Monthly Archives: May 2013

Photo Essay – Andorra

Posted by on May 30, 2013

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.

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

Posted by on May 28, 2013

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

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

From the World Heritage inscription:

Villa Adriana 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 theatre, 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 centre 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.

The second of the two villa world heritage sites in Tivoli is 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 is only 10 minutes by car from the Villa d’Este and and 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.

My day trip to Tivoli tour of the villas was arranged and provided by Walks of Italy.

Tuesday Travel Update – Talking in Toronto

Posted by on May 28, 2013

TorontoAfter flying from Rome, Berlin, Brussels and New York I’ve finally arrived in Toronto for the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) annual conference. This is the 5th North American TBEX I’ve attended and it has quickly become the Super Bowl for my little industry. This week is a break from traveling for me and is nothing but parties, receptions and business meetings.

Toronto also happens to be the headquarters for G Adventures, which as you know by now, is my principal sponsor. In fact I’ve set up in a cubical today in Base Came (their name for the Toronto office) and am working on their blazingly fast internet connection.

I haven’t been here since last September and they’ve remodeled 2/3 of their office. It looks great and has a very contemporary design. I always enjoy coming to Base Camp and meeting all the G people I only get to see once or twice a year.

Despite my busy schedule this week, I actually consider this rather relaxing compared to my normal schedule. I get the luxury of staying in the same hotel for 5 whole days(!) and get to meet many people who I’ve only met online. The most stressful thing I have to do is hobnob and drink.
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UNESCO World Heritage Site #249: Villa d’Este, Tivoli

Posted by on May 27, 2013

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

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

From the World Heritage inscription:

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 storeys, 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 on to 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 amphitheatre. 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.

There are two world heritage sites in the town of Tivoli, located outside of Rome. Both site 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 bit 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 was 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 site.

My day trip to Tivoli tour of the villas was arranged and provided by Walks of Italy.

Travel, Exhaustion and a Change of Strategy

Posted by on May 27, 2013

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.
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