Category Archives: Architecture & Real Estate

The Park of Monsters

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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

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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).

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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The photos are courtesy of Here & Now.

 

 

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The Walled City of Cittadella

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

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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

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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)!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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The New Roman Colosseum

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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.

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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!

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.