Sunday, October 12, 2014

Anagni: Papal town south of Rome

Entrance to Anagni: Porta Santa Maria 
Rome’s Vatican City, Viterbo and Anagni  are the three Italian cities where popes have lived over the centuries.  Anagni  is the least known, least visited, but worthwhile  for its rustic charm, historic palazzi and  monuments.

Although I have lived in Italy for  50 years, it was only  last week that I had a chance to visit  Anagni thanks to a trip organized  by the Viterbo archeology club where I often lecture-ArcheoTuscia.  

Apse and Chapel dedicated to  St. Thomas Becket  

The main attraction for the group of Viterbesi was to compare their city with Anagni and to have a "gita" (day out) which included a nice lunch.

high noon at Anagni's Cathedral 
  My reason  was to finally see Anagni's  Cathedral with the 12th century frescoed crypt of San Magno which art historians consider  the  Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages.

The frescoes are filled with symbolism  and could be studied  in detail for  several hours. But that does not happen  for visits are monitored for all groups, large or small.. 
entrance  to the lower level crypt 
Each person  pays  a  4 euro entrance fee  to  clamber down the dangerously steep stairway and  enter the crypt. 

bell tower shadow on the Duomo facade
While the  guide  explained the significance of  the mysterious  frescoes  and visitors jostled to get a look, we  kept  an eye on the time for  after 10 minutes  the lights are  automatically  switched  off.

Comatesque floors in upper part of Duomo 
Like the Sistine Chapel in Vatican,  it is forbidden to take photos and videos, so a voice shouting “No Foto!”  punctuated the visit. 

Here is a scan of the crypt's layout  which shows  how complicated 
the fresco cycles are. 

How does Anagni  compare with our nearby papal town of Viterbo? 
bookshop at Anagni 
Viterbo’s Papal Palace complex has  a well stocked bookshop and souvenir stands  bursting with  books and guides while the only  printed material  on the crypt is a poorly translated 40 page pamphlet priced at an  exorbitant  7 euro.
Pope Boniface VIII statue

 profferlo stairway, similar to those in Viterbo

"herding cats" 

Anagni countryside  

a picturesque  corner

 The medieval quarter of Viterbo  is pedestrians only while a  stroll through Anagni means dodging  traffic and  is best done with a local guide who can  explain  the town’s complicated history and lead you to the most picturesque corners.

our guide Luca with wife Antonella  
Our guide Luca Di Cocco  did an admirable job and chose  an excellent  Agriturismo  for  lunch in a country setting. 
lunch at Agriturismo  San Isidoro
Coming up :  Alatri and its cyclopean walls. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Antiques Fair in Rome's Palazzo Venezia

Staircase to the Biennale Antiques Fair 

Palazzo Venezia is the venue for the 9th edition of the Rome Antiques Biennial this week  (Oct  1-6,2014). 
lunch time at the Biennale 

entrance  to  the Biennale, Palazzo Venezia, Via del Plebiscito
directly in front of the 64 bus stop and Berlusconi's apartment 

Dealer with two sculptures and  a collection of mortars

Roman mosaic table top 

Boldini portrait and two dealers 

 Forty-three  top antiques  dealers  present their collections of antiques, paintings, sculptures and art  objects in  a bid to revive interest (and sales)  of antiques in  crisis-hit Italy.

The best time to visit  the show is  late morning or  early afternoon when  the crowds  have thinned out and  the dealers  have time to  answer questions about about  their  wares.

A magnificent Madonna and child at Ida Benucci's stand

A dealer checks  his computer flanked by  two magnificent paintings
Most  of the exhibitors  are the “old guard”   with  classy shops   in the Piazza di Spagna and  Via Babuino area of  Rome.
Others come from Bologna, Milano, Perugia  and Florence.   

The level is extremely high with museum quality furniture, paintings, sculptures and  objects of art. 
a group of dealers discuss as they await  visitors

Prices of antiques (and real estate)  have come down considerably  in the past decade making this  an excellent time to invest. 
Dealers complain that buyers are scarce,  and the Italians and foreigners who once purchased their prestige wares are now few and far between.

 All styles and periods  are represented at the Biennial where a  few hours  of browsing and chatting with dealers becomes an enriching experience.
Art Dèco parchment consolle
Learn more about antiques, styles of furniture  and how to buy antiques in Italy on  Elegant Etruria's  Antiques  section .

The more you know about antiques and the market, the better you can bargain for  that  irresistible piece that catches your eye. 

For more information see the Biennal's website . Your comments  and questions are welcome.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Rome- Monti Vintage Heaven

entrance to Mercatomonti 

When you move house, you clear out the old stuff, right?  
Unfortunately I made the mistake of  getting rid of a  half dozen handbags by stylist Roberta da Camerino  back in the  70s and now these handbags  sell for   400 euro each on ebay.

Another mistake was to rottamare my  32 yr. old  FIAT 500 (Roma D9 license plate) just before  the laws were changed, allowing them on the road as  Auto d’epoca or  vintage cars. 

So this time, I decided  to study up before releasing  a houseful  of inherited vintage clothing, furs and antiques

The first stop for vintage in Rome is  Monti, the area of Rome written about by  colleague Elizabeth Minchilli . 

 Mercato Monti, located in a hotel conference hall, on Via Leonina (Metro stop Cavour)  runs every weekend   (except in full summer) and hosts  about 30 sellers  with tables and  racks of quality artisans’ work, vintage clothing and objects.
Francesca's   design jewellery
Most of the sellers are Roman while others hail  from Naples and  Aquila. Tall willowy  Lisa from  Amsterdam specializes in long, floral dresses while  Francesca  creates unique jewelery and heart themed objects of art.
Vintagedalisa  is   on Facebook 

Melissa drives up from Naples each weekend with a cache of vintage clothing for men and women. Luxury brand shoes and bags  run  from  80  to 100 euro with sconti and bargaining being  part of the fun. 

Melissa's  vintage shoes 
My Rome based friends have suggested   other vintage places  in Rome, so next week  I’ll check on Borghetto Flaminio. 
80s jacket from Rome boutique 

Astrakhan  fur  coat 
 Another source to study  is "Lo Scopriocccasioni"  or  "Designer Bargains in Italy" guidebooks that have listed addresses for spending less for fashion in Italy since 1992.  

never worn Church loafers size  37 
Meanwhile my collection of 80s  boutique fashion is beginning to dwindle, thanks to fashion conscious friends who want to own a piece of the 1980s.  Feel free to share with friends who love vintage. More   photos of vintage fashion are available.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Living within ancient walls : Borromini Monastery in Trastevere

Designed by Baroque architect Borromini, the Donna Camilla Savelli is a former monastery in Rome's popular Trastevere area. It offers a garden, elegant and sober rooms, and free Wi-Fi in the lobby.

This is the website description of  a 4 star hotel located at the foot of  the Janiculum hill in Rome’s Trastevere area . 

For many lucky American students studying in Rome during the 1980s   it was  home  during their semester  study  abroad program.  
Borromini designed the facade of the monastery 
The female students were “cloistered” on the first floor while the men were relegated to the second floor corridor. There were communal bathrooms back then and the  ancient heating system was seldom  lukewarm. To survive the chill, the students bundled up with thick sweaters or  sat in the sunshine of the courtyard garden where roses bloomed  even in December.

The  atmosphere at the convent was often similar to  a Fellini film set : Gina, the  grumpy portinaia,  elderly nuns gliding  silently along white and black marble hallways,  meals served in the frescoed  refectory, cavernous kitchens hung with bright copper pots  and  sitting rooms furnished  with antiques including  Pope Pius IX’s  armchair.
copper pots in the  convent kitchen 

marble fountain
near the refectory 

The sisters of the religious order were grateful for the money which arrived from America and used it to  repair  parts of the roof. 

the convent today - an expensive  4 star hotel
Here are some  of the original  letters with the price list  for bed and breakfast....a far cry from what today's clients pay to stay in the luxurious modern rooms of the former monastery. 

How times have changed!  Notice that IVA tax  was only 9 or 10%. 

What could you buy for the equivalent of   26 or 28,000 lire today? (approximately  14-16 euro) 


The convent  was founded  by Donna Camilla  Savelli (related to the Ruspoli-Marescotti family)  and  has had an interesting history culminating in its new use as a luxury hotel. 

During World War II many  Roman Jewish families found refuge here and the sisters distributed  bread  and food to the local population from the monastery kitchens.   

Please  leave a comment about your living experiences in Rome  as a student . 
What  were your  accomodations like ? 

Check out  the antiques gallery  on my website.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Secrets of Sorrento: the beach, the lift, shopping and cool spots

Arriving to Sorrento on Azamara Quest
 Sorrento  is usually the first stop on cruises beginning at Rome's port of Civitavecchia and while first time visitors  are whisked off  to  Pompeii, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, those who already know the area can enjoy a leisurely  visit  in town or  a swim  and lazy lunch at one of the many beach places along the waterfront. 
Azamara's tender  to Sorrento 
These  latter  options are much  appreciated during the humid days of August. 

This year we discovered an alternative to the uncomfortable  bus ride up from the port: a short walk along  the  beachfront leads  to the  entrance of a modern elevator/lift carved out of  Sorrento’s  cliff.

picking basil 
beach cabins, loungers and umbrellas  rented for the day
the beach at  Sorrento 

the free beach at noon 

As we made our way to the lift the beach concessions/stabilimenti were just opening for the day: the day’s menu (fish, salad, tomatos) was  being trundled in for the trattoria kitchens and teenagers were  staking out places on the free beach with their towels.

lower entrance to lift 
entrance to lift

waiting for the lift

Passing the turnstile (entrance 1,20 euro) we were whisked up through the hillside to the Sorrento plateau and  exited at  the  cliff top gardens (Giardino Comunale) close to  San Francesco church and cloister, a favorite venue for English couples  who marry in Italy.

in the cloister with the couple from Casablanca who  followed us 

The shopkeepers we spoke with complained that  business this summer is not as good as it was 2 years ago: they had fewer  clients with less spending power. 

modern art exhibit  in a Baroque church 

tired shoppers  with  Azamara Quest  in background

some hardy souls walking down the cliff 

The mid-summer sales were enticing but the heat and humidity made  shopping a hard task, and our priority was to seek refuge from the blazing sun.

Antica Sartoria: wonderful selection, good prices
Besides the  many air conditioned shops along Corso Italia and Via San Cesareo, Sorrento  is full of cool, airy palazzi and churches offering  benches for resting and art in many forms including presepe scenes the area is famous for. 

a cool hall in Sorrento's Comune  
Duomo's  holy water font & John Paul II's coat of arms  
in the Duomo, Sorrento 
benches in Duomo
Other  tips for cruising the Mediterranean can be found here  and    here : or use the Search bar to find more information on the blog.

 Don't forget  to check out the hundreds of articles about travel in Italy on my website  and click here to see more about  the ship we sailed on.  

Please leave a comment  if you  learned  something from  this  story, and feel free to share with friends on Twitter, Facebook or email.  Just use the icons  at the bottom of the page. 

Christmas Presepe scene, Duomo

(P.S. It is such a pleasure to read genuine  comments, for lately  there has been so much  spamming. )