Monday, March 21, 2016

A spring walk in Rome to discover its hidden places.

There is no place like Rome in the springtime. The sun is shining, the air is warm, the trees are blossoming, and the flowers are blooming. La primavera arriva! This is the best time to go on an urban trek and to discover the lesser-known places of the Eternal City. Let’s seeking out these hidden treasures, places that only the savviest of Romans know. Churches, domed cathedrals, public squares, statues and fountains - all are steeped in symbolism and meaning that we shall discover together. 

Here's some places from the ebook UNKNOWN ROME from Amazon Kindle Store at 3,00 $ 

1. Through the Aventine Keyhole
Up on Aventine Hill there’s a wonderful view you’d never know existed. Head to the locked green gates of the Priory of the Knights of Malta and find the ornate keyhole. Look through this keyhole and you will see the impressive dome of St Peter’s Basilica standing majestically at the end of a tree-lined avenue. Such a view doesn’t stay secret for long so you may have to wait a little for you chance to take a peek – but it’s well worth it.

2. The Non-Catholic Cemetery
If the buzz and busyness of Rome city centre all gets a little too much, take some contemplative time out at the Protestant Cemetery, now known as the ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery’. This peaceful spot backs onto the Pyramid of Cestius and is a great place to relax in the afternoon sun. You’ll spot a few well-known names on a wander around the tombstones too, like English poets John Keats and Percy Shelley.

3. The Museum of the Poor Souls in Purgatory
Located in the back of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio on the banks of the Tiber, the tiny century-old Piccolo Museo Del Purgatorio, or "Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory," holds a collection of bibles, prayer books, tabletops, and articles of clothing said to have been singed by the hands of souls in purgatory.

4. The skeleton crypt
Located on Via Veneto, near Barbarini Square, the crypt  is a small space comprising several tiny chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Entrance is by donation, the door manned by a Capuchin monk. The bones in this crypt are nailed to the wall and arranged in patterns: cross, floral, arch, triangle and circle, as well as forming objects. A large clock is composed of vertebrae, foot bones and finger bones. The single hour hand represents the idea that time has no beginning or end.


Sunday, October 20, 2013




Every city displays the effects of its vicissitudes, but in Siena they are more prominent and lasting, and their continuity is more explicit and sought after than elsewhere. Siena's history is quite long. Siena’s hypothesized Etruscan origins are supported by an increasing number of archaeological findings. Nonetheless, over the centuries locals have preferred to believe the lively mediaeval legend according to which the town's founder was Remus’s son Senio, who fled Rome on horseback together with his brother Aschio. With them they carried a carving of a she-wolf which was to become a symbol of Siena. Romulus’s knights followed them through Lazio and southern Tuscany, until they finally reached the fateful hill known as Siena Vecchia. According to legend, Senio and Aschio founded Siena following an almost interminable, mythological race known as “Palio alla Lunga”.

Siena’s civic history was then marked by the growing predominance of a number of upper-class merchant families such as Buonsignori, Salimbeni, Tolomei and Piccolomini that created a new oligarchy. These families were responsible for Siena’s great financial, political and cultural advent during what has nostalgically come to be considered as its Golden Age. In fact, they are still honoured by six knights that trail behind the Palio-bearing cart during the pre-race procession.

The Gothic dream



Siena's intact circuit of city walls is entirely made of bricks. Palazzo Pubblico and its tower are also made of bricks, as are the mediaeval dwellings built by nobles. So is Santa Maria della Scala and the other large churches dedicated to the Franciscans, Domenicans and Servi. The bricks have changed in colour over the centuries: The dark red of the oldest constructions gave way to a reddish-orange in the 1500s. The streets were originally paved with dark brown bricks laid on their edges or in a herring-bone pattern. Bricks make up the Medici Fortress and the neo-Gothic constructions undertaken in the 1600s
and 1700s, such as Palazzo Sansedoni in Piazza del Campo. The same technique was used in later centuries to build Palazzo Buonsignori, Palazzo Marsili and Palazzo del
Capitano right up to the 1900s. The neo-Gothic rebuilding of the Salicotto area was entirely carried out with bricks, as was the newly-built outlying neighbourhood called Ravacciano to which many of Salicotto's original families moved.

Gothic art, thanks to the contact occurred during the fourteenth century, with France and Venice, is one of Siena's most fascinating feature.  One of its most interesting example is the famous cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, as well the Duomo and some elements of the Town Hall located in Piazza del Campo. For nearly a century, between year 200 and 300, Siena played a starring role in Europe thanks to its mercantile aristocracy and intense banking activities. After losing its independence in 1559, Siena experienced a period of decline up to half of year 1800, when he began to grow again with the construction of the railway, which connects Siena to Empoli, and with the first University Hospital of Italy, founded in 1883. The image of Siena in the world was revived early in '900 with the birth of the great exhibition of Senese Ancient Art and the Accademia Musicale Senese Chigiana.
Art is thus what has most influenced Siena, making it one of the most visited tourist city: Piazza del Campo, the Duomo, Palazzo Comunale and the Torre del Mangia attract visitors from around the world. Another attractions of Siena is wine and food, with the Italian Wine Cellar, located in the Medici Fortress, with the sausages and the ancient Sienese sweets, like ricciarelli, gingerbread, the copate and cavalucci.

The palio

Colours, crowd, celebratory shouts, a piazza covered with tufa, ten horses ridden bareback in a race that lasts only a few seconds.  For those who are seeing it for the first time, this is the Palio. For the Sienese it is life, passion, history. It’s the miracle of a game that becomes real life, where there is a place for joy and pain, courage and intrigue, loyalty and betrayal.
A mediaeval inheritance which, on 2nd July and 16th August deeply affects Siena life and is always a catharsis.

The culture of food

Sienese cooking is steeped in history. Its vast array is fascinating to study and even more enjoyable to taste. Local starters include “bruschetta” (toasted crusty bread seasoned with
garlic and extra-virgin olive oil), “crostini” (bread rounds spread with meat or beef spleen paté) and cured meats which have been made with the same techniques for centuries, as is shown by the Cinta breed of swine depicted in Lorenzetti’s Buongoverno freso. The locally-produced sausages and cold meats -“buristo”, “capocollo”, “finocchiona”– boast a long tradition, actually two long traditions: they were produced in Fontebranda and Salicotto, where the filling was in fact salted and cooked.

Typical second courses include world- renowned Chianina beef, Cinta pork, wild boar, range chicken, pheasant, goose and pigeon. Lamb and rabbit are grilled, roated or sautéd.  Artusi, the author of one of Italy's first cookbooks, criticised Tuscans for eating too many vegetables, and Siena certainly has a vast assortment available in its gardens and woodlands. Truffles arrive from San Giovanni d’Asso and wild asparagus come from the Montagnola, while Monte Amiata provides mushrooms and wild greens. As mealtime draws to a close, syrupy “vinsanto” may be accompanied by the sweets enjoyed in Siena since the Middle Ages: “copate”, “cavallucci”, old-fashioned spiced “panforte (panpepato)” or the sweet, fruit-filled type dedicated to queen Margherita di Savoia, and finally “ricciarelli” made of sweet and bitter almonds which are Siena’s most unique and aristocratic cake.

Enoteca Italiana

Siena’s Enoteca Italiana is a public organisation which has promoted the quality of Italian wines since the 1970s. It is located in the Fortezza Medicea which Grand Duke Cosimo
I commissioned from Baldassarre Lanci in 1561. The vast catalogue of available wines is continuously updated by the tasting commission and features wines from all over Italy, with a predominance of Tuscan varieties. Siena’s wines are particularly well-represented, starting with those awarded the DOCG appellation: Vernaccia from San Gimignano, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. No other Italian province boasts so many different, prestigious wines. They accompany Siena’s Tuscan cuisine and express veritable complicity between towns and the surrounding countryside. of choice.

As the poet Mario Luzi wrote “It is simultaneously both reality and a dream”. And so it was for another renowned visitor, Nobel prize winner Albert Camus, who saw Siena in his youth and was later to write in his notes: “…most of all I’d like to go back and hike down the road from Monte San Savino to Siena and pass through that countryside’s vineyards and olive groves which I can still smell. I want to walk over those bluish hills of “tufa” that lead away as far as the eye can see to finally make out Siena on the horizon at sunset with its towers like some perfect Constantinople. I want to arrive at night, penniless and alone, sleep next to some wellspring and be the first to enter Piazza del Campo in the morning. That palm-frond shape seems like a hand offering up the highest achievement of humanity after ancient Greece". After all, that’s why UNESCO declared Siena’s historical centre to be a world heritage site in 1995.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sardinia and its Secrets: beaches, nature and mystery

In Sardinia is possible to enjoy a holiday in lots and different ways. The geological nature of the territory, its climate and geographic position make Sardinia a special and unique place. Everyone arriving in Sardinia for the first time has the feeling of entering another world consisting of endless spaces and majestic landscapes. The sea reigns over this region with its colors that migrate into the coves, along the coasts, towards the beaches and the most popular resorts.


Visiting the Maddalena Archipelago and its “seven sisters,” the main islands of the archipelago, and sailing along the coast of the Maddalena National Park with its lively seabeds, perfect for scuba-diving lovers, is an incredible experience.
Caprera, the second biggest Island after Maddalena, is full of pastures and pinewoods, and shows its visitors the places where Garibaldi lived, with a house museum in the typical Mediterranean vegetation, which guards the memorabilia of the “hero of two worlds,” as well as his and his family’s grave.

Again on Sardinia's northwest coast, in front of the Natural Park of Asinara Island, we can find one of the most famous tourist resorts, Stintino, which combines the charm of a lively fishing village with high-quality accommodation facilities. This small seaside town, appearing as a painting with its white houses and the contrast between the crystal-clear sea and light blue sky, offers endless leisure possibilities, from golf to excursions and scuba diving, from cycling to horseback riding.

On the northwest coast Costa Smeralda is surely the most renowned place in Sardinia not only for its constant society life, but also for its unforgettable beauty. A charming and contradictory environment, characterized by the wild and proud Mediterranean shrub-land (Macchia or Maquis), strange-shaped white granite rocks, beaches, coves and bays that your eyes have never seen yet.
On the southern coast one of the most magical as well as diversified stretches of coastline is to be found in Pula. Balmy beaches and coves, Roman excavations and blindingly white sand dunes endow the area with its richness.

A few kilometers down the road to the west is the expansive sandy cove and aquamarine waters of Baia Chia.  With its silky sand, up to 30 meter-high white dunes and crystalline, turquoise-hued water is the reminiscent of an idyllic Caribbean beach. The bay is bordered by majestic, age-old junipers and a few stone traces of the Phoenician city of Bithia whose site Baia Chia now occupies. And if it’s your lucky day, you might catch a glimpse of dolphins and, on the lake, flamingos. Chia is also a wonderful venue for surfers because the winds blow just the right way. On this lovely bay there is also a lovely restaurant, Dune di Campana, where the aromatic Mediterranean maquis can be enjoyed along with a cool, refreshing drink.,

Facing the bay is Su Giudeu, a teeny island that you can wade across to. And Baia Chia Restaurant on the opposite side of the bay is also a lovely place to while away a hot summer afternoon. Cala Cipolla, the bay next door to Baia Chia, is only accessible on foot, but its picturesque beach and cliffs make it worth the walk. It also features seven reefs at a depth of 25 meters, a veritable paradise for scuba divers. A few kilometers down the road is the expansive sandy cove and aquamarine waters of Tuerredda. Those wishing to explore Sardinia’s numerous bays extending to the island’s southernmost point, Capo Teluada, can rent a boat here for the trip.


How many times did you hear about Stonehenge? Do you know that Sardinia has many mysterious buildings very likely with Stonehenge? This is a land rich of mystery so let's travel from Cagliari to Nuoro to discover the evidence of a millennial civilization and the traditions and customs of this marvellous people.
Away from crowded beaches there is a charming and mysterious place to visit.
Not very much is known of the ancient Nuragic civilization, except that it was a people of shepherds and farmers grouped into small communities who lived in Sardinia for 8 centuries. It built these extraordinary structures (there are about 700 throughout the island) whose use is still not known: Perhaps defensive fortresses or palaces or temples. In any event, a nuraghe represented the centre of the social life of these tribes that left us other megalithic buildings such as necropolises, tombs and places of worship.The starting point is Cagliari, the regional capital and main Sardinian harbour where visitors should visit the National Museum of Archaeology, which is the most important one in the world in terms of the Nuragic civilization. It holds most of the materials discovered in the Nuraghes. They did produce art in the form of beautiful small bronze statues; typically representing Gods, the chief of the village, soldiers, animals and women. There are also stone carvings or statues representing female divinities.

Take the trunk road from Cagliari that crosses the Campidano plain, where the ruins of nuraghi appear, including the quite visible one of Sa Uga. The second leg in this trip is Barumini, the location of the extraordinary complex of Su Nuraxi (declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which is dominated by a majestic nuraghe surrounded by a large village that was inhabited from 1600 BC to the 3rd century AD. 4 lateral towers joined by a wall surround the main nuraghe, which is 15 metres high. Both floors are intact inside the nuraghe, where there is also a semi-circular courtyard and a well (20 m deep). The huts are also quite visible and are generally round. Continuing north, a stop should be made on the Giara plateau to admire the horses that live in the wild. The third destination is Isili, a small town overlooking the Sarcidano Valley and destination for free climbers and rowers. There are several nuraghi in the area, including Is Paras, whose beautiful façade is the highest in Sardinia (almost 12 metres). There are also domus de janas here (house of fairies or of witches), which are Neolithic tombs dug out of the rock and simulating the inside of houses. There are also several examples of domus de janas in Goni and Pimentel. After a stop in Nurallao, which is the location of the megalithic tomb of Aiodda, the journey continues towards Laconi, the town of the menhirs, that is monoliths of various sizes, at times finely engraved, and many of which are in the Civic Museum of Archaeology. The ruins of a medieval castle surrounded by a regional park and several nuraghi are also worth visiting here. Aritzo is situated on the lower slopes of the Gennargentu Mountain, which is home to the mouflon and golden eagle. It is characterized by houses with stone façades and large wooden balconies. Heading north, 3 other stops should be made: Fonni, the highest town in Sardinia at 1,000 m asl, Gavoi and beautiful Gusana Lake and Ollolai, in the area of San Basilio, where there are ancient burials that were obtained by using dry stone walls to enclose the clefts created by nature. Make a detour to Sedilo before reaching Nuoro. It is the location of tombe dei giganti (a type of gallery grave) and a Nuragic palace. This is also where there is one of the largest hypogeum necropolises in Sardinia - the domus de janas of Iloi with 34 tombs uncovered to date.


All Sardinian crafts can be purchased in Cagliari. Isili is home to hand-woven carpets, bedspreads and knapsacks. Visitors in Nuoro can buy unique jewellery, including magnificent filigree pieces, wooden masks, carpets, tapestries, and handmade pillows and curtains. Wooden engraved chests can be bought in Aritzo, and braided asphodel baskets can be purchased in Ollolai. Marvellous pottery is available throughout Sardinia.

Gastronomic products to purchase or taste: Bread, extra virgin olive oil, ravioli and dumplings, honey, spit-roasted meat (above all suckling pig, followed by lamb and goat) scented with aromatic herbs, cheese (pecorino, ricotta and caciocavallo), cured meats (sausage, ham and bacon) and sweets, which are often filled with fresh cheese or walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and raisins. Quality Sardinian wines: Cannonau, Nuragus, Monica, Mandrolisai and Girò. Excellent dessert wines: Malvasia, Moscato and Nasco.