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10 Italian Foods To Try Right Now

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Ahh, Italy…the best and worst place to ever visit. Best because you offer me delicious Italian foods like pizza, pasta and gelato. Worst because I like to visit you in summer and your foods make me fat.

But seriously, there’s got to be a reason that Italian foods are some of the most popular worldwide. And the reason I can’t contain myself from eating double portions when I’m there…

It’s just so darn delicious! Comforting, flavorful, unique combinations. They make my heart melt and taste buds dance with joy. Yep, that’s the only way I could describe it…

What’s on the list of must-try Italian foods?

1. Pizza- specifically Pizza Margherita

Italian Foods Margherita pizza

I’ve been told that the only way to judge a pizza place is by their classic Margherita. Ingredients like fresh Basil, Mozzarella, homemade tomato sauce topped on a crispy yet soft and savory crust is one of the most mouthwatering dishes out there. Despite its simplicity, the importance to mastering this classic on the list of Italian foods is in preparation and ingredients. Although pizza is common throughout the whole country, Naples is perhaps the most well known. Iconic restaurants such as da Michele, Sorbillo and El Presidente have been serving up this classic for generations. They following the strictest Vera Pizza rules.

2. Gelato

Italian Foods Gelato

Throughout Europe you can find places serving “authentic Italian Gelato”. While they may succeed in this feat (such as Los Italianos in Granada, Spain), you have to go to the source for a chance at authentic and original gelato heaven! Gelato comes in a variety of flavors. Some can be very creative. Gelato can come without dairy (known as Sorbet from the south of Italy) or the dairy version, created in northern Italy. Look for signs that say “produzione propia” or “artigianale”. This means that the gelato was made on-site, in the old fashioned way with natural ingredients.

3. Tiramisu

Italian Foods Tiramisu

Although I’ve yet to try tiramisu in Italy, I have had some that was homemade by a real Italian (that almost counts right?). It was one of the most delicious deserts I’ve ever tasted! Typically, the desert is made from ladyfinger biscuits, coffee, eggs, sugar, cocoa and mascarpone cheese. Ingredients are layered and topped with an espresso-flavored cocoa. The dish is light and creamy. It may come in a variety of interesting twists- such as fruit or chocolate tiramisu.

4. Pasta

Italian Foods Pasta Carbonara

One of the most famous Italian foods, a big plate of pasta is part of the quintessential Italian experience. Regional specialties are usually the way to go. A famous dish in Rome is the pasta alla carbonara. This is a combination of bacon or guanciale (an Italian cured meat), egg, romano or pecorino cheese, black pepper and white wine together with pasta noodles. When in Bologna, don’t miss out on the pasta al ragù, cooked in a meat sauce. In Genoa, the pasta al pesto, made from garlic, basic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is the way to go.

Construction of the Colosseum: the Who, What, When, Where and How

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Have you ever heard of the Colosseum?

What is the Colosseum?

It is one of the world’s most recognizable monuments. And did you know the Roman Colosseum (Coliseum) was also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre? It is a hugely popular tourist destination, and the quintessential symbol of ancient Roman life.

The Roman Colosseum.
The Roman Colosseum.

Who? When?

The Colosseum was commissioned in AD 72 by the Emperor Vespasian. It was completed by his successor and heir Titus in AD 80. Domatian made further improvements during his rein between AD 81-96. All three were part of the Flavian Dynasty (hence where the original name derives from).

Where?

Where the Colosseum has been built is also quite an interesting story. At the time, most amphitheaters were built on the outskirts of the city, but Colosseum was placed directly in the city center. This decision may have been influenced by the Roman Emperor Nero, who reined right before the construction began.

By the 2nd century BC, the low valley between the Caelian, Esquiline and Palatine Hills (the current location of the Colosseum) was densely populated. It was devastated, however, during the Great Fire of Rome (AD 64). Nero took much of the area to add to his personal domain. There, he built a Domus Aurea, complete with an artificial lake surrounded by pavilions, gardens and porticoes. Next to the lake, he built the bronze Colassus of Nero, a statue in his honor.

At the end of Nero’s rein, much of the area was torn down, the lake filled in- to be the new site of the Colosseum. This can be considered a gesture by Vespasian to return this area in which Nero had taken for himself back to the people of the city.

How?

The construction of the Colosseum was a grandiose undertaking. It was funded by the plunders taken from the Jewish Temple after the Great Jewish Revolt in AD 70 led to the Siege of Jerusalem. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 Jewish slaves were utilized in the construction, along with guidance from professional builders, artists, decorators and engineers from the Roman community. The end result is the largest amphitheater ever built during the Roman Empire. With an ellipse shape, it was 188m long and 156m wide. It could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators.

Colosseum drawing. By Jaakko Luttinen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Colosseum drawing. By Jaakko Luttinen (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Interior of the Colosseum today.
Interior of the Colosseum today.
Interior of the Coliseum
Interior of the Colosseum today.

In the interior, there were rows of interior seats as well as special boxes on the north and south end reserved for the Emperor and his party. At the same level is a platform for the senatorial class, who would bring their own chairs. The names of some of the senators from the 5th century can still be found carved into the stone, which leads us to believe these spots were reserved. Above the senators is the noble class or knights, followed by the section for ordinary Roman citizens (Plebeians), which was further divided into two sections. One was for the wealthy and one for the poor. During the reign of Domitian another level was added to accommodate for the common poor, slaves and women.

And the why? Check out the next article about the Roman gladiators!

[Rome.info], [Wikipedia]

A Neapolitan Pizza Marathon

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Pizza master at di Matteo.

“When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool
That’s amore (That’s amore)
When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet
You’re in love
When you walk in a dream but you know you’re not
Dreaming seniore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli
That’s amore, (amore)
That’s amore” –Dean Martin

For Dean Martin, amore happens in Naples when “girl meets boy”. For me, amore happened when girl met pizza. Naples, Italy and delicious pizza are essentially synonymous. I mean, really, look it up in the dictionary: “Naples: home more delicious pizza than one could possibly eat on a holiday”.

My Trip To Naples (with lots of Neapolitan Pizza)

Sadly, dictionary, you are wrong. Reprint! In fact, on my two-day holiday in Naples I ate a full pizza (to myself!) at four (no that is not a typo) different pizza restaurants throughout the city. This is not counting the various stops for gelato and pizza-related snacks from around the city. In my defense, pizza in Naples is both incredibly delicious and very inexpensive. What more reason do you need?

Pizza da Michele

What Is The Vera Pizza Association?

When you visit Naples, you can quickly notice that many of the pizza restaurants feature a label outside that says “Vera Pizza Napoletana”. This means that the establishment follows the very specific rules to be able to offer you a true and original Vera Pizza Napoletana according to old Neapolitan pizza masters. This associated was established in 1984 as a response to the spread of fast-food chains and the overuse (and sometimes false advertising) of the phrase Original Neapolitan Pizza.

Vera Pizza sign in Naples.
Vera Pizza sign in Naples.

The association has very strict requirements, in terms of ingredients, preparation and method, which gave us the confirmation that we were eating the real original pizza pie. The rules are as follows:

  • It can only be cooked in a wood burning brick oven.
  • The crust has to be soft, elastic and easy to manipulate, prepared at least 10-15 hours ahead of time for plenty of time to rise.
  • The pizza maker needs at least 2 to 3 years experience before they are considered a “pizzaiolo” or pizza maker.

Where We Ate In Naples…

And now… drumroll please… the places we had the pleasure eating pizza at:

Pizza master at di Matteo.
Neapolitan Pizza maker at di Matteo.

Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente Via dei Tribunali, 120
Ristorante Fresco Via Partenope, 8
Di Matteo Via dei Tribunali, 94
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele Via Cesare Sersale, 1/3

Pizza master at da Michele.
Margherita Pizza at da Michele.

All of these places absolutely live up to their reputation. We had to wait for over an hour to eat at da Michele, where they only offer two types of options to choose from: pizza margherita and pizza marinara. Even with out the “typical frills” you expect from a pizza place, it was absolutely delicious and would absolutely recommend going. We didn’t have to wait for the other three, which made the experience even better! Sadly, Sorbillo, another highly recommended place was closed for their summer holidays, so keep that in mind.

What Else Can You See In Naples?

The best part about Naples, besides the endless amount of delicious Neapolitan pizza of course, was being able to walk around the city relatively easily. The old city center features narrow passageways barely large enough for a car to pass (we nearly got run over a few times), lots of restaurants and cafes open to the street and just an all-around old world charm. It felt very original and non-touristy and definitely gave us a great impression of what life is like to live in Naples.

The new, modern waterfront area was a great complement to the busy city center. It was really picturesque, with views of Mt. Vesuvius off in the horizon. We spent a lot of time sitting by the waterfront, essentially just waiting till we were just hungry enough to go to another Neapolitan pizza restaurant, watching the locals swim in the bay, the fishermen selling the local catch, making friends with a nice Napolitano (ciao, Piedro!) and enjoying a cold Peroni.

Relaxing with view of Mt. Vesuvius.
Relaxing with view of Mt. Vesuvius.

Overall, Naples was one of my favorite cities and absolutely looking forward to going back.

Where to Celebrate Carnival in Europe!?

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Carnival in Venice. Taken by Salvatore Gerace via Flickr.

The time for Carnival celebrations has begun throughout the world!

History of Carnival

The exact origins of this festivity is not certain, though it may be traced backed to the Medieval Latin word(s): carnem levare or carnelevarium, which mean to remove meat. Because the celebrations are thought of as the final festivity before the period of Lent during which Roman Catholics would abstain from eating meat in earlier times, this derivation makes perfect sense.

Where the history of Carnival begins is also unsure. It may be rooted in the primitive festival, which honored the beginning of the new year and rebirth of nature. Or, perhaps it is linked to the pagan Saturnalian festival of ancient Rome. Either way, the founders of the idea probably didn’t imagine it would turn into the eccentric dance, drink and be merry festival it has today!

Worldwide Carnival Celebrations

Probably the most famous Carnival celebration takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find elaborate and fabulous festivities here in Europe either! Where are the best places to celebrate Carnival in Europe?

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.

Carnaval at Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Taken by Philippe Teuwen via Flickr.
Carnaval at Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Taken by Philippe Teuwen via Flickr.

Located in the Canary Islands of Spain is perhaps the most famous Carnival celebrations behind Rio. This year’s celebration runs from February 3-14th, so preparations are in full swing! The festival is one of the most important to the people of Tenerife, and the entire year can be spent planning the floats, costumes and designs. During the peak times, more than 250,000 people can be found in the main streets and squares dancing to traditional Latin music, drinking and dressed up in elaborate costumes.

Venice, Italy.

Carnival in Venice. Taken by Salvatore Gerace via Flickr.
Carnival in Venice. Taken by Salvatore Gerace via Flickr.

The Carnival of Italy’s city on water began January 23 and runs through February 9th. During the Carnival you will find masked party-goers invading the streets, singing dancing and simply enjoying the party! The biggest excitement comes during the weekend and the not to be missed is the election of the year’s best costume- decided on the final day, February 9th. The most famous spot to join in is at St. Mark’s Square, so get a mask and get over there! Only a few days left!

Nice, France.

Like the Venetian Carnival, masks are an important part of the costume. This year’s celebration takes place from February 13th-28th with the theme being “King of Media”. The final days of the festival culminate on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) where the people each as much heavy, fatty food as possible before the abstinent period begins the following day. Not sure what to expect? Check out the video here!

Cadiz, Spain.

Carnaval in Cádiz. Taken by Alcalaina via Flickr.
Carnaval in Cádiz. Taken by Alcalaina via Flickr.

The Carnival of Cadiz is one of the most extravagant in Europe, taking place this year from February 4th-14th. There are processions, concerts, shows, fireworks and tons of dancing, drinking and singing in the streets. The “Chirigotas” or satirical songs about the current Spanish news and politicians are a popular aspect of this Carnival!

 

European Cities to Visit (Wish-List #1)

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Traveling Europe has been a passion of mine for the past four years, and even though I’ve visited many places, there are still many more European cities that I’m dying to see!

Here is the start of my very long wish-list of destinations:

Lisbon, Portugal

I’ve heard great things about Lisbon. From the relaxed culture, to the tasty traditional cuisine to the rich history– this is the next number one “must see” European cities on my list. I love the idea of strolling through old city streets, exploring antique, intricate architectural structures, stopping for glasses of local wines and especially warm weather!

Lisbon city streets. Taken by K.Kendall via Flickr.
Lisbon city streets. Taken by K.Kendall via Flickr.

Plus, just outside of Lisbon is Sintra, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural landscape full of ancient Roman architecture such as beautiful old palaces, castles and mansions.

Pena National Palace, Sintra. Taken by Peter via Flickr.
Pena National Palace, Sintra. Taken by Peter via Flickr.

Sicily, Italy

I realized that Sicily is an island, rather than a specific city, but I can’t just pick one place to visit there! Growing up watching the Golden Girls, Sophia’s hometown of Palermo, Sicily has long been on my radar. (But, seriously). I love the idea that Sicily has so much to offer visitors- beautiful scenery, tons of natural sites to explore, city-life, fresh local seafood with a touch of Mediterranean and Arabic flair, and ancient ruins and architecture, such as the Temple of Concordia, dating back to 430 BC in the province of Agrigento in Sicily. It is considered one of the best preserved among the Doric temples of the Greek world.

Temple of Concordia, Sicily. Taken by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr.
Temple of Concordia, Sicily. Taken by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr.

I love this photo from the city of Cefalù!

Cefalù, Sicily. Taken by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho via Flickr.
Cefalù, Sicily. Taken by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho via Flickr.

Plus, Sicily is known for having some seriously amazing beaches like the Mondello, located just a kilometer from Palermo, what could be better?

Mondello Beach, Sicily. Taken by Andrea Calcagno via Flickr.
Mondello Beach, Sicily. Taken by Andrea Calcagno via Flickr.

Copenhagen, Denmark

I’ll have to save up for this trip, as Copenhagen is one of the most expensive European cities to visit, but either way, I’m sure it’s worth it! I’ve also heard great things about Copenhagen and since it’s so close to where I’m living now in Hamburg, it would be a waste not to go! With picturesque pedestrian promenades along the water, great sustainability infrastructure (what I’m currently studying) and tons of cultural activities I have to keep it high on the list!

Nyhavn Harbor, Copenhagen. Taken by Roman Boed via Flickr.
Nyhavn Harbor, Copenhagen. Taken by Roman Boed via Flickr.

Venice, Italy

Albeit one of the most touristy European cities, and from what I’ve heard, very expensive, the uniqueness and romance of Venice has always been a draw for me. I love cities on water like Amsterdam, Annecy and even Hamburg, so I can only imagine how magical Venice will be! I would love to be able to visit there during Carnival!

Venice canal, Italy. How cool!? Taken by Artur Staszewski via Flickr.
Venice canal, Italy. How cool!? Taken by Artur Staszewski via Flickr.

San Sebastián, Spain

Like Lisbon, I’ve only heard great things about San Sebastián. I visited the northern Spain region a few years ago, but never made it to this coastal city and it’s been bugging me ever since. San Sebastián is renowned for gastronomy, especially the pitxchos, beautiful beaches and great nightlife, all with a cool, relaxed beach vibe. Perhaps I could even learn how to surf here?

Streets in San Sebastián, Spain. Taken by Eoin McNamee via Flickr.
Streets in San Sebastián, Spain. Taken by Eoin McNamee via Flickr.

Featured image from Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho via Flickr.

5 Things to do in Milan

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The northern Italian city of Milan is known for a few things: being a worldwide fashion capital, home of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci and, of course, as being home to the tallest Italians.

In case you’ve got some free time in between walking the catwalk at fashion week, here are the top five things to do on your next visit to Milan according to a real Milano!

  1. Visit the Naviglio (canals) and Darsena (harbor) at night

Milan’s history is closely intertwined with the development of the Naviglio, the water network of the city. During the antique ages, construction of artificial waterways fed by surrounding rivers began to create a way to transport goods as well as provide a water supply to the city.

Today, the area of the Naviglio is a great place to walk around at night. Along the Naviglio Grande you can find old craftsmen’s homes, which have been converted to artist’s studios, cafes and restaurants and are a particularly fun hangout for young people.

Cafés along the Naviglio Grande in Milan. Taken by Ste via Flickr.
Cafés along the Naviglio Grande in Milan. Taken by Ste via Flickr.

The port of Darsena was built in 1603 and was used as a trading center throughout history. Recently it was drained in order to build an underground parking garage (not a joke), but the new administration switched back to a harbor, replacing the water and today it is ideal for hanging out before or after heading out for the evening.

  1. Go for a run into the Parco Sempione (Simplon Park)
Parco Sempione with a view of the Arch of Peace in Milan. Taken by Dzhingarova via Flickr.
Parco Sempione with a view of the Arch of Peace in Milan. Taken by Dzhingarova via Flickr.

As one of Milan’s largest city parks, Parco Sempione is located next to the gardens of the Sforza Castle and the Arch of Peace in the historic city center. The park was designed by the architect Emilio Alemagna to create a panoramic view of both of these monuments, some of the most prominent in Milan.

  1. Visit fashion foundations Armani Silos and Prada Foundation 

A visit to Milan wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of the most famous names in fashion (I mean, it is a fashion capital right?). At the Armani Silos you can look at exhibitions that showcase fashion from the past 35 years that has inspired or continues to inspire designer Georgio Armani.

On May 8, 2015, the Prada Foundation found itself a permanent home, too! With the aim of exhibiting ways that mankind has transformed idea of cultural products such as literature, cinema, music, philosophy art an science, the Prada Foundation is not to be missed!

  1. Visit the churches Sant’ambrogio and Santa Maria delle Grazie

The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio (Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio) is one of the oldest churches in Milan, dating back to 379 A.D., though it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times of the years. Milan’s patron saint, St. Ambrose is buried in the crypt here. There are many beautiful mosaics and frescos to see here too.

Sant'Ambrogio Basilica, Milan. Taken by Sharat Ganapati via Flickr.
Sant’Ambrogio Basilica, Milan. Taken by Sharat Ganapati via Flickr.

The Santa Maria delle Grazie (Holy Mary of Grace) is church and Dominican convent that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It contains the mural of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps one of the most famous murals throughout history.

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Taken by Davide Oliva via Flickr.
Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Taken by Davide Oliva via Flickr.
  1. Have a drink in the historical center of Brera

Located just north of the Duomo (Cathedral) the historic neighborhood of Brera is perfect for enjoying an evening stroll or stopping for a drink at one of the many street cafes. There are also many boutiques and small shops that line the narrow streets and it is home to one of Milan’s best art museums: Pinacoteca Brera.

Enjoy!

[Milano 24]

Five Things I Love About Naples

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Naples harbor at sunset.

It’s been over a year since I’ve traveled to Naples, and I can’t stop thinking about how much I want to go back…

Surely, there must be a reason for this!

1. The Pizza

Margherita Pizza from L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples.
Margherita Pizza from L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples.

Obvious choice, I know. Neopolitan pizza is world famous! Though there may have been similar dishes throughout history at other locations, the classic Margherita version was first created on June 11, 1889 by the Neopolitan pizza maker Raffaele Esposito. The story says that he wanted to honor the Queen of Savoy, Magherita of Savoy, with a pizza topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil, the national colors of the Italian flag, later becoming a symbol of the Italian unification.

The people of Naples take great pride in their pizza, developing the Vera Pizza certification that has become a worldwide association.

2. The Sea

Naples harbor at sunset.
Naples harbor at sunset.

Southern Italy is famous for it’s beautiful beaches, and Naples is no exception. While we didn’t end up going to the beach proper, we sat by the harbor, watching the locals swim, relax and, of course, sell the daily fresh catch of shellfish. With a bustling city such as Naples, it can easily feel overwhelming. Mix that with the hot summer heat, and it can be unbearable. Luckily, the sea offers the perfect balance and respite, offering beautiful views and a refreshing place to unwind.

3. The Balance of Old and New City

The core of Naples is essentially divided into two parts: the inner, old city and the more modern harbor area. The more modern harbor area consists of a long promenade lined with cafés, restaurants and small shops. It was a bit more expensive than the inner area, but I suppose you’re paying for the view! You can find people going for a jog, walking their dogs or simply just strolling along hand in hand. I loved both equally and the balance between the two was really unique compared to other places I’ve been.

Walking by the harbor in Naples.
Walking by the harbor in Naples.

The old inner city is like something out of a movie: you’re walking down winding, cobblestone streets, smells of delicious baked goods coming from every direction, laundry hanging between homes and all while dodging Vespas zooming past! I could have spent hours just walking through the streets, with interesting and cool new things to see behind each corner. Plus, it feels so authentic and lived in.

The old city in Naples. Taken by Jeroen Bennink via Flickr.
The old city in Naples. Taken by Jeroen Bennink via Flickr.

4. It’s So Cheap!

Price list Da Michele, Naples. (Even a bit more expensive than most places!)
Price list Da Michele, Naples. (Even a bit more expensive than most places!)

In northern Italy, you could expect to pay 2 euros for a coffee, in Naples, you can expect to pay 3-5 euros for an entire pizza! I was so surprised by truly how inexpensive everything was. It was good for my wallet but terrible for my diet, as the low costs were just an added excuse to eat more pizza (as if I really needed any more motivation!). You can really live like a king on a student’s budget!

5. The Relaxed, Chill Vibes

Hanging out by the harbor in Naples.
Hanging out by the harbor in Naples.

It would be hard to make the argument that Southern Italians don’t know how to truly relax and enjoy the moment. Naples is the perfect example of this! The overall feeling of the city is really calm, no ones in a big hurry (except when they are rushing past you on their scooter of course), and you can absolutely feel it. People gather in the plazas, whether it be for a casual social meet up, an intense game of futbol or perhaps to dance the night away for a local festival. Everywhere we went, it just felt so welcoming!

These were my five favorite things about Naples, though the list could really go on forever! Anything I’m missing?

Rome’s hidden gem: Trastevere

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Trastevere Street

Looking for somewhere alternative, a bit funky and definitely a lot of fun on your next visit to Rome? The neighborhood of Trastevere is your place!

How to Pronounce It Right

Conducting a bit of background research about this ancient Roman neighborhood, I noticed there’s a lot about how us English speakers don’t know how to pronounce it correctly (I know, shocking). So let’s start off learning how to say it right:

How Did the Neighborhood Develop?

The literal meaning of the name “Trastevere” is “over/beyond the Tiber”, referring to the main river flowing through Rome, separating the neighborhood from the central sections.

During the Regal period of Rome (753-509 BC), the area belonged to the ancient civilization of the Etruscans. In an attempt to gain control and access of the river from both sides, the Roman’ conquered Trastevere, though they had no intention of building. Over time, sailors, fishermen and immigrants, especially Jewish and Syrian, began settling in the area.

When the Roman emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) took on the task of separating Rome into 14 regions, he considered Trastevere as part of the city, naming it Trans Tiberim.

The neighborhood continued to grow, being the center of the Jewish Roman community until the end of the Middle Ages. During the time of the Imperial Age, many wealthy figures decided to build their homes in Trastevere as well as some important churches, most notably the Basilica di Santa Maria (formerly known as Titulus Callixti)

Over the next centuries, Trastevere continued to develop with an eclectic mix of socioeconomic, cultural, and national backgrounds with small, winding, uneven streets. Also, due to its location of relative isolation on the other side of the river, it managed to maintain its identity despite Rome being one of the most touristic places on earth.

Trastevere Today and Sites to See

Today, there continues to be a lot of foreign influence on the area, from the international universities situated there to the increasing number of tourists wanting to get a closer look at this eclectic and alternative section of town.

Streets of Trastevere. Taken by Bruno via Flickr.
Streets of Trastevere. Taken by Bruno via Flickr.

One of the most popular spots to visit, and a place I would recommend to start, is the Piazza di Santa Maria, the main plaza lined with sidewalk cafes and the perfect place to people watch!

Night at Piazza di Santa Maria, Trastevere. Taken by Daryl Mitchell via Flickr.
Night at Piazza di Santa Maria, Trastevere. Taken by Daryl Mitchell via Flickr.

On the plaza is the Basilica di Santa Maria (Santa Maria Church), one of the oldest churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome. Also, the Basilica di Santa Cecilia (Santa Cecilia Church) is home to “The Last Judgment” a panting considered to be the masterpiece of artist Pietro Cavallini.

Interior of Basilica di Santa Maria, Trastevere. Taken by Michiel Jelijs via Flickr.
Interior of Basilica di Santa Maria, Trastevere. Taken by Michiel Jelijs via Flickr.

From there, just spend the rest of the day walking around the small streets, exploring the various boutiques and definitely finding a trattorie to enjoy some of the delicious cuisine Trastevere has to offer.

We went to Freni e Frizioni, a former mechanic shop, now has some of the best aperitivo in the area and is super popular with locals and visitors alike. It’s situated on the Via del Politeama 4-6, has a really cool, chill vibe, which spills out from the bar and into the plaza in front. Drinks were a little more expensive, but access to the buffet of food was definitely worth it!

For a more budget, friendly option I read that you can find some of the cheapest beer in Rome at Bar San Calisto, located on the Piazza di San Calisto, where Peronis start at 1.50 €.

[Wikipedia], [Lonely Planet], [10best]

Featured image from Michiel Jelijs via Flickr.

Michelangelo’s masterpiece: David

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Italian painter, architect, writer and historian Giorgio Vasari may have said it best:

“When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelangelo finish it”.

He is, of course, referring to one of, if not the, most famous sculptures worldwide: Michelangelo David. Currently in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy, the David is open for the public to see, and I can truly say that it is a breathtaking piece of artwork, the kind that is not given proper justice in photos and replicas.

The David inside the Accademia Gallery. Oh, heyyyy
The David inside the Accademia Gallery.

One reason why we could consider the David to be so masterful is its sheer size. Standing 5.16 m (nearly 17 ft.) high and weighing 5,660 kg (or 12,478.12 lbs.) it is massive, especially considering it was made from one complete marble block.

Interestingly, the David was not originally meant to stand in a museum, but rather to be on the top of Florence’s cathedral (the Duomo), where it would have seemed much smaller. Also, Michelangelo was not the first artist chosen for the job. In fact, he wasn’t the second either…

The original idea for the sculpture came from the Overseers of the Office of Works of Florence Cathedral, who wanted to commission 12 Old Testament sculptures for the buttresses of the cathedral beginning as early as 1410. Agostino di Duccio was the first sculptor commission for the David in 1464, though he didn’t get very far and died in 1466. Then, Antonio Rossellino was commissioned but his contract was also terminated quite quickly and the massive block of marble was neglected for 25 years.

On 16 August 1501, 26-year-old Michelangelo was finally given the contract for the David, a project that would take him the next two years. Though he was young, he was one of the most famous and well-paid artists at the time.

When the project was complete in 1504, the committee decided that it was too perfect to put on top of the cathedral, where it would be destroyed by the elements. Instead, they decided to put it in front of the Piazza della Signoria, the political heart of Florence.

Replica of David in its original location at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Taken by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo via Flickr.
Replica of David in its original location at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Taken by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo via Flickr.

Michelangelo also did something out of the ordinary in his depiction of David. Any idea what it is?

David comes from the Biblical story of David and Goliath, where David, the young shepherd defeats the giant Goliath in battle. Typically, artists who recreated this story would show a triumphant David at the end of battle, with Goliath’s head at his feet.

Michelangelo, however, portrayed David before his fight with Goliath. Stoic and tense, as depicted with the visible veins in his hand, while at the same time relaxed and confident, in the traditional pose known as contrapposto. According to the Accademia Gallery, Michelangelo’s choice shows:

“David’s victory was one of cleverness, not sheer force. He transmits exceptional self-confidence and concentration, both values of the “thinking man”, considered perfection during the Renaissance.”

This could also explain why he was placed in the political center of Florence, to represent symbol the liberty and freedom of the Republican ideals, very relevant to the city at the time.

The statue was moved from its original location in 1873 to protect it from continued weathering to where it stands today at the Accademia Gallery. While there are many other sculptures at the museum, the highlight is, of course, the David. It can be one of the most popular destinations to visit in Florence, so make sure you check out the museum website to plan your visit.

[Wikipedia], [Accademia]

Featured image from Justin Ennis via Flickr.

The haunting, captivating, ancient city of Pompeii

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City of Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background.

The ancient city of Pompeii, located outside of modern day Naples, is one of the most visited sites in Italy, giving us the unique opportunity for a small glimpse into what it would have been like to live in the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago.

In the turn of the first century A.D., the town of Pompeii was a flourishing metropolis for the distinguished Roman citizens. Sophisticated homes, shops, taverns, cafés, bathhouses and even brothels were built, decorated with elaborate artwork. There was a gym, an arena that fit 20,000 people and many open-air squares and marketplaces.

Looming in the near distance from the city, however, was Mt. Vesuvius, an active volcano that had been erupting for thousands of years. In August 79 A.D., it erupted again, sending hot ash, pumice, rocks and boiling volcanic gas so high that people could see it for hundreds of miles around. The best account of this fateful event was by Pliny the Younger, who watched the eruption from across the bay, recording what he saw. Historians estimate that there were about 20,000 people living in Pompeii at the time.

As the ash began to fall on the city, some didn’t flee immediately. Those who stayed behind suffered a painful death, first difficulty breathing and then a 100 mile-per-hour surge of superheated poison gas and pulverized rock, known as a “pyroclastic surge” flowed down the mountain, completely engulfing everything in its path. By the end of the next day, the entire city and about 2,000 people we completed covered in 4-6 meters of ash and pumice.

The town was essentially forgotten and remained uncovered until it was completely discovered in 1748 by a group of explorers looking for ancient artifacts in Campania dug below the ashes. Due to a lack of moisture and air, everything that was below the dust was nearly untouched and preserved so well that the skeletons were frozen in their final positions, the buildings remained in near perfect condition and they even found everyday household items such as food! 

Especially interesting is when the ashes were first uncovered, the excavators injected plaster molds into the spaces between the ash that had hardened around the people that had been trapped. The casts give us the exact positions of the victims during their time of death. Most aren’t at the site of the Pompeii, but instead in the National Museum in Naples. Also, they found a great deal of erotic art upon the discoveries. It was so graphic that when the King Francis I of Naples visited the museum displaying the excavations in in 1819 with his wife and daughter he was so embarrassed, he had it locked away in a secret cabinet, only viewable to those “of mature age and respected morals”. These discoveries led historians to believe that the ancient Romans were much more liberal about sexual themes than we are in present-day.

Plaster mold of victim at the site in Pompeii.
Plaster mold of victim at the site in Pompeii.

The excavation is still continuing today, providing archeologists one of the most fascinating opportunities to continue learning about this ancient city. There are also approximately 2.5 million visitors to Pompeii each year. As well, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

I have to admit, when I visited there, I definitely should have planned a bit better. It was August in southern Italy. The ancient city is huge, and took the entire day to walk around and explore. There is really limited shading from the sun, and well, you can imagine that walking up through the hilly city in 35 degree summer heat was a bit exhausting, and I forgot to bring any sort of hat. Check their website for the most up to date information.

Despite the potential for debilitating dehydration and sun poisoning, it was actually fascinating. The streets and buildings are mostly still in tact, even the marketplaces and squares are still there. What was most captivating, however, was that the thousands of year old paintings are still visible on the walls of the various buildings!

Painted wall in Pompeii.
Painted wall in Pompeii.
Mural on the wall of a building interior in Pompeii.
Mural on the wall of a building interior in Pompeii.

You could really imagine yourself living in this ancient Roman city!

City of Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background.
City of Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background.
Ruins of a building in Pompeii.
Ruins of a building in Pompeii.
Sculpture in Pompeii.
Sculpture in Pompeii.

[History], [Wikipedia]

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