Monday, 29 August 2016

Goodbye Bergamo...Hello, Soave!!   Thanks to my brilliant and kind sister, Anne, the blog now shows the fabulous medieval castle of Soave.

But..a bit about my last day in Bergamo.  Not surprisingly, I spent my last day in the old upper city revisiting some of my favorite sights.  I also went up the 11th century Bell Tower which overlooks the town square.  Besides tolling the hours and half hours, these bells still toll 100 times at 10 every night, as they have done for centuries, to warn of the closing of the city gates. The largest of the three bells (Il Campanone) was cast in the mid 1600s, replacing an earlier bell.  The inscription on the bell, reads in part, : I am tolled for funerals, I chase away bad weather, I summon citizens .  I particularly like the Chase Away Bad Weather.. don’t ask for whom the bell tolls. it tolls for you...  Zeus!! The smallest of the bells is also the oldest, cast in 1474.   And then there are the views of the city...towers, churches and fortresses that date back to the 12th an 13th century.  There are pics.

There were moments, making the 81 gradient climb to Citta Alta, when "See Bergamo and die" seemed a not unlikely was worth every step!

I have been in Soave less then a day, and therefore have little to share, but there are some pics from my new digs, a church (of course), and some of the city walls and gates

Photos: August 29

Friday, 2 September 2016

When I went to the castle the other morning I was the first visitor of the day.  The lady from whom I bought my ticket had to go and get the keys to open up.  That is why I have a picture of her, as I follow her up the path.  Please zoom in a bit on her right hand...............that enormous ring, with the huge keys....those are the keys to the castle!

The castle dates back to the 10th century and consists of the tower (or Keep), the Captains residence, and the Hall of the Guardians. There is also the remains of a 10th century chapel, with three apses, and an indication of  a fireplace higher up on one of the walls, probably a kitchen and more housing, and a place to forge arms.  The walls surround the castle in three circles, enclosing three separate courtyards.  In 1379 they were extended to enclose all of the town of Soave.

The entrance to the first courtyard is thru a drawbridge yes, a drawbridge!!  It is actually the newest of the 3 courtyards, dating back to the 1400s.  The backup to the drawbridge was the portcullis (Fezick !  The Portcullis!!), and then the wooden doors with huge studs. The remains of the chapel are visible, and it is thought that the villagers would seek refuge here in times of invasion, of which there were many!

The entrance to the second courtyard would also have been guarded by a portcullis and heavy door. This is the largest of the courtyards. The horses would have been stabled here, and the soldiers usually slept where the horses were...cosy, and more than a bit smelly! There is a small door on one wall which was used to try to bring in supplies during times of siege. Above the main entrance is a 1321 fresco of the Madonna.

Above the entrance to the third and smallest courtyard the names of the soldiers responsible for guarding the castle can still be seen. Just inside the door is a wrought iron torch snuffer (something no castle should be without!), and a 1340 fresco showing the coat of arms, and a mastiff. The ladder (in Italian  scala), due to the family name Scaliger.

In the centre of this courtyard is the well...more on it in a moment. The Tower was the last line of defense, but also a prison and often used for torture.  Close to the top of the tower is a room with a trap door.  Prisoners would be thrown thru the trap door to their deaths...assuming they were not already dead.  In 1770 there were 2 metres of human bones at the bottom of the tower!  They controlled the stench by spreading limestone over the bodies.  This is all within about 20 feet of the well where they got their drinking water.  It is a wonder anyone survived!  Why is gruesome stuff so entertaining when it happened hundreds of years ago?

I have lots more about the castle, the guard house and the lord’s residence, but am going to leave off here, and do it in another post. It was such an interesting day!  Needless to say there are pictures...

Photos: August 31
Photos: August 31

Monday, 5 September 2016


 The innermost courtyard contains: the Keep, the Guardhouse and the residence of the Captain.

The Guardhouse is in the ground floor with vaulted ceilings, 15th century wrought iron chandeliers, and numerous iron rings affixed to the walls.  These may have been used to shackle prisoners...or, more romantically. or amusingly (depending on your imagination), to hoist fully armoured soldiers onto their horses ! At one end there is a small opening to a tunnel that led to the centre of town. no longer viable unfortunately.

An exterior staircase leads to the residence. There are a number of sculptures as you climb the stairs.  The first one is of a dog, with a shield, crown and ladder, parts of the coat of arms. The next is a helmet with the visor down, to remind the soldiers of their duty to guard the castle.  Further up though, there is a soldier with the visor on his helmet up, to remind soldiers to raise their visors in order to be recognized. This is where today’s military salute originates!!  I love this stuff!  It is also a good example of using visual aides as reminders for people who could not read.

The main room as you enter has a huge fireplace, the main source of heat for the building.  The walls and ceileing in this room have been redone in their original pattern, and with recurring symbols of the coat of arms. To the left is the bedroom with a four poster bed: small, as people were smaller then, but also because they slept sitting up. Most of the walls in this room were also redone, but there is an original 13th century frescoe.

On the other side of the fireplace room is the dining room with a dining room table and sideboard...called a credenza, which in Italian means "Belief" because a servant would taste the Captains food so he would Believe that it wasn’t poisoned!

As we all know, spices in general were expensive at the time, and salt (sale) especially so, as it was used to preserve food. People were often paid in Salt....which is the origin of the word Salary! There were no forks, plates were thick slices of bread, and guests wiped their mouths on the tablecloth. Etiquette, at the time, dictated that you threw your bones or leftovers under the table for the servants...or dogs to deal with. There was a supposedly funny story about Dante eating at the castle and making some joke about dogs (part of the family’s coat of arms), but it seems to have lost something in translation. But, I have been in a dining room where Dante was a guest!

The chandelier above the dining room table burned candles.  When honoured guests, who the hosts wanted to linger, were there, long candles were used.  If the dinner guests were not as important short candles were used.  Now there is something to keep in mind if you have tedious dinner guests!

This concludes the tour of the castle! I really do love this stuff...hope you enjoyed and like the pictures.

Photos: September 06

Friday, 9 September 2016

There may be some opinions that my sole attraction to Soave was the wine, but no...there was the wonderful view from my balcony, the incredible castle, and the proximity to Verona.

Verona is only about 18 km away, or 45 min by bus.  It is a charming city with a winding river, 1st century bridges, a number of spectacular churches, Roman ruins, and a Coliseum to rival Rome’s.  In fact it pre-dates Rome’s, having been completed in 29 AD. It is a bit smaller, but still holds 30,000, and has been in pretty much continual use. The Opera Company holds performances there regularly.  In earlier times, the spectacles were less gentile, consisting of gladiators battling each other as well as wild animals. Most of the seats in the main areas have been replaces with up to date seating, but the upper areas still have the original stone and marble steps and seating. The ultimate Box Seat is there, and I have been seated where the most important spectator would have sat and given the thumbs up, or thumbs down! Quite a thrill!  Hope you like the pictures!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Piazza delle Erbe is the main square of Verona where the outdoor market has been held for over 2000 years. A short walk from there is the Church of St. Anastasia. Begun in 1290, it is the largest church in Verona.  The colours of the floor, black, white and red, represent the Dominicans black and white habit, and the red is for St. Peter, and dates from 1462.

As you enter it would be hard not to notice the unusual stoops that support the basins of Holy is of a hunchback, and the other of a beggar (locally known as i gobbi...sounds like something out of Harry Potter!). They date from 1495. Superstition held it was good luck to touch the hump of a hunchback.  They are both weirdly wonderful!

There are fabulous frescoes, a 1427 funeral monument in painted relief (tufa), a side chapel with the original 1460 stained glass windows, and the most beautiful wooden choir from the late 1400s.

I also visited the Palazzo della Regione (Palace of Reason) built in 1193, it has housed Council Chambers, the Halls of Justice, the silk market, and private residences over the years. Today the Museum of Modern Art resides there.

This is a city of lovely old streets, charming balconies, and lots of high end shopping....really

Photos: September 07

Sunday, 11 September 2016

It was such a fun day at Soave’s annual Tournament yesterday. There is no jousting, but different parts of the town compete in some rather unique events.  There were 12 teams, each consisting of 5 men, 5 women and 5 kids.  The first event was a tug of, but not unusual.  The second involved a big above ground pool, where 14 team members stood at one end, and the other member at the other end with a plastic floatation device.  His job was to ferry all the other members from one end to the other.  If one fell off his back, that person had to go back to be done again. The team with the best time won.  With much cheering and laughing from the crowd, it was great fun to watch.

The final event was even weirder. Three team members had empty plastic water bottles taped to their backs. The object was to run from the end of the field, jump into the pool, fill the water bottles, climb back out of the pool, run back to the starting point, where their teammates up-ender them to empty the water bottles into a large tub.  The team with the most water in their tub, at the end of the time period won.  It was a riot. While the water carrier was beig up ended, the youngest members of the team would be squeezing their hair and clothes to try to eek every drop from them before they ran back to the pool. One unfortunate guy had the job of kneeling by the pool so team members could use him as a step to get up and into the pool!  It was such a fun day!  Needless to say, there are pictures.

Photos: September 09

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Verona’s Museum of Archeology overlooks the Roman open air theatre built in the ist century, is surrounded by Roman ruins, and is housed in a 12th century church. It is set high on a hill, with a wonderful view of the city. The walk up is worth the price of admission.  I was there for three and a half hours and think I will have to go back to revisit.  Some of the highlights for me included....a 3rd century mosaic floor of the god Bacchus, which is surprisingly complete. There is a statue of a reclining woman from the 2nd century. Her pose is so casual and relaxed and the draping of her robes so graceful, that you almost don’t notice that she is headless!  A 1st century bust of Augustus shows a hint of beard which indicated his mourning the death of Caesar.

There were lovely tiny pre-Roman bronze statues from the 7th century B.C., statues that would have been offerings to the gods.

An amazing display of beautiful glassware and earthenware that dates from Roman times, many delicate bowls, bottles and dishes that you can’t believe have survived the ages.

And, finally, my favorite: a series of 3rd century mosaics showing scenes of battles that actually took place, with both the names of the gladiators and the outcomes of those specific battles!  As Veronica commented, the gladiators were the rock stars of their time! There are photos..

Photos: September 12

Thursday, 15 September 2016

What is a medieval city without a Castle?? Verona’s Castle Vecchio is like something out of a fairy tale, with a drawbridge, moat, keep, and a triple arch bridge with towers!  Originally built in 1354 by Cangrande II della Scala over pre-existing Roman defenses, along the Adige River. Cangrande, literally translates to Big Dog...or top dog. This is the same ruler who built the castle in Soave. This one consists of a military courtyard surrounded by walls and seven towers, the royal palace of the Scala family (now the Castle Museum), and the afore-mentioned bridge...Ponte Scaligerio. The Museum houses Roman and Gothic sculptures, Roman artifacts, and art work that spans centuries.  One room on the upper level still has the original 14th century frescoes covering most of the walls...its incredible. There is also some stunning 14th century jewelry.  After leaving the museum, you can walk along the battlements...what a treat !  Lots of pictures..

This weekend is the Soave wine festival...along with other wine (!), there will be fireworks over the castle on Sunday night!

Judging be the crowds, I would say that the Soave Wine Festival was a huge success! There were many tourists from Germany, France, Great Britain and I’m sure further afield.  This is what happens when you set up a fountain that dispenses free white wine for a weekend!!

It was an event packed three days with art exhibits, food vendors, free concerts, a treasure hunt, cooking with wine demos, craft  displays, guided tours of the town, an Antiques market (Aberfoyle, Italian style !), and a spectacular fireworks display over the castle to top it all off. It was a great experience ...and there are pictures...

Photos: September 14
Photos: September 15
Photos: September 16

Monday, 19 September 2016

There has been so much to see and do during my stay here that I have a bit of a backlog. So, for my second post today, I thought I would share some photos of the wonderful garden that I visited in Verona one day last week.

The Giusti family made their fortune in the wool dyeing business, and in 1406 purchased a large tract of land to expand their business. During the latter part of the15th century the factory buildings were seperated and an elegant residence and formal gardens for the Giusti family added.

This beautiful site, with its soaring cypress trees, box hedges, fountains, statues, grottoes and a huge grotesque mask carved out of the rock face, became a obligatory stop for the well heeled doing the Grand Tour. Goethe mentions it in his Italian Journey of 1786. Other visitors included Tsar Alexander I, Mozart,, Ruskin and Emperor Joseph II.....and !

The lower part is formal and symmetrical but as you climb, there are wooded areas, and a lovely green tunnel becomes a path to a little turret with a winding staircase which leads to the belvedere at the highest point.  As a final reward, there is the view of the city. The pictures do not do it justice..

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

I can hardly believe it, but I haven’t written about a church in over ten days !!  So, on to the Basilica of St. Zeno..a saint I had never heard of until I came to Verona.  He was born in 300 and was condemned to death in 371 for laughing while Emperor Diocletian offered a sacrifice to the Roman god Ceres. He was beheaded.  In the church, there is a 13th century statue labeled The Laughing St. Zeno.  It struck me as rather odd at the time, ..serious, pious, sad, angry...but never laughing.. His remains are in the crypt, and have been since 971 ! He is the patron saint of Verona, and 92 of his sermons are still in existence.

The early building dates from the 6th century, was enlarged in 806, and again at the end of the 11th century. Most of the present day basilica dates from that time.

The 10th century crypt was the inspiration for the crypt where Romeo and Juliet are married...that play being set in Verona.  There is a lot of reference to it throughout the city, including The Balcony (which is a big tourist draw), Juliet’s Tomb, and Romeos house...I know, they are fictional characters, but who wants to let that get in the way of a good photo op ?

Back to the church.  There are some wonderful 12th and 13th century frescoes, and the most magnificent bronze doors. One side shows scenes from the New Testament, and was done by an unknown German artist at the end of the 11th century.  The other side, depicting old testament scenes was done by a local ( but still unknown) artist in the latter part of the 12th century. I could have spent a week looking at these doors, and wished I could somehow be transported up to see the upper panels in more detail.

I have noticed that Flickr (in its wisdom) posts the pictures according to the date on which they were taken, not the date that I actually post them, so you may have to scroll around a bit to find St. Zeno, but the doors alone are well worth it.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Today is my last day in Soave.  I have enjoyed this small town with its 14th century castle, and festivals, and my numerous trips into Verona to experience its rich Roman history, the fabulous castle there, its museums, ambience, and of course its churches !

I have not as yet posted about St Elena's. This is a beautiful, if complicated church with an archeological dig that was started about 50 years ago visible within the church.  The dig  shows the foundation and apse of the original 4th century church, and additions added in the 5th century. The current church dates from 1120. The adjoining baptistery has a magnificent octagonal font carved from a single piece of marble in the 1200s. The scenes depicted include : The Baptism of Christ, The Annunciation, The visitation and the nativity, the announcement to the Shepherds (look for the sheep!) The Three Kings, Herod with soldiers, The massacre of the Innocents, and the Flight to Egypt. These scenes are really fabulous to see....but as I mentioned before, Flickr posts them as of date taken, so you may have to scroll around a bit.

I thought I would also give a bit of the history of the building I have had the pleasure of seeing off my balcony for the past month, along with the breathtaking view of the castle.  The building across from me, built in 1379 was a 24 room palace built as a residence for governors and magistrates.  Today it houses municipal offices.

It’s a lovely day here and I have just returned from a stroll around town, and a chance to have one of my favourite treats, as lemon and basil gelato!

I leave tomorrow morning for Florence, and can’t wait to start exploring there!

Photos: September 27


Photos: August 29: Soave
Photos: August 31: Soave
Photos: August 31: Soave
Photos: September 06: Soave
Photos: September 07: Soave
Photos: September 07: Soave
Photos: September 07: Soave
Photos: September 09: Soave
Photos: September 12: Soave
Photos: September 14: Soave
Photos: September 15: Soave
Photos: September 16: Soave
Photos: September 27: Soave