Pisa at dusk

November 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Campo dei Miracoli” is the complex made famous by the ludicrously leaning tower of Pisa, ludicrous because how is it possible that this great stone construction hasn’t collapsed yet. This grainy fuzzy iphone snap is all I have of  the magic dusk light that illuminated the “Campo”. Over the years I have been to the magnificent buildings of the Baptistery the Duomo and the Tower many times, I never cease to be amazed by how wonderful this place is. Often my nervous system reacts to powerful aesthetic stimulus buy producing in me the desire to chew.. I assimilate the experience by masticating! So here I was walking around grinding my teeth, specially with the ornately carved Carrara marble exterior  of the Baptistery…crisp washed luminous wedding cake lacework. In contrast the interior of the Baptistery is quite austere. The great arches that support the dome set up a striking visual rhythm, years ago in the pouring rain I went there , at that time a rather shambolic looking guide in his unpressed faded uniform took us in and then unannounced broke into song to demonstrate the extraordinary acoustics with his beautiful tenor voice. I wiped the the rain that was dripping from my head onto the baptistery floor, they could have been tears….

Batistero Pisa


Magical Orvieto

November 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

On our last day with Neil, we decided to go to Orvieto, to get there we drove west and after half an hour from out of the mist “Todi” loomed crowning its hill, swifts scythed through the air reminding me of Brett Whitely’s wonderful painting “Tuscany”. Continuing on following the snaking Tevere river through the increasingly mountainous and wild country, Neil related how in times gone past the area was infested with Brigands who’d swoop down upon merchants and travellers plying the river in boats, before disappearing with their stolen loot back into the untamed valleys and ravines that still distinguish this landscape today.

“Chiaroscuro” made famous by Caravaggio means light and dark.. the term signifies something far more complex than the way this Artist used light and shade, the term evokes the spiritual, ethical, political aesthetic complexity of the Italian way. Italy has given  to the world of some of the most glorious expressions of being human, it has also been a place where horrors have occurred, where darkness has blotted out the light. And there are parts of Italy that are strangely unnerving for me, perhaps something of the past reverberates through time, driving through this area was that for me and then you get to…..

Orvieto is built on top of a huge rocky outcrop, there is evidence of human settlement going back to the bronze age. This town was an Etruscan city and one of the last to fall to the advancing Romans from the south. Today there is little evidence of the Etruscans on the hill top but below you can view their Necropolis below the festooning above.


Entrance to an Etruscan Tomb. The Etruscans spoke a unique language and some words entered our language via the Romans. The Etruscan language has been difficult to analyze, due to its being an isolate. Bonfante, a leading scholar in the field, says “… it resembles no other language in Europe or elsewhere ….Although many inscriptions remain the language as yet has not been deciphered.


View Across the “Necropolis” on the road up to Orvieto

The first time I visited Orvieto I knew nothing about the city, I turned the corner and came into the piazza and was dumbstruck by the beauty of the facade, the design is vigorous alive, inside Pope Innocent III proclaimed the Fourth Crusade in 1201. Nothing prepares you for the Luca Signorelli frescoes, they are outstanding!





One of Orvieto’s great traditions beautiful ceramics




The Romans had to starve the Etruscans into submission it took a year before Orvieto was taken, it was recorded that the inhabitants were treated brutally.

Giorni meravigliosi in Umbria

November 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

On our second day with Neil he suggested we go to an area called “Valnerina”.  We stopped along the way for a coffee and a brioche at a bar and sat next to a bunched up group of “Cacciatore” Italian hunters dressed in their traditional gear. October is hunting season, I read in the news that 35 hunters and one mushroom hunter had died in shooting accidents, there were calls for the government to tighten up the rules, but I doubt if this will come to anything after all this is Italy!

We left the mens gathering who by now were playing cards and drinking wine and  continued up and over a high mountain range and then descended into the “Valnerina” a beautiful secluded mountainous area covered with forests. Wolves and Cingiale reportedly still roam this area.

We made our way to “Leonessa” on the border with Abruzzo  Neil new of a great trattoria where we ate an excellent lunch. we walked around the town visiting the beautiful Piazza ….every town in Italy has a beautiful Piazza everyone unique.

From here we drove to a small town called Monteleone ( Mount of the Lion) to see the extraordinary sixth century BC gilded bronze Etruscan chariot, what we saw was a reproduction made by the Italian Sculptor Giacomo Manzu in the 1980’s, the original is in the Met in New York. It is a truly magnificent work of amazing artistic skill illustrating the Iliad story of Achilles and his battles with the Trojans. The original was discovered by a local peasant farmer in 1902 who apparently sold it for scrap.

Over the next couple of days we visited Spoleto, Spello and a blur of other Umbrian wonders culminating in a “gita’ to what was the highlight for me… Orvieto with its amazing Duomo resplendent with Luca Signorelli frescoes. At the end of the day returning to the magic of Neil’s 12th century tower house with its views across a landscape of tranquilizing beauty. How much delicious food and amazing art can you take in!

View across the aqueduct looking towards Spoleto

The beautiful Frescoes in the Duomo dI Spoleto by Fr Filipo Lippi


Niel took us to a place high up in the mountains in the Valnerini called San Pietro In Valle one of the most beautiful places I have ever been too, a monastery originally founded in the 8th century by Faroaldo II Duke of Spoleto, sacked in 996 by the Saracens rebuilt and then enlarged over time, it is now a luxury Hotel. I have promised myself to go back to this extraordinary place and stay in the spring.

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