Elegant squares, iconic companies, porticoes which house shops and cafes, the bianconeri football club stadium and, of course, royal residences are what the beautiful city of the Alps, Turin, is renowned for.
The first capital of Italy boasts the Regge Sabaude complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.
These leisure estates gracefully reveal the sophisticated history of court life of the local monarchy – the Savoy family.
The Reggia di Venaria Reale on the outskirts of Turin is now open to visitors after a successful project of restoration. It is home to beautiful halls, temporary exhibitions areas, entertainment programmes and events, surrounded by dreamy landscape and the beauty of its magnificent gardens.
Today we are in Ravenna admiring the unique Byzantine mosaics that decorate the city’s 1500-year-old churches! Here we can go back to the dawn of Christianity, with EIGHT well-preserved monuments UNESCO World Heritage Sites, an amazing experience for lovers of history and architecture!
Ravenna was the residence of western Roman emperors, Ostrogothic kings, Byzantine governors of Italy, and thrice the capital city.
In AD 402 Emperor Honorius, the younger son of Theodosius I, transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire to Ravenna. The model taken as example was the Byzantine city of Constantinople. Its architecture, decorations, and mosaics in the first place, became a fundamental reference point. The city was progressively enlarged, and turned into a truly cosmopolitan city, an important political, cultural, religious and artistic centre. Many of its marvels still survive. And this is the historical period when three characters link their personal stories to Ravenna.
The earliest and hypnotically colourful mosaics are in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (386-452). Emperor Theodosius’ daughter and Honorius’s sister, Galla Placidia was a very powerful woman who ruled Western Roman Empire in place of her son, Emperor Valentinian III, until he was old enough to take over.
The mausoleum, which Galla commissioned for herself, her husband Costanzo and her brother Honorius, is made of re-used ancient Roman brick. The bare and sober exterior is diametrically opposed to the amazing interior decoration, inspired by the Byzantine model Galla was so attracted by. Covered with marble panels in its lower part, and above that – the uniqueness of the artistically perfect mosaics created partly by the Byzantine masters.
In the 6th century AD, Ravenna’s bishops and archbishops, who ranked second only to the popes, embarked upon a notable building program of churches. The remarkable sites include the Basilicas of San Vitale and Sant’Apollinare in Classe.
Basilica di San Vitale (526-547 AD), founded by Bishop Eclesio, is one of the most important churches in early Christianity. The lavish mosaics that decorate its interior were commissioned by Archbishop Maximian in 546/556 AD. They are some of only a few that remain from the time of Emperor Justinian I, who turned Ravenna into the westernmost pillar of the Byzantine Empire. With Justinian Ravenna lived its period of maximum splendor. He dreamt of uniting the Latin west with the Greek east, bringing together both military and church leaders, all reunited into a peaceful political and religious system.
As we lift our gaze, we encounter the beautiful ceiling of the basilica. Lots of windows let the light in and invite you inside, where you can really be taken by the beauty of countless vibrantly coloured chips the size of your fingernail, as well as fabulously decorative columns made of a high quality marble brought from the east. Justinian himself, and his wife Theodora are depicted in a pair of mosaics flanking the altar. Their faces look like realistic portraits. The large lunettes located under the vault depicting Old Testament sacrifices are especially noteworthy. There is so much to look at! All those tiny tiles of stone and glass, brightly coloured in blues, and greens, and reds; and gold, which was ‘sandwiched’ between pieces of glass.
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe (c.533-549), is one of the most perfect basilicas in Ravenna. An imposing building with its impressive forms, cylindrical bell tower and spacious interiors. Built in the first half of VI century and consecrated by Archbishop Maximian in 549, it is famous for its wonderful mosaics. It was once facing the Adriatic shore, but nowadays positioned in the countryside just entering Ravenna, near the huge archaeological area of the ancient military harbor of Classe, an important station of the Roman Fleet.
Theodoric (454-526), the Ostrogoth King of Italy, brought further development to the city. Various cult buildings were erected in and around Ravenna, witnessing the two centuries of the maximum splendor and artistic fervor. These include the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, and the Mausoleum of Theodoric, just outside the walls. The roof of the mausoleum is made of a single piece of Istrian stone, 11 metres in diameter.
The richest heritage anywhere of mosaics from the 5th and 6th centuries preserved in the basilicas and baptisteries of the city is a clear evidence of the extraordinary period Ravenna had lived centuries ago. The heritage that has come down to us, of universal value, will leave you breathless, overwhelmed and willing to say “I’ve been here, and I’ve seen all this!”
Castel del Monte, parked on a hill near Andria, in a very panoramic position offering unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape, is one of the most enigmatic sites in the world. It is a must-see for every Apulia-bound tourist.
We are in 1200s… following the track left by a man who changed the history of Southern Italy – Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. His passage here was more than just a joyful occasion.
The castle is part of a much larger network of castles, as Frederick built lots of them along the Adriatic coast. It is a monument to his reign, a perfect building for a perfect ruler. Viewing himself as the legitimate successor to the Roman Emperors of Antiquity, Frederick commissioned this stone crown for himself.
The octagonal motif runs through the entire castle: it has eight octagonal towers, eight rooms on each floor, as well as an eight-sided courtyard in the centre. The octagon is the intermediate figure between the circle (representing the infinite sky) and the square (the symbol of the earth), hence the emperor was seen as the holy instructor of humanity.
Frequently examined, the castle hides an enigma. We are in the Middle Ages. Why would Frederick II (1194-1250) commission this architectural masterpiece, most probably around the year 1240, with that octagonal plan and all those specific astronomical and mathematical references? We don’t know it for sure. One of the surviving beliefs is that the castle and its geometrical figures derive from the application of the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, which harmoniously combines elements of buildings and nature.
Some scholars say it served as a citadel, or, that the emperor used it as a hunting lodge. Its military function has been excluded, as it had neither a moat nor a drawbridge. In the halls you can still see some polychrome marble refinements, but nothing unfortunately remains of the décor that once pleased Frederick’s eyes.
The presence of baths and fireplaces on both floors, as well as its fine decoration, suggest the castle might have been used as a residence. And yet again, some are convinced there was a link between the castle and the Templars. Anyway, it is a complex architectural work, which includes fine mathematical , geometrical, and even astronomical knowledge.
Here Frederick spent a lot of time training his falcons and birdwatching. Numerous scholars were invited to his court to dispute scientific matters. Frederick inherited German, Norman, and Sicilian blood, but he was brought up the Sicilian way and loved the island very much. He lived and left lots of sites behind in Apulia, and used his imperial power to expand the Sicilian Kingdom into Italy.
To get to the castle, we drive away from the Adriatic shore and enter the Altopiano delle Murge. Apulia is the easternmost region of Italy. It is really beautiful, with about 800 km of coast and extraordinary landscape, which Frederick would lovingly call his garden.
Frederick was called stupor mundi, the ‘astonishment of the world’. He spoke Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic, promoted science and literature through the Sicilian school of poetry which, as Dante points out, had a great influence on what was to become the modern Italian language. He also wrote lyrics himself, which has been preserved to the present day.
Beautiful halls covered by cross ribbed vaults held up by semi-columns in coral crushed stone.
The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an outstanding example of the Middle Ages, though reflecting a different image of it. Here different cultures blend together harmoniously, making this site one of a kind and absolutely unmissable.