Friday, January 15, 2016

Rome - Art & Architecture - Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is probably Rome's most famous example of continuity in town planning. Its long ground plan, with a curving narrow side to the north retains the form of the stadium (240 by 65 meters) built by the emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) for games and sporting competitions, later to include animal fights and gladiatorial combats. The buildings around the square stand on the terrace of the old “cavea”, which could seat over 30.000 spectators.
The name also still indicates the purpose for which the piazza was originally used, for Navona is said to derive from “in agone” (on the place of combat). However, if the popular tradition is to be believed, the name comes instead of “navis” (ship), because the shape of the square, with its rounded end, resembles a boat. As the largest square in one of the most densely populated quarters of Rome, it featured prominently in the plans for renovation work undertaken during the Renaissance.
Pope Sixtus IV (pontificate 1471-1484) had the market moved here from the Capitol in 1477, and the construction of several noblemen's palaces (such as Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne and Palazzo Madama) made the Piazza Navona a favourite residential area for the upper class of Rome.Its architectural development culminated under Pope Innocent X (1644-1655), who began rebuilding here after his election. He had his family palace and the church of S. Agnese in Agone renovated, the two fountains placed outside by Gregory XIII (1572-1585) restored, and he erected in the middle of the square the huge Fontana dei 4 Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).
Through the centuries, Piazza Navona was the scene of magnificent tournaments and festive procession. Water festivals took place here until the 19th century, and the square was flooded to a certain level for them in August. Prosperous citizens drove through the water in their carriages, while ordinary people paddled around in it.To this day is one of the liveliest squares in the city of Rome, with street traders and performers offering entertainment until late into the night. As the roman author Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli wrote in the early 19th century: “Ah Piazza Navona! It cares not a whit for Piazza di Spagna or St. Peter's Square. It is not a square, but the great outdoors, a festival, a stage, and wonderful fun.”
Palazzo Pamphilj - Together with the church of S.Agnese in Agone, Palazzo Pamphilj built for Giovanni Battista Pamphilj, Pope Innocent X (1644-1655), dominates one of the longer side of Piazza Navona.The architect of the building, constructed between 1644 and 1650, was Girolamo Rainaldi, who combined sevaral buildings into a single complex, incorporating S.Agnese as the family church and palace chapel. Architect Francesco Borromini, whose rival design were not accepted, was commissioned to design only the great hall and build the gallery that would be painted by Pietro da Cortona.
Cortona's frescoes show scenes from Virgil's national epic, the “Aeneid”, in iconographic reference to the mythological descent of the Pamphilj from Aeneas himself. Later, Innocent X gave the palace to his sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini, who was given the nickname olim-pia (formerly pious) by the “statua parlante” (speaking statue) of Pasquino, who spoke out about the people's dissatisfaction, denounced injustice, and assaulted misgovernment by members of the Church. Today Palazzo Pamphilj in Piazza Navona accommodates the Brazilian Embassy.
S. Agnese in Agone – This church rises on the remains of the foundations of Emperor Domitian's circus (they are built into the crypt), as the name “in agone” indicates. According to legend, it occupies the site where St. Agnes was martyred. When she was stripped naked before the crowd, her hair suddenly and miraculously covered her, preserving her modesty. In 1652 Pope Innocent X commissioned architect Girolamo Rainaldi to begin building S.Agnese as the palace church of the adjoining Palazzo Pamphilj in Piazza Navona. Later, Francesco Borromini, the leading actor of the Roman Baroque architecture, took over work on the building.
Borromini began a much more innovative approach to the facade which was expanded to include parts of the adjacent Palazzo Pamphili and gain space for his two bell towers. He was responsible for most of the Baroque facade up to the cornice level and the dome and the concave line is typical of his style. The church was finally conceived on the ground plan of a Greek cross, a centrally planned structure with arms of equal length and deep niches. On the interior, he placed columns against the piers of the lower order which was mainly completed. The tall dome is the focal element here, and rises up to the columns with a projecting entablature.
In 1656, Innocent X died and in 1657, Borromini resigned. Carlo Rainaldi, son of Girolamo, took his place and made a number of significant changes to the original design, including an additional storey to the flanking towers and simplifying their uppermost parts. In 1668, further large scale statuary and coloured marbling were also added; again, these are not part of Borromini’s design repertoire which was orientated to white stucco architectural and symbolic motifs.
Fountain of the Four Rivers – Pope Innocent X planned to make a large fountain, crowned with an obelisk from the Circus Maxentius, the focal point of Piazza Navona. Great architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, has interpreted the will of the Pope planning the magnificent Fountain of the Four Rivers, which was commissioned in 1647, a masterpiece in its presentation of a complex iconographic concept and one of the great achievements of Baroque sculpture.
The pictorial program pays tribute to the pope for bringing new glory to the square, originally laid out by a Roman emperor. The centre of the mighty basin is an artificial rock with personifications of four great rivers at its four corners: the Nile, the ganges, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata. They symbolise the known continents of the time which were under the influence of papal power, and they are surrounded by such specimen of flora an fauna of their respective parts of the world (lion, horse, dragon, snake and palm tree).

In reference to the papal donor, his coat of arms – a dove carrying an olive branch – appears on the rock and on the top of the obelisk. It also alludes to the ancient founder of the square, because is an Egyptian artefact but a roman monument originally erected by Domitian in the temple of Isis on the Fields of Mars.

Rome's Top 10 Attractions

The Eternal City celebrates its long history with monuments, churches and restored ruins that offer a glimpse into life during the days of the great Roman Empire. Here are our picks for the 10 essential attractions to round out your visit to Rome.
Colosseum
The Roman Colosseum is a testament to the architectural skills of the ancient Roman people and offers insight into the culture that celebrated the gladiator games at this huge entertainment arena. The first bloody fight ensued in A.D. 82, starting a tradition of battles between men and beasts in a public forum with crowds reaching 50,000. Outside of the Colosseum, look out for the photo opportunity beneath the Arch of Constantine, which was built in 315 to commemorate the victory of Constantine over Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius. To avoid lengthy lines, order tickets online ahead of time -- they're good for 2 consecutive days and include admission to the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.
Roman Forum
In ancient Rome, the Forum was the center of city life, playing host to festivals, celebrations, funerals and rituals. The city grew around this grassy area that was empty marshland until the 7th century B.C. The area lost its luster and fell to waste around the 8th century and remained that way until excavations in the early 20th century. Today, you can pick up a map for a self-guided tour of the structures and arches or join a tour group for a more detailed history of the area. Then climb to the top of Palatine Hill for sweeping views of the city.
Pantheon
Rome's temple to the gods is remarkably intact, a great feat considering that it was originally constructed in 27 B.C. and was later rebuilt in the early 2nd century A.D. after fire damage. An altar was later added for Christian worship after the country abandoned its pagan gods. After the Renaissance, the Pantheon took on yet another role as a designated tomb for some of the city's artists and elite including the painter Raphael and former kings of Italy. The Pantheon's architecture has inspired copycats around the globe with its tall columns reaching toward the sky, expansive interior and impressive dome with the sun shining through the oculus, a 27-foot hole in the center of the rotunda.
Vatican City
Even though it's located in Rome, Vatican City has been an independent state since 1929 with its own flag, coins and stamps. It even has its own militia, the Swiss Guard, which protects this state, the Pope and the 800 full-time citizens and visiting residents. The first impressive site is St. Peter's Square itself designed by Bernini in the late 17th century. As long as you're dressed appropriately (no bare shoulders or shorts or skirts above the knee), you may enter St. Peter's Basilica and see Michelangelo's Pietá, a stunningly beautiful and sad sculpture. Continue up to the roof where you can take in the view of the large square and city beyond. Also contained in the Vatican's walls, the Vatican Museums hold Italian masterpieces, including Michelangelo's painted ceiling at the Sistine Chapel.
Piazza Navona
Rome is known for beautiful and charming squares lined with restaurants and open-air cafes. The loveliest of them all is the large public square at Piazza Navona, once the site of sporting events at Domitian's stadium in A.D. 89. The square contains 3 fountains, and the largest and most memorable is Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers with each of the 4 statues representing a river from different continents.
Trevi Fountain
Travelers' lore lists various reasons for throwing 3 coins in the fountain at the marvelous Trevi, with benefits ranging from finding love to returning to the city. Once you've mastered your art of coin-throwing and wished for the appropriate outcome, take some time to explore this Baroque masterpiece showing the god Neptune riding in a shell-shaped chariot led by seahorses. And you can feel good about your charitable donation as the money (nearly $3,500 each day) collected from the fountain is used to support food programs for the city's poor.
Galleria Borghese
The Galleria Borghese is just as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside, boasting a prime location in the sprawling gardens at Villa Borghese. Inside the museum, you'll find Bernini sculptures including Apollo and Daphne and his take on young David preparing to take on Goliath. The impressive collection also includes works by master artists Correggio, Raphael, Rubens and Caravaggio. Acquiring tickets will be your biggest challenge -- the museum admits only 360 visitors every 2 hours so you'll need to make reservations far in advance.
Capuchin Crypt
While some may find the displays of bones and skulls a bit on the morbid side, the Capuchin Crypt located under Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins celebrates the life of the religious order of the Capuchin friars. The friars arranged the bones of the deceased into displays and frames for Christian artwork in various spots throughout the crypt including the Crypt of the Skulls and the Crypt of the Resurrection. Not merely a macabre display, these creations tell the story of life, death and resurrection and show a unique interpretation of the church's teachings of good, evil and eternity.
Castel Sant'Angelo
This fortress on the Tiber River was originally designed by the Emperor Hadrian to be used as a mausoleum for his own family. And it was certainly a resting place fit for royalty, rising above the city with glorious views. Over the centuries, it moved beyond its original purpose and served as a military fortress in 401 and later a papal residence and even a prison. It's now a museum where you may tour the apartments and see the statue of the archangel Michael rising above the terrace.
Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps may be the longest and widest staircase in all of Europe, but that's not what draws visitors to this popular tourist spot. A Barcaccia fountain bubbles at the foot of the steps while the Trinità dei Monti church rises above the crowds at the top of the steps. But the best spot is somewhere in between the 2: take a seat in the middle of the wide staircase and watch the city go by as beautiful people hurry into the nearby high-end shops, designer boutiques and restaurants.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tourist Place Italy

Last, but certainly not least, countryside vacations in Italy have long been popular, way before any of this Tuscan sun business came around.  Italy is blessed with a unique geography that gives you a variety of options for excursions, from the foothills of the mountains in the north, to quiet beaches in the south.  The “agritourismo” is a hot item in Italy, basically a farm stay where travelers learn about gastronomy and in some cases get involved, from making olive oil to cooking dinner.
For the classic, classy Tuscan experience, try the Villa Sant’Uberto in Chianti.  Lots to do at the resort, plus it is a short drive to many of Tuscany’s cities and villages.  Casa Portagioia Castiglion Fiorentino is another spot popular with our readers.
It’s not all about Tuscany; Umbria has some great country retreats, such as Hotel Parco dei Cavalieri or Valle di Assisi Hotel & Resort, both near Assisi.  I think the region is one of Italy’s greenest, and has a very rural, relaxing vibe.
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For the ultimate off-the-beaten-path getaway, consider a retreat at Pessighette Dimora di Campagna, on the coast of Italy’s island of Sicily.
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Tourist Place France

Probably the best country on our list, there are some utterly fabulous, affordable, luxurious country hotels in France.  And I’ve always maintained that I like France’s smaller cities and towns more than Paris, and you’re all but guaranteed to be inspired by rural French cuisine, culture, and endless views.  Normandy has some lovely old world country hotels, such as Manoir du Quesnay, which is just a 15-minute drive to the beach.  Château d’Isenbourg, in Rufflach near the German border, is surrounded by vineyards and is a short drive from a massive national park.
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The popular retreat option in France is a gîte.  These are usually old worker cottages that are part of a larger estate, so you’ll have plenty of freedom and yet the owners will be nearby to help out if needed (or drop off supplies, like fresh bread and chilled champagne).  Gîte can range from very basic to very extravagant, so prices vary quite a bit as well — be sure to check reviews in detail before booking.  To be really off the grid, try Les Gites Du Cap Corse – which is off the mainland on France’s island of Corsica, though the Gites in Angles on the west coast town of Angles gets top recommendation.
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The downside of countryside vacations in Europe is the need for a car, which can be daunting for those who don’t speak the language, or in the case of England, aren’t familiar with the left side of the road. This can also add on to your costs, so be sure to consider how you’ll be getting around before you book.

Tourist Place Spain

Spain is known for its amazing coastlines, world-class cities, and the world’s top gastronomy.  But there’s a lot of countryside to be explored as well – come hungry.  Like the Hacienda Zorita Wine Hotel & Spa which is in Salmanca – it’s an oasis of food and wine in the middle of nowhere, but conveniently locat  A beautiful thing.
ed next to a high speed rail-line stop to Madrid.
If you’re in  Barcelona, book a few extra days in Sant Pere de Ribes at the stunning Hotel Masia Sumidors, hidden in a pine forest that is surrounded by vineyards.  Or keep heading east towards the French border, where you’ll find some lovely towns in Costa Brava, such as the charming town of Cadaqués.
For something a big different, how about the Monastery De Rueda in Sastago – definitely a memorable place to stay, and no, it is no longer an active monastery.
One last suggestion is heading to the southwest – but skip the busy, tired coastal towns and head for Ronda, just north of Malaga, where you’ll find the Hotel Molino del Puente waiting with open arms.  The hotel is a former olive and flour mill and a peaceful place, with just 10 guest rooms.

Tourist Place Germany

While Germany’s cities are world-renowned, there’s more to the German countryside than Black Forest cake.  I have had so many wonderful rural experiences here. I love Alpenhof Murnau, southwest of Munich – the 1 hour drive to Fussen, where famed Neuschwanstein Castle is located, is just jaw-dropping gorgeous, and you’re not far from Oberammergau and its well-known annual festival either.  East of here is Goldenes Fassin Meissen, which is an 1800s vinter’s house still located on a riverside winery – very relaxing.
Heading further west, the Black Forest area I jokingly just mentioned has many health retreats. Höhenhotel Kalikutt in Oppenau is just three stars, but rooms are quite spacious and the spa facilities are five star. Hotel Palmenwald in Freudenstadt is tucked away right in the forest and is so gorgeous it is popular for weddings.
When booking your country retreat, you’ll find many terms that can be confusing but are interchangeable. Examples are “self catering” (meaning you have a kitchen and will cook for yourself), “half board” (means breakfast and dinner are included, not lunch)
, and “full board” (all meals included).

Best Tourist Place England

When I lived in Scotland, I always loved heading south to England for weekend camping and countryside trips. While the Scottish Highlands are beautiful, there are more amenities and options for a weekend getaway than up north.  Yorkshire is home to a number of wonderful farms and cottages, some of which include their own health spas and wellness regimes (totally optional, of course).  The Coltsfoot Country Retreat Hotel in Knebworth sits on a pretty piece of land in the Hertfordshire countryside and gets glowing reviews from nearly every guest for its service and ameniti
es, which include a healthy portion of English breakfast!
For something a little closer to London, you could also take a look at the Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot, which has large, comfortable rooms great for relaxing when you’re not enjoying their 123 acres of estate, or the popular on-site spa treatments.