we were getting into our car. Her hugs were full of goodwill, and her smile traveled with us throughout the day, making it an exceptionally beautiful one.
Some people come into our lives for only a few brief moments, but they leave a lasting impression of an uncommon love and genuine concern. Sylvia left me with the knowledge that I truly mattered.
While driving along the Italian Riviera between Genoa to the north and Portovenere to the south, I was greatly entertained and delighted by the brightly painted villas along the way. Typical of the area, many are dressed in colorful window embellishments, curlicues, and even some with painted on shutters. Pastel colors dominated the coastline and were lovingly as well as artistically kept in immaculate condition.
Jump inside and take a drive with me on a lovely day along the Italian Riviera.
This Riviera di Levante, (“the coast of the rising sun”), another name for this part of the Riviera, is an experience that i’ve found a joy to relive. Pastels, artwork, terraced hillsides of olives, fruits and vines, and intoxicating ocean views all weave together a very pleasant place to linger.
If you have enjoyed this colorful escape to one of Italy’s beautiful landscapes, please like below and pass it on for someone else to enjoy:)
We hit a goldmine….of delicious and authentic Italian food, that is. My blog tour group, This Is Your Time, had just arrived at Trattoria La Grotta for lunch. We had previously toured the famous Orvieto Cathedral with its striking Luca Signorelli frescoes that spanned over the gothic interior of one chapel. It seemed only right to turn down the old cobbled street Via Luca Signorelli after we left the cathedral. And there we found our memorable Trattoria.
“A Stone’s Throw from the Cathedral of Orvieto and the dizzying Clock Tower, you will find our local housed inside a former stable, furnished in a simple style trattorias…”
Franco, the proprietor, met us at the front door dressed in a crisp red checkered shirt and white apron that almost touched the ground. With warm handshakes, he quickly took us inside and sat us at a table that accommodated our entire group.
The interior was a cellar-like space with intriguing yet subtle Picasso-esque murals on the walls. We learned that Franco had operated his trattoria here for nearly 30 years, with a steady American clientele as well as a local following.
Proud yet gracious, Franco described some of the dishes on the menu. His knowledge of local Italian wines was superb, and we took him up on his recommendations. The red wine was delicious and a perfect match for our meal choices.
The menu items feature grilled meats, pasta and fresh vegetables featuring the traditional flavors of Umbria. Most all of the ingredients, from homemade pasta to extra virgin olive oil, were locally grown or made. Gluten free options are possible if discussed with the staff.
We were served a mouth-watering plate of steak bites. It was sauced just right, tender and succulent. Before long, a large serving of chicken with local olives arrived. Spiced perfectly, not a piece was left over.
During our meal, Franco shared the history of his trattoria and the people over the years who had graced his tables. He brought out several photos to share from his beloved collection and passed them around the table. He had a story to tell about each one. Among them was a photo of his lovely wife. With soft eyes, he spoke tenderly of his strong love for her.
Franco and his staff soon brought more plates of food. We were beginning to feel full but found the room to squeeze in pappardelle with wild boar sauce and buttery gnocchi.
His staff was all smiles. Personable and friendly, we felt extremely well taken care of.
The chef made a quick appearance at our request. We gave her a round of applause and praised her culinary skills.
We said our goodbyes to Franco and promised we would revisit him one day soon. As we walked up the street to our next destination, our hearts and tummies were warmed by a joyful contentment that is not easy to find. It was simply the result of a personal touch, authenticity and warm regards from a proprietor and staff who valued quality and professionalism. Signorelli would be proud.