City of arts Reggio Calabria with ancient heritage

©Bigstock.com/byvalet

©Bigstock.com/byvalet

Italy’s south is home to the country’s oldest ancient settlements that left marks which you can still delightfully explore and marvel at to this very day. If you feel like a cultural holiday and are historically minded, we recommend the city of arts Reggio Calabria. The largest city of Calabria and former capital of the region – that honour went to Catanzaro in 1970 – is situated at the east side of the Strait of Messina. You can comfortably reach the Sicilian city by ferry in just 20 minutes which lends itself perfectly to an artful, cultured double city holiday. You will find vast ancient heritage, diverse architecture and of the most beautiful promenades in the entire country in Reggio Calabria. Let’s get to it!

 

Greek roots in Calabria

There’s most certainly plenty of history in Reggio Calabria. Its predecessor, Rhegion, was one of Italy’s oldest Greek colonies aside from Cumae. Likely founded around 720 BC by settlers from Chalcis, it saw a massive boom period thanks to busy trade activities and a fleet of 70 battleships at times. Conquered and destroyed after severe combat by Dionysius I of Syracuse – Rhegion had allied itself with Athens against Syracuse – in 387 BC, the now enslaved population lost all its wealth. It eventually fell to the Romans just before the First Punic War, became a flourishing city under the name of Rhegium Julii and, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and several invasions, was eventually made a Byzantine property.

 

The following centuries turned out highly eventful. Reggio Calabria was conquered by Sicilian Arabs in 918, received some Norman touches and was eventually incorporated into the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples. It maintained its Greek undertones until the 17th century and even survived looting by the Osman Turks who planned to spread Islam across Italy from here. After the Habsburg, Spanish and Napoleonic reign Reggio Calabria eventually became part of the united Italy. Struck by brutal earthquakes as early as ancient times, the severe 1908 Messina earthquake with its tsunami destroyed most of the city. At least a third of the population lost their lives. That’s why numerous sights in Reggio Calabria have a decisively more modern look.

 

A walk on the beach

Reggio Calabria is situated directly at the ocean and has countless beaches that lend themselves to a dip in the water – certainly essential in the hot summer months. An extended walk at the carefully restored beach promenade is just as neat. Built at the tail end of the 18th century as a central hiking trial through the then village, you get to see numerous villas and astonishing buildings. Artfully decorated facades will wow you over and over again. Among the highlights is the seaside amphitheatre, one of Reggio Calabria’s most popular event venues. Aside from all the representative buildings, the numerous clubs and beach bars, you shouldn’t forget to look out into the sea. On clear days – and there are more than enough here – you can easily see Messina.

 

Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia

We initially recommended the city of arts Reggio Calabria to you as a wonderful cultural and historical destination. The main reason for that is hidden behind the walls of the national archaeological museum, also known as Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Reggio Calabria or MArRC. The building – designed in 1932, completed in 1942, but empty for several years until way after the war – looks rather unspectacular from the outside. The four floors of this extensively renovated museum has all the history of Reggio Calabria you need from its earliest Greek settlements to more modern times. The ground floor with its 15 halls is dedicated to finds from the Sibari plain and from Locri with various items from Greek sanctuaries and a reconstructed rock-cut tomb. Ancient Reggio Calabria and a fascinating collection of old coins are situated on the first floor, while the region’s art history from the Middle Ages to the present is being told on the second floor.

 

The absolute highlight, without any doubt, can be found in the basement, the perfect place for an exhibition titled “underwater archaeology”. You will see finds from the Calabrian seas and from sunken ships, such as amphorae and anchors from Greek and Roman times, in the first two halls. Hall III, however, manages to top that. Aside from the head of the philosopher found in Porticello and a 5th century BC sculpture of a ruler, you get to marvel at the Bronzes of Riace. They were found outside the coast of Riace in the Province of Reggio Calabria in 1972 and carefully restored over several years. The statues, both around two metres in height, likely used to carry wooden shields and cutting weapons. They might have been consecration gifts for a temple and could have been placed on pedestals.

 

More sights in Reggio Calabria

©Bigstock.com/Aliaksandr Antanovich

©Bigstock.com/Aliaksandr Antanovich

While the archaeological museum of Reggio Calabria is a must-see for sure, this city of arts is home to many more glorious sights we simply have to tell you more about:

  • Duomo di Reggio: Basilica Cattedrale Metropolitana di Maria Santissima Assunta in Cielo, the city’s cathedral, is one of the buildings that was severely affected by the 1908 earthquake. What started around 300 AD on the ruins of a Greek temple and saw many a restructuring and expansion over the centuries had to be fully rebuilt in the 20th The now neo-Romantic cathedral with its 28-m-high campanile at least managed to retain some of its 15th and 16th century endowments. The richly decorated front portal alone is worth the visit.
  • Madre della Consolazione: Another destroyed building is this 16th century votive church. Provisionally stabilised as a wooden church for decades, the new pilgrimage church has a decisively mode modern touch creating a fascinating contrast to Reggio Calabria’s ancient roots. The altarpiece, a painting of the Maria della Consolazione, is part of a procession that sees it carried to the cathedral in September and returned in November. This commemorates centuries long gone when the piece was repeatedly brought to the Duomo di Reggio during epidemics.
  • Castello Aragonese: Our final stop is another landmark sight of the city of arts Reggio Calabria. Fortified structures likely existed as early as ancient times. Back then the hill on which this fort now rests was far more striking. While its name is due to heavy architectural alterations under King Ferdinand I of Aragon, who had the striking round bastions with merlons built, the actual origins of the fort likely lie somewhere between the 9th and the 11th century, in Byzantine times.

 

The rich, multifaceted Greek heritage, plenty setbacks and austerity, but also pure euphoria and maritime bliss accompany your tours of the city of arts Reggio Calabria. Experience Calabria’s largest city in all of its glory and variety between invaluable statues, majestic views and mighty fortress walls. An additional trip to Messina by ferry is a welcome bonus – time to plan your next holiday!

Stone-age city of arts Matera with modern charm

There are old Italian cities uniting hundreds, even thousands of years’ worth of history in one place. And there’s the city of arts Matera, one of the oldest cities in the world. The capital of the eponymous province in the Southern Italian region of Basilicata was populated as early as the Neolithic Age. Cave dwellings from that very era still form the core of the historic city and are one of the country’s most fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site. But that’s far from everything you get to experience when visiting Matera.

 

A hint of Matera’s history

Experts continue to debate when the region was first populated. Current consensus hints at the Palaeolithic, somewhere around the 10th millennium BC, although the famous cave dwellings themselves might’ve only been created during the Neolithic. The Roman city Matera, however, was founded as Matheola by the Roman Consul Lucius Caecilius in 251 BC. Matera had many different rulers after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, was desolated by the Saracens in 938 and experienced a lasting heyday the following century when the Normans took over. Changing ruling houses and dynasties, earthquake and pestilences continued the tumultuous history until the unification with the Kingdom of Italy.

 

Sassi di Matera

©Bigstock.com/rosariomanzo

©Bigstock.com/rosariomanzo

People still lived in caves without running water or electricity during the mid-20th century, something that was seen as a cultural disgrace in Italy, especially after a severe outbreak of malaria. This expedited the relocation of the cave inhabitants to newly built apartment buildings during the 1950s and 1960s. However, it would take until the late 1980s for the renovation of the Sassi, the presumably Neolithic cave dwellings, to finally be put into motion. The Sassi di Matera have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993 and are supposed to become actual accommodations again with the aid of grants; at least that’s the ambitious plan of the city.

 

Matera lent itself to the construction of these kinds of dwellings due to its location on a large, exposed tuff rock. The material was easy to transport and process, hollowing and sealing was simple even in prehistoric times. The Sassi di Matera gained complex expansions in later centuries, such as several different rooms or fountain and irrigation systems. Caves were even built on top of one another later on to make even more space available. You can visit the Sassi during guided tours, and that’s an absolute must. While you’re at it, why not check out the Park of Rupestrian Churches? The archaeological and historical nature park covers a territory of more than 8,000 hectares expanding into the adjacent village Montescaglioso and is dedicated to old houses of prayers in stone.

 

Castello Tramontano

There’s no doubt that the Sassi alone are more than reason enough to visit Matera. However, the city in the Basilicata region has so much more to offer. The fortress Castello Tramontano on the Lapillo hill overlooks the historic core. Its origins date back to Norman times. The former residence with its eight towers on a square layout was supposed to protect against potential attacks yet was torn down to give way for a more suitable fortress. Construction of the Aragonese-style structure only began in 1501.

 

Originally, a bridge connect both towers; a battlement parapet to Castiglione Normanno, however, was never realised. Additional towers and elements were planned as well but Castello Tramontano remained unfinished. The rather imposing structure with its central keep, old tuff stone walls, large moats and ample park has been in restoration since 2008 and continues to regain its old splendour step by step. Sadly, you can’t check out the fortress at the moment, but the hike there is more than spectacular.

 

Other sights in Matera

©Bigstock.com/DinoPh

©Bigstock.com/DinoPh

Lots of tuff and old rock accompany your tour of Matera. However, the city in the south has far more in store. The following three highlights are must-see!

  • Cathedral of Matera: Construction of this church on the highest point of the city between two Sassi structures began in 1230. The former site of the Benedictine monastery saw the creation of a large cathedral for the newly established archdiocese over the following four decades. The outside with the large rose window and the pillars resting on large atlases remained almost the same. In turn, the interior was redecorated from 1627 onward gaining ostentatious sculptures, frescoes, ceiling paintings and altarpieces.
  • San Pietro Caveoso: There are actually plenty of churches in Matera. San Pietro Caveoso is one of the city’s gems. Situated amidst the Sassi, the baroque façade with its three statues alone is quite the sight. Various paintings and an astounding 13th century baptismal font make it worth sneaking a peek inside.
  • Palazzo dell’Annunziata: With a city of such long history this palace can certainly be seen as a modern piece since construction “only” started in 1735. Being a symbol of wealth and abundance, it originally displaced an important monastery for representative reasons and feels alien. The palace currently houses Matera’s public library.

 

Culture and cuisine

A few places you’ll come across while walking through Matera might seem familiar. The Sassi have been used as the cinematic setting of ancient Jerusalem for decades. Parts of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew”, the new 2016 version of “Ben-Hur”, and Daniel Craig’s final Bond movie “No Time to Die” were shot here. The unique location has also attracted artists from Metallica to Robin Schulz to film music videos.

 

And then, there’s Matera’s excellent cuisine that will most certainly spoil your palate. Here are some of the delights you’ll sample in the city’s restaurants and cafés:

  • Crapiata, a soup of Roman origin that used to be predominantly consumed by peasants
  • Pasta with peperoni cruschi, a dry and sweet kind of pepper, and added breadcrumbs
  • Orecchiette alla materana with lamb, mozzarella and pecorino cheese
  • Crumbly Strazzate cookies with almonds and coffee
  • DOC wine from the Matera region in eight different varieties from red to white to rosé

 

Welcome to the Neolithic . . . and to modern times because the city of arts Matera has it all and so much more to offer. The Sassi are the definite highlight without doubt, but the manner in which contemporary elements and cinematic masterpieces have been incorporated into the historic setting will wow you over and over again. Time to travel down south!

City of arts Lecce with baroque treasures

Have you ever been to the “Florence of the south”? Lecce carries this soubriquet (“Florence of the rococo” is another popular one) with pride. The Apulian city is situated on the Salento peninsula and among the southernmost places in all of Italy. Wine and tobacco grow well in this particularly warm climate. Additionally, this still very wealthy city is an important military centre with its own airport and training ground as well as other facilities you’ll discover during a walking tour. And this walk is quite something as the city of arts Lecce will surprise you with architectural highlights ranging from Roman times to more recent additions.

 

From Troy to baroque art

©Bigstock.com/SchnepfPictures

©Bigstock.com/SchnepfPictures

You’re probably wondering how Lecce became this underrated gem. It actual origin is the stuff of myths and legends as the city supposedly already existed during the Trojan War and was allegedly founded by the Messapian king Malemnius in 1211 BC. Continuing this legendary origin story, Licitus Idomeneus occupied the city after the destruction of Troy and gave it both its name and the Greek culture. However, it remains unknown when Lecce was actually founded. The Romans conquered the area in the 3rd century BC and called it Lupiae. Emperor Hadrian later had the city moved three kilometres to the northeast. By then, it was known as Licea or Litium. Saint Oronzo advanced the Christianisation of the region during the 1st century AD. He has been venerated as the city’s patron saint since the plague epidemic of 1658.

 

Lecce remained part of the Eastern Roman Empire for over five centuries even after the Western Empire had fallen, notwithstanding a couple of intermittent conquests. It took the Norman’s conquest of Southern Italy to finally put an end to this affiliation. By uniting with Conversano, the seemingly dozy County of Lecce began its slow rise in 1360 leading to a magnificent heyday from 1550 to 1750. Charles V made the city his administrative centre of the Salento and fortified it. The iconic Lecce baroque style was born and spread across the entire cityscape in no time. The “Florence of the south” managed to retain this classic look to this very day.

 

The cathedral

Your wanderings of Lecce will lead you to a plethora of impressive monuments of classic architecture. The city cathedral, also known as Duomo di Lecce or Cattedrale dell’Assunzione della Virgine, is one of our personal favourites. Now a baroque masterpiece, this structure is way older than you might think at first glance. Built in 1144 and renovated in 1230, the cathedral was rebuilt in 1659 at the bishop’s disposition. The main portal is widely regarded as a baroque masterpiece. Statues, pillars and pilasters grace the main entrance.

 

A monumental building with a layout modelled after a Latin cross awaits you on the inside. Several paintings by Giuseppe da Brindisi depict Saint Oronzo and the salvation from the plague epidemic. The main altar is dedicated to the city’s patron saint. An incredible twelve small chapels, each with altars and elaborate artistic designs, can be found inside the cathedral. The slightly slanting 17th century belltower tops out at 72 metres. On clear days you can even see the Albanian mountain ranges beyond the Adriatic Sea.

 

Churches and basilicas in Leece

©Bigstock.com/Cordeschi

©Bigstock.com/Cordeschi

The imposing cathedral alone would be reason enough to visit Lecce, but that’s just the sacral start, if you will. Many additional churches and basilicas line your tour of the Apulian city of arts. Here are another three personal favourites you shouldn’t miss out on:

  • Basilica di Santa Croce: Started in 1549 and only finished in 1695, this baroque church is the epitome of pomp. There’s so much to marvel at from the ostentatiously decorated façade with its pillars, grotesque figures and the rose window to the carved and gilded coffered ceiling.
  • Santa Irene: Here’s another church that was built over a longer period of time, which you’ll see immediately. The upper and lower part of the façade are clear evidence of different stylistic influences. The numerous richly decorated altars with their paintings and busts, however, are the real highlight.
  • Chiesa dei Santi Niccolò e Cataldo: This church certainly stands out among all the stunning baroque buildings as it managed to retain its original look. Despite extensive renovations of the façade in the 18th century and the addition of new statues Chiesa dei Santi Niccolò e Cataldo remains a Romanesque masterpiece.

 

Even more sights in Lecce

Enough churches for now? Time to check out a different side of Lecce’s architectural heritage. Or several sides, actually, as exciting journeys through time are next on the itinerary:

  • Castle of Charles V: The fortification of Lecce during the rule of the Habsburg emperor was accompanied by the construction of an entire castle. A medieval structure was extensively reinforced and expanded in the 16th These days the castle is home to several cultural unions and events.
  • Piazza Sant’Oronzo: Lecce’s population attributed the end of the plague epidemic to Saint Oronzo and made him the city’s patron saint. There’s an ancient pillar on the eponymous piazza. It was part of the twin pillars that marked the end of the Via Appia in Brindisi. A special statue of the saint was cast in Venice in 1739. It now rests atop the pillar.
  • Amphitheatre: The Roman roots of the city were buried in oblivion and many houses and monuments had been built on top of them. Among these ancient Roman structures is an amphitheatre that used to seat more than 25,000 spectators. Partially excavated today, it serves as an event location. You can explore and marvel at other finds from days long gone in the archaeological museums Faggiano and Sigismondo Castromediano as well as in the archaeological park of Rudiae approx. three kilometres outside the city.

 

All that and much more accompanies your journey through Lecce. The southern city of arts in Apulia unearths unimaginable baroque treasures and is widely regarded as an Italian insiders’ tip with good reason. Let yourself be enchanted by art and architecture of days long gone and take a walk through over 2,000 years of palpable history. Enjoy your next holiday!

City of arts Bari between Saint Nick and promenade

It’s always Christmas in one of the southernmost Italian cities. Well, alright, that’s not entirely true, but the remains of one of the main protagonists for the run-up to the festive season rest in Bari. Saint Nicholas is both venerated and celebrated in the Apulian coastal city, and that’s just one of many aspects that make Bari a genuine city of arts. Situated near the heel of Italy, it opens up vast museums, spectacular churches, endless beaches and monumental military facilities to curious eyes like yours. Strap in, we’re heading for the capital of Apulia!

 

A city all about (maritime) trade

Bari’s history begins at a time before saints even existed. Earliest finds suggest first settlements during the Bronze Age. Trade relations with Greece were established soon, some Greeks even settled here later on, at least until the Romans took over the city and expanded it into a key trade hub with a port. The foundation for today’s archdiocese of Bari-Bitonto was laid as early as the 4th century AD. Like many other cities, Bari was a hotly contested commodity among roaming and invading nations after the fall of the Western Roman Empire becoming, among other things, the centre of the Emirate of Bari for about 20 years.

 

Bari itself blossomed during the 13th century. Frederick II saw to the extensive modernisation and expansion of the large castle. At the same time, wealth and trade increased throughout the city. The massive port construction/expansion was quickly abandoned, yet Bari continued to enjoy preferential treatment by bankers and merchants who took up residence here and/or had their major trade routes run through the Apulian port over the following centuries. Joachim Murat, as King Joachim of Sicily, had the new town redeveloped and expanded, modelling it after an octagonal grid. The quarters still carry his name.

 

Basilica and Festival of Saint Nicholas

©Bigstock.com/ielanum

©Bigstock.com/k.samurkas

Unlike other large maritime cities, such as Genoa, Venice and Amalfi, it took quite a long time for Bari to “adopt” their own saint. Southern Italian seafarers cracked open the sarcophagus of Saint Nicholas in Myra, today’s Demre in Turkey, in 1087 and stole his bones. Basilica San Nicola was built solely for these relics. Even though the crypt of the now Dominican church was consecrated as early as 1089, the actual final consecration only took place in 1197. The construction period of the monumental pilgrimage church might have stretched across a whopping 110 years, but the result speaks for itself. Being the epitome of Barese Romanesque architecture, the three-nave basilica became an ideal for many other churches throughout the region. Norman and Lombard influences adorn the entire building, yet the towers either disappeared completely or remained incomplete. Baroque alterations were extinguished completely save for the carved and gilded wooden ceiling, although the radiant depictions form a breathtakingly stark contrast to architectural sculptures which were revolutionary for their time.

 

According to legend, myrrh emanates from the bones of Saint Nicholas. A small bottle is lowered to his tomb on December 6th, St Nicholas Day, to capture some of it, anointments apparently resulting in numerous miracles. The actual saint’s festival, however, Festa di San Nicolo, takes place on 7 to 9 May to coincide with the presumed arrival of the relics in the port of Bari. The statue of Saint Nicholas, usually positioned on the left side aisle of the basilica, is carried to the port during a large procession where it circles the bay in a boat.

 

The castle

©Bigstock.com/ielanum

©Bigstock.com/ielanum

Bari’s landmark stands tall at the edge of the old city. Castello Normanno-Svevo di Bari, the Norman-Hohenstaufen Castle, was presumably built on the ancient site of the fortress predecessors as recorded by Horace and Titus. The Norman King Roger II of Sicily had the medieval castle built in 1132 only for it to be destroyed around 1156. Upon arriving in Bari in the 13th century, Frederick II realised the necessity of such a facility and ruled its re-erection with additional fortification. The Norman foundation was reinforced utilising exterior weir systems, two polygonal towers, a massive barrel vault with quadrangular pillars, and a moat. Renowned Muslim masons were hired for the arches and pillars – richly decorated, as was standard during the Hohenstaufen era.

The castle of Bari was far from being Frederick’s only defensive fortification; there’s the octagonal UNESCO World Heritage castle Castel del Monte about a one-hour car ride northwest of the city. Castello Normanno-Svevo saw numerous conversions and expansions over the following centuries to eventually become a museum. With its additional Aragon-era walls and rooms plus the grand sea view, the castle is one of the city’s main sights with good reason.

 

Other sights in Bari

However, there’s a lot more to Bari even beyond these two major highlights as you can see for yourself during a walk through Apulia’s capital. We’ve chosen a couple of additional favourites for you:

  • San Sabino: Bari’s second large church is actually a cathedral. The current seat of the Archbishop of Bari-Bitonto was mostly built during the late 12th and the late 13th Its roots, however, date back much further. You might stumble upon an inscription of Bishop Andrea who was in the region from 758 to 761. The impressive pseudo gallery basilica houses medieval frescos and the eponymous relics of Saint Sabinus of Canosa di Puglia.
  • Teatro Petruzzelli: There are (and have been) many theatres in Bari. Some of them were completely destroyed during the devastating air raids in the Second World War, but Teatro Petruzzelli is still standing, fortunately. Italy’s fourth-largest theatre used to be the home of great operas, ballets and concerts. A massive fire destructed it in October 1991; it would take 18 years until the grand reopening.
  • La Passeggiata: Admittedly, it might seem a bit odd to call a beach promenade a sight, but you will most certainly be swooning after a walk on La Passeggiata. Pass the old port, the castle walls and Teatro Margherita in just over half an hour. Numerous benches along the promenade lend themselves to sit down and enjoy the view. Your half hour might double and even triple easily!
  • Pinacoteca: The Pinacoteca metropolitana di Bari “Corrado Giaquinto” is a rather artful stop along the promenade. This art gallery inside the palace introduces you to medieval sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages to modern times with Venetian and Neapolitan focus. The Pinacoteca was named after rococo painter Corrado Giaquinto, known for his paintings of Saint Nicholas and of scenes from Greek mythology.

 

There are, without doubt, more than enough reasons to visit the city of arts Bari. The imposing castle, the incredibly long beach promenade, the monumental churches and cathedrals, the hidden treasures – together with the divine climate and the beautiful beaches Apulia invites you to an unforgettable stay in the south of Italy.

City of arts Amalfi on the magical Amalfi Coast

One of the most beautiful regions in all of Italy is situated at the Gulf of Salerno. The Amalfi Coast in Campania is home to breathtaking nature, magical views and numerous small villages, all connected by just one single road. The main town Amalfi with its steep hills, countless cafés and amazing beaches is a must-visit during a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Amalfi Coast. But that’s not all by a long shot: Amalfi is a genuine city of arts with pretty exciting architecture, a storied history and many a surprise. Join us on our coastal tour!

 

The power of the former maritime republic

The exact origins of Amalfi are unknown. The city was likely founded by soldiers of Constantine the Great from the Adriatic coastal village Melphe around 320 AD. “A Melphe” (“from Melphe”) might have become Amalfi, but there’s no definite documentation about that. What we do know, however, is that the residents quickly turned to maritime trade as there was hardly any fertile soil in the region. Amalfi was mostly autonomous, gained independence, and became one of the first ever maritime republics. It had way over 50,000 inhabitants during the 10th century and was the main trade hub between (Southern) Europe and the Orient.

 

Norman threats and invasions considerably weakened Amalfi while it was at the peak of its power; eventually, Norman ruler Robert Guiskard conquered the maritime republic in 1073. It gradually lost its significance after that and was lastingly debilitated by two Pisan attacks in 1135 and 1137. A devastating tsunami, the result of an earthquake, destroyed most of the city in 1343. Amalfi never fully managed to recover. However, the Tabula Amalphitana, Italy’s first codification of maritime law, survived the maritime republic by centuries. Amalfi finally experienced a proper upswing in the middle of the 20th century thanks to the blossoming tourism and has been a popular summer destination since.

 

The Cathedral complex

©Bigstock.com/NejroN Photo

©Bigstock.com/NejroN Photo

Amalfi’s cityscape was established on and around the steep hill unearthing many an unexpected treasure hardly noticeable during a mere coastal tour along the Strada Statale. The Cathedral of the Diocese of Amalfi-Cava de’ Tirreni is among the most splendid buildings of the entire city of arts. The first church was established as early as the 9th century and now houses the diocesan museum. Today’s Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea dates back to the 10th century and was converted multiple times. It first received an Arab-Norman look, then got a baroque overhaul. The colourful mosaic façade was added during the 18th century.

 

The cathedral’s actually a fairly large complex of buildings consisting of a crypt with the remains of Andrew the Apostle (Amalfi’s patron saint), the Basilica of the Crucifix with the diocesan museum, the cloister of Paradise, and the cathedral itself. You will certainly notice the hefty triumphal arch supported by two Egyptian granite pillars inside the church. Don’t miss out on visiting the other buildings, particularly the cloister Chiostro del Paradiso with its idyllic atmosphere.

 

Sights in Amalfi

But that’s far from everything there is to see and experience in the city of arts Amalfi. Strolling through the place will get you close to the region’s thrilling history. Don’t miss out on the following sights on your day in Amalfi:

  • Santa Maria a Piazza: This small Renaissance church, hardly bigger than a chapel, was built in the 15th century where numerous stores and craftspeople used to be. The compact beauty is full of stunning paintings and reliefs.
  • Museo della Carta: Amalfi’s citizens learned the art of papermaking many centuries ago turning the city into one of Europe’s first paper centres. The old paper mill was turned into a museum in 1969 exhibiting machinery and equipment from days long gone.
  • Sant’Antonio: It is said that Saint Francis of Assisi founded this church and its convent during a pilgrimage to the remains of Andrew the Apostle. The convent is closed for visitors expect for one afternoon per year. However, the colourful, very impressive interior of the otherwise seemingly plain church fascinates.
  • Gli Arsenali della Repubblica: Trade ships and warships had to be built, maintained and stored during the days of the maritime republic. Amalfi owned the largest galleys in the Mediterranean during the Early Middle Ages. What survived of the arsenal are mostly architecture and sculpture remains, partially due to erosion. Various ships and the boats of a historical regatta are exhibited here.

 

The Amalfi Coast

©Bigstock.com/mailos

©Bigstock.com/mailos

If you’re in Amalfi, you pretty much have to tour the entire Amalfi Coast, don’t you? Look forward to gorgeous views of the Gulf of Salerno and the steeply sloping coast along the magnificent coastal road Strada Statale 163 Amalfitana on its 50 km from Meta di Sorrento to Vietri sul Mare. This drive is certainly not for the faint of heart due to overhanging rocks and the narrowness of the road, but the scenery is just divine. And that’s far from all you get to experience up and down the Amalfi Coast:

  • Wine and limoncello: La Dolce Vita is everywhere at the Gulf of Salerno. The Amalfi Coast is a popular winegrowing region with excellent red wines and white wines carrying the controlled destination of origin label DOC since 1995. How about some limoncello instead? Excellent lemons with juicy meat and little pips grow in the coastal region. Taste the result in the lovely cafés and inns along the way.
  • Long-distance hiking: You’d rather travel on foot and love challenges? Several hiking trails run along the coast. Six taxing full-day stages from Salerno to Sorrent or Schiazzano via Amalfi await you on the CAI-300 and on parallel paths. That’s up to 74 km for the longest trail version with 4,380 altitude metres uphill and 4,718 altitude metres downhill. Are you ready for the challenge?
  • Stunning places: Whatever you have planned for your coastal tour, there are many great places to explore beyond the city of arts Amalfi. Take Ravello, for example, where many rich citizens lived during the Middle Ages. Numerous well-maintained villas including the awe-inspiring Villa Rufolo make you feel like you’re in a different era altogether. There’s a Benedictine monastery founded in the year 973 on a rock high above Maiori. Furore even has its own fjord and is regarded as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages for a very good reason. And then there’s Positano, a colourful place with countless churches, Roman ruins and an unusually holey rock.

 

Visiting the city of arts Amalfi is a must when planning a tour of the Amalfi Coast. The main town hasn’t lost any of its maritime republic allure even though things are a bit smaller and quieter these days. The friendly town with its charming sights and the endless views is perfect to kick back and dream the day away.

City of arts Salerno – Campania’s best-kept secret

Salerno is one of Southern Italy’s biggest hidden treasures without a doubt. Located near the Amalfi Coast and less than an hour from Naples, the second-largest city of Campania is a genuine gem brimming with cosiness. Comparatively few tourists end up in Salerno due to its proximity to some of the most popular attractions of the entire region, but there are so many amazing things for you to discover here. The coastal city has an abundance of glorious sights, palpable history and Mediterranean flair with its countless cafés, bars and restaurants. And don’t even get us started on the small but definitely nice seafront! Enough talk, let’s explore the city of arts Salerno together.

 

Trade centre, medical school, touristic relaunch

Salerno’s ideal location attracted first populations very early on. There had already been settlements in the area between the 9th and the 6th century BC as confirmed by the discovery of Neolithic mummy remains. Later colonised by the Etruscans and eventually controlled by the Romans, the former military fortification turned into a flourishing trade centre. Salerno reached its heyday during Lombard rule with the famous Medical School of Salerno where an independent occidental medicine was created during the 11th century. The Normans made Salerno their capital when they were conquering the south of Italy.

 

Joining Amalfi, Salerno once again became an important trade centre in the High Middle Ages, this time for Northern Africa and Sicily. The city’s fate was later tied closely to that of the Kingdom of Naples. There was another cultural, economic and medical boom under the rule of the Counts of Sanseverino, but their expropriation and exiling lead to a sharp, steady decline expedited by an outbreak of the plague and by severe earthquakes. The city finally began to grow again at a fairly fast rate from 1830 onward, having been an important part of the Risorgimento and early industrialisation, yet it wasn’t until late into the second half of the 20th century that the renewed focus on tourisms reinvigorated the historic centre.

 

Salerno’s churches

©Bigstock.com/Claudiogiovanni

©Bigstock.com/Claudiogiovanni

During the 1990s, when the initial touristic construction boom had begun to subside a bit, there was a focus on renovating and restoring classic sights, and there are plenty of them in Salerno. Let’s check out the churches first:

  • Cattedrale di Salerno: Construction of the Cathedral of San Matteo began in 1080, three years after the Normans had seized power from the Lombards. It is the oldest big church of Arabic-Norman architecture from a time before the introduction of pointed arches. 28 ancient pillars and various Roman sarcophagi grace the portico. The crypta supposedly harbours the remains of Matthew the Apostle.
  • Sant’Andrea de Lavina: The small river Lavina used to act as a drainage channel of sorts and stills runs below a road near this 9th century church. The fascinating thing about Sant’Andrea de Lavina is how ongoing excavations have made the former use of this site as a cemetery palpable in a very vivid manner.
  • Chiesa San Pietro a Corte: The term “church” might be a bit deceptive in this context as San Pietro a Corte actually houses a large archaeological complex with (presumed) ruins of Roman baths, an early Christian burial site, a potential hall of the Medical School of Salerno, and a 12th century chapel. There are, however, small churches, chapels and other buildings on and around this site.
  • Santa Maria de Lama: We have one more church for you and – what a surprise! – it actually is one. Santa Maria de Lama was built during the Lombard heyday between the 10th and the 11th There are some fresco fragments – the only evidence of Lombard painting – inside the church.

 

The palaces of the city

We’re only getting started now and are taking a step back from the city’s diverse religious architecture. Salerno’s palazzi are incredibly colourful and spectacular:

  • Palazzo di Città di Salerno: Built in 1936 in the characteristic fascistic style of its time, it served as the meeting room for the first Government of the Kingdom of Italy only eight years later. Aside from housing the mayor’s office, the large cinema theatre on the ground floor is one of the most popular event sites of the city.
  • Palazzo Fruscione: This palace in the oldest part of the historic centre doesn’t just look pretty amazing, it harbours many a treasure below the ground. It might have been the site of the palace of the Lombard Duke Arechis II who ruled over the region from 758 to 787. Mosaics and frescoes from the 2nd century and the ruins of a thermal bath complex were found here, too.
  • Palazzo Pinto: The former palace of the eponymous noble family saw many a conversion throughout the years – the current design likely dates back to the mid-17th century – but you might still discover some rather exciting medieval traces here and there. The cornices and arches are of Norman origin. Palazzo Pinto currently houses a small but lovely art gallery.
  • Palazzo Santoro: Florentine architect Gino Coppedè imaginatively designed an area of more than 30,000 m² in the Roman district Trieste in the style of Italian Art Nouveau between 1915 and 1926. Palazzo Santoro is one of his very rare works in Campania. The seven-storey building on the waterfront is an eclectic, bizarre masterpiece; like a fairy-tale from a different time.

 

Even more sights in Salerno

©Bigstock.com/tanialerro

©Bigstock.com/tanialerro

You’re probably like us and just can’t get enough of Salerno. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with another ace up our sleeve. Well, four aces, to be precise:

  • Museo Archeologico Provinciale: Experience the historical and cultural transformations of the Salerno region when visiting the archaeological museum. Finds from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages exhibit Samnite, Etruscan and Roman pieces. The head of the Apollo by Pasiteles was actually discovered in a fishing net and is among the most beautiful exhibits of this vast collection.
  • Castello di Arechi: One of the city’s oldest monuments is located on a hill some 300 m above sea level. Arechis II extended an old Roman-Byzantine fortification to create this imposing fortress. There’s a museum exhibiting various finds from the castle’s storied history. The amazing observation decks will wow you with their clear views of the Gulf of Salerno.
  • Forte La Carnale: Regional entrepreneur Andrea Di Gaeta had this fort built in 1569 as part of the defensive structure to protect Salerno from repeated Saracen raids. It has since been incorporated into a large sports complex with an enchanting garden. On clear days you can even see the Amalfi Coast and the Coast of Cliento.
  • Giardino della Minerva: Talking about gardens – what was originally established as a didactic facility for Salerno’s Medical School has since become one of Italy’s most beautiful botanical gardens. See more than 300 different plant species including rarities used in medieval medicine in thematically grouped areas.

 

The city of arts Salerno might not be the biggest touristic hotspot, most certainly due to its proximity to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. However, that’s exactly what makes this beauty in Campania fascinating. Whether you’re interested in the city’s truly spectacular history or just want to stroll up and down the historic centre – there’s always a ravishing archaeological discovery to be made and a cup of coffee with your name on it, sea view included.

Padua’s fourteenth-century fresco cycles

©Bigstock.com/vvoevale

©Bigstock.com/vvoevale

Padua is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, and with good reason. The oldest botanical garden in the world alone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been attracting guests from all around the world for decades, and the historic centre with its churches, chapels and palaces is always worth a stroll. More than a stroll, come to think of it, as Padua was given a second World Heritage Site in 2021 leading you directly to the old city centre. The name “Padua’s fourteenth-century fresco cycles” stands for invaluable ceiling and wall frescoes across eight different buildings. Read on to find out which buildings and which artists we’re talking about, and what makes the fresco art of the so-called Trecento special.

 

Art revolution during the Trecento

The 14th century revolutionised Italian arts. Literature and music aside, the Proto-Renaissance era had a palpable effect on painters on sculptors, the so-called “Trecento” (short for “milletrecento”, the Italian word for “1300”) had begun. Siena, Pisa and Padua developed their own schools of art with techniques and innovations that quickly spread across the entire country and beyond. Two major developments soon dominated Italian studios: sinopia and giornata.

 

The so-called “pontata” dominated matters even into the 13th century. This approach focused on finishing pre-defined areas of plastering along a line of scaffolding regardless of the motif. However, the giornata aimed at completing full or partial motifs in a day’s work in order to achieve a more consistent look. Sinopia drawings were used to create this effect of structural uniformity. The masters usually took care of the big fresco picture by means of the drawing and their assistants received smaller areas for detail and precision work. This more precise composition of the painting design allows the Trecento artists to achieve more complex spatial depth and compositional structure. And that’s exactly what you get to look forward to inside Padua’s fresco buildings.

 

Padua’s most important fresco protagonists

Numerous artists played key roles in creating the World Heritage fresco cycles. Listing all of them would be a bit excessive, though, which is why we introduce you to three particularly important masters:

  • Giotto: The trailblazer of the Italian Renaissance grew up the son of a blacksmith in Florence and, as such, has a close connection to the Tuscan city. However, he created his magnum opus in Padua. Giotto is regarded as the originator of Trecento fresco painting. His preparation of the perspective as well as the naturalness and liveliness of his characters revolutionised the art world moving away from the then prevalent two-dimensional presentation.
  • Giusto de’ Menabuoi: Whether Giusto was a first-generation or second-generation student of Giotto remains unclear. Originally from Florence, too, he created countless invaluable frescoes during the second half of the 14th century working in Milan among other places. Spatial effects and a preference for a rich tapestry of bright colours characterise Giusto’s body of work.
  • Guariento di Arpo: Unlike his prominent Trecento contemporaries Guariento di Arpo was actually born in Padua. His first big assignment was a cycle of angel depictions for the chapel of the Carrara residence. Guariento learned and applied his art in Padua with several World Heritage Site fresco cycles, but he also played a very important role as a propagator of Giotto’s innovations. His paradise painting in the Doge’s Palace advanced the end of an era of the mostly Byzantine art in Venice.

 

Eight buildings and their fresco cycles

©Bigstock.com/e.della

©Bigstock.com/e.della

Now you’re familiar with the innovations during the Trecento and some of the artists responsible for the fresco cycles. Time for the main event – a look at the eight buildings that constitute the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Padua’s fourteenth-century fresco cycles”:

  • Cappella degli Scrovegni: The former site of the ancient amphitheatre is now the first address for fresco art in Padua. Giotto painted the chapel during its construction from 1302 to 1306. The master’s influential magnus opus focuses on scenes depicting Mary’s parents, Mary herself and Jesus, and on depictions of the Last Judgement. The tunnel vault with its deep blue sky covered in golden stars watches over the breathtaking frescoes. Please note that you can only visit the chapel on advance registration for a maximum of 15 minutes.
  • Chiesa degli Eremitani: Bomb raids during the Second World War severely damaged this church next to the Scrovegni Chapel before it was extensively renovated. Find the frescoes in the presbytery, where Guariento di Arpo and his students worked, and the Ovetari chapel. Here only two frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, Niccolò Pizzolo and two other painters are still well-preserved, the others were restored in pieces.
  • Palazzo della Ragione: Padua’s former commercial centre with the court room on the upper floor unfortunately lost originals by Giotto and his students to a fire. Nicolò Miretto manged to restore them with slight modification from 1425 onward. The giant hall depicts month and planet allegories, signs of the zodiac, the corresponding saints, and characteristic professions and occupations.
  • Loggia dei Carraresi: Only parts survived of the former stately residence of the Carrara family where Guariento di Arpo made his first fresco steps. This loggia with Old Testament scenes likely dates back to the mid-14th Sadly, opening this room led to damages and even the loss of some frescoes, but the biblical depictions still in existence are certainly more than worth seeing.
  • Battistero del Duomo: There’s a Romanesque baptistery, finished in 1281 and painted with frescoes by Giusto de’ Menabuoi about one century later, next to the rather plain looking cathedral. This excellently preserved cycle is dedicated to the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist depicted on the walls and inside the cupola.
  • Complesso della Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova: The Basilica of Saint Anthony is likely Padua’s most important, most glorious, and most versatile sight. Another deep-blue sky with golden stars and extensive embellishment leads your way through this monumental building. The side chapels are equipped with comprehensive fresco cycles. Look out for the chapel of Saint Jacob in the right transept. Altichiero da Zevio’s magnum opus features a crucifixion group and the story of Saint Jacob the Apostle among other things.
  • Oratorio di San Giorgio: There’s another masterpiece by Altichiero da Zevio hidden near the basilica. The Oratorio di San Giorgio is also endowed with glorious frescoes focusing of the life of Jesus and various saints. Several martyrdom depictions impress with unrivalled poignancy. Another spectacular scene sees the noble knight George save a princess from a dragon.
  • Oratorio di San Michele: Finally, we take a look at a fairly small, pretty much non-descript chapel built as some sort of makeshift structure in a destroyed church in 1397. Giacomo da Verona dedicated this fresco cycle to the life of the Virgin Mary with all the scenes you’d expect ranging from the Annunciation to the birth of Christ to her death. Looking closer at the extensive depictions that even extend into the insides of archways, you can discover a hidden Petrarca.

 

The legacy of the Trecento spread across all of Italy and most of Europe in no time. Padua’s fourteenth-century fresco cycles demonstrate the unique effect of its most important masterpieces in a more than impressive manner. All masters in one place, eight astonishing buildings and magical fresco cycles, and a plurality of fascinating depictions inside equally fascinating architecture – most certainly a set more than worth of being named “World Heritage”. By the way, there are even more – lots more! – frescoes waiting to be discovered in Padua. How about going on a city holiday soon?

The porticoes of Bologna

Bologna’s abundance of old, mostly excellently-preserved structures makes the city in the Emilia Romagna one of the most popular destinations for art and culture trips. Aside from the imposing medieval towers the porticoes are among the most important means of expressing Bologna’s urban identity. The historic centre alone is covered by more than 38 kilometres of them. Taking the arcades outside the medieval city walls into account, that number climbs to a whopping 53 kilometres. Due to their cultural and artistic significance, twelve representative porticoes of Bologna were given World Heritage status by the UNESCO in 2021. And we invite you to take a closer look at these particularly important porticoes right now.

 

How the porticoes came about

©Bigstock.com/Boris Stroujko

©Bigstock.com/Boris Stroujko

Porticoes or arcades describe walkways open to one side between one or several buildings in a loggia-like style. A succession of adjoining arcades creates this open side. Porticoes usually grace representative building façades and can even cover entire streets of houses. They were most likely modelled after the cloisters of medieval monasteries. Bologna’s porticoes appeared almost spontaneously in the cityscape of, presumably, the early Middle Ages and were first documented in the year 1041.

 

The original portico purpose was the creation of additional living space for private buildings. Arcades managed to both facilitate unhindered passage for everyone on public land and create more room for private houses. These structures grew over time successfully braving new architectural challenges. Originally wooden extensions were replaced by support columns over time to prevent the collapse of private structures. A decree issued by the pontifical governor Giovanni Battista Doria and the so-called gonfaloniere (standard bearer, an influential role during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance) Camillo Paleotti on 26 March 1568 demanded the rebuilding of all arcades using brick or stone. This created the world-famous porticoes. However, there are still a few wooden arcades in existence today.

 

Nine porticoes in Bologna’s historic centre

©Bigstock.com/cge2010

©Bigstock.com/cge2010

Despite the plethora of porticoes in Bologna the World Heritage commission eventually picked twelve that were – and still are – of special significance. A whopping nine porticoes of Bologna are inside the medieval city walls, and we will introduce you to those now:

  • Portici residenziali di Santa Caterina: Some structures saw significant changes during the 19th and 20th century, close to gentrification. The arcades of Santa Caterina and Saragozza, however, didn’t. Installed along several smaller residential houses, they can easily be traced back to their medieval origins even displaying some Gothic characteristics in their narrow composition.
  • Piazza porticata di Santo Stefano: Being a part of the Basilica di Santo Stefano and the surrounding structures of the eponymous square, these porticoes pretty much add cohesion to the entire visual constitution extending as far as Palazzo della Mercanzia. Late medieval and Renaissance palaces encounter major religious buildings virtually stitched together by the arcades.
  • Strada porticata di Galliera: The porticoes of Via Galliera try to maintain the classic patterns of equally classic buildings where the major infrastructure of the old Roman town used to be. The archetypically old structuring of Palazzo dal Monte and the special reinforcement in the entasis of Palazzo Bonasoni’s support columns represent the erstwhile prestigious endeavours of senatorial families.
  • Portico del Baraccano: The connection to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Baraccano unites a wealth of 16th and 17th century porticoes in varying heights. The arcades between the sanctuary and Via Santo Stefano are linked together via the so-called Voltone del Baraccano. This vault was supposed to create a visual and spatial connection between the Santuario and the home for poor and orphaned girls.
  • Portici commerciali del Pavaglione e dei Banchi: The collision of excellently developed medieval squares and Renaissance remodelling in later times is similarly exquisitely highlighted by particularly long porticoes. Pavaglione, the longest continuous arcade of Bologna, might be the main highlight. The way the arcades of the old university are connected to later structures is impressive as well.
  • Portici accademici di Via Zamboni: The collection of porticoes unites several important academic structures such as Palazzo Poggi, Accademia di Belle Arti and Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna. Via Zamboni has been representing the city’s student life for over 200 years. The arcades are of equally high symbolic value acting as a dazzling display of the distribution of knowledge on an international level.
  • Portici di Piazza Cavour e Via Farini: Two squares, one road, potent structures – a plurality of key arcade buildings comes together along this amalgamation. These porticoes show off particularly well how the redesign efforts of the historic centre during the 19th century turned established basic architectural ideas on their proverbial heads. You get to experience the archetype of the modern arcade design school between Piazza Cavour, Piazza Minghetti and Via Farini.
  • Portici trionfali di Strada Maggiore: Already a crucial organisational and transportation axis in Roman times, the Strada Maggiore became a particularly noble “triumphal road” during the Middle Ages. Bologna grew around Strada Maggiore, and its porticoes bear witness to this rapid development. You can still see the medieval origins particularly clearly – perfect to time travel during your city tour.
  • Edificio porticato del MAMbo: The ancient bakery only became the MAMbo, Bologna’s museum of modern art, in the 20th Retaining and modernising the old arcade structures was of great importance. This portico represents both the industrialisation and the tentative restoration of former glory while also connecting the most important buildings of the city’s creative and cultural scene.

 

Three more World Heritage porticoes

©Bigstock.com/Photocritical

©Bigstock.com/Photocritical

However, we’re far from done with our World Heritage round trip. The UNESCO site features another three porticoes situated outside the city walls that most definitely need to be experienced:

  • Portico devozionale di San Luca: Bologna is home to several sanctuaries. The one dedicated to the Madonna di San Luca most certainly is of particular beauty. The last part of the pilgrimage road was “upgraded” with this portico, the longest in the world. Several smaller chapels dedicated to the Mysteries of the Rosary punctuate the arcades along the ascending road to the sanctuary. This mostly straight portico is also particularly popular with joggers and walkers, especially in bad weather.
  • Portico della Certosa: Another long, straight portico branches off from the one to San Luca near the Certosa cemetery. The portico of Certosa is widely regarded as a unique example of modern arcades with a sepulchral character. It was built after a Napoleonic edict trying to recapture the essence of Roman sepulchral roads. Certosa’s internal arcade structures, however, live and breathe the spirit of the Renaissance.
  • Edificio porticato del quartiere Barca: The meeting of classic architectural concepts and modern reinterpretations doesn’t stop at the porticoes of Bologna. An incredibly long piece of evolution of the classic Bolognese arcade extends along the very functional buildings of Treno della Barca. Constant maintenance, more often than not carried out by its residents, keeps the post-modern freshness alive to this day.

 

Classic and rugged or colourful and modern – the porticoes of Bologna bear witness to eventful centuries and can be neatly explored during extended city tours. They open up some of the most important buildings and sights, and neatly lead to fascinating spots beyond the historic centre. There are many more arcades to discover beyond these twelve World Heritage arcades – just one of many highlights for your next holiday in Bologna.

Montecatini Terme: Great Spa Towns of Europe

Staying at a health spa resort brings wonderful relaxation and inner balance with it. Such a health trip to regain strength in a quiet, salubrious environment has become mandatory after many bigger surgeries and in case of certain health issues. The actual cure phenomenon, however, is much older. A new UNESCO World Heritage Site groups together eleven spa towns steeped in great tradition that remain important to this very day. Named “Great Spa Towns of Europe”, the cultural scope of these institutions lends itself to be discovered and explored throughout Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom. There’s even an Italian spa town on this list: Montecatini Terme.

 

The cure phenomenon during the Habsburg rule

©Bigstock.com/Viliam.M

©Bigstock.com/Viliam.M

Spa tourism is or has actually been a surprisingly complex phenomenon far beyond health aspects – actually a comparatively minute reason for many health resort tourists for embarking on long journeys – encompassing and stimulating urban, social, and cultural evolutions and revolutions. Even though the cure concept itself can be traced back to the ancient world it blossomed between 1700 and the 1930s heavily influencing the routes of travel parties of the time. The House of Habsburg played a key role during this era, which is also true for Montecatini Terme, this charming town with around 21,000 inhabitants in the Tuscan province of Pistoia.

 

After the Medici family had died out in 1737, Tuscany was given to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. The region experienced a decisive boost during the reign of Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo (who would later become Emperor Leopold II). He visited Montecatini several times to understand the region’s issues and hardships. Having had them investigated thoroughly, the Grand Duke ordered the demolition of various castles and fortifications, and had the thermo-mineral waters channelled. This created the complex of baths of the restored Montecatini, now the epitome of a modern spa town, that saw several extensive renovations over the following decades. Many a spring was only discovered in later periods adding to the town’s thermal spa variety. Montecatini Terme remains one of the country’s most important health resorts to this day.

 

The thermal spa facilities of Montecatini Terme

©Bigstock.com/mazzzur

©Bigstock.com/mazzzur

There isn’t just one single thermal spa in Montecatini Terme but an entire network of spa houses and facilities – as it should be for a world-renowned spa town. We have compiled a list of the ten most important thermal spas of the town for you:

  • Terme Excelsior: Originally opened as part of a casino building in 1907, the old structure was demolished in 1968 to give way for a new spa modelled after a Florentine Renaissance loggia.
  • Terme La Fortuna: This thermal spa building in the centre of large gardens was built around 60 years after the eponymous spring had been discovered in 1853.
  • Terme La Salute: A travertine quarry revealed the thermal water around 1860. This institution grew to an impressive 7,250 m² during the interwar period.
  • Terme Nuove Redi: Only built in 1920, Nuove Redi was reinterpreted and renovated several times, most recently by the architect Oreste Ruggiero in 2009.
  • Terme Regina: This part of the Tettuccio park was founded in 1773 and is among the town’s oldest thermal spas. Extensive conversions added a Neo-Renaissance look.
  • Terme Rinfresco: This facility built in 1795 has unfortunately been closed. However, you most certainly shouldn’t miss out on the forecourt mosaic.
  • Terme Tamerici: Four striking buildings grace this complex in the middle of the spa park. They were constructed around a spring discovered in 1843.
  • Terme Tettuccio: The healthy water flows from a conchiform granite spring at the heart of the thermal spa. Restructured in 1929, this facility wows with its Late Renaissance architecture.
  • Terme Leopoldine: Named after the then Grand Duke of Tuscany Peter Leopold, this currently closed thermal spa shows clear signs of interwar period restorations.
  • Terme Torretta: The eponymous river runs through this thermal spa supplying it with precious water. Terme Torretta, too, was extensively renovated before the Second World War.

 

Other sights in Montecatini Terme

A curative stay in Montecatini Terme can be perfectly combined with a pinch of sightseeing. The thermal spas themselves are gripping sights in their own rights, but we certainly have to introduce you to the following highlights:

  • Santa Maria Assunta: Seeing as numerous old buildings fell victim to Montecatini’s spa town expansions, this church is fairly new only reaching its final form in 1962. The octagonal building with four lateral chapels unites old and new stylistic influences.
  • Villa Forini Lippi: This complex predates the spa boom and existed at least as early as the 17th Created by aggregating several rural buildings, this monumental facility is surrounded by an equally tremendous park. Don’t sleep on the stunning staircase on the façade with its double stone ramp and elegant loggia.
  • Grotta Maona: Finally, we send you north just a bit outside the town where this stalactite cave was discovered during quarry operations in 1860. Grotta Maona is the only cave in all of Italy with two underground lakes and likely the country’s only commercial cave with a different entrance and exit. You can visit it as part of approx. 20-minute-long guided morning and afternoon tours between April 1st and October 15th.

 

The other spa towns of the UNESCO World Heritage Site

©Bigstock.com/mazzzur

©Bigstock.com/mazzzur

We mentioned it in the beginning: there are a whopping eleven cure destinations as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great Spa Towns of Europe”. Now that you know quite a bit about one of them, let’s just sneak a peek at the other ten institutions:

  • Spa (Belgium): Healing powers have been attributed to the mineral water springs in the Ardennes for centuries. Beyond the thermal spa facilities there’s a neat hiking trail connecting the most important springs.
  • Baden-Baden (Germany): 13 healing springs, their respective thermal spa buildings, and the expansive spa town infrastructure are all part of this massive UNESCO site.
  • Bad Kissingen (Germany): King Otto of Greece, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Richard Strauss and Gioachino Rossini used to take their curative leaves here in charming, leisurely Lower Franconia.
  • Bad Ems (Germany): The healing springs for drinking and bathing cures reach water temperatures of up to 57 °C. They are used to manufacture the throat lozenges “Emser Pastillen”.
  • Vichy (France): The springs of Vichy rose to fame during the second half of the 17th century when the Marquise de Sevigné supposedly had the rheumatic paralysis in her hands successfully cured.
  • Baden (Austria): The Biedermeier town and imperial town became an important spa resort for Emperor Franz Joseph I who, beginning in the 19th century, spent his summers here for almost 40 years and eventually brought the empire’s upper class to Lower Austria.
  • Františkovy Lázně (Czech Republic): A 19th century ensemble of buildings in the colours Schönbrunn yellow and stucco white adorns the spa district with its magical healing spring and classic bathhouses.
  • Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic): Numerous well-preserved historical thermal spa facilities make the twelve springs of Karlovy Vary accessible to the public. The heavily mineralised water can reach up to 72 °C.
  • Mariánské Lázně (Czech Republic): 40 healing springs in town and another 100 in the close proximity draw the water with high levels of mineral salts and carbon dioxide to the surface. It is used for drinking cures, mud baths and treatments against respiratory ailments.
  • Bath (United Kingdom): A visit of Queen Elizabeth I in 1574 gave Bath its heyday during a period dominated by healing water and bathing cures. The spa town eventually reinvented itself in 2005 with the “Thermae Bath Spa” complex of baths.

 

Fascinating cultural scenery, gripping architecture and infrastructure, and some health, well-being and spa indulgence on top of it: Montecatini Terme is one of Europe’s most significant spa towns for a reason. The UNESCO site is always worth a visit and best combined with a bit of a round trip of Tuscany or a city holiday in and around Florence or Lucca. Have fun and to your health!

City of arts Teramo with vast Roman history

Teramo takes a special role among Italy’s diverse cities of arts in more than one way. For starters, how about the rather unique location in Northern Abruzzo between the tallest summit of the Apennines and the Adriatic Coast? Moreover, agriculture is one of the key factors here, especially the vineyards and olive groves. And then there’s the particularly extensive, highly interesting history of the city; palpable at every corner with buildings and ruins even dating back to pre-Roman times. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? We most definitely agree and invite you to join us on a tour of the city of arts Teramo, a hidden gem in Abruzzo.

 

The city of arts with fascinatingly ancient history

We’ve already talked a bit about Teramo’s notable location between mountains and the coast with numerous hills and groves. This very location originally made the region a popular settlement area, even before the Romans decided to make their presence felt. Various ancient Italic tribes came here in the 1st millennium BC. Eventually, the Praetutii made it their principial town. The Romans conquered the city around 290 BC. They named it Interamna (“between two rivers” due to the rivers Vezzola and Tordino) reaching municipium status later on before fall of the Western Roman Empire led to deterioration.

 

Teramo saw fierce conflicts between influential families in the Middle Ages and was destroyed more than once. Later centuries brought the sale of the city including a failed rebellion, a devastating earthquake, and a disastrous outbreak of the plague. Teramo eventually became a centre of intellectual life during the Age of Enlightenment … until French and Napoleonic troops put a brutal stop to this brief glimmer of hope. The city only experienced some measure of stability after it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy.

 

Cathedral of Teramo

©Bigstock.com/DinoPh

©Bigstock.com/DinoPh

Even though only playing a minor role during the Middle Ages and in later centuries, this period led to the conception and creation of numerous exciting buildings still exuding a fascinating energy. Santa Maria Assunta, the Cathedral of Teramo, will wow you. The roots of this church are way older. A glass floor inside the cathedral displays the ruins of the 6th century Santa Maria Aprutiensis, itself built on a Roman foundation and later destroyed by the Normans. Bishop Guido II had the new cathedral constructed in 1158 as a repository for the relics of Saint Berardo. Masonry rocks of the Roman theatre and the amphitheatre were used – one of the reasons why these structures only survived as ruins.

 

It goes without saying that Santa Maria Assunta saw a number of conversions over the centuries before eventually being reverted to its medieval look. The art treasures of the cathedral are invaluable, particularly the antependium by Nicola da Guardiagrele. 35 embossed and chiselled silver sheets adorn the piece. Jacobello del Fiore’s polyptych depicts the coronation of the Virgin Mary by Christ. There are even more breathtaking miracles of grand architecture and even grander art for you to see, such as the monumental chapel of Saint Berardo or the equally impressive campanile.

 

Other churches

Santa Maria Assunta itself would be more than enough reason for visiting Teramo, but you might want to see a few other interesting spots. How about checking out more churches? No worries, we’ve got you covered:

  • Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie: This building is best-known for its wooden statue of the Virgin Mary on the main altar. Quite miraculous powers are attributed to it. Numerous paintings and old, somewhat deteriorated frescoes adorn the interior.
  • Chiesa di Sant’Anna dei Pompetti: This small church used to be part of the Santa Maria Aprutiensis complex. History becomes palpable in this ancient 6th century structure with modern frescoes and a statue of the eponymous saint.
  • Sant’Agostino: Unfortunately, severe earthquakes in more recent years heavily damaged this Neo-Renaissance church. You should try to check out the spectacularly decorated portal in all its detailed glory while the building itself is supposed to be turned into a diocesan museum.
  • Chiesa dei Cappuccini: Despite having been built during the 12th century, the Capuchin church plus convent only received its name when the friars moved in around 1596. A truly special baroque altar with a wooden tabernacle is hidden behind the non-descript façade.

 

Even more sights in Teramo

Teramo actually unearths gem after gem and we’re far from done. Ready for the next round of highlights? (Pre-)Roman structures, a magnificent castle and an abandoned psychiatric hospital are on our itinerary. Yes, really!

  • Casa dei Melatino: We start, however, with one of the few medieval buildings that managed to survive rather flatteringly. Take a closer look at the façade to see different materials representing various phases of renovation. Casa dei Melatino houses majolica and porcelain exhibitions among other things.
  • Borgo Mediavale: This small, medieval village, also known as Castello della Monica, was only built in the 19th The replicas with a neo-Gothic focus and numerous frescoes take a fresh spin on the city’s former glory.
  • Necropoli di Ponte Messato: We couldn’t be any further away from glory now. Teramo’s probably oldest surviving structure was discovered by pure coincidence while building a coach garage in 1961. Established in pre-Roman times and expanded during Roman rule, the area of the necropolises also includes various mausoleums and temples.
  • Torre Bruciata: This 2nd century BC tower near the former Santa Maria Aprutiensis, however, is fully Roman. The fortified Torre Bruciata used to overlook a mighty defensive wall in pre-Christian times. It might have been used as a bell tower in later years.
  • Ospedale psichiatrico: Calling a psychiatric hospital a sight might sound strange, but the facility built in 1323 is among the most famous structures in Teramo’s historic centre. There have been a lot of discussions and debates about the future of this remarkable site ever since it permanently closed its doors in 1998. The only thing certain now is that it will be preserved for future generations in one way or another.

 

Sure, Teramo might not be the prime destination among Italy’s cities of arts, but that’s exactly what makes it the perfect place for your next holiday. Wide open squares and narrow alleys in Northern Abruzzo are steeped in history. Palpable Roman presence collides with the remains of feudal conflicts and rather monumental architecture – sometimes a bit older, sometimes new yet still historicised. Let this hidden gem blow you away!