Revolutija in Bologna

Exhibition 'RevolutijaA day in Bologna to see masterpieces never before exhibited outside of the Russian State Museum of St Petersburg on the centenary of the Russian revolution . Entitled Revolutija‘  – it relates those tumultuous days through the eyes of famous artists such as Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, and stars of the avant-garde….displaying the extraordinary modernity of the cultural movements of Russia at that time from Primitivism to Cubo-Futurism up to Suprematism, Expressionism and pure abstract art’ Wow!

We were just in time as the exhibition closed on the weekend, and was definitely not to be missed! Information boards recounted Russian history and important events leading up to the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and photographs, old film footage highlighted the harsh reality of the period. It was rich with atmosphere and drama, strengths and fragilities, joy and sadness. An overwhelming mix of superb works of art.

Such a plethora of information on the audio guide that I needed to circle the exhibition more than once to have time and head space to just savour the artworks and let them do their own talking as well as watch the old film screening. Political and social unrest Massacre at July Demonstration 1917with workers striking about their dismal conditions, peasants protesting about their miserable earnings, student unrest, and reactions against the Tsar and the repressive measures that occurred during demonstrations often ending in massacres. Disturbing and turbulent times indeed.

I instantly fell in love with Malevich, a new artist discovery for me, as I could not take my eyes of his beautiful symbolic geometric representations, intriguing secrets hidden in the abstractness, evoking compassion, making statements, strong and bold. But then I am passionate about futurist painters which Malevich was initially a part and later became the father of  ‘Suprematism – the belief that Suprematist art would be superior to all art of the past, and that it would lead to the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts…. a search for the ‘zero degree’ of painting, the point beyond which the medium could not go without ceasing to be art.’  His famous paintings of bold black squares, circles or crosses on white became the symbol of his ‘zero degree’ art.

From strong and bold to the delicate and rather joyful depiction of Chagall in a self 'The Stroll' Marc Chagall 1917portrait with his wife Bella, and ‘the colourful even fun ‘On White’ by Wassily Kandinsky. 'On White' Kandinsky 1920

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition ends with a celebration of the International Communist Party congress in 1920 alongside various artists work on the industrial period of the late 1920’s rendering tribute to the workers, ‘the heroes’, in the factories.

So much to take in and complemented by a comprehensive catalogue, that I could not resist, containing even more photos of the period and historic details of the harsh conditions and the creativeness of local artists, not always in line with the political regimes. So if I never get to Russia at least I have seen some of the splendid treasures they house at their State Museum.

Of course after feeding the intellect it was time to feed the stomach….and Bologna‘s famous tortellini spilled out of every corner alongside chunks of well matured Parmesan cheese. Tempting delicacies for everyone’s taste buds.Tortellini e Parmesan Bologna

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From under the Ashes of Pompeii

I have been lucky enough to visit Pompeii about 10 times and each time has fascinated me as much as my first visit, discovering something new every time. Buried under the ash erupting from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD it provides us with amazing details of  Archaeological Museum Napleseveryday life and customs of the ancient world. Many of you may have been with me as we toured the massive Archaeological site with a guide. I regret now never having squeezed in a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples as it has the most fabulous collection of Mosaics, Frescoes and artefacts from Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum. But then it’s not always possible to do everything on tours.

For those of you who have never been to Pompeii or to refresh your memory this video will walk you through this incredible Archaeological site – the Forum, Villas and bath houses. And to think there is at least a third of the city still to be excavated!

I spent a morning in the Archaeological Museum spellbound by the quantity and quality of the collection. Intricate mosaics discovered in the first excavation of Pompeii begun in 1749, a glorious mix of everyday life, exotic animals and theatrical scenes.

 

These are but a few that were on display together with an assortment of frescoes takenFrescoes Pompeii from various Villas in Pompeii, saved for eternity from deterioration on site. Cupids and ladies dancing to the seasons and many with the famous Pompeii red featuring as background to mythological figures. Entire rooms covered with elaborate frescoes demonstrating the wealth of the villa owners,  a true feast for the eyes.

And then special rooms dedicated to the erotic side of Pompeii where a school group was huddled embarrassed, giggling and quickly snapping a shot with their smartphones. I wondered if they had read why the phallic symbol was such a part of life then as ‘the male organ was regarded as a talisman of fecundity and prosperity which could also ward off evil influences’. So it was found everywhere; on walls, pavement stones, in front of shops and at home.

And for those families wealthy enough there was an entire range of tableware to keep Pompeii erotic tablewareguests entertained ‘providing an instance of the close association between eros and banqueting…..in crass burlesque spirit’ .

But these were not the only sassy artefacts on display as I came across my old game of  knuckles. Who could believe they were playing knuckles in the 1stC and I was still playing the same game in the 1960’s! (Not sure if it has turned into an App these days?!) And ancient dice and gladiators passes to enter the Arena. Unbelievable!

The sophistication of the articles on display was mindboggling considering their age. From the highly decorated kitchen utensils, jewellery boxes, modern alabaster and crystal vases to glass funerary urns dating between 3rd-5thC AD. It was stunningly overwhelming.

The elegance of the jewellery box with its bronze mirror, needle, silver jewellery gold plated, delicate bone comb and mermaid decorations….and the beauty of the cameo glass amphora with cupids grape harvesting left me speechless.

And to end the tour at Villa Papyri of Ancient Herculaneum where the owner could delight his guests lounging around the pool with a selection of glamorous statues.

And while this beautiful collection remains safely protected inside the Naples Archaeological Museum it is even more awesome to see what remains on site at Pompeii. The frescoes we found at the Villa of Mysteries in 2012 bowled us all over!

While my photos hardly do justice to the collection and cover a small portion of what is to be seen I can only suggest next time you are over to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Naples Archaeological Museum.

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Colour, chaos, eclectic, eccentric Naples

On a surprise visit to Naples for only a couple of days I managed to squeeze in the essentials of the city and savour its chaotic atmosphere and its fabulous pizza. I guess pizza comes first to mind whenever Naples is mentioned, alongside Vesuvius and nearby Pompeii. All of which rate highly and in fact I will have to write a separate blog on the National Archeological of Naples that houses the most incredible collection of mosaics, frescoes and artefacts from Pompeii.

So on a wet night we ventured out early to find Sorbillo – the historic pizzeria in the centre of town. Early to grab the last table before a queue formed outside with lots of locals. The puffy Neapolitan style pizza was scrumptiously light and tasty. In fact Sorbillo had been the main instigator and successful in promoting the wood fire baked Neapolitan pizza to the Unesco list as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ in December 2017. Italy had argued that the practice was part of a unique cultural and gastronomic tradition and in respect of its Unesco Heritage listing, toppings considered unseemly like pineapple, minced beef and beans are ‘OUT’!

Naples centreThe streets were chaotic, colourful and electric. Being Italy’s third largest city with a population of over 3 million the mix is not surprising. It’s cosmopolitan history of Greek, French and Spanish conquerors has left a glorious heritage that hides amongst some areas of decay and squalor. But how could it not retain its exotic character when the legend says Naples was built where the Siren Parthenhope was washed ashore after being rejected by Ulysses!

Legend also envelopes the Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) the oldest Castle in Naples that sits in the Bay of Naples keeping a watchful eye on Vesuvius. It is said Virgil the Latin poet who had super natural powers planted a magic egg inside the Castle, which as long as the egg remains intact the city will be protected from catastrophes……and the egg is still intact?!

Naples souvenirsLegends and superstition are part of life still and the typical red ‘Corno‘ charm against the ‘Evil eye’ hangs everywhere, together with the ever popular ‘Pulcinella’ a scallywag figure from the 16thC, in white trousers and blousy white Pulcinella statueshirt that covers his hump and a half mask that covers his ugly cheeky face. But going beyond his appearance and awkward gait  he represents metaphorically the conditions of Naples’ lower classes, rebelling against the aristocracy with irony and a wily grin.

And then there’s Via San Gregorio Armeno home to the famous artisans who produce the thousands of Nativity scene figurines, both ancient and modern, including Popes, politicians ( Berlusconi a favourite!) singers and soccer players.

Church of the New JesusRound a corner or two and the street opens onto a splendid square – Piazza del Gesù with a magnificent 15thC palace turned into a church by the Jesuits late 1500’s, with geometric rustications in front of an elaborate spire devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Naples social centreThe contrast of elegance amidst turmoil, and mad traffic where pedestrians seem to challenge drivers, and if you’re lucky a policeman may help you cross the road!

Neapolitans live up to their name of being experts at the art of managing to get along – ‘arrangiarsi‘ with a smile on their faces. Layback blues music drifts fromVinarte 52 wine bar Naples

 

the wine bar in another square full of restaurants and greenery as we try L’Etto,  a self serve buffet where you pay by the 100g serving a range of tempting local delicacies.

 

And if things are tough for Neapolitans, dining out may mean standing on the street eating at a favourite ‘friggitoria’ fried food and shopping at the local markets where a pair of shoes cost me a meagre €3 having soaked my regular shoes in the downpour the night before. I don’t envy them but I did enjoy seeing them relax in the first sign of sunshine with a classic stunning view and delicious local pastry in hand.


 

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Time for the snow- Little Alps and Dolomites

Snow shoesAfter such a long hot Summer in Italy the predictions were for a freezing Winter of the likes of 1985, which was the freeze of the Century; pipes broken, olive trees burnt and snow on the ground for a month, even in Florence! I was dreading the thought since I had decided to stay home this Winter.

So far the predictions have proved false apart from this weeks polar temperatures ( -8 degrees) and snow for a couple of days at home, we have had only minor snow falls in the mountains.In snow shoes Still it was my opportunity to test my skills in snow shoes on Monte Falco and Monte Falterona near the Tuscan, Emilia Romagna border at a height of 1564m. A fabulous experience, since I am not a skier, or snow border and rarely set foot on the snow. An Italian friend said he could understand that since I am Australian!? As if to say there is no snow in Australia!??

After an explanation on how to put on the snow shoes and their various variations for uphill and downhill – blocks and heels, we set off. A cold but sunny day with magic images of fairy tale trees dripping in icicles, shadow contrasts in untouched snow throughout the forest and a breathtaking view at the summit. High enough to see as far as the Northern Alps. Unbelievable!

Especially since I was to be in the Dolomites shortly after, at 2000m hiking amongst skiers and snow borders, enjoying even more breathtaking views, spectacular scenery and idyllic weather. The home to Otzi the Iceman  the 53000 year old mummy, found in the glacier in 1991!

Home base was at Merano, above Bolzano in the South Tyrol area, close to the Austrian border. German, or should I say Southern Tyrol dialect spoken, and hardly a word of Italian overheard. A pretty village of art nouveau buildings, Tyrolese traditional dress and famous Sacher chocolate cake. And constant references to the Austrian Empress, affectionally known as Sissi, who spent her vacations at  Trauttmansdorff Castle.

 

We headed for the Merano 2000  cable car to the summit, together with hoards of local and tourist skiers sounding like a herd of elephants with their heavy snow boots. It’s a family ski resort with over 40kms of slopes for all ages and levels of competence as well as a great trail for hikers, intermittently crossing the ski slopes without too much risk.

Incredibly beautiful, wherever you looked, and as hikers it’s easy to have the time to take in the views at leisure.

Apple Orchards Venosta valleyThe next day we were in for another treat on the ice and snow of Lake Resia in the Venosta Valley, land of our apple orchards. Infinite rows of trees line the valley and the slopes, leaders in the production of organic apples for both the Italian and European market.

It’s the biggest lake in the area, in reality an artificial reservoir created in theBell tower immersed in Lake Resia 1950’s flooding the towns of Curon and Resia so only the steeple remains uncannily visible above the water level. An historic landmark surrounded by romantic legends of its bells still being heard in the depths of the water. An area sort after by ski surfers and windsurfers in season as it blows an outright gale through the valley.

We walked the Lake into the sun with the icy wind at our backs, past the jetty laden with ice and packed snow that serves as the boat tie up in the warmer months. Onto San Valentina alla Muta submerged in metres of snow, a picture postcard.

While I am not totally converted to a snow experience, as I still hate the cold, I have to say it was a beautiful experience and better than I had expected. Now I understand why people go!

My moment of relax on the Dolomites and a farewell to the steeple on Lake Resia

Lake Resia steepleMoment of relax in the Dolomites

 

 

 

 

 

Trentino Alto Adige map


 

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The Fast cars and Super Balsamic of Modena

 

Ferrari

 

Fast cars and Balsamic vinegar are also what Modena is famous for and while I may not be a car fan, going through the Museums of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati with a car enthusiast was an easy way to kick start my enthusiasm. How could I not ogle at the sleek lines, ooze over the timeless models and sneakily stroke the curves of their lustrous bodies.

Our first stop was still within the grounds of the Hombre parmesan cheese producer as Umberto Panini, the founder, had generously bought the historic collection of Maserati’s before they went to auction when the company changed ownership. As described on the website ‘The passion of a great man!‘ He was convinced these antique classics should remain forever in their home territory to be admired by visitors from far and wide. From racing cars to street cars for adults and even for kids!

And in the garage across from the collection we found a rather surprising sound system being made by iXOOST from recycled Formula 1 exhaust systems. A little out of our price range – € 5,000 – € 10,000!  We understand very popular with Emirates sheikhs, as for an enthusiast there’s nothing like the sound of a vibrating engine!

Next stop was the Lamborghini museum which when we arrived was knock off time forLamborghini museum the factory workers who streamed out, noticeably driving very modest vehicles. At the entrance I was already tempted by the model outside since it went so well with my jacket! We slipped inside to scrutinize more sleek bodies….

and the classic 1970’s Lamborghini Miura complete with the fluttering eyelashes!Lamborghini eyelashesLamborghini Miura 1970's

 

 

 

 

Senna victoriousSenna Formula 1 car

 

Together with an exhibition on Ayrton Senna Formula 1 driver, his victories and tragic crash.

 

 

 

And if you have come looking for the fast cars of Modena of course you can’t go past the famous Ferrari in all it’s glory and gleaming glossy red. The gem of Italian design that never dates and continues to enthral fans young and old.


The Ferrari Museum is a little out of the way (as are Lamborghini and the Maserati collection) but for enthusiasts a must, the ‘birthplace of a dream’ that continues to this day.

We tootled back towards Modena in my little red Ferrari… oops my little ‘Ferrari red’ Renault Clio! Time to savour the famous Balsamic vinegar at one of the oldest balsamic producers – Acetaia Malpighi since 1850. Balsamic vinegar has been Ancient Balsamic barrelproduced since the Middle Ages and the wooden barrels passed down from generation to generation. Here Acetaia Malpighi proudly showed their ancient barrel built in the 1500’s, recoated with timber in 1750 and again in 1920 and still producing exquisite Balsamic vinegar.

To produce an authentic traditional Balsamic vinegar 5 important elements are required – the right Microclimate of Modena (cold/humid in the winter, hot/humid in the summer), Grape varieties of Trebbiano and Lambrusco, wooden barrels,  adherence to the strict regulations imposed by the Consortium and a minimum age of 12 years.

The process is quite simple as the grapes are crushed, pressed, then slowly cooked over a fire for 24-48 hours to produce must (unfermented juice). After resting and undergoing fermentation, the must is then decanted and transferred through a battery of barrels of different sizes and wood types that are stored in an area that ensures natural thermal ranges and aeration.  Our guide explained the process and showed us some of the old equipment that was used.

To give an idea of quantity, Acetaia Malpigi need 90kilos of grapes ageing over 25 Acetaia Malpigh productsyears to produce 7 x 100ml bottles. Hence the high price for a traditional balsamic that is exquisite and worth every cent. (price range  € 40 – € 400+ for the extra old)

They have also ventured into producing some interesting new vinegars – from figs, apples, mint and more which make for some great salad dressings and ice cream or fruit toppings. And I guarantee if you have never tried a real Traditional Balsamic vinegar aged 12 years or more, just a drop will have you hooked!


 

 

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Parmesan or Parmigiano, we find out more in Modena

Parmesan cheese roundWe went to find out more about the famous Parmesan cheese or officially Parmigiano-Reggiano on the organic farm of Hombre just outside of Modena. It has to be the all time favourite of cheeses in Italy, sprinkled on innumerable dishes,  an essential to Italian cuisine.

Unfortunately outside of Italy many cheeses are mislabelled as ‘Parmesan’ but are far from the real thing, and even within Italy the Gran Padano cheese, a cheaper alternative is often confused as a ‘Parmesan’.

Hombre milk cowsAn early morning tour led us past the cattle sheds where contented looking cows gazed at us curiously, while chewing the cud and farm cats sprawled across the pavement or rubbed up against visitors legs for attention. We had come to one of the few organic producers of Parmesan, thanks to the foresight of Umberto Panini, a local entrepreneur and auto enthusiast.Hombre cows

Our guide, Veronica, beamed enthusiasm as she talked of the 300 hectares of fields producing crops for their 250 cows and a number of sweet calves raised their heads on hearing her familiar voice.

We would see the production process from behind glass in an upstairs gallery while listening to an explanation of the process.  The evenings milk already skimmed was combined with the morning milk and poured into the copper lined pots, 14 of which lined the floor in front of the cheese moulds and brine vats where the cheese wheels would be immersed later.

500 Litres of milk goes into each cheese and Hombre produces 14 cheese wheels a day plus ricotta. The husband and wife team of cheese makers are seen here extracting the cheese mass from the base of the vast pot. A natural rennet had been used for the curdling process and the pots heated to around 50 degrees, and later switched off for an hour to let the enzymes do the rest.Parmesan cheese making 3

After 3 weeks immersed in the brine of salt and water the cheese is moved to the aging storage where it will spend up to 2 years for the ‘Stagionato’ (seasoned) or over 30 months for the ‘Stravecchio’ (extra old).

Parmesan cheeses

 

Hombre’s storage area can house up to 8000  cheese wheels  which are cleaned and turned regularly by a robot as the cheese sweats creating humidity and the last thing you would want is for any bacteria to get into the cheese. The cheese initially weighs 50 kilos, after a year of ageing 35 kilos and in 2-3 years 30 kilos.

Testers come from the Cheese Consortium to ‘tap’ the cheese listening for an homogenous sound before giving it the ‘green stamp’ of approval.

Testing parmesan cheese

 

And of course parmesan cannot be produce outside of a designated geographical area which runs between Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna in the region of Emilia Romagna. Hence the cheese is proudly stamped  Parmigiano – Reggiano.Parmesan cheese production

 

 

The only thing left to do on our visit then was to taste this magnificent cheese and buy some to take home!Tasting parmesan cheese

 

 

 

So check the labels when you buy to ensure you are getting authentic parmesan, and remember to only grate it on demand.

 

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Treasures from the Unbelievable Wreck – Damien Hirst

Welcome back! I hope 2018 has begun well for you all. I start my posts this year with an exhibition from last year, but one not to be missed if it travels your way…

Damien Hirst Demon with bowlDamien Hirst had me believing in the unbelievable at his exhibition in Venice – ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’. Knowing little about the artist and virtually nothing about the exhibition beforehand made it easy for me to think I had stepped through the looking glass into Alice in Wonderland!Hermaphrodite Damien Hirst

 

 

 

 

Hirst had on display 189 sunken treasures retrieved off the seabed of the Indian Ocean, together with collections of flints, ingots and remnants of artefacts. The treasures were supposedly part of the hoard of the Apistos, a ship of a freed slave turned art collector, that apparently sank back in the first or second century AD and was rediscovered in 2008.

Mixed reactions from the art world described the exhibition as ‘An Unbelievable Journey to the Depths of Bling‘, ‘One Man’s Trash is Damien Hirst’s Treasure’ , as ‘once you’re in the joke it grows stale very quickly’! I think I cruised the entire time in awe,  believing every word and stunned at every work presented. It was fabulous!

Just getting past the gigantic 18m+ Demon with a Bowl in the courtyard of Palazzo Grassi was a feat, and at each of the 3 floors of exhibits above he could be admired from every angle. Absolutely incredible, convincingly bronze, yet only painted resin, and assembled in stages as I found out later. From the Demon I became engrossed in the videos where a team of scuba divers worked hard to strap up the treasures found on the sea bed bringing them to safety above…..from the most delicate ancient jewellery to the monstrous sun disc and calendar stone together with Mickey Mouse and Goofy covered in barnacles and seaweed! What’s going on??

In fact the exhibition presents like an archaeological museum with various collections of coins, rare jewellery, precious minerals, weapons, and helmets alongside ‘recovered’ treasures, ‘restored’ treasures and ‘copies’ of treasures……

Bust of the collector Damien Hirstand the Collector himself, Damien Hirst.

The sheer scale of the exhibits and relative authenticity, especially at the Punta della Dogana, continued to impress, even if I was I being taken for a ride, or on a journey in a time machine. Whatever, I was enjoying the unexpected, the audacity, the joke.  As my friend said “you may not like the Art work but whatever it is it must be done well” and these treasures were certainly done well.The Diver

 

 

 

Hirst Warrior and the Bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the legend goes ‘the slave accumulated an immense fortune on the acquisition of his freedom. Bloated with excess wealth, he proceeded to build a lavish collection of artefacts…..commissions, copies, fakes, purchases and plunder, which lay submerged for some two thousand years.’Calendar stone and Warrior and the Bear

Damien Hirst when asked is it Myth or Fact replied “whatever you choose to believe!”

 

Still stunned by what we had seen we left the exhibition, passed through the ‘looking glass’ out to the real wonders of Venice…..Venice Punto della Dogana

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Season’s Greetings

It’s that time of year again and before I disappear into hibernation for the winter here in Italy, I’d like to wish you all:Christmas greetings

In a rather controversial move a town near Bologna, Castenaso, created the Nativity Scene in a rubber dinghy, so often seen as the means for migrants to cross the sea to safety in Europe…..thought provoking for us all in this difficult world of today.

On a lighter note for any Melbourne followers still looking for a unique Xmas gift check out Gourmet Kitchen Cooking school offering cooking class vouchers – Thai, Spanish, Japanese, Patisserie and more!    Gourmet Kitchen Cooking School

 

 

 

 

 

As well as Kitchen and food goodies from the shop. 20 Margaret St, Moonee Ponds Tel: 03 93757000                                                                                                          Now does that look scrumptious? Go for it! Laura Jane has rave reviews for her classes as a fabulous and patient teacher …….as well as being my lovely niece!

Gourmet Kitchen Cooking Classes

 

 

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From rags to riches – Matera

Matera cave dwellingWho would have believed that the squalid damp cave dwellings of the past would make Matera a major tourist attraction, a Unesco World Heritage site (1993) and even more than that, the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

Major restoration work is underway and as the EU indicates “the experience is an excellent opportunity to regenerate the city and breathe new life into the city’s culture and boost tourism.

Matera is tucked away in the corner of the little known region of Basilicata next to Puglia, so for us it was an easy 2hr drive across from our ‘trullo’ in Puglia. I had heard about these cave dwellings for years and the extraordinary beauty of the place through the Women’s Fiction Festival held for the past 12 years and from my artist friend Enrico Paolucci after his exhibition there in 2006.

Eager to understand more about the history of this amazing place I booked a Matera view of cave dwellingsfantastic local guide, Marta, who lead us through the Baroque Upper town to the panoramic site overlooking ‘i sassi’. The view was spectacular, an expanse of buildings crammed on top of each other in a maze of little alleyways and we were yet to appreciate that they were in fact built into the rocks.

Marta explained the ancient beginnings, from the 6th century BC through the middle ages when each civilisation, and monastic orders from Benedictine to Byzantine built on the past using the natural rock caves as early lodgings, stables, cellars later carving out churches, chapels and convents. By the 1800’s most of the cave areas were only used as stables or deposits and better accommodation was built above ground. In that period Matera held a certain prestige, being the Capital of the Province from the late 1600’s till 1806.

But with the removal of the Capital to Potenza  and recurrent agricultural crisis the city slid into a long period of decay. The degradation was so serious that the poorest of the population were forced to use the caves as dwellings, accommodating both families and their animals until 1952. On our tour with Marta we were taken into one of these dank dark cave houses, hardly able to imagine the sufferance these families had experienced in such cramped unhygienic conditions.

Life was hard and depended on communal living as testify the communal oven that baked the enormous weekly loaf that is still baked to this day.

It was not until the 1950’s that the Government decided to move the 15,000 families to new residential quarters, not an easy task and despite associated criticisms and delays over the new housing the families were relocated. The area of ‘i sassi’ remained abandoned until the 1980’s when new funds were made available for the recuperation of this ancient site. Now the properties can be leased for 99years and the city has seen a boom in tourism ever since. Some of the ancient cave dwellings are even available for rent on Airbnb with a decidedly improved look, although they still retain the physical aspects of the past, with  rarely more than one window and/or entrance so definitely not appropriate for anyone with claustrophobia!

Wandering the alleyways and hearing the history and developments of the place was fascinating, visiting the ancient Rupestrian church had me spellbound. The squalor of the past was now an inviting stone paved road to alleyways lined with creamy architecture cut into and over the rock. The Stone Age’ restaurant tempts us with “panzarotti fritti’ (typical half moon pasta fried and filled with delicious mozzarella) and fresh pomegranate juice but we continue the tour

The upper town is beautifully Baroque in style, reminiscent of our time in Lecce.

Concave churches, and as many cherubs and menacing skeletons decorating the Matera city cisternfacades, together with mega cisterns still visitable below street level. There was hardly time to explore it all, an absolutely fascinating city that will merit its title of European Capital of Culture.

How could we go past lunching in one of the cave dwellings – the ‘Soul Kitchen’,  highly entertained by the waiters, and delicious local dishes. The pistachio semifreddo was out of this world!Pisatchio semifreddo - Soul KitchenMatera cave restaurant

 

 

 

 

With tummies full and the threat of rain we headed back to our trullo, knowing full well that I will be back again, sooner or later, to explore in depth ‘i sassi’ of Matera, as well as the extensive list of places that Marta had suggested to visit next time in the Basilicata region.Matra Rupestrian church


 

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In the heel of Italy – Puglia

Lecce entrance to cathedral squarePuglia -Travelling in the ‘heel’ of Italy, amidst countless olive groves, cruising the coastline through picturesque beach resorts, an explosion of white and blue light ending with a mellow glow of our graceful Baroque base in Lecce.

Polignano a Mare

Quite a Greek feel to so many places which is not unexpected since Greeks settled along the Ionian coast as early as the 8th Century BC.

 

 

Our first step into paradise is at Polignano a Mare, caressed to the sounds of “Volare oh oh, cantare oh oh oh oh” playing from a restaurant as we wandered the shimmering limestone pathways. The village perched precariously on the cliffs protects a beautiful cove with only a handful of swimmers considering the time of year. On Domenico Modugno statuethe opposite side a very appropriate statue to Domenico Modugno, author of “Volare” since it was his hometown.

 

Our first taste of delicious seafood and vegetarian specialities – puree of broad beans with chicory. The beauty of the place enticed us back for a second visit and swim and local buskers entertained us with a different rhythm of drum and violoncello.

Ostuni, known as ‘the white city’, for its whitewashed medieval centre, a practice begunOstuni main square to disinfect the poorer residential area during the period of the plague as well as a means to lightening the labyrinth of alleyways and stepped passages. The only buildings not white are the palatial dwellings now government buildings or churches. Blue skies enhance the contrast.

The view from Ostuni across 19million!! monumental olives to the coast is outstanding and we secular Olives Pugliacannot resist the temptation to see them close-up. Puglia has 60 million olives planted centuries ago and still going strong, 14 times the population of the region. Producing a range of  eating olives and extra virgin oil.

Villanova Puglia

 

Our day ends at the sleepy port and fishing village of Villanova with its XVI century Castle still guarding the entrance.

 

 

Lecce, ‘the Florence of the South’, left us spellbound as we rounded the corner into the Cathedral square after dark and met this splendour.

The city is a riot of cherubs, ornate balconies of strange beasts and decorative facades, a Baroque masterpiece in local stone to rival Noto in Sicily.

A couple of days exploring Lecce‘s parade of ‘putti’ (cherubs) and savouring it’s local delicacies of tarallini, burrata mozzarella and orecchiette pasta with turnip tops finishing with the most fabulous gelati from the famous Gelateria Natale. With over 45 flavours it’s a difficult choice!

We head towards the very tip of the heel at Santa Maria  di Leuca with a stop at Otranto, yet another paradise coastal resort, winding it’s way down from the Aragonese castle, laneways lined with tourist shops, and tempting restaurants and bars.

But we are not to be dissuaded from our project of arriving at the furthest point of Italy, and drive through endless fields of olive groves bordered by miles of dry stone walls, to the picturesque coastal road. On arrival hardly a tourist in sight and for the few that are about the owner of the ‘Sea Wolf’ restaurant commandeers us all with the promise of “if you are unhappy with what you eat, you don’t have to pay!” This would seem unlikely as he proudly boasts he has been in the business for 50 years! And we are not disappointed as we feed on the local fish of the day with a chilled glass of wine.

The day ends with a quick swim near Gallipoli in crystal clear water with a view of the city from the bay. The old town centre sits on a tiny island connected to the mainland by a 17th century bridge that ends at the fish market.

A robust fortress dominates, confirming the city’s strategic importance from the past Gallipoli seafronthaving been sacked by just about everyone – Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Normans to Bourbons! A pleasant stroll around its walls and a wander in the main street again past Baroque churches and aristocratic palaces.

It’s time to head home and while there are still so many places to discover in Puglia, this first trip has certainly been a delight and I will definitely be back….sooner or later!Martina Franca

Puglia map

 

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