Visiting historical sites in several places in Italy helped us get a real feel for the area.
by Meggysmum on September 17, 2010
Our cruise ship docked at Cagliari in Sardinia. Although Sardinia is well known for its beautiful beaches be decided that we would prefer a bit of history so we headed to the Nora Archaeological Park which is to the west of Cagliari, near Pula.An easy half hour journey took us past lakes playing host to flocks of beautiful pink flamingos on our right and the crystal clear sea on our left. There is a large car park at the Nora site so parking was easy. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the area on its striking peninsula. There is a good sized white sandy beach which was very popular with the locals in a sheltered bay fringed by tropical looking greenery. The sea looked so inviting we regretted not bringing our swimwear.Before you ascend to the Archaeological park there is a cafe and gift shop and public toilets. There are another couple of public toilets at the site itself but nowhere to buy refreshments so take some water with you as it is a very exposed site.The walk up to the ruins is quite steep and was certainly a little tiring on the exceptionally hot day that we visited. We had been told that conservative dress was required but this was not the case, the only restriction is that you cannot enter the site in swimwear.Nora is thought to have been the first town that was built on Sardinia. The site was probably home to the Carthaginians and then eventually became a Roman town. It is thought that it was probably totally abandoned by the 8th century. The peninsula location meant that there was a harbour on both sides which made it easy to access the sea whichever way the wind was blowing and this led to it becoming an important trade location.It is believed that a lot of the original settlement is actually now under the sea. However the site is quite large and there is a reasonable amount to see. It is hard at times to tell what has been reconstructed and what has been re-discovered and simply stabilised. The whole area is an open air museum.The wide Roman road and the main crossroads are easy to pick out. The baths are also quick distinctive and you can see where each of the various rooms stood and also the heating system. Several mosaics have been uncovered but they were originally reset in concrete, this has now been realised as a bad idea as this does not do well on exposure to weather so several of the mosaics are being lifted again and are being re-laid.The theatre is quite impressive as a lot of the seating area remains and it has been used for some productions and concerts. There are mosaic squares here and some are covered by tarpaulin but some are not and an attendant stays in the area to request that you do not stand on them whilst visiting the theatre.There is one section where there is the outline of a house and the pillars have been resurrected so you can really get a feel for the size and what the property would have felt like.The site has the most spectacular views all around, some of the roads now simply end at the sea but you can imagine what a glorious place it would have been to live and why the original settlers would have chosen the area for their settlement. The main square is shaded with trees and makes a nice place to rest and survey the different vistas.To the left of the site there is a watch tower mounted on a small hill and a walk up to that is hard work but rewards you with a magnificent view back across the bay and the Bala di Nora beach.I believe there is a museum in Pula which houses a lot of the artefacts that have been found at the Nora site such as glassware and ceramics but unfortunately we did not have time to visit.I would certainly recommend a trip here if you enjoy history and also if you simply enjoy breathtaking natural beauty.
by Meggysmum on September 14, 2010
As a child I remember marvelling pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and thinking that it couldn’t possibly stay upright and that it probably wasn’t even real. Thus I was delighted that my Mediterranean cruise was making a stop at Livorno which is the closest port to Pisa.Driving through the countryside of Tuscany was delightful and the town of Pisa was artfully reflected in a lake as we drove past. Coach parking is not allowed in close proximity to the Field of Miracles where the tower is located so we were parked a good twenty minute walk away in a huge coach park which obviously attracts a lot of hawkers selling handbags and tea towels.We walked past the outside walls of the Monumental Cemetery and then into the Compo dei Miracoli through some large gates. The Leaning tower of Pisa was then directly in front of us. No amount of photographs can prepare you for how amazing this structure looks, whenever you look at a photograph you get an impression in 2D but seeing the tower leaning precariously over the footpaths in all three dimensions is quite awe-inspiring. The structure, a bell tower, was begun in 1172 but after three storeys were built it was obviously already leaning due to poor design as well as unsubstantial soil structure. It was eventually completed in the 14th century but continued to move at the rate of about quarter of an inch a year. Not long ago it started to lean more drastically as the movement increased and it was closed to visitors for ten years whilst it was made more stable. You can visit it now but you have to buy a ticket at the building on the left side of the Field and they are timed many people pre-book. The 180ft marble tower is beautiful and to see it in all its splendour is worth a visit in itself but the rest of the Field of Miracles is also worth visiting.All of the buildings are open to the public but tickets have to be purchased at the afore-mentioned ticket office.Immediately behind the Tower is the Duomo (Cathedral). This beautifully ornate building was completed in 1063 using stones from anywhere the masons could find them. From the outside this is evident by the odd stone with a carved flower or face or even a stone that looks like it was part of a burial casket dotted around the walls. The inside is supported with magnificent columns and there are intricate gold mosaics both outside and inside the building. Queues do build up here rapidly and there is little shade so it is wise to visit early in the day.Opposite the entrance to the Duomo is the Baptistry with its unusual two coloured roof. This was a later building and wasn’t finished until 1284. Originally there was no roof and now there seem to be various stories about why one side of the roof is tiles in terracotta and the other is not.The Cemetery now houses a museum which is also open for an admission charge.All of these buildings are set amongst beautiful green lawns. Down one side of the street is a mass of souvenir shops selling everything you can think of in the shape of the Leaning Tower. However Pisa is a Tuscan town that has more to offer than just the Field of Miracles so it is worth walking out through the walls via one of the archways and discovering what else Pisa has to offer.
by Meggysmum on September 16, 2010
The Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) is an enormous Baroque fountain in the centre of Rome that shouldn’t be missed.You come upon the fountain through narrow streets which suddenly open out into a small square that is completely dominated by this 85 ft high, extravagant monument. The first fountain on the site was a conservative affair and was built in 1453. In 1629 the Pope asked Bernini to create something more impressive and Bernini started on designs that moved the location of the fountain slightly. The death of the Pope put an end to these plans however work began again in 1732 on Salvis design which is what stands in the square today. Unfortunately Salvi dies in 1751 so never saw his structure finished as it took 30 years to complete.The fountain was completely cleaned and refurbished about 15 years ago and is now stunningly beautiful to behold. The water tumbles rapidly from several outlets with intricately carved figures standing guard. The whole structure has a great feeling of symmetry and should be viewed from all angles to appreciate it better.The 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain popularised the myth that throwing a coin into the fountain will guarantee you a return to Rome. Coins should be thrown with the right hand over the left shoulder with your back to the fountain (so the legend goes!). The money extracted from the fountain by the authorities is used for local charitable causes but there are always people around who will try and take the money themselves as well.The area is thronging with tourists and gift stalls but it is still worth a visit as it is such an impressive structure in such a small space.
Visiting Rome, the Eternal City, is an amazing experience. Around every corner there is a sight to behold, ancient ruins sit side-by-side with more modern structures and the whole atmosphere is one of a bustling cosmopolitan city but the ancient backdrops make it unique.Probably the best way to explore Rome is by foot as there is so much to see and most of it is in a fairly compact area. We only had one day in which to explore this vibrant city so we knew there would be a lot of walking involved. We visited in the middle of August and the weather was extremely hot and I would suggest you go armed with several bottles of water. Everywhere we went people were selling parasols to protect tourists from the unrelenting sun as there seemed little shade when leaving the narrow streets.Rome was originally built on seven hills but these are actually quite hard to locate now as some have been flattened out and they have all been built over, we did not find it a particularly hilly city to walk around which we had worried about.Although it is assumed that Rome was founded about 750BC it was Octavius Augustus (27B.C.), Rome’s first Emperor who presided over the construction of some of Rome’s most famous buildings. In the 4th Century Rome gradually became Christian and by the 5th Century the glory days of Rome were over. It wasn’t until the 15th century that Rome once again became buoyant and after a further turbulent period of history it became the Capital city of Italy in 1871. There also followed 20 years under the Fascist regime of Mussolini and occupation by Germany but now Italy is a Republic.We started our tour at the enormous Trevi fountain and after throwing a coin in the water to guarantee ourselves another trip to Rome we set off in the direction of the Piazza Venezia. This required walking down some narrow streets which opened out occasionally into surprising squares, one of which was home to part of the Papal University. Gift shops in these streets were a little cheaper than those immediately surrounding the Trevi Fountain.Piazza Venezia is almost exactly in the centre of Rome. Mussolini gave his speeches from the balcony of his residence in the square. This square is absolutely dominated by the enormous structure that is the Monument to Victorio Emmanuel II, the first king of the united Italy. The structure is 443ft wide and 230ft high. It was started in 1911 and finished about 25 years later. The whole columned design is in gleaming white marble and it is easy to see why the locals call it "The wedding Cake". It is visible from many points in Rome but somehow it does not seem in keeping with the other architecture and although magnificent and impressive it also looks a little tacky and out of place.From here we took the Vai dei Fori Imperiali. This took us past the Roman Forum which was the centre of the business world of Ancient Rome and it would have been the communal heart of the city too. The entrance to the Forum is not on this rod and unfortunately we did not have time to visit and wander around the ruins but the viewing areas on the main road actually afford excellent views and you can easily see the road layouts. The high position also lets you see the building outlines and it is easy to make out the Temple of Vesta.Walking further along brought us within sight of probably one of the most famous buildings in the world; the Colosseum. Built in around 72A.D this is the largest one of its kind ever built. It could set 50000 spectators to watch the games and the gladiators in the arena. The outside had 80 arched entrances to allow easy access for so many people, it was also thought to have had some sort of fabric roof that would have protected the spectators from the sun. The Romans had a great bloodlust for the massacres that occurred here in the name of entertainment but the advent of Christianity in the city put an end much of the sport. Visits cost about 15 euro but we did not arrive until quite late and the queues were huge so we decided we would have to save an internal visit for another day. We walked around the outside and by peering into all the shut off arches we were still able to see the cross which marks where the Emperor sat will his power of life or death for the combatants. The area is absolutely teeming with hawkers and pick-pockets are rife too so be careful, a lot of police seem to be on duty. There are many men dressed as roman gladiators who will pose with you for a photograph for a fee.Next to the Colosseum is the Triumphal Arch of Constantine, built in 315A.D many of the stones were re-used from other sites.We then took a turn towards the river and walked along the banks of the River Tiber. In the distance we could see the fortress which is Castel Sant’Angelo (as mentioned in Angels and Demons), a museum housing historical relics. However the heat had got to us so we had to call it a day and grab a taxi to end the day.
Vatican City is a small sovereign state within Rome that contains the residence of the Pope. In the centre of Vatican City stands the amazing St Peters Basilica.St Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic Church in the world. It took over 120 years to build as was eventually consecrated in 1626. The statistics for this building are amazing and it is said that it can hold 60000 people for a mass. Entry is free but there are masses on Wednesday and Sunday when the area is very crowded.You approach St Peters across the enormous St Peter’s Piazza. The stunning columns dominate the front and the intricate dome looks like it is actually a little too small for such an impressive structure. Visitors to the Basilica have to have a bag search similar to an airport and are then subjected to a clothing check. Respectful attire must be worn at all times and entry will be refused (we saw several people turned away) if your shoulders are uncovered, your knees are not covered or your clothes are generally too revealing. Men must remove their hats. If you arrive and realise that you have shorts or a strappy top there are plenty of people wondering around just outside the Vatican City gates who sell colourful scarves which will allow you to cover up. The queue moves extremely quickly. Don’t be tempted to use your mobile phone inside or take your scarf off or you will be rapidly escorted outside.Nothing can prepare you for the sight that greets you as you enter the Basilica. I have seen hundreds of churches and cathedrals but this magnificence of the decoration and the pure scale of this one is breath-taking. The marble sculpture, the mosaic pictures, the excessive gilding and the gorgeous floor tiles are everywhere you turn. One of the best sculptures is that of Michelangelo’s Pita which is found in a niche on the right as you enter. The dominating feature as you walk down the central nave is the baldachin canopy over the papal alter that was designed by Bernini. This consists of four twisted brass columns supporting the flamboyant canopy and it stands over 26ft high. The tomb of St Peter is here and this is also the burial site for many of the Popes.The light flooding through the dome is a beautiful spectacle and because there are no paintings in here you are welcome to take photographs. It is very difficult to comprehend any idea of scale once you are inside, there is a frieze down the centre and the lettering is well over 6ft high but it doesn’t look anywhere near that big. Down the centre there is a list of the largest churches in the world and their distance and size in relation to St Peters.There is not a square inch of this Basilica that is not ornately decorated and a visit to its wonderfully cool interior is a welcome break from the heat and the hustle and bustle that is Rome. Whether you are religious or not this is definitely a place worth visiting.
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