Category Archives: Italy

A Postcard From Sorrento

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In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy with my girlfriend Linda.  We were due to go on the 12th June but at some point shortly before travel she fell for the charms of a reporter on the local newspaper and abruptly ended the relationship.

This created a problem because it was within the no refund period and so I was faced with the prospect of losing all my money.   I could have begged I suppose but that would have been undignified so instead we had a family crisis meeting and the solution was found when dad enthusiastically stepped in and agreed to take her place. That’s what dads are for, I would do exactly the same!

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A Postcard From Sardinia

Sardinia 2015a

“This land resembles no other place. Sardinia is something else. Enchanting spaces and distances to travel – nothing finished, nothing definitive. It is like freedom itself.”  D H Lawrence – ‘Sea and Sardinia’

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily).

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Alghero StreetsCastelsardo Sardinia ItalySardinia BeachSardinia Symbols

Travels in Italy, Updated

I have got a few gaps in the map, so I will have to get travelling…

Italy Visited

Travels in Italy, The Last Supper

Everyone recognises the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, it is one of the most loved and most parodied pieces of art ever…

Last Supper MASHLast Supper - ScientistsLast Supper BSGLast Supper ChefsLast Supper MafiaLast Supper Disney Princesses

 

 

Travels in Italy, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Cathedral in Milan

Milan Doumo

“What a wonder it is!  So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!…”, Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

We left Rimini early in the morning.  We booked the fast train and were especially careful to make sure that we caught the right one this time.  Kim fell asleep. The journey took two hours and we arrived in Milan around about midday and walked to the IBIS Hotel.

We only had an afternoon in Milan so we had to make a choice about what we would go and see.  Should it be Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie or alternatively visit the largest Cathedral in Italy.

Leonardo Milan

We decided upon the Cathedral and this was our reasoning.

The Last Supper by Da Vinci isn’t the original.

The work started around 1495 but due to the methods used, a variety of environmental factors and some intentional and accidental damage, nothing of the original remains.

Because the painting was on a thin exterior wall it was affected badly by humidity and the paint failed to properly adhere and after it was completed it quickly began to deteriorate.  By 1517 the paint was flaking, by 1532 it had lost most of its colour and detail. In 1652, a doorway was cut through the painting, and later bricked back up. In 1768, a curtain was hung over the painting for the purpose of protection but instead trapped moisture on the surface and whenever the curtain was pulled back it scratched the flaking paint.

A first restoration was attempted in 1726 and a second in 1770 both were criticised for not faithfully reproducing the original.  In 1796 French troops threw stones at the painting and climbed ladders to scratch out the Apostles’ eyes. The refectory was then later used as a prison.   A repair project was attempted in 1820 but this only succeeding in damaging the work when a whole section fell off the wall.

During World War II the refectory was struck by Allied bombing and the painting was damaged by splinters and vibration. Between 1978 and 1999 the most recent major restoration project undertook to stabilise the painting and reverse the damage caused by dirt and pollution.

So this is my point, this is why I mention this here  – it is possible to go to see the painting, a painting, but it isn’t by Leonardo Da Vinci that’s for sure so if it isn’t an original what is the point!

There are lots of other versions of the Last Supper – this is one of my favourites…

Last Supper MASH

We were also influenced in our decision making by the fact that it costs €40 to visit the Basilica to see the painting but only €10 to visit the Cathedral and climb to the top of the roof. We chose the Cathedral.

Milan Cathedral

I have made no secret of the fact that I didn’t especially like Milan but I have to say that the Marble Gothic Cathedral is perhaps one of the finest that I have ever seen in Italy. In design, more French than Italian perhaps. The location is magnificent with a wide open Piazza to the front and it rises dramatically upwards with spires like needles piecing the sky, each one decorated with a Saint or Apostle at the very top.

It is claimed there are more statues on this cathedral than any other building in the world; there are three thousand, four hundred statues, one hundred and thirty-five gargoyles and seven hundred figures. There are two hundred and forty steps to the top but that did not concern us, we had climbed nearly five hundred in Bologna so we ignored the extra charge for the lift and began the ascent.

Milan Cathedral Roof

Now this was really something really worth doing and well worth the admission charge. There was a lot of restoration work at the top but this didn’t interfere with the stunning views and the rooftop panorama of the city. We stayed up on the top for quite some time and after two circuits made our way down the steps and into the Cathedral which was equally impressive.

I will tell you two stories…

Above the apse there is a spot marked with a red light bulb. This marks the spot where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion was allegedly placed. Once a year in September the archbishop of Milan ascends to the apex in a wooden basket decorated with angels to retrieve the nail.  The nail is displayed on the altar for three days and then put back again. You do have to wonder why?

Inside the Cathedral is a statue of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew who met an especially grisly end when he was skinned alive. Condemned to death he was flayed and the skin of his body cut into strips,then pulled off leaving his body open and bleeding for a long time, after that he was beheaded and then crucified just to make sure. I am prepared to be challenged on this point but I don’t believe that it would be possible to be skinned alive, I imagine you’d die of shock quite quickly.  The pain must have unimaginable, I know I call for a sticking plaster for just the tiniest of little skin-nicks!

We left the Cathedral and took the dreary walk back to the hotel. I still hadn’t warmed to Milan but the Cathedral helped redeem it a little.

Saint Bartlomew

Travels in Italy, Roman Rimini

Roman Rimini Street Plan

There was no sign of the predicted storm when we woke the next morning, just blue sky and a flat calm sea and we were pleased about that because today we planned to explore the centre of the city of Rimini.

The hotel breakfast room was practically deserted today. I swear that I am not making this up but for the previous three days it had been busy with delegates attending a Bathroom and Sanitary Ware Conference somewhere close by but now that the lid had been closed on that there were only a handful of remaining guests.

We walked again along the seafront promenade, because we liked the seafront promenade and then reaching the marina turned inland and walked towards the city centre. Today we were going to investigate what was once, two thousand years ago, an important City in the Roman Empire.

Rimini, then called Ariminum, was a major junction connecting central and northern Italy by the Via Aemilia and was seen as a buffer against invaders from Celts from the north and also as a springboard for conquering the Padana Plain, what we know as the Po Valley and the entire area of Northern Italy up to the foothills of the Alps.

When I first arrived in Rimini, just two days before, I imagined it to be no more than a beach holiday resort, I had no idea that it had such a wealth of ancient history and the city has a Roman structure, partly modified by following medieval alterations of course but still retaining the clear town planning footprint of Ancient Rome.

Roman Bridge Rimini

We came first to the Bridge of Tiberius which was an important crossing of the River Marecchia and was a key communications link between the north and south of the peninsula. It is a bridge of five arches built two thousand years ago and it still carries traffic, two thousand years old and still in daily use today. Amazing! It doesn’t cross the River Marecchia anymore because the course of the river has changed in two thousand years but now crosses the dead end of the Porto Canal.

By happy chance it was not destroyed by the retreating German army during the Battle of Rimini in 1944 and is said to have resisted all attempts at destruction, including the ignition failure of explosive charges.

Inside the centre of the city and the old Roman town we visited a museum that had an interesting display with information about the Roman period and back on the streets we came across a statue of Julius Caesar which sort of commemorates an important moment in the history of Rome when he ‘crossed the Rubicon’ in 49 A.D. and began a civil war which led to the overthrow of the Republican Senate and the establishment of the Empire. By all accounts he made his call to arms right here in Rimini.

Roman Juliys Ceasar Rimini

‘Crossing the Rubicon’ is a term we use now meaning the point of no-return. Caesar himself is said to have remarked that ‘the die is cast’.

Most of Ancient Rome has gone now of course, there is no Theatre and there are no Villas, this is not Pompeii or Herculaneum because there has been continuous settlement here for two thousand years with all of the changes and alterations that you might expect over that time. At the eastern end of the old city however is the Arch of Augustus which has survived pretty much intact and to the south there is another gate archway which suffered damage in World war Two but despite this is just about clinging on to archaeological survival. Also to the east are the remains of what was once the amphitheatre, much of it dismantled and reused in later building programmes but enough of it left to be instantly recognisable.

Roman Arch Rimini

We stayed a while in the city, there was a busy street market which Kim couldn’t resist, a medieval castle that was closed and a Cathedral that we visited but was nothing special. We came across an indoor market and inside found a little café bar so we stayed for a while for a beer and an Aperol Spritz and the people there were very hospitable.

When we left the market we were surprised and disappointed to find that the blue sky had gone and the rain that had been promised was making a belated appearance so we had to make our way briskly back to the hotel dodging the showers on the way. Amazing how a day can change so quickly and early morning sunshine was now replaced by afternoon grey skies. I bought an umbrella on the way back as a precaution.

The rain swept in which meant that we spent the rest of the day in the hotel room even though I was able to sit on the balcony and watch the storm clouds sweep in from the east. Later it thankfully stopped raining and we made our way to our favourite Rimini restaurant for a meal of pasta and risotto. We didn’t need the umbrella so that was an unnecessary expense. The food was good and as we ate we crossed our fingers and hoped that the downturn in the weather was only temporary.  We had walked eleven and a half miles today.

Roman Ampitheatre Rimini

Travels in Italy, Borgo San Giuliano in Rimini

 

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