Monday, 29 August 2016

Re-discovering Via Appia

Via Appia is the Roman road which links Roma caput mundi with Brindisi door to the Orient.

Built up between 4th and 3rd century BC, via Appia went down in history as regina viarum.

The extension of via Appia came along with the Roman military expansion. 

533 kilometres long, the road is covered of smooth volcanic stones (basoli). Cambered in the middle to let the water run off, it was built with ditches on both sides, protected by retaining walls.  

The map shows Via Appia (white), which main places were Capua, Beneventum, Silvium (Gravina in Puglia) and Tarentum

A couple of months ago, Feltrinelli has published Appia by Paolo Rumiz. 

This book is the result of a long walk undertaken by Paolo Rumiz and his companions (Riccardo, Alessandro and Irene) who have covered via Appia on foot.

Italy has an immense cultural and archaeological heritage, it's so huge that the Italian institutions seem not always able to preserve it.

As result of this, Philippe Daverio has urged the world to get involved in assisting Italy to save its immense cultural heritage.

Indeed, he has promoted years ago the project Save Italy, stating that the Italian cultural heritage belongs to the whole western world, not just to Italy.

According to, 60% of English words have Latin roots.

As occurred to via Appia, Italy has deliberately sold off its cultural heritage to private interests, linked mainly to property investment.

Antonio Cederna was the first to defend via Appia against politicians, speculators, architects and functionaries implicated in the via Appia plunder.

On 8th Septemebre 1953, Il Mondo published the Antonio Cederna's j'accuse "Via Appia should have been religiously saved because for centuries talented men from all around the world have loved, described, painted, sung it […] Via Appia should have been saved like the Acropolis of Athens".

On 25 August 2016, Masseria Jesce (Altamura), a fantastic masseria which was once a roadhouse of via Appia, has hosted Paolo Rumiz and the filmmaker Alessandro Scillitani to discuss about their trip discovering and mapping Via Appia.

"A journey like this, made on foot, gives you the feeling that the space turns expanded, deep". Paolo Rumiz begins.

"By living a sedentary life, we do not cultivate the skill of reading the body language of people we encounter. Talking about this journey, when we came across the locals, they first looked at us suspiciously, then turned calmed, finally they became interested in what we were doing". He continues. 

"The best moment to undertake a long walk is when your head and hearth is full, when you have had enough" In other words, walking is therapeutical, and I fully agree with Paolo Rumiz.

He says "During a meeting in Matera, someone said that this journey had a strong political implication, in the sense that it shifts the barycenter to the South of Italy". 

"Via Appia is unique. It makes sense to walk from Rome to Brindisi and vice versa. In other words, the Roman legions came down to Brindisi as well as in the Middle-age the crusades walked along via Appia to reach Brindisi and departing for the Holy land. On the other hand, Catholicism arrived in Rome from the South."

"We have met so many peasants. It was great to talk with them. I remember one of them in Gravina in Puglia. He thought we were grave robbers. "Here the soil conceals so many graves ascribable to Silvium times" he justified himself". Paolo says.

"The South requires a new narration, free of stereotypes. It must be done also because of the current historical and geopolitical situation". 

Alessandro has made a documentary from this journey.

"It took us 30 days to cover via Appia. I was struck by the sound of dialects, by random encounters, by the beauty of the landscape. I have filmed the communities we came across" Alessandro says. 

The talk goes on till midnight.

Outside is dark, and a fresh air grabs our senses.

We are invited to visit the crypt of masseria Jesce, adorned by frescos which echo the Byzantine ones.

In this awesome scenario, a musician duo is going to play music to entertain the audience.

They are Massimiliano Di Carlo&Veronika Otto, respectively from Ascoli Piceno and Berlin.

Their mission is discovering songs from old people and propose them to their audience.

Massimiliano begins singing a Mongolian song, made by just one note. It's an ancestral sound.

Then, they offer us a fantastic tammurriata, explaining us its cultural roots. Just to clarify, tammurriata is the Neapolitan version of  tarantella, "a sound brought by ancient Greeks in the south of Italy. It spread till Ancona, though" Massimiliano points out.

Finally, the duo offer us a typical song called Saltarello, a kind of tarantella typical of center Italy.

After their fantastic performance, I get closer to Massimiliano and ask his name "you know, I write a blog and I'd like to mention you guys because you really do a great job".

While talking with Massimiliano, Paolo Rumiz gets closer and listen to us.

"Of course, I will write about Paolo Rumiz and his great book either" I say.

Paolo Rumiz replays "Well, Massimiliano needs to be reported more than me".

I answer: "Well, I need it too".

Both of them burst laughing. I laugh too.

It's 1 o'clock. Outside it's getting cold but the fire burns inside me.

Tonight I have had great time and learned a lot.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Journey to Sicily

While heading to Sicily, I feel completely inebriated by the fashion which this island emanates, core of the Mediterranean culture, the joint between Africa and Europe.

Lucia and I, board on ferry at Villa San Giovanni, nearby Reggio Calabria.

We're heading to Messina, leaving Calabria at our back.

The time we have planned to spend in Sicily is 7/8 days.

Therefore, we decide to travel around the Eastern Sicily. 

Once arrived in Messina, we drive straight to Taormina.

It's hot here. We are at the longitude of Maghreb.

So, before arriving at Taormina, which beach we imagine will be crowded, we stop by Santa Teresa di Riva (pictured).

I'll remember forever how hot was the gravel beach. In fact, I'm forced to dress my flip flop to walk around.

And what about that diaphanous sea? So fresh, so reinvigorating…

We are delighted to be here.

Additionally, there are free showers installed on free beach, available for anyone.

I pay great respect to that municipality, who provides free services to welcome travellers.    

After having swum and sun bathed for a couple of hours, we resume our journey.

Once arrived in Taormina, I realise that the town is located on the mountain, not by the sea as I would have expected.

In order to visit Taormina, I am obliged to park the car in a multilevel car parking.

Then, we get the lift and reach the 7th floor.

Once out, Taormina discloses itself in front of our eyes.

Taormina is a so beautiful place to visit.

Indeed, Taormina is invaded by tourists, particularly by French, a constant in our journey.

From my perspective, the most beautiful thing to see in Taormina is the Greek theatre.

What awesome view: beyond the proscenium I see the Vulcan Etna on the right, whereas the sea is on the left. 

Probably I had never seen anything like this before.

After having spent three hours there, we decide to move on.

It's 7 pm, we have booked a room in a B&B in Acireale, which is 45 kilometres away.

I drive, even though my mind has still impressed the bella Taormina and its amazing theatre.

We pass through Giardini Naxos, which is known to be the oldest Greek settlement in Sicily (8 century B.C.). 

Then, we drive through Giarre. 15 more kilometres more and we reach Acireale.

Once there, we arrive at B&B, take a quick shower and get out looking for Baroque architecture to delight our eyes.

The rhythm of this holiday will always be like this: walking, driving, swimming, visiting museums, sleeping all over again

It took me almost one week to fully recover after the journey.

The day after, we leave Acireale pretty early because we wish to see Aci trezza, the location where Giovanni Verga set his wonderful novel I Malavoglia.

We were expecting a village of fishermen untouched by modernity and concrete.

Unfortunately, the reality is different. 

To console ourselves, we stop at a bar along the sea and have a granita al limone, a typical Sicilian one made with local lemons.

We don't want to waste time, so we quickly move to Catania, where we have booked a room in a B&B.

Catania is one of the greatest surprise of the trip.

Elegant, baroque, historical, alive and plenty of art.

We gain our room in Catania, rest for a while, take a shower and get out at 5 pm.

The city centre is amazing. An elephant dominates Piazza del Duomo, the main plaza in Catania.

What strikes me is the fact that an animal that lives in other continents turns to be the symbol of an European city.

50 metres far from the elephant, we find a monumental fountain made of Carrara marble. 

It's called fontana dell'Amenano.

In Piazza San Francesco, 500 metres from Piazza del Duomo, there is a marvellous Greek-Roman theatre. It has been restored and re-opened a couple of months ago.

Catania seems to me a city where the local institutions work hard for the sake of community.

I found in Catania a place of book crossing made available by the municipality.

"We have started with a bunch of books, then people made this project growing by donating their own books. Currently, we have thousands of book. Anyone is welcome here and may exchange  books" a lady says. 

Another place worth to be seen in Catania is the fish market.

Try to be there at around 8.30/9 am.

We have little time because tonight we are going to sleep in Siracusa.

So, we quickly move on and go to see the Castle Ursino, which hosts a temporary paint exhibition on Madness, which encompasses so many Ligabue's paints.

We get out the Orsini castle and head to the Bellini theatre. 

Bellini, born in Catania, died in France when he was 34 years.

The theatre, dedicated to the author of Norma, is just fantastic.

The ticket includes a guide who narrates its history. 

Finally, due to limited time, we leave Catania not before having admired Palazzo Biscari, the most astonishing private palace of this astonishing city.

Even J. W. Goethe visited this palace during his journey to Italy

Our guide is actually a descendant of Prince of Biscari, who built it up after the earthquake of 1693. 

The guide is called Ruggero Moncada di Paterno'.

He is an affable gentleman, who speaks Italian, French and English, according to the tourists he copes with. 

We leave Catania which has impressed us a lot and head to Syracuse.

From an historical perspective, Syracuse was a powerful city which fought against Athens as well as Rome.

His most famous son is Archimedes, scientist and mathematician.

During the siege of Syracuse, Archimedes invented burning glass to set on fire the Roman ships.

Disgracefully, he was killed by a Roman butcher.

There is a lot to see in Syracuse.

The ancient part of the city is called Ortigia

In Ortigia you'll find the Santa Lucia's church hosting the Caravaggio's seppellimento di Santa Lucia.

If you go there and want to eat something unique, asks for pasta con le sarde

Nevertheless, as sarda is an oily fish, bear in mind to not eat it for dinner as it requires a lot of time to be digested.

We visit the Syracuse archaeological park.

There is the Ara di Ierone as well as a huge Greek Theatre.

However, I believe the most fascinating thing to see is the Ear of Dionysius, a quarry which was so called by Caravaggio.

After having admired Syracuse, we move on and go to visit Ragusa, Modica and Noto, earth of Sicilian Baroque, An Unesco world heritage site.

In Ragusa, I have bought an interesting book called Storia di un amicizia, which talks about the meetings of a local photographer, Giuseppe Leone, with three Sicilians, who are among the greatest Italian writers: Leonardo Sciascia, Gesualdo Bufalino and Vincenzo Consolo.  

If you wish to find out more about Sicily, and its contradictions, you must read the Sciascia's books.  

During an interview, Leonardo Sciascia said "I have covered an institutional role both in the Municipality of Palermo and in the Italian Parliament. In both cases, I have always had the feeling that who rules is somewhere else, the decisions are taken outside the institutional sites". 

Additionally, I wish to report what Gesualdo Bufalino said about mafia and how to fight it "books, books and again books! Plus, many teachers in primary schools".

The last thing I wish to talk about this wonderful journey, is the mosaic of the Roman Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina.

This mosaic is famous all around the world both because of its magnificence and for being almost untouched.


The artists who made this amazing mosaic came from North Africa.

It took 50 years to complete it. 

Basically, two generations, father and sons, have worked on it.

For all these reasons, Sicily may rightly be considered the ombellico del Mediterraneo.

The last thing I want to say about Sicily and its inhabitants is to highlight the humanity shown in handling the exodus from Africa. 

The compassion of people in Lampedusa is well described by the documentary Fuocoammare, shot by Francesco Rosi, which has won the Berlin festival 2016.

Come to Sicily for a while in order to stay human.

It will be the antidote to these dehumanising times.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Journey to Calabria

Thursday 28 July, I started a journey through Calabria and Sicily.  

I came back Sunday 7 August, after having spent almost two weeks travelling around by my city car (800 cc), and covered almost 2000 kilometres.

Frankly, I was sick and tired to eat pizza and sleep in cheap B&B every night.

So, I'm very glad to be at home now, writing a new article on my blog.

Today, I'm going to report about Calabria, a land wonderfully portrayed by one of his son, Corrado Alvaro (pictured).

At the archaeological museum of Reggio Calabria, I came across Cristina Versaci, journalist of Calabriapost for which she edits the section Calabria IGnota.

We have chance to talk about Corrado Alvaro, and Cristina says "I highly suggest you to read the Alvaro's cult book Gente d'Aspromonte"

However, let's start from the very beginning.

Lucia and I, leave Altamura early in the morning. I drive towards Taranto, then I take the SS 106, la ionica, which runs along the Ionian sea. 

We are heading to Rossano, a town mostly known for two reasons: licorice and and codex purpureus.   

The codex is exhibited at the Museo Diocesano of Rossano.

If you consider yourself a bibliophile, then you can't miss the codex.

But what is the codex and why is so important?

The codex is a Byzantine illuminated book, the oldest in the world.

Researchers believe that it has been made in Antiochia (Syria) between 5th and 6th century AC.

It's written in silver and gold, moreover, it contains 15 illumination tables.

Scientists hypothesise that the codex belonged to the Byzantine court. Then, brought to Rossano by monks who escaped from Costantinopoli because persecuted during the iconoclastic war.

When I enter the Museo Diocesano, we are welcomed by Grazia, whom I met years ago in Manfredonia as she got married with Mario, an old friend of mine.

Grazia leads us to the ancient world evoked by the miniatures.

It's often said that Byzantine art is static. 

As you can see, the illuminations show right the opposite.

"In 1879, two Germans scientists, Adolf Von Harnack and Oscar Von Gebhardt, revealed to the world the importance of the codex" Grazia says.

She continues "They even attempted to purchase it offering to the bishop a huge amount of money. It didn't work, though".

Enchanted by this priceless book, we leave the museo Diocesano to walk around Rossano Alta.

We head to the Byzantine church of San Marco (10th century).

The Greek-Byzantine rite has remained in place in Rossano till 1460, when the new bishop replaced it with the Latin-Catholic one.

Finally, at 8 pm, we end up at La Bizantina, a restaurant where you eat local and well for little money.

The day after we have a quick breakfast. Then, we leave Rossano alta for Rossano bassa in order to visit the Amarelli museum.

Amarelli is a company which sells pure licorice collected in Calabria.

Amarelli family was in Rossano since around 11th century.

Amarelli starts producing licorice only starting from 18th century.

Indeed, before Amarelli and other companies realised the properties of licorice (which Chinese were already aware of), local farmers detested it because of its roots, so long, so difficult to eradicate. 

Indeed, they were called the "hell roots".

We leave Amarelli not before having bought a bag of licorice.    

At midday, we resume our journey.

We pass by Sibari, one of the most important Greek colonies   during the Magna Graecia times. 

So, we stop there and visit the Archaeological museum.

While walking throughout the car park, we notice an old fashion car used by archaeologists ages ago, abandoned there. 

It seems to me the right place to abandon such car. 

Sibari as well as Kroton (currently Crotone) were Achaean settlements.

However, a war erupted in 510 AC between Sibari and Kroton, apparently because Kroton despised the dolce vita carried out by Sibariti.

According to Diodoro SiculoCrotoniati won the war led by their most famous son, Milo, a wrestler who had won 7 times the Olimpic games.

After having admired the museum of Sibari, we cannot avoid to visit the Archaeological museum of Kroton.

Therefore, we get on our city car and drive towards Crotone. 

The city centre of Crotone is interesting.

While walking towards the museum, I notice a bunch of people standing, aligned outside a ground floor. 

After a while I realise that they are muslims who are actually praying.

I respectfully move away.

The archaeological museum of Crotone shows some fantastics objects.

Kroton was important at the time not only for its great athletes, but also because it hosted the most important temple dedicated to Hera Lacinia, the Zeus' wife. 

The temple is located at capo Colonna, few km far from Crotone.

At that times, everyone who sailed by Kroton could contemplate the biggest temple dedicated to Hera in the whole western Magna Graecia.

The museum of Crotone hosts golden crown which adorned the head of Hera.

Then, there is another interesting piece which represents a nuragic (sardinian) boat. 

Calabria owes a lot to Paolo Orsi, an archaeologist who has spent most of his professional life studying and dignifying the Calabrian archaeology.

In 1911 Paolo Orsi declared "foreigner archaeologists complained that the Italian reign had never really cared about exploring deeper the Hera Lacinia's temple. Such criticisms were partly true. So, since I assumed the role of director of Sovrintendenza archeologica della Calabria, I did my best to obtain from the Italian institutions the commitment to do much more to study this temple"     

We carry on our journey heading straight to Reggio Calabria.

One of our main goal of this journey is to viewing the bronzi di Riace, wonderfully hosted at Museo archaeologic nazionale di Reggio Calabria (MArRC)

The ticket costs just 8 euros.

In case you wanna visit it, I'd recommend you to go there at 9 am, basically when doors are opened.

Indeed, at lunch time, the museum turns crowded, sometime even noisy. 

The importance of MArRC is due to the fact that it offers a wide portray of Magna Graecia: not only Rhegion (Reggio C.), but also Kaulon, Locri, Hypponia, Medma, Metauros.

There is a lot to be enchanted of at MArRC.

Look at the below kouros, for example, how beautiful is. 

His hair are red. 

His profile seems Egyptian, Middle-Eastern tout court.

However, it's undeniable the main attraction here is represented by the bronzi di Riace.

The bronzi were discovered by chance in 1972 by an amateur diver, along the coast of Riace, in the province of Reggio Calabria.

What really strikes me is the perfection of these statues.

Both of them seem alive. 

I clearly notice veins along their arms.

And look at their back, it seems so realistic.

If you love art and specifically sculptures, you definitely can't miss them.

If you want to learn about Magna Graecia, You can start your journey from Taranto (Apulia), then move along Calabria, finally end up in Sicily.

However, I'll talk about Sicily in the next post.