Category Archives: Travel

IEI Students in Italy!

Napoli

Hi Mario:
I made it to many of the places you’ve mentioned. Unfortunately, this was my one and only full day here! I leave tomorrow to head back north. I absolutely love Napoli! I didn’t expect it; I thought it would be overwhelming, but it’s much softer and sweeter than Rome, even though yes total chaos! It’s like negotiating a crowded dance floor for me, I love the flow of it. I also experienced the “optional” red light.

The people here seem good-natured and gentle. Unlike in New York, where there is a sour mean streak. (Although I’m proud to say I survived the withering look of the barista at del Professore. That look was only surpassed by the one he gave me when I asked him for a pastry after finishing my Americano. I was prepared for this though, so it made me smile.)

Plus, almost no tourists except for at the museum! Trastevere in Rome was crawling with them (yes, people just like me, yech).

Summer in Italy
by Mario Fusco

Whether you’re a first-time traveler to Italy or a seasoned veteran you won’t want to miss the Tuscany, Cinqueterre and Rome Tour being organized by The Sacramento Italian Cultural Society. Scheduled to depart on June 20, this 12-day tour hits some of the must-see sites in Italy.

TUSCANY – home to illustrious personages from Dante to Leonardo to Galileo, it was the incubator of the Italian Renaissance, which in turn spawned the European Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution. The Medici family, lords of Florence, were inarguably the most active and effective patrons of the arts ever. Today Tuscany is famous for its wines (Chianti), the loveliness of its hill towns, its artistic patrimony, and events such as the Palio di Siena.

Acqua Alta a Venezia
by Mario Fusco

Different reactions to the recent flooding (acqua alta) in Venice.

Tristezza


Allegria


Indecisione

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Everything Italian on one site!

Looking for Italian language instruction? Organizing a trip to Italy? What about finding the greatest Italian restaurant in the Bay Area or that ultimate recipe just like your grandma used to make? Or perhaps you spent too much time watching the game (alas!) with your buddies, and need a little Italian bauble to soothe your lovely wife’s ruffled feathers. All of these things you will find on our website. We have consolidated the contents of a couple of earlier sites to provide you with a seamless Italian experience.

Along with the new commercial elements there remains, on this site, the original focus on art, culture, and history. And we intend to grow: the ultimate aim is to provide all Italophiles of the Bay Area, and beyond, a one-stop electronic storefront that will provide intellectual stimulation alongside material possessions for gracious living. Our sister site, finestItalian.com, continues unchanged, though it, too, is slated for some enhancements.

So please come visit often, drop us a line, let us know how you feel. Buy some Italian art once in a while, or an Italian pendant for your sweetheart, or a gorgeous ceramics bowl for your holiday table. But even if you don’t, we hope to hear from you.

The Founding of Mantova

Sant'Andrea

Sant'Andrea, Mantova

The myth of the founding of Mantova is part of the rich tapestry of Graeco-Roman mythology. It begins with the story of the prophetess Manto, daughter of the Theban seer Tiresias. Greek sources tell that Manto, escaping from Thebes, arrived, after many wanderings, in the territory of today’s city, which was then a swamp. In this place she created a lake with her tears; according to legend these waters had the magical property of conferring prophetic powers to anyone who drank of them. Eventually Manto met and married the river god Tybris (Tiber), king of the Tuscans, and their offspring Ocno eventually founded a city on the shores of the Mincio river, naming it Mantova in honor of his mother.

This version of the founding myth is reported in Virgil’s Aeneid. A competing version tells that the city of Mantova gets its name from Manth, the Etruscan god of the dead in the Thyrrenian pantheon. Virgil’s version of the myth is also found in the Divine Comedy, in Canto XX of the Inferno, in which Dante himself and his Mantuan guide, Virgil, encounter the seers. Pointing out one of these souls Virgil describes the Mantuan countryside, the Lake of Garda, and the course of the Mincio, which flows into the Po at Governolo, and then asserts, with reference to the legend of Manto:

“Fer la citta’ sovra quell’ossa morte;
e per colei che ‘l loco prima elesse,
Mantua l’appellar senz’altra sorte”


“The city was built over those dead bones;
and for she who first chose the place,
Mantua it was named with no other choice”

Mantova

Palazzo Te

Palazzo Te

Another historical and cultural gem is the Lombard city of Mantova, former home of the Dukes of Gonzaga. This amazing family ruled Mantova for nearly 400 years, and contributed at least one Saint, a couple of Holy Roman Empresses, several French Dukes, and a Polish Queen Consort. During the Renaissance the Gonzaga were among the most important patrons of the arts in Italy, including opera and music in general.

The legacy of the Dukes of Mantova is most apparent today in the Palazzo Ducale, an architectural complex comprising several buildings connected by various corridors and galleries, and including internal gardens and courtyards. In the Palazzo Ducale one finds the famous Camera degli Sposi (Chamber of the Newlyweds), with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, dedicated to Ludovico Gonzaga and to his wife Barbara of Brandenburg. Another must-see in Mantova is Palazzo Te, designed by Giulio Romano in 1525 at the behest of Federico II Gonzaga. This palace, home to Federico’s “official” lover Isabella Boschetti, was built on a small wooded island in the midst of a lake since vanished. It contains the famous Sala dei Giganti, the Sala di Amore and Psyche, and the Sala dei Cavalli (the Gonzaga horse stables were famous all over Europe at that time.) Of course the city contains many more buildings of note, both secular and religious (more about Mantova) The immense Piazza Sordello, bounded on one side by the Palazzo Ducale, is the center of the old city, reached immediately by crossing one of the bridges spanning the Mincio. Palazzo Te is at the other end of the city, presumably to keep wife and official lover as far apart as possible.

Palazzuolo and Bertinoro

PALAZZUOLO
An enchanting borgo in the green heart of Italy, where Romagna becomes Tuscany, Palazzuolo sul Senio is a place in which to rediscover a life in contact with nature, a oasis in the midst of gently sloping mountains, far from traffic pollution and from the frenetic rhythms of city life. At Palazzuolo one can visit valleys large and small, uninhabited casolari, ruins of ancient castles and historic hamlets bathed in an atmosphere that whispers of a glorious past.

ACTIVITIES
The beautiful landscape abounds with hiking and horse trails. A leisurely walk through the borgo is an ideal way to spend a couple of hours and soak in the air of the “little Switzerland of the Appenine”. Summer evenings are animated with charming markets, musical events, culinary exhibitions and important cultural activities. In 1991 Palazzuolo won the designation of “Villaggio Ideale d’Italia”, awarded by the magazine Airone and by the CEE.

BERTINORO
Another captivating hamlet in the hills of Romagna is Bertinoro, the “land of Ruby and Gold”. A little town with an illustrious history dating back to the 4th century, it boasts a fortress in which famous guests resided for various amounts of time, including Dante, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Cardinal Albornoz, and others. The name itself comes from the Italian verb “bere” (to drink) and the noun “oro” (gold), and it means “drinking from a golden goblet”. The Fortress still offers hospitality in 21 rooms, as does also an ancient seminary not far from the town center.

ACTIVITIES
Bertinoro is in the midst of olive oil and wine country, so a stop at some tasting establishment hidden away in the countryside is a must. Once in the village itself, a terraced restaurant offers breathtaking views of the rolling hills with manicured rows of vines and fruit trees. Across the narrow street another restaurant provides top notch typical Romagnole fare. A low-cost alternative is the neighbouring fresh pasta shop, where you can not only buy various kinds of pasta to take home, but ask them to cook you a plate right then and there and serve it to you with their excellent Bolognese ragu’.

Naples Redux

Naples’ artistic and cultural patrimony dates back two millennia, but there IS a vibrant, young Naples of music and spectacle awaiting the adventurous visitor. A place of modern entertainment, where various types of contemporary music can be enjoyed, is Galleria 19 (read: Galleria Diciannove), which is located on via San Sebastiano, in Naples’ historical center, very close to Via dei Tribunali.

As glossy and hip as any equivalent establishment in the Haight or in SoHo, Galleria 19 offers disco, contemporary pop, jazz, instrumental and vocal, often with local musicians and singers performing live. The locale, reached by going down a few steps from street level, is a remodeled old book repository, long and narrow, with the stage at the far end and a hypermodern bar along the left side. Comfortable chairs and love seats are strewn along the right side, leaving a center space for dancing. Want to rearrange the furniture to suit your group’s seating preferences? By all means forget stuffy american rules and redecorate: this is free-form Naples, where rules are kept to a minimum.

History
The ambience is a suggestive, atmospheric blend of severe ancient walls wearing the latest fashion in art and lighting. Most of the clientele, young people in their twenties and early thirties, are there in their evening best. Nowhere else in all of Naples will you see such expanses of long, stockinged female legs, ending in feet encased in pumps sporting 8-centimeter stiletto heels. As for the quintessential little black dress, this is the place to show it off, and they are little indeed. The young men do their best to keep up, in their form-fitting short coats and pants from Fusco. Definitely a feast for the eyes.

Faenza

Faenza

Faenza

Of Roman origins, lying in the foothills of the Apennines, Faenza is a splendid city of art that acquired fame in the Renaissance period for the production of exquisitely made pottery which was exported all over Europe. The very name has become synonymous with ceramics (majolica) in various languages among which French (faïence) and English (faience). From the second half of the first century A. D. the city developed as an independent commune (with inevitable ups and downs), reaching the peak of its splendor under Carlo II Manfredi, in the second half of the 15th century. Subsequently, after a brief period of Venetian rule, Faenza became part of the Papal States until 1797.

Palazzi, porticoed squares and a Cathedral of pure Tuscan forms
Faenza’s outstanding architectural attractions are concentrated in the two contiguous main squares: Piazza del Popolo, lined by two spectacular porticoed wings, and Piazza della Libertà. The Palazzo del Podestà and the Town Hall, both of medieval origin, stand in Piazza del Popolo. Along the east side of Piazza della Libertà one finds the splendid Cathedral. Of clear Tuscan influence, it is one of the highest expressions of Renaissance art in Romagna. Built to Giuliano da Maiano’s design, it was begun in 1474 and completed in 1511. Opposite the Cathedral the open gallery known as the Goldsmith’s Portico, built in the first decade of the 17th century, and the monumental fountain whose bronzes date to the same period, attract the eye. The Clock Tower, in front of the entrance to the Piazza, is a postwar rebuilding of the 17th century tower that stood at the crossroad of the cardo and the decuman gate of the Roman Faventia.

Dozza and Brisighella

Dozza

Dozza’s Painted Walls

La Valle del Senio, in Romagna, like a necklace encrusted with precious jewels, is dotted with fascinating little borghi in which history and art live side by side and which offer a glimpse of contemporary Italian life apparently immune to the demands of modernity. Two such magical places are Brisighella and Dozza.

Brisighella was founded in the 13th century by the Italian condottiere Maghinardo Pagano. The lords of Faenza began building the Rock of Brisighella a century later, which then took its final form during the lordship of Venice, in the 16th century. The borgo is formed of a labyrinth of ancient narrow streets, of which the most famous is Via degli Asini (Street of the Donkeys.) Over the town dominates the Pieve di S. Giovanni Ottavo, erected in the fifth century and enlarged between the 11th and 12th centuries. The lore of Brisighella is filled with interesting anecdotes and historical tidbits from ancient to contemporary times, and the town is perfect for leisurely walks – distances are short, the streets are well-kept, the traffic is minimal, opportunities for gelati and cappuccini abound. A local guide with detailed knowledge is available and will add immensely to the understanding of the town.

Dozza, another little artistic jewel, is only a few kilometers from Brisighella and is known for two things: one is the Rocca Sforzesca, built by Caterina Sforza in the late Quattrocento and later used as a palazzo signorile. The borgo itself is of ancient origin, probably founded by the Gauls well before the Roman conquest. The Rock is powerful, massive, and was inhabited by the descendants of the Malvezzi, lords during the Renaissance, until 1960. Today the Rock houses a museum and a sophisticated wine bar in which all manner of local wines can be tasted and purchased.