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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 2010 Issue - Lazio Coast, Panzano in Chianti, Piemonte Agriturismo

Our March newsletter - out this week - contains just the information you may need to plan your 2010 trip to Italy. (If it doesn't sure many of the 70 back issues we provide to paid subscribers will do the job.) Here are the articles in this issue:

Between Rome and Naples: Exploring the Lazio Coast
From seaside resorts to Roman ruins to heavenly gardens, this piece of coastline - equidistant from Rome and Naples - offers something for everyone. Plus - Where to Stay and Eat in Southern Lazio

Panzano in Chianti: A Butcher and His Town
Italy's most famous butcher Dario Cecchini (who we profiled in 2004) put Panzano in the map. Judy Witts Francini stops by Panzano to see how Dario has expanded his empire and what other treasures Panzano has to offer.

The Warmth and Charm of Ca'Villa
The authors of a new book on agriturismi in Northern Italy say this agristurismo in Piemonte is a winner, not only for ambiance but for its food. Plus a great recipe.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rome: Ceiling of Nero's Golden Palace Collapses

The Associated Press reported that the ceiling of Roman Emperor Nero’s Golden Palace unexpectedly collapsed on Tuesday, but fortunately, no one was injured, as the collapsed area is currently closed for restoration. Officials believe heavy rains in Rome caused the partial collapse, reported BBC News. The damaged area, which measured roughly 645 square feet, is located in the tunnels in the Hadrian’s Bath section of the palace, on top of the House of Gold. In 1999, the palace was reopened after an 18-year closure due to concerns regarding its structural stability, but the palace is still plagued with structural problems and water damage. This week’s incident revisits the decades-old concerns over the palace’s structural integrity.

The nearly 2,000-year-old palace was completed in 68 AD, the same year that Emperor Nero committed suicide, and was named the Gold Palace for the abundance of gold leaf that covered its ceilings. Spanning almost 200 acres throughout Rome’s ancient hills, the palace lay buried and forgotten until Renaissance scholars discovered it 500 years ago. The Domus Aurea, as the palace is called in Latin, is located between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, and its frescoed halls and reputation of ancient affluence and elegance attract many tourists and visitors. -- Elaine Murphy

Photo credit: Allbito, flickr.com

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rome's Colosseum Getting a Facelift

Rome’s most famous monument, the Colosseum, is getting a much-needed renovation. In its 2,000 years, the Colosseum has suffered from centuries of earthquakes and neglect, leaving its structure partially damaged and its walls covered in grime. Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno told Ansa News that the extensive project would focus on the cleanup and restoration of the landmark’s exterior walls. New barriers similar to those at the Roman Forum will replace the unattractive fences currently in place between the lowest-level arches, and a permanent illumination system will be installed to light up the Colosseum at night.

Original construction on the Colosseum, officially called the Flavian Amphitheatre, started around 70 AD under the direction of Emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD by Vespasian’s son Titus, who funded its construction with the loot he gained from the war against the Jews in 66-70 AD. It gets around 4 million visitors per year

The project is expected to cost 20 million euros and take about a year, and is being funded entirely by private sponsors from around the world. Alemanno expects the renovation to make the monument safe for years to come, calling the project “epoch-making” and comparing it to the 1984-1994 renovation of the Sistine Chapel.

Work is currently being done to restore the Colosseum’s upper attic, third tier, and underground tunnels, where gladiators and wild animals waited to fight in the arena, making these areas safe for visitors. Colosseum Culture Undersecretary Francesco Giro said that a restoration for the first and second tiers, along with an installation of a state-of-the-art fire safety and security system, is also planned. -- Elaine Murphy

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2012 Giro d’Italia Prologue to Take Place in Washington, DC

In an effort to promote cycling internationally, organizers of one of the sport’s most prestigious races, the Giro d’Italia, have announced that the prologue to the race will be held in Washington, DC in 2012, according to The Washington Post. The Giro d’Italia, which takes place mostly in Italy, will bring thousands of acclaimed cyclists and enthusiastic spectators from around the globe to the U.S. capital, generating revenue and hype for Washington, DC.

The opening stage of the road bicycle race, called the prologue, is the only race day currently scheduled to be held in the U.S. – after the prologue, the race would continue in Italy after a day of rest. The proposed course begins at Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the National Archives, continues past the FBI building and Freedom Plaza, then goes behind the White House to Virginia Avenue and the Watergate. Once cyclists reach Rock Creek Park they will head back along the same course to the starting point. Along the race course is the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which features two bronze sculptures made in Italy in 1950 by artist Leo Friedlander, and presented to the United States in 1951.

The Giro d’Italia began in 1909 and is one of three cycling Grand Tours, along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a EspaƱa in Spain. The annual three-week-long race takes place in May. The DC race will mark the first time any portion of the Grand Tours has been conducted outside of Europe. -- Elaine Murphy

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Get to Know The Enigmatic Italian Artist Giorgione

Little is known about the life and work of illustrious Renaissance artist Giorgione Barbarelli, but what survives lingers in a small museum in the artist’s hometown of Castelfranco Veneto, just under 25 miles west of Venice. The painter, known as Giorgione, was born around 1477 and died from the plague in Venice in 1510. His studies with renowned artists Giovanni Bellini and Titian earned him a prestigious reputation and the museum dedicated to his work, which opened last year, is worth a visit, according to The Times (U.K.).

The artist's early death left many of his paintings unfinished, allowing other painters to finish the works for him and resulting in difficulty attributing the paintings to Giorgione. Though the subject of his artwork is symbolic and elusive, the paintings’ originality and artistic mastery earned Giorgione a place among the most distinguished and mysterious Renaissance artists. The Tempest is thought to be the first Western landscape painting, and many of his paintings use sfumato, the technique of using color to illustrate shade and perspective.

To mark the 500th anniversary of the Giorgone's death, Casa Giorgione is hosting “Giorgione,” an exhibition of over 120 paintings, drawings, engravings, marbles, bronzes, books and manuscripts. The New York Times recently reviewed the exhibition which runs through April 11th. -- Elaine Murphy

Monday, March 08, 2010

Florence's Tram System Back on Track

After 52 years, Florence finally has its public tram system back, according to The Florentine. The new Tramvia debuted on Valentine’s Day, a date deliberately chosen by Florence mayor Matteo Renzi to reflect the residents’ collective love for their city. On its first day, the Tramvia carried an estimated 40,000 passengers, including a couple who rode the tram to their wedding ceremony in an effort to show their appreciation for the long-awaited public transit system.

The tram comes after much controversy and debate about the construction of a new urban railway system in Florence. While many residents are thrilled with its launch, others showed their concern by protesting and picketing outside the via Alamanni tram station.

The Tramvia Line 1 connects the city of Florence with the town Scandicci and departs every eight minutes; construction on two more tram lines will begin soon. The tram system’s Sirio trams carry riders from Santa Maria Novella Station in Florence to Villa Costanza in Scandicci in 23 minutes, stopping at 14 stations along the way.

The Florentine details how Line 1’s stops include a variety of sights that are perfect for travelers looking to wander off of the city’s beaten tourist path. Stazione Leopolda, located on the tram’s first stop, hosts year-round festivals, including a food fair in March and the Nextech festival of electronic music in September. Cascine Park is the tram’s second stop, and is a haven for outdoors enthusiasts. The park has a public swimming pool, a sports complex, stables, and lots of green space for walking and relaxing. The Cascine Market along the Arno River, the largest market in Florence, sells everything from produce to clothing to furniture, and is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday.

For a quick escape from the bustle of big-city life, ride the tram to the residential area of Scandicci. The Resistenza stop drops passengers off in the city’s center among piazzas and family-owned shops, and the next stop reaches Piazza Togliatti, home of Scandicci’s Saturday market, which operates from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Future tram lines 2 and 3 are expected to stop at major tourist sites, including the Duomo. -- Elaine Murphy

Thursday, March 04, 2010

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Where to Shop in Rome Italy

In our February issue, Rosanne Cofoid writes about 50 great places to shop in Rome. She has compiled such a comprehensive shopping guide that we had to divide it into two parts - one covering antiques, fashion, home decor and food - and the other detailing places to buy gifts, leather goods, jewelry and paper goods. Here are a few of her recommendations:

For gifts - Antica Erboristeria Romana
Savor the warm glow of aged wood, fragrantly saturated over time with the aroma of herbs tht have been part of this place for 300 years. They have over 40 types of teas from the world over, essential oils and aromatherapy items. Worth stopping in just for the ambiance. Via di Torre Argentina, 15; (39) 06 6879493

For your home - Giroen Biancheria
This store near the Pantheon sells beautiful linens, many at very good prices. I recently purchased linen towels suitable for framing. Via della Minerva, 2; (39) 06 6789027

For fashion - Laura Urbanati
Urbanati is a lounge- and beachwear designer known for her delicate cotton prints and bikinis. The 2010 collection features many shades of yellow and pink. The shop is near Campo dei Fiori. Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 50; (39) 06 68136478

For Jewelry - Studio Gioielleria R. Quattrocolo
For spectacular 18th- and 19th-century jewelry, visit this studio, owned and operated since 1938 by the Quattrocolo family. The shop offers gold earrings, bracelets, necklaces and pins made from the finest precious stones, as well as Etruscan-style jewelry, cameos, and micro-mosaics. The micro-mosaics are the most representative of the exquisite workmanship present in every item in the shop. Via della Scrof, 54; (39) 06 68801367

Monday, March 01, 2010

Join An Archaeological Dig in Rome This Summer

This summer, spend six weeks preserving Roman history alongside professional archaeologists at an Italian excavation site. The American Institute for Roman Culture, the sole sponsor of the Villa delle Vignacce excavation site in the suburbs of Rome, offers a summer program enabling virtually anyone to participate in an archaeological dig.

Villa delle Vignacce translates to “Villa of the Vineyards” and was built in the 2nd century AD. Its ancient purpose is still unknown, but archaeologists speculate that it may have been a public bathhouse or a villa. Rome’s Park of the Aqueducts, a network of ancient aqueducts and the location of Villa delle Vignacce, provided the main water supply to the ancient settlement’s fountains and bath complex. Villa delle Vignacce is undocumented and unspoiled, allowing participants a rare opportunity to discover, preserve, and connect bits of ancient history to find out the site’s role in second-century Roman society.

The six-week program begins with a week of education and training; the remaining five weeks are spent digging on-site for nine hours a day. The program welcomes people from all ages, countries, and educational backgrounds – high school grads, college students, adult professionals, and retirees. You don’t need to speak Italian or be an archaeology or classics major to participate.

The dig requires lots of physical activity – digging all day in the hot Italian sun means taking lots of water and shade breaks – but also offers the rewards of living in Rome and unearthing nearly 2,000-year-old artifacts. Email studyabroad@romanculture.org or visit http://www.saverome.org/ to enroll and find out more about the program. --Elaine Murphy