Sunday, 28 August 2011

Piazza Navona Fountains in Rome

If you are sightseeing in Rome you don't want to miss the Piazza Navona Fountains. The Piazza Navona has one of the finest examples of Bernini's fountains, built in 1651: the Fontana dei Fiumi (which means Fountain of the Four Rivers). Arrayed around the central rocky mass supporting the almost-obligatory obelisk are four large sculptures executed by his students. One of them, the Ganges, was sculpted by Claude Poussin who would later become a master under his own name.

This Piazza Navona fountain is a tour de force with a sea monster, a lion, palm tree, cacti and many other pieces woven together around the central column.

The cost of this Piazza Navona fountain was so massive  that taxes were levied on bread. This prompted outcries from Roman citizens both rich and poor. However, this controversy is now a part of history, so tourists can simply relax and have a cappaccino while watching the world go by.

Another one of the great Piazza Navona Fountains is the Fountain of the Moor. This is at the opposite end of the piazza and features a Triton (one of the many gods of the sea) riding a dolphin. From this particular view point, there is a lot of opportunities for people watching, while enjoying the warm Rome sunshine.

There are dozens of merchant stalls in Piazza Navona, interspersed among the many cafes and restaurants. You could stop near one and have your portrait sketched by one of the numerous artists dotting the piazza.

There is nightlife until early in the morning, with mimes, beggars, artists and a hundreds of natives and tourists threading through the oval plaza. The piazza was constructed around one of the ancient circuses - a circular area where streets converge, not a show with animals.

Be sure to stop in at the Tre Scalini and indulge yourself in a Tartufo. Or visit the oldest extant bar in Rome nearby, the Caffe della Pace. Here you can enjoy a Campari and take in the ambiance. Confess your sins at the Church of Sant'Agnese, set not far from three of Bernini's famous fountains.

The Fontana dei Calderai (Fountain of the Coppersmiths), later renamed the Fountain of Neptune is also here. Festooned with sea figures, Neptune slaying an octopus, sea horses, dolphins and Nerieds (sea nymphs) it carries Rome's fountain-sea creature theme to the ultimate peak. The fountain is made of the same Portasanta rose marble used for St. Peter's doorjambs.

Or, you can take a short walk to the Piazza Sant'Eustachio, between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona and listen to some classical music. Or catch the bus to the Pantheon.

Don't miss an opportunity to visit these amazing Piazza Navona Fountains in Rome.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Cortona Sightseeing

Cortona is a Tuscan town once little known to travelers booking for Florence. After the publication of the book Under the Tuscan Sun (and the subsequent film and follow-up books) it garnered a place on every visitor's agenda. Here are some tips on sightseeing in Cortona.

Cortona is an Italian hilltop town of 30,000 and there are more sights than a visitor could see in three vacations. Located about half-way between its much more famous neighbors of Rome and Florence this ancient city offers museums, restaurants, villas, biking tours and much more.

The founding date is unknown, but Cortona's streets were walled in by the Etruscans more than 2,600 years ago. Some of that history is still extant near the Porta Guelfa and the Porta Montanina. At the base one can spot Roman repairs made to Etruscan slabs.

Inside, looking out above the walls, visitors will find a breathtaking view of Lake Trasimeno from the square of Piazza Garibaldi. Just past the church is an entrance to a park. The fountain in the center features two bronze dolphins that will reward the effort of the short walk. Just left is an amphitheater that offers a lovely place to sit and see part of beautiful Tuscany.

The Piazza Grande, featuring the Town Hall that dates from the 6th century, is another must-visit location. If your visit to Cortona falls on the first Saturday of the month, be sure to take in the Market. Food, small artifacts and many more interesting items are offered for sale. In nearby Casali Palace there's a National Market of Ancient Furniture held in the Piazza Grande during the last two weeks of August.

From there one can also almost see the ancient burial grounds of Cetona Belvedere. Full of grottoes and caverns to explore, they're one of the many delightful excursions offered. One can also get a clear view of the tallest peak of the local mountain range. Down from the top is located another town worthy of a visit, Montepulciano.

Another worthy short trip entails a visit to the Great Cloister of the Monastero Di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Built in 1443, tourists will want to see the frescoes depicting the life of Saint Benedict by Signorelli, painted near the end of the 15th century.

Those interested in religious architecture will also not want to miss viewing the church of Santa Maria del Calcinaio, built in 1485. This Renaissance structure is octagonal, an unusual choice for the period.

Another unusual sight within the city walls visitors can take in is the Torre del Pulcinella, a large public clock. It announces the hours by a different technique. Its chimes are a pair of clanging cymbals, rather than a bell.

Not far away is the Museo dell'Academia Etrusca. Despite the name the museum covers not just Etruscan art, but everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to paintings of the 15th century. Also on display are books, period furniture and sculpture.

By contrast, the Museo Diocesano offers a more focused exhibit. This includes the Cortona Altarpiece from 1432 along with six predella. Predella, in painting, are small paintings that run along a frame at the bottom of an altarpiece.

However long you have for Cortona Sightseeing, an hour or a day, or even a week, time in Cortona is well spent.