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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Sights from Gallipoli and Leuca in Puglia, Italy

Janet Strayer photo, from Gallipoli
Another brief drive from our home base in Lecce takes us to two different spots on Italy's Adriatric coast. First to Gallipoli. Then, just a brief drive to the southern-most tip of Italy's heel, we are in Santa Maria Leuca.

It was a beautifully clear, cold day when we arrived. You can see the kind of day it was in this photo, taken upon our arrival in Gallipoli. Yes, flowers in the cold but clear sun of February!

Janet Strayer photo
Gallipoli's name translates from the original Greek as "beautiful city".  We've now seen a number of these  beautiful cities in the Salentino Peninsula of Italy. Like most of them, Gallipoli has both its old, historic city and a more modern surrounds. The old is the best, secondo me.

Right at its pier is Gallipoli's castle-fortress, built when it was a rich cross-route for sea-faring merchants...  and also a prime spot for invasions. Gallipoli now, in this winter and non-tourist season, is a very quiet fishing village. It's quite lovely, all in white and tucked into its harbor, with its looming 13th C. castle at the shoreline.

castle-fortress at Gallipoli, Puglia/Italy (Janet Strayer photos)

Gallipoli, Janet Strayer photo

We walked up the castle steps from the pier to the old city. A pretty white maze of winding, narrow streets that we followed up a bit, then back down to the walkway just above the sea. 

Without all the buzz of the tourist industry, it's easy to see how much of a simple fishing village Gallipoli remains. Although it shares in the monumental churches and castle-fortresses of many historic, coastal towns in southern Italy, what I noticed most was the activity of fishers on its pier. They were straightening out their differently colored nets. You can see many piles of nets along the jetties.

Gallipoli, photos Janet Strayer
The sea air , sun, and winter breeze  make everything feel so fresh; yet you know you are walking on stone paths trod by sandals worn millenia ago.

Sandal sculpture (MARTA museum, Taranta; Janet Strayer photo)

And lastly today, a visit to Leuca, (Santa Maria Leuca), at the very bottom of Italy's southern heel. I've drawn the large black dot at the red tip of Italy's boot-heel to show the approximate location of Leuca.
Leuca shown as black dot on southern tip of Italy's heel (Janet Strayer)
It feels special just knowing that here, with a turn of your head sideways in either direction, you look into either the Adriatic or the the Ionian seas. Standing in the middle of the waters at this spot, I suppose, is where their waters meet. Odd, isn't it, how we nations of the world divide up geographies of land, water, and even air?
photo credits
Leuca (Sta. Maria de Leuca) is a quiet and wind-swept place at this visit. It has a lovely park, high atop the city's shoreline, with fine views of the city and sea below. The sanctuary/basilica De Finibus Terrae ("End of the Land", 1720-1755) crowns  this city, along with one of Italy's most famous lighthouses, second only to Genoa's in its prominence.

As often occurs. the current sanctuary is built atop former structures dedicated to other beliefs. In this case, a temple of Hera/Minerva may have stood in more ancient times. Then, as now, it reportedly could be seen by distant seafarers.
view from sanctuary atop Leuca, Janet Strayer photo

And here we sit on a sunny, cold afternoon, enjoying a simple caffé after walking around this 'tap' upon the lower tip of Italy's heel. And feeling on top of the world.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A River Runs Through It

Walking within the walls of the old city of Lecce, we come to a house. From the outside it looks like the other old stone houses lining this street. Perhaps not as fancy on its exterior as some others we've seen on our walks in this gracious city, but solidly part of this ancient street. Its door is open... and we enter.

terracota artifacts, found at Faggiano house
 The house is named after the Faggiano family who own it. It is a treasture trove of archaeological finds, all coming from beneath its floors and within in its walls. And it's true: a river runs through it!
Tuffa deposits underground, Faggiano house/museum

peek trough walls, Faggiano museum (Janet Strayer photos)
The story of this house was written about in the New Yorks Times in 2015, and it's a remarkable one. Even more remarkable when it is told to you, first-hand, from one of the boys (now an adult) who did the digging... seven years of it! Andrea Faggiano told us the story that brought history to light. He had worked with his father and brothers to fix the water problem, and ended up bringing this "museum" into being. His enthusiasm and respect for the archaeology and history of his house are infectious.
Andreas Faggiano (p standing on one of the glass supports allowing you to see below (Janet Strayer photo
The story begins with those occupying the house repeatedly complaining of dampness. Some years ago, Luciano Faggiano (the father) decided to take a shovel to the situation and explore the piping and sewage system below the house. He had intended to make the house a trattoria when he started digging to repair the pipes.  He and his young sons encountered far more than wet dirt, (though there were masses of that). In fact, they discovered an underground river that runs eventually into the Adriatic. More than this: as they dug, successive layers of tunnels were found, each deeper than the next, with artifacts of different civilizations found at each levels.The finds go back at least to 2,000 B.C. The family just had to stop digging by this time!

looking down into cistern (Janet Strayer photos)
one level Faggiano museum, stone steps up
It was just Mr. Faggiano and his sons doing the work until the State archaeologists were called in. One archaeologist was sent to supervise, but the digging remained a family affair, with most of the artifacts carted off to museums to be analysed. I've included some photos that may give you a feeling for it, from my eyes, anyway.

reclining female, Faggiano Museum (Janet Strayer photo)
What is now called the Museo Archaeologico Faggiano is a wonderful tribute both to the Faggiano family's efforts and to the civilizations that lived here before them. Visit this website link and make it a unique  part of any visit to southern Italy. In this ordinary-from-the-outside house setting, you feel like an explorer, yourself. Spiral metal staircases lead down to the lowest chambers. You can walk on sturdy mirrored floor coverings to see historical excavations beneath the current floor and, in other places, walk the stone steps yourself.

jumble of terracotta remains found in Fabbiano house (Janet Strayer photo)
It is the surprise of this apparently "ordinary house" setting that makes everything unique. Within it, you walk through layers upon layers of history -- made very accessible through years of work. You are walking upon this region's earliest settlements, Greek Messapian culture, ancient Roman, Medieval to Byzantine cultures, and onward. Serving as places of worship, ancient burial rites, convents, hiding secrets within it. There is an underground system of caves clearly visible and partly open to exploration, which continues in different directions, including one ending at the ancient Roman amphitheatre in the center of Lecce.

The Knights Templar are a most active presence in the hidden tunnels and cisterns (now unearthed) that go down farther than I wished to. Templar  etchings are visible on the walls, and the tower they used to scan for trouble remains intact.The chambers unearthed and other discoveries are numbered, along with informative explanations. Climbing to the top of the tower of the house, you would once have spotted possible invaders from the east (Ottoman invasions occurred). Now the view it is surrounded by the rooftops of other houses.

Though it is now called a 'museum' (for all the museum-quality artifacts and architectural remains in it), the outstanding feature of the Faggiano is that is was, and remains, a living house. It just happens to be a house that goes down to reveal layers upon layers of human history. It is an extraordinary experience to wander within it and through time. It was a great afternoon's adventure to travel thousands of years within this one private house. The invitation remains open. Thank you for our visit!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Otranto and its Marvelous Mosaics

A man on branch of Tree of Life, Otranto (Janet Strayer photo)
Otranto is a another exceptional place well worth a visit on this narrow heel of southern  Italy. We went there primarily to see its noted midieval mosaics, one of the largest pieces of inventive design to survive intact to our day. These mosaics also contribute one of the most important pieces of artwork from the Middle Ages.  
exterior entrance, Otranto Cathedral (Janet Strayer photo)
The mosaics are the highlight of Otranto's ancient cathedral, built of monolithic granite and marble by the Normans at the beginning of the 11th century and incorporating Romanesque, Byzantine and early Christian styles. Despite the flourishes added later, the simplicity of its architecture and its stone rose-window may seem like a relief after all the very ornate and elaborate Baroque one sees in later and larger cathedrals. But just wait until you step inside! It is fantastic.

photo credit
One artist, a monk named Pantaleone (with his co-workers), was responsible for all this mosaic magic. He must have been sure enough of its legacy to leave his name in stone, along with all the other Latin inscriptions.

nave mosaics, Otranto, photo credits
Elephants holding up the Tree of Life (sideways at entrance to Otranto Cathedral, Janet Strayer photo)
These wonderful 12th century mosaics are very different from the justly famous gorgeous floors and walls seen at Piazza Armerina in Sicily. First of all, here you are actually walking on all the depictions (for better or worse, in terms of their conservation). The mosaic floor is part of a still  active church, with pews set atop them. Wonderful for the parishioners, I'd think, but a bit disappointing for viewers from afar who have read about this marvellous floor and wish to see it uninterrupted. For photos taken with the floor cleared of pews, click on this recommended link. Otherwise, here are my own photos, taken under the present conditions.

Elephants holding up the Tree of Life (sideways view, Janet Strayer photo)
In the center as you enter the cathedral, you see the Tree of Life balanced on the backs of two elephants. The tree branches out into the aisles and apses and beyond. Other original depictions range from genesis to redemption, all created  with what seems to me a joyously inventive spirit and accomplished within a fine overall sense of decorative design.

The floor is so compelling, you might forget to look up at the elaborate carved and decorated ceiling, a contrast to the more simple architectural pillars and layout.
interior, and ceiling Otranto cathedral, Janet Strayer photos

But look to the floor! It's like walking through a huge, illuminated manuscript of the time. You even see some aspects of life (clothing, agriculture) in the Middle ages. Everything links to     everything else in this marvellous depiction of the ever-branching Tree of Life!

Not just Old Testament (Cain and Abel, Jonah and whale, Sampson and lion , etc.) and New Testament theological narratives are depicted, but also the zodiac, pagan references (satyrs, etc.), fanciful beasts and mythological figures and symbols, as well medieval romances.

depictions of the Zodiac, and other fantastic creatures (above) photos by Janet Strayer

The inclusiveness expressed within Otranto Cathedral  is said to mirror the interests of a once international city (of Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Jews and Muslims) in which "the culture of inclusion" thrived. Otranto was a hub of maritime trade connecting cultures of East and West. One hopes this focus on inclusiveness instead of insularity still lives on. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Living in Lecce, Part 2

This southern region of Puglia is a very Catholic part of Catholic Italy. Visiting the many churches in Lecce (and in other nearby excursions), the daily masses are well attended, in contrast to other parts of Italy we've explored.  Cathedrals and churches abound in all directions, and all seem to have some special treasure to gaze at, some historical feature to note, and many, many confessionals, should you need them. 

In Lecce you can find an impressive church at literally each turn you take, with more than 20 elaborate stone churches in the historic centre alone! Given all these structures, no wonder Lecce's is famous for its own style of elaborated Baroque. Santa Croce is often heralded as the most ornate of these (under renovation as I write), but none are negligible.  I've looked at and into each one, and the photos taken would fill an album.

An overall impression that remains is, of course, the baroque stone elaborations outside and inside the churches, something for which Lecce is known. Particularly, however, I've been delighted by how all of the churches seem to love cherubs: chubby little angels appear again and again, entwined with flowers, plants, and ornaments or with each other. And what's not to love? They seem spirited, hopeful, and add a touch of gaiety to otherwise somber matters.

inside one of Lecce's grand churches, (Janet Strayer photo)
Given the many notable chuches in Lecce, I'll  highlight just one of the lesser known, dedicated to Saints Nicolo and Cataldo.Walking to it takes you away from the hub of the city and near a cemetary and park. Once we thought we were in its vicinity, but still couldn't locate it, we asked for directions from a young local couple walking with their child. They had no idea it even existed. So we walked together to find the place, and it was a pleasure sharing our delight with them at this discovery.

Contrasting architecture of domed church,  cloister and pergola
tree near S. Nicolo (J.Strayer photos)
A lovely guide welcomed us and provided a wealth of information, easily converted into English for our ease. She led us into the cloisters so that we could see both the otherwise unseen campanile and the original Latin inscription, testifying to its medieval architect and patron,Tancred, the Norman ruler from Sicily (a rarity to have both inscribed). 

I inquired about a fresco I thought was by a medievalist who seemed herald Giotto in style. No, she informed me. The artist had already been impressed by Giotto's work in the north and had tried to apply it here. The result was what I mistook for pre-Giotto (because of its more naive style). So much for artistic appropriation! Still, to my eye, it retained a naive and very authentic quality, a "presence" of its own, even in fragmented form.

Having feasted richly on the Leccese Baroque style, coming to Saint Nicolo cleansed the palatte. It is set in an open surround with trees and a cemetery nearby, and with no other buildings to compete. The church is notable in its Norman arches and architecture, as well as its Norman-Byzantine interior, with parts of frescoes remaining from the middle ages (as noted in my "Giottoesque" example). 

Along with its churches, this is a city that also loves its obelisks, many of which you can see while trying to negotiate the traffic roundabouts. Though I've snapped one of its major ones while walking near the Porta Napoli, my favorite one is more whimsical, with  birds flying out of  and atop it. It's inconvenient to stop and photograph it, and I'd never hazard this while driving around its roundabout. But here's a photo of it, too (cannot find its name or information about it). I like its composite structure and birds flying off from it.
oblelish near Porta Napoli
my favorite obelisk at roundabout in Lecce, JStrayer photo

Norman arches, Roman elements, Byzantine and Medieval frescoes (photos Janet Strayer)

Lecce's architectural flourishes reside not only in its churches. You can see them everywhere: looking up at balconies of private homes, at cornices of buildings, and almost everywhere you look. Even the pavements are interesting in their patterns!

Some of Lecce's fabulous balconies (Janet Strayer photos)


 This small city has a weatlth of architectural and archaeological treasures, including its Greek, Norman, Roman, Byzantine and Baroque influences. Just imagine having a house in the old city and needing to make some basement excavations because of sewage problems. This led one family to the chance discovery of multiple strata of archaeological wonders. This home stands in the historic town and has now been turned into the easily accessed Faggiano museum. As you travel downward, its deepest finds take you back to the Messapii culture of the 5th century BC; then up through Roman crypts, medieval ramparts, Jewish insigna and Knights Templar symbols.

Nothing missing so far except a castle. Oh, wait, there's an unmistakably grand one here. The emperor Charles V thought Lecce was key to his defenses, so he built a mighty castle-fortress here. It guards the city now at less than casual attention, open to any and all who wish to walk through it.  It's fun taking a short-cut through the castle to get from the main square where you've been drinking a cappucino at Alvino's café and looking over to the ancient Roman amphitheatre (not yet excavated in Charles V's time). The castle can be and is treated as a short-cut  from this main piazza to the streets behind that house theaters, beauty shops, wineries, boutiques and other shops catering to a lively modern city. How many cities offer such impressive short-cuts for daily use?


I especially like walking into and out of the old walled city from its different portals. The central one is Porta Napoli, to and from which you see university students streaming. We live nearest the Porta Rudiae, right inside which is the art academy, the Accademia Belle Arti, with its stately old entranceway (photo at right).

Porta Napoli  photo Janet Strayer
Accademia Belle Arti photo credit

Given the contrast it offered, I couldn't resist a picture of this old bicycle parked outside the ornate entrance to the Accademia. This bicycle frame is a sculpture in itself. It seems like a Dada-esque sculpture left always outside the ancient entrance to the Accademia -- symbolic of all that is old and young in this vibrant city. Bicycles seem to be an icon this city -- easy to ride on the level (even if cobbletoned) paths, and many are ridden in traffic as well. On the first day of exploring old Lecce by foot, I even  spotted a wooden bicycle outside a shop.


wooden bicyle in Lecce (Janet Stryaer photo)

Entering the Accademia for a quick peek, I loved the young faces seen in this ancient place, toiling away at their creative studies. I snapped some photos as I peered inside the Accademia halls showing well-used printing presses, a class at work, and samples of contemporary sculpture and painting found inside its walls (I wish I could credit the artists but could not find this information). As well as the Accademia, Lecce also hosts a more generic universityi One sees an assortment of international faces here among the students and residents.

photos inside Accademia Belle Arti by Janet Strayer

class inside Accademia Belle Arti (Janet Strayer photo)
artwork inside Accademia Belle Arti Lecce (Janet Strayer photos)

art store in Lecce, photo Janet Strayer
A meandering distance away, from the Accademia I found a wonderful old and crammed art supplies store: Belle Arti Caiulo. I love such tucked-in shops with their wooden shelves and counters, somewhat dark in places, with the aroma of years. Lovely Fabriano papers of all types are in stock and really everything one could need, plus a knowledgeable and helpful staff, understandably proud of their shop.

The pleasure of Lecce lies not only in the historic old city but spills out into its surrounding streets. On the streets outside the historic center, the traffic is brisk. I much prefer walking to driving, when possible. Especially because some of the houses lining "ordinary" streets  make you stop and marvel at them. On one of the main avenues leading to our own side-street is lined with privately-owned mansions in styes ranging from Renaissance balance to high Baroque with a Moorish twist. We fantasize about which of these remarkable houses we would live in. Of course, we'd have to restore most of these structures properly (as seems to be happening to some, properly or not). And then we'd need to decorate their interiors appropriately ...  in our dreams! But what fantastic fun to imagine.
Moorish-inspired mansion on Gallipoli, Lecce (Janet Strayer photo)
We're quite happy where we are, though. It's wonderful to sit in outdoor cafés (even in winter jackets, if needed). The wintertime sunshine is ample (compared to Vancouver!), and we can enjoy the local treats as we people-watch. The treats include puccia, a local bread that is somewhat like a fuller and richer pita, its dough sometimes flavored with spices and olives. There's also  rustico, a delicious puff pastry filled with various savories and cheese. And then there's pasticciotto, an egg-custard pastry with a rich and buttery baked crust. 

So I'll leave you with this taste of Lecce as we rest up for more of Puglia.