Photo Essay – Andorra

Andorra might be one of the smallest countries in the world, but it is certainly high on the list of the most picturesque. Located high in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, Andorra is one of the world’s oldest democracies and the world’s only co-principality (the co-heads of state are the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain). It is also the only country in the world which uses Catalan as the official language.

Andorra is difficult to get to, but it is worth the trip. It is one of the few countries in the world that lacks both a train station or an airport. To get there you have to come by car or bus from Spain or France. The most common route is to fly to Barcelona and take a 3 hour drive through the Pyrenees.

Continue reading “Photo Essay – Andorra”

Villa Adriana (Tivoli)

UNESCO World Heritage Site #250: Villa Adriana (Tivoli)
Villa Adriana (Tivoli): My 250th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Villa Adriana (Tivoli):

The Villa Adriana (Tivoli) is a masterpiece that uniquely brings together the highest expressions of the material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world. Study its monuments played a crucial role in the rediscovery of the elements of classical architecture by the architects of the Renaissance and the Baroque period. It also profoundly influenced many 19th- and 20th-century architects and designers.

The villa covers more than 120 ha on the slopes of the Tiburtine Hills. It was originally occupied by a late Republican villa, the property of Hadrian’s wife, Vibia Sabina. The imperial residence was built over it in AD 118-38. It was a symbol of a power that was gradually becoming absolute and which distanced itself from the capital. After Hadrian’s death in 138, his successors preferred Rome as their permanent residence, but the villa continued to be enlarged and further embellished. Constantine the Great is alleged to have removed some of its finer pieces to his new capital, Byzantium. The villa was sacked and plundered by successive barbarian invaders and fell into neglect, being used as a quarry by builders and lime-burners. Interest in the ruins was rekindled in the 15th century by Pope Pius II (Aeneas Silvius). Excavations to recover its glories were ordered by Alexander VI at the beginning of the 16th century. When Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este began to construct his nearby Villa d’Este he continued the excavations, supervised by his architect Pirro Ligorio, to obtain works of art to adorn it.

The many structures are arranged without any overall plan within this area. They fall into four specific groups. The first group includes the Greek Theatre and the Temple of Aphrodite Cnidi. The theater, which is in a good state of conservation, although only fragmentary, is of conventional design. Its cavea is cut into the hillside and is some 36 m in diameter. The small circular temple is situated in a large semi-circular exedra.

The second group, including the Maritime Theatre, Court of the Libraries, Latin and Greek Libraries, Imperial Palace and Golden Square, is the core of the complex, aligned with the Vale of Tempe. The various elements are grouped round four peristyles. The Maritime (or Naval) Theatre is a circular structure 43 m in diameter; the Ionic marble peristyle encloses a circular moat surrounding a central island with a miniature villa. The Court of the Libraries, the oldest part of the ensemble, is a colonnaded portico with a nymphaeum on its northern side. The two ‘libraries’ are reached by passages on either side of the nymphaeum. The palace consists of a complex of rooms around a courtyard. The Golden Square is one of the most impressive buildings in the complex: the vast peristyle is surrounded by a two-aisled portico with alternate columns in cipollino marble and Egyptian granite

The third group comprises the Pecile, Stadium and its associated buildings, Small and Large Thermae, Canopus, Serapeum and Cento Camerelle. The Pecile (or Poikile) is a reproduction of an imposing structure in Athens famous for its paintings and its associations with the Stoic philosophers which consists of a large rectangular enclosure. Part of its massive walls survives; they had colonnades on either side. In the center was a rectangular pool enclosed by a free space, perhaps used as a racetrack. The two sets of baths are conventional in form. The smaller is considered to have been used exclusively by women. The Canopus is an elongated canal imitating the famous sanctuary of Serapis near Alexandria. The semi-circular exedra of the Serapeum is located at its southern end.

The fourth group includes the Lily Pond, Roccabruna Tower, and Academy. The tower is a complex of buildings, the purpose of which is not clearly established. In addition to these structures, there is a complex of underground elements, including cryptoportici and underground galleries, used for internal communications and storage. A number of the ancient structures are overlaid by a series of farmhouses and other buildings, mostly from the 18th century. They were built directly on the earlier foundations and it is difficult to dissociate them from the ancient structures.

Villa Adriana

The second of the two villa world heritage sites in Tivoli is Villa Adriana aka Hadrian’s Villa.

Of the two villas, Hadrian’s gets only a small fraction of the number of visitors that the Villa d’Este gets. It is a much larger site which requires more walking and most of the site are ruins. That being said, they might be better ruins than the Roman Forum itself and it is one of the few places near Rome where you can view ruins without large crowds.

You can still see the rooms, pools, and baths of the palace even though much of the facing marble has been removed. You can also still see bits of original fresco near the ceiling of the baths as well as original marble work in some places.

If you visit the villa, you should also visit the Villa d’Este and the Vatican Museum in conjunction. Both sites have material and art objects taken from Hadrian’s Villa. Many of the statues dedicated to Hadrian’s young male lover Antinous in the Vatican Museum and much of the marble is now in the Villa d’Este.

The Villa Adriana is only 10 minutes by car from the Villa d’Este and is 30-60 minutes from the center of Rome depending on traffic. The villa is not near the center of town, so if you take a bus or train, you will need to take a local bus or taxi to get to the site.

The villa is an exceptional site and given its proximity to Rome should be considered a must-see for anyone interested in Roman history.

Overview

Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana, also known as Hadrian’s Villa, is a Roman archaeological complex located in Tivoli, Italy. This is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 during the 23rd session. It is located close to another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli – Villa d’Este. The impressive villa is now under the ownership of the Republic of Italy. The Polo Museale del Lazio has directed and supervised the villa since December 2014.

The ruins of Villa Adriana are located about 5 kilometers outside of Tivoli’s city center. Its magnificence has been compared to anything you will find in Rome. The villa was constructed in 118 and 138 AD. It is also one of the largest villas from the ancient world, spanning 120 hectares in land area. About 40 hectares of the entire property is open to the public.

About Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana

Villa Adriana is a large and awe-inspiring Roman archaeological complex – the biggest of its kind outside Rome. The spot was specifically chosen by Emperor Hadrian to build his massive complex in. Within the complex, you will find various monuments such as a theater, stadium, library, thermal baths, underground supply tunnels, servant’s quarters, and numerous water features such as fountains and pools. The sacred landscape at the villa is considered as the best example of Alexandrian Roman garden.

The scale of this complex is amazing; visitors could spend hours exploring the various expanses of the ruins. Roman Emperor Hadrian had the Villa Adriana built since he disliked staying in the Palatine Hill in Rome. For this reason, he commissioned the building of the retreat during the 2nd century AD. While he run the empire, he lived in the villa.

Villa Adriana

By the time of the Roman Empire’s decline in the 4th century, the villa fell into a state of disuse. Eventually, some of the statues and marbles were taken away from the villa. During the 16th century, when Cardinal Ippolito d’Este commissioned the building of Villa d’Este, he asked that the remaining statues and marbles from Villa Adriana taken to his villa for decoration.

In 1999, UNESCO named Villa Adriana as a cultural World Heritage Site for its historical and archaeological significance. It is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tivoli, along with the nearby Villa d’Este. Due to the rapid deterioration of the ruins at Villa Adriana, it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites on endangered list.

Tips for Visiting

Villa AdrianaBefore you visit Villa Adriana, you need to keep these practical tips in mind:

  • The villa is expansive! You could spend hours exploring the grounds. Make sure to carry a bottled water with you.
  • The admission fee for the villa is €6.50. You can get a ticket at the ticket office by the main entrance. In this area, you will also find the a souvenir shop, bar, and toilets.
  • There is parking available on-site but for a €3 fee.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Nov 4, 2017 @ 11:31 pm

Villa d’Este, Tivoli

UNESCO World Heritage Site #249: Villa d'Este, Tivoli
Villa d’Este, Tivoli: My 249th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Villa d’Este, Tivoli:

The gardens of the Villa d’Este had a profound influence on the development of garden design throughout Europe. They are among the earliest and finest of the giardini delle meraviglie and symbolize the flowering of Renaissance culture.

On 9 September 1550, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (1509-72) arrived in Tivoli, having obtained the post of governor of the town. The official residence assigned to him in Tivoli, part of the monastery of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, did not suit him. He therefore, decided to build a splendid villa with gardens, the design of which is traditionally attributed to Pirro Ligorio (1500-83).

The ensemble composed of the palace and gardens forms an uneven quadrilateral and covers an area of about 4.5 ha. The plan of the villa is irregular because the architect was obliged to make use of certain parts of the previous monastic building. On the garden side, the architecture of the palace is very simple: a long main body of three stories, marked by bands, rows of windows, and side pavilions that barely jut out. This uniform facade is interrupted by an elegant loggia in the middle, with two levels and stair ramps, built by Raffaello da Firenze and Biasioto (1566-67). The lower level is decorated with the Fountain of Leda. The main rooms of the villa are arranged in rows on two floors and open onto the garden. The private apartment of the cardinal, consisting of four rooms, is on the same level as the courtyard, and the reception rooms, linked together at the back by a long corridor called the Manica Lunga, are on the lower level.

The Villa d’Este garden stretches over two steep slopes, descending from the palace down to a flat terrace in the manner of an amphitheater. The loggia of the palace marks the longitudinal and central axis of the garden. Five main transversal axes become the central axis from the fixed point of view created by the villa, as each of these axes terminates in one of the main garden fountains. Even though the central aisle stops beyond the axis of the Hundred Fountains to give way to a network of diagonal paths that make it easier to climb back to the palace, the latter remains the main visual axis. The first main transversal axis, bordering the flat part of the garden, the Peschiere, is composed of a row of three basins. At the extreme east of this water chain is the Fontana dell’Organo: it is rectangular in shape with two orders crowned by a double-scrolled pediment. The water organ, the work of Claude Vénard, was inspired by examples from antiquity: the interaction between water and air produced. [CL – something missing]Beyond the Peschiere, two staircases start climbing towards the villa. The side stairs, the Scalinata dei Bollori of 1567, are flanked by two stepped parapets crowned with basins pouring out torrents of water. Beyond the transversal path of the Dragons, the central stairway is divided into oval flights around the Fontana dei Draghi. This nymphaeum and its exedra is the real centre of the ensemble. Four-winged dragons emerge from the middle of the large oval basin, spurting out jets of water. The parapet is ornamented with vases from which water also flows. The Alley of the Hundred Fountains is formed of three long superposed basins, its water crossing the entire garden.

However, the most striking effect is produced by the big cascade flowing out of a krater perched in the middle of the exedra. Jets of water were activated whenever unsuspecting people walked under the arcades. Behind the exedra rises an artificial mountain, with three alcoves holding statues of the Sibylla of Tibur with her son Melicerte (1568) and the river divinities Erculaneo and Anio. To the west is its counterpart, the Fountain of Rome (Rometta) built in 1567-70.

The Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Glass), built according to a design by Bernini (1660-61) was added to the decoration of the central longitudinal axis in the 17th century. This fountain is in the shape of a serrated chalice, from which a high jet of water falls into a conch shell. During this period the large pergola at the original entrance to the villa was also replaced by the Rotunda of the Cypresses (c . 1640), a circular area adorned with four small fountains and surrounded by ancient cypress trees.

Villa d’Este

There are two world heritage sites in the town of Tivoli, located outside of Rome. Both sites are also historic villas, but the similarities between the two end there.

The Villa d’Este is a Renaissance villa created by the Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, it was created to impress other curial figures in his bid to one day become pope. (he failed) The villa is best known for its numerous and elaborate fountains which can be found all over the property. The fountains were all run on gravity and remain so to this day.

Of the two world heritage villas in Tivoli, the Villa d’Este is by far the more popular attraction, mainly because of the fountains. There are bits of the property which are in need of renovation, but for the most part, it is in good shape.

The one connection between the Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villa is that Hadrian’s Villa was looted for materials that were used in the creation of Villa d’Este. Much of the marble at the site was taken from the nearby Roman ruins.

The villa is only a 30-45 min drive from Rome in good traffic. There is also train and bus service which will take you to Tivoli. The villa in near the center of town and is adjacent to the cathedral. Plan about 90 minutes for a full tour of the site.

Overview

Villa d’Este

Villa d’Este is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy. It is a 16th century villa located in Tivoli that was inscribed by UNESCO in 2001. This UNESCO site is best known for its terraced hillside garden that features Italian Renaissance style. In addition, the garden is built with numerous fountains that add a sense of elegance and luxury to this villa’s garden.

Today, Villa d’Este has been converted into an Italian state museum. It is also recognized as the triumph of Baroque as it is one of the best examples of Baroque style.

About Villa d’Este

There are two components to Villa d’Este that is recognized by UNESCO: the Villa and the Gardens and Fountains. In order to gain a better understanding of the extent of this UNESCO site’s grandeur and cultural heritage, it is important to look into each component.

The Villa

Villa d’Este

To access Villa d’Este, you need to do so via the doorway at Piazza Trento near the entrance to the Church of Santa-Maria Maggiore. Villa d’Este was commissioned for by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este along with Lucrezia Borgia. The Este family is known as patrons of the arts and as humanist scholars during the Renaissance period. Ippolito became the Archbishop of Milan despite being only 10 years old. At 27, he was sent to the French Court and became advisor to King Francis I. He was also a candidate for Pope for 5 times but was never selected.

During this time, Tivoli was a popular since for building a summer residence since the altitude facilitated cooler temperature. In addition, it is also located within close proximity to Villa Hadriana, which was Emperor Hadrian I’s summer residence. This is where and when d’Este commissioned for a new villa to be built that could rival that of Villa Hadriana’s prominence and any other Roman sites within the vicinity. He tapped prominent classical scholar Pirro Ligorio to build a plan for a new villa and garden. The goal was to exceed anything that the Romans had built at that time. The ruins of Hadrian’s villa enabled them to obtain an abundance of marble and statuary.

Villa d’Este

The construction was initially planned at the end of 1550. However, during this time, d’Este was sent off into various diplomatic missions forcing the construction plans to stop. When Pope Pius IV replaced Pope Paul IV after the latter’s death, d’Este was once again appointed the Governor of Tivoli. This enabled him to resume construction of the villa in 1560.

Various houses, public buildings, and roads were demolished during the process of building Villa d’Este. From 1563 to 1565, the construction work was ongoing to build terraces, arcades, grottoes, nymphauems, and niches. The was from the nearby river Aniene had to be diverted in order to support the system of channels, water jets, cascades, and pools at Villa d’Este. It was Ferrarese architect-designer Alberto Galvani who supervised the plans for the villa.

Gardens and Fountains

Villa d’Este

The Villa d’Este and its complex systems of fountains and gardens is largely responsible for its fame and glory. There are 51 fountains and nymphaeums, 398 spouts, 64 waterfalls, 364 water jets, and 220 basins that make up its garden. It takes 875 canals, channels, and cascades in order to feed water throughout these water systems. The most impressive thing about these fountains is that they are not powered by pumps – all of them are working through the force of gravity alone.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Oct 30, 2017 @ 10:22 pm

Travel, Exhaustion and a Change of Strategy

I am writing this somewhere over the Atlantic ocean between Brussels and New York.

I’m returning to the US (briefly) after 4 of the most hectic months of travel I’ve experienced since I began traveling full time in 2007. In just the first 5-months of 2013 I have been to 16 countries, 69 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (including repeat visits), and I estimate I’ve stayed in between 50-60 different hotel rooms.

..and I enjoyed almost every minute of it

Nonetheless, I am physically and mentally exhausted. If you haven’t noticed, I have been very lax in updating my website the last few months. Every day I was visiting a different city, taking photos and visiting different historical sites. At the end of each day I’d go back to a hotel room, usually one that I just checked-in to, and attempt to rest and recover. This didn’t leave a lot of time for writing, photo editing or reflection.

I find myself six and one-half years into my travels like a glutton at an all you can eat buffet. I love traveling as much now as I ever have, and that is exactly the problem. The opportunities I am given running a popular travel blog mean that I can indulge in as many travel opportunities as I want. If I so desired, I could extend the last four months out to infinity, continuing to move from city to city, exploring the world…..and killing myself in the process.
Continue reading “Travel, Exhaustion and a Change of Strategy”

Costiera Amalfitana

UNESCO World Heritage Site #248: Costiera Amalfitana
Costiera Amalfitana: My 248th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Costiera Amalfitana:

Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution. The area covers 11,231 ha in 15 [16?]communes in the Province of Salerno. Its natural boundary is the southern slope of the peninsula formed by the Lattari hills which, stretching from the Picentini hills to the Tyrrhenian Sea, separate the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno. It consists of four main stretches of the coast (Amalfi, Atrani, Reginna Maior, Reginna Minor) with some minor ones (Positano, Praiano, Certaria, Hercle), with the mountain villages of Scala, Tramonti and Ravello and hamlets of Conca and Furore behind and above them.

Paleolithic and Mesolithic materials have been found at Positano, and the area was favored by the Romans, judging from the villas of Positano, Minori and Gallo Lungo. However, it was not intensively settled until the early Middle Ages, when the Gothic War made it a place of refuge. Amalfi was founded in the 4th century AD. A new Roman colony in nearby Lucania came under barbarian attack and the inhabitants moved to the fertile and well-watered hilly area around modern Scala. In the first written reference to Amalfi (596) it was already a fortified town and the seat of a bishopric. It resisted Lombard attacks until 838 when it was conquered and looted by Sicardo. However, after his death the following year the town declared its independence. The new republic was governed by a ruler whose title had become Doge by 958. This political autonomy enabled Amalfi to become a maritime trading power between the early 9th and late 11th centuries when the sea power of Byzantium was in decline and a free market developed. Amalfi had a near-monopoly of trade in the Tyrrhenian Sea, with vast networks of links, selling Italian products (wood, iron, weapons, wine, fruit) in eastern markets and buying in return spices, perfumes, pearls, jewels, textiles, and carpets to sell in the West. The layout of the settlements showed eastern influence: the closely spaced houses climbing up the steep hillsides, connected by a maze of alleys and stairs, are reminiscent of the souks of the Levant. A distinctive Arab-Sicilian architecture originated and developed in Amalfi.

With the eclipse of the mercantile importance of Amalfi by Genoa, Venice and, above all, Pisa, and its conquest by Spain, it fell into an uninterrupted decline. The only significant change to the landscape was the reinforcement of the system of watchtowers along the coast, to give warning and protection against Turkish attacks. The towns and villages of Costiera Amalfitana are characterized by their architectural monuments, such as the Torre Saracena at Cetara, the Romanesque Cathedral of Amalfi and its ‘Cloister of Paradise’, with their strong oriental influences, the Church of San Salvatore de’ Bireto at Atrani, where the Dogi of Amalfi were elected, and Ravello with its fine cathedral and the superb Villa Rufolo.

Inland the steep slopes rising from the coast are covered with terraces, revetted with drystone walling and used for the cultivation of citrus and other fruits, olives, vines and vegetables of all kinds. Further inland the hillsides are given over to dairy farming, whose roots are ancient in the area, based on sheep, goats, cattle and buffalo. In some parts of the Costiera, the natural landscape survives intact, with little, if any, human intervention. It supports the traditional Mediterranean flora of myrtle, lentisk, broom, euphorbia, etc. Elsewhere there are stands of trees such as holm oak, alder, beech, and chestnut. Other biotopes shelter pantropical ferns, butterwort, dwarf palms and endemic carnivorous species. The Costiera is also rich in wildlife. The higher mountain areas are noteworthy for the characteristic mule tracks (mulattiere ). There are many small streams which in places drop over impressive waterfalls. There is an immense diversity of landscapes, ranging from the coastal settlements through the intensively cultivated lower slopes and large areas of open pastoral land to the dramatic high mountains. In addition, there are ‘micro-landscapes’ of great scientific interest resulting from topographical and climatic variations, and striking natural formations in the limestone karst at both sea level and above.

Costiera Amalfitana

The Costiera Amalfitana aka the Amalfi Coast is one of the highlights of Italy and is considered by some to be a world wonder.

The houses and towns along the coast seem to defy gravity by perching on cliff faces and hills that no sane person would ever want to live on. The effect, however, is absolutely stunning.

There are several ways to explore the coast. There are water taxis available that will go between the cities of Amalfi and Positano. This is a great way to see how the cities look from the sea. There are also buses that run between the cities, which are an experience in themselves.

Another great thing to do is hike the Walk of the Gods from Bomerano to Positano. It is approximately a 4-6 hour walk, mostly downhill. Part of the path is paved but most of it is a rocky trail. It provides some of the best views of the entire coast.

There are no trains on the Amalfi coast due to the terrain. You have to arrive by car, bus or boat. Evenings are the best time to explore the cities as the tour buses and cruise ships have left by then.

Overview

Costiera Amalfitana

Costiera Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy. Inscribed in 1997, this site encompasses a stretch of coastline located on the Salermo Gulf in the Italian province of Salermo. This is a popular tourist destination in Italy and the most visited part of this region in Italy. In fact, thousands of tourists visit the Amalfi Coast on an annual basis.

The Amalfi Coast is facing the Tyrhennian Sea and appears to be a grand balcony suspended on a cliff and facing the cobalt blue sea. When you think of Italian coast, the image of Amalfi Coast often comes to mind. But beyond its natural beauty, it is the cultural heritage of Costiera Amalfitana that has earned its nod from UNESCO.

About Costiera Amalfitana

Costiera Amalfitana

The Costiera Amalfitana is set in a unique environment. Hence, it exhibits the best example of a Mediterranean landscape for its enormous natural and cultural value. It combines the unique topographical characteristics with the historical evolution in making Costiera Amalfitana a unique location. For this reason, it earned the nod of UNESCO when it was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site during the 21st session.

The Costiera Amalfitana consists of various cities and towns- each with their own traditions and peculiarities. Below are some of the top municipalities in Costiera Amalfitana and their own unique features and monuments:

Costiera Amalfitana

 

  • The architectonic monument of Saracen Tower in Cetara
  • Romanesque Cathedral of Amalfi and “Cloister of Paradise”
  • Church of San Salvatore de’Bireto in Atrani
  • Beautiful cathedral and Villa Rufolo in Ravello
  • ”Cradle of Majolica” aka Vietri sul Mare
  • Painted Village of Furore
  • Fishing Villages of Maiori and Cetara
  • Valley of the Dragon in Atrani
  • 16th century homes with vaulted roofs in Conca Dei Marini
  • Coast of Minori

The economy of Costiera Amalfitana is sustained by its production of limoncello liqueur. This region of Italy is known for its cultivation of lemons that are grown in terraced gardens. Hence, they use those for the production of limoncello and it has become part of the region’s identity. A few of Costiera Amalfitana’s products include various kinds of anchovies and a handmade thick paper known as bambagina.

How to Get Here

Costiera Amalfitana

To get to Amalfi Coast from outside Italy, you must take a flight via the nearest airport, which is Salerno Costa d’Amalfi Airport. You can also travel via the Naples International Airport. From Naples, you can take buses or ferries that travel to Amalfi Coast. For those wishing to visit Costiera Amalfitana on a day trip, there are boat excursions that travel to Amalfi and Positano.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Oct 30, 2017 @ 7:02 pm

18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

UNESCO World Heritage Site #247: 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex
18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex: My 247th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex:

The monumental complex at Caserta, while cast in the same mould as other 18th-century royal establishments, is exceptional for the broad sweep of its design, incorporating an imposing palace and park, and also much of the surrounding natural landscape and an ambitious new town laid out according to urban planning precepts of its time. The industrial complex of the Belvedere, designed to produce silk, is also of outstanding interest because of the idealistic principles underlying its original conception and management.

In 1734 Charles III, son of Philip V, became King of Naples, a self-governing kingdom that was no longer part of the Spanish realm. He decided in 1750 to build a new royal palace, to rival the Palace of Versailles. It was designed to be the center of a new town that would compete with leading European cities. He employed architect Luigi Vanvitelli, then engaged in the restoration o St Peter’s in Rome. The Bosco di San Silvestro, on the two hills of Montemaiuolo and Montebriano, was covered with vineyards and orchards when in 1773 Ferdinand IV decided to enclose it and create a hunting park.

The hill of San Leucio takes its name from the Lombard church at its top. A hunting lodge, the Belvedere, had been built at its foot in the 16th century by the Princes of Caserta. The fief had been purchased by Charles Ill, and in 1773 Ferdinand IV initiated work on the Old Hunting Lodge, to be abandoned after the death of his son. In 1778 the king decided to begin the production of silk. His architect, Collecini, converted the building for this purpose, as the center of a large industrial complex, including a school, accommodation for teachers, silkworm rooms, and facilities for spinning and dyeing the silk. He issued a series of laws in 1789 to regulate the San Leucio Royal Colony: this laid down piecework rates of pay, abolished dowries, and prescribed similar clothing for all the workers, in a form of proto-socialism. During the next decade, plans were made for enlargement of the village, and Collecini produced designs for a town, to be known as ‘Ferdinandopolis’, but this dream was not realized because of the French occupation.

The fishponds in the gardens of the Royal Palace, the Royal Silk Factory and the planned new town all required large amounts of water, and so the Carolino Aqueduct was built (completed in 1769) to bring water from the Fizo spring over a distance of 38 km to the top of Montebriano. In 1744 Charles III acquired the rich Carditello estate. The hunting lodge there was built in 1784, as part of a complex of rural houses and roads radiating fanwise from the main building. This had the royal apartments in the center and rooms for agricultural and stock-rearing activities on either side.

18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

I was very impressed with Caserta.

I knew nothing about this site before I visited and I came away wondering why I haven’t heard more about it. Caserta is easily on the same level as Versailles and Schönbrunn. Not only had I never heard of it, but most of the people who were visiting were Italians, not foreigners, which is the exact opposite of what you see at almost every other Italian monument or attraction.

The real highlight of Casearta is the enormous waterworks which extends out several kilometers from the palace itself. As can be seen in the image, it extends up a mountain with waterfalls bringing the water down to the fountains and pools on the level of the garden. To experience the entire garden will take several hours of walking.

Despite being 30km from Naples, I had a very difficult time visiting Caserta. I made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday when many of the buses and trains were canceled. If you visit any other day (other than Tuesday when it is closed) getting there from Naples should be quite easy as there are regular trains and buses. The palace is short walking distance from the train station can can’t be missed.

I highly recommend visiting Caserta to anyone who visits Naples. This site is very overlooked and should be better known.

Overview

18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

The 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy. It was inscribed in 1997 and is located in Caserta, Italy. This UNESCO site earned its recognition due to its ability to adapt to its surrounding landscape and its integration of the construction of palace and other features to co-exist with these elements.

The 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex came about after King Charles of Bourbon’s desire to build an inland Royal Palace from Naples. He didn’t want to stay in his former palace anymore given that it was vulnerable to attacks from the sea. He eventually decided to build his palace in Caserta. With Luigi Vanvitelli as the architect, the construction began in 1752. But the palace wasn’t completed by the time of his death in 1773 so his son Carlo had to take over and finished the 250-meter wide façade and all five floors of the building. The palace consists of about 1,200 rooms and 1,790 windows in total.

About the 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

The 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex is one of the grandest UNESCO sites in Italy, not only in terms of size but also in its spectacular display of Baroque and Early Neoclassical architectural styles. The Royal Palace of Caserta is the world’s largest royal residence. Hence, that is saying a lot given that there are a handful of royal residences in the world. It covers more than 235,000 square meters in floor area or 2.5 million square feet on all five floors of the building.

When architect Luigi Vantivelli developed the design for the Royal Palace at Caserta, it was believed that he modeled it after the Versailles. This is not in relation to the design and disposition but rather in the ability to assemble the space for king, court, and government into one massive building. When this castle was still being built, the population of Caserta had to be moved to include 10 more kilometers in order to provide additional work force.

The 18th century Royal Palace of Caserta is therefore the primary feature of the UNESCO site 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex. It follows a rectangular plan with all four sides connected by two orthogonal arms. Hence, there are four inner courts within this royal palace. It also has 5 floors and 1,200 rooms including two dozen state apartments, massive library, and a theater that was designed after Naples’ Teatro San Carlo.

18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

Aside from the palace, there are two other components to the UNESCO site 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex. You can learn more about them below:

Aqueduct of Vanvitelli

As the name implies, this part of the 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex is an aqueduct. It was commissioned for by King Charles VII as part of the Royal Palace of Caserta and was also designed by Architect Luigi Vanvitelli. It was built to supply water to the palace and San Leucio Complex. The construction for this aqueduct started in 1753 and was officially opened in 1762.

San Leucio Complex

This complex is another key component of the UNESCO site 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex. It serves as the commune of Caserta within the Campania region in Italy. The site of the complex is a former royal hunting lodge. At the time of its construction, they used the most advanced technologies in Europe.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Oct 30, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

Historic Centre of San Gimignano

UNESCO World Heritage Site #246: Historic Centre of San Gimignano
Historic Centre of San Gimignano: My 246th UNESCO World Heritage Site #246

From the World Heritage inscription for the Historic Centre of San Gimignano:

San Gimignano bears exceptional testimony to the civilization of the Middle Ages in that it groups together within a small area all the structures typical of urban life: squares and streets, houses and palaces, wells and fountains.

San Gimignano is situated in the Val d’Elsa, 56 km south of Florence. Its walls and fortified houses form an unforgettable skyline, in the heart of the Etruscan landscape. San Gimignano was a relay point on the Via Francigena for pilgrims journeying to and from Rome. Originally under the jurisdiction of the bishops of Volterra, it became independent in 1199 when it acquired its first podestà. The free town, known as San Gimignano delle Belle Torri, entered into a long period of prosperity that lasted until 1353 when it fell under the sway of Florence. In 1262 an enceinte measuring 2,177 m, later to be reinforced with five cylindrical towers, girdled the small town.

The town was controlled by two major rival families – the Ardinghelli, Guelph sympathizers, and the Salvucci, who were Ghibellines – and was the scene of incessant conflicts between the two clans. As symbols of their wealth and power, 72 tower houses were built. Of these, 14 have survived, including the Cugnanesi house on the former Via Francigena (Via San Giovanni); the Pesciolini house on the Via San Matteo, on the Via del Castello, in the town’s oldest quarter, the Palazzo Franzesi-Ceccarelli house, whose unsymmetrical facade ingeniously circumvented the law of 1255 which stipulated that no new residence should be wider than 12 arm spans for a linear depth of 24 arm spans.

The town grew around two principal squares, the Piazza della Cisterna and the Piazza del Duomo. The triangular Piazza della Cisterna is ornamented with a lovely well that stands in the center. The piazza is bordered by tower houses: the twin towers of the Ardinghellis to the west, the tower of the Benuccis, the Casa Rodolfi and the Palazzo Razzi to the south, and the Palazzo dei Cortesi to the north.

Historic Centre of San Gimignano

The Historic Centre of San Gimignano is a wonderful little Tuscan town best known for its towers. The towers are very reminiscent of the ones I saw in Regensburg, Germany. The town has much more of a medieval feel than most towns in Italy.

San Gimignano is a tourist town, but it doesn’t get anywhere near the level of visitors that other Tuscan towns like Sienna or Florence get. Most people have never heard of it, so the crowds will be much smaller.

It is also much more difficult to get to via public transportation because the town doesn’t have a train station. The closest train station is in the town of Poggibonsi. From the Poggibonsi station, walk outside and you can take the 130 bus to San Gimignano. You purchase the bus ticket in the cafe in the station, not in the bus. Likewise, the bus back to Poggibonsi is purchased in the tabacci store just inside the city walls.

I visited San Gimignano from Lucca which was long, but doable as a day trip. Florence, Sienna or even Pisa would be easier places to reach it from.

Overview

Historic Centre of San Gimignano

The Historic Centre of San Gimignano is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy. It was inscribed in 1990 during the 14th session. It is located within the province of Siena in Italy. The historic center forms part of a small medieval town. The town of San Gimignano is often called “The Town of Fine Towers” due to its medieval architecture. Specifically, there are over a dozen tower houses that are found within the town.

The hilltop setting and encircling walls around the Historic Centre of San Gimignano is notable for its “unforgettable skyline”. The medieval landscape features Gothic and Romanesque architecture. There are also many secular buildings that form the landscape of this medieval town.

About the Historic Centre of San Gimignano

The ancient tower houses are one of the primary features that make the Historic Centre of San Gimignano unique. In fact, the tower houses are what makes San Gimignano famous throughout the world. Many tourists who walk back into the streets feel like they are walking into the 13th and 14th century era of San Gimignano. Originally, there are 72 towers in San Gimignano but now there are only 14 left.

Due to the impressive level of authenticity, integrity and uniqueness of the Historic Centre of San Gimignano, it was recognized by UNESCO in 1990. Below are some of the key features and landmarks that form the historic center:

Historic Centre of San Gimignano

Piazzo del Popolo

This piazza is one of San Gimignano’s most important monuments. The Museo Civico is located within this piazza, which is home to a rich collection of 14th century paintings from the Florentine and Sienese schools. The walls of the palazzo depict frescoes and various scenes of daily life. There is also a tall tower that was built in the 1300s.

The Duomo

This is a Tuscan Romanesque monument considered as a temple of art and faith. When it was originally built, it was a parish church but underwent a variety of renovations. The interior of The Duomo is also filled with beautiful frescoes. In fact, the left side of the wall is Bartolo di Fredi’s “Story of the Old Testament”. On the right wall, there is also a fresco by Barnaba da Siena’s “Story of the New Testament”. The chapel features an elegant altar and saint’s bones.

The Communal Palace

This served as the seat of podesta and is where the Town Gallery is located. You will find many artworks by notable artists such as Benozzo Gozzoli, Domenico di Michelino, Francesco Fiorentino, Pinturicchip, and Filippino Lippi, among others.

Below is a list of the 14 towers that remain standing today at the Historic Centre of San Gimignano:

  • Campanile della Collegiata
  • Torri degli Ardinghelli
  • Torre dei Becci
  • Torre Campatelli
  • Torre Chigi
  • Torre dei Cugnanesi
  • Torre del Diavolo
  • Torre Ficherelli or Ficarelli
  • Torre Grossa
  • Torre di Palazzo Pellari
  • Casa-torre Pesciolini
  • Torre Pettini
  • Torre Rognosa
  • Torri dei Salvucci

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Oct 30, 2017 @ 5:46 pm

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mantua and Sabbioneta

UNESCO World Heritage Site #245: Mantua and Sabbioneta
Mantua and Sabbioneta: My 245th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Mantua and Sabbioneta:

Mantua originated as an Etruscan settlement and developed in Roman times to a small fortified town. It was situated on the highest point of what was then an island in a marshy area along the river Mincio. Some traces of the walls and main streets can still be found in today’s urban fabric. In 804 AD Mantua was made a bishopric. Thanks to a relic of Christ’s blood the city had become an important religious center. In the 10th century, new walls and a moat were built and, in 1115, Mantua became a free commune.

Through history, water regulations have been very important to Mantua and distinguished hydraulic engineering was carried out on many occasions. In 1190, the system of lakes around the city was created with a dam and a bridge across the river, which raised the water level of the upper lake more than four meters. On the dam, twelve water-mills helped to regulate the water. To the south of the city, a canal (the Rio) was dug in the 13th century. It soon became the limit of the extended city – the second ring of growth. At the eastern end of the canal a protected harbor, Porto Catena, was constructed. In the 13th century, several towers and palaces were built in the city and two squares, today’s Broletto and Piazza delle Erbe. In 1272, the Bonacolsi family seized power and carried on the building activities.

….

Sabbioneta was the capital of one of the smallest states in Italy, created when Mantua was divided into several parts in 1478. These parts were still ruled by different branches of the Gonzaga family. It has been known since Roman times as a locality along the Vitelliana road but, even though it has a long history, it can be considered a new foundation. Sabbioneta is the creation of one man, the ruler of the little state Vespasiano Gonzaga Colonna (1531-1591). He had studied the writings and theories of ideal city planning but his aim was to build an impregnable fortress and functioning capital of the state. It is believed that he himself designed the plan and the fortifications with the help of military expertise. The work began sometime between 1554 and 1556.

Between 1588 and 1590, Vincenzo Scamozzi was employed to construct the Teatro all’antica. This is the first properly functioning modern indoor theater, with specific spaces designed to fulfill the requirements of the theater. After the death of Vespasiano, Sabbioneta declined. In the 17th century, it came under Spanish administration but returned to the Gonzagas of Mantua in 1703. Five years later, however, it was annexed to Guastella and, in 1743, taken over by the Habsburgs.

Mantua and Sabbioneta

I have no idea why Mantua and Sabbioneta are lumped together. They have little to do with each other and aren’t that close together like Úbeda and Baeza in Spain.

I visited Mantova, which is the more popular of the two locations to visit.

I wasn’t that impressed with the city. There was nothing about it which jumped out at me and I found it to be just another old European city which happened to get world heritage status. The romanesque cathedral and duke’s palace were interesting, but nothing I haven’t seen in many other European and Italian cities.

The one thing that I did find interesting was the Basilica of Sant’Andrea, which is by far the largest building in the city. It is enormous for a city of its size. Way out of proportion for what you would expect to find. Had the basilica alone been listed, it would have made more sense.

Mantova is a 45 minute train ride from Verona, where I stayed.

Overview

Mantua and Sabbioneta

The Mantua and Sabbioneta is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy. This site was inscribed by UNESCO in 2008. Prior to it being named as a UNESCO site, Mantua and Sabbioneta had two separate nominations for UNESCO in 2006. Now that this site is officially recognized by UNESCO, they are declared as one UNESCO property in two separate locations.

Mantua and Sabbioneta are two towns located near the Po Valley in Italy. These towns are recognized for its Renaissance town planning. However, each component of the UNESCO site offers a different cultural heritage and value. Mantua, for instance, is recognized by UNESCO for the renewal and extension of a city. Meanwhile, Sabbioneta exhibits how the implementation of period theories helped to plan the ideal city.

About Mantua and Sabbioneta

Mantua and Sabbioneta

Mantua and Sabbioneta both flourished during the Renaissance period under the rule of the various Gonzaga family members. This took place from 1328 to 1707. In order to understand the cultural heritage of these two towns as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it is important to take a closer at each one individually.

Mantua

Mantua and Sabbioneta

Mantua is the first component of the UNESCO site Mantua and Sabbioneta. It is a city noted as being cultured and structured due to the population consisting mostly of the aristocratic people. This aristocratic landscape is also complemented by its extraordinary natural environment. In every corner of the city center, you will find remnants and evidence of its prestigious past. The city of Mantua is filled with enchanting palaces, piazzas, courtyards, and porticoes.

There are also several recognizable monuments that make up the cultural identity of Mantua as part of the UNESCO site Mantua and Sabbioneta. These monuments are as follows:

  • The Renaissance Palazzi
  • Sant’Andrea Church
  • Palazzo Ducale
  • San Sebastiano Church
  • Palazzo di Te

Sabbioneta

Mantua and Sabbioneta

The second component of the UNESCO site Mantua and Sabbioneta is Sabbioneta. This is a tiny urban jewel most notable for its art and culture. Some even consider Sabbioneta as the smaller Athens. After the death of its ruler Vespasiano Gonzaga, the city experienced a major decline to the point that many of its inhabitants decided to abandon the city.

However, many of the monuments that were built in Sabbioneta during its height are still preserved today. Below are some of the monuments that shape the cultural heritage of its urban structure:

  • Porta di Accesso Imperiale
  • Porta della Vittoria
  • Galleria degli Antichi
  • Teatro Olimpico
  • Palazzo Giardino
  • Teatro all’antica

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Oct 26, 2017 @ 10:46 pm