Monday, December 15, 2014

Vallerano : Christmas in small town Italy

grotto shrine in the main church, Vallerano

Vallerano, a typical small hilltown north of Rome  is known  for its hazelnuts, wine production and lively summer festivals. 
 The symbolic  lily of the noble Farnese family adorns towers, fountains  and the ancient walls that have kept the town’s  medieval flavor in  - and the cars out.  
Farnese lily symbols abound 

At  Christmas  time the sober  decorations are low key and traditional, ignoring  the crass commercialization seen in  big cities and suburban malls.
pedestrian access to Vallerano 

 Piped music entices locals and visitors  to stroll along  the narrow streets of the medieval  quarter  where doorways, piazzas and cantine are decorated with  Christmas nativity scenes.  

holy water fount in San Vittore church, Vallerano
Renaissance palace with  climbing Santa 
One can find handmade  local crafts in wood and wool as well as traditional foods  and sweets, vintage and antique pieces as well as a train ride. 
wooden bracelets and design objects 
Luciano's mini furniture

Here are some photos taken today. If you feel a need to escape the  hype of big city Christmas, take a drive to Vallerano next Sunday, Dec 21st  for  the final day of “Vallerano Incantato”.
Have you visited Vallerano or any of the other hill towns in Northern Lazio?  Your comments are welcome. Please share with friends. 

a side altar San Vittore, Vallerano
cat in a corner of the town

window garden 

Madonna del Ruscello  (1609) 


train through the historic center 

 Many more stories and information about life in central Italy, Northern Lazio  can be found on my award winning  website ,  Hope you find time to check it out! 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chocolate and Cinema in old Viterbo

Viterbo's main street 

chocolate show at the cinema 

 The Italians  love for chocolate  and cinema is celebrated together at an historic theatre located  in the center of Viterbo. 
King Kong in chocolate 

ticket booth unchanged since 1948 

The Genio theatre was one of the first  examples of post-war reconstruction and its moderistic style is evident in every  detail: the ticket booth, the glass showcases, original chairs and the curved lines of the ceilings. 

Older residents tell me that it was the town’s favored place for entertainment  in the days before TV. 
Many were  introduced to rock and roll music  in the 1950s  thanks to films seen at  this  elegant movie house. 

salami, cheese and eggs made from chocolate 

During this month  Viterbo's chocolate  shop Casantini  (I wrote about their  erotic themed chocolates here) has filled the vintage foyer  with giant chocolate creations  based on  films  such as King Kong.   The exhibit and sale of chocolate masterpieces  continues throughout the Christmas season.

This historic cinema can be hard to locate  for it is hidden away inbetween two narrow medieval lanes. 

1950s vintage jewellery 
The easiest way is to take Via Roma (see first photo)  to  central Piazza delle Erbe and  then  follow the red carpeting flanked by stalls selling vintage jewellery, handmade  art and clothing set up especially for the event. 

  At the end of the tiny Via S. Maria Ezigiaca  you will find   Cinema  Genio, surrounded by medieval buildings.   

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Italy's Free Museums : Civita Castellana's Fortress

Edward Lear- Ponte Clementino and Fortezza Sangallo
with Monte Soratte in the background 

Recently  Italian  Culture Minister Franceschini  announced that museums in Italy  would be free  on the first Sunday of each month. At the same time he  annulled  the existing  free entrance for  citizens over  65, annoying   pensioners who  had been enjoying this valuable  cultural opportunity during the week.
one of many papal  monuments  

Julius II  fireplace 
 He is also  getting into  hot water  with other European member  states for cancelling  existing reciprocal agreements. Somehow it doesn’t make sense to be able to visit  state   museums in France, Spain and other European community  cities freely while paying a full price entrance ticket  to visit museums in  one's own  country. 

main courtyard  of the Fortezza di Sangallo 
It was a nice surprise then  to visit Civita Castellana’s  Museo dell'Agro Falisco  last Saturday  and also enjoy  a free hour-long  tour with  the  head of the museum for the past  30 years.   
with Claudio, Caposervizio  at the Museum for over 30 years 
Signor Claudio showed us and another couple around, explaining  the history, architecture and exhibits as if he were showing friends around his own home.

  The imposing  fortress/museum was built by Sangallo the Elder  for  the Borgia and Della Rovere popes (Alexander VI  and  Julius II) in  the  Renaissance  years  in order to guard the roads to  Rome, a day's march away.

Later it used as a prison for the Papal  States  and during the second world war numerous  homeless  families found refuge here  after  the city was bombed.   

The fortified castle has a very picturesque  setting  with   towers and moats overlooking  steep  gorges  and the  Clementino  bridge. Since it was  constructed  in 1712, the bridge  has been  a favorite subject for painters  of the  Grand Tour as well as those  contemporary artists who come to paint here each summer.

well head with Pope Julius II's coat of arms

crossing the drawbridge 

one of the painted loggias 

The museum’s collections include Etruscan and Greek vases once belonging to the local noble  Feroldi family, a unique Etruscan chariot, terracotta and marble sculpture  and funerary monuments.
bronze chariot 
Visitors  can  admire  objects of  the Faliscans  and realize what a shame it is that so  little is left  of  this  pre-Roman   civilization  which flourished   in Falerii Veteres, nowadays known as  Civita Castellana. 

Let us know which is your favorite  museum in Italy  and what you think about Franceschini's  new regulations. 

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Best House Museums in Italian Ports

visiting Villa Mombelli,Livorno
First time cruisers in the Mediterranean usually visit the  Vatican Museums when in Rome, see Pompeii when their ship docks  in Naples and  from Livorno  travel to Florence’s great  museums.

For repeat visitors who  have the chance to delve deeper and make a more leisurely visit  here is my  personal list  of  the best museums to visit.

 These smaller, intimate museums and art collections are often housed in former private homes, thus  offering  a truer feel for the place, its history  and how peopled lived in the past.  

Tarquinia Palazzo Vitelleschi 

Near Civitavecchia - The Port for Rome
     TarquiniaEtruscan Museum in Palazzo Vitelleschi.  Tarquinia is a medieval hill town located a short bus ride from Civitavecchia port. Its frescoed Etruscan tombs dating from 800 BC  earned Tarquinia UNESCO  heritage site  status. The Museum is housed in a Renaissance palazzo in the city center while the painted tombs are located a short distance away. Bookshop. 

Mappamondo room, Caprarola, photo F. Pignatale 

Caprarola - Palazzo Farnese, about 1 hour drive inland from the port of Civitavecchia, is a magnificent pentagon shaped palace   built  for a Renaissance cardinal and  lived in by an eccentric American family in the early 1900s. Today it   wows visitors with  frescoed saloni  and gardens. To read more about Caprarola use the search box at the top of the page. 
fountain of  Hercules, Palazzo Farnese Caprarola

  Palazzo Doria Pamphili on Via del Corso is a private palazzo of 300+ rooms which also houses an  extensive collection of art belonging to the noble  Doria Pamphili family. Bookshop and nearby café. 

entrance to Villa Mombelli,Livorno
   Museo Civico Giovanni Fattori, Villa Mombelli (Via S. Jacopo in Acquaviva,65)  is a bit on the outskirts of the town but  easily reached by bus from the port area. The villa contains  paintings  of the Macchiaioli (1855-1900) School,  especially Giovanni Fattori.  Architectural details  and furnishings of Moorish, Baroque and  Renaissance styles. Bookshop and quiet, cool park. 

ceramic putti on stairway, Villa Mombelli

The  small chapel museum Cappella San Severo in the back streets of  old Naples contains  the famous sculpture of  the veiled  Christ  and others by Giuseppe Sanmartino. 

Villa San Michele, Anacapri

 Villa San Michele,  atop the  island at Anacapri,  was  once home to Swedish doctor and author Axel Munthe. The villa  contains his collection of Roman statuary, mosaics and works of art  and offers  magnificent views over the Bay of Naples. Villa San Michele

On the island  where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled, Villa San Martino  evokes the Empire period with furniture and art that belong to him.  
bedroom, Villa San Martino, Elba 

Villa San Martino, Elba 

statue of Paolina Bonaparte


The Sicilian  Regional art gallery located in newly restored 12th century  palazzo in  Ortygia gives Antonella da Messina’s Annunciation (1474) pride of place along with  stone sculptures.  Palazzo Bellomo
courtyard of Palazzo Bellomo, Siracusa

 Hope you find this article helpful for planning your next cruise in the Mediterranean. Check my website  and books  for more information about travel in Italy. 
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