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Re-entry!

11 Apr

We returned to Cortona over two weeks ago, and we’ve been busy.  While sometimes it seems as though we have the town to ourselves, 

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the weekends remind us that Cortona is a “happening” place.

Occasionally, however, there are “happenings” we’d rather avoid.

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We managed to get “fined” on a 10 minute bus ride from Camucia to Cortona. Longer story shortened, our to-and-from rides were all on one ticket, which we validated each way. However, we didn’t realize, or frankly just forgot, that we had to validate the single ticket twice each way, and consequently, we were fined by the very occasional inspectors who boarded our bus one stop from Piazza Garibaldi, our final destination. Yes, we paid for both of us, and yes, we thought we had correctly validated the ticket, but none of that mattered. Word to the wise: validate, validate, validate, or pay 60 euros!!!

But as always, our days and nights are filled with great friends and great food, some  shown here.

During our second week, we spent several days in Lucca. Although it rained each day, we were able to walk the wall, do some sight seeing, visit with a friend, and find some great restaurants.

On the way back, we stopped in Firenze as we had been invited to visit the Carabinieri Training School. Len just couldn’t resist.

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A few days ago, we drove with friends to a medieval town in Umbria called Narni. There are hundreds of towns like this in Italy, each with its own history and legends, and usually an interesting fact for which they are known. For Narni, it is being very close to the geographic center of Italy.

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On Monday of this week, we picked up our car, this time a Fiat Panda.

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The weather has not been great, but mostly I feel like her… I’m here and I’m happy!

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And today, before the rains fell, we drove through the Tuscan countryside, as if driving through a painting, and witnessed, once again, the stunning landscape and the ever-spectacular views that always bring a smile to my face. 

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Ciao,
Judy

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

 

S. Margherita Festival Cortona

21 May

This weekend, the people of Cortona celebrated the feast of S. Margherita, Cortona’s patron saint, and kicked off the two weeks of the Medieval Giostra dell’Archidado.

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Events began Friday night with the Colata dei ceri, or the casting of the candles, a religious practice that dates back to 1325. At the time, wax was collected and used by churches for candle making and also sold as a source of income.

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Locals dressed in traditional costumes of the time and processed into Piazza Repubblica accompanied by drummers and flag bearers.

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S. Margherita was eventually led into the piazza

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and a few events from her life were reenacted.

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If you look closely in the pink part of the photo, you will see a headsman or executioner. After Margherita was willing to sacrifice her life in place a convicted criminal, her followers cried out, “She is a saint!” and the criminal’s life was spared.

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Saturday was the Offerta dei ceri or the offering of the candles. Large candles were carried into the piazza and blessed by the bishop.

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Each quartiere or neighborhood of Cortona was represented in a procession that portrayed nobility, religious and workers of the time.

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Following the blessings, the flag bearers delighted the crowds with their skills.

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Then the candles were taken to the Basilica of Santa Margherita.

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On Sunday morning, several masses were held at the Basilica. We walked up Via Santa Croce…

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where beautiful mosaics of the stations of the cross are built into the wall.

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S. Margherita died in 1297 in a room behind the old church where she had lived the last years of her life. Over the years, the beautiful Basilica of Santa Margherita was rebuilt in her honor.

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Her body is preserved in a silver casket on the altar. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 16 May 1728.

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On my way out of the Basilica, I turned once again to admire its beauty, said one more quick prayer, and as I headed toward the door, a gust of wind blew it open. Really.

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Such a wonderful weekend and such an interesting way to understand and celebrate this important part of Cortona’s history.

Ciao,
Judy

Medieval Jousters on Horses in Cortona

22 Oct

For days, we had heard that the horses were coming, yet no one I spoke with knew why. Today, as with many days in Cortona, we were surprised and delighted with a colorful Medieval spectacle.

As overheard in the piazza, the nearby city of Arezzo has been highly victorious in jousting competitions this year. They came to Cortona today, dressed in their finest and with their victors high on horseback, to give thanks to their patron saint, Margherita. One of the participants told me this was a festival of adoration to their patron saint in appreciation for their success this year.

From our house, I heard the drummers and arrived just in time to see them enter the piazza from Via Roma.

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A few minutes later, the horses and jousters appeared in full matching Medieval regalia.

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Once the horses took their places,

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the flag wavers entered and all watched as they performed.

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In Italy, flag waving and throwing is a skill learned by the young and perfected over many years. It is an important part of many of the Medieval festivals and ceremonies, and one that requires years of practice.

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When the performance was finished, they joined the dignitaries on the grand steps of the Municipio for the speeches of gratitude.

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Following the ceremony in the piazza, the parade moved down Via Nazionale, the main and only flat street of Cortona.

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Their ultimate destination was the beautiful Santa Margherita Church at the top of Cortona –

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where the saint lies in glass at the foot of the altar.

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In towns and cities all over Italy, ancient customs live on in the hearts, minds and practices of the people who received them from their ancestors and pass them on to future generations. It’s easy to get caught up in the pageantry and imagine days gone by. No matter how often I see one of these, it’s always quite a spectacle to behold.

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Ciao,
Judy

Note: Click on any picture to enlarge.

 

 

September Days in Cortona

18 Sep

Autunno, or autumn, is my favorite time of year in Cortona. The days are shorter, the winds are cooler, and the tide of tourism transforms.  It is a calmer time of year that lends itself well to contemplating all that meets the senses.

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And endless antiquities:

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Autumn – The third season of the year, when crops and fruits are gathered and leaves begin to fall.

A good time to take time to ponder.

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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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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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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

Spoleto and Don Matteo

7 Oct

On Tuesday, we headed to the walled medieval hill town of Spoleto in southern Umbria. We had decided to visit because of its ancient history and also because an Italian show we watch, Don Matteo, is being filmed there. The episodes, in Italian with English subtitles, help us learn Italian and are even more fun to watch when we are familiar with the shooting locations. The first eight seasons were shot in Gubbio, which we visited last year.

Spoleto’s first Roman settlements date to around 240 BC, and most of the historical sites are in the upper part of the town. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and we were able to walk miles through the town and enjoy some pretty spectacular views.

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The upper part of the town is called the Centro Storico, or Old Town. Here you find the Piazza del Duomo, a sprawling piazza at the base of a beautiful stairway.

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The original Duomo was built in the 12th century with a Romanesque facade, however, it was remodeled during the Renaissance and now has beautiful pink stone and colorful  mosaics.

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The inside is equally impressive.

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Sitting majestically above the town is the medieval Rocca Albornoziana fortress, built in the 14th century on the foundation of the Roman acropolis. Once a seat for local governors, in 1800 it was turned into a jail and used as such until the 20th century.  Today it houses a museum and also hosts summer performances.

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From this vantage point, there is an incredible view of the 750 foot Bridge of Towers, or Ponte delle Torri, a 13th century aqueduct that crosses a deep gorge,

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as well as this panoramic view of the valley below.

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There are elevators and escalators that reach the various levels of town. Although we enjoyed the walk up, we were also happy to have SIX long escalators return us to the lower part of town.

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Before dinner, we walked another area of the town and saw the ancient Teatro Romano.

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As we strolled, the setting sun was splashing the sky with its color palette.

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The scene so perfect, we felt as if we were on a movie set.

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It was definitely time for appertivo…

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with the most spectacular view…(photo is untouched)!

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Even the doves were happy.

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And now for our surprise encounter. I mentioned that Don Matteo is being filmed in Spoleto, and we found this billboard.

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While walking up the stairs to the Duomo, we both sighted a familiar person dressed in his usual black attire and baseball cap. It was, to our amazement,  Terrence Hill, or as we know him, Don Matteo. Really! A pretty incredible coincidence since he was one of the reasons we had come to Spoleto.

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Thanks, Don Matteo, for spending a few minutes with us and making our visit to Spoleto one we will always remember! Spoleto – a check off our bucket list with an unexpected and very happy memory!

Ciao,

Judy

 

La Compagnia Arcieri della Civetta

5 Oct

The Archidado Joust, which occurs the second Sunday of June in Cortona, traces its origins back to the Middle Ages. It was created in 1397 to celebrate the wedding the Lord of Cortona to a noble woman from Siena. For several weeks in June, town’s people are dressed in medieval style and banners are hung representing the various quarters of the town. Competition is fierce for the crossbow event.

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But how does one learn to use a crossbow? Like other sports, it requires years and years of practice and training, often passed down from parent to child. To assist in this learning, The Compagnia Arcieri della Civetta (Bowmen of Owl Association) was established in July 2010.

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Its purpose is “to practice and spread archery by using historical bows and learning everything about this discipline, from knowing different timbers, knowing how to use hand crafted bows made by skilled archers, how to make arrows, and how to shoot them both towards fixed or moving targets.”

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The Association participates in tournaments in many towns all over Italy, and for the second year, in Cortona.

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Although the weather didn’t participate, the costumed participants put on quite a show.

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The Bowmen move in assigned groups and have specific times to attempt each target. Creative and challenging objects are placed around the town, some with moving targets such as below. Here, a string is pulled and the large black disc swings as a pendulum.

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Others are stationary, but no less difficult, as in needing to shoot though two openings to hit the target from quite a distance away.

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Some targets are placed at the end of tiny viccoli or streets; here a father is shielding his young bowmen from the rain…

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as others cheered them on.

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Participants carefully checked their status and timing at each station.

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After shooting, bowmen would examine their results and retrieve their arrows.

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as some of the junior members just tried to stay dry and warm.

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Later in the afternoon, the participants gathered and the winners were announced. A new event in an ancient city, reminding us of medieval times gone by.

Ciao,

Judy

Piazza Life

15 Sep

Recently, I read an article in a Chicago paper about a local community that created a new and different type of outdoor space. It’s a place where restaurants, shops, pedestrians and vehicles commingle. While this may be new to an Illinois community, it is a way of life in much of Europe, something that I have long referred to as Piazza Life.

What is it about Italian Piazza Life that is so appealing? Just about everything.

Each piazza has its own borders, if you will, created by beautiful ancient buildings that have been repurposed. An old prison is now a museum, a villa now a bank, and a stable now an enoteca.

The center of the piazza may have a fountain or statue, or be empty and provide a stage for any number of diverse events. Nowhere is this better seen than in Cortona, where Piazza Life is a way of life.

While there are several piazzas in Cortona, the two main ones are Piazza Republicca and Piazza Signorelli. They are physically adjacent to one another, yet each has its own identity and events.

You know you are in Piazza Republicca when you are facing the grand staircase of the Municipio or Municipal building.

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While it is used for several city functions, it also provides a beautiful setting for many weddings where everyone in the piazza seems to join in the celebration.

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In this piazza, you can sit in or outside of a number of cafes; shop at a grocery store, fruit market, wine store, or florist; and buy  shoes, handbags, linens, and even a borselino, all actually made in Italy.

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People gather, some doing their morning shopping, others stopping for a chat with friends.

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Cars and cyclists navigate through pedestrians of all ages, and pop up performers are a common site.

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Celebrations commemorating historical events are held here.

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And while the piazzas are significantly quieter in the winter, they still draw people together for such delights as the incredible Christmastime lamp lighting celebration.

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Piazza Signorelli, the adjacent Piazza, is also breathtaking in its beauty, whether bathed in sunshine

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or glowing in the moonlight.

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Piazza Life provides a daily local gathering venue, be it day or night, for spontaneous and scheduled events, including

kids playing soccer;

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local musicians;

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vintage car enthusiasts;

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food and antique vendors;

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annual traditions;

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marching bands;

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and avid sports fans.

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Whether you find yourself almost alone in an ancient Piazza, (and yes it is possible!)…

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or surrounded by friends you have not yet made,

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just be prepared to be amazed by the sights and sounds.

Piazza Life – wonderful! …and no reservation required.

Ciao,

Judy

 

Marinelli Bell Foundry – Agnone

11 Jul

Before returning to Cortona from the Pietrabbondante area, we made one last stop. Agnone is the capital of the highest part of Molise, and also home to the world-famous Pontificia Marinelli Bells Foundry. The foundry continues to produce hand-made bells the same way they were made in the Middle Ages and their bells can be found in churches and bell towers throughout the world.

We almost didn’t get to see the foundry as we couldn’t find it. Several people told us it was next to the market, but we thought we misunderstood as a foundry wouldn’t be in the middle of a town. After our 4th attempt, we had about given up when we came across two men on bicycles. After I asked about the foundry, one told us to follow him, he on his bike, we in our car. He pedaled hard and fast uphill, about one half mile, then stopped in front of the market. To our right was a tiny driveway, lined with trees. We hadn’t considered that the town had built up around the foundry! Finally, we arrived thanks to the kindness of that man on bicycle. And what a find it was!

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From their website:

Campane Marinelli foundry has a very long history; the first bell was made around the year one thousand and since then their work has been a long sequence of successes and honors. One of the most significant honors that the foundry can boast is the possibility to use the Papal Arm Coat in their production; it was Pope Pio XI in 1924 to grant that privilege to the foundry.

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blogginginitaly.com

The tour guide was great, explaining how bells are made in both Italian and English, and patiently answering our questions.

The tour began with a movie showing the entire bell making process. Then we were treated to a demonstration by a “master” playing scales and songs on a number of bells (hanging on the right below). We learned that each bell has only one note, a perfect pitch.

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

In the next room, we saw where the artists create each bell’s decorations.

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

Finally, we were taken to the museum where we learned more about the four major steps of bell making.

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

The museum contains “twins” of many famous bells. They are called twins, as opposed to duplicates, because no two bells are exactly the same as the molds are broken during the manufacturing process. Some very interesting twins include the bells commemorating the unification of Italy,

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

and the bells honoring the new pope saints, Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Saint John XXIII.

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

Each new Pope receives a bell in his honor, the latest being Papa Francesco.

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Another bell (campane) in the museum commemorates the incredible kindness of an American family after a terribly tragic event. Their young son Nicholas was killed while they vacationed in Calabria. The family chose to donate the boy’s organs to seven local Italian children. Some years later, the seven families had a bell made with Nicholas’ name and the name of the seven children who survived as a result of this family’s incredible courage and generous gift of life. The bell was shipped to Nicholas’ family in Bodega Bay California where a memorial dedication was held.

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

blogginginitaly.com

Touring the Marinelli Foundry and learning about the bells was an extremely interesting experience for us. I have always loved the sound of bells ringing, but had never thought about how the bells are made or where they come from. And now I know.

Here’s a brief clip from Marinelli Foundaria. Enjoy!

Ciao,

Judy

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