That morning, after arriving by train from Venice, we had savored cappuccini and croissants and then toured the main attraction in Bologna, the Basilica de San Petronio. We spent about an hour there marvelling at the centuries-old church with the unusual brick and stone facade. Plan to read a future post on that experience soon, but here’s a taste.
We had also explored the Piazza Maggiore with its beautiful Fountain of Neptune and saw the city “square” rigged and ready with row upon row of temporary seating for hundreds plus a huge movie screen. Among other movies, Gone with the Wind was on the menu at some time during the summer season. How fun would that be?!
It’s the copper-domed church in the large photo at the top of this post. While it’s quite a standout in a Bologna skyline photo, at street level it’s easy to miss. Tall buildings and narrow streets together conceal your vision of things in the upper reaches.
It was a warm and achingly brilliant sunny day. Taking a short break in a quiet place of worship enticed us to escape the Italian noonday rays.
Inside, sounds of the street faded to a cavernous quiet. The majesty and somber tone of the interior both cooled and stunned me.
The soothing soft green interior wall colors caught our attentions first. The ornate Baroque stylings caught our attentions second. The dome, completed in 1787 and designed by architect Giuseppe Tubertini, was beautiful as well.
But if only I had Googled to see what more this structure had to reveal.
I stumbled upon this sculpture as I was researching the church and I still can’t believe that I was in this very building and missed this very powerful example of Renaissance art.
I can’t get over the expressions on the faces.
Terror. Despair. Uncontrollable grief.
Truth be told, I often feel detached from historical art. The expressions are often glum and sullen, especially in depictions of Jesus Christ and the suffering he endured on the cross. That goes, too, for the the emotional suffering of those nearby who loved him. Sometimes it’s just hard to identify.
With Arca’s work, however, the emotions of the figures are real and painfully so. I understand that kind of hurt and sorrow and panic. We see humans in painful grief daily on the news and in our modern media. To think that an Italian Renaissance artist was able to capture it accurately — in terra cotta — six hundred years ago — baffles my small mind.
Words are not needed in the picture below. The emotion is palpable and horrible.
And on that note, I’ll close this post with this final thought: When travelling, it’s a good thing to have time to spare. However, once you arrive home, it’s heart-breaking to discover something wonderful that you missed.
Lesson learned: Next time, slow down, google it, and learn what more there is right in front of you.
Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more posts about the details in travel far and wide.
A peek into the past in the hills of southern Crete
Phaistos. Phaestos. Festos. Faistos. And then in Greek, it’s spelled Φαιστός. No matter how you spell it, each name refers to Phaistos Minoan Palace, the second most important site (after Knossos Palace in Heraklion) of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete.
We visited Phaistos last summer in late June. After touring the archaeological sites at Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia, and Knossos, we made a final stop at Phaistos. After a confusing morning journey by public bus from Heraklion, we made it to Phaistos in plenty of time to take a leisurely self-guided tour, eat a small lunch beneath a pine tree, and have a cold drink and ice cream in the small, on-site gift shop before hopping on a bus back to Heraklion. Here’s my post about how to get from Heraklion to Phaistos, click here.
If Minoans are new to you, here are a few facts about the culture from my husband:
The Minoans, named for their ruler, the mythical King Minos, are known for their advanced civilization that settled the island of Crete and other surrounding islands.
The Minoans were great sea travelers.
They built enormously sophisticated palaces for their royalty. The palaces were very “high tech” for the time period and exhibited a distinctive and advanced architectural style.
Phaistos was the region that produced Kamares ware, a pottery style dating from the 1800-1700 BC. Kamares ware, named for the nearby cave where it was found, is known for its dark background and white brushwork. Kamares wares were considered luxurious to own and were exported throughout the Mediterranean to Cyprus, Egypt and Palestine.
A self-guided tour of Phaistos is relaxing and quiet. Unlike Knossos, there are no guides-for-hire who approach you as you enter offering to walk you through the site for a fee.
While these guides are likely very helpful for many tourists, we doubted that they were truly needed, considering the large number of detailed placards placed throughout the site. Granted, that assumes one doesn’t mind reading.
When you do stop to read the signs, you can learn a lot. Here are some basic facts taken from a placard found at the entry to the main site:
The hill of Phaistos was inhabited as early as 4500-3200 BC in the Final Neolithic Age.
The first palace of Phaistos was active from 1900-1700 BC. The palace controlled the plains and valleys found below the palace hilltop.
The city of Phaistos — and Minoan culture in general — flourished until 323-367 BC.
The Phaistos Palace grounds included a central court, surrounding wings, multi-story buildings (similar to Knossos), gateways and open balconies.
More facts follow the next few photos.
The first Phaistos Palace was built around 1900 BC.
It covered 8,000 square kilometers over three terraces.
The original palace was inhabited for 250 years and destroyed and rebuilt three times.
It was destroyed the last time by an earthquake around 1700 BC.
It’s amazing that visitors are allowed to walk on stones laid nearly 3,700 years ago!
After the earthquake, the ruins were covered and a new palace was constructed on that.
This last palatial site was smaller, but according to the placard, “more monumental.”
This last Phaistos Palace was destroyed in 1450 BC, but not rebuilt.
Two more facts follow below.
The city of Phaistos continued to be inhabited and thrived in Hellenistic times from 323-367 BC.
In 150 BC, Phaistos was finally destroyed by Gortys. When Rome conquered Crete in 67 BC, Gortys became the capital, replacing Knossos.
But back to our tour…
The main reason we wanted to visit Phaistos: the pithoi.
These pithoi (the singular word is pithois) are well-known in art history circles and Phaistos is considered the premier site for this particular kind of storage vessel. In fact, my husband hoped the site would have more available to see, as he had seen photos of many more pithoi on display here.
Still, it was fun to wander the grounds and find a pithois tucked away here and there. There were more to see in an area of the grounds covered with metal shelters; however, these shelters were in large areas closed off to visitors.
In fact, this was our main disappointment with Phaistos:
a good portion of the site was closed.
There was definitely a feeling that Phaistos is overlooked and forgotten.
a few signs were missing
some barriers were broken
a wooden observation deck had missing boards
Generally, Phaistos seemed neglected. And this isn’t really surprising, considering Greece’s other economic priorities.
True, due to its location, Phaistos sees fewer visitors than other more popular Greek archaeological sites. In fact, Phaistos doesn’t even make this Top 20 list of Greek ruins.
Still, Phaistos is a valuable peek into the past, and among art historians, it’s well-known and revered.
The Phaistos Minoan Palace reminds us that we shouldn’t underestimate the abilities and ingenuity of ancient cultures. For example, precisely placed stairs and drainage pipes made of solid stone show us the resourcefulness of the Minoans.
It was a beautiful sunny day when we visited Phaistos. In fact, by early afternoon, we were ready to hop on an air-conditioned bus and make the trip back to Heraklion.
Mysteriously, no one knows for sure the reasons for the collapse of Minoan culture, including the civilization at Phaistos.
Perhaps that’s a fitting conclusion for this archaeological site that today is still out-of-the-way, obscure, and famous.
Thanks for reading! This post is another installment from our cross-country Greek odyssey last summer. It’s amazing how many more sights I have yet to write about. Follow my blog for more travel posts, including this one from our final day in Greece when we visited the site of Paul’s To an Unknown God sermon.
On our next to last day in Greece last summer, we capped off our Greek museum tour with a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. It was the last museum we would see, having already visited other museums in Athens (The Acropolis Museum), Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia, and Heraklion. You would think that we would have been “museumed out,” but actually each museum is so unique to its location that each one feels quite different from the others.
So what sets the National Archaeological Museum in Athens apart from the others? In a word, I would say “breadth.” In fact, you will find the widest gamut of Greek artifacts and art. This museum has pieces from all those other areas we had visited across the country, in addition to hundreds (possibly thousands) more.
By the way, here’s a list with links to posts I’ve written about the other museums we visited in Greece:
For example, when we visited the Museum of Mycenae, the golden Mask of Agamemnon that was discovered in a grave circle there, was not held in that museum.
The mask on exhibit in Mycenae is a replica, a guard told me. The original could be found in the National Museum in Athens, he added. Upon hearing this, we made a mental note to seek out the mask when we would eventually tour the National.
Watch this video from Khan Academy for more about this mask.
When one visits a museum in Greece, you truly feel that you are in the hub of antiquity. Each museum is an art historian’s dream; art history students will also be amazed at seeing in person so many famous works commonly found in textbooks.
“The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece and one of the most important in the world. Originally destined to receive all the 19th century excavations, mainly from Attica and other parts of the country, it gradually took the form of a central National Archaeological Museum and was enriched with finds from all parts of the Greek world. The rich collections, enumerating more than 11,000 exhibits, offer the visitor a panorama of ancient Greek culture from the prehistory to the late antiquity.”
Here’s a listing of the various collections within the museum:
vases and minor arts
Cypriot antiquities (those from the island of Cyprus).
Visiting the National Museum in Athens was our final stop of our five-week Greek odyssey. We left Athens at 6 a.m. the next morning, for a short layover in Amsterdam, and then Atlanta, and then finally to our home airport in Springfield, Mo.
Thanks for reading again about our travels in Greece this past summer! Now that we’ve both started new jobs and are in the full swing of new school years, this trip seems like a lifetime ago. However, there are still posts to be written, and I’ll get to those eventually. My next one will likely be about the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which I was able to see briefly during my week-long stay there in June.
Now that the year is beginning to wind down, I also hope to write soon about “2019… My Year of Living Changerously” and how I managed to stay buckled up and on the tracks.
And other observations made on a daytrip from Venice to the City of Palladio
My daughter spent three months living in Venice in 2017 as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. Her time there was magical, challenging, beautiful, and life-changing. On four occasions, she day-tripped with her friends away from the 124 islands that compose Venice to visit these cities: Bologna, Padua, Verona, and Vicenza.
Since her return, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about her time in Italy. In this and future posts, I’ll be relaying the details of each of these short excursions. This post is about her daytrip to Vicenza, a city with an approximate population of 113,000 full of architectural gems that was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994.
The interview answers are just the two of us talking; see the photo captions for more detailed notes and facts about her trip.
How far is Vicenza from Venice? It’s only a 45-minute train ride that goes through Mestre, which is near Venice on the mainland and then Padua before arriving in Vicenza.
What did you do first? We first walked from the train a few minutes to the city walls. Then we made our way to the Palladio Museum. It’s a large museum situated within the Palazzo Barbarano. The museum showcases Andrea Palladio, the Italian architect who designed tons of buildings all around the city. Palladio lived in the early 1500s, so he can be considered a High Renaissance artist.
The museum has old and rare sketchbooks and drawings by Palladio. Those were so interesting. It was amazing to see how well-preserved the papers were.
The museum is also famous for all of the dioramas they have of Palladio’s designs. These aren’t old, but they are really valuable, so anyone—and especially art historians and architects—can understand more about how the buildings were designed. You can get a sense of the effects that Palladio achieved with his symmetry, like the long views down corridors.
Was symmetry his trademark? Well, one of them, along with columns. He’s why columns are popular in homes and public buildings. Basically, his work was about highlighting classical Roman architecture, and symmetry was one characteristic. His designs influenced architecture around the world. It eventually became called Palladianism. Palladio’s work is easy to recognize because he had a very distinct style that totally revolutionized the architecture game. And lots of people are familiar with Palladianism, even if they don’t realize it. The White House and the U.S. Capitol—and thousands more examples around the world—are good examples. So is Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.
Did you have a tour of the Palladio Museum? Yes, we had a guide who spent 2 ½ – 3 hours showing us the museum, which was our main goal in visiting Vicenza. There was an exhibition being shown there called “The Mysteries of Palladio’s Face.” It was all about portraits of Palladio—or the fact that there aren’t portraits of him. No one really knows for sure what he looked like. Even drawings of him are different. However, there was a drawing we saw where he had actually sketched his hand onto the paper. Kinda cool because at least we know it’s his hand, y’know?
Then we went to the Teatro Olimpico. It’s a performing arts theater that Palladio designed. Today, the theater does live theater productions. You can go inside the actual theater and sit and look at the paintings. You can also see the façade that Palladio designed and the illusion of the set itself.
On the interior, parts of it plays tricks on your mind due to optical techniques. For example, it appears that the set is very deep based on the perspective you see through the entrance with the blue sky beyond. The ceiling of the theater is painted like the sky and it’s encircled by large-scale Olympic figures.
What else did you see on such a short trip? We went and saw the Basilica Palladiana. It’s a building downtown that you can easily identify because of its copper roof. They issued a contract to Palladio in 1549 to renovate the building because of structural problems that occurred over the years. Today, there are restaurants and shops around it, plus exhibition spaces for art and architecture shows. One thing that makes the basilica significant is that it shows the first example of the Palladian window. Palladian windows have a center window with a semi-circular top and then one rectangular identical window on each side.
After going to the basilica, we decided we wanted to have lunch outside on the plaza, the Piazza dei Signori. We found a quaint café in the sun and… wait for it… had some pizza that was altogether forgettable. It was more like American pan pizza. I’m sure some people liked it, but I was disappointed. I didn’t even make a note of the name of the place. Oh, well. That was literally the only downside to the whole day. I would love to go back!
How would you sum up Vicenza? It’s a quiet city with an off-the-beaten-path feel to it. It’s very beautiful and important. It’s like a giant art museum, but the art is the city itself.
I make no apologies. As a writer and parent, I feel perfectly entitled to take full advantage of my daughter’s experiences in Italy by wringing every possible story idea from it! Yes, our family did visit her in Venice for a week, and while we saw so much in that time, we envied the luxury of time her three-month internship allowed. Check out my profile on Medium.com and find more stories about my daughter’s other daytrips around northern Italy.
And other observations my daughter made during a quick morning trip to Padua from Venice
My daughter spent three months living in Venice in 2017 as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. Her time there was magical, challenging, beautiful, and life-changing. On four occasions, she day-tripped with her friends away from the 124 islands that compose Venice to visit these cities: Bologna, Padua, Verona, and Vicenza. One day, she travelled to Ravenna with my husband, our son and me when we visited over spring break.
Since her return, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about her time in Italy. In this and future posts, I’ll be relaying the details of each of these short excursions. This post is about her morning trip to Padua, a city that claims to be the oldest city in northern Italy. It’s a short 26 miles from Venice.
The interview answers are just the two of us talking; see the photo captions for more detailed notes and facts about her trip.
How did you travel to Padua? We left from the Venice train station at 9 a.m. It took barely thirth minutes to get there.
What was the most important thing you saw in Padua? Our goal in going to Padua—of Padova, as the Italians say—was to see the Scrovegni Chapel. It’s covered on the inside with many famous frescoes by Giotto. He was a painter during the Middle Ages. He was known for the expressions he painted on people. The frescoes in the chapel are literally in every art history textbook I’ve ever seen. The chapel is extremely small and floor to ceiling it’s jammed with frescoes.
Did the chapel meet your expectations? Yes! It was exactly what I hoped it would be. Giotto was known for using blue and the frescoes there were way more intensely vibrant than I expected them to be. The color was the bluest blue I’ve ever seen.
Before you even enter the chapel, it must be readied by the staff. They adjust the humidity level in order to control the air quality inside and they also regulate your entrance time because the air quality must be adjusted to protect the frescoes. Many of them are fragile. Some are entirely gone. Some are faded and chipping away. They were completed in 1305, so that explains the deterioration.
Where did you go after the Scrovegni? We went to Chiesa degli Eremitani, literally the Church of the Hermits, which was a religious order under St. Augustine. It’s a very tall church with a woven, wooded lattice roof. There area frescoed bricks on the wall. At the front where the altar is, there are two or three little chapels. There are interesting frescoes that go up into the domes, but only to a point.
The church was bombed in World War II and they were almost totally destroyed. Over the years, the building has been renovated. There are fragmented frescoes where black paint has been applied showing what the image would have been had it not been bombed.
Did you grab a meal while you were there? Yes, after the Chiesa, we ran to get pizza somewhere on the way to the train station. We also managed to find an American coffee shop and I ordered a chai tea latte for the first time while I was in Italy. Chai tea is not a thing in Italy, by the way.
That was also about the time we realized we had bought the wrong returning ticket to Venice. We made our way onto the next train back, but didn’t have time to purchase tickets. It was a confusing ordeal. We planned to pay while we were onboard the train, but no one ever checked our tickets.
We made it back to Venice by 2 in the afternoon, which was around the time we were scheduled to get ready to tour Damien Hirst’s mammoth exhibition, which is totally another story.
Would you like to go back to Padua since you were only there for a few hours? Yes, of course, it would be great to go back. There are so many things I know we just didn’t have time for. One would be the Basilica of Saint Anthony. Someday… someday.
I make no apologies. As a writer and parent, I feel perfectly entitled to take full advantage of my daughter’s experiences in Italy by wringing every possible story idea from it! Yes, our family did visit her there for a week, and while we saw so much in that time, we envied the luxury of time her three-month internship allowed. Check out my profile on Medium.com and find more stories about my daughter’s daytrips around northern Italy.