Sunday 22 January 2012

A few days in Assisi

With my brother visiting me in Rome for three weeks, we have the time to indulge in some very Slow Travel!

A few days ago, we headed up to Assisi, one of my favourite places, so Kelly could see the hometown of St. Francis and its many beautiful sites.

It was a bit cold up in the mountains, as you can see by the ice on this poor lion in the fountain in Assisi's central piazza!

But we also had clear blue skies most of the time, perfect for exploring:

Such a beautiful town!

And I always love the reliefs on Assisi's ancient churches:

Thanks to my blogging friend Annie, I now keep an eye out for lovely street shrines. This one stood a little too directly in the sun, so Mary and baby Jesus are in shadows. Still, it was lovely and very well kept.

Best of all, my dear friend Letizia came down to pick up my brother and me and take us up to her beautiful home so Kelly could see the gorgeous countryside above Assisi -- and taste her delicious crostada!

Sunday 15 January 2012

Want to buy a palazzo in Rome?

My brother Kelly is visiting from Canada (for three weeks -- gulp!) So, I haven't had any spare time to blog.

But I did come across this article from Britain's Daily Mail, which I found fascinating. By my calculations, the asking price would be about $50 million.

"A magnificent Renaissance palace grafted on to the top of an ancient Roman theatre has been put up for sale in Italy for 26-million pounds.

"The Palazzo Orsini in Rome is being sold by the family of an Anglo-American artistocrat who sheltered escaped Allied prisoners of war during the Second World War. Its asking price is thought to make it the most expensive property currently on sale in the Italian capital, and one of the most expensive in Europe.

"And you can understand why when you consider palaces like this only come on to the market once every few hundred years.

"The 11,000 sq ft property has frescoed staterooms, a ballroom, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a library, a dining room, a terrace, a separate penthouse and cellars.

"The building, with a garden full of fountains and orange trees, is built on top of the still-standing stone and marble shell of the Theatre of Marcellus, dating from the 1st century BC,  which resembles a mini- Colosseum.

"Named after Marcus Marcellus, the nephew of Emperor Augustus, the open-air auditorium allowed 11,000 spectators to watch dramatic and singing performances.

"It was allowed to ruin over the centuries as a series of noblemen and their families moved in before the Orsini clan made it their home in the 1600s. They built a palace on top of the ruins of the ancient theatre and gave it its current name, Palazzo Orsini.

"The daughter of an American diplomat and an Anglo-Irish peer, Dame Iris Origo was born Iris Cutting in 1902 and became a marchesa after marrying an Italian aristocrat, Antonio Origo.

"Her book about her wartime experiences in Tuscany, 'War in the Val'D'Orcia, an Italian War Diary', is regarded as a classic.

"During the war she bought an estate near Siena in Tuscany with her husband and looked after refugee children and local families displaced by the fighting, as well as escaped POWs and Allied airmen who were trying to make their way through German lines.

"The diary she kept of her experiences from 1943-1944 was critically acclaimed and described by a New York Times reviewer as 'remarkably moving' when it was published in 1984 – four years before she died, aged 85.

"The palazzo, which she rented and then bought in the 1950s, has an illustrious past. Construction of the Theatre of Marcellus, which could seat 20,000 people, was begun by Julius Caesar but it was completed in 11BC by the emperor Augustus, who named it after his favourite nephew."

Saturday 7 January 2012

Museo Ebraico di Roma

Rome's Jewish Museum, part of the Great Synagogue (Tempio Maggiore) is a fascinating look into another culture, religion, and tradition.

Rome's Jewish community is integral to the city's history, woven into its social fabric. So it seems odd that I hadn't ever visited before!

I confess it was, in part, because I was a bit intimidated and frankly, didn't realize how simple it was to visit. Go to the museum entrance, pay the 10-euro entry fee, and a guided tour (in English or Italian) that includes the Great Synagogue and the intimate Spanish Synagogue, is included.

When I mentioned this to my friend D., who is visiting from Ottawa, she was also keen to see it. We've been doing a bit of exploring of Second World War sites in Rome (including the memorial commemorating the Ardeatine massacre) so we continued with our theme.

Of course, the history of the Jewish people in Rome long predates the Second World War and the infamous roundups that occurred in the Ghetto in 1943.

Rome has had an uninterrupted Jewish community for 20 centuries -- 2,000 years! Records and artifacts dating as far back as 1555 are included in the museum, as well as descriptions of the history of the city and its Jewish population; and explanations of cultural and religious traditions.

From the museum's website:

     "In the Middle Ages, during the papal rule, Rome hosted an important Rabbinical Academy and was a center for the production of precious illuminated manuscripts. The Jewish Community counted men of science and culture in its midst, scholars who were a bridge between Latin culture and Islam.

     "In 1492 the expulsion of the Jews from Spain encouraged in Rome the encounter of two important but different traditions: the local and the Sephardic from the Iberian Peninsula.

     "The following years saw in Europe tensions and religious wars that caused the worsening of the conditions of the Jews of Rome. In 1553 the burning of the Talmud was ordered. from then on, and for over three centuries, possession and reading of the most important book for Jewish culture was forbidden. This contributed to the cultural (decline) of Roman Judaism.

     "In 1555 Pope Paul IV Carafa ordered that all the Jews living in the State of the Church should be locked up in the ghetto: a prison-quarter, in which the Jews had to live after having lost all their civil rights. They could not own property, they couldn't choose the job they wanted, couldn't have a friendly relationship with Christians.

     "The ghetto of Rome was created on the Tiber banks. The other ghettos of the Pope were opened in Ancona and Avignon. Between 3,000 and 7,000 people lived in the area, depending on the periods. The population was made up of artisans, rag-sellers and the poor, but also of bankers ( till 1682) and businessmen selling art objects and furnishing: textiles, furniture and carriages.

     "In 1870, when the State of the Church fell, Rome was united with Italy and the ghetto was opened and soon after demolished. For the Roman Jews it was the beginning of the emancipation: the most visible result of this period was the construction of the Great Synagogue, inaugurated in 1904 and built on the area of the former ghetto.

     "The Fascist Racial Laws of 1938 abruptly ended this period of tranquillity. In 1943 the Germans entered the City, deporting 2, 091 Roman Jews to Auschwitz.

     "The community only started to recover from this grieving in the years after the war. In 1967, with the arrival of many refugees from Libya, the number of the Jews in Rome raised to about 15.000 people and it has remained stable since.

     "The Roman Jews have suffered a terrible terrorist attack in 1982 - a child died and many people were injured - but have also rejoiced in 1986 for the visit to the Great Synagogue of the Pope John Paul II."