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Lecce

8 May

Lecce, our last of the three-city trip south, is a town of over 95,000 people located in Puglia. It is well-known for its Baroque architecture, a style that began in the late 16th century and is often characterized by large proportions, twisting columns, theatrical effects, bronze and gilding, and extensive use of tromp-l’oeil. 

We entered the historical center via Porta San Biagio (St. Blaise Gate).

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and were immediately met with visions of baroque architecture.

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The Chiesa di Santa Croce, (the Basilica), was begun in 1353 and eventually completed by 1695.

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The church has a richly decorated façade with animals, statues, grotesque figures and vegetables, and a large rose window.

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Side altars are adorned with an abundance of Baroque columns and theatrical effects,

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while the chapel of St. Antonio is a great example of gilding.

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Lecce is a city where old meets “new”:

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The Roman 2nd century amphitheater was able to seat more than 25,000 people. It is now half-buried because other monuments were built above it over the centuries. The theatre is currently used for different religious and arts events.

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The biggest surprise came when we found out our hotel, Torre del Parco, is one of the medieval symbols of Lecce. It was erected in 1419 by the then-18 year old prince of Lecce, Giovanni Antonio Del Balzo Orsini.

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The tower, standing more than 75 feet, is surrounded by a ditch in which bears (the heraldic symbol of the Orsini del Balzo) were reared.

The whole complex was the seat of Orsini’s tribunal and of a mint, and after Giovanni Antonio’s death, it became a residence for the Spanish viceroys. Over the intervening years, and with the addition of acreage, it functioned as many historical places, including a grand tribunal, a palazzo, and even a prison.

From 1992 – 2006, the current restoration took place and it was reopened as a small private hotel, banquet facility, spa, meeting center, and just wonderful place to relax.

We visited the tower and were surprised by what we found…

a chapel,

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modern meeting space,

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small banquet rooms,

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and an interesting antique carriage. (Thanks, Susan, for posing.)

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The bridge from the tower to the hotel facilities crosses one of the main roads in town,

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and provides several spaces for relaxing and wine sipping.

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The hotel grounds, complete with palms and flowers everywhere, were a total surprise.

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After sight-seeing all day, and since it was our last night, we decided to “eat in” and enjoy the surroundings.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the spa, but the made-to-order breakfast and freshly squeezed blood orange juice were perfect for our last morning.

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Alberobello Trulli, Matera Caves, and the loveliness of Lecce, three amazing locations in southern Italy offering thousands of years of history, beauty and intrigue – so very worth a visit.

Ciao,
Judy

 

2016 Chicago Open House – Case Bonita

14 Oct

Three years ago, I began an amazing adventure to learn more about my paternal grandfather, Alexander Capraro. As mentioned in my first post dated 10/2/13:

Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather

My grandfather was small in stature but large in accomplishment. He was the first Italian-American architect licensed in the state of Illinois and fortunately, a few of his buildings still stand for us to admire.

This weekend, the Chicago Architecture Foundation hosts its Open House Chicago.

200 COOL PLACES.
48 HOURS. GO.
IT’S FREE.
OCTOBER 15-16, 2016

I am so proud that for the 6th time, Casa Bonita, designed in 1928 by my grandfather Alex and his partner Morris, is included in the festival. Quite an accomplishment for a man who, at the age of four, emigrated to America in 1899 with his parents.

Casa Bonita is considered a Spanish-Renaissance Revival apartment building.

Casa Bonita ©Photo by Charlene Ferguson

Casa Bonita ©Photo by Charlene Ferguson

There are 66 units in the U-shaped white terra-cotta building that surround a beautiful garden. The attention to detail can be seen everywhere.

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MTMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MMattucci

Besides its incredible structure, Casa Bonita has amenities including a library, a billiards room, and a large indoor pool.

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MTMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MMattucci

 

When it was built, I have been told, there was even a driving range on the roof.

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MTMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MTMattucci

Casa Bonita ©Photo by MMattucci

If you are in or near Chicago this weekend, this is a unique opportunity to visit incredible historic landmarks, including Casa Bonita – all for free. Residents will be available to answer questions, give tours, and share their passion about this very special Chicago treasure.

http://openhousechicago.org/sites/site/casa-bonita/

My thanks to Mary, Linda and Charlene for rapid assistance with photos.

For more on Alex’s story, see below. And one last thought – When I began writing about my grandfather, I used the phrase: Through his Words... Now I can say,  Through his Words and Works…

Ciao,
Judy – a very proud granddaughter

 

Opening of Original Post 10/2/13

Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather (10/2/13)

I am about to begin an incredible adventure with my paternal grandfather. We will venture to Europe, via ship, and spend a month together touring Italy. During our stay, we will visit his birthplace, Pietrabbondante, a town he left with his parents when he was four years old to emigrate to the United States.

To continue reading, please click below:

 

San Francesco d’Assisi

4 Oct

Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, is one of the most venerated religious figures in history. He lived from 1182 – 1226, and during his lifetime, founded several orders including the men’s Order of Friars Minor and the women’s Order of Saint Clare. He was canonized on July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX. He, along with Saint Catherine of Siena, are the patron saints of Italy.

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi is celebrated today, October 4. Throughout Italy, and in particular the central parts of Italy where St. Francis lived, there are many celebrations in his honor. Unlike so many of the gold and ornate churches and monasteries, those of St. Francis tend to be simple in design and without pretense.

Chiesa di San Francesco, Cortona, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Chiesa di San Francesco, Cortona, ©Blogginginitaly.com

From our front door, it is 115 steps, mostly up, to San Francesco in Cortona, and it is well worth the climb. The sparse interior holds many treasures and is our favorite among Cortona churches.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

According to Cortona history, the Church was built over the ruins of a Roman bath. The area, which was a municipal property, had been donated to Friar Elia, Francis’ successor, who had the church built in honor of St. Francis. The facade, the large door, and the entire left wall are part of the original church which was dedicated in 1254. Friar Elia is buried in the choir area behind the altar.

The interior underwent renovations in the 16th and 17th centuries. During that time, several incredible original frescoes from the school of Buffalmacco, dating back to 1382, were rediscovered behind paintings.

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On the altar, in a large marble baroque tabernacle dating from 1619, is a relic from the Holy Cross, donated to Friar Elia by the Constantine Emperor.

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And finally, to the left of the main altar is the statue of St. Francis and some items as described below.

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As I write, the bells from the church are ringing. Three of the five are electric, but of the original two, one was cast in 1250 and the second in 1267.

In addition to this beautiful church, Cortona is home to Le Celle, an incredible monastery and sanctuary which developed both during and after St. Francis’ life.

It is here that you can see the room, or cell, where St. Francis slept.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Every time I visit either the San Francesco Church or Le Celle, I find myself caught up in the tranquility each has to offer. And while Cortona can sometimes be a bustling town, each of these remains an oasis of serenity – a wonderful place to reflect, meditate, pray, or simply take in the moment.

For more on Le Celle, click on a previous post: Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle, Cortona.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Il Pozzo “Tabacchi” Cortona

29 Sep

When you spend time in Italy, you quickly learn the value of a Tabacchi. It is a place to buy bus and train tickets, stamps, postcards, gum, candy, lozenges, etc.

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You can recharge a phone card, buy a lottery ticket, often send a fax, and at most tabacchis, sort through various dollar store types of souvenirs. And yes, the word Tabacchi means tobacco, so, that too.

But when is a tabacchi much more than a tabacchi? When you find this large  “T” sign and awning on Via Nazionale in Cortona. Then it’s a destination.

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No matter how often I visit, there is always something new and creative to see. And the best news? Most items are actually Made in Italy, many from local and nearby artisans. Here are some examples.

These purses, ornaments and wallets are made from old sheet music, newsprint and/or comic pages, formed into shapes, laminated, and then woven together.

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There are numerous prints of familiar Tuscan scenes, towns, buildings and monuments, available in many shapes and sizes, 

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as well as whimsical pieces of art.

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Sara Lovari©Blogginginitaly.com

Sara Lovari©Blogginginitaly.com

As for me, I can never have enough kitchen towels, especially when they depict places I’ve visited or recipes I want to remember.

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Planning to attend Carnevale in Venice or a Mardi Gras party? They’ve got you covered.

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There is beautiful pastel stationery, as well as bound journals, all hand-made with 100% cotton paper, and each journal is individually embossed.

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Traditional Florentine notecards and ornamental angels come in a rainbow of colors.

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Need a birthday or anniversary card? There’s an abundance to choose from.

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Italians love beautifully fragranced soaps, especially Campostrini soaps that have been produced  in Firenze since 1894.

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Like so many businesses in Cortona, Il Pozzo Artisan’s Gallery and Tabacchi is family owned and operated, and generally open daily. If you’ve been to Cortona, you probably recognize these faces. 

Marta, Ivan, Loriana, Thomas©Blogginginitaly.com

(L-R) Marta, Ivan, Loriana, Thomas©Blogginginitaly.com

Ivan speaks English well and is an incredible resource for most questions, whether about an artist, a painting, the Etruscans, or local antiquities. It’s no wonder many of us consider him Cortona’s ambassador. 

If you are heading to Cortona, be sure to add this wonderful place to your list. You’ll be so happy you did!

And one last note: At the back of the tabacchi, take the winding staircase down one flight to visit the beautiful Il Pozzo Galleria. In addition to seeing many more interesting and beautiful works of art, you will also see an ancient well, or pozzo, hence the name Il Pozzo. Ivan actually uncovered the well during excavation, but I’ll leave that story to him.

For more info and photos on Il Pozzo Galleria, please click below:

https://blogginginitaly.com/2013/09/14/il-pozzo/

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Lucignano Tuscany

10 Apr

Yesterday, Len and I took a ride to the lovely town of Lucignano with friends. It was a nice spring day and I think we were the only visitors in town. In fact, it seemed as though we were the only people in town.

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When we parked the car, I realized we had briefly visited here 5 years ago. This post includes some of the research from my original post, with some updates and some new photos.

Lucignano, a remarkably preserved medieval walled village, is laid out in elliptical rings.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

This beautiful town sits 414 metres above sea level and offers its visitors a trip back in time.

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Although Lucignano sits between Siena and Arezzo, it came under Florentine control in the 1500s, when a great deal of construction ensued. Today, one can still see the Puccini’s Fortress; Vasari’s 1568 sanctuary of Madonna della Querca; the Cappucini convent, c.1580; and several churches including Piazza S. Francesco with the church of S. Francesco in the background, and

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Chiesa della Collegiata, c.1594.

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In addition, the Museo Civico, left, offers many artistic treasures including the L’albero della vita, or tree of life, a gilded and jeweled tree holding a crucified figure.

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©www.comune.lucignano.ar.it

©www.comune.lucignano.ar.it

On the village’s website, http://www.comune.lucignano.ar.it,  Lucignano is described as “a pearl of the valdichiana, a small village that represents one of the more extraordinary examples of medieval urban planning for its system of elliptic rings…” Today, the village continues its agricultural and artisan traditions and produces products ranging from olive oil and honey to ceramics and gold jewelry. In addition, should you wish to purchase inlaid furniture or have a piece in need of repair, the skilled artists of Lucignano are ready to oblige.

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Five years ago, we saw this written on the window of a wine shop, and I was happy to see it again.

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Wine is the poetry of the earth

And five years ago, we found this sign, but not the restaurant.

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This time, we found the restaurant, and although it was closed, we found the nice people.

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A wonderful way to spend the afternoon, strolling with friends through a beautiful ancient city, rich with history and culture…

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making new friends,

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and not even needing to close the door on our way out.

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Ciao,
Judy

Trapani, Sicilia

30 Mar

For me, Trapani is a tale of two cities. The centro storico, or historic center, is lovely, filled with beautiful buildings, interesting architecture, and wide, clean marble/granite streets.

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At this time of year, it resembles more of a movie set than a city, as it is often quite empty,

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and appears to be bustling with people only when the directors are ready to shoot, (in reality, when the locals are taking their evening walk).

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Tourism is a big part of the economy, especially in the summer and early fall. The historic center is filled with many bars, restaurants, designer shops and lovely window displays.

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It is also a cruise ship destination. Really???

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Because of its location, Trapani is an important ferry port to the Egadi Islands, so the port is large and active.

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The “other” Trapani in my tale of two cities, however, is a fishing city, as much of Trapani’s economy still depends on the sea. For me, this was actually the lovelier part – seeing man depend on nature, as he has done for generations.

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There are the sole proprietor old pescatore as well as large commercial vessels, and I loved watching them all go about their daily work. Out at 4am, if the seas are calm (ok, I took their world for this part), and back between 7-8 am to unload.

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While fishing and canning are the main local industries, salt is also an important export, along with marble and Marsala wine. They also produce several delicious types of green olives.

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Because of the crescent-shaped coastline, one is never far from one of Trapani’s colorful water views, nice in any weather,

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but especially nice in the sunshine.

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From Trapani, enjoying a bit of water view, vino, and sunshine ourselves.

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Ciao,
Judy

Misteri Trapani

27 Mar

The Processione dei Misteri di Trapani is a day-long passion procession featuring twenty platforms of lifelike wood, canvas and glue sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion of Christ. The Misteri are amongst the oldest continuously running religious events in Europe, having been performed every Good Friday since before the Easter of 1612, and running for at least 16 continuous hours. In Trapani, the procession runs 24 hours.

We were fortunate to view the procession from our balcony.

Every group in the procession is represented by a local tradesmen/craftsmen, e.g., fishermen, tailors, carpenters. Each carries a scene with statues and is usually accompanied by a marching band as well was flag bearers, candle holders, etc.

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There can be as many as 12 men in front and another 12 in back, and they link arms with each other to maintain balance.

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Our position was about one hour into the procession, with 23 more hours to go.

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Truly, there was a cast of thousands involved.

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The movement of the statues requires incredible coordination and stamina, and it was evident it was quite an honor among the carriers.

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Each team is responsible for its own decorations and costumes and raises funds well in advance.

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The bands come from the various provinces around Trapani.

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As the lit urn passed, the mood was quite solemn.

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If you look carefully, you can see the body of Christ in the urn.

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A candle lit procession preceded Our Lady of Sorrows.

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Here are two short videos I took with music that really represents the tone and mood of the procession. The swaying is part of the pageantry, and the clapper you hear is what is used to stop and start the movement of the platforms, which happens about every 30 to 50 feet.

The day before the procession, we were able to see all of the life-size statues as the final preparations were made at the Church of the Purgatorio.

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As you can imagine, it was quite a spectacle to behold.

Best wishes and Happy Easter. Auguri e Buona Pasqua!

Judy

Seeing a Man’s Soul

23 Mar

No matter what saying speaks to you,

  • A picture is worth a thousand words
  • Dress for Success
  • Picture Perfect
  • A man’s work defines him

this picture seems to say it all.

Meet Signore Matranga. He has been the proud proprietor of this Monreale fruit and vegetable market for 51 years. We bought delicious fresh strawberries from him.

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But later I wondered, what was it about him that drew me in so?

According to Ted Grant, father of Canadian Photojournalism:

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Thank you, Mr. Grant, I’m quite sure that is what I saw when I met Signore Matranga and what I want to long remember about our brief encounter.

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

Click on the picture to enlarge.

Ciao,
Judy

Monreale Cathedral

20 Mar

Today is Palm Sunday, a Christian feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter and commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Worship services on Palm Sunday include a procession of the faithful carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowds scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.  The difficulty of procuring palms in some climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees, including olive, as they also carried here in Monreale at the great Cathedral.

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The Monreale Cathedral is one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture in the world, although, among other cathedrals, not hugely impressive on the outside.

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It was begun in 1174 by William II and in 1182, it was elevated to a metropolitan cathedral. The Cathedral is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.

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The Cathedral has two sets of Romanesque bronze doors, sculpted in 1185, of which there are only a handful remaining in Europe. They depict 42 reliefs of biblical scenes set within frames.

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The true highlight of the Monreale Cathedral, however, is its mosaiced interior.

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Dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, the golden mosaics almost completely cover the walls, aisles, transept and apse – amounting to over 68,000 square feet of coverage.

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Today’s Palm Sunday mass ran for nearly two hours, and began with a blessing of the palms and a large procession including girl and boy scouts and various religious dignitaries.

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Even though the service was long, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing familiar verses in Italian as well as recognizable responses. Most of all, however, I enjoyed the opportunity to gaze in awe at the mosaics and the stories they tell.

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In the apse, there is a magnificent portrait of Christ Pantocrator (“Ruler of All”) gesturing in a blessing. Saints and apostles, as well old testament stories, fill the rest of the apse.

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The aisles and transept depict scenes from the life of Christ, and cover practically all the surfaces of the cathedral’s walls above ground level.

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The original roof was severely damaged by fire in 1811. The current roof, made of wood, is a faithfully restored reproduction, carved and painted in great detail very similar to the original roof.

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All of the cathedral’s mosaic figures are set with a background of gold mosaic “tesserae” or tiles. There are 130 individual scenes depicting biblical and other religious events and many of the mosaics even include inscriptions in Latin or Greek.

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I have been fortunate to visit many churches, basilicas, cathedrals, etc., in Italy, but I must say, this one is simply astonishing.

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Ciao,
Judy

Palermo

19 Mar

A few nights ago, we boarded the overnight ferry from Napoli to Palermo. We had good expectations as Benita had done the same two years ago, and it did not disappoint. We enjoyed a lovely candlelit dinner in the dining room; our cabin was clean with comfortable beds; and with clear skies and calm waters, we actually slept very well.

We are staying in Monreale, just outside of Palermo, and yesterday took the local bus to see some of Palermo’s sights. It is not unlike Napoli, with huge buildings, monuments, etc, and an amazing and complex history.

Only in a city as ancient as Palermo could a structure known as the “New Gate” date from 1583. Porta Nuova is still the main entrance to the city center from the west.

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Once we walked through it, as you can see here, we immediately felt a sense of pedestrian calmness, unlike other parts of this city.

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There is a pyramid-shaped roof, supported by four Moorish statues which represent the Moors defeated by Charles V in his war on the Ottoman Empire.

Adjacent to Porta Nuova is Palazzo Reale or the Norman Palace, which is the oldest royal residence in Europe. Today it is the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly. It was built by Arab Emirs around the 10th century and became the seat of sovereigns in the Kingdom of Sicily.

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The Palace is surrounded by incredible gardens filled with walkways, flowers, palm trees and monuments. Is this really Palermo?

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Walking along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the imposing Palermo Cathedral comes into view.

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As an architectural complex, the Cathedral, which was begun in 1170, is characterized by the presence of different styles, including baroque and neoclassical, due to a long history of additions, alterations and restorations, the last of which occurred in the 18th century. The crypt houses tombs and sarcophagi of Roman, Byzantine and Norman ages.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Our walk led us to the Four Corners, or Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

It was laid out between 1608-1620 at the crossing of the two principal streets in Palermo, the Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The piazza is octagonal, four sides being the streets; the remaining four sides are buildings.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

At the time the piazza was built, it was one of the first major examples of town planning in Europe.

Just a few examples of sights to see in Palermo, each of which contribute to the art, history and culture of this capital of the Italian island of Sicily.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

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