Mediterranean – Western

Mediterranean – Western

This is going to be a difficult area to write about as there is so much to see and experience that every country in itself can be enjoyed in detail.  We have been to the Mediterranean area a couple of times and I am just going to touch on a few highlights encompassing the visits we made.

Rome, Italy

I am going to start with the city of Rome in Italy as that place is really the hub of much travel in the Mediterranean area.  On our first trip to Europe we flew into Rome, booked a hotel and spent many wonderful days and nights right there before moving onto other places.

During the first day, we simply walked from our hotel to the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and then to Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica where we saw many beautiful frescoes and learned how they are done (which was a good thing to know about in Rome as one encounters frescoes in almost every church).

Santa Maria Maggoria

Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

We also spent time learning and exploring the metro as that would be our mode of transportation for the next 4 days.

The following day took us to St. Peter’s Square

Looking down onto St. Peter's Square

Looking down onto St. Peter’s Square

where we toured a very small portion of the Vatican Museums,

Tapestries hang on the Vatican Museum walls.

Tapestries hang on the Vatican Museum walls.

The Vatican Gardens

The Vatican Gardens

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A view of the exterior dome of St. Peter’s Basilica taken from the Square.

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The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica – adorned with frescoes and gold.

overlooked the Vatican gardens, spent some time in St. Peter’s Basilica

Michelangelo's Pieta (1499) - work renowned for accuracy in body proportions and physical stature.  It is housed in St. Peter's Basilica.

Michelangelo’s Pieta (1499) – work renowned for accuracy in body proportions and physical stature. It is housed in St. Peter’s Basilica.

and also in the Sistine Chapel.

The end wall of the Sistine Chapel

The end wall in the Sistine Chapel

 

The following day using the blue line metro we traveled to Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) where  we began our exploration of ruins by imagining 300 000 Roman spectators cheering as the chariots roared around the ancient racetrack.

The ruins of Circus Maxima

The ruins of Circus Maxima

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One of many structures found in the ruins on Palantine Hill.

Just above Circus Maximus lie the ruins of Palantine Hill where the Emperors lived and from where they were able to watch the races.  The standard distance for all ancient races was 7 laps (1 lap was 3/4 of a mile).

Palantine Hill now is a sprawling archeological garden with extensive, not very well marked ruins.

From Palantine Hill we headed into the Roman Forum where there was a great deal of archeological ‘dig’ work going on as well as a lot of restoration happening.  The Roman Forum was the nerve centre of the most powerful Western civilization in history for the better part of a thousand years.  It is where political decision were made, public speeches heard and market activities took place.

Ruins in the Roman Forum

Ruins in the Roman Forum

Tall restored columns dot the landscape of the Roman Forum.

Tall restored columns dot the landscape of the Roman Forum area.

Our tired feet took us on to the Colosseum or Flavian’s Amphitheatre (72-80 A.D.) often thought of as the theatre of slaughter.  At the height of the Roman Empire, games were held almost every other day, in times of special celebration, and often would last for weeks or even months. Against swords and gnashing lions’ teeth, gladiators and animal fighters fought to the death. 2010-01-17_0109 The Colosseum could seat about 65000 Romans who could be seated in the arena in a matter of minutes as there were 80 numbered entrance/exit passageways.  The fights in the Colosseum ended in 523 A.D.2010-01-17_0130

The Pantheon, built as a temple to the gods by Hadrian between 118 and 125 A.D., is the best-preserved and most elegant ancient building in Rome.

The Pantheon - built as a temple to the gods.

The Pantheon – built as a temple to the gods.

The concrete dome of the Pantheon - open to the sky.

The concrete dome of the Pantheon – open to the sky.

It has a perfectly hemispherical poured concrete dome open to the sky and larger than the dome of St. Peter’s.  The Pantheon also houses the tomb of Raphael.

We visited the San Callisto Catacombs located outside the city walls (ancient Roman law forbade burials within the city boundary). 2010-01-17_0149 The hand dug tunnels with niches in the walls were massive dormitories for the dead.  Christians were buried here between the first and fourth centuries. 2010-01-17_0147  Only a few are open to the public and all bones and skeletons have been removed from these catacombs and placed in the Basilica (the very first church we saw on our first day in Rome).

From the Catacombs, we traveled by bus to San Giovanni Cathedral in Laterno.  This Cathedral is the ‘mother church’ of all churches in Rome and certainly was the most impressive one that we had seen.  It was dedicated to St. John.  This ‘gold laden’ and ‘statue ridden’ Cathedral dates back to 1646 and the ‘chorus line’ of statues dates from 1735.2010-01-17_01532010-01-17_0152

 

 

Genoa, Italy

Genoa is renowned as Italy’s main commercial port, but also offers plenty of tourist attractions.  The historical centre is very near to the port so it is relatively easy to make ones way around on foot.   IMG_1127  IMG_1133

Genoa has one of the largest historical centres in Europe made up of an intricate tangle of alleyways, called caruggi, that often open up unexpectedly onto small squares where different smells, tastes and cultures mix and mingle.    IMG_1139 IMG_1136

There are interesting ancient buildings and churches set between stores and shops that have been there for hundreds of years.

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Florence, Italy

A rental car provided us with the transportation to get to Florence and was well worth the anxious moments of parking and finding our way back.

Our first stop in Florence was at the Gothic Church of Santa Croce which holds the tombs and monuments of many famous florentines, among them Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.   Unfortunately, the church was closed to the public.

Gothic Church of Santa Croce

Gothic Church of Santa Croce

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This vast Duomo or cathedral dominates the city with its huge dome. It is called Santa Maria del Fiore and dates back to the 4th century.

Since time was of the essence, we drove right to the old town where we saw cathedrals, statues,IMG_0947_1 mimes,IMG_0945 horsesIMG_0939_1 and tourists along the narrow streets.IMG_0919_1

 

We sought out Michelangelo’s statue of David which stands beneath the clock tower of the squares’s Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall.  It is a copy with the original being housed in a museum, the Galleria dell’Accademia, which we didn’t get to.

 

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We then made our way to the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).  It is Florence’s oldest surviving bridge which was built in 1345.  The bridge, most appropriately named The Golden Bridge, has been occupied by goldsmiths and silversmiths since 1593.IMG_0980IMG_0967

On our way to Lucca and Pisa, we enjoyed the countryside of Tuscany which is definitely a place to come back to and to spend time exploring the rolling hill sides which are covered in vineyards and a variety of crops.IMG_0984_1

 

Lucca, Italy

Lucca is a quiet ancient city, devoid of the crowds of tourists we encountered in Florence.IMG_0999  The streets were narrow and one never quite knew where you were going or where you might end up.  After the frenzy of Florence, it was a restful peaceful walk as we explored this quaint old city.IMG_1021_1IMG_1020_1

 

Pisa, Italy

The leaning tower of Pisa is located in Pisa’s ancient city square. IMG_1025 From the 11th to the 13th century, Pisa’s navy ensured the city’s dominance in the western Mediterranean.IMG_1032

The tower is supported on a shallow stone raft only 3 meters deep.  In 1274 when the 3rd story was added, the tower started to lean.  The tower has 8 storeys which consists of galleries with delicate marble.  In 1990, the removal of earth corrected the lean by 5 inches.IMG_1029

 

Naples, Italy

The ruins of Pompei are found about an hour drive from the city of Naples.  We booked a tour as we wanted to hear the dialogue on the history of this site.

On our way to Pompei, we stopped at a cameo factory.  IMG_1375_1It’s no wonder they’re so expensive – all hand made.

 

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D, burying the town in 6 meters of pumice and ash.

Mt. Vesuvius

Mt. Vesuvius

Excavation began  only in 1748, revealing a city frozen in time.  It is believed that the gases created during the eruption caused the death of people as they were going about their everyday activities.  Everything was covered by ashes and rocks – hence it was well-preserved.IMG_1378_1IMG_1383

The streets were lower than the walkways with stepping stones to get from one side to the other.  The stepping stones were strategically placed enabling the chariot wheels to pass through.  The stepping stones also provide a dry passage for pedestrians in getting across the street as rain and swill would have been prevalent on the streets. IMG_1431 IMG_1412_1The grooves in the streets would be from the chariots and the marble corners provided the night lights to mark the way.IMG_1390

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An arena

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An oven – probably in a bakery

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A private home

Some of the excavations uncovered houses, arenas, bakeries, artifacts and bath houses.

It has been learned that the bathhouses were really sophisticated, existing of change rooms, separate baths for men and women, cold baths, tepid baths and hot baths.  Each room was thoroughly heated with hot air which came from a central furnace and circulated under the floor.IMG_1425_1IMG_1415_1

All of the streets were numbered and named.  It would appear that at one time, this site was a very busy active city.

Most of the artifacts from the excavations have been moved to the Museo Archeologico Nationale in Naples, contributing to one of the world’s most outstanding and fascinating archeological collections.IMG_1439_1IMG_1442_1

Dubrovnik, Croatia 

We arrived early morning in the very old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia which was founded in the 7th century. 2010-01-17_0173 An hour’s walk took us by beautiful scenery and colourful markets to the entrance of the old city which is surrounded by tall walls begun in the 12th century and continued work for 500 years. 2010-01-17_01802010-01-17_0176 We entered the old city through the Pile Gate where we discovered the long promenade known as the Placa (Plac-tsa).

We walked the entire  circumference of the wall – length is more than 6350 feet and in some places the wall is 20 feet thick.  The height of the wall is about 80 feet above sea level.2010-01-17_01812010-01-17_0187

All of the buildings in the old town have the red tile roofs which create quite a spectacular sight when looking down upon the buildings.2010-01-17_01982010-01-17_0200

 

The narrow streets housed little kiosks at every turn.2010-01-17_02012010-01-17_0191

The streets are very narrow with hundreds of cats roaming about which we had no idea if they were wild alley cats or someone’s pet.2010-01-17_0195

Dubrovnik with its medieval walls and historic core in on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

 

Palermo, Sicily

Palermo is Sicily’s largest and main city and port.  Six of us hired a driver with a mini van for the day.  Unfortunately, our driver did not speak English very well so things were a bit of a guessing game.

Our drive took us on some winding roads to some higher elevation view points where we experienced some wonderful views of the bays and seascape below.2010-01-17_0159  2010-01-17_0167

We walked up to a very strange church which had been built into the rocks high up overlooking the city. 2010-01-17_0163-1 In the entrance was the crypt or tomb of a young child.  In another niche was a ‘black madonna’.  The entire place felt quite eerie.  I believe the church was called Montepellegino.2010-01-17_01682010-01-17_0164

A visit to the catacombs in Palermo is an unforgettable experience and the memory of this will remain with me forever.  Unlike those we saw in Rome where there were no bones or skeletons remaining in them, here there were bodies in boxes, in niches along the walls and hanging from the walls.  2010-01-17_00692010-01-17_00702010-01-17_0071

These catacombs are still used today by well-to-do people who pay a great deal for this service as opposed to burial.

We walked through the ‘Cattedrale’, the main cathedral in Palermo.2010-01-17_00762010-01-17_00752010-01-17_00772010-01-17_0078-1

A tour around the Piazza Pretoria took us around a fountain built in 1550 for the garden of a Florentine villa.  When acquired by the Palermitan Senate, it became known as the fountain of shame because of its statues of nude.2010-01-17_0079-1

 

Monaco

The land of which Monaco is comprised was bought from the Genoese in 1309 by the Grimaldi’s who remain the world’s oldest ruling family.  The Grimaldi family who has shaped the image of this country have managed their degree of independence and always kept Monaco as an exciting country.

From the port, we walked up toward the palace, passing the splendid Musee Oceanographique and beautiful gardens along the way.         IMG_1061_1   IMG_1065_1

The 16th century Palais du Prince, home of Prince Rainier III guarded by sentries, features priceless furniture and magnificent frescoes.IMG_1070_1IMG_1076_1

Of course we had to stay to watch the changing of the guards in front of the royal palace.  We did not get to the tombs of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier (died at 81 in 2005) who reigned for 55 years, which are located in a 19th century Neo-Romanesque Cathedral.

The entire country of Monaco is only half the size of New York’s Central Park.

As we strolled down from the palace,IMG_1086 we appreciated the narrow, unique streets of the old city. IMG_1093_1 Monte Carlo, one of the 6 neighbourhoods of Monaco is world known for its casinos.  On our way to the Grand Casino, we walked by thousands of yachts – lots of money in the French Riviera.IMG_1096_1

The Grand Casino, Monte Carlos most famous casino was built in 1878. IMG_1103_1IMG_1102_1IMG_1106_1 Monte Carlo is named after Charles III, who opened the first casino here in 1865 to save himself from bankruptcy.

 

 

Barcelona, Spain

A statue of Christopher Columbus at the port side of La Ramble helped us to get our bearings. IMG_1135_1 We walked in the early morning down the almost deserted wide avenue of La Rambla, lined with shops, businesses and mimes getting ready for their day. IMG_1136_1OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_1144 At the end of the day, the wide street was congested with wall to wall people.IMG_1213

To do some exploring of Barcelona, we used the ‘hop on, hop off’ bus.

The influence of Gaudi, the Italian architect,  is very evident in the streets of Barcelona and I now have an appreciation of the word ‘gaudy’.  La Pedrera, one of Gaudi’s freest works, was built between 1906 and 1910 as a house but today a bank occupies the main floor.IMG_1207_1 IMG_1208_1

The Sagrada Familia is the great unfinished work by Gaudi (1852-1926).  It was his life’s work and he lived like a recluse on the site for 16 years.  Gaudi is buried in the crypt of this church.  At his death, only one tower on the Nativity facade had been completed.  The Sagrada Familia continues to be under construction financed by public subscription.  It is to consist of 12 spires – one for each apostle.  Each spire is topped by Venetian mosaics.  400 steep steps in each tower allow access to the towers and upper galleries.IMG_1159_1 IMG_1161_1  We didn’t go in as the line-ups were several blocks long and people coming out said that most of the interior was blocked off due to construction.

Barcelona is a very modern city which really cleaned up when the Olympics were held there in 1992.

The Agbar tower is the headquarters of the Barcelona water company.  It is a building of ever-changing colors.IMG_1157_1

The Forum is a large auditorium and large exhibition hall.  The city has become a major centre for dialogue and exhibitions.IMG_1151_1

 

We ventured up to Tibidabo, the highest part of the mountain range of Collserola and offers superb panoramic views of Barcelona.  It took us many steps, a trolley and then a tram car to get there.  Unfortunately we hit a cloudy day and there was lots of pollution in the air so our views were not spectacular that day.IMG_1203_1  Tibidabo is an early 20th century temple dedicated to the Sacred Heart and an amusement park which dates back over a hundred years.IMG_1189OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Majorka, Spain

Majorka is a port along the French Riviera in which are thousands of expensive yachts.  How anyone could ever find their own yacht in this melee of vessels would be a challenge indeed.IMG_1217_1IMG_1237_1IMG_1243_1

We visited a pearl factory

In the pearl factory

In the pearl factory

and then the Caves of Drach which are a series of caverns that hide the world’s largest underground lake.  They were magnificently eerie but picture taking was not allowed.

The Palma Cathedral, begun in the 14th century with the vaulting being completed in 1587, is an impressive sight as it stand alone along the promenade.IMG_1239_1  In the 19th century, Gaudi remodelled the interior.

 

 

A sunset on Majorka.

A sunset on Majorka.

 

Tunis, Tunisia

In order to explore this area where we were unfamiliar with the language and customs, we chose to book a tour for the day with an English speaking guide.  We were glad we did as we found the people in the places we visited to be reserved, aloof and not very friendly toward tourists.

Our first stop was at a graveyard where we were required to pay a Euro to take a picture.  According to our guide, the ancient Carthaginians sacrificed their first born son – hence, the numerous child headstones.IMG_1285_1

Our next stop was at the Bardo Museum, just outside the city center where we were required to pay another Euro to take pictures. IMG_1292_1 (2) IMG_1297_1 IMG_1304_1 This museum holds one of the richest collections of Roman mosaics in the world.  The mosaics include the portrait of the Roman poet Virgil, flanked by Clio and Melpomene, muses of History and Tragedy.  The collection of artifacts also included statues and jewelry.

We walked into the bustling medina, Old Town quarter, where the streets were very narrow and so jagged and rough that every step had to be taken with caution. IMG_1313_1IMG_1316_1

We entered a perfume shop (came out ‘well scented’), experienced a carpet demonstration IMG_1322_1IMG_1323_1and viewed the Zitouna Mosque which had been built over a temple to the ancient goddess, Athena.IMG_1321

Located near our lunch stop location, we had the opportunity to explore the Roman ruins of an aqueduct system where there were very few people.  This site was amazing!  A highlight of the tour for me.IMG_1326_1IMG_1331_1 IMG_1334_1 IMG_1337_1

Following lunch, we were taken to the Roman ruins at Carthage.  We experienced some difficulty in getting there as streets were blocked off for a political meeting.IMG_1340_1 IMG_1341_1 IMG_1342_1 IMG_1343_1

The ending for the day trip was a shopping adventure among very aggressive vendors.  We didn’t dare stop to even look at anything …………………………. head down and back to the bus!!

 

 

 

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