• Title of the Guide to the Monuments published by the Archeoclub D'Italia: author Antonio Ribezzo, President of the Ferentino branch

    The town of Ferentino (Lazio) is spearheading an ambitious project to promote tourism to the area, centred around the excavation and restoration of the 2nd century AD Roman Theatre, which lies in the heart of the citadel near the Casamari Gate in the old city walls. Mayor Antonio Pompeo has announced with satisfaction that the Ferentino project has been selected against stiff competition to receive a 1.5 million euro grant from the Italian Ministry of Culture in order to carry out the necessary work. At the moment, the theatre is only partially visible. When it was first discovered a century ago, it lay buried under an orchard and a house had been constructed over the stage and backstage area. Archeologists and restorers estimate that it will take a couple of years to give the fully restored 54m-diameter theatre back to the town, transformed into a safe and suitable venue for theatrical and musical events.

Ferentino has a very ancient history, dating back to pre-Roman times, and is one of the five so-called “Cities of Saturn” that dominate the region known as “Ciociaria” after the typical footwear once worn by the population.

Saturn, originally under the form of Cronos, was the god of agriculture and according to legend the period of his reign was the mythical “Golden Age” before the domineering Jove/Jupiter took over.

Like its sister cities - Anagni, Alatri, Arpino and Atina – all beginning with an “A” (Ferentino's original name was Antino) in the cluster of Saturn, Ferentino was originally built by an ancient population known as the Hernicians, constructors of the massive “Cyclopic” walls that stretch for 2.50 km and encircle the entire historic centre.

These walls are built of colossal stone blocks, so enormous that it was originally believed they were constructed by giants, or Cyclops, rather than men. Seven monumental gates give access into the town, with the Porta Casamari opening onto the old consular road towards the south. On the hillside under the gate there is a unique funeral monument dating from the 2nd century AD. It is inscribed with the last will and testament of the Roman dignitary Aulus Quintillius Prisco, and states that he bequeaths his lands and property to the citizens of Ferentino, with the specification that every five year, on his birthday, the 9th May, a portion of the income derived, divided between cash, mead, bread and nuts, should be bestowed on the townspeople. Apparently his wishes were followed up till recent times.

Ferentino boasts the largest number of monuments and Roman epigraphs of the area, with a collection of over 150 Latin inscriptions relating to eminent citizens of the Roman era. A living town, it has evolved over the centuries, without losing its original imprint within the city walls. Some urbanistic disasters have been avoided, such as the replacement of the Romanic 11th century Cathedral on the Acropolis dedicated to the martyred brothers saints John and Paul, which is one of the town's most fascinating medieval churches, with a beautiful 12th -13th century cosmatesque pavement in coloured marbles set in intricate mosaic patterns. During the 19th century the local bishop, Bernardo Maria Tirabassi, decided to do away with the “old” church and build a bigger and more prestigious one on the site. Fate, however, intervened. The bishop died in 1865, funds ran out and Rome was conquered by Garibaldi in 1870, greatly reducing the power of the Popes. All that Bishop Tirabassi managed to do was build the monumental porch that was to have been the entrance to the grand new church. The columns and the empty arch have been left, towering like follies on the western side of the Duomo Square.

Text & Photos by MARGARET STENHOUSE

Info: www.archeoclubitalia.org ufficiosindaco@comune.ferentino.fr.it

 

 

Posted on 16 Jun 2021 by Editor

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n collaboration with the annual Medieval Festival (Gubbio – 22-26 September 2021), the venerable town of Poppi (Umbria) is staging a historical re-enactment of the Battle of Campaldino at the Castle of Count Guidi on the 11th, 12th and 13th June 2021. The battle was fought on the 11th June 1289 between the Florentine Guelphs and their allies against the Ghibellines of Arezzo and Pisa. 24 year-old Dante Alighiere also fought in the battle on the side of the Guelphs. The Guelphs won after a particularly bloody conflict in which a calculated 1,700 Ghibellines were slaughtered. By contrast, the triumphant Guelph faction lost only 300 men. Dante refers to the battle, which established the leadership of Florence over the rival Tuscan towns, in several passages of his “Inferno” and “Purgatorio”.

The Festival has therefore been named “L'Inferno a Campaldino” though visitors need not fear. Only fake blood will be shed at the event, which also marks the inauguration of the new Poppi Museum, dedicated to the historic battle.

For those unfamiliar with the quirks of Italian medieval history, the Guelphs supported the papacy in the long political struggle for dominance against the Holy Roman Empire, the followers of which were known as the Ghibellines.

M.STENHOUSE

Info: Tel. +39.0575 5021 www.festivaldelmedievo.it

Posted on 08 Jun 2021 by Editor

The historic Calabrian town of Vibo Valentia has won the title of Italian “Capitale del Libro” (Capital of Books) for 2021. Following the lines of the UNESCO World Book Day, the prize was introduced a couple of years go by Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini with view to sustaining literature, libraries and book events and to promote reading habits among the general public.

Vibo Valentia competed against 23 other towns and came through tops thanks also to its “Festival Leggere e Scrivere” (Festival of Reading and Writing) literary event, running since 2012. The Festival annually attracts thousands and is run under the artistic direction of Gilberto Floriano, who created the local Libraries System – an established focal cultural point throughout the region.

The Capital of Books 20021 award carries with it a government grant of 500,000 euro towards investments in local culture.

Last year's prize went to Chiari in the Province of Brescia, one of the worst hit spots in the Covid epidemic.

Info: www.italia.it/vibovalentia

Posted on 04 Jun 2021 by Editor

Italy is known for its vast variety of regional gastronomic specialities that range from cheeses to hams to sweets to pasta and meat and vegetable dishes. Lesser well known, but equally distinctive, is the humble biscuit, which can come in all kinds of forms and compositions.

At Castel San Pietro Romano, a small hill-top town above Palestrina (Lazio), celebrated for its imposing Temple of Fortune, you can sample the exclusive “Giglietto” (Little Lily) biscuit, which takes the form of the French fleur-de-lis. According to tradition it dates from the times of Louis XIV, the “Sun King”. The recipe (eggs, sugar, flour and lemon) is said to have been introduced from the French court by the noble Barberini family, who were the local overlords. The biscuits are produced by two local bakeries and have been awarded Slow Food listing.

Another unusual Lazio biscuit is exclusive to Frascati. This is the “Pupazza Francescana” biscuit, which comes in the form of a woman with three breasts. Its origin is unknown though it is believed to be an ancient fertility symbol. The ingredients are simple: flour, olive oil, honey and a flavouring of oranges. It has only been commercialized since the 1960s when it became promoted as the representation of a “Mammone”, the wet nurse who looked after babies when their mothers were busy with the grape harvest. Legend says she kept them quiet by giving them wine instead of milk – thus the three breasts: two for milk and the other for the wine. The “Pupazzo” is also listed in the Slow Food Arc of Taste.

Photos: Slow Food Movement

Info: www.slowfood.com

Posted on 31 May 2021 by Editor

One of the loveliest things to do in Rome in May is to visit the Roseto Communale (the Public Rose Garden), overlooking the Circo Massimo. The 2.5 acre garden contains over 1,100 varieties of roses and is only open for the spring period when the blooms are at their best.

 

Every year the garden stages the Premio Roma International Competition for new varieties of roses submitted by growers from all over the world. This year marked the 76th edition, with 88 roses competing for the prestigious award, with the historic French grower Meilland sweeping the board in three categories out of four.

The Prize was the brainchild of American-born Countess Mary Gailey Senni, who supervised every phase of the creation of the Roseto and promoted it abroad. The competition was held regularly until 1940, when it was suspended due to the War. Sadly, the garden was destroyed during the conflict and the Premio Roma was only resumed in 1951 in the new part of the garden, which had been the old Jewish cemetery, subsequently transferred to Rome's main cemetery in Verano.

Guided tours can be arranged on request.

Photos by MSR

Info: Tel. +39.06.574.6810 rosetoromacapitale@comune.roma.it

Posted on 27 May 2021 by Editor

Two coastal resorts north of Rome are locked in a controversy in which both claim to be the place where Michaelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, breathed his last.

Ladispoli, a popular seaside town on the Via Aurelia 57 kms north of Rome is insisting that tradition, which names the more fashionable Porta Ercole some 95 kms further north as the bird flies, is mistaken.

Caravaggio is known to have disembarked on the beach at the Castle Orsini-Odescalchi, Palo Laziale near Ladispoli in 1610, on his way from Naples to Rome, where he hoped to obtain a papal pardon for a murder he had committed a few years earlier. He was bringing three paintings with which he hoped to mollify Paul V and have his death sentence lifted,

Due to a case of mistaken identity, he was arrested by the castle guards and imprisoned, while the paintings, which had remained on the boat, were taken back to Naples. He apparently bribed his way out of the Palo castle but the rest of the story is shrouded in mystery. Caravaggio was a sick man, suffering from fever and possible an infected sword wound. The town of Ladispoli argues that in these conditions he could not have managed the long trek to Porta Ercole and that he must have died on the beach somewhere. His burial place has never been found.

To settle their claim, the town of Ladispoli has now installed a commemorative bronze bust of the artist, by sculptor Sergio Bonafaccia, at a prominent spot on the beach promenade of Marina di Palo, recently unveiled by Mayor Alessandro Grando. In addition, the town of Ladispoli is launching a special cultural programme dedicated to Caravaggio throughout June.

Info: www.terzobinario.it www.comunediladispoli.it

Posted on 24 May 2021 by Editor

Francesco Sirano, director of Herculaneum, the Roman city wiped out along with Pompeii in the volcanic eruption of 79AD, has announced the return of its popular Close-Up Cantiere (work site) Tours, which give visitors the opportunity to watch archaeologists, architects and restorers at work in the archaeological site.

The tours take place on Friday mornings at 11 and 11.30 and visitors can participate by booking at the Close-up Cantiere desk at the visitor centre at least 15 minutes beforehand. The work-in-progress tours are included in the price of the entrance ticket to the remains of the ancient Roman city

At the moment it is possible to see experts working on the restoration of mosaics at the Casa della Gemma (Jewel), the Casa dei Cervi (Stags), the Casa di Pilus Granianus and the Casa del Rilievo di Telefo (Telephus Reliefs). In addition, other ongoing restoration work can be seen at the House of the Colonnnato Tuscanico (Tuscan Colonnade), the House of the Atrio a Mosaic (Mosaic at the Entrance), the House of the Mobilio Carbonizzato (Carbonized Furniture) and the House of Apollo Citaredo (Apollo with his Lyre).

The idea behind the tours, says Sirano, is to make the public more aware of conservation and what is involved in restoration. Herculaneum is one of the earliest and most successful conservation projects. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the collaboration between a private company - the Packard Humanities Institute and the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum - which set the stage for the 2014 introduction of the ArtBonus tax incentive project to encourage the active participation of private sponsors in the restoration and upkeep of Italy's immense cultural heritage.

Text & Photos by M. Stenhouse

Info: Tel. +39.081.7777008 http://ercolano.beniculturali.it

Posted on 20 May 2021 by Editor

Angels Unawares”, the massive bronze sculpture by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz is a permanent fixture in St. Peter's Square, attracting the admiration and attention of visitors. The 6 metre-long monumental work contains 140 figures crammed into a boat and represents the plight of refugees, immigrants and the oppressed, all in search of a better life. The figures portrayed include the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt, African slaves, Native Americans, Jews and asylum seekers escaping from wars in North Africa and Asia. The work was inaugurated in 2019 in the presence of Pope Francis to mark the 105th World Day for Refugees.

The replica of another work by Schmalz – the controversial “Homeless Jesus” can also be seen outside the Office of Papal Charities in Via della Conciliazione leading up to St. Peter's. The life-size bronze of a shrouded figure, lying on a bench with only his pierced feet visible, caused a scandal when it was first displayed at the University of Toronto in 2013 as many Catholics believed that it was a disrespectful representation of Christ. It is now one of the most popular works of contemporary religious art with replicas displayed in over 100 cities all over the world.

Schmalz is at present working on another religious subject, “When I was Sick” that refers to the Covid epidemic, financed by donations given to the Mercy Health Foundation of Youngstown, Ohio, USA, and from its staff. The sculpture is part of a series evoking traditional scriptural texts.

The sculpture, which should be inaugurated in September 2021 will contain a time capsule to be opened March 11 2120, 100 years from the date when the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus pandemic.

Text & photo by MSR

Info: www.sculpturebytps.com

Posted on 16 May 2021 by Editor

Palaeontologists have made an exciting find in a cave near the fashionable seaside resort of San Felice Circeo (Latina, Lazio). The fossilized bones of seven Neanderthal men and one woman, dating from 50,000 to 68,000 years ago, plus the remains of an even earlier individual, along with bones of hyenas, elephants, cave bears, rhinos and a long extinct giant auroch, have been discovered in a previously unexplored area of the Guattari Grotto.

The Grotto, situated near the sea in the protected area of the Nature Park of the Circeo peninsula, was first discovered in 1939 and produced an exceptional find: the perfectly preserved skull of a Neanderthal man, placed inside a circle of stones. The skull is now in the prehistoric Luigi Pigorini Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome.

The present research campaign was carried out by the Archaeology & Arts Superintendency of Frosinone and Latina Province in collaboration with the Tor Vergata University of Rome.

Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, described the find as “extraordinary”, while Mauro Rubini, director of the local Department of Archaeology, Fine Arts & landscape said that Neanderthal man was a fundamental link in human evolution and the discovery gave valuable insight into the process of human settlement in Italy.

Italy is not new to prehistoric finds that made world news. In 1998 the fossil of a baby Scipionyx dinosaur of 113 million years ago was discovered at Benevento (Campania), exceptionally with much of its intestine still intact, allowing scientists to analyse its diet. The dinosaur is affectionately nicknamed “Ciro”.

Posted on 13 May 2021 by Editor

A little known aspect of the life of the great Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi is being highlighted in the exhibition “I Violini di Vivaldi e le Figlie di Choro” (The Violins of Vivaldi and the Daughters of the Choir), recently opened in Cremona (Lombardia), world leader in the creation of unique and precious bowed string instruments, perfected by master craftsmen like Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri.

The exhibition features rare pieces from the Music Chapel collection of the Ospedale Santa Maria della Pietà (Hospital of St. Mary of Pity) in Venice, an illuminated orphanage for abandoned baby girls founded in 1346 and unique in Europe. Antonio Vivaldi, known as the “Red Priest”, thanks to his fiery-coloured locks, was Concert Master at the Ospedale from 1703 to 1740, where he personally undertook the musical education of the “putte” (young girls) so that they would be able to earn their living as musicians when they left the orphanage. Several of the violins, violas and violoncellos on show come from the collection of over fifty instruments chosen personally by Maestro Vivaldi for his pupils, who were known as the Figlie di Choro (Daughters of the Choir). The girls performed in the adjacent Church of Santa Maria della Pietà, hidden behind a grill to protect them from the eventual evil intentions of pimps and libertines.

The exhibition marks the reopening of the Violin Museum of Cremona after the long Covid epidemic lockdown and gives music lovers the opportunity to see early versions of bow and string instruments of the Venetian and German schools and their subsequent development.

The Hospital of Santa Maria della Pietà continues to function after eight centuries and is considered part of the cultural heritage of Venice. It is now a recognized charitable institution supported by the Veneto Regional government, offering help and support to mothers and children in difficult situations, irrespective of race or religion.

The exhibition is scheduled to run until the 1st August 2021 at the Violin Museum, Cremona.

M Stenhouse

Info: Tel. +39.0372080809 www.museodelviolino.org www.pietavenezia.org

Posted on 10 May 2021 by Editor

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