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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Should Visits to the Sistine Chapel Be Limited?

Of the many attractions in Italy threatened by tourism, the Sistine Chapel doesn't top most people's list. Of course, as is the case with Pompeii and the Colosseum and many of Italy's antiquities, it's fair to say that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, no matter the venue.

A column in the September 20th edition of the Milan daily Corriere della Sera by Pietro Citati put the spotlight on tourism's toll on the Sistine Chapel. In the piece, the noted Italian writer and critic suggested that mass tourism was causing so much damage to the Sistine Chapel that the Vatican Museums might one day have to limit the number of visitors.

The response from Vatican Museums was a resounding "no." Writing this week in the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano, Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci stated that any limits on visitors would be unthinkable, according to a summary by the Italian news service ANSA. (Some four million people visit the Sistine Chapel each year.) Paolucci reminded readers that the days where only the elite could view artistic wonders like the Sistine Chapel, with Michaelangelo's extraordinary ceiling, were long behind us.

Paolucci also noted that the number of visitors to the Sistine Chapel was likely to increase, as standards of living increase in emerging countries and more individuals can afford to visit the consecrated site that is the Sistine Chapel.
While rejecting the idea of limiting visits, Paolucci very publicly quantified the impact of thousands of daily visitors. In 2010 he surprised the world when he announced that workers had removed several kilograms of dust from the Sistine Chapels frescoes after a month-long cleanup of the ceiling. (One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.) He was quoted widely as observing, "These people sweat, breathe and produce dust - you will be amazed how much dust a human body gives off - and they also bring in material fibres and loose hair," noting that if left untreated these tourist byproducts would form an actual crust on the frescoes.

Since then, Paolucci's been calling for better climate control systems. In this week's column, he noted that for the past two years, the museum has been studying ways to ventilate and control humidity. For the time being, climate control, rather than visitor limits, is seen as the best offset. -- Barbara Benham

Photo by Francsico Antunes, flickr.com
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The First Italians: Etruscan Pyramids Found in Orvieto Umbria

Little is known about the Estruscans, the people who dominated a large swath of Italy for centuries before eventually being absorbed by the Roman Empire. They left no written works that might have chronicled their culture and their doings, and, until recently at least, scant artifactual evidence surface. Earlier this month, a group of U.S. and Italian archeologists announced that they'd found the first documented instance of Etruscan pyramids in a wine cellar in Orvieto, Umbria, a major center of Etruscan civilization, dubbed "Etruscan central" by some.

Etruscan tombs near Orvieto
 In addition to the pyramids, the dig has yielded other Etruscan artifacts, including Attic red figure pottery from the middle of the 5th Century B.C. and 6th and 5th century B.C. Etruscan pottery, according to an article on the pyramids in Discover Magazine.

The two pyramids found at the house, about ten feet below the surface, are linked together by a tunnel. There are thought to be three other underground Etruscan pyramids in Orvieto. Archeologists are not clear whether they were used for religious purposes are as tombs. Despite little documentary history, the Estruscans left a long shadow on Italian culture. They are credited by historians with teaching the Romans how to build roads.

It's too early to know whether the house will be eventually open to visitors. Whatever the decision there, visitors to Orvieto can find Etruscan artifacts at the Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico (The website is in Italian, you can easily translate it in English with Google Translator.) There are many other Etruscan sites in and around Orvieto.

For a slide show of the Etruscan house, click here. -- Barbara Benham

Photo by isawnyu, flickr

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September Issue: Uncovering Molise, Rome B&Bs, Italy Fractional Ownership

The September issue of Dream of Italy - covering the southern Italian region of Molise, fractional ownership in Italy and some great Rome bed and breakfasts -  is hot off the presses.

If you're NOT a subscriber, subscribe today to instantly access the PDF version of this issue and nearly 100 additional back issues of our award-winning print newsletter.

Our paid subscribers (who can log-in here) are reading the following articles this month:

A Piece of the Dream: Fractional Ownership in Italy

Not ready to buy a second home in Italy but want to have an Italian villa to return to year after year? Fractional ownership may be for you - we lay out how it works and the pros and cons. Plus we profile three fractional ownerships in Tuscany, Le Marche and Umbria.
Molise: Italy's Last Hidden Region
Molise, the country’s last undiscovered region, is as rich in history as it is in beauty and, unknown to both Italians and foreigners, it is free of the crowds and traffic that fill other regions. We undercover the highlights of this southern Italian gem.
Molise Discovery
An energetic young couple want to bring travelers to Italy's last hidden region. Meet the founders of Molise Discovery and find out about the travel network and tours they offer.
Molise: The Details
The 411 on where to stay in Molise, where to eat in Molise, the best sights in Molise and more...

Awesome Bed and Breakfast in Rome
One of our subscribers turned us on to these affordable, well-located B&Bs in Rome. With those rare rooms that sleep up to four and nightly apartment rentals for up to seven, this bed and breakfast (with three locations) has become popular for families visiting Rome.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Florence's Cantinetta Antinori Gets the New York City Pop-Up Treatment


A famous Florentine restaurant, Cantinetta Antinori, comes to New York for a brief time next month...

Mondrian SoHo, one of New York City's more high-spirited hotels, turns to Florence for inspiration for its first-ever pop-up restaurant. From October 3 through 6, diners can enjoy a selection of Cantinetta Antinori's signature dishes in the hotel's inaugural pop-up enterprise, which will be set up in the hotel's ground-floor dinner-party room.

Cantinetta Antinori, a Florentine institution operated by the Antinori family, perhaps Italy's top wine-making brood, is popular with locals and tourists alike. The restaurant was opened in 1957 by the Antonoris who have been cultivating wine since the 1300s. (Watch a video of the 60 Minutes profile of the Antinori family)

Today the Antinori family has six estates. The Florence restaurant serves, by bottle or glass, every one of the wines it produces. A narrower wine selection will be available at the Mondrian Soho's pop-up. The final menu was still in the works when we spoke to the Mondrian Soho this week. Judging from the restaurant's original offerings, diners can expect a selection of Tuscan dishes. 

There will two seatings, one at 7 p.m. and one at 9:30 p.m. Price is $165 per person, including wines, taxes and gratuities. Call (212) 369-0000 or click here to purchase tickets. -- Barbara Benham

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cinecitta, Italy's Famed Movie Studio, Ponders Its Options, Including a Theme Park

The Occupy Wall Street movement may have fizzled around the world, but that hasn't stopped workers at Italy's famed Cinecitta movie studios from staging a protest of their own, complete with round-the-clock camping at the production company's main entrance, for the past two months. At issue: the fate of their jobs, should Cinecitta restructure. With the unemployment rate in Italy at 10.7%, this is no small concern. At greatest risk, according to press reports, are set designers and lighting engineers.

Founded by Mussolini in the 1930s as a propaganda studio, Cinecitta went on to be the production site of many great movies, including Ben-Hur and Cleopatra, Fellini's La Dolce Vita and Satyricon and, more recent, Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. In the 1980s, the Italian government privatized Cinecitta, to stave off bankruptcy.

While Cinecitta -- 5.5 miles from the center of Rome -- remains Europe's largest production studio, with 22 stages and 300-plus dressing rooms, Cinecitta management is looking at breaking up the concern and possibly adding a movie studio theme park and a hotel. A hotel? That caught our attention as a possibly intriguing concept, but as this BBC report explains, the hotel would be for people working on location at Cinecitta.

Work at Cinecitta continues apace, as does the studio's popular exhibit, "Cinecitta Shows Off."  -- Barbara Benham
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Photo by frontiersofinteraction, flickr.com

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September in Rome: Taste of Roma Festival

If you're in Rome this weekend, don't miss Taste of Roma, the city's biggest restaurant festival which takes place September 20 to 23 in the Auditorium Parco della Musica . A dozen chefs from Rome's best restaurants will prepare appetizer-size portions of their best dishes. Attendees can also enjoy vino tasting at one of three wine bars set up by historic enoteca Trimani. Electrolux is sponsoring a cooking school filled with hands-on opportunities to learn from the masters of Roman cuisine. Find out more about individual day and evening tickets.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Fall Events in Italy: Venice's Architecture Biennale


For those lucky enough to be in Venice between now and November 25, make sure you visit the Biennale di Venezia Architetture at the Giardini della Biennale and at the Arsenale. This ticketed event, now in its 13th year, celebrates international architecture with over 100 exhibits and another dozen or so "collateral" events and displays. This year's theme is "Common Ground," a nod to the unifying forces of architecture, a field which even David Chipperfield, the exhibition's director, is burdened by a lack of understanding between the profession and the society.

Chipperfield has written an inspired introduction, available online here. In it, he lauds Venice and all of Italy, for its role in our collective perceptions and appreciation of architecture:

That the most important architectural exhibition takes place in Venice can be no accident. Venice supplies a stage that no other city could for such an event. Its architecture, modest and grandiose, combines with the lagoon to create something beyond nature itself. The city shames us by its beauty, reminding us of the real possibilities of architecture, both as individual acts and as part of a greater vision.

Against all odds, Italy remains the spiritual home of architecture and it is here we can fully understand the importance of buildings not as individual spectacles but as the manifestations of collective values and as the settings for daily life. The sensibility and understanding of the people is without doubt the result of living amongst the world’s greatest patrimony of architecture and urbanism.

Well said. As for the exhibition, judging from reviews, well done.

DATE + TIME: Through November 25, 2012 Daily 10 AM to 6 PM. Closed Mondays (except Monday November 19, 2012).

TICKETS: Ticket offices at Giardini and Arsenale (Campo Tana) 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Admission to the exhibition venues allowed until 5:45 p.m. Buy your tickets online here. The ticket is valid for one entry to each of the two exhibition venues (Giardini and Arsenale). Small/medium sized pets are allowed in the green area at Giardini.

PRICE: 20€ Some discounts available.

NOTE: During the 56th International Festival of Contemporary Music (October 6 - 13, 2012) reduced price tickets will be available for both events. 
-- Barbara Benham

Friday, September 07, 2012

A Fall Polenta Recipe from Piedmont Italy

Frequent Dream of Italy contributor Toni Lydecker is out with a new cookbook, Piatto Unico: When One Course Makes a Real Italian Meal. "As you have no doubt heard and observed, a real Italian meal consists of several courses. Except when it doesn't," Toni says. Based on this idea, Toni's cookbook celebrates the one-course Italian meal. She share's a terrific polenta recipe, perfect for fall, from the cookbook...and tells us about her polenta adventures in Piedmont.


Visiting the Piedmont one fall, we decided to stay overnight in Cuneo and quickly discovered that a festival celebrating the fat chestnuts called marrone was in full swing. Shirtless, sweating men in the center of town were roasting chestnuts, while others stirred polenta taragna in vast cast iron cauldrons--all of this taking place over open fires. I decided to buy a bowlful of polenta--just one, because we had dinner plans--and the three of us stood in the street, dipping our spoons into the steaming, utterly delicious porridge, laced with melting chunks of local toma cheese.

Later that night, following a less than memorable dinner, I regretted that I hadn't eaten my fill of that remarkable polenta. Making it at home doesn't quite replicate that experience, but when stone-ground meal is used, it comes close.

Get the recipe for Toni's Polenta Taragna con Fontina

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

New Luxury Resort in Tuscany: Castello di Casole


This is an excerpt from the August 2012 issue of Dream of Italy:

Timber Resorts, an American company known for high-end ski resorts and fractional ownerships, is behind the sumptuous 5-star Castello di Casole. Casole is much more of an estate than a hotel, featuring 41 suites and 28 farmhouses for rent, fractional ownership or whole ownership. Twenty minutes west of Siena, the property is nestled among hill towns including namesake Casole, Mensano and Radicandoli. There are views of the towers of San Gimignano.

Navigiating Tuscany's stringent building codes, it too developers five years to restore the main buildings which are home to the opulent suites. (Reportedly the fa├žade had to be repainted three times to meet the approval of local officials.)

The estate's size means the amenities are endless and include a pool with one of the best views in Tuscany, gourmet restaurant, pizzeria, gelateria, spa, vineyards, olive groves, boutique, wedding chapel and more. Guests can take a range of private classes from language lessons with and watercolor and ceramics instruction with local artist Eva Munarin. Of course, cooking lessons are also available.

Its size and "new-ness" (and indeed price!) might not make it attractive to for everyone. But for those who seek world-class pampering everything in one place, Castello di Casole has that "wow" factor. Rates start at 630€ per night. For more information, call (39) 0577 961508 or visit www.castellodicasole.com