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A Million and One Treasures to See in Italy…

May 17, 2018

 Visitors to Italy cannot fail to be impressed by the history and art all around them. The experience is sometimes so overwhelming that it can be tempting to simply shut one’s eyes and focus on consuming a gelato. There is a place for that of course but visiting magnificent historical sites and viewing outstanding art works can be a profoundly enriching experience. Connectitalia is running two exclusive small group tours to Italy in September and October this year. These tours are certain to appeal to lovers of history and fine art. The September tour called “The Land of Swords and Kings,” weaves its way south from Roma, touches the Amalfi Coast, traverses the ancient lands of Campania and Basilicata and ends in Puglia on the Adriatic Coast. On the way we visit many lesser known but very impressive historical sites as well as some of the better-known treasures of southern Italy. An early highlight of the tour is visiting the World Heritage site of Paestum, with its well preserved Greek temples dating from 600 to 450BC. The city walls and amphitheatre are largely intact, and the bottom of the walls of many other structures remain, as well as paved roads. The local museum houses many important relics from the Magna Grecia including a 5th Century BC fresco ‘Tomba del Tuffatore’ discovered in 1968, which is thought to represent the passage from life to death with its depiction of a diver in mid-air. Moving inland, the tour will find itself in Padula, home of another World heritage site, the impressive Certosa. This is the largest monastery in Italy with 320 rooms and halls and the biggest cloister in the world. The monastery was founded in 1306 and dedicated to San Lorenzo. The largely Baroque structure is thought to represent the griddle-iron upon which the saint was burnt alive. The chapels are aglow with inlaid marble and the finest scagliola work. Not far from the grand Certosa is a museum with great historical significance for our tour escort, Beniamino Petrosino. Padula was the birthplace of Beniamino’s famous relative, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Petrosino, who fought against organised crime in New York in the late 19th Century. Here visitors are shown around by another Petrosino relative, whose pride in his forebear matches Beniamino’s. But this is another story (see https://goo.gl/LnnzCe ). We then move from Campania into Basilicata, the ancient land of castles and monasteries. We will visit the ancient Roman city of Grumentum, where Hannibal made his headquarters in 207BC. The site was chosen for its strategic position and was subject to many attacks though the centuries, finally falling to the Saracens in the Middle Ages. The origins of local foods and wines will not be overlooked on this odyssey through the land of swords and kings. The very best small goods and cheeses will be sourced and sampled daily and visits to traditional food markets and local producers are always a feature of Connectitalia tours. Readers will remember reading about Aliano in the April edition and reference to the ancient nearby town of Matera. I Sassi di Matera is a truly magical place to visit. It is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited towns, dating back 7000 years to the Paleolithic Age. For some years now, the town has been a muchheralded World Heritage site and it has recently been designated the European Capital of Culture 2019 by the European Commission. Visitors can admire 13th Century frescoes on the walls of caves which are situated beneath and on top of other caves forming an incredible vista. The final leg of the tour is in Puglia, home of the picturesque dry-stone huts with a conical roof called trulli. These delightful properties which were easily dismantled when the tax collectors were about to pay a visit appear to have first been constructed in the 16th Century. There is a cluster of these homes in the largest settlement, Alberobello. It’s so attractive, it could be a movie set. The oldest place visited will undoubtedly be the Grotte di Castellana. These caves, which are 90 million years old were discovered by cavers in the 1930’s and they have three special features: the Grave, a huge natural pantheon with a natural skylight, the White Cave, a shining alabaster cave and an astounding array of eccentric stalactites and stalcmites growing in multiple directions. At the end of the first tour in Bari, we will help our clients with their onward travel plans. Those who choose to join us on our second tour “Dopo la Vendemmia” will receive a discount on this tour. Our October tour “Dopo la Vendemmia” (‘After the Grape Harvest’) starts in Milano and finishes in Roma. We wind our way through the rolling hills of the Langhe in Piemonte and feast on the white diamond of Alba and the ruby reds of Barolo and Barbaresco. We will learn about the history of wine-making in this region and the age-old traditions of truffle, chestnut and peach production. A side trip to Torino will be a must. Most people have heard of the famous shroud of Turin and the National Car Museum there, but some may not know about the outstanding Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum). This is the second most important Egyptian museum in the world after the Cairo Museum. In 1824, Jean- Francois Champollion used the huge collection of papyri to test his breakthroughs in deciphering hieroglyphic writing. He famously wrote “The road to Memphis and Thebes passes through Turin.” This Museum is a treasure-house with more than 6000 priceless objects on display and another 26,000 in storage! We’ll travel down the Coast road to Genova and drop in for some refreshments with the rich and famous at Portofino before heading for Bologna. This ancient city is known as “la dotta” (the learned one), “la grassa” (the fat one because of its renown as the food capital of Italy) and “la rossa” (the red one – originally because of the red roofs but more recently because of its association with socialism and communism). Bologna is home to the oldest university in the world founded in 425AD and the Archiginnasio was once its main building. The building, which is right in the historical centre of Bologna, was built in the 16th Century. It houses the fabulous wooden Anatomical theatre, which was used for anatomy lectures and displays. The two most prominent physicians of ancient Greece and Rome, Hippocrates and Galen, are represented by imposing statues and busts of other doctors from ancient and modern times adorn the walls. Also in the Archiginnasio are two great halls, one now a beautiful reading room for the Library housed in the building and the other a congress room where the first performance of Rossini’s Stabat Mater was performed under Donizetti’s direction. Throughout the building are students’ coats of arms painted on the ceilings and walls – it is quite a spectacle. When we leave Bologna, we will visit Lucca, a magnificent walled city founded by the Etruscans and homeplace of Puccini and then make our way to the southern region of Tuscany where we will be surrounded by medieval spires and castles and prestigious wine estates. No-one should come to this area without visiting Siena. This famous medieval city is renowned for its colourful pageants and it is customary to see young men parading in historical costume and carrying their local district banners. The white and greenishblack marble striped Duomo in Siena is a fabulous 13th Century Gothic building filled with treasures created by Pisano, Donatello and Michelangelo and is just a few steps away from the famous Piazza del Campo, where the famous wild horse race is held every July and August. Not far from Siena is the muchphotographed walled hill-town of San Gimignano with its 14 towers. There were 72 towers at one time as building a tower higher than one’s neighbours was a popular way for prominent families to demonstrate their wealth and power. Visitors can climb the 54 metre high Torre Grossa to enjoy spectacular views of the medieval town and surrounding countryside. Film buffs will recognise San Gimignano from Zefferelli’s film “Tea with Mussolini” as they enjoy a gelato from a famous vendor in the main square. The enoteche lining the medieval streets of Montalcino offer one of the world’s great wines, Brunello. In 1980, Brunello di Montalcino was awarded the first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantia (DOCG) designation and today it is one of Italy’s best-known and most expensive wines. Close to Montalcino, in a peaceful valley near a tributary of the river Orcia, is a former Benedictine monastery, the Romanesque Abbey of Sant’Antimo which was constructed in the 12th Century. At that time, the abbey owned over 38 churches and 1000 farm estates and even the castle of Montalcino, which was the residence of the abbot. It lost its power and significance over the centuries but it remains an inspiring place to visit. Hearing Gregorian chants sung by monks in this chapel with the sun streaming through the windows is an unforgettable experience. This tour ends in Roma, where there are probably a million or more treasures to see in this city alone. It was first called the Eternal City by the Roman poet Tibullus in the 1st Century BC and its history spans 28 centuries. It is regarded as one of the most important tourist destinations of the world for its history and its outstanding archaeological and artistic treasures and is without doubt a place that could take a lifetime to explore.

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