Roman Reuse

The church of the Rotunda (see below) in Catania began as a Roman bath complex in the 1st or 2nd century CE, but was converted to a church around the 6th century. Over the years it was updated, abandoned, fell into ruin, refurbished. Now it’s open to the public and takes its place as part of Catania’s considerable cultural and antique remains. It’s such a great city, and every time I come here they seem more and more ready for tourists. There’s great little hotels and Air BnBs and super little restaurants too.

Catania Conversion

In Catania, Sicily, there’s a wonderful ancient church that was built from the ruins of a 1st or 2nd century Roman bath complex (see above). It’s known as the Chiesa della Rotonda for its huge central domed area, which perhaps was the caldarium or hot room of the baths. This is a picture of the interior arches of the rotunda, which still have some medieval and baroque period frescoes adhering to the walls.

Catania’s Roman Theater

Catania’s Roman theater is not the most famous on an island full of famous theaters: Segesta, Taormina, Syracusa. But at Catania the tunnels of the cavea, as you can see here, are virtually intact, and not just one set but three of them. You don’t have that at any of the other Sicilian theater sites.  When you visit Catania’s theater, you get a bonus since the ancient Odeon is right beside it. They’ve also preserved an 18th century house which was built atop the ruins, and you can visit that as well.

Mountain Mother

I have a day off between Smithsonian trips and am enjoying Catania, Sicily, a town you may not have heard of but which has many great sights. From the balcony of the Ostello degli Elefanti I can look north and see the looming, and smoking, peak of Etna, always active, beyond one of Catania’s many Baroque domes, this one clearly referring to Brunelleschi’s famous dome over the Florence cathedral.

Brilliant Bellini

If you frequent this blog, you know that Giovanni Bellini is my favorite Venetian painter, but there’s another famous Bellini from Italy, and I don’t mean the drink: Vincenzo Bellini, the great composer, who was only 34 years old when he died, but he penned great operas like Norma (1831), first performed at La Scala Opera in Milan. He was from one of my favorite towns in Sicily, Catania, where he’s buried in the cathedral. I was in there today and took this picture of his tomb.

Row Your Boat

There was a small exhibit of traditional boats in Monterosso (see below) and I had time to kill so did a few black and white studies of these lovely little crafts.

This Oar That

The little wooden boats used by the fishermen of the Cinque Terre of the Ligurian Coast of Italy are simple and beautiful crafts. There was a little exhibit of some newly refurbished ones in Monterosso a few days ago, and I loved the designs and colours.

Port of Love

Porto Venere, or the ‘Port of Venus’, is located on the Ligurian Coast of Italy just south of the famous stretch of little villages called the Cinque Terre. You can take little ferries that deliver you to all these quaint habitations. The entrance to Porto Venere is particularly striking, with a narrow channel overseen by a castle and a wonderful church perched on a high rock so that sailors in the dangerous waters could pray towards it in times of need.

Manarola Marvel

One of the scenic towns of the Cinque Terre, or ‘Five Lands’ (Towns’) along the Ligurian coast of Italy is Manarola. Here’s a picture I took from the little ferry as we approached to pick up some new passengers, mostly hearty hikers who had been trekking on the steep and undulating trails between the famous little towns. The candy coloured houses are perched on the steep cliffs of a ravine, which is also a dangerous place to be. Mud slides are a constant threat to these scenic little communities. In 2011 the Cinque Terre town of Vernazza was almost destroyed by a mudslide. You can check out the video here.

New Angle Angelo

Always a challenge to come up with something new, or at least new to me. This past visit to Michelangelo’s David, a statue that never ceases to amaze, I tried to find a way to relate the statue to its architectural frame in the Academia Museum. This angle also gives a sense of its size: 17 feet. Ever a wonder.

Double Dolomiti I

The Dolomite Mountain Range (Dolomiti, in Italian), is one of the world’s most impressive and scenic ranges. They are so unique that they’re collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A month ago I was lucky enough to drive through them, from Bolzano in the west towards the Veneto in the east, passing near Belluno. Every turn brought new and magnificent vistas. Mostly I travel and work in sunny places, but to be honest it was nice to see some snow and have a bit of chill in the air for a change. The range gets its name from the French geologist de Dolomeiu who first evaluated the specific limestone that the mountains are made of. Hard to believe they were once the floors of ancient seas.

Double Dolomiti II

Here’s another, a snow-clad rocky peak, like the previous image, in the eastern half of the Dolomiti not far from Belluno. The Dolomiti were the proving ground for young Reinhold Messner, the greatest of all mountaineers, who grew up in South Tyrol or Süd Tirol, an area once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but which was ceded to Italy after the First World War (Italians call the area Trentino-Alto Adige). Many Süd Tirolers still feel more culturally attached to Austria ; they speak German and their ethnic identities lay with south German alpine cultures rather than Mediterranean Italic. Messner conquered all of the great peaks of the Dolomites before going on to conquer the world’s most challenging mountains. Among his many accomplishments, he was the first person to climb all 14 world peaks over 8000 meters (26,247 ft) and also summited Everest without oxygen tanks.

Terrific Toscana

This is a view from the castle of San Gimignano to the northeast, over the lovely Tuscan landscape of verdant, rolling hills. Such a classic view: undulating fields of grapevines and orchards of olive trees, giving out finally to the shadows of the Apennine Range in the distance.

Helping Hands

One of the attractions in Venice–as if it needs any more; indeed, it could use a few less–are the works of contemporary art produced for the Venice Biennale (which takes place every two years, not twice a year…I’m putting this part in for me because I can never tell). This is a picture taken from the spectacular terrace atop the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which is now an upscale mall with fancy shops. The building was originally the German traders’ inn and warehouse during the renaissance and its sides were once decorated with frescoes by, no less,  Giorgione and Titian. The fondaco had a huge cortile or open courtyard (now roofed over). The large ground-floor rooms were used for the storage of goods, while the upper stories were residential rooms, which numbered about 160. German merchants were required to stay there during their trading junkets so the Venetians, ever vigilant, could keep track of them. Its position on the Rialto also marked the importance of German trade relations. It was built in the first decade of the 16th century, replacing one that had burned down (that one built in the 13th century). For most of the 20th century the building served as the Central Post Office of Venice, but renovations by Rem Koolaus have now returned the building to a commercial function. Happily, the view from the terrace is free; you take the escalators up to the top floor then take some stairs and wait in the upper room to get to the terrace. This view is to the northwest, up the Grand Canal. Look closely and you can see the ‘Hands’, a work by the artist Lorenzo Quinn for this year’s Biennale. I think you can figure out the meaning of the work.

This and That

I guess everyone knows who these two fellows are: Plato on the left and Aristotle on the right. Plato carries his Timaeus (written 360 BCE) under his arm, and Aristotle cradles his Ethics (written c 349 BCE). This famous image of the duo appears in a fresco painting by Raphael, which has come to have been called ‘The School of Athens’, but it should more properly simply be called ‘Philosophy’, as this is what the whole painting is meant to embody. The frescoes decorate a series of rooms called the stanze in the Vatican in Rome. This room, decorated during the pontificate of Julius II, was meant to serve as the pontiff’s library, and the library books on philosophy were meant to be arranged below this painting; hence its subject matter.