This is our first try at an email posting. We are currently in the future, having crossed the international date line a couple of days ago (I would share a picture of it, but of course it is invisible). Somewhat surprisingly, we made it ashore to all of the South Pacific islands on the itinerary. All but Tahiti are tender ports & Rarotonga & Niue lack outer reefs that create lagoons with calm water for easy tendering. So those two islands are often missed because of bad weather or rough sea conditions. Boarding the tenders was pretty dicey on both of these days, especially at Rarotonga, but we did make it ashore. So that is probably a pretty good omen for the rest of the cruise.
For the last two days we have been sailing through a real gale, with wind speeds up to about 60 mph. The ship has really been rocking, both side to side & front to back. Actually, the captain says we are threading our way between two big storms, so we are getting it from both sides. The weather on our port days has been mostly quite good, so we can’t really complain about bad weather when we are confined to the ship anyway. Day after tomorrow we will be in Auckland, New Zealand, which is actually the last of the Polynesian Islands we will visit on this cruise.
I have attached a couple of pictures, so we will see if they get posted when I send this. The first is a view of the island of Moorea from Tahiti. The second is the early morning sail in to Bora Bora.
On April 17 we docked in Port Hercules in the middle of Monaco (legend has it that Hercules passed through here & made the area habitable by getting rid of all the wild beasts). Monaco is the world’s second smallest sovereign state (after the Vatican), covering less than a square mile. But it is also the world’s most densely populated state with some 37,000 residents (just about a third of whom are citizens). It is only about 5 miles from Italy but is surrounded by France on all land borders, and by treaty France is responsible for the defense & foreign policy of Monaco. Although not a member of the European Union, the Euro is Monaco’s official currency. Monaco is, of course, famous as a playground for the rich & famous, so the harbor is full of (big) yachts, the streets are full of fancy cars & everything is expensive.
It was a gray rainy day, one of the very few we have had on this trip. Mary was still feeling pretty bad from the illness she picked up in Dubai, the previous two days in Rome & Florence had been pretty taxing & we were planning a big day in Barcelona the next day. Monaco really wasn’t a priority for us, so we decided to take it easy & just took the HOHO bus tour around the city/country. We didn’t hop off the bus at all, though, so all the pictures in this episode were taken either from the open top of the bus or from the ship. Thankfully the heavy rain didn’t begin until just after we got back to the ship.
Our first stop was at the Casino of Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo (Mount Charles) is one of the five districts of Monaco. The casino was first built in the mid 19th century because the ruling family was in dire financial straits. It worked: they aren’t in any danger of bankruptcy any more. You have probably seen James Bond walking up the steps to the entrance in Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again. The back part of the casino, facing the harbor, is the opera house, built a few years later. And on one side of casino square next to the casino is the Hotel de Paris, built in 1863, very ritzy & expensive. The tennis ball decorations are to celebrate the 110th Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament (actually held over the border in France), the final day of which was the day of our visit.
We rode through the narrow, sharply curving & hilly streets of the city to the Palace.
The Prince’s Palace was first built in 1191, but has been expanded, renovated & enhanced many times since then. Built on top of a huge rock overlooking the Mediterranean, it was initially a Genoese stronghold & you can still see some of the more castle-like walls at the edge of the rock. The Grimaldi family, Genoese noblemen who were on the losing side in a struggle for control for Genoa, captured it in 1297 & have ruled here most of the time ever since. The princes were absolute rulers until 1910, when a rather ineffectual parliament was established under a constitution granted by Prince Albert I in response to public unrest. But even today Prince Albert II is the dominant political power in Monaco & his offices & residence are in the Palace. His predecessor (& father) was Prince Rainier III, who famously married the movie star Grace Kelly (Albert’s mother) in 1956.
From the Palace grounds there were some stunning views of the harbor & the mountains. Next to the Palace on the edge of the rock cliff is a statue called “hommage aux colonies étrangères,” built in 1914 to honor the 25th year of the reign of Prince Albert I. Across the square from the Palace were some interesting buildings that look like they date from the 19th century. We drove on, down through an arched road, to St Nicholas Cathedral. It was built at the turn of the 20th century; Prince Rainier & Princess Grace are buried there.
We passed by the Oceanographic Museum. It was built in 1910 by Prince Albert I, who had an avid interest in the subject, and presided over from 1957 to 1988 by Jacques Cousteau. The collection inside has a first rate reputation, including an aquarium with more than 4,000 species of fish, but of course we didn’t see the inside. Outside the museum was a very colorful exhibit, but we have no idea what it was about.
The Monaco Grand Prix auto race was first run in 1929. It is a challenging course through the streets of the city, with hairpin turns, changing elevations & a tunnel. The 2016 race was to be at the end of May & they were already preparing when we were there, building viewing stands in several places on the water front. One of the excursions offered by HAL was to walk the course of the race (it might be a lot cheaper to buy a map & walk it yourself). We saw several of the viewing stands that were under construction (built anew every year).
Well that’s it for our short bus-top tour of Monaco. We returned to the ship & it then began raining pretty hard for most of the afternoon. We will leave you with a few pictures taken from the ship.
It’s been a long time & we don’t want anyone to get the idea we have abandoned this blog or jumped ship or shipwrecked by a cyclone. We are continuing to sail through the beautiful South Pacific seas, taking lots of pictures & composing blog posts. Unfortunately, so far the internet connection has been woefully inadequate to upload postings with lots of pictures (which means lots of data). We can still receive email intermittently (my email works better than Mary’s) & we will still receive by email any comments that are posted on the blog. But blog postings just haven’t worked.
We will continue to try and hopefully will eventually be able to start posting actual voyage episodes to the blog. We don’t know when, but hopefully not too long. Rest assured that eventually all of the voyage will be posted. Meanwhile, for all of you currently buried under tons of snow (and particularly the one of you buried under that snow on our front yard), here is a teaser to keep you from changing to another channel. Those of you who have been here will recognize it; the rest will just have to tune in later to learn where this particular South Seas paradise is.
We arrived in Hamilton in the afternoon of May 13. Our original itinerary scheduled us to dock in St. George’s on May 14. They switched to Hamilton early in the cruise (don’t know why). We were able to dock in Hamilton a day early because we left Horta much earlier than planned & the Captain pushed the ship in order to give us more time in Hamilton as compensation for missing Horta. It was raining a lot, however, & Mary wasn’t feeling well (we were both pretty worn down by the end of the voyage) so we didn’t go ashore on the 13th. The 14th was rainy off and on as well, and we had already been to Bermuda once, so we only spent a few hours in town. While we visited several buildings on our walk, the predominant impression was made by the profusion of beautiful flowers (it was Spring, after all).
The picture above is distorted, of course, because it is a panorama. The wall in the front is actually straight rather than curved. Prominent in this picture are the cathedral (top center), the Sessions House (top right with towers) and Front Street (nice old buildings filled mostly with tourist shops & restaurants) along the front.
We started out walking to the right down Front Street & soon came to the Cabinet Office. Hamilton has been the capital of Bermuda since 1815 (one of the world’s smallest, at just 1800 residents), so there are a number of government buildings here. This one had a nice garden in front of it (the green space just above front street on the far right in the picture above). In addition to some lovely flowers, there is an interesting memorial to the Bermudans who fought in WWI & WWII. It has seven plaques with a total of 3000 names & in the center is a sphere that constantly turns on its base. The sphere is not attached at all, so it must be supported by running water from underneath. There is also a striking sculpture that is a memorial to Sally Bassett, an elderly slave who was burned at the stake in 1730 after being convicted of attempting to poison the owners of her granddaughter. The sculpture shows her tied to the stake with kindling stacked under her feet. These are recent monuments: Sally Bassett was erected in 2008 & the war memorial in 2010.
We went on to Queen Elizabeth Park, formerly called Par-La Ville Park. It was laid out in the mid-19th century by the local postmaster, named Perot, who owned the Par-La Ville manor which is now the library. He collected plants from all over the world for this park & most are still there. It is a fairly small park, filled with colorful flowers, a fish pond, several roosters and a “moon gate” (a round gated portal of which Bermuda has several). Since 2007 it has also been a sculpture garden. Considered by many the premiere park in Bermuda, it is well worth a visit.
Next to the park was the Bermuda National Library & Museum. Its pretty small and unimposing for a “National” library, but it is known for its collection of Bermuda literature. In front of it somewhere is a rubber tree planted by Mr. Perot, in which Mark Twain once expressed disappointment because it did not bear hot water bottles or rubber overshoes. Inside is a collection of Bermudiana, including a doll dressed as a Gombey dancer (a Bermudan specialty) & the pocket trumpet of Vernon “Ghandi” Burgess, Bermuda’s most prominent jazz musician.
We walked on to the gleaming white City Hall which also contains the Bermuda National Art Gallery. The tower of the building appears to be a clock tower, but it actually tells the direction of the wind determined by the weathervane on top. The weathervane is supposed to be a model of the Sea Venture, the ship that brought the first settlers to Bermuda. It was trying to reach Jamestown (among the passengers was John Rolfe, who later married Pocahontas & was the first to plant tobacco in North America) but was wrecked on Bermuda in a hurricane. This well publicized adventure is said to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Anyway, upstairs in the City Hall was the Gallery, displaying a lot of very interesting Bermudian art. There was a bronze sculpture of a family reading a book sitting by the front door & on the first floor a sculpture of a group of men that pretty much defies description.
We visited the Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, a gothic structure dedicated in 1911 that dominates the skyline, as you can see in the picture at the beginning of this episode. Apparently there is a law against erecting a building taller than the cathedral. Inside was a very large pipe organ (we have seen quite a few of those on this trip).
The last building we visited before returning to the ship was the Sessions House, which is home to Bermuda’s legislative Assembly & also its Supreme Court (in the lower level). It was first built in 1819, but the tower & colonnade were added in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (there is a medallion of Queen Victoria on the outside wall). The dial on this tower really is a clock. Bermuda’s is the 4th oldest active Parliament in the world, after Britain, Iceland & the Isle of Man. Inside they still conduct government (court & assembly) the old fashioned way, in wigs.
It was starting to rain so we walked back to the ship but were unable to avoid getting pretty wet, even though we had umbrellas. But we saw more pretty flowers on the way. We also noticed a sign threatening a harsh sounding punishment for trespassing (so we didn’t go in). Right after we got back the sky opened up and it really poured, so as in Ponta Delgada we luckily timed it to avoid the worst of the weather.
Happily the weather cleared up before our departure in the late afternoon, because the sailaway from Bermuda is lengthy (to avoid the reefs) & beautiful. We passed a lot of brightly colored houses that are characteristic of Bermuda, we saw the lighthouse high on a hill and we saw a lot of beautiful bright blue water as we left.
So after two more days at sea we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale early on the morning of May 17, tired but happy. I will include here pictures of some of the crew (you may have seen some of these before). Here are the cruise director, Gene; Captain van Schoonhoven, who was captain on the second half of the trip; Lisa the travel guide; and Firmin, the hotel director (also on our South America cruise), who was about to retire (and planning a cruise as a passenger . . . I don’t think I would want to be the hotel director on that cruise with Firmin aboard). Here also are our table waiter from Barcelona to Ft. Lauderdale with Arthur our assistant waiter for the entire trip, Willie the supervisor in the Lido, Endang our super head waiter, Gildas the manager of the restaurant, and the delightful Kiki, who was our waiter for most of the trip. Here also is the director of the Prinsendam orchestra (about 5 pieces), an excellent guitar player who looks a little like Pete Townshend (or at least I thought so). These musicians are really good; they accompany visiting acts, which requires them to be able play in every conceivable style with almost no rehearsal. They did a concert by themselves of demanding jazz numbers (John Coltrane & Miles Davis) the day before we arrived & it was really excellent. Finally, if you have been with us the whole way you may recall from the Lanarca, Cyprus episode the night when I was randomly seated at dinner next to the ship acupuncturist from Australia, Lisa, who turned out to be the aunt of an attorney who had worked under my supervision at the Federal Election Commission. It was a stunning coincidence & I am including here a picture of Lisa & me taken on the deck the day before we landed. All of these folks worked very hard to make this a tremendous voyage, and with great success.
So on May 17 we disembarked, retrieved our car & drove to Saint Petersburg, where we spent a couple of enjoyable & relaxing days with Mary’s aunt & uncle, Michael & Irene. They live on a canal where from the veranda you can watch boats and wildlife all day long. Not to mention that this meant an additional two days of gourmet food cooked by someone other than us!
After that brief respite we drove home (two days) to Arlington, Virginia. And it felt great to get home after all that time even if we did have to start cooking our own food & washing our own dishes. But, looking back on it, this was truly a phenomenal voyage that actually exceeded our expectations. It is hard to imagine any other way to visit so many iconic places we have always wanted to see – the pyramids in Egypt, the acropolis in Athens, Pompeii, Venice & Rome in Italy, Jerusalem in Israel, Hagia Sophia & Topkapi Palace & Ephesus in Turkey, Marrakesh and Casablanca in Morocco, the Alhambra & Gaudi’s buildings in Spain, the rock of Gibralter – all in one trip. On top of that were all the places with which we hadn’t been familiar that turned out to be so fascinating, like Taormina in Sicily, Antalya in Turkey, Taroudant in Morocco, Kotor in Montenegro, Dubrovnik in Croatia and Valletta in Malta. Traveling by ship has many advantages: unpacking once on a two month trip with a single all-inclusive ticket that provides transportation, hotel, meals, education & entertainment, without the hassle of scheduling all of those things separately. And you can develop friends among your fellow travelers with whom to share the adventure.
Of course nothing is perfect and the primary downside to travel by cruise ship (assuming you don’t suffer from seasickness) is that there is often insufficient time in a port to see and do everything you want. But there were so many places we never would have seen at all without this voyage and we did see and experience quite a bit in every port we visited. The fact that there are some places you (certainly we) would want to revisit at a more leisurely pace doesn’t really detract much from all that. There is no other way to see & do & learn all that we we did on a trip like that. And while it is far from cheap, when you compare the daily cost with all that was provided it is a pretty good value compared to other ways of traveling. (No, I wasn’t paid for this commercial.) For those who haven’t followed the whole voyage, here is a reprise of the map of our original itinerary (we missed about three of these ports, Naples was added en route & St. George’s was switched to Hamilton) & a picture of the Prinsendam that includes our stateroom window (2d window from the front on the walking deck just below the lifeboats).
So I hope you have all enjoyed following along on this blog, although there is no way you enjoyed it as much as we did. I would bet that, after all this time, a lot of you had given up on my finishing it, but although it took a lot longer than I expected, here we are at the very end! We are planning another voyage in July of 2014 that will take us to the icy north: Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Scotland & Amsterdam. Assuming that is long enough for me to fully recover (& forget how much work this actually required) I expect I will blog that trip too. If you are signed up for email notifications or RSS feeds from this blog you will automatically receive notification when we leave; if not you will just have to remember to check back in July if you want to tag along. I will leave you today as I have so often with another towel animal (one of our favorites that reappeared on the last leg of the journey) & a fruit sculpture (a watermelon shark). That’s all, folks!
Early on May 8, after two days at sea, we limped into the harbor of Ponta Delgada. Why limped? Well, during dinner a couple of days earlier we suddenly heard a loud noise coming from the engines (located below the restaurant). One of our tablemates said “that doesn’t sound good,” and indeed she was correct. It turned out that something had broken (we seem to recall a stabilizer, but I’m not sure that’s right) which necessitated turning off one of the two engines. Fortunately the other engine kept going, but the Captain sounded quite nervous about it. They arranged for someone to meet the ship in Ponta Delgada with a replacement part that they spent the day installing. After a successful test we were able to leave that evening only a few hours late. It’s a good thing this didn’t happen after we left the Azores when we had 4 days of open ocean to travel before a port where repairs could be made! On the positive side, during the evening before we reached Ponta Delgada we had an amazing sunset off the starboard bow that made it look like the whole ocean was on fire.
Ponta Delgada is the capital and largest city (about 45,000 people) in the Azores, a group of islands about 800 miles west of mainland Portugal. It is located on the island of Sao Miguel, the largest of the group. These are volcanic islands that are the tips of the highest mountains in the world (measured from their bases on the ocean floor). When discovered by Portuguese sailors in the early 15th century the Azores were uninhabited (by humans), but that didn’t last very long. Given their location it isn’t too surprising that the Azores became an important stop in American trade; at one point Ponta Delgada was the 4th largest city in Portugal. In the 19th Century it was a center of the American whaling industry. Today it is a convenient stop for cruise ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
Prinsendam was docked on the inside of the sea wall across from the town waterfront, and a shuttle bus was provided to take us into town. This is supposed to be a beautiful island, with lots of green hills & lakes in old volcano calderas & picturesque fishing villages, and a lot of passengers took tours of the island. But it was a drizzly day & we were pretty worn out of bus touring, so we decided just to walk around the town & see whatever was there. The shuttle bus drove along the sea wall, which was covered with very interesting graffiti (at least I think it was graffiti rather than commissioned art) and dropped us on the waterfront promenade. Some of the graffiti looked like Hieronymus Bosch figures. The seafront promenade was paved with mosaics of black & white volcanic stones, of which we would see a lot more.
Our first stop was Forte de Sao Bras, a 16th century fortress right on the waterfront. It was originally built to defend the town from pirates. There was a museum inside, but everything was in Portuguese so we didn’t get much out of it. On the battlements were some guns that looked like WWII vintage, and there were good views of our docked ship and of the town. The side of the fort facing the town has a memorial to Portuguese sailors in WWI. There were some fairly creepy looking trees not yet in bloom that could have come from a Dr. Seuss book & also some flowering succulents.
We walked over to the large nearby square called Campo São Francisco (I think), which is sort of a festival ground. It is covered with mosaics. Sidewalk and street mosaics seem to be a Portuguese specialty (we saw a lot in Madeira and last year in Brazil) and Ponta Delgada is chock full of them in many varieties. Those of you who have followed this blog will know that we never tire of these, so you will be seeing a lot of them in this episode. Standing with your back to the water & the fort, on your left is the Igreja Sao Jose (Church of St. Joseph) and in front to the right is the Convento de Esperanca attached to the Igreja de Santo Christo. These two churches are good examples of the distinctive architecture here, with detailed decoration of dark lava stone on white background walls that look like stucco.
The biggest religious festival of the year in Ponta Delgada is the “Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres” (Feast of Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles). This is a multi-day festival highlighted by a procession carrying an image of Jesus around to all the churches in town through streets full of flowers followed by a large fireworks display over the fort. The image was presented by the Pope to the first convent established on Sao Miguel in the 16th century and the first procession was in 1700 when the island was hit by earthquakes. The tremors abated and the tradition was established. Unfortunately, we missed this spectacle by three days, but the festival lighting was still in place on the church, in the plaza and over some of the streets. The image of Santo Cristo dos Milagres is in the Church of Santo Cristo, where we saw it in a large room full of flower displays behind a gate. On the other side of the church was an area of gilded walls and vaulted ceiling with an altar that looked like a Christmas tree from a distance. The walls of the center section of the church, near the entrance, were partly covered with murals made of blue and white tiles that made an interesting contrast to the richly polished wood appurtenances.
I don’t know if this is only associated with the festival or if it is normal, but walking around town we saw a lot of houses with beautiful displays of flowers, mostly under windows or on balconies.
We walked on toward the center of town over several interesting mosaic patterned sidewalks. We came to the city hall, sporting a 17th century bell tower. In front is a fountain in a long pool leading up to a statue of the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of the island of Sao Miguel.
Continuing on, we came to the old gates to the city, built in 1783, on a huge plaza facing the water. Before the seawall was built this was where ships docked. At that time the water came much closer and this was the gate in the city wall. On the right of the plaza (facing away from the water) is the clock tower of the Church of Sao Sebastio & well to the left is the city hall behind its fountain. In the front of the plaza facing the water is a statue of Goncalo Velho Cabral, the first governor of Sao Miguel and the sea captain credited with discovering it. The plaza is named after him.
We walked over to visit the 15th century Iglesa de Sao Sebastiao just beyond the plaza. We passed sidewalk mosaics that were pictures of fruit & vegetables, as well as a plaza of mosaic stars by the church. This church has a great deal of interesting carved wood & stone at the entrances and inside. It also has a nice pipe organ on a balcony and some very old music on display.
So we moved on up the hill, looking for what is always one of our prime objectives: the library. Needless to say, we saw more sidewalk mosaics, all different from what we had already seen. The library must be important to these folks since they have a special street sign giving directions. The library didn’t look very interesting from the front, but inside we found a nice garden, a brilliantly tiled stairway & a wall with a variety of languages carved into it. Just down the hill from the library was the 16th century Colegio convent (although I’m not sure whether it is still used for that).
Further up the hill from the library were the beautiful Palacio de Sant’Ana Jardim (Gardens of the Sant’Ana Palace). On the way up we encountered some tiny frogs in a pond in someone’s front yard. The Sant’Ana Palace is a large 19th century reddish colored building with statuary embedded in its walls. Our favorite was a statue of a woman with a sword wearing what looks like a Greek helmet. But what was special was the bird sitting on the helmet. We have seen quite a few outdoor statues with birds sitting on top, but this is the only one in which the bird is actually part of the statue. Maybe it landed here and was turned to stone! The palace is the headquarters of the Presidency of the Azores & the gardens surrounding the palace are quite beautiful, with flora from different parts of the world set out in their own areas. It was pretty quiet when we were there.
We returned to the ship just ahead of the rain. That night, after the refurbished engine passed its tests, we sailed on to our next scheduled port: Horta, on the island of Faial in the western part of the Azores. Unfortunately, this was a tender port & the Captain decided that the water was too rough to disembark (boo!). So here are some photos of Horta, taken from the ship. You can see that the weather was not very nice & there was some turbulence in the water (although it doesn’t look all that bad). The hill on the left is an old volcano caldera.
On the opposite side of the ship from Horta was the nearby island of Pico. At its center is the largest mountain in Portugal, an extinct volcano, which looked particularly dramatic among the clouds on this day.
So we set off a little early toward Hamilton, Bermuda, our last stop before returning to Florida. This would be four days at sea, a welcome respite for tired travellers. I will close this episode by catching up on pictures of some pretty creative food art, a couple of brightly colored ice sculptures & several towel animals (some of which are similar to ones we have seen previously; I guess 64 days exceeds the towel animal repertory of our artistic room stewards).
May 5 found us in Cadiz, Spain, our last stop on the continent of Europe. With a population of 125,000, Cadiz is on the southwest Atlantic coast of Andalusia, a little beyond the Pillars of Hercules and therefore not in the Mediterranean. Founded around 1100 BC by the Phoenicians, who named it “Gadir” meaning enclosure or stronghold, this is considered by most to be the oldest continuously occupied city in western Europe. When it was part of the Roman empire after 206 BC the city was called Gades in Latin, and the Moors, who occupied it from the early 8th Century until 1262, Arabized the name to Qadis, which became Cadiz in Spanish after the Reconquista. Cadiz was the starting point for Columbus’s 2d and 4th voyages to America (although he thought it was Asia, of course), and became very wealthy during the 17th & 18th centuries when it held a virtual monopoly on trade with Spanish America after the port of Seville was blocked by silt. The city is located at the end of a long, narrow peninsula reaching out into a large bay, so there is water all around. Here is a panoramic view of the city from the upper deck of Prinsendam.
But before we get into what we saw on this stop, the night before reaching Cadiz we had an interesting performance on board by a local dance group. Consisting of four women, they presented a modern take on flamenco & other Spanish dancing and it was pretty striking. But detracting from the performance was the fact that all the music was canned; no live musicians at all. This was the first performance by local artists that had been presented that way & we thought it made a big difference, and not a good one. Still, the dancing was great & we were not sorry to have attended.
Cadiz looks like a very interesting city to explore & it is small enough that you can pretty much do it all on your own on foot from the ship. But everyone says that Seville is the real showpiece in this part of Spain and we had never been here before, so we signed up for a day trip to Seville. They were right, Seville is fabulous. Our only real regret is that we had only one day, with a fairly early departure, and that wasn’t really enough time so we felt a little rushed. But as you will see in the pictures below, what we did see was pretty special.
Our bus left pretty early in the morning, taking us past the 16th century Puertas de Tierra (the land gates), one of the few remnants of the old city walls, which was modified in the 20th century so that car traffic could go through two large arches. We passed several nice looking towns on the way as well. These pictures were taken through the window of a moving bus, so some blurriness & window reflections were unavoidable.
Like so many of the cities we have visited on this voyage, Seville is very old, founded by the Romans around 200 BC. Like Cadiz, after the fall of the Roman empire it was ruled by the Visigoths for a few centuries then was governed by the Moors from the early 8th Century until 1248, when Ferdinand III drove them out and incorporated it into the kingdom of Castile. Although located about 50 miles up the Guadalquivir river, Seville’s port is accessible by smaller ocean going ships (the Azamara Journey docked there not too long ago). After Columbus’s first voyage Seville was designated as the exclusive port for American trade, which meant that any ship trading in the Americas had to begin & end its voyage here. This made Seville into one of the largest (a million people) and richest cities in Europe. But the monopoly was broken by Cadiz at the end of the 16th Century and then the river began to silt up and restrict navigation to Seville. As a result, Cadiz became the new port for American trade and in the 18th Century was one of the richest cities in Europe as Seville went into decline.
As we arrived in Seville we saw many flowering trees & fountains, one of which is part of a 1973 monument to Juan Sebastian Elcano, the captain of the one ship with 18 men that completed Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world in 1512. This voyage began and ended in Seville & Magellan had been killed along the way. The red and white candy striped building behind the memorial is the 19th Century Pavilion of San Telmo. It is known locally as the Costurero de la Reina (Queen’s Sewing Box) because the wife of King Alfonso XII supposedly spent time here sewing. In fact, however, she died 15 years before it was built. Many of the buildings in this part of Seville are in a lively Spanish style.
We first walked to the Barrio Santa Cruz. This was once the “Jewish Quarter,” actually a walled ghetto with two gates. It is right next to the Alcazar, the royal palace, & our guide told us that the king once said that he kept the Jews so close to him because of his high regard for them. Sure. Anyway, in 1391 there was a nasty pogrom in which most of the Jews here were murdered & their property expropriated. Their synagogues were converted to churches. And of course in 1492 the remaining Jews who declined to convert to Christianity were expelled from Spain.
Not a lovely history, but it is today quite a lovely neighborhood & very popular with visitors. The first place we visited was Plaza Santa Cruz, which is where the painter Bartolome Murillo was born. In the center is a 16th century wrought iron cross called the Cruz de la Cerrajería (Locksmith’s cross). I don’t know why its called that, but it is supposed to commemorate the Church of Holy Cross that stood here until the Napoleonic wars and gave the neighborhood its name. The church had been built on the remains of a synagogue & the floor of the synagogue (& the church) forms the center for the plaza. There are orange trees all around this part of Seville, something Seville has always been known for. They are attractive, but the fruit is said to be bitter & useful mainly for British marmalade.
Barrio Santa Cruz is a labyrinth of narrow, twisty streets with brightly colored buildings. It has several plazas & sidewalk cafes & a whole lot of souvenir shops (I told you it was popular with tourists). We also noted that the roofs of many of the buildings have weeds growing on them. We walked through this quarter to reach our next stop, the Alcazar, which borders the Santa Cruz neighborhood.
After our (first) stroll through Santa Cruz we arrived at the Plaza del Triunfo (Triumph Square), a UNESCO world heritage site bordered by the Alcazar on one side and the Cathedral on the other. On a third side is the General Archive of the Indies, housed in a 16th century structure originally built as a merchant exchange. It contains the documentary history of Spain’s American empire, including such items as Columbus’s diary & the Pope’s declaration dividing the new world between the Spanish & Portuguese. This is a UNESCO site that, sadly, we didn’t have time to visit. There was a long wait for our guide to get tickets to the Alcazar (why didn’t they buy these in advance?) as we waited outside the wall. On the wall above the entryway is a plaque with a lion holding a lance standing on a bunch of generic looking animals (alligators?). The guide said this represented the Christian king’s conquest over Islam. There was also in this plaza an unusual small fountain supporting an elaborate column topped by a streetlight, standing in front of the Cathedral.
The Alcazar is the royal palace of Seville. First constructed by the Moors in the 10th century, it was greatly expanded after the Christian conquest, most notably in the 14th century by King Pedro the Cruel (imagine how much his people must have loved him to give him that name). This is one of the most important examples of mudejar architecure, which means designed & built by Moors after the Reconquista for a Christian king (although some additions since then have been in other styles). Much of it is very reminiscent of the actual Moorish design of the Alhambra, which we saw early in this journey, but you can tell it was not actually of Islamic origin because there are images of people and animals in various places. Today the Alcazar is still the Seville residence of the Spanish royal family, who occupy the upper floors when in town. We were told that this building cannot be visited when the monarch is there, but I am not sure this is true since we only visited the first floor in any event.
Many of the views in this palace are really stunning. It is full of intricate Moorish tile work and carved stucco decoration. We felt that we were hurried through (to be fair, there was a lot to see today and not so much time) and our guide, while he seemed knowledgeable and amiable, talked rather softly and very fast and had a bit of an accent. Because of this you pretty much had to choose whether to stay close to him and listen or wander around and look and take pictures. You will see below that we chose the latter.
As at Disney World, once we were admitted through the Lion Gate in the wall we came to an inner courtyard, the Courtyard of the Lion, where we had to wait again for our turn to enter the building. This gave us some time to admire the façade of the palace built by Pedro, the wall with arches on the opposite side of the courtyard & the mosaic sidewalk of black and white stones.
Inside we visited, inter alia, the Salon de los Embajadores (The Ambassadors Room), which has a domed ceiling of gilded cedar wood. It also has horse shoe arches (Arcos de Herradura), elaborate tile work and carved stucco (I think) reliefs on the walls in a variety of colors.
The Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens) is reminiscent of the courtyards in the Alhambra, with a reflecting pool in the center flanked by sunken gardens & lots of intricate lattice-like plaster work. The first floor was built by Pedro but the second floor was added by Charles V in the 16th century in a Renaissance style.
Here is another courtyard, the name of which I don’t know, but this one is three stories high and there is no pool inside.
The mosaic tile work on the walls throughout the Alcazar is colorful, dramatic and varied. I can’t tell you what rooms these are in, but they are worth looking at anyway.
Here is a bunch of ceilings from various rooms, each one different (not to mention the ceiling of the Ambassadors’ room that we have already seen).
Here are the leftovers: pictures from inside the Alcazar that I thought worth seeing but don’t fit into any of these categories.
So then we passed out of the palace into the gardens. On one wall was a plaque reading “Plus Ultra,” Latin for “further beyond.” This was the personal motto of Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand & Isabella, and today appears on the Spanish flag.
Behind the palace next to the gardens is the “Pool of Mercury.” The pool houses fish (who do not always play nicely with one another) and is fed by a fountain from the building. It has a statue of Mercury in the middle and is bordered by a wall with paintings in it. Bronze lions sit at the corners. Beyond it, the wall continues into the lush gardens with fountains, benches and sculpted shrubs.
We left the Alcazar through the Patio de Banderas (Courtyard of Flags) , where there was a beautiful view of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Cathedral. We walked through the Jewish Quarter again, this time along the wall of the Alcazar. I have read that this wall once carried water on the top like an aqueduct. Then we walked through the beautiful Jardines de Murillo (Murillo gardens), which had several small plazas with fountains and tiled benches. It also has a monument to Christopher Columbus consisting of two tall columns with a lion on top and a ship in the middle.
We boarded the bus to go to lunch. But on the way they took us for a drive past the bullfighting stadium (moving too fast for a decent picture), and across the Guadalquivir river, the only navigable river in Spain. It was a lovely day & there were beautiful flowers and rowers practicing in the river. We saw the Torre de Oro (Gold Tower), built by the Moors in the early 13th century. This was one anchor for a huge chain they put across the river to prevent an invading fleet from reaching the harbor; the Christian fleet’s breaking of this chain in 1248 was a decisive moment in the reconquest of Seville. W also saw a very unusual bridge that looked a little like a hand held harp. Built in 1992, it is called the Puente del Alamillo. The buffet lunch was unmemorable (I can’t remember it), but the hotel where we ate had a nice tile covered fountain in the sitting area with little ceramic frogs spitting water into it.
After lunch we headed back to the Plaza del Triunfo to visit the Cathedral. Just across the street from our luncheon hotel were what I took to be the walls of the Alcazar. We passed some amazing flowers then walked again through the Barrio Santa Cruz, this time taking a street that enabled us to look through the iron gates at the courtyards in some wealthier houses.
Seville’s Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Two churches are generally considered to be slightly larger: St. Peter’s in Rome (not a cathedral) & St. Paul’s in London (not Catholic), but I have read that a more recent measurement of volume places Seville back on top. I guess this is not an exact science & depends on how you go about measuring. Originally there was a mosque on this site which was converted into a church after the reconquest in 1248. However, it was damaged in an earthquake in the 14th century and had to be replaced. The city fathers then resolved to “build a church so big that those who see it will think us mad” (an interesting goal, to convince your progeny that you were nuts; many parents spend a great part of their lives trying unsuccessfully to convince their progeny that they are reasonable and sane). They spent about a century doing just that; when completed in 1506 it supplanted the Hagia Sofia as the largest in the world (just 5 years later, after the warranty expired, the dome collapsed & had to be rebuilt). The Cathedral is built mostly in a gothic style and has a roof that looks like an abstract sculpture garden.
The Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral. It was originally built as a minaret in the 12th century but was converted to a bell tower after the reconquista when the mosque was made into a church. It reminded me of the Koutoubia Mosque we had seen in Marrakesh and when I looked it up after returning home I discovered that it was actually modeled on the mosque. Its not a copy, but you can see below that the style is similar. The top third of the tower, containing the belfry, is in Spanish renaissance style & was added in the 16th century.
After another long wait for admittance (again tickets not purchased in advance), we entered through one of the few remaining doors from the old mosque, built with a horseshoe arch. This took us into a courtyard behind the Cathedral. We entered through the Puerta del Lagarto (door of the lizard). From the ceiling in front of this door hang an elephant tusk & a stuffed crocodile the sultan of Egypt gave to Alfonso X in 1260 (actually, the crocodile is a wood replica, since the original apparently hasn’t survived).
The interior was, of course, just as awe inspiring as the original city fathers intended, with soaring pillars, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. After all, it is the largest gothic cathedral in the world!
The Cathedral has a number of side chapels, some with very elaborate altars. Most of them are behind iron or bronze gates, some of which are works of art in themselves. The Chapel of St. Andrew contains a large painting by Murillo called “The Vision of St. Andrew.” In 1874 thieves cut out the figure of St. Andrew and tried to sell it in New York as a separate painting. A sharp art dealer returned it to the Spanish & it was reattached to the original painting. However, you can still see where the repair was made.
One of the major features of this cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus. There has long been controversy about whether Columbus is really in there, since he travelled almost as much after his death as before. The Seville tomb was originally to be in Cuba, but was brought here after Spain lost that island in the Spanish American War. There is another tomb of Columbus in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A few years ago, however, a DNA test was done on the remains in Seville which concluded that this is Columbus (the mitochondrial DNA in these remains matched that of Columbus’s brother Diego, also interred in this cathedral). But it turns out there is not a full skeleton in there, so part of Columbus may still be in the Dominican Republic. The Dominicans have so far declined a DNA test on their remains, so the mystery remains.
The tomb is unusual in that it is a box (at least I think he is in the box rather than underneath) suspended on poles held up by four pall bearers, each representing one of the medieval kingdoms that made up Spain (Castile, Aragon, Navarre & Leon). It is a large dramatic structure in the context of this huge cathedral. Coincidentally, I was told, it stands in front of a two story tall painting of St. Christopher.
In the center of the Cathedral is the choir, elaborately carved in wood. The main glory of this Cathedral is supposed to be its main altar piece, composed of 45 scenes from the life of Christ carved in wood (gilded, I think) by a single artist around the turn of the 16th century. It is the largest and richest altarpiece in the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it because it was apparently being refurbished behind a huge canvas curtain displaying a picture of what was behind. Maybe next time!
I have pictures of two more things worth noting from inside the Cathedral (there was a whole lot we didn’t get to see, however). One is the beautiful pipe organ mounted somewhere in the middle of the Cathedral. It is of impressive size & beauty & there is a marble building underneath it (don’t know what that is). I also have a picture of a wall of sculptures; I don’t know what that is either, but I think its worth seeing.
We exited the Cathedral into the Patio de los Naranjos (court of the oranges). This was the courtyard of the original mosque, where worshippers cleansed themselves before entering. Today it is filled with orange trees. In the center is a Moorish fountain incorporating a 6th century carved marble font that was part of a Visigoth cathedral that was here before the Moors arrived. While in this court we saw the Door of the Conception, built at the turn of the 20th century despite its gothic appearance. There was also a different view of the Giralda (with a tourist marring the view). We left through the Puerta del Perdon (gate of forgiveness) across the courtyard from the Cathedral, which was the original entrance to the old mosque.
We boarded the bus for the short trip to our last stop in Seville, the Plaza de Espana. On the way we saw the equestrian statue of El Cid, a hero of the Spanish Reconquista wars against the Moors (there is an old movie about him starring Charleston Heston & Sophia Loren). The statue dates to about 1930 & is the work of an American sculptor named Anna Hyatt Huntington. There are identical statues in Balboa Park in San Diego & somewhere in New York & Washington. You won’t see El Cid’s face here because the guide didn’t tell us what this was until after we had passed it.
Plaza de Espana was built as the centerpiece for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition, which was actually part of a larger world’s fair that was held mostly in Barcelona. A number of American countries, including the United States, Brazil and many of the former Spanish colonies, built pavilions here that afterward became consulates. We drove past a few of those.
The Plaza de Espana is an impressive architectural work, using aspects of Art Deco, Renaissance & Mudejar styles to create a unified whole. There is a lot to like about it, including colorful tile work, towers, bridges, waterways & a fountain. But on the day we visited this monumental space was mostly empty of people, which gave it a bit of an eerie feeling. It was kind of like being he first to enter a Disney World theme park in the morning when nothing has started yet. If this place looks familiar it might be because scenes on the planet Naboo were filmed here for Star Wars Episodes I & II. It also played the army headquarters in Lawrence of Arabia. The plaza is a large semicircular building with towers on each end. There is a moat paralleling the inside of the semicircle with blue tiled bridges to a central patio with a large fountain in the center.
Along the colonnades is a series of 58 alcoves representing Spain’s provinces. Each is elaborately decorated with colorful tiles & includes a map of the province and a tile mural of something representative of it. Above each set of two white columns is a bust of a famous Spaniard. Finally, the ceramics & tile work on the bridges and some of the balustrades was quite compelling.
We drove back to Cadiz in the late afternoon sun. In Cadiz we drove past the Cathedral, the Ayuntamiento (city hall) and a building called the Palacio de Congresos. I took the latter to be something official, like the home of the legislature. But no, it just means conference hall; it is a hotel with conference facilities. It is, however, built on the foundation of Cadiz’s old tobacco factory (you will recall that Spain received the first tobacco in Europe when Columbus returned from his first voyage to America). One sight we did not glimpse was the Torre Tavira, the highest remaining tower of more than 160 that once stood in this area to watch for returning merchant ships as well as for pirates and other hostiles. Wealthy Cadiz was an obvious target; In 1587 Sir Frances Drake attacked the town, doing enough damage to delay the launch of the Spanish Armada by a year, and 11 years later the British succeeded in burning down the whole city. Cadiz was also the only city in Spain to avoid conquest by Napoleon, and in 1812 Spain’s first liberal constitution (attributing sovereignty to the populace rather than the king) was drafted here. From the ship (in fact from our window) we could see the top of the monument to the 1812 constitution. Unfortunately we didn’t have an opportunity to visit any of these sights in this interesting looking city . . . maybe next time!
As we sailed away from Cadiz there was a Cinco de Mayo party on the Lido deck, with the Lido crew all dressed up in Spanish outfits (even though this is a Mexican holiday). There was a huge vat of paella & other delights, along with colorful signs made of bread. Notable in these pictures is Willie, the friendly supervisor of the Lido crew who was always ready to come dish out ice cream for us every afternoon (an indulgence, yes, but this is a cruise!).
So that was the end of our long and rewarding day in Andalusia. We were leaving Europe & heading for home, but our adventures were not yet over, except for today. I will leave you for this episode with a few fruit & vegetable sculptures and catch up on the towel animals.
On May 2 we sailed into bustling Barcelona for an overnight stay. This was a perfect stop for an overnight since there is so much to see and do here. Really, I don’t think you can do it right in less than a week, but at least we had more than one day here. Barcelona is the capital of the Spanish province of Catalonia, an area with its own separate language and a relatively strong nationalist movement that seeks independence from Spain. It has (you have heard this before) a very long and involved history dating back to Roman times, and was a sea power as part of the kingdom of Aragon in the late middle ages and Renaissance. Our primary focus was the Modernista buildings of architect Antoni Gaudi but we found much more here to catch the eye. The one priority on our list to which you couldn’t realistically walk was Gaudi’s Park Guell, so we decided that on the first day we would use the HOHO (hop on hop off) bus and then stay on foot the second day. This turned out to be a good plan, but not without its unanticipated flaws.
So after breakfast in the Prinsendam restaurant (which makes superb French toast) on our first morning we boarded the shuttle bus that took us to a park at the base of Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian street running up from the harbor to Placa de Catalunya where we would board the HOHO bus. The 12 acre Placa de Catalunya is pretty much the center of town, situated where the old city walls, torn down in the 1850’s, once stood. We walked pretty quickly up Las Ramblas, two narrow streets with a broad pedestrian promenade in the center, lined on both sides with large Sycamores. It was not crowded in the early morning before most of the cafes and vendors’ booths were set up. We boarded the HOHO bus for the ride to La Sagrada Familia, the great church designed by Gaudi that is still under construction after about 130 years.
So what is Modernista, the characteristic architecture of Barcelona? I think after seeing the pictures you will have a feel for that. But basically it is the Catalonian version of Art Nouveau, and was rife in Barcelona from the late 1880’s to the beginning of World War I. It is characterized by curved lines rather than straight lines and square corners; by vivid colors and a variety of materials; by an inspiration from nature and by a lack of symmetry. But more than anything else it is characterized by originality and experimentation. There were a number of well-known and important Modernista architects in Barcelona in that period, but the foremost and best known was Antoni Gaudi. Born in the mid-19th Century, Gaudi was an odd duck: a very rigid conservative and a devout Catholic who designed buildings that look like psychedelic fantasies. My doctor described him as the Dr. Suess architect and I think that’s a pretty good description. He died in 1926 when run over by a streetcar, and recently there has been a movement to have him canonized as a saint.
La Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s final project. It was begun in 1883 and at the time of Gaudi’s death only one of the facades (depicting the Nativity) had been largely completed. Gaudi lived on site for the last decade of his life (I told you he was a bit strange). Construction was halted in the mid 1930’s by the Spanish Civil War and didn’t resume in earnest until the 1950’s. Today two of the three planned facades are pretty much completed (Nativity and Passion), while the main entrance (the Glory façade) is nowhere near completion. The roof was completed in 2010, just in time for the Pope to visit & consecrate it as a Catholic Basilica (it is not a cathedral; we will see the Barcelona Cathedral later). You can see in the pictures that it is still surrounded by cranes and construction areas, but the goal is to complete the building by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. If they make it we hope we are still around and able to come and see it. Even in its current state La Sagrada Familia is nothing short of awesome. When completed it will have a central tower about a hundred feet taller than the current ones that will be topped by a lighted cross that will be visible far out to sea. It will be the tallest church in the world.
There are often long waits in line to get into La Sagrada Familia. You can buy a ticket ahead of time & skip the line, but you have to arrive at a set time of day and we weren’t sure we could do that. So we thought we might not be able to go inside. But upon arrival the line was relatively short, so we only had to wait about 20 minutes to get in, perhaps because it was still early in the tourist season. Anyway, you enter the church through the Passion façade, very severe in aspect, supported by angled pillars meeting in a narrow arch above the entry. On the wall above the door are sculptures representing scenes from Jesus’s last days & his crucifixion. The sculpture was begun in 1987 by a team led by a sculptor born after Gaudi died, so these were not designed by Gaudi although they follow his general plan.
Stepping inside this building is breathtaking. It is lined with pillars modeled on trees with branches at the top that come together in parabolic arches to support the roof. It is a gigantic space; it was very full of people but the space looked very empty because it was so tall. Everywhere you looked there were curved lines, very few straight lines or corners.
Inside the church we were approached by a guy who noticed my hat & told us he was a distant relative of Bob Castellini, the majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds. He said he had been in Europe for a while & asked how the Reds were doing (not too bad at the time). This was somewhat refreshing because in Turkey we had been approached several times by guys who thought my hat was a Chicago Cubs hat (Cubs hats are actually blue with a round C on them, entirely different from a Reds hat). One of them told us we should be rooting for the Blue Jays, which seemed pretty random to us!
The windows of the church are gradually being replaced by stained glass; Gaudi envisioned this as a fairly dark & contemplative space. But there is also a large and bright skylight in the ceiling.
Along the walls are a variety of stonework balconies, walkways & spiral staircases. The walkways have wrought iron railings in twisty designs.
Over the altar in the apse is a hanging figure of Jesus on the cross suspended under a lighted canopy, which made him look like he was hang gliding or skydiving. There is a pipe organ there as well. Eventually there will be several more organs with a total of 8,000 pipes that will be able to be played separately from their own keyboards or linked together so that they can all be played from a single keyboard. Under the altar was a crypt, where Gaudi is entombed (I think; he’s in this church somewhere), which has a chapel. There were windows just above the floor to look down in this space.
We left the building on the other side, through the Nativity façade. This was the one façade completed during Gaudi’s lifetime & under his supervision. It is much friendlier than the Passion façade; its style has been described as “cake left out in the rain” & in fact it does look like the stone is melting and dripping around the sculptures. The theme here is life affirming centered on the birth of Jesus, depicted in the top sculpture over the door. Above the façade is a “tree of life” with doves on it that really looks like a Christmas tree. The main pillars sit on a turtle and a tortoise, representing land and sea life. The sculpture includes musicians, angels, livestock present at Jesus’ birth. And nearby is another tower topped by a fruit basket.
We went around the church to catch the HOHO bus to the next stop on our itinerary, Park Guell, and discovered the biggest flaw in our time management plan: we weren’t the only people who were doing this (who would have guessed?). There was a VERY long line of people waiting for the HOHO bus & we stood in line watching bus after bus leave after boarding only a few people each.
But eventually we did get on a bus (although we had to sit inside instead of on top where there is a great view) & it took us to Park Guell. There was a very steep climb up to the park entrance from the bus stop, but it was well worth it. Built in the first 15 years of the 20th Century, his was originally intended to be part of a housing development for wealthy people that never panned out (only 2 houses were ever built). Guell was an aristocrat who was Gaudi’s most important patron. Most of the most recognizable architecture in the park is concentrated at the entrance.
On each side of the entrance is a building made of brown stone with roofs made of a variety of tiles with a large brown mushroomy object at the top. One of them has blue tower topped by a white cross (that one is the gift shop). They look like gingerbread houses with icing roofs.
The staircase features a number of colorful figures decorated in Gaudi’s signature mosaic style. He is famous for his technique of using broken shards of pottery or tile to make up a colorful and variable surface. The most famous of these staircase decorations is the salamander, called el drac (the dragon) by the locals, copies of which are for sale in most of the gift shops in Barcelona.
Above the stairway is a very large terrace supported by columns. The serpentine concrete bench with wildly varied mosaic decoration that surrounds the terrace is an iconic Gaudi creation. Last year in Lima, Peru we saw a bench wall in a park overlooking the water that was obviously inspired by this bench.
Park Guell is on top of a large hill overlooking the city toward the sea. From the terrace & several other points nearby there were breathtaking views.
On the other side of the terrace is a retaining wall holding up a road higher on the hill. The wall undulates somewhat and overhangs the terrace; I have seen the round structures at the top referred to as birds nests, although I think they really function as planters. There are several similar structures, made to blend with the landscape through the use of local stone and naturalistic design, that support roads intended to service the housing project. There are walkways underneath some of them; we saw some street performers in a couple of those spaces. We also saw Gaudi’s house for the last 20 years of his life (although I understand that during the last 10 years he mostly slept at Sagrada Familia). This was the show house for the project & Gaudi bought it because no one else was interested in moving here.
As you have glimpsed in some of the earlier pictures, the terrace is supported by a colonnade of fluted columns filling the space below the terrace like a forest. The ceiling is made of broken white tile with mosaic medallions between the columns. The view from inside looks down on the gingerbread buildings at the gate. Gaudi expected this to become a covered marketplace.
Finally we left, walking by the outside wall of the park with its mosaic top & another entrance to the park down the street. There also was a wall of intricate tiles (broken but still with coherent patterns) separated by white mosaic that was a little different. We walked back down the steep hill, then waited in the long line for the HOHO bus.
After we finally got on the bus (on top this time, thankfully) we headed for our next stop, Gaudi’s Casa Mila apartment block. But one thing about the HOHO bus is that you have to go through its entire circular route to get back to the beginning (no back and forth routes). This took a while, but it gave us a chance to see a lot more of Barcelona from the top of the bus. We saw a lot of interesting buildings you probably wouldn’t see elsewhere. I can’t identify most of them but we did drive past the Guell Pavilions built by Gaudi in the 1880’s. Its most famous feature (at least to me) is the iron dragon gate at the entrance.
Throughout the city are buildings (presumably residential) with interesting iron balconies, even if little else distinguishes them. This helps give the city a pleasant ambiance since there is always something new and interesting to see even on blocks lined with rows of apartment buildings.
We left the HOHO bus near the Casa Mila, a few blocks north of Placa Catalunya, to walk the rest of the way to the shuttle bus stop on the harbor. Casa Mila was an innovative building (for example, the first with underground parking) Gaudi finished in 1912. A large apartment building with undulating lines & curvy balconies with intricate iron railings, it is known locally as “La Pedrera” (the Quarry). It was very controversial at the time. Gaudi ignored city height limits and other regulations, which resulted in a drawn-out battle over fines and other administrative interference. When it was completed many of the neighbors were so incensed by what they considered an eyesore that would reduce their property values that they refused to speak to the owner, Mila, when passing on the street. Today it is, along with several other Gaudi buildings, a Unesco World Heritage site. In addition to the building’s innovative designs, the roof is in effect a sculpture garden populated with distinctive air vents and smoke stacks. One can visit the inside and the rooftop, but it is fairly expensive and the line was long. As it was getting late we did not take the time for a tour (next time!).
We walked a little way down the Passeig de Gracia to the Casa Batllo, another Gaudi creation. This building originally dates from 1877 but was completely refurbished by Gaudi in 1906 (the year the Casa Milo was begun). It reputedly represents the story of St. George & the dragon: the roof supposedly represents the dragon’s scaled & undulating back & the tower on the left with the cross represents St. George’s lance sticking into the dragon. Be that as it may, the building is completely unique, with multicolored pottery pieces giving the walls an impressionist cast & hardly a straight line in the whole building. Of all the Gaudi works we saw in Barcelona, this strikes me as the one that would be most at home in a Dr. Seuss book. Tours are available of this building as well, but again the long lines & late hour induced us to skip that. So much to come back for!
Casa Batllo is part of the Block of Discard, so called because it contains contrasting buildings by several of the more important Modernista architects. Next to Casa Batllo is the Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, which has a Flemish step roof façade and a bright yellow color. Next is the Casa Bonet, then Casa Mulleras and on the corner the Casa Lleó-Morera by Lluís Domènech.
We continued walking down Passeig de Gracia to Placa de Catalunya, passing several interesting buildings I can’t identify. I was particularly taken with a large building with a very bright orange turreted roof across the square from the Placa on the north. In the park is a fairly spectacular fountain, complete with statuary.
We walked down Las Ramblas (I will save all the Las Ramblas pictures to show at once) toward our last Gaudi landmark, the Palau Guell. But on the way we stopped for a gelato! Mmmm.
Refreshed, we walked on to Palau Guell, one of Gaudi’s early works built mostly in the late 1880’s. It is on a narrow street, so pictures of the roof were not possible and we did not take the tour for reasons discussed earlier. It is very colorful and original, particularly for such an early date. The 2 large parabolic doors in the front with detailed iron work were to allow a horse & carriage to enter through one door and exit through the other. The doors led to the stable & guests would then walk up a flight of stairs to the living quarters. Between the doors is a large iron decoration that represents the Catalan coat of arms, a patriotic statement.
Tired but happy, we went back to the ship for dinner. After dinner was a performance by an impressive group of local musicians and dancers. Pretty compelling stuff, and a good time was had by all. Afterward we walked out on deck for a night view of the harbor, and then to bed.
The second day in Barcelona would be a short day since the ship was scheduled to depart at 4:30 & we had to be back to the shuttle well before then. Our plan was to go first to the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), which is the old town of Barcelona, to see the Cathedral, then have breakfast at an outdoor café, then go to the Picasso museum, which is just beyond the Gothic Quarter. After that we wanted to do some shopping, since this was our last free day on the continent, at the market on Las Ramblas. Great plan for using our time except for one thing: there were other folks in town. In fact, several very large cruise ships arrived that morning with the result that we encountered many more tour groups than we had the day before. So, as I have said several times before, we will have to come back!
But that doesn’t mean the day was wasted. We started off fairly early toward the Gothic Quarter & the Cathedral. The first thing we came to was the Columbus statue on its extremely high column (almost 200 feet) at the beginning of Las Ramblas. Barcelona was the place where Columbus docked on returning from his first voyage to America (because Ferdinand & Isabella happened to be there at the time). Erected in 1888, it’s a pretty impressive monument, very tall and elaborate, and can be seen a long way away. It was being cleaned (or something) while we were there, so there were ropes & even a brightly colored covering for a worker on Columbus’s back. It reminded me of Gulliver tied down with the Lilliputians’ tiny ropes.
We walked through the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross & St. Eulalia, usually just called the Barcelona Cathedral. There has been a cathedral on this spot for many hundreds of years but the current structure was built in the 14th and 15th Centuries (with the Neo-Gothic façade completed in the 19th). St. Eulalia, one of the patron saints of Barcelona (who is interred in this cathedral), is said to have been martyred by the Romans here, supposedly by being rolled down a hill in a barrel with knives sticking into it. The first part we came to was the cloisters, with a pool in the center, gargoyles on the walls & a nice view of the the tower of the cathedral. Wealthy merchants were buried in the floor so they could be close to the cathedral. It has been populated for hundreds of years by a gaggle of 13 white geese, said to represent Eulalia’s virginity & her age when martyred. They also served a security function since they would make a loud fuss if anyone entered at night. There are several gated chapels in the cloisters, the most popular dedicated to St. Rita, the patron saint of impossible causes.
We had to walk around to the front of the cathedral, facing a large square, to enter. The interior is quite majestic with a very high ceiling supported by pillars and the whole space bathed in a golden light. In the center was the elaborately carved wood and stone choir with wooden spiral peaks topped with crosses all along the top of its wall. After viewing the cathedral we had a continental breakfast at a sidewalk café across the square.
After breakfast we headed to the Picasso Museum. Picasso lived in Barcelona as a young man & this museum is reputed to have the best collection in the world from Picasso’s early years. It was harder to find than we expected (its in a sort of alley) so we walked some through the interesting Gothic Quarter, with its narrow streets, hidden plazas & old buildings. We found the street lights particularly interesting in this area. In fact, there is a great variety of interesting styles of street lamps throughout Barcelona; there are even a couple designed by Gaudi somewhere, although we didn’t see them. A very common sight is the Catalan flag flying from buildings, reflecting (I assume) secessionist views. During the Franco regime display of the Catalan flag was forbidden, so instead they flew the flag of the Barcelona soccer team which has a similar design.
When we finally found the Picasso Museum we discovered the second major flaw in our time management plan. There was a very long line waiting to get in, stretching far down the narrow street. This was partly the result of several very large cruise ships arriving over night; we saw many more organized tour groups than we had on the first day, often crowding the narrow streets and making it difficult to get by. So it turned out we should have come here first thing in the morning since it was not difficult to get into the cathedral. We waited in line for almost half an hour but the line had hardly moved, so we reluctantly moved on since we still had some shopping to do & a midafternoon deadline for returning to the ship.
Our next stop was the Palau de la Música Catalana, a concert hall opened in 1908. Designed by Modernista architect Lluís Domènech, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The exterior of the Palau de la Musica is a fabulous mixture of form and color, with mosaic columns, busts of composers, sculpted stone reliefs and very few straight lines. It is located at the intersection of two narrow streets and surrounded by mostly nondescript buildings, making it very difficult to get a view of the building as a whole; it really deserves a better setting. It turned out there was a long wait before an English tour that we could join, so we didn’t get to see the inside of this building. This was unfortunate because the concert hall itself is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world, featuring a huge stained glass skylight in the middle of its ceiling. So, once again our time management plan came up short and we added another reason to return to Barcelona. I did manage to get a couple of pictures through the window of the vestibule, behind the wide red pillars surrounding the original entrance to the concert hall. Notice the tiny ticket window in one of the pillars.
In the 1980’s the building was restored and an adjacent building,formerly the headquarters of the Orfeo Catala, a choral society that originally financed the concert hall, was redesigned to house dressing rooms, a library & an archive. It has a brick façade which is carved into a relief of a tree going up the whole six stories. Visitors now mostly enter through the foyer, located in the first floor of this building, which also has tables and a bar serving refreshments to concert patrons. It is decorated in a style consistent with the concert hall.
As I mentioned we had some shopping we wanted to do, so we hustled over to the main market on Las Ramblas, the Mercat St. Josep. Unfortunately it turned out to be exclusively a food market. So there was another flaw in our time management plan (they are adding up, aren’t they). But even though there was nothing there for us to buy & take home, it was a very colorful place that was fun to explore, with aisle after aisle of kiosks.
We walked down Las Ramblas & had a late lunch at a sidewalk café. But before we get to that, this is a good place to show some of what can be seen while strolling Las Ramblas (in addition to the Mercat). As you can see, it is a wide pedestrian promenade shaded by Sycamores (called plane trees in Europe) lining each side. Outside the trees on each side is a narrow street with buildings on the outside of the streets. It runs from the Placa Catalunya at the top of the hill down to the Columbus column at the bottom. The walkway is constructed in a wavy pattern from side to side. During the day it is full of sidewalk cafes and kiosks selling flowers, gelato and other sundry items. Smack in the middle is a round abstract sidewalk decoration created by Miro, a Barcelona native (there is a Miro museum here, which we didn’t get to see . . . on this trip). A genuine original work of art by a modern master, folks walk over it without even looking, as if it were just a sidewalk. Across the street from the Miro is the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the city’s opera house. Built in 1847, the building has been restored twice after extensive fires. One of our favorite sights on this street was a wonderful dragon carrying an umbrella & a lantern that was hanging on the corner of a building that once was an umbrella factory. There are other interesting buildings all along this street, and at the bottom is, of course, our old friend Columbus (still in chains) & across the street the port headquarters in the old customs building. This is considered one of the great streets of Europe, and with good reason.
We stopped for lunch in a sidewalk café near the opera house called Café de L’Opera. We shared a large pizza with jambon (ham is a Barcelona specialty) & each had a beer. It was very good & the huge beer was served in a glass that looked like a globe. We were a little taken aback when the bill came, as it added up to about $50! I think a good part of that was to pay for the privilege of sitting in a prime spot on Las Ramblas, and we did enjoy that quite a bit. But by the time we finished it was too late to get a gelato & we had to hurry down to the shuttle bus stop at the port end of the street, which was more challenging than it should have been because of all the food & beer we had just finished. But we made it onto the next-to-last shuttle bus & back to the ship on time. As you can probably tell by the length of this episode, delightful Barcelona was truly one of the highlights of the trip.
We visited these two islands on April 30 & May 1. But before getting to them I am going to introduce you to our last set of table mates, who all boarded in Rome & were with us until we reached Fort Lauderdale. It was a diverse group judging by residence: Linda & Doug live in Waco, Texas; Tish & John live on Long Island; Anne & Jim live in the Bahamas. We were lucky again to have a table full of interesting & enjoyable people, a circumstance that can really make a difference on a cruise, and we had a very good time together. One of these pictures was taken by Doug, for obvious reasons. It was formal night or we wouldn’t have been dressed like that!
So as I said before, we arrived off Alghero, Sardinia (Italy) on the morning of April 30. Unfortunately, the captain decided the sea was too rough to tender ashore so we didn’t get to visit the town. It was misty & the sea wasn’t entirely calm, but it didn’t look that bad to me, but of course it was not my decision to make and if I were responsible for the well-being of all these folks I might look at it differently. I guess if we had to miss one I would rather it be Alghero than Rome or Athens, but we were disappointed because Sardinia is a place we might never get back to. Anyway, all I have is pictures from the ship. The first two were taken before we reached Alghero & I thought they were of islands or remote cliffs, but it turns out that at least one of them (the second one) was of a place called Capo Caccia not far from Alghero, which is an area full of underwater and partially submerged caves, the most famous of which is called Neptune’s Grotto.
On May 1 we arrived at Mahon, the capital of Spanish Menorca (or Minorca) in the Balearic Islands. Today this is essentially a resort town, but it has a very long & involved history. The city is thought to have been named after Hannibal’s brother Mago Barca who took refuge here in the 3rd Century BC. It has been part of the Roman & Byzantine empires, ruled by the Moors of Spain & the French, and was independent for a period as well. Looking at this placid waterside city you would never guess that it more than once it has been plundered and its entire population slaughtered or sold into slavery, once in the 16th Century by the pirate Barbarossa (“red beard”) operating under the auspices of the Ottomans. Many of its citizens are descendants of Catalans who settled here while Menorca was under the rule of the kingdom of Aragon in Spain, & Catalan is the primary language here. The island was ruled by the British during most of the 18th Century & Mahon still displays its legacy of Georgian architecture. Mahon is also reputedly the birthplace of of the salad dressing called mayonnaise.
Right next to the ship was the grand staircase & S-shaped road that are the main entrance to Mahon from the dock. It was a steep climb but we made it up OK.
At the top of the stairway is a large attractive plaza, Placa Espanya. One can look down from there on the cliffs & stairway & harbor. On one side is the 18th Century Iglesia del Carme, which I think is a cathedral. Unfortunately we were there on Spanish Labor Day so most things were closed, including this church. In fact the whole city seemed pretty abandoned. But in the old cloisters of the church is a marketplace called Mercat del Claustre del Carme that was open, although pretty quiet because of the holiday. There was a nice large courtyard surrounded by the church & the market in which movies are shown on summer nights.
Not far away, just beyond the other side of Placa Espanya, is the Church of Santa Maria. It was built in the 13th Century & renovated during the British occupation in the 18th Century. It is a nice church, but its best feature is its pipe organ, sporting 4 keyboards and more than 3,000 pipes, which was transported precariously across war-torn Europe in 1810. There are organ concerts in the summer but not when we were there.
We walked around town for a while. The Georgian architecture is less than exciting, although I have read that this is the only place in Spain where you will see it. The streets were pretty devoid of life, apart from Prinsendam folks wandering around like we were. We did see the Teatro, or opera house, looking rather plain from the outside although it supposed to be opulent on the inside (yes, it was closed). And we saw the Puerto de San Roque, a 14th century gate to the city that is all that is left of the walls built to protect the city from pirates and invaders.
We walked to an overlook on the edge of the cliff near our ship, beneath which was a narrow road that zigzags down to the port level below.
Having seen enough of this pleasant but unexciting town, we walked back down the stairway, noticing the nice fauna by the cliffs on the way, and had a late lunch on the ship.
We left in late afternoon. Mahan’s harbor is 3 miles long & is the second deepest natural harbor in the world. It was one of the most important, and most fought over, harbors in the Mediterranean for many hundreds of years. Sailing through it feels more like being on a wide river than in a harbor. On its shores are military fortresses, wealthy homes, waterfront housing developments and a good bit of scenery.
We passed by Hospital Island on which sits one of the oldest Royal Navy hospitals in the world, built early in the 18th Century & used until 1964. In the 13th Century King Alphonso III landed on this island to begin his successful campaign to take Minorca from the Moors. We also saw Illa del Llatzeret on which is a large fortified quarantine hospital built in the 18th Century. This was a peninsula until about 1900 when a canal was dug to turn it into an island so it would be more difficult for infectious patients to escape. The hospital closed in 1917. We also saw Fortaleza del Mola, built by Spain in the 19th Century to defend the harbor. Actually, a hilltop fortress is visible in several of these pictures that may be different views of Fortaleza del Mola. Finally we sailed by the steep rocky cliffs at the mouth of the harbor & into the Mediterranean.
This was our last night with Kiki, who had been our waiter at dinner (and often at breakfast) since we left Fort Lauderdale. He is a delightful fellow, quick with a quip and a smile, whose company we really enjoyed. He really made a difference for us on this lengthy cruise. He was leaving the ship in Barcelona for a well deserved vacation at home with his wife and lovely baby daughter. We hope he had a wonderful time & that we will meet him again on a future sailing.
That’s pretty much it for our stay in Menorca, which was more about relaxing than sightseeing. But Barcelona is next, which will not be like that at all. We haven’t had any towel animals or food sculptures in a while, so I will leave you with a few of those.
We arrived in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, on the morning of April 29. Unlike our last few ports, this one involved intense sightseeing rather than lovely vistas. There is so much to see in Rome that you can’t do more than touch a few high points in a one day visit, particularly when you have to factor in about 1.5 hours each way in a bus between the port and the city. To top it off the ship was leaving before dinner time, so getting back before its departure was an issue. For all these reasons we decided to take a HAL excursion, which was more expensive than it ought to have been but still well worth it (after all, who knows when/if we will get back to Rome?). While there was a lot that we would have liked to see but didn’t, it was amazing to us how much one could see in this short time. Inevitably, there are a lot of pictures in this episode taken through a bus window as we drove by places where we didn’t stop, but the sights we did get to visit were all very satisfying.
There really isn’t much to see in Civitavecchia, which doesn’t seem to be much more than the busy port for Rome, which is some 45 miles away. There are some Renaissance era fortifications, including an imposing fort designed by Michelangelo, but not much else to see.
Rome, of course, was the capital of the dominant empire of ancient times, controlling most of the Mediterranean area from about 100 BC to 200 AD. It was founded in the 7th or 8th Century BC, either by the Trojan prince Aeneas fleeing the disaster of the Trojan war (he must have been old since the Trojan War was a few centuries earlier), or by the twins Romulus & Remus who were suckled by a wolf, or by a slow process of several villages on neighboring hills growing together into a single city. The first two are more literary but the last one is most likely true. I will skip discussing its history here since it is readily available & most people have already learned about it in school, except when relevant to the places we visited.
We left early on the bus and arrived first at the Vatican for a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. Established by a 1929 treaty with Mussolini, the Vatican is an independent sovereign state wholly enclosed by the city of Rome, the smallest state in the world. Interestingly, although St. Peter’s is the largest of all churches in the world it is not a cathedral. Cathedral is defined as the seat of a bishop, and the seat of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) Is the Church of St. John Lateran, not St. Peter’s.
Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the 4th Century AD, built the first church here because it is traditionally considered the place of burial of the Apostle St. Peter, who was also the first bishop of Rome. The current structure was built in the 16th and 17th Centuries and many other Popes have been buried here over the centuries. The dome on top is the tallest in the world and is visible from a distance (although not from directly in front of the church). It is illegal to erect a building in Rome that is taller than this dome.
The vast open space in front of the Basilica is bordered by long colonnades on each side, with numerous sculptures lining their tops as well as the top of the façade of the Basilica itself. In this courtyard there are two fairly lavish fountains, a 13th Century BC Egyptian obelisk with a cross on top, and huge statues of St. Peter and St. Paul. The obelisk was once in the Circus of Nero that was in this area & is thought to have been a witness to the martyrdom of St. Peter there. Oh yes, there were a whole lot of people there as well, even though it was morning and not yet tourist season (although far fewer than in the summer months). Our guide told us they were getting an unusually large number of visitors this Spring because of the election a month earlier of a very popular new Pope. As a result we had a very long wait (close to an hour); there is no line or charge to get into the Basilica (how refreshing after all the fee charging churches we had seen) but you have to go through a metal detector security check first & that was very slow & backed up. Many visitors apparently felt they were not bound to follow the church rules & simply cut in near the head of the line, making the wait that much longer for the rest of us, but no one was there to stop them.
Having finally finished the security check we headed for the massive entrance to the church. It was framed by huge pillars and bronze doors with pictures; one set was made in the 15th Century and was part of the original basilica and another was made in the 20th Century. Stepping into this massive interior space is pretty awesome.
Our first stop inside was at Michelangelo’s Pieta. Michelangelo was only 24 when he sculpted this masterpiece & it was only his 3d sculpture. After a deranged guy caused some serious damage to it in 1972 they repaired it, mostly with the pieces that had been hammered off although Mary’s nose is entirely new, & surrounded it with bulletproof glass. There was a crowd around it and you couldn’t get close, but the glass is so clear you wouldn’t know from the pictures that it is there at all.
The ceilings of the basilica are (if I understand correctly) carved stucco decorated with gold leaf. To give an idea of the scale of the building, the words on the gold ribbon at the top of the walls are more than 6 feet tall. There are several smaller domes in the church which appear to be oval in my pictures, but I think that may be a result of camera angle and that they are actually round. They are decorated inside by what looks like frescoes but are actually mosaics. In fact there are very few paintings in St. Peter’s (our guide said there are none but I have since read about a couple of very small ones); all of the large pictures that are actually mosaics executed with such tiny glass tiles that you really have to get close to see that they are not paintings. Many of them are mosaic copies of important paintings however.
We walked on past several tombs of popes, many of whom are entombed here, and innumerable statues of saints, martyrs & popes in niches in the marble walls. In the center of the church, directly under the primary dome, is the Baldachin created by the sculptor Bernini in the early 17th Century to mark the spot where St. Peter’s remains are thought to be. It is a gigantic bronze canopy covering the altar, on which only the Pope is allowed to celebrate mass.. Although it doesn’t look outsize in the context of this space, it is actually 96 feet high (more than 10 stories if it were a building). Most (if not all) of the more than 100,000 pounds of bronze used to build it was looted from the roof of the Pantheon (which we will see later). Its helical pillars were copied from the marble pillars supporting a canopy in the original St. Peter’s; they are called “Solomonic pillars” because the originals were thought to have come from the Temple in Jerusalem, but in fact they were made in the 2d Century AD, probably in Greece. In the large picture below two of the original pillars can be seen on the balcony on the left. The top of the Baldachin is designed to look like the cloth canopy that was on the original in the old church.
In the apse behind the Baldachin is the Cathedra Petri, also by Bernini. It was built as a reliquary for a chair long thought to have been used by St. Peter, but which actually appears to have been a gift from Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII in 875. The chair is encased in the object at the center of the structure, which is chair shaped if you see it in person. The chair holder has a gilded picture of Jesus giving the keys to St. Peter & the elaborate gilded gloria above is carved stucco covered in gold. The light in the middle is from a pre-existing window in the wall that Bernini effectively incorporated by including a yellow alabaster window in the gloria that lets in the outside light. The dove in the window represents the Holy Spirit & the chair is supported by sculptures of four “Doctors of the Church.”
Above the Baldachin is, of course, Michelangelo’s great dome. On the outside it is the tallest dome in the world and on the inside it rises almost 400 feet from the floor. It is filled with mosaics designed by Michelangelo. The inscription at the top memorializes the pope at the time of its completion rather than the artist who designed it: “To the glory of St. Peter, Pope Sixtus V in the year 1590, fifth of his pontificate.”
Each of the four massive supports of the dome displays a sculpture of an individual associated with an important relic that lies below it. Here is St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, who is considered the finder of the True Cross, a fragment of which lies below her sculpture. Here also is a picture of people standing by the base of one of the columns of the Baldachin, which gives you a better idea of its scale. The relief on the base of the column is the coat of arms of Pope Urban VIII.
So then we headed back toward the door, walking through several side chapels. The floors of the church were beautiful inlaid marble. I think the bronze door through which we exited is the one made in the 20th Century & that the picture to the left is Pope John XXIII bowing before the martyred St. Peter.
As we left the Basilica and headed for (yes) the Vatican souvenir store, which thankfully had a restroom & some cold water, we passed the Swiss Guards on duty by the church. Very colorful.
Leaving the Vatican, our bus headed for the Colosseum, our next stop. To get there we crossed the Tiber River and drove past Trajan’s Column & an architectural site that shows how the current city street level is about 25 feet higher than it was in classical times. Trajan’s column is hollow & has one of the first spiral staircases inside it. It originally had a statue of Trajan on top but a statue of St. Peter has been there close to 500 years. The reliefs spiraling up the sides portray Trajan’s military engagements with the Dacians, who lived in roughly the same area as modern Romania.
The Colosseum was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD. Its elliptical design was derived by combining two amphitheaters. It could hold about 55,000 spectators, all admitted free of charge, for the gladiatorial combats & wild animal fights that were its stock in trade. We were told, however, that contrary to popular belief Christians were martyred in the Circus Maximus and not in the Colosseum, which wasn’t built until after Nero’s reign. Originally called the Flavian Amphitheater (Vespasian was the first of the Flavian dynasty), it is thought to have obtained the name Colosseum after a colossal statue of Nero, some 30 yards tall, that stood nearby.
Only about a third of the original structure is still there. It was damaged by earthquakes, but mostly it was used as a quarry for already-cut stone, a large portion of which was used to build St. Peter’s Basilica. The stone blocks used to build the outer walls were fitted together without mortar and connected by iron pegs. In the pictures immediately above you can see the walls covered with pockmarks, which were made by people drilling into the walls to extract the iron pegs. We entered the Colosseum through the outer arched passage while the guide explained that the crowd flow was so well managed by the system of entrances and passageways that the entire stadium could be emptied of its 55,000 spectators in just 15 minutes.
The Colosseum was constructed on the inside mostly of concrete and brick. When the Empire disintegrated in the 4th & 5th Centuries AD the secret of making concrete was lost and not rediscovered until the Renaissance. Quite a lot of the brickwork evident today in the building was added in the 19th Century in an effort to prop up what was left of the structure. Its not too hard to tell the modern from the ancient brickwork.
The floor of the Colosseum was a huge wooden platform covered with sand. Beneath this floor was a two story complex of animal cages, gladiator rooms, storage rooms and hallways. It was outfitted with elevators, operated by winches, that could raise animal cages to arena level. where they would suddenly appear in dramatic fashion. Archers stood by at all times just in case an animal escaped.
The archways and structures of the building provide some nice views. And, oh yes, Mary & I were both there!
Right next to the Colosseum is the impressive Arch of Constantine. It was built in 315 (the last of the triumphal arches) to commemorate his victory in a battle against a rival for the Imperial crown. It was before this battle that Constantine is supposed to have seen a vision of the cross, which led him to legalize Christianity when he then won the battle (Constantine himself did not become a Christian until he was on his deathbed, if then, although his mother and wife were Christians). Most of the decorations on this arch were actually scavenged from earlier monuments, in particular statues and reliefs relating to the campaigns against the Dacians which, we have already learned here, were actually conducted by Trajan. Even so, it is well worth examination.
Near the Colosseum we passed an elaborate marble gate to the Palatine Hill, where the Emperors had their palaces (the word palace actually derives from Palatine). Actually, the inscription says it is the gate to the Farnese Gardens, built in the 16th Century by Alessandro Farnese, whose grandfather Pope Paul III made him an Archbishop at the mature age of 14. A little later we drove by the edges of the Palatine hill, where we saw what is left of the Circus Maximus (not much) & the palaces of Augustus & Septimus Severus. We also saw Roman soldiers outside the Colosseum who I am told will let you take their picture for a steep fee.
On the opposite side of Constantine’s Arch from the Colosseum was the Via Sacra (on which processions were held) leading to the Arch of Titus & behind it the Forum. The Arch of Titus was erected in 82 AD to commemorate the Emperor Domitian’s deceased brother Titus and his Palestinian victory in 70 AD. Inside the arch is a well known relief showing Roman soldiers carrying away the contents of the Temple they destroyed, notably a large menorah, but we didn’t see that since our tour did not go to the Forum. To the right of the Arch in the picture is a row of columns from the Temple of Venus & Roma in the Forum, which we glimpsed as we drove by some of the Forum in the bus. Built by Hadrian, this large temple had statues representing the love goddess Venus & the city of Rome sitting back to back. It has been suggested that this was a bit of humorous wordplay by Hadrian, since the word for love was “amor,” which is Roma spelled backward, & the goddesses were sitting back to back. I doubt it, but it’s a clever point. We also saw the Basilica of Julia (the Roman legal courts) and the Temple of Saturn on our drive by the Forum.The Basilica was originally built with spoils from Caesar’s Gallic wars, but was burned down & rebuilt several times before its final destruction by the Visigoths when they sacked Rome in 410 AD. Later in the day we drove past the 4th Century Arch of Janus (a name it was given about 1,000 years later), which is not in the Forum but is the only four sided arch still extant in Rome.
After a long morning we stopped to eat at a very nice restaurant where we had a delicious lasagna lunch. On the way there our guide pointed out the pink American Embassy.
After lunch we walked to the Trevi Fountain. Built in the 18th Century on the site of the terminus of an ancient Roman aqueduct, the fountain is about half as long as a football field. Its central figure is Neptune, flanked by two Tritons with seahorses (half horse half fish). There is a tradition that if you throw a coin in this fountain (over your left shoulder with your back to the fountain) you will be sure to return to Rome. This was featured in the movies Roman Holiday and Three Coins In A Fountain. Lots of people must believe it, since the fountain collects about 120,000 Euros a year for charity. Our guide stopped us about a block away and told us to take out any coins we want to throw in the fountain before we got there, because this square is always frequented by thieves & pickpockets.
At this point we were given about an hour of free time to go where we liked & meet back at the fountain. There had been a very interesting lecture on board by an Architecture professor about the Pantheon so we decided to walk down and see that. It was not a short walk but it was a nice one through several squares with sidewalk cafes and street artists and across one of the main drags, Via Del Corso.
The Pantheon sits on a square called Piazza della Rotundo. First built in 27 BC by Augustus’s son in law Marcus Agrippa, the original building burned down and was completely rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in the early 2d Century AD. Showing a humility unusual in a Roman Emperor, Hadrian (who may have helped design the building) kept on the new building an attribution to the original builder: “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucio, three times consul made this.” It sounds like Agrippa may not have been so modest. As its name suggests, this was originally built as a shrine to all of the Olympian gods. But at the end of the 6th Century it was consecrated as a church, which saved it from the kind of destructive looting that was applied to other ancient buildings like the Colosseum (although we have noted that the bronze roof was recycled at St. Peter’s & the gold leaf that originally adorned the interior of the dome was also taken by a Byzantine Emperor). As a result, this is the best preserved building from ancient Rome. I remember visiting it in 1970 and not being impressed, but looking back I think that was because it wasn’t a ruin so it didn’t seem as authentic (and really I didn’t know anything about it at that time). Only when one gets older does one realize how stupid he was when young!
The portico is Greek in style. Those 40 foot long granite pillars are single pieces of stone, quarried in Egypt, unlike the Greek pillars that were made of round blocks stacked on top of each other. The main building is exactly as tall as it is wide (142 feet) & its shape is designed as a sphere inside a cylinder. We were told that this dome is, even today, the largest concrete dome in the world, but it looks less impressive than others on the outside because much of it is hidden by the cylinder. As you can see from the pictures above, the dome isn’t even visible from the front of the building. In the pizza in front of the building is a 16th Century fountain topped by an obelisk originally built by Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II for the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis.
From the inside the dome is much more magnificent. It was made by pouring concrete into a wooden mold. It is more than 20 feet thick at the base and tapers to less than 5 feet at the top. The coffered pattern in the ceiling makes the structure much lighter by reducing the amount of concrete without reducing the strength of the dome. The opening in the top, some 30 feet in diameter, further reduces the weight of the dome and is also the only source of light in the building (other than the front door when it is open). Of course this opening also lets in the rain, so the beautiful marble floor has holes under the opening and also slants down toward the sides to permit the water to drain.
The opening in the dome cast a dramatic spotlight on the walls that moved as the sun travelled across the sky.
The walls were covered with a pink marble pattern including pedimented decorative windows, framed panels & columns.
As mentioned before, this is a church. It has a very nice altar integrated into the niche directly across from the entrance. And several favored people are entombed here, notably two kings of Italy (and Queen Margherita of Italy after whom the pizza is named) as well as the great Renaissance artist Raphael.
Well, there was a little time left before we had to be back at the Trevi Fountain, so we decided to push on for a quick look at the Piazza Navona which appeared to be nearby. To be more accurate I wanted to see the Piazza Navona & Mary was more worried about getting back in time. It was a longer walk than I had expected & we got lost enough that we asked a policeman for directions. By the time we arrived at this gigantic piazza there was only time for a very quick walk through. The Piazza Navona is very long and narrow because it used to be a racetrack. The Domitian Stadium was built here in the 1st Century AD & held 33,000 spectators. Considered by many Rome’s best Baroque area, the piazza has three outstanding Baroque fountains and the Church of Saint Agnes on one side in the middle. We entered the piazza on one end where we encountered the 16th Century Fountain of the Moor, containing a Bernini sculpture added later. We walked up to the center of the piazza where Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers sits in front of the Church. This is considered one of Bernini’s masterpieces. The base displays sculptures representing four prominent rivers in the continents then subject to papal influence: the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Rio d la Plata in South America (visited last year in Uruguay & Argentina). On top is yet another obelisk, this one dating only from First Century Rome.
Have I mentioned it was getting late? So we hurried back as best we could (the route was a little confusing). We never found a public library in Rome, but on the way back to the Trevi Fountain we stopped briefly to look at a lovely little fountain just for bibliophiles that we happened to encounter. It was built in 1927 in the wall of what is now the national archives & commemorates a university that once was here. I was also interested by what appears to be a water pipe cover with the ancient designation “S.P.Q.R.” that the Romans carried into battle (standing for Senatus Populusque Romanus or “Senate and People of Rome").
Well, we made it back before our group left the Trevi Fountain, although we were the last ones back. Sadly, we didn’t have time to buy a gelato from the vendor there as we had planned, but I think I would trade a gelato for the Piazza Navona any day. We got back on the bus & drove to the Piazza Venezia where the gigantic Monument to Victor Emmanuele II, the first king of Italy, stands to glorify the unified nation. The equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuele at its center is almost 40 feet long; his mustache alone is 5 feet long. This monument has always been controversial, not only because many consider it an outsized eyesore (Romans sometimes call it “the wedding cake” or “the typewriter”), but because part of the Capitoline Hill and a medieval neighborhood were cleared to build it in the first decade of the 20th Century. Across the piazza is the 15th Century Palazzo Venezia which served as Mussolini’s headquarters. It was from the window pictured below that Mussolini harangued the crowds, making more than 60 speeches from that spot.
From here we walked behind the monument for a brief look at the Cordonato, Michelangelo’s stairway leading up to the Capitoline Hill. This was Rome’s first citadel and its center of government. It was redone during the Renaissance pursuant to a design by Michelangelo. Surrounding the square on top of the hill today are the Capitoline museums on each side & the Palazzio Senatorio, which is now the mayor’s office. In the center of the square on top of the hill is a bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (actually a copy, the original is in the museum). This is the only equestrian statue to survive from ancient Rome & the only reason it wasn’t recycled like the rest is because it was erroneously believed that this was Christian hero Constantine the Great. On either side of the bottom of the stairway is a granite Egyptian Lion spouting water & at the top are statues of Castor & Pollux, considered the protectors of ancient Rome after they appeared to assist the Romans in an important early battle and then appeared again in the Forum to announce the victory. All four of these statues were dug up in pieces then fitted back together, as you can plainly see on the lion below; the head of Castor was entirely new since the didn’t find the original, and is a copy of the head on the Pollux statue. Unfortunately, it was getting late and we didn’t have time to walk up to the square, so all we have are pictures from below the staircase.
That was it for Rome. We climbed back on the bus for the long drive back to the Prinsendam in Civitavecchia. To get there we passed through the massive city walls of Rome & drove past the Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls, which was built over what is thought to be the grave of St. Paul (actually just his body is supposed to be here, since his head is in St. John Lateran). The first church was built on this spot by Constantine in the 4th Century, but it has been destroyed & rebuilt several times, the most recent at the turn of the 20th Century. Still, it is considered a faithful rendering of what was there before & has many artifacts from the old Basilica. Of course we didn’t see any of them because we just glimpsed the building through the woods as our bus flew by.
One last note of importance (at least to us). All of our companions at the “fun table” at dinner left the cruise in Rome. They had all boarded in Istanbul and you can see their jolly pictures in that episode, so I won’t put them here again. It is always sad when good friends depart, but in Rome we got a whole new set of table mates who also proved to be interesting & congenial. But this has been a very long posting, so I think I will wait until the next episode (much shorter, I assure you) to post their pictures. So that was the end of our visit to Italy, a very rich and rewarding portion of the cruise.
Sorrento is just on the other side of the Bay of Naples, so it was a short hop for Prinsendam and we arrived early on the morning of April 28. Founded by the Greeks, it was named after the Sirens in the Odyssey who failed to lure Odysseus to crash his ship into the cliffs supposedly on this spot. Thinking they had lost their powers (he had actually tricked them) they committed suicide by throwing themselves on the rocks, which made this area habitable.
The previous day in Naples, with touring Pompeii in the rain, had been pretty tiring so we decided to make Sorrento a leisurely stop, particularly since there wasn’t anything there we felt we had to see. This worked out great, since we had a nice day and Sorrento is a nice small (16,000) city for just walking around & soaking up the ambience. So we started the day by sleeping a little later & having a leisurely breakfast in the main restaurant, then we went out on deck for some pictures & took the tender to Marina Piccola, the (yes) tiny port at the bottom of the cliffs on which the city is situated.
Fortunately, HAL had a shuttle bus to take us up the hill to Tasso Square, which is the center of town, because it is a steep climb. This was a very nice plaza, with several large outdoor cafes & a statue of St. Antonino (St. Anthony), the local patron saint whose relics are in a basilica near the statue, in the middle of the street. But the best thing is that this square was built over a large gorge that cut in through the cliffs from the sea. Before this plaza was built in the 19th Century the gorge divided the city, so the part of the city to the right is the ancient Greek city while the part to the left (beyond St. Antonino) was farmland before the square was built, There are buildings sitting precariously on the edge of the gorge with great views. I tried going into the gardens of one but was politely informed that this was private property and I was not welcome. Hmpf!
We walked on toward the Via Santa Maria della Pieta, a street built several centuries BC. We went into the courtyard of the Palazzo Correale, said to be typical of 18th Century aristocrats. We also saw a small shrine to Mary, closed but you could see the picture and flowers through the door. There is supposed to be a 13th Century palace on this block as well but we must have walked right by it, not noticing anything that looked palace-like.
Next we came to the Duomo, the cathedral of Sorrento. It was Sunday and they were having services so we didn’t go inside, but I took pictures of the beautiful inlaid wood doors (inlaid wood is a specialty of this region) & the elaborate ceiling from the entrance. There was also a lovely reddish clock tower, which I think was on the other side of the courtyard from the Duomo.
Next we came to the Sedile Dominova, an 18th Century building that was once the meeting place of the city’s nobles and is now a men’s club. The outside has beautiful old frescoes, again with effective simulated 3D. And there was a local band playing in front of the club’s loggia.
We continued strolling around the charming streets of Sorrento. One of the things Sorrento is known for is lemons, and we saw a whole lot of them in all shapes and sizes, in stores and outdoor stalls. They are also loaded with lemon product, like soap & ceramic lemons & a liqueur called limoncello. It was Sunday, so there were a lot of townspeople on the streets after services along with the cruise folks and other tourists. So the streets were the opposite of deserted.
Sorrento was also full of beautiful flowers and other flora of all varieties.
We had a delicious pizza for lunch at Ristorante Pizzaria da Gigino, a spot recommended by Rick Steves. Pizza, of course, was invented in the Naples region. Many Americans are disappointed by Italian pizza because it tends to be rather simple and has few of the toppings and spices Americans are used to, but we found it delicious. One of the most famous (but not what we had) is the Margherita pizza, named in 1889 after the first queen of united Italy, which is made with just red tomato, green basil & white mozzarella representing the colors of the Italian flag. We ate out on their patio surrounded by several local families who seemed to have come here after church. It was on a narrow street that was infested with a cloud of gnats, but for some reason they never came over to the tables. Walking back through town toward the shuttle bus stop we also stopped for gelato at Gelateria Primavera (also recommended by Rick Steves). They have 70 flavors, all home made, but you have to pick just 2 or 3. I had the noce, made from local walnuts, but I don’t remember the other flavors. Great stuff. We saw an interesting style of sign for gelaterias around town. Then on the bus ride down the hill was a sign with an evocative way to say “go slowly.”
After a leisurely & enjoyable day we took the tender back to the Prinsendam. It occurred to me that I had never posted a picture of the inside of a tender, so here are a couple. Not luxurious (or even comfortable), but its good enough for a short ride.
I will leave you with a few pictures of interesting parts of the Sorrento cliffs taken from the ship before we sailed in the evening.
We arrived in Naples on April 27, despite the fact that Naples was not on our itinerary and we were originally scheduled to be in Sorrento that day. Why, you ask? Well, Sorrento is a tender port & it seems that it often has windy weather that precludes tendering. Discovering that Sorrento was scheduled to be crowded on April 27 while no ships were scheduled for nearby Naples that day, our savvy Captain & crew managed to obtain a berth in Naples on the 27th. But Naples was fully booked for the 28th so we would have to move to Sorrento (as originally scheduled) for that day. Well, this turned out to be a very smart move because the morning of the 27th was rainy & windy, and all the other ships were scrambling for a last-minute berth in Naples and we already had one.
But then again, the downside was that it was windy & there was a steady rain as we pulled in on the 27th. We had originally scheduled an excursion to Pompeii on our second day in Sorrento on the theory that it is best to be on a ship tour on an early departure day since the ship won’t leave without you while getting back late on the first day would not cause a problem since the ship wouldn’t be leaving until the next day. But then we heard that there was bad weather in the area & that there was no room for Prinsendam to stay in Naples a second day, so there seemed a possibility that we would be unable to tender ashore the second day if the weather was bad in Naples. So we switched our Pompeii excursion to the first day, since we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time (& I still think it was the best choice given the uncertainties) but we ended up outsmarting ourselves, since we toured Pompeii in a steady rain while the folks who took the second day tour from Sorrento had a beautiful sunny excursion. Oh, well, can’t win them all.
In any event, we did get to see Pompeii even if it wasn’t under the best of conditions and it was very interesting, although our guide kind of rushed us through because of the rain and, I think, because a number of the older passengers on the trip decided to wait near the entrance rather than taking their chances with the wet & very uneven streets of Pompeii. Because of the rush I ended up with some pictures I can’t identify and a lot that are too blurry to use (because we were hurrying in the fairly dark interiors of buildings), and we also ended up skipping some of the best known locations (like the brothel & the theaters). But here is what there is.
Founded by the Greeks around 600 BC Pompeii is famous because in 79 AD it was buried in ash by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, only about 5 miles away. Vesuvius threw up a column of smoke, ash, dust & pumice 15-20 miles into the air which rained down on the coastal area next to it. This was the first indication to the local populace that they were living by a volcano, since Vesuvius hadn’t erupted for some 1200 years. About 75-90% of the 15 to 20,000 people in Pompeii escaped (although we don’t know where they went or whether they perished elsewhere in the vicinity) before the blast of hot air (400 degrees Fahrenheit or more) hit Pompeii and instantly killed everyone who remained. The ash & pumice continued to rain down until the city was completely covered and it was this dense covering of ash, which excluded water & oxygen, that accounts for the astonishing preservation of everything in the city. In fact, while the heavy ash accounted for the collapse of most roofs, much of the other damage to buildings was caused not by the volcano but by an earthquake that had devastated the town in 62 AD and from which they were still rebuilding when the eruption occurred. Pompeii was removed from the maps & forgotten until 1499 when it was stumbled upon by men digging a river diversion channel. But it wasn’t until 1748 that actual excavation began.
Before going into the excavation site we were taken to a nearby store selling cameos & watched a craftsman making them. This is kind of like a commercial before a TV show, an irritating retail moment that is the price of admission (in addition to the actual money you paid for the tour). But it was really raining so we were glad to be able to go inside & dry off & many of the cameos really were beautiful even if we had no interest in buying any. We entered Pompeii on a steeply inclined street through the Porta Marina, which 2000 years ago was close to the shoreline.
After passing the ruins of a house (I don’t know which one it is) we came to a street with large stones set in it. Our guide explained that these stones enabled people to cross the road without stepping in the water when they flushed the streets to clean them every night (refuse and horse manure would flow down these gutters as well), while the spaces between the stones would accommodate the wheels of chariots. They look a lot like our speed bumps. One bump meant a one way street, two was a two way street & three was a major thoroughfare.
Next we visited the forum, the large main square of the town. Lots of pillars whose buildings are gone & engraved capitals. 2000 years ago the forum was lined on 3 sides with two story buildings with pillared facades like these. The Romans were known for the extensive use of bricks in their buildings, which they often covered with stone veneers or stucco made from marble dust.
On the north side of the forum was the Temple of Jupiter (the Roman version of Zeus). Built a couple of centuries BC, it was once very imposing and contained a large statue of Jupiter. But it was badly damaged in the earthquake of 62 AD and was still awaiting reconstruction when the volcano erupted. When it was excavated the head of Jupiter was all that was found of the statue; the original is in the Archeological Museum in Naples, but there is a close reproduction at the site. On a clear day you can see Vesuvius looming over this temple, but of course it was rainy & overcast so the mountain was invisible to us. To the right of the temple is the Macellum, a covered market area.
Next we went to the covered market area where we saw what are probably the most iconic images of Pompeii, plaster casts of the bodies of Pompeiians at the moment of their death. We only saw a few of these, but there are more than 1,000 of them in existence. It seems that the early excavators in the mid 19th Century digging through the ash & pumice that had solidified in the 18 centuries since the eruption came upon large holes that had skeletons in them. Giuseppe Fiorelli, the head excavator, cleverly realized that these holes were left when the bodies of individuals decomposed & disappeared, leaving only the skeletons. He devised a technique of filling each hole with plaster then chipping away the solid ash, leaving a plaster cast of the individual’s body at death with the skeleton inside it. The most recent theory is that the eerie lifelike quality of these casts is due to the suddenness of the death caused by the wave of extreme heat, which induced a sort of immediate rigor mortise. The casts in the market area were in glass cases, and there are a couple of others shown here that were in a different location.
This open market area was also the first place we saw frescoes. I know that many of the frescoes have been removed to the Naples Archeological Museum & replaced with replicas and I have no idea which are original and which are replicas, but these look original to me. In any event, the replicas are really good so they are worth seeing regardless. Note the use of perspective in some of these pictures, a technique that was lost in the middle ages and only rediscovered during the Renaissance more than 1000 years later.
We went on to visit the Forum Baths (there were several public bathhouses in the city). It had a hot bath, a warm bath & a cold bath in addition to a gymnasium & a dressing room. The warm room has a carved blue & white stucco ceiling and the walls are lined with male caryatids supporting a shelf, between which were pegs for patrons to hang their clothes. It was warmed by a bronze brazier. The hot room was heated by hot air pumped into the hollow center of the double walls & floor & there was a fountain at one end, labeled with the names of the politicians who donated it, that pumped water onto the floor to steam up the air and provided a source of cool water for those who were overheated. The ceiling is fluted so that condensation from the steam would drip down to the walls rather than fall on the patrons. The cold bath was pretty plain but, really, who would want to go there? It was pretty dark in here, & we were hurried through to make room for others, so a lot of these pictures are less than clear.
Across from the baths was a fast food joint. No, really! Called a Thermopolium, there was one of these on just about every corner because very few Romans had houses with kitchens, most lived in apartments. Originally this probably had an awning over it & sliding doors or shutters to secure it at night. The holes held pots of food with wooden covers to keep the food hot. Nothing new under the sun. Note the extensive use of what appears to be pumice rock in the walls, even though the Pompeiians didn’t know there was a volcano nearby.
We visited one home, the House of the Tragic Poet (named after its mosaics, now in the Archeology Museum, rather than its owner). Inside the front entrance was a mosaic of a dog on a leash with the inscription “Cave Canem,” which is Latin for “Beware of the Dog.” It was a reproduction (the original is normally in the Naples Archeology Museum but was on loan to another museum). Circumstances prevented a good picture, so I have included a picture of a copy made into a tile that I saw in a shop (copies of this famous mosaic are everywhere) to give a better idea of what it looks like. You enter through the garden, though, in which is a small shrine for worshiping family gods. There is an open skylight in the atrium with a pool underneath to catch the rainwater & a small wellhead next to it for drawing the water from the pool. The indentations on the inside of the wellhead were made by the ropes used to draw up the water. We saw a few interesting mosaics on the floor, a room that I think was the kitchen and a room whose walls were covered by frescoes which I think was the dining room. This house was featured in the 19th Century novel The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer Lytton.
After this we headed for the exit. But before we do that here are a few random pictures taken on the streets of Pompeii.
As we walked to the exit from the town (way too soon) we passed a storage area locked with gates that was full of artifacts, many on shelves & others lined up on the ground. You have already seen two of the body casts that were stored here, and there was also a statue of Livia, the wife of Augustus, which was probably part of her effort to establish herself as a goddess. If you have read or seen the TV miniseries of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, you know that Livia was quite a piece of work! There was also a lovely marble table with lion legs that almost looks like it could have been made yesterday. Leaving the city walls we came to the Temple of Venus, which was by a necropolis (of which there were several, all outside the walls of the city). And at this point Vesuvius began to emerge from the grayness for the first time. Last but not least is Zorro the service dog. You don’t often see animals traveling on a cruise ship but Zorro was along to help his master with his deafness. He was extremely well behaved.
When we returned to the ship from Pompeii around noon it was still raining steadily so we expected to spend the rest of the day on the ship. We had lunch then Mary took a nap while I worked on the blog. However, it stopped raining about 3:00 in the afternoon so I woke Mary up. She reluctantly got out of bed & we left the ship to walk to the Naples Archeological Museum. The ship was docked right in the center of town, so that was a great place to take in Naples, an attractive city with a variety of pastel colored buildings mixed with a number of old monumental ones. Naples was founded by Greeks in about 600 BC. They creatively named it Neapolis, or “New City.” Actually, the Phoenicians were no better at naming cities: both Carthage and Cartagena were originally named Qart Hadasht by the Phoenicians, which means (you guessed it) “New City.” From the ship we could see both the city and the bay.
We walked through the Piazza Municipio in the first picture, then around behind the Castsel Nuovo and up to the Via Toledo which would take us to the Archeology Museum (after a long walk). We saw a number of the city’s landmarks on our way to Via Toledo, Including (in addition to the Castel Nuevo) the Teatro San Carlo, the main theater (Teatro San Carlo), the old royal palace (Palazzo Reale), the church of San Francesco di Paola, and the Galleria Umberto I (a huge and glorious old shoppng mall with a glass roof). There were a couple of other interesting buildings I can’t identify.
The Archeological Museum was really fantastic. We were very glad we had made the effort to get there. Opened in 1777 the museum is in the 16th century palace Palazzo degli Studi. Here is a tiny sample of its vast collection of ancient statuary(read the captions for the identifications I have).
We wandered into a gallery containing artifacts from the Villa of the Papyri that was on the outskirts of Herculaneum. There were some interesting frescoes from the Villa (much of which is still not excavated), but that was not the main story here. It seems that Pliny the Elder, a renowned scientist & the local admiral, was trying to reach this villa to rescue his friend Rectina, who owned it and her vast library. But Pliny died on the beach and the villa along with its library, much of which was already packed in boxes for moving, was covered by the debris from Vesuvius. The 1800+ scrolls of papyri were blackened by the heat but the burial also preserve them. In the mid 18th Century the villa was rediscovered by workmen digging for construction. They tunneled through it, recovering a large number of ancient statues and discarding what appeared to be long pieces of charcoal. When they broke through into a room lined with shelves full of these black artifacts it became apparent that they were books. In fact, this is the only ancient library to survive to modern times. However, no one could read the scrolls, not only because they were blackened but because all attempts to unroll them destroyed the scrolls. Then a priest from the Vatican invented a machine that could, very slowly, unroll the papyri without destroying them so that many of them could be identified. In this room of the museum was one of his unrolling machines, which was quite fascinating (although the pictures are hard to decypher because of the light reflecting from the glass case). Today attempts are being made to use a kind of CTI scan to decipher the scrolls without unrolling them (I don’t know if there are any results from this yet). Meanwhile, a whole new level of the villa has been discovered near the shore, and experts believe it may contain another library, perhaps with copies of the ancient classics like the missing plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles. But the Italian government has not, so far, permitted any excavation there and there are fears that whatever is there may be destroyed by water or even by another eruption.
Then we found what we were hoping to see at this museum: the artifacts uncovered mostly in Pompeii (& a few from Herculaneum & the surrounding area). While one large Pompeii gallery was closed, we found several others that were really interesting, particularly since we had just been to Pompeii. The first gallery contained a lot of physical artifacts, including a number of bronze household statuettes & articles of everyday life, such as lamps, kitchen utensils and even dental tools and dice. Most, if not all, of these are from Pompeii. I will put what little I know about these in the captions.
Most of the frescoes were in the gallery that was closed the day we were there, but we saw a few. Unfortunately, most of them were in the Gabinetto Segreto or Secret Cabinet. This was a separate gallery containing artifacts from Pompeii of a sexual nature. It seems that ancient Romans had a very liberated attitude toward sex. Statuettes with huge phalluses and fairly explicit art were found in their homes. The Secret Cabinet also contains the original frescoes from the brothel, which explicitly depict various sex acts and served as a sort of menu on the wall of the brothel, kind of like a barber shop with pictures of various hair styles that are available from the barber. The items in the Secret Cabinet were kept under lock and key and shown only to educated mature males by appointment for most of its existence. It was opened to the public only in 2000 and the separate gallery was opened in 2005. There is a sign at the door that says only adults may enter, but there is no one there to enforce it and we saw some adolescents in the exhibit. I have pictures of a number of these items, many of which are quite beautiful pieces of art, which I would be happy to share by email upon request, but since there may well be children reading this blog I will only include here a couple of the most benign ones. We also saw some beautiful mosaic covered pillars from the House of the Mosaic Pillars in Pompeii and some pictures made with inlaid colored marble.
Finally, we saw a large collection of mosaics, most of which are from Pompeii. Again, I will tell you what little I know about them in the captions. The most famous one seems to be the large mosaic (almost 9’ by 17’) of Alexander and Darius at the Battle of Issus, which is a mosaic copy made in the 2d Century BC of a Greek painting from the 4th Century BC that is now lost. The battle was fought in 333 BC and Alexander won. It was originally in the House of the Faun in Pompeii. There were also two very long mosaics, maybe 10 feet, from the House of the Faun: a scene from the Nile, complete with a hippo & a crocodile, and a theater theme with two theatrical masks. Remember, everything in this section is mosaic. Some look more like paintings because the tiles are so tiny, but they are all mosaics. I have included a few closeups of details that reveal the tile work.
We left the museum around 6:30 having barely scratched the surface of its incredible collection. Across the street on our way back was another monumental glass roofed shopping mall, the Galleria Principe (which seemed eerily empty, I guess because it was Saturday night). Further down Via Toledo we passed the interesting looking Convitto Nazionale, a school, in the Piazza Dante. It was, as I said, Saturday evening and it seemed that everyone in Naples – parents with strollers, families with children, young people on motorcycles — was out promenading up and down Via Toledo, which is normally a primary traffic thoroughfare. It was a great atmosphere & made us feel very much a part of the city life. Just before we reached the ship we saw the 18th Century opera house, the Teatro Mercadante.
Just as we got back to the ship the sun broke through the clouds, lighting up just the top of Vesuvius. The weather was now clearing up nicely and the Bay of Naples was lovely. There was a dramatic sunset behind the Castel St. Elmo, and all the lights came on in the harbor and on the shore of the bay near the volcano. A pretty glorious end to a day that started out so dismal!
“Should you only have one day to spend in Sicily and you ask me ‘what is there to see?’ I would reply ‘Taormina’ without any hesitation. It is only a landscape but one in which you can find everything that seems to have been created to seduce the eyes, the mind and the imagination.” — Guy de Maupassant, 1885.
We arrived in Naxos harbor off Taormina, Sicily, on April 26. Located on the eastern coast of Sicily between Catania & Messina, Taormina has been a favorite retreat of the rich & famous, particularly authors, since the early 19th Century. D.H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover while living in Taormina & Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra there. Goethe’s praise for the town in his Italian Journey as “a piece of paradise on earth” landed it on the standard itinerary for the 19th Century aristocracy’s Grand Tour of Europe. It was chilly & overcast the day we were there, but the place was spectacular anyway, just as these authors would have told us.
Taormina was originally founded in the 4th century BC by settlers (some say refugees) from the Greek colony of Naxos founded in the 8th Century BC, which was located on the shore beneath the hills where the modern resort town of Naxos is now. Taormina has a long and complex history that I won’t go into here (do I hear cheers?), having changed hands many times over the centuries, from Greeks to Romans, Arabs and Normans, among others.
The dominant landmark in eastern Sicily is Mt. Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, which was clearly visible from Taormina. As you can see, we were lucky in that it was putting out impressive plumes of white & gray smoke when we were there (suggesting that a new pope was both elected & not elected at the same time, reminiscent of the quantum physics conundrum of Schrodinger’s cat). I was told by somebody that the gray smoke is an indicator that an eruption is coming &, sure enough, the mountain erupted the week after we visited (darn!) sending fire in the air and hot lava down its sides. At the spot where we tendered ashore at the edge of Naxos to meet the shuttle bus to take us up to Taormina the shore consisted mostly lava rocks.
The shuttle took us through Naxos & then up a narrow winding road with very sharp switchbacks to Taormina, which is at an elevation of about 600 feet. At some of the switchbacks it looked like a near thing when two buses passed each other going different directions, but I am sure the drivers are very experienced at it. I sure wouldn’t want to drive on that.
We entered Taormina through the Catania Gate & continued down the main drag, Corso Umberto I. The first square we came to was the Piazza Duomo, named after the cathedral that fronts on the square. In the middle of the square is a fantastic fountain built in the 17th Century called the Fountain of the Minotaur. The Minotaur is the figure on top, but to me it looks more like the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland.
The Cathedral of San Nicolo was originally built in the 13th Century but the front portal was built in the 17th century. Lots of marble columns & altars inside and a good deal of very old art as well.
The streets of Taormna are pretty narrow, even the main street, & many of the side streets go steeply up the mountain, many with stairs. It doesn’t take many people before these narrow streets start looking crowded. But the streets are lined with 15th & 16th Century mansions, many of which now house shops, restaurants, cafes & bars. And there is a lot of interesting sculptured stone decorating the walls and brightly colored ceramic tiles.
The next square was Piazza IX Aprile, a large open plaza on the very edge of the cliff. Of course this gave some spectacular views, but this plaza also has the Torre del Orologio (a clock tower) next to the Church of San Giuseppe. There was also the Metropole Café with its fabulous view.
But that’s not all, because in the Piazza IX Aprile we found the library, housed in a 15th Century church called San Agostino. And through its back windows were, of course, more great views.
We continued strolling down the road heading vaguely for the Greek Theater, enjoying the ambience of the town that included a lot of colorful flora.
Taormina is full of expensive shops. We particularly enjoyed the colorful ceramics characteristic of Sicily & southern Italy. So here is some window shopping.
At the end of a side street called Via Teatro Greco is, you will not be surprised to learn, the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater). Originally built by the Greeks, probably in the 7th Century BC, it was completely reconstructed by the Romans on the Greek foundations (brick is characteristic of Roman architecture but not Greek), who used it for gladiator shows. It is the second largest ancient theater in Sicily with a diameter longer than a football field, but it is extraordinary more for its location on a cliff overlooking the bay with a view of Mt. Etna than for its size. As a bonus, the steep 6 Euro ($11) entrance fee was waived for those past their 65th birthday, so in effect the two of us were admitted for half price.
Of course, there were many spectacular views from the site of the theater.
From the theater we walked to the Messina Gate on the opposite side of town from where we entered. Outside the gate we saw the San Pancrazio Church, which is built on the foundations of a Greek temple. We had a closer view of the Saracen Castle on top of Mt. Tauro & we passed the Roman baths (I think) just inside the gate. We were tired, so we decided not to explore further outside the gate since it was all either up or down a steep slope.
And then we walked all the way back through the town to catch the shuttle back to the ship’s tender port, stopping on the way for some gelato (can’t miss that). We saw a lot of delicious looking food in the shop windows but, amazingly enough, it was all made of marzipan! Taormina is famous for its marzipan, but I’m pretty sure its not as good for you as the real thing.
As we sailed out in late afternoon we took a final look at Naxos then headed for the Straits of Messina, which separate Sicily from the toe of the boot of Italy. These narrow straits were reputedly the basis for Homer’s Scylla & Charybdis in The Odyssey and large whirlpools have been known to appear there (although we didn’t see any). The straits are narrow enough that there used to be a wire between electrical towers on either side that was the source of electricity for Sicily. The wire is no longer there but the towers have been preserved, apparently for historical interest. It wasn’t all that dramatic, although there were some nice views as the sun was setting.
After dark we sailed past Stromboli, a small inhabited(!) island with a very active volcano that has been erupting regularly for several thousand years at least. We weren’t close enough to get pictures, but we could see the reddish eruptions clearly in the dark sky every 10 or 15 minutes. It was cold & windy, so we had dinner & went to bed to prepare for another long day in Naples (not one of our originally scheduled stops, but that story in the next episode). But in closing, we have to catch up on the Prinsendam’s food sculptures and towel animals.
Surprise, I’m back! This took a long time because we were out of town for 2 weeks. But as compensation (or maybe just an additional annoyance) this will be an unusually long post. Venice is such a uniquely beautiful place that it is hard to take a bad picture without some effort. So I am going to be even more self-indulgent than usual & include a lot of pictures, just because there are so many I like.
We sailed into Venice early in the morning on April 23 for a stay of almost 2 full days. Venice was founded in the 5th Century by people fleeing the chaos resulting from the disintegration of the Roman Empire and the incursions of the Goths. They escaped into a large inaccessible lagoon and built villages on a number of islands there. As time passed, the islands were connected with bridges and the city grew together. Because of its inaccessibility by land, the Venetian Republic (not like our republics, since only aristocrats & the wealthy were represented) relied largely on sea power to develop into a great empire that dominated the eastern Mediterranean for many centuries. We have seen its influence in such places as the Dalmatian coast cities & Cyprus. It came to an end when conquered by Napoleon at the end of the 18th Century and after his fall it was ruled by Austria until in 1866 when it was incorporated into the newly unified nation of Italy.
It was misty & overcast as we entered the lagoon in the early morning light & turned left to sail past the island of Lido, a long & skinny island that protects the Venetian lagoon from the sea. Lido is famous for its beach, which has given its name to countless beaches around the world & the main pool deck on most cruise ships (including Prinsendam).
Because this is such a swampy area, the buildings of Venice are supported by literally millions of wood pilings driven through the muck to the more solid clay level some 25 feet down. The pilings, many of which are well over 1,000 years old, do not rot because there is no oxygen down there to support destructive insects or bacteria. So think about all those invisible wood pilings (and the work it took to drive them in) as you look at the buildings that they support. We turned toward the right from Lido & sailed toward the central square of Venice, Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Plaza).
Passing Piazza San Marco we sailed by the entrance to the Grand Canal & the church of Santa Maria della Salute, built in thanks for the end of the plague of 1630. This building alone is supported by more than a million wooden piles.
We continued through the channel between the island of Giudecca & the main part of the city. We passed the 16th Century church of Il Redentore on Giudecca, considered one of the masterpieces of Antonio de Palladio (from whose name comes the architectural term “palladian”), built in thanks for the end of the plague that killed a third of the population in 1576. We sailed on toward the port, on the west side of the main city islands, passing a variety of scenic waterfront views.
As we approached the cruise ship port the sun began to come out from behind the clouds, giving a dramatic effect similar to sunrise.
After a shower & breakfast we started into town. We had been afraid, from the overcast sail-in, that the weather would be a problem but in fact it was sunny & beautiful throughout our stay. While one can get to St. Mark’s plaza by vaporetto (the floating public transportation system) we decided to walk since there was plenty of time and wandering through the streets is the best way to get a real feel for the city. During the almost two days we spent in Venice we walked between 16 and 17 miles according to Mary’s pedometer (which seems to underestimate a bit) and we enjoyed every minute of it.
The first third of the way (I am guessing about a mile & a half from the ship to St. Mark’s) from the cruise port wasn’t all that interesting. From the top of the ship you could see a good bit of the city, and the walk to Piazzale Roma, the limit for car & motorcycle traffic, gave us a view of the single long bridge to the mainland, first built in the mid 19th Century.
We walked into town with our friend Israel, a very engaging fellow who was the Rabbi on the ship. Prinsendam has a priest, a Protestant minister & a Rabbi (that sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it isn’t). I hope you made it this far in the blog Israel! Wherever there is water in Venice (which is just about everywhere) there is a beautiful view. The weather had turned very clear & sunny, which enhanced the reflections in the water.
The Campo San Rocco was bounded on one side by the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and on an adjacent side by the Church of San Rocco. St. Roch (Rocco in Italian) is the patron saint of contagious diseases & his body is under this 18th Century church. Scuola means school, but the Scuole of Venice were actually more like fraternal organizations than schools. We toured the Scuola on our second day in Venice; unfortunately no pictures are allowed because it was filled with beautiful Tintoretto paintings. I did manage one picture through the front door, but it really doesn’t give an idea of the grandeur in the upper gallery.
We continued wandering through the streets, generally in the direction of the Rialto Bridge, passing more interesting buildings & canals.
The Rialto Bridge is one of the iconic landmarks of Venice. This is reputedly the site of the first settlement in Venice which was called “Rivoaltus,” meaning "high bank," later shortened to Rialto. This has been the commercial center of Venice for a thousand years & the produce markets are still held in this area. The first wooden bridge was built on this spot in the 12th Century, but after two collapses (at least one under the weight or a crowd) a stone bridge was erected in the 16th Century. It was the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot until the mid-19th Century.
The inside of the bridge is lined with busy shops and kiosks.
The Rialto Bridge and its environs also have gorgeous views of the Grand Canal. The Canal cuts through Venice in an S shape & this bridge is right by one of the turns in the Canal. The Canal in this area is lined with palazzos, cafes & docks with tall wooden boat mooring columns, and the water is filled with gondolas and other boats.
After crossing the Rialto bridge we continued on generally toward Piazza San Marco, passing yet more interesting spots on the way.
So finally we came to Piazza San Marco, one of the world’s premier public spaces. On the east side the Doge’s palace & St. Mark’s Cathedral sit side by side. Across the square is the Campanile (bell tower) and beyond that is a vast open space surrounded by buildings with colonnaded loggias housing shops, museums & cafes. There is so much to see in this area!
Having looked at the overall scene, now we will take a closer look at the buildings & landmarks in the Piazza. We found the Biblioteca Marciana (national library of St. Mark) in the building on the right in the picture above. This building, erected in the 16th Century, is called the Libreria Sansoviniana (named after its architect) and Palladio called it the finest building since antiquity.
The first building we visited was the Doge’s Palace. The line to get in was almost non-existent, one of the big advantages to visiting Venice at the beginning of the season. We entered into the grand courtyard, with two story loggias on three sides & a wall of the cathedral on the fourth side. The cathedral originated as the private chapel of the Doge, so this gave him a private entrance; it has since been greatly expanded of course. The columns of the loggias were topped with intricately carved capitals each of which was different.
In the courtyard are a number of interesting sculptures. In the middle are two intricate cast bronze well heads. The Giants Staircase is a marble affair with huge statues of Mars & Neptune on either side at the top. There is an old gondola in one of the loggias (I’m not sure why) & a peaked roof over part of the cathedral wall with a number of marble statues. There is a clock tower at the top of the cathedral wall on the north side of the courtyard
The rooms inside the palace were fabulous, full of old carved woodwork & massive oil paintings by Renaissance masters. Notable among them is Tintoretto’s “Il Paradiso,” one of the largest oil paintings in the world at 82 feet in length, which depicts 500 figures in portrait-like detail. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed of the rooms of the palace so I can’t show it to you here (you might try googling it). However, I did get some pictures of the elaborate ceiling of the Golden Staircase leading into the palace from the second floor loggia, and of the statues of Hercules & Atlas that guard the entrance to it. Also on the wall of the second floor loggia is a “Lion’s Mouth” mail slot, through which you could submit anonymous accusations against people you didn’t like. Venice had something of a police state mentality, always searching for potential traitors. One of the rooms of the palace has portraits of all the doges lining the wall under the ceiling all the way around the room . . . except for one who was beheaded for treason, whose portrait space is all black. The Italian inscription on the Lion’s Mouth means: "Secret denunciations against those who hide favors and offices or collude to hide the true income of them.” I was also able to get a few nice pictures out of upper floor windows in the palace.
We crossed the Bridge of Sighs to visit the prison on the other side of this small canal, the Rio de la Palazzo. Prisoners were originally kept in cells in the Doge’s Palace, from which Casanova escaped. But they proved too cramped for the growing prison population so in the 17th Century a new prison (which still looked pretty grim to us) was built on the other side of the canal, with this bridge to connect the interrogation & court chambers in the palace with the prison. The bridge’s name comes from Lord Byron, who concluded that prisoners would sigh as they saw their last glimpse of the outside world as they passed through this bridge to the prison, often never to be seen again outside its walls. Again, no pictures allowed inside the prison, but there are a couple in a prison courtyard & through the windows of the bridge, which are obstructed by decorative stone grating. You may have seen this bridge & canal before, since James Bond & his Russian girlfriend go up this canal at the very end of From Russia With Love.
Next we visited St. Mark’s Cathedral (or Basilica) right next door to the Doge’s Palace, where it was originally built to house the remains of St. Mark who is thought to be the author of one of the Gospels. It is a magnificent building full of sculpture, domes & golden mosaics. So what’s the story about St. Mark? It seems that the original patron saint of Venice was St. Theodore. But the Venetians weren’t satisfied with this and in 828, either to fulfill a vision or aggrandize their city depending on who you believe, a delegation of Venetians went to Alexandria, Egypt and purloined his body. St. Mark was interred in Alexandria because he had been the first bishop there & was martyred there. The body was smuggled out of Egypt, secreted under a layer of pork to discourage the Muslim Egyptians from inspecting it, and brought to Venice where a church was built to house it. The church was rebuilt & expanded a number of times to reach its present magnificence. During construction of the Basilica in the 11th Century the body was lost (how does that happen?) but 30 years later it was miraculously “found” & reinterred under the Cathedral that bears his name (whether this body was really St. Mark or not seems to me to be uncertain). So St. Mark, whose symbol is a winged lion often holding a book, is now the primary patron saint of Venice & St. Theodore occupies a back seat (although his remains are in another church in the city). The Venetians are very proud of their body snatching caper; the Cathedral has a prominent mosaic portraying the stealing and transportation of the body to Venice.
Signs said photography was forbidden inside the Cathedral, but once inside we saw many flashes from cameras & no one seemed to be enforcing the rule. So I took a few photos as well. It wasn’t very light (and I didn’t use flash) so some of them didn’t come out very well. But you can see that the whole ceiling – domes & supports – was covered with golden mosaics, some of which are identified in the picture captions. The floors were also very beautiful with varied marble mosaics and there were polished stone columns of varying colors & marble panels on some walls reminiscent of Santa Sophia in Istanbul (where they might have come from, since the Venetians & Crusaders stole a lot from that church when they sacked Constantinople in 1204). Across the front of the area of the main altar is a row of statues of saints; the only one I know the identity of is St. Mark, fourth from the left in the picture below.
On the upper floor was a small museum, mostly housing items that had been replaced during renovations. Particularly interesting (to me) were some mosaics that gave a chance to see more closely how the tiles are put together to construct a lifelike face. Also there are the original bronze horses that stood above the entrance to the Cathedral for many centuries, recently replaced with exact replicas. These horses were probably originally made in Greece around 300 BC, then taken to Constantinople where they adorned the Hippodrome, then in turn purloined from Constantinople when the city was sacked in 1204 by the Venetians & Crusaders. Quite a history, and they are still quite beautiful after all that time outside in the elements.
The last place we visited in the Cathedral was the balcony atop the front entrance (which I pointed out in the caption to the first picture in the Cathedral section of this episode). On this balcony are the replica horses standing just where the originals used to be. The balcony provided excellent views all around the Piazza. To the right is the 15th Century clock tower, with a Lion of St. Mark above the clock & a bell on top rung by two figures called “the Moors” because of the dark patina of the metal. Directly across is the Campanile (bell tower), more than 300 feet tall with a beautiful entry porch at the bottom. The original 16th Century Campanile collapsed in 1902, but was rebuilt. To the left is the original grand entrance to the Doge’s Palace called the Porta della Carta (today you enter by a different door on the lagoon side of the building). It has a (19th Century reproduction of a previously destroyed) sculpture of the lion of St. Mark with a kneeling Doge Francesco Foscari, who built this entrance, then above the window is a bust of St. Mark and the whole thing is topped by a statue of Justice with sword & scales. From the balcony we also had a level view of the figures atop the columns near the water of the lion of St. Mark (which had a previous life as a different lion somewhere in Anatolia) & St. Theodore standing on a crocodile (which represents the dragon he is supposed to have killed). This is also a copy; the original is somewhere inside the Doge’s Palace (we didn’t see it). I have included here a few pictures of these items not taken from the balcony, just to give some context.
And to finish off our visit to Piazza San Marco, here are a few more random items that didn’t fit anywhere else. Venice is situated just above water level & is sinking a little every year, so in the winter time there is always flooding & Piazza San Marco is inundated with water. The Venetians have adapted to this by installing temporary wooden walkway to enable people to walk through flooded areas without getting wet. A few were still there in side streets when we visited. In the open Piazza square are several cafes with outdoor seating that also have small musical groups playing mostly light classics. In particular are two cafes that date to the 18th Century: the Caffe Quadri (shown in a picture at the beginning of the San Marco portion of this posting) on the north side & the Caffé Florian on the south side. During Austrian rule in the 19th Century, Austrians patronized the Caffe Quadri while Venetians hung out at Caffe Florian across the square. Both were frequented by many famous writers & composers. Attached to the southwest corner of the Cathedral is the porphyry statue of the “Four Tetrarchs,” another item plundered from Constantinople in 1204. Note the foot that has been replaced with a stone carving in the lower right; the original foot was discovered in Istanbul in 1960 & is in now in the Istanbul Archeology Museum. The sculpture was probably created in the 3rd Century when the Roman Empire was briefly governed by a group of 4 coequal emperors. Other pictures are identified in the captions.
We left Piazza San Marco & set out to find the La Fenice theater & opera house, as always passing engaging sights along the way.
Gran Teatro La Fenice, the opera house & theater, was first built in the 18th Century. It was destroyed by fire in 1836 and again in 1996 (by arson according to court verdict). The current building reconstructed after the latter fire opened in 2005. The burning & reconstruction of La Fenice (which means, aptly, “The Phoenix”) is the central story of John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels, an enjoyable book that gives a good portrait of Venice.
After that we wandered around the streets for a while, which means more canal views (I hope you like these as much as we did, since I have included an awful lot of them in the blog post).
On our way back to the ship we stopped at a café by the Grand Canal near the Rialto bridge for a snack & to rest our aching feet. The food was great & so were the views (of course). Sitting there I was struck by the abstract patterns made by the reflections in the water. You see that in most of the canal pictures, but it is a different effect when they are isolated in a picture without context.
That night on the ship we had a show by local talent. Alas, it was not a folkdance or folksong group, as we have enjoyed in many other ports, but a pretty lame group of older guys dressed as gondoliers who sang overused Italian standards (Volare anybody?). What were they thinking when they booked this group?
Our second day in Venice was spent largely in museums. We went to the Academia, a renowned museum full of Renaissance & pre-Renaissance Venetian masterpieces. It pretty much lived up to its reputation, although a lot of the pre-Renaissance art didn’t do much for me. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed. We then visited the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, some pictures of which are included earlier in the episode. The upstairs was a huge room jam-packed with Tintorettos and a few Titians on walls, ceilings & easels. Pretty impressive but again no photography. We had wanted to spend some time visiting the Ghetto area in the north part of Venice. Established in the early 16th Century, this was the first ghetto ever established for confinement of Jews. Its name came from the large foundry in the vicinity: “gheto” was Venetian for “slag.” The word ghetto acquired its modern meaning as other cities applied it to their confined Jewish quarters. Unfortunately we ran out of time in the museums (we had to be back at the ship in mid-afternoon to avoid being left behind), so this will have to await our next visit.
One place we did see the second day was the large Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. It has the second largest campanile in Venice and Titian’s painting of the Assumption over the altar area. Titian is buried in the Frari. We didn’t have time to tour the interior, & there was no photography inside anyway, but I managed a few pictures from the front entrance.
Some miscellaneous things we saw walking around town. Many of the plaza’s contained old covered wellheads that used to be the source of water for people living in the neighborhood. Venice is also known for the characteristic balconies with unusual arrays of windows in the many palazzos, each one of which is different. We also saw an interesting poster of a new version of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The good news: he’s not hunchbacked any more; the bad news: now he’s a borg!
One of the things we really enjoyed in Venice was looking at all the colorful shop windows. Venice is famous for glass, which is mostly made on the island of Murano. The glass here is very beautiful (& expensive).
Venice is also famous for its elaborate fancy-dress carnival parties and for the elaborate masks it produces for them.
Last, but far from least, were the shops selling baked goods & gelato, all deliciously displayed to make you want to eat it all. We did not try the baked goods, but we did have gelato on our way back to the ship. We had been looking for a gelato shop displaying the notice Rick Steves says indicates home made gelato, but although we passed a number of gelato shops (mostly just holes in the wall) we didn’t see any of these. So we stopped at a gelato stand on wheels in the middle of a plaza, since it was getting late. Wow! It was fabulous! Mary had a cone piled high with lemon & pistachio while I had pistachio & chocolate. It was easily the best ice cream we had ever had. All I can say is that real Italian gelato is to regular ice cream as steak is to hamburger (to be fair, although the gelato we had elsewhere was consistently better than ordinary ice cream it didn’t seem to live up to what we had in Venice, perhaps because in Venice it was completely new to us). If you visit Italy be sure to try it.
So we returned to the Prinsendam, which sailed out in late afternoon the same spectacular way we had come in. You have seen this route before, of course, but this time it was sunny, so I will show you some of the sailaway here. First from the port toward Piazza San Marco.
As we passed Piazza San Marco the late afternoon sun created areas of bright light and shadow.
We sailed on down past the waterfronts to the west of San Marco, took one final look back as the sun fell lower in the sky, and headed south toward Sicily.
On April 22 we arrived off Korcula, the last of our medieval walled cities on the Dalmatian coast. This was a tender port (ie. the ship is anchored and passengers go to and from the port by tender boat) and it was also a short day, with all aboard scheduled for 1:30. But we found this to be more than enough time for this small town, particularly since almost everything in the old city was closed for the off season (sadly, we were about 9 days too early for the start of the season). Korcula is another walled city on a small isthmus with orange terra cotta roofs & has been called a mini-Dubrovnik. This might have been a little more exciting if we had not been to the actual full sized Dubrovnik only 2 days earlier (and it might have been more interesting if the museums had been open and the Cathedral hadn’t been covered in scaffolding). Still, it was an interesting city to explore & we had a pleasant time (except for the cold weather).
Unlike many medieval cities, Korcula was built according to plan. It is shaped like a horseshoe crab pointing out from the land. The streets are laid out in a sort of herringbone pattern, with a main road running from the main gate toward the rounded point of the crab & rows of fairly straight side streets branching off at a bit of an angle in each direction. It is said that this plan was designed to protect from the harsh south winds but let in the pleasant north winds. Founded by the Greeks in the 4th Century BC, Korcula was later part of the Roman Empire and later was ruled by Venice for a number of centuries. It was part of Yugoslavia after World War I and again after World War II, and is now part of the independent Croatian state.
We entered Korcula by the 15th Century Land Gate, an impressive introduction with a grand stone staircase leading over what once was a moat-like canal to a large crenellated tower. This Revelin Tower has a relief of a Venetian lion of St. Mark flanked by the coats of arms of the Doge of Venice on the left and the rector of Korcula on the right.
The inside of the gate was more elaborate than the outside & the tower was topped with a picture window (it was closed for offseason, so we couldn’t go up to see the view). To the left of the gate after entering is the 16th Century Rector’s palace, which had a nice loggia and a large stone plaque of the lion of St. Mark leaning against a wall. Nearby was an interesting shrine and on the right was the 14th Century Church of St. Michael. Apparently it was believed that a church dedicated to St. Michael inside the town gates would help ward off enemies. The stone overpass to the left of the church leads to the building of the Brotherhood of St. Michael.
We walked on to St. Mark’s Cathedral, the highest point in town. You can see it atop the city looking like a birthday candle on a cake in the first picture. Unfortunately, the cathedral was covered in scaffolding and canvas so we didn’t get to see what it looks like. We went in but no photography was allowed. Across the street is the Gabriellis Palace, which now houses the town museum (closed for offseason, of course).
The last real landmark in Korcula is the so-called Marco Polo’s house. Korcula claims the Marco Polo was born here in 1254, but there is no actual evidence that this is true and it is disputed by historians, who seem to think he was most likely born in Venice. As we have seen elsewhere, however, Korcula has a house claimed to be his birthplace (although it was apparently built a little too late for that) for tourists to pay to visit (but not in offseason). It is an imposing tower of a house with some lovely ruins attached, so it is worth seeing if you are in town whether Marco Polo ever lived there or not. Marco Polo does have a documented relation to Korcula, however. In 1298 he was captured by the Genoese in the Battle of Korcula, a sea battle in which he commanded one of the Venetian ships. While he was a prisoner of war in Genoa Marco Polo and another prisoner collaborated on the book about his travels to China that became something of a sensation (although few believed it at the time) and helped inspire Christopher Columbus to try to sail to China almost two centuries later.
While its streets aren’t maze-like, they are picturesque as in the other Dalmatian cities: narrow and often with arches and stairs.
This is, or at least was, a walled city. The town walls were built at least by the 13th Century, but they were extended and the fortified towers built over the next few centuries by the Venetians (each tower has a plaque of the lion of St. Mark). In the late 19th Century, when the Ottoman threat had long passed and Korcula was no longer a strategic outpost, the Korculans took down the top half of the walls to use for new buildings. But the walls with their massive defensive towers still make a substantial impression.
Outside the walls the city is surrounded by mountains, which were largely covered by clouds the day we were there. There is also a nice strip of waterfront with palm trees (Korcula is actually further north than New York), boats & an interesting monument with reliefs from the era of Socialist Realism.
So that was all for this very short port day, & we returned to the ship. Our friend Jerry (who took the picture of us by the stairway) was returning at the same time and was carrying an expensive SLR camera he had been given by the proprietor of a café where another passenger had left it. An impressive bit of honesty by the proprietor — since no one knew who it belonged to & the ship was getting ready to leave no one would have returned to ask him for it. Jerry did eventually discover the identity of the camera’s owner by pure serendipity (she was standing at the front desk of the ship when Jerry went to turn it in). She was very lucky! Anyway, we sailed away from cloudy & chilly Korcula and the Dalmatian coast to our first stop in Italy, Venice.
We pulled into Kotor early in the morning of April 21. We had been told to be sure to arise early for our sunrise sail-in through the beautiful bay of Kotor, but we were tired from Dubrovnik & decided we need our sleep. Luckily for us our entry into the bay was delayed because the port authorities unaccountably gave preference to another cruise ship (our captain was quite irritated). I say luckily for us because this enabled us to see most of the sail-in, which really was stunning. There were rugged mountains surrounding the water, which was uncommonly still and reflective in the morning sun, and picturesque villages lined the shore. Often called the southernmost fjord in Europe, this is not really a fjord but a river canyon that has been submerged by the sea.
In the bay, near the village of Perast, are two islands. The tiny Island of St. George (I am using the English translations, obviously) is surrounded by a dozen Cypress trees and houses a Dominican monastery that has been in operation since the 12th Century. More interesting is the nearby Our Lady of the Rock, which is man made. It seems that on July 22, 1452 some sailors found an icon depicting the Madonna & Child on a rock sticking up out of the water. Thereafter sailors added rocks after every successful voyage and old boats were also filled with rocks and sunk there. Eventually a church was built on the growing island (originally Orthodox, it was later converted to Catholic). To this day, every July 22 the locals fill their boats with rocks & row out to add them to the island.
As we were eating breakfast in the Lido during the sail-in an unusual sight appeared on the port side. A small village spotlighted by the morning sun while the surrounding mountains were still in shadow was covered by its own special cloud. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it before, particularly with the spooky reflection in the water.
Another interesting phenomenon was the abstract patterns that appeared in the clear still water when the reflections were disturbed by the wake of the ship passing by.
So after all that, we arrived at Kotor & docked just outside the city gate. Kotor is a very small town (about 12,000 people, only about 3,000 live inside the walls) but it has a very long history. The Illyrians had a town here in the 3rd Century BC and by the 1st Century AD it was the Roman town of Catarum (meaning “strangled” probably after the turnings in the bay). An important trading port during the middle ages (its bay was considered the best port between Greece and Venice), when the Ottomans threatened in the 15th Century Kotor asked Venice for help and — by now you should know what’s coming – Venice remained in control for the next 350 years. Napoleon controlled Kotor long enough to build one of the first theaters in the Balkans, and then it was awarded to the Austrian Empire (for which it was the main naval base during World War I) by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. After World War I it became part of Yugoslavia (and its name was changed from Cattaro to Kotor). During World War II it was incorporated into the Italian empire, then after the war it was again part of Yugoslavia. In the Balkan war after the breakup of Yugoslavia Montenegro stuck with Serbia in a rump Yugoslavia, but voted for independence in 2006. Like Dubrovnik, Kotor was devastated by the earthquake of 1667 and it suffered another one in 1979, from which it has only recently finished rebuilding (at least it looks like this is finished).
The old town is laid out in a triangle surrounded by imposing walls, some 3 miles long and up to 50 feet thick & 65 feet high, which extend up the mountain behind the city to St. Ivan’s (St. John’s) Fortress at the top. Along one side just outside the walls runs the Skuda River.
We entered the town through the 16th Century Main Gate (also known as the Sea Gate or Western Gate). There is a pleasant green promenade outside the gate today, but back in the day the water came right up to the gate & security checks were completed (and taxes collected) before a ship could disembark. Above the gate is the seal of Tito’s Yugoslavia and the date when his partisans liberated Kotor from the Nazi puppet regime. There is also a quotation from Tito (translated in the caption of the picture). Nearby is a relief plaque of the Venetian winged lion of St. Mark, which I imagine might have been over the gate during the period of Venetian control.
On the inside of the gate as you pass through is a Gothic relief of the Madonna & Child, with the town’s patron Saint Tryphon holding a model of the town on the left & St. Bernard, a descendant of the local Pima family, on the right. Passing through the gate leads to Arms Square, the town’s largest square. Directly across from the gate is the 17th century clock tower with the triangular pillory in front, where miscreants were chained with placards around their necks stating their crimes so that passing citizens could freely humiliate them. To the left is the Rector’s Palace (the Rector was essentially a Venetian governor) & the Napoleonic Theater, both of which are now part of an upscale hotel.
We wandered through the town a bit on interesting streets of red and white stone blocks highly polished, probably by years of wear. Like many medieval towns Kotor has a maze of narrow streets (which hinder invaders), some with arches above. There are several squares with sidewalk cafes & pumps topping public wells.
The next landmark we came to was the Catholic St. Tryphon’s Cathedral. The story is that in 809 a Venetian ship carrying the relics of St. Tryphon took shelter at Kotor during a storm. Every time they tried to leave the weather worsened, so they concluded that St. Tryphon wanted to stay in Kotor. St. Tryphon became the town’s patron saint & his relics are today in this Cathedral. You will notice that the towers of the Cathedral are not identical, supposedly because they ran out of money before finishing the second tower after the cathedral was damaged by the 1667 earthquake. It was Sunday and religious services were being held, so we didn’t go inside.
St. Luke’s Square contains two Greek Orthodox churches, tiny 12th Century St. Luke’s & the 1909 St. Nicholas which towers over it and whose black domes can be seen prominently over the city. Notice the Greek crosses atop these churches, with two (or even three) horizontal bars. The gold for the crosses atop St. Nicholas was a gift from Russia. You can see the priest in the door of St. Luke’s. When I took the picture he came walking toward us & I thought at first I was going to be admonished for photographing his church (it wouldn’t have been the only time). But he turned out to be unusually friendly. He had noticed me taking the picture & he invited us into his church, showed us around & insisted on taking our picture. All of this with sign language, as he didn’t speak English. At one time during the Venetian period St. Luke’s served both Orthodox & Catholic worshippers with an altar for each. Notice the impressive gold cross over the altar & the icon wall that pretty much filled the tiny adjoining room.
We saw one more church of note (seems like a lot of churches for such a small town). The Church of St. Ozana (also called St. Marija) is in a small green square with called Wood Square next to the town wall. Ozama was a local 16th Century nun who inspired resistance to the Turks. Scenes of her life are depicted on the bronze doors of the church.
Behind the church was a steep & narrow street that leads to the entrance to the top of the town walls. As mentioned, many of Kotor’s streets are narrow, many are topped with arches between buildings and many are also steep enough to need steps. This one was all of those, and it had a double arch above it with a medallion of a Venetian winged lion, the date of its construction (1760) & an impressive looking inscription in Latin that turned out to be just a mundane street sign (translated in the picture caption).
So we paid our 3 Euros apiece and entered the wall. Since we had just done the wall circumvention of much larger Dubrovnik the day before we decided we would climb the walls a little way going up the hill for a nice view over the city. From this area of the wall we could see the Prinsendam beyond the red roofs & spotted several of the buildings we had visited. It was not unlike the view from the wall in Dubrovnik.
Well, once we started to climb we didn’t turn back until we reached the top. It was exhausting for a couple of old folks and we stopped to rest (& take pictures) often. At one point we were thinking of quitting when we ran into some fellow passengers on their way back down who told us we were near enough to the top that we couldn’t quit, so we didn’t. In the end we were glad we pressed on, as the views were spectacular. We saw a lot of wildflowers on our walk; they were not all in one place but I am going to group them together here. I don’t know many of their names, but maybe some of you will.
The first landmark we reached was the 17th Century Church of Our Lady of Health, almost half way up the mountain. It seems that after the earthquake of 1667 rats poured into the city bringing with them the plague (when it rains it pours!). This Church was built by the survivors to thank God (and to help ward off any recurrence). Thus, the name.
Here is a good place to tell you about the wall walk. As you have seen, the wall snakes up the hill to St. John’s Fortress at the top. It would be much too steep to walk (or build) straight up, so the wall was designed in a series of switchback that zigzag as they rise. There are some 1350 steps on the path from the town wall to St. John’s Fortress. The steps are built next to a wall that is an extension of the downhill side of the wall, and next to the steps is a steep path or ramp. Most of the time you can walk up the steps using the wall extension on the downhill side as a bannister. However, in a lot of places the protective wall is worn down or completely missing (I wonder how many visitors they lose in those sections each year). In those sections we walked on the ramp, which was difficult because it is very uneven and often covered with some loose gravel. So the wall walk was not only exhausting, but sometimes treacherous. I guess this added to the excitement, right? We were amazed to see some badly overweight and even somewhat disabled people up there heading for the top, which of course provided another reason we couldn’t give it up and go back. There were also some people doing this strenuous climb in flip-flops . . . go figure. Here are some indicative wall pictures from various levels.
We completed the climb all the way to the top. St. John’s Fortress was the command post for the whole defensive wall system. The earliest ruins here date to the 3rd Century BC but Emperor Justinian built a castle here in the 6th Century AD and it has been substantially modified since, and incorporated into the city walls that were built between the 9th and 19th Centuries (but mostly in the 16th & 17th). Today it is in ruins, but interesting to climb about, and there is a large red Montenegrin flag over the front wall. The views here are spectacular and well worth the effort of the climb (which was actually a lot more fun than my whining about it might make it seem).
So that is pretty much it for Kotor, and it was a lot more than we had expected. We walked back down the mountain & headed back to the ship for a very late lunch (or maybe we just had ice cream). Then, while the shadows lengthened as the sun began to drop behind the mountains we left beautiful Kotor and headed for Korcula, Croatia.
This was the first of three consecutive medieval walled cities on the beautiful Dalmatian coast. We arrived in Dubrovnik on April 20 and docked at the cruise port about 2 miles away, so we took a shuttle bus to the town (a few people walked it, but Mary still wasn’t feeling up to this).
This city was originally an independent city-state called Ragusa. It was a successful merchant state and managed to retain its independence for many centuries through a combination of diplomacy, bribery, luck and even compromise (becoming an independent tributary of Venice and then the Ottoman Empire). Independence was an important value to the Ragusans, whose flag bore the inscription “Libertas” and who were the first state to formally recognize the United States after it declared its independence. However, in 1808 Ragusa made the mistake (similar to what we saw in Malta with the British) of inviting Napoleon in to save it from a lengthy siege by the Russians and Montenegrans. The French obliged, but stayed and incorporated Ragusa into the French Empire. The 1815 Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic wars made Ragusa a part of the Austrian Empire, then at the end of World War I it became part of the new country of Yugoslavia. It was at that time that the city was renamed Dubrovnik. Today, of course, it is part of the Republic of Croatia that emerged, after a particularly nasty war, from the breakup of Yugoslavia. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this war was settled in 1995 by the Dayton Accords, negotiated in my home town of Dayton, Ohio.
The Dubrovnik we see today is a combination of old and new, the result of disasters that destroyed much of the city. The first was the earthquake of 1667 that killed about 5,000 citizens and leveled most of the public buildings (but not the walls). The other was the Balkan war of the 1990’s mentioned above that resulted from the death of Marshall Tito and the consequent breakup of Yugoslavia. You can see from the picture above that Dubrovnik is situated at the foot of a mountain & it was subject to brutal shelling during the war from Serbian guns. The city has been impressively restored, using the same materials & methods as originally, but the damage is still clearly visible in the large majority of the iconic orange roofs of the city that are new and bright, easily distinguishable from the duller and browner original roofs that remain.
We entered through the PIle Gate (on the right in the picture at the top). Above the gate is a statue of St. Blaise, who has been the patron saint of Dubrovnik since the 10th Century when he was credited with saving the city from a Venetian attack. The gate is reached over a drawbridge that once spanned a moat. The stone bridge leading to the drawbridge was built in the 16th Century.
The number one thing to do in Dubrovnik is to walk around the city walls, so that is what we did first. There is a small fee in money & a large expense in energy, since the walk is about a mile & a quarter and much of it is very steep. It feels like it is all uphill, but of course that is impossible outside of an Escher print. The walls are up to 80 feet high and up to 25 feet thick and there are several fortresses and towers built into them. They were built from the 12th to the 17th Centuries and have never been breached by a hostile army. The wall walk began, predictably, with a climb up a long & steep stairway, then one must walk counterclockwise around the city. The first landmark is the Fort of St. Lawrence, which is set on a rocky outcrop outside the city beyond a tiny bay with beautiful clear blue water.