Category Archives: Architecture & Real Estate

The Park of Monsters


I subscribe to  Atlas Obscura’s facebook page, and just today this video popped up on my feed. The timing was perfect as the book I just reviewed, Michelangelo’s Ghost, takes place here in this park located a little outside of Rome. I had never heard of this place, and now, within a few days of each other, I heard about it twice! It sounds like it might be a very interesting place to visit – what do you think?

The Floating Piers of Lago Iseo



The beautiful northern Italian Lago Iseo, located between Milan and Venice, has become the canvas for the latest work of art by Christo and his late wife, Jean-Claude (their other works include Wrapped Fountain and Wrapped Medieval Tower in Spoleto; Wrapped Monuments in Milan; and The Wall – Wrapped Roman Wall in Rome).


The Floating Piers was conceived in 1970 by the duo and finally brought to fruition. For 16 days this summer (from 6/18 to 7/3), visitors can walk on these piers which will create walkways into the lake and around the island of San Paolo.


The docks, or piers, are created with modular cubes of high-density polyethylene and covered in a shimmering yellow fabric.


The wind and the waves create a living art exhibit that offers a unique experience – no two people will experience the exact same thing! The piers undulate with the waves and the sensation will be like walking on water!


The exhibit is free to all, and open at all times (as long as the weather cooperates!).

As much as I can appreciate the engineering involved and the experience that this “living art” exhibit offers, I can’t help but feel it’s an eyesore to the beauty of this magnificent lake. I’m probably not very popular with this thought, but if I was visiting this lake as a tourist to see its beauty (and not the exhibit), I would be disappointed that I couldn’t see it untouched by the orange piers. Thankfully it’s just temporary and soon the natural beauty of this beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains, will be restored.


The photos are courtesy of Here & Now.




The Walled City of Cittadella


Not far from Padova is Cittadella – one of Italy’s best preserved medieval walls.


Washed out frescoes can still be seen decorating the gates into the citadel.


It’s duomo is majestic and the Old Town allows you to step back in time!


We found the town really deserted with the shops closed down and hardly anyone on the streets. A bit confused, we tried to figure it out. As it turns out, we were wandering the town around 1 pm (right during the main meal time of the day) and everyone was either home eating or at the restaurants. We were proven right when we decided to eat at Al Cappello on the main drag – upon entering, we saw all the people that were missing from the street inside! It was packed! I had the special Vitello Tonnato – it was good but a little rich for my tastes. Next time, I’ll know to order something simpler…


Lots to See in Padova – Even at Night!


Padova’s noble status becomes evident as you wander around the Old Town. Large plazas, huge churches, immense public buildings, and one of the oldest universities in Europe can all be found within steps of each other.


One of my favorite spots is Prato delle Valle where on Saturday you can find a huge mercato, but whose immenseness and grandeur need to be appreciated without any obstructions!


Walking up pedestrian only streets, passing gorgeous storefronts, you arrive at Piazza dei Signori with its ornate public buildings housing the City Hall.


At one end you find a huge clock which tells you not only the time but the date and the current moon phase (among, I’m sure, other useful information)!


Passing through an arch, you walk through the most impressive food court that has been there for hundreds of years, ending up in Piazza delle Erbe!

There is so much to see and do in close proximity to each other. Even though we saw most of these sights at night and in the rain, they were still captivating!

Will There Be Ghosts…Or Not?


Italy is in great need of funds and so they are looking for creative ways to raise that revenue.  Part of their plan includes allowing large corporations to sponsor the renovation and upkeep of Italy’s monuments, roads, etc. (like Tod’s contribution to the renovation of Rome’s great Colosseum).  Another aspect of this plan is to offer up properties for “sale” throughout Italy.  These “sales” are actually 99 year leases…not quite forever, but enough time to do something new with it.  These sales will not only raise revenue but help to promote the development of the regions as well.  One of these 5 Italian properties for “sale” is the tiny island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon.


Poveglia has a sinister past which has given it quite a reputation.   It began as a battleground over power between the Venetians and the Genoese back in the 14th century, and ended up as a hospital for the elderly during the 20th century.  During the 18th century, when the plague was discovered on two ships entering into Venice, it became that ominous place where Venetians stricken with the plague and other infectious diseases went to die.  When it was used as a hospital for the elderly from 1922 to 1968, it is rumored that experiments on the mentally ill were performed here.  One of the directors that performed these crude operations ended up throwing himself from the hospital’s tower because he claimed to have been driven mad by ghosts!  The reputation of being haunted has stuck with the island…it is currently uninhabited, with eerie reminders of days gone by.  There are rusted beds, crumbling walls, vines encroaching on building interiors – all the elements of a horror film.  Many brave souls that have ventured to spend some time there have reported ghostly presences.







Even though Italy wants to try to lease the island to make some money, local Venetians are forming a group to try to save the island for them!  They want to make it into a refuge from the overly touristic Venice where people can run away to enjoy a quiet picnic, stroll peaceful gardens, and learn to sail.   They obviously don’t believe the haunted claim as many of them said they used to spend weekends there as children.


The citizen group known as Friends of Poveglia has so far raised about 160,000 Euros to buy and restore the island for the locals.  Meanwhile a corporate investor has offered 513,000 to “lease” the island and build a mega-resort.  Who will win out?  Maybe the ghosts will decide it’s ultimate fate….




The New Roman Colosseum




A few years ago, I wrote a post on the search for someone to hand over 25 million Euros for the restoration of the famous Colosseum in Rome.  Luckily someone has come forward with the capital:  Diego della Valle, CEO of Tod’s, the luxury shoe manufacturer.


Della Valle is a native Italian with lots of pride for his homeland.  “I’m someone who has had enormous luck in life and when I could give back, I did,” says Della Valle. “This is a monument that not only belongs to Italy’s patrimony but the entire world.” The project began last December and will take about 5 years to complete.  So far, they have begun by removing the soot caused by dust and smog almost 2000 years old.  The travertine stone has been blasted with water at low pressure to reveal the true ochre and red colors of the original Roman stone.  So far, they have cleaned 14 of the 80 or so pillars.  Once this first phase is done, they will continue by reattaching broken fragments and fortifying them with mortar.  The iron bars that dot the surface will be repaired and the metal rails will be replaced with newly forged iron gates.  A tourist center and café will be built underground in front of the Colosseum’s entrance and lastly, in the Colosseum’s cellar, where roaring animals and sword-wielding gladiators were once detained, the brick walls will be restored.

The bidding for the project began in 2010 and the two final contenders were Tod’s and Ryanair!  It’s a good thing that Ryanair did not win the bid because it intended to wrap the monument in advertising banners!  Now that would have been a sight for sore eyes!


Surprisingly enough, this seemingly generous donation elicited a huge controversy headed by the Italian consumer protection organization, Codacons because they disagreed with Tod’s having use of the Colosseum for preapproved corporate events.  Seems to me that if someone is being generous enough to hand over 25 million Euros they should be allowed a little bit of appreciation – a few private corporate events doesn’t seem like much to ask for!  Much better than advertising banners everywhere! This stupid controversy delayed the project for over 2 years, with all those millions just sitting unused, until the courts dismissed the case due to a technicality.  Della Valle wasn’t phased by this, but he did state “…I do believe that something as simple as, ‘I want to give you money, let’s spend it’ shouldn’t be so difficult.  My idea was always to use this [donation] as a restart.  The country is having problems right now. But there is a lot of will and desire to do things. All that’s needed is to show people that things can happen and how to do it.  I see it as an obligation.  Italians who have had success and luck in life should give back to their country.”


This philosophy has elicited a positive response from several other notable Italian companies:  Fendi will be restoring the Trevi Fountain and Diesel will take on Venice’s Rialto Bridge.  Thankfully, there are these very generous patrons who value the rich historical significance of these extraordinary masterpieces and are willing to come to their rescue.




The Lantern: A Renaissance Mystery




While searching on Amazon for some historical fiction books, I came across this one by Joanne Lewis. Set in Italy during the Renaissance, it sparked my interest as these are always my favorites! I was about to write it down on my reading list to look for it at my public library when I noticed the Kindle version was only 99 cents! How could I go wrong by buying it? So, as convenient as is possible, I downloaded it to my ipad kindle app and began my virtual journey. I have to say, I was a bit dubious about it being good since it was so inexpensive but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a good read and kept me interested throughout!
The story goes between the past and the present and links the two stories together brilliantly. It begins with the story of a girl, Dolce Gaddi, who lived in Florence at the same time as the great architect, Filippo Brunelleschi. She studied his architecture, especially that of the great unsupported dome he built on top of Santa Maria del Fiore, the beautiful cathedral of Florence.


She learned architecture on her own and called herself an architect. Being female, though, her achievements were never acknowledged until a present day contest that strove to find the true designer of the lantern that sits on top of the dome. This is where Filippa enters, a present-day young woman who had led a rough young life, in and out of prison and drug use. All her life her Grandfather would tell her the story of the contest and both of them would study anything they could to find clues as to the existence of the young female architect whom they believed designed the lantern. Filippa travels to Florence to search for the evidence and her journey leads her on a path to find her true self.
Being a historical fiction novel, I wondered what part of this story was true, so I did a bit of my own research. Of course, everything said about Brunelleschi was pretty accurate, except for the part about him adopting a son, Andrea. I couldn’t find any evidence of this in any of my readings. And then, the fact that a girl had designed the lantern must have been fictional because there wasn’t any mention of that in any of the historical documents I read, either. Nonetheless, the description of life in Renaissance Florence was, I believe, a close approximation of how things really must have been. Ms. Lewis brings both old and new Florence to life with her vivid descriptions – you can actually feel yourself walking the streets of this very ancient town.
I can highly recommend the book and enjoyed it immensely. I did have a few moments of disconnect with the story where I felt I must have missed something along the way. But this didn’t really deter from the enjoyment of the book. I was actually sad to have it come to an end. I wanted to continue learning about the characters.

Il Domm de Milan (The Duomo of Milan)


Another of Milan’s treasures which we will be visiting on our upcoming Italy…Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour  will be it’s most massive Gothic cathedral, Il Duomo. I have visited this stunning architectural wonder several times, and once in the winter when it’s spires were covered in snow making it look like a decorated cake!


The Duomo is the center of Milan, with the streets radiating out from it’s piazza. Begun in 1386, it took over 6 centuries to complete! Most of it was completed during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte when he crowned himself King of Italy. It’s official finish date, though, wasn’t until 1965 when its last gate was inaugurated! Throughout all of it’s construction phases and many architects, it took on various architectural styles. Some Gothic purists complain that it “steals from every style in the world; and every style spoiled.” This may be true from an architectural standpoint, but to the lay person’s eye, it is magnificent. It’s many spires and statues are awe-inspiring and create a façade of intricacy that looks like lace. Henry James described it as “a structure not supremely interesting, not logical not…commandingly beautiful, but grandly curious and superbly rich…”
The Duomo is constructed of marble quarried from the shores of Lago Maggiore and brought to Milan via canals that were built especially for the purpose of covering the Duomo’s façade. Leonardo Da Vinci engineered these canals under the direction of Ludovico Sforza. They were called the Navigli, and most of them have been boarded over except for the Naviglio Grande which today houses restaurants and art galleries.


The inside of the Duomo has some very interesting elements, one of which is an astrological map. The zodiac signs are arranged in a long line on the floor of the Cathedral and span its width. There is a tiny hole on the ceiling which is open to the sky. When the sun is exactly overhead at noon, the shadow cast from the sun’s ray will fall on the current astrological sign. I was fascinated by its precision! It is like an ancient calendar!
Sitting on top of the Duomo, is a beautifully golden statue of “La Madonnina”.


She has become the symbol of Milan. During WWII, she was taken off the church and put into storage to keep her safe. To this day, no building can be higher than “La Madonnina”. Here is a very famous song which has become a sort of anthem for Milan.

Tiny and Picturesque Lago d’Orta


Another stop on our Italy…Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour, and not far from Lago Maggiore, tucked into the hills of Piemonte, lies the tiny jewel of a lake called Lago d’Orta.


It is peaceful and quiet with million dollar views. I visited this little known gem during the Christmas Holidays and it shimmered with the snow along the shores. The old town of Orta San Giulio, on a peninsula jutting out of the eastern shore of the lake, is one of the most beautifully preserved medieval towns in Italy. It is a pedestrian only area where you can walk along the narrow cobblestoned streets and look at all the quaint little shops, and eat in wonderful restaurants overlooking the lake.



The ancient buildings such as the sixteenth century “city hall”, the fourteenth century House of the Dwarves, and the Palazzo Gemelli from the Renaissance are among some of the architectural wonders of this old village. The Casa dei Nani (the House of the Dwarves) is the oldest building in Orta and it derived its name because of four small windows that are above the wooden architrave.



Looking out into the lake from Orta is the serene and tranqil Island of San Giulio. The most famous building on the island is the Basilica of Saint Giulio with its beautiful and carefully preserved bas-reliefs from the twelfth centure. Adjacent is the monumental old Seminary from the 1840’s that, since 1976 has been transformed into a Benedictine monastery. The island exudes an aura ofspirituality. A walk along the Path of Silence, traveled in the opposite direction, becomes the Way of Meditation, whose signs invite you to an inner journey which involves listening and study.


Renovating a “Rustico” in Italy


I’m pleased to bring you a guest post by Geom. Paolo Terazza from Terazza Immobiliare on restructuring a “rustico” in Italy.  This article has some great advice for those considering a project of this type!  I have translated the article from Italian with the original Italian version at the end of this post…

Renovating a rustico (a rustic, and often times, very old home) is a real estate transaction that often transcends entrepreneurship.  It is in fact a real passion and to some extent also a fashion.
For many people, this is the realization of a dream that was waiting in the drawer for many years.  It is the realization of the desire to live in a peaceful and bucolic setting, away from the hectic modern world, in a house which retains a country origin and reorganized and restructured to provide a comfortable space. I myself, in the past, have dabbled in this work/passion by gaining a lot of satisfaction from this activity and storing a wealth of knowledge to carry it out.  I promised myself to become an advisor for these types of interventions.
It’s good to keep in mind that renovating is generally quite complex and costly, and should be evaluated in advance with a lot of thought to prevent enthusiasm for the dream from underestimating the financial commitment necessary.
It’s important, in order not to spend money without being able to resell the property in the future, to consider several factors:

The size: the size must be one to develop into a medium to large house; avoid falling in love with a very small rustico that would prove to be cumbersome and difficult to redo.  But also avoid even those too large, useful only to those who intend to carry out a the hotel business.

The physical characteristics: It is important that a rustico present a homogenous style to the location where it is situated, or is modified according to this principle. In Italy there are several types of rusticos that vary depending on the province and location, and it is good to preserve and revive this style.

Distance and accessibility: some rusticos are located in areas not served by good roads or very far away from services. The idea may seem attractive but it should be kept in mind that their value has been significantly depreciated, except in special cases as many areas of Tuscany, where it is normal to have long stretches of dirt roads.

The condition of the structure: if the structure is too deteriorated, the cost rises greatly.  It might be more economical to disassemble the useful components and destroy the rest. Unfortunately, with some buildings it is prohibited to destroy them, and so you may find yourself forced by law to have to renovate a structure that cannot be redone, or to undertake a restoration that can become complex and expensive.


Ristrutturare un rustico è un’operazione immobiliare che spesso trascende l’imprenditorialità,si tratta in effetti di una vera e propria passione e per certi versi anche di una moda.

Per molte persone rappresenta la realizzazione di un sogno che attendeva nel cassetto da molti anni, la concretizzazione del desiderio di vivere in un luogo tranquillo e bucolico, lontano dal frenetico mondo moderno, in un’abitazione che conserva una matrice contadina riorganizzata e ristrutturata per fornire un elevato confort abitativo. Io stesso in passato mi sono dilettato in questo lavoro-passione traendo molta soddisfazione da tale attività ed immagazzinando un  bagaglio di conoscenze necessarie a svolgerla, tanto che mi sono ripromesso di diventare consulente per questi tipi di intervento.

E’ bene tener presente che si tratta di una ristrutturazione in genere abbastanza complessa e costosa, e che conviene valutare in anticipo con molta ponderazione per evitare che l’entusiasmo, indubbio, porti a sottovalutare l’impegno finanziario necessario.

E’ fondamentale, al fine di non immagazzinare il proprio denaro in un immobile che nel futuro risulti difficilmente rivendibile, valutare diversi fattori:

La grandezza: la misura deve essere quella necessaria a sviluppare un’abitazione di dimensioni medio grandi, evitate di innamorarvi di rustici molto piccoli , si riveleranno scomodi e difficili da gestire, ma scartate anche quelli troppo grandi, utili solo a chi ha intenzione di svolgere l’attività alberghiera .
–  La tipicità: è importante che un rustico presenti uno stile omogeneo al luogo dove si trova, o che sia modificabile secondo questo principio. In Italia esistono moltissimi tipi di rustici che variano a seconda della provincia e del distretto di appartenenza, ed è bene conservare e riprendere questa tipicità.
 –La distanza e la raggiungibilità: certi rustici si trovano in aree servite da strade non sempre praticabili, oppure estremamente distanti dai servizi. L’idea può sembrare affascinante ma va tenuto presente che il loro valore è notevolmente deprezzato, salvo casi particolari come molte zone della Toscana dove è normale percorrere lunghi tratti di strade bianche .
–  Lo stato della struttura: se la struttura del rustico è troppo deteriorata il costo sale moltissimo, tanto che risulterebbe più economico lo smontaggio dei componenti utili e l’abbattimento. Ma questa operazione è chiaramente vietata per gli immobili antichi, e quindi vi potreste trovare costretti dalla legge a dover ristrutturare una struttura non ristrutturabile, oppure ristrutturabile con sistemi complessi e costosissimi.