Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mysterious Museum Graffiti

Museum courtyard. the  graffiti are located on the upper loggia 
During a recent visit to the newly reopened  Civic Museum in Viterbo a series of  graffiti  caught my attention:  they include  designs and phrases scratched into the plaster  by a prisoner, one Nicolo, son of Francesco Bartoli, from the  town of Barchi, near  Fano in  the Marche.   
Etruscan heads welcome visitors to the Museo Civico 

 When the outside wall enclosing the  cloister’s upper level  was removed and the roof level raised sometime in the past  200 years, these graffiti were re-discovered but the area was closed off to the public until the most recent update a few months ago. 

See the photos of my recent presentation at the Museum. 

Etruscan sarcophaghi and bucchero ware 
The convent and adjoining church S. Maria della Verità have undergone many changes over the centuries: they were damaged  during the bombings of  World War II, and only a  short time ago, the Museum was closed down for  several years when a section of the ancient walls collapsed on to the street. 

Finding  graffiti in old Italian prisons is common,  for  the incarcerated had nothing  to do to  pass the  time and used the walls of their cells as a  canvas or diary.  Visitors to  the Doge’s Palace in Venice and  Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome can visit  graffiti filled cells and even my small city of  Vetralla counts  scores of graffiti  in abandoned churches, historic sites and the building used as a prison, many of which have been  studied by local paleographer, Carlo Tedeschi.

Viterbo’s  Museo Civico  graffiti are particularly interesting for the astronomical scenes depicting the  planets:  the moon is in the center and  Mars, Mercury and Saturn in outer circles. There are  Biblical scenes of  David with  his sling,  sheep and holding Goliath’s head in a bag. There are other probable  religious scenes  too:  an Annunciation with  a bird (Holy Spirit)  hovering over the  Madonna.  

the Museum's explanation of the graffiti 

Davidd (sic)  holding head of Goliath ? 
While awaiting further research on the graffiti, we can only wonder what crime the  young  Nicolo committed to  be imprisoned in Viterbo and why he created this fanciful  world  full of strange characters  such as the  enthroned  figure in baggy bloomers  (King/Pope?) flanked by angels.

Your clues, transcriptions and suggestions are welcome. Please share with friends who  work in this sector. 
a smaller piece of plaster  contains further designs and text

part of text
Visit  the Museum's website  here.

More stories and  information about
  central Italy on  my website  
For books about the  area and its history.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Italy's Summer Festival Delimma

 Pisa San Ranieri festival  illumination draws  crowds  
 If you are planning a summer stay in one of Italy’s beautiful mid-size towns be sure to  check the dates of the local summer festival before booking your flight and accommodations.   Many historic Italian towns celebrate summer with  festivals that  draw large crowds such as  Pisa’s  Luminara di San Ranieri and Gioco del Ponte which have been celebrated  in mid June for hundreds of years.
the tower of Pisa  by night 

Other towns like  Montefiascone and Vignanello have  invented festivals or sagre  celebrating  local wine  and local food stars at the Cene in Cantina in my hometown, Vetralla. 

Along with providing entertainment,  these festivals produce  a great  amount of  confusion  annihilating the usual lifestyle of historic towns.   
The  younger crowd  looking for  lots of action may enjoy  the added buzz of  a  summer festival, but if  you prefer more traditional, slower paced living and genuine Italian lifestyle, organize your holiday  stay  before or after the festival or book a place distant  from the festival venue in order to enjoy the festivities and also get a good night’s sleep.

Italian towns cannot  compete with the night life of  Ibiza or Mykonos yet  Vetralla’s  Cene in Cantina festival boasted  4 nights of  rock music  blasted by  powerful speakers  and a strange, sweet "perfume" wafted through the air  from 11 p.m. until well after 2 a.m. 
In Viterbo  the pseudo-cultural Caffeina Festival’s  ten evenings of happenings boasted many food stands cooking up fried foods and selling  alcoholic drinks in medieval piazzas where local restaurants regularly  close down.
circus or cultural festival? 
contrasting  with the medieval architecture 
 As tourists walked  through Europe’s best preserved medieval quarter San Pellegrino, they wondered:  What do energy drinks  and mojito have to do with medieval Italy?

The lower prices and commercial (junk) food served  at the 10-day festival  creates a lot of competition with  permanent restaurants offering quality local fare.. and what about the health safeguards?  During a  street-side show  cooking, a chef was coughing directly  onto the  food  being prepared.  

This year the organizers of the Viterbo festival, perhaps sensing their future demise, decided to milk the city’s major volunteer and cultural associations.

Archeotuscia presents in Cortile dell'Abate 

on the far right, Caffeina staff take "donations" 

 Archeotuscia with its 500+ members was given time and space on the festival  calendar to publicize  their association, but in order to enter  the piazza where the presentation was being held  everyone, including members, was  asked to “donate”  3.50 euro to Caffeina’s organizers. 

A mammoth book stall set up in the  main piazza seemed to be a sign of culture: but after scouring the tables loaded with books  and interviewing a volunteer (one of  250 who receive only a free meal and T shirt) I realized there was a complete  absence of books, authors and publications from and about  the Viterbo/Tuscia area 

book tent at Caffeina
There are a smattering of local authors presenting their latest books during the quiet dinner hours, and hopefully the audience will not mind paying a ticket to attend.
 It was a surprise  to see  an entire stand dedicated to Gabriele D’Annunzio’s  Vittoriale located on Lake Garda in northern Italy. This was done to  thank  a commercial writer  whose books have been presented numerous times at the Festival. 

The city's older residents,  families  and sleep deprived working people become prisoners of these summer festivals for they have little access to their neighborhoods and can be seen schlepping  their groceries from distant parking areas.

Local tourism operators, restaurants,  B&Bs and  artisans who keep the  historic center (especially San Pellegrino ) alive all through the year are not happy with the filth, broken bottles, hooligans and extra garbage produced.
San Pellegrino,  8:30 a.m. 

 Inhabitants and administrators are beginning to realize that concentrating large doses of festival/culture/action may not be worth the problems created.  This year the discussions concerning  these noisy  summer festivals  have been rife  and  the idea of  sustainable tourism is now  being considered.

historic fountain and portapotty
A set of guidelines and  rules of behavior are needed to protect the  rights of citizens living in the areas where the festivals are held.  Safeguarding  fragile medieval and Renaissance buildings, fountains and  piazzas  is another priority.
historic fountains masqueraded as plant holders

massive speakers for a tiny piazza 
 The architectural  monuments that make our towns and cities so special should not be masked by garish  carnival rides and  plastic flowers.  

A summer festival that involves high decibel  music should  have a proper  container: a stadium, a large outdoor space or  theatre  not  a tiny, flower filled piazza which serves as an outdoor living room to its inhabitants.
 Read  more about this on my previous blog  article.  
Your comments and shares are appreciated. What are summer festivals like in your area? 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Il Vicinato: my Italian Neighborhood

The  term "vicinato" indicates not only the physical collection of buildings, piazze and streets that make up a neighborhood, but also the values, the people, the identity and  the human fabric of friendship and solidarity.
Spartaco,Marcella and Dolly

Il  vicinato still exists in small towns throughout Italy; an example  to follow to rediscover the joy of  being together  and live with a quality of daily life which contrasts the individualism and egoism so common in the big city.   
view of the piazza del Sole with 1851 wash house

Il vicinato of Vicolo del Sole,  one of the  neighborhood communities in Vetralla,  includes  inhabitants  born and brought up there plus other acquired members who have arrived from far away: Finland, Holland,Tunisia and USA. 
Together they take care of the little medieval   piazza that is their outdoor living room and share the joys and problems of everyday life.
Marcella takes care of the roses 
The  cobblestones are swept daily and  countless vases and flowers are watered  by Marcella and husband Spartaco, while mascot Dolly runs after lizards and  announces any newcomers to the piazza. 
Enzo and Tunisian-born Naila are consulted about flowers and plants while 85 year old Angelino and Maria  pass the late afternoon on one of the benches  chatting about the old days and traditions, narrating stories of when they were young and worked the fields.

Il vicinato of Piazza S. Egidio waiting for the procession to pass
The need to communicate, socialize and exchange memories is  the main characteristics of the vicinato-here everyone is always ready to offer help and solidarity when a problem arises.
What is your vicinato like?

(based on  an article in Italian by Fulvio Ferri) 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Europe's Best (and Worst) Cruise Ports

Essential  information 
When planning  a European cruise most first timers  book several excursions offered by the cruise line to be assured they will see all those wonderful places on the itinerary and not have to  worry about being left behind.

 Regular cruisers often  organize a group with a local guide or  driver and some  prefer to just  walk off the ship and explore independently.
Independent excursions offer advantages but take lots of pre-cruise planning, time, and computer know-how.  The first advantage is  substantial savings: instead of $70-100  for a 4 hour group  excursion, the same sights can be explored for a few euro on your own using  public transport with  a good map and guidebook. Knowing the language of the port helps too. 

sail away  from Istanbul  aboard Azamara Quest 
 The independent travelers leave and return from the excursion when they want,  without rising early nor being herded  in a group trailing behind a guide.

Over the years spent as an enrichment speaker on cruise ships and especially after my  latest-and longest- cruise with a ship full  of Australians  visiting 19 ports in the  Mediterranean, Ionic, Aegean and Adriatic seas, I have noted  improvements, novelties and  discovered many new places. 

 Here is an eyewitness, up to date and  personal view of  Europe’s  best and worst ports for the independent cruiser.    

Istanbul , Turkey–Ships dock right in the heart of the city,  allowing  you to independently walk out of the port area and take advantage of the city’s  excellent  public transport system. You will need Turkish lire coins to utilize the metro  and for  museum entrance fees. Check the Time Out Istanbul magazine for happenings and Eyewitness Guidebook to Istanbul for itineraries. Taxi from airport to cruise dock costs about 25 euro.

see how people live in Piraeus
Piraeus-Athens, Greece –Ships dock at the huge Cruise Terminal in Piraeus where stray dogs wander and the  wi fi connection can often be used by those aboard the ships. Thankfully  the infamous taxi drivers have  now been organized and are no longer aggressive and rude.  Several  hop on/ hop off buses and  a mini train (5 euro)  are parked just outside the terminal. The little train gives a good view of the  city of Piraeus chugging through the residential areas,  the Marina Mikrolimano and back to the cruise terminal.
walking along the seaside of Kushadasi 

Epheseus, the Odeon theatre 
Kushadasi (Epheseus) Turkey-Ships dock  in the center of town making it easy to walk off and explore the lively Bazaar, catch a mini bus to the nearby beaches or share a taxi  (60 euro)  for the short drive to the magnificent  archeological site of Epheseus.  Take a leisurely walk  along the beach front to the new Hilton Double Tree hotel  and visit the new  arts and crafts center built in an historic tannery.
Arts Center at the old Tannery 

Corfu, Greece- The Cruise  Terminal is located a few kilometers from the center of Old Corfu town and taxis  (a fleet of shiny new black Mercedes) now charge a flat rate of 10 euro for the drive in/out of town. From the Esplanade park local  buses  bring to further parts of the island. Catch the  bus to  Mon Repos  or Achilleon palaces for a visit to these  lovely  historic house museums.

Mon Repos villa and park, Corfu, Kanoni 

Kotor, Montenegro –Only smaller ships arrive to this fascinating city at the end of a long fiord and they dock right in the center of the walled medieval city which can be  explored on foot in a morning. There is now a hop on/ hop off bus(full day 20 euro) with an excellent audio presentation that takes visitors along the fiord to the town of Perast and to see Roman mosaics then a walking tour of the town. One of the favorite past times for crew members and others suffering from cabin fever is the hike up  to the Fortress high above the city.
islands  near Perast and Kotor 

Civitavecchia-Even though this is my home port and I live nearby I am ashamed to say that it has become  probably  the worst  port for cruisers who do not have an excursion booked ahead of time with their cruise line or a private driver and/or guide.  If you want the name of a highly recommended local multi-lingual guide, feel free to contact me.  

Civitavecchia,checking out  the market 
Cruise passengers and crew are no longer able to walk out of the port  at Michelangelo’s Fortress and make the 10 minute walk to  catch a train to Rome.  Now a port mobility bus “captures” cruisers  and transports them  to an enclosed  area several kilometers to the  north. Here without any signage or audio instructions, confusion reigns and eventually  cruisers discover they have two choices: either walk the long way back, or take a city bus (.80  euro) through the center of Civitavecchia and then finally, arrive to the railway station. 
How long does it take to arrive to Rome's  Capitoline Museum?
I asked Alexandra who runs a tour company in Civitavecchia to explain more about the changes happening at the port, which is the gateway to Rome and central Italy, here is what  she told me:
"Before May 2014 all passengers were required to take a free shuttle from their ship to the south Port Exit (Michelangelo's Fortress). From there it was an easy 4 blocks walk to the train station or 1-2 blocks to the downtown and market area.

Now you need to allocate approximately 1 hour to go from the ship's pier to the train station (a little less to the market area).
Cruisers still must take the free shuttle bus from the ship pier to the North port exit .
Once there you can either walk to the train station (20-30 min) or take public transportation (frequency is approximately 20 min + 15 minutes transfer time). 
City buses may not have enough capacity to move the large number of people arriving at once. 
Don't forget that the same time needs to be allocated coming back from Rome if traveling by train."

For those who planned on seeing Rome in a day, approximately an hour of precious time (and a huge amount of energy!) is now wasted. Alternatives are to stay in Civitavecchia and check out the market, explore the old center,  go to one of the nearby beaches or catch the local COTRAL bus to Tarquinia to see the UNESCO  Etruscan sites (30 minutes) and then take a taxi back.
  For other articles about the many  interesting sites all around the Civitavecchia area, browse the archives here on 50yearsinItaly (use the Search button at the top of the page)  and  study my website  Elegantetruria, the only one about the area in English.
You will find the article "Exploring around Civitavecchia" of interest to see what arrival at Civitavecchia port was like in 2011. Now it seems that the Port Authority is sending away arriving cruisers instead of helping them! 
acqueduct on the way to Tarquinia
 To order books about this area visit  my award-winning website  

Ashdod, Jerusalem- Most cruisers opt for a 10 hour excursion to Jerusalem, but if you are not up to that you can stay in Ashdod.

 The Terminal is  set amidst a  gigantic industrial port and a  bus shuttle takes cruisers out and to the center of a  barren, modern and not very pleasant city that counts  the shopping mall and bus depot as  its  main attractions. An ultra modern arts and theatre complex with Louvre-style glass pyramid  beckons but the only part open to the public during the day is  a small museum with an entrance fee of  15 euro- but they accept only local currency. After 2 hours wandering under an oppressive sun most cruisers take the bus back to the port, check out the Duty free and then go aboard. 

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Scary Statues and Mysterious Figures

pathway from Vitorchiano

Tuscia (or Etruria) located one hour north of Rome and a half hour from Civitavecchia port makes a perfect escape from the  tourist crowds. We residents enjoy a laid back lifestyle, excellent food and wine as well as peace, calm and the many off beat places such as the well known Sacro Bosco or Monster Park of Bomarzo.

Nearby are several other sites with strange stone sculptures, fountains and  the remains of elegant gardens-often hidden away in the underbrush or valleys. 

Photos by F. Micheletti 

stone heads Vitorchiano 

rock hewn cave in the Vitorchiano valley
Just beneath the town of Vitorchiano a steep trail zig-zags down into a verdant valley.

Trekking with CAI excursion to see the sculptures near Vitorchiano                 Thanks to F. Micheletti for photos 

 Here trekkers literally trip over the  mysterious monumental sculptures created in 1990 by a team of stone carvers who were invited to Vitorchiano from Easter Island, far away in the Pacific Ocean. 
Easter Island  head in Vitorchiano

Other weird and wonderful stone figures date back to the Renaissance and 16th century and were created by native sculptors (or captive Turkish ones??)  to awe visitors of local nobility, such as these in a wild setting just outside the town of Viterbo. 
moss covered fountain with   human heads spouts 

female figure, near Viterbo

Papacqua fountain figure, Soriano

In plain sight in the town of Soriano nel Cimino is the Papacqua fountain next to Palazzo Chigi-Albani and its many intriguing  stone figures which art critics have been trying to interpret for centuries.
Papacqua fountain in Soriano nel Cimino 

These scary statues are just a few of the many fascinating, little known aspects of the Tuscia area  that await visitors, especially  artists, anthropologists and those who enjoy the unusual. 

For more about these and other  mysterious sites of central Italy, between Tuscany and Umbria, check out my website, use the search bar of the blog and read my latest two books on the area.

Don't forget to share with your friends using the Twitter and Facebook icons here below.  Have you visited any of these sites ? Do you know of others in central Italy ?