Monday, 16 July 2012

Some more archaeology (and a church, for good measure)

Today I went to Agrigento, a city on the southern coast of Sicily.  Although it's fairly far away, there are about a dozen trains per day that run from Palermo to Agrigento, so it's pretty accessible even though I'm on the other side of the island.  Seeing the center of Sicily from the train was pretty nice, too.

Agrigento's main claim to fame is the Valle dei Templi, the Valley of the Temples, where there are quite a few Ancient Greek temples (mostly from the 5th century BC) in various states of preservation.  Before I went there, I decided to check out the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Greci.  This small church was built by the Byzantines over the remains of an ancient temple, and subsequently renovated by the Normans.  I'm glad I decided to do this first, as it was a grueling climb to the top of the city; if I decided to go after having already seen the temples, I probably wouldn't have bothered due to exhaustion.

There weren't any signs, but I suspect the frescoes are from the 15th-16th century.  Just a hunch, though. 
Remains of the temple

After this, I tried to go to the Duomo (built in the 11th century), but unfortunately it was closed for renovations.  So instead, I made my way towards the temples.

There is also a supposedly excellent archaeological museum near the temples, but because it was Monday the hours were shortened and I couldn't get in.  Oh well, the temples were worth it anyway.

This is the temple of Concord, the best preserved in the area.  It dates to the 5th century BC, and was converted to a church in the late antique period (much as the Parthenon was).  The conversion to a church is the reason for its excellent state of conservation, as it was still in use up until the 18th century.  If you'll notice in the second picture, you can see some arches peeking through between the columns; these were added during the conversion process.

On the way to the next temple, I found a early Christian and Byzantine necropolis.  One of the signs said that there were artifacts dating to the 9th century, confirming that the site was still in use until the Muslim conquest.

This is the temple of Juno (Hera), also from the 5th century BC.  As it wasn't a church, it didn't fare quite so well over the centuries.

Temple of Hercules, also from the 5th century.

This is what's left of the temple of Dioscorus, which dates back to the 6th century BC.  Probably a little hard to make out, but all of the rubble in the second picture is the drums of columns held up the structure.

Not much left, but this was the temple of Jupiter.  It was under construction in the late 5th century, but after the Carthaginians invaded and destroyed the city it was never finished.  As the years went on the site was looted for building materials.  Also, it's probably hard to tell, but that capital in the second picture is MASSIVE; had this been finished, it would have been one of the largest Greek temples in the world (not just counting those that survive to this day).

Sorry there's not much text in this update; I had a great time today but I don't have a whole lot to explain.  This stuff is about 1000 years before the period I work on, and with this sort of thing I feel like you just sort of have to be there.  In any event, I hope you enjoy the pictures.  Tomorrow, I'll be in Cefalu, and I plan to update again tomorrow evening.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Catanzaro and Reggio di Calabria

Hello everyone, sorry for the lack of updates.  I don't really have any excuse, except that I've been feeling lazy.  All this travelling has really worn me out!

I spent two days in Catanzaro and one in Reggio di Calabria and, since I didn't do a whole lot in Reggio, I decided to just do one update for the pair.  My time in Catanzaro was split between the old city (WAY up a hill) and a nearby archaeological park, originally the city of Scolacium (birthplace of the late-antique historian Cassiodorus, who wrote a now lost history of the Goths).  This is what it looks like from the top:

Catanzaro was originally settled by the Greeks (like most of southern Italy), and changed hands a number of times throughout the ages.  But, thanks to earthquakes and the bombings from WWII, a lot has changed.  The city itself was quite nice, but I got the impression that it's rarely visited by tourists.  It has a port nearby and everyone who comes to the area goes for the beaches, rather than the history.  As a result, some churches I'd hoped to get into were closed.  Nevertheless, it was a good time.  I started off by going to the Chiesa di San Giovanni, built over the ruins of an old Norman castle.  Here are a few shots:

The single remaining tower from the castle
Some of the foundations of the fortress, as seen from inside the church.  There were quite a few of these, but the glare from the glass makes it almost impossible to take a decent picture.
Exterior of San Giovanni
I next went to the Chiesetta (little church) di Sant'Omobono, a Byzantine church from the 11th century.  Sadly, this was one of the churches thst appeared to be closed indefinitely.  I went back a couple times at different times of the day to be sure, but it was never open.  Oh well...

I didn't take any more pictures of the city itself, as there wasn't anything particularly remarkable to capture.  The Duomo dates to the 12th century, but was almost entirely destroyed during the war and so nothing remains of its medieval past.

The archaeological park was really excellent.  I was the only person there, and the ruins were on par with areas of Rome (although obviously on a much smaller scale).  It was really nice to not be mobbed by tourists when trying to see things like this:

Byzantine necropolis at the top of a hill

Ruins of an arena (like the coliseum, but smaller)
Another view
The Roman forum, in use until the mid 7th century (when it, along with the rest of the town, was abandoned in favor of a more defensible location)
This all was really spectacular, and the cherry on top was the remains of a Byzanto-Norman basilica in the park, a bit closer to the water.

As this was in the apse area, I think it was probably the crypt
 The whole park was really excellent, and I wouldn't have even known about it if it weren't for the couple running the B&B I was staying at (incidentally, if you should ever be in Catanzaro, I highly recommend Il Cedro B&B.  Couldn't have been better!)

I next went to Reggio di Calabria.  Another extremely ancient city, it too was ravaged by earthquakes and WWII.  There was a devastating earthquake and tsunami in the early 20th century, killing tens of thousands and leveling the city.  The city itself was very nice (and pretty modern, because it's almost entirely rebuilt in the past century), but there wasn't anything still standing that was of interest to me.  The main reason I went was for the Museo Nazionale, which has a fantastic underwater archaeology collection, including the Riace bronzes (Google them, they're superb!).  Sadly, the museum is closed for renovation.  Luckily the Riace bronzes and a few other pieces were viewable in a different location, but I was hoping to wander in the museum for hours.

In retrospect I would have given myself more time here, which sounds weird since there's not much left.  There are, however, lots and lots of small archaeological sites scattered throughout the city, in addition to an archaeological park.  Everything is fairly spread out though, and I didn't really have time to explore extensively.  I did come across the remains of a private Roman bath, likely a part of a patrician household.

Notice the mosaic "dressing area" (according to the sign) in the middle
I'm currently in Palermo, and I'll be home in just a few days!  Hard to believe a month has almost gone by.  Tomorrow I'll be going to Agrigento (home to the best preserved Greek temples in the world), and on Tuesday I'll be in Cefalu.  Hopefully I'll be updating 3 more times, plus a sum-up once I'm home.  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Travel Woes

I haven't updated in the past few days for 2 reasons.  First, the internet has been especially questionable, and I haven't had much opportunity to get online for more than a minute or 2 until today.  And second, thanks to some problems with train and bus connections, I haven't really had the chance to do much of anything.

As I mentioned in my previous post about Brindisi (at least I think I mentioned it may have only been on Facebook.  Either way, not important), I was having a lot of trouble sleeping because of the heat.  When Sunday rolled around I headed to Lecce, with the intention of going to Otranto for the day.  My exhaustion, coupled with the difficulty of getting to Otranto on a Sunday (it's not on the main state rail line, so you have to rely on regional buses and trains), caused me to decide to just take the day off.  I wandered around Lecce for a bit, but I don't do much of anything worth noting.

After Lecce was Taranto.  I intended to spend a full day there, but unfortunately my train from Lecce ran about 20 minutes late, causing me to miss my connection and forcing me to sit around in the train station for a few hours for the next one.  As a result I made it to Taranto, but I had a lot less time than I would have liked there.  The old city still feels more medieval than just about anywhere else I've been thus far.  It was a lot of fun to wander around; I really wish I'd had more time.  I saw two churches while I was there, San Domenico and the Duomo.

San Domenico is a church originally built in 5th century, while the current structure dates to the early 14th.

The original structure is supposedly visible beneath the church, but I couldn't find any way to access it.  There were a number of strange squares on the ground that looked like they may have granted access, but they were clearly shut.  Fairly disappointing, but c'est la vie.

The Duomo was more encouraging.  This church was built in the 11th century and, although updated over the years, is still essentially the same Byzantine-Norman structure.

Greek style cupola, rather than the western dome

On the left side you'll see two peacocks, early Christian symbols of eternal life, and on the right an eagle with outstretched wings
Notice how different all the columns are; I'm not certain, but I'm pretty confident when I say that these are collected from the ancient monuments of the city.  Taranto is extremely ancient; in fact, it's mentioned in the Odyssey.  Those floor mosaics date to the Norman period, and there were a few patches scattered around the cathedral.

Even better than the church itself was the crypt.  This dates to the Byzantine period, and once again it appears that the columns were collected from around the city.  I ran into the same problem as in Brindisi (no lights), but this time I remembered that my phone has an excellent flashlight built in.

Notice the lack of bases on these columns; I expect that originally this structure was much deeper, and when the current church was built on top it became a crypt.  Just a hunch though.

I wasn't using a flash to take these pictures, but rather just the light on my cell phone.  So, that about wraps it up for Taranto.  Nice city though; I'd certainly consider coming back.

I writing this from Catanzaro, where I'll be until Friday morning.  Getting here was hell (missed trains, long waits at the station, trains crammed with people and no AC, etc.), but Catanzaro is quit nice.  I'll be headed to Reggio on Friday, and then Palermo Saturday.  One week, and then it's back to Baltimore!

Also, the internet here in Catanzaro is good enough that I've started to upload all my photos to a Photobucket album, in case you'd like to see any more of any particular place.  Here is the link:

I'm getting them up there little by little, but as I'm writing this all of Istanbul is done.  If there are problems, please let me know!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

More Norman Stuff

Sorry for the lack of updates recently; the internet here in Brindisi is particularly bad (and I'm tired, because it's hot and I can't sleep).  I'm just going to put everything I did in Brindisi and Ostuni in this one post, rather than separate it out by day.

There were a variety of churches I was planning to see here in Brindisi, and I think I managed to hit them all. But first, a little info about the city itself.  Brindisi has always been an important port city even in pre-Roman times, and during the Roman period (when it was called Brundisium) it was the end point of the Appian Way (the ancient road I saw when I was in Rome).  Today, it is the main port for boats and ferries travelling east, primarily to Greece and Turkey.  The old town seems pretty similar to Bari, although the population of the city is less than a third.  This lack of population made itself evident at obnoxious times, mainly when I was trying to visit churches (I'll get to that).  Like Bari, it was captured by the Normans in 1071.

After checking into the hostel, I went to the cathedral of Brindisi, built in the 11th century.

Unfortunately the original was largely destroyed in an earthquake, so what remains is largely from the 18th century.  As such, there wasn't a whole lot here of particular interest to me.  There were some nice fragments of mosaic pavement, though:

This dates from the 12th century, which was somewhat surprising to me.  I wouldn't normally expect a mosaic pavement in a church built this late (even if it isn't exactly "Roman" in style).

Next I went to see a pair of columns which marked the end point of the Appian way.

They've been dismantled and reassembled in recent years (for conservation purposes), but these are the original columns from the Roman period.  The still erect one has an inscription from a Byzantine governor of the city, while the one that's not really there any longer is currently in Lecce.

After wandering around for a while, I found an archaeological area beneath a modern theater.

The path in the top third of the picture is a Roman road

The first picture is the remains of a patrician household (a room of it), while the second is of an urban bath complex.  Notice the deep channel in the first picture: this was to provide indoor plumbing to the household.  I wasn't expecting to see these ruins, so this was pretty awesome.  I don't remember the exact dates, but I believe these were from the 1st-2nd century AD.

Next I went to San Giovanni in Sepulcro, a church built by the Knights Templar in the 11th and 12th century.

The frescoes date primarily from the 13th and 14th century.  There are also the ruins of a Roman house beneath the church, but as they are still being excavated I wasn't allowed to have a look.

On Friday, I made my way through the remainder of the churches on my list (except one--more on that later).  First was the Chiesa del Cristo, a monastic church near the walls of the city.

The church was built in the 13th century, but very little of the original decorations remain.  The only particularly old thing inside was the above-pictured statue of the Virgin and Child, from the 15th century.

I next went to Santa Lucia.  The current structure dates to the 14th century, and underneath there is a crypt from the previous structure, from the 12th century.

Notice the soldiers in the top center

As you can see, the final picture, of the crypt, is quite blurry.  That's because the lights seemed to be broken, and there was no one around to ask for help.  It looks so bright because I set a 10 second shutter speed (hence the blurriness, since I didn't have a tripod).  This was a real shame; there were clearly some excellent frescoes, but it was much to dark to even look around, much less take any pictures.

Next up was the Monastery of San Benedetto, dating from the 11th century

Cross vaulting on the ceilings, something I hadn't seen yet in Italy (at least I don't think I have).  Much more common in Gothic architecture.
Fragment of a fresco of Mary
Eleventh century door-frame
There was also a 11th century cloister but, once again, I was foiled by the lack of a custodian to help.  The door was locked, but it clearly was an area normally open for tourism.  Without anyone to ask, I had to just leave it be.

I also went to an EXCELLENT archaeological museum, with artifacts from the Neolithic age all the way through the medieval period.  I had some particularly interesting coins, which I greatly enjoyed (being something of a numismatist myself), and a reconstruction of a Roman ship, complete with original cargo.  Unfortunately pictures weren't allowed, but if you go to Brindisi this should be at the top of your list, above any other sights in the city.

Saturday, I decided to go to a nearby town called Ostuni.  Unlike Brindisi it's somewhat inland, and built all over a hill.  I wish I could have gotten a picture of it from far away, but unfortunately the only time I could see it from a distance was from a bus.  I went there because, according to my guidebook (Let's Go Italy 2009), the cathedral was the final building constructed by the Byzantines in Italy, in the middle of the 11th century.  Apparently whoever wrote this section of the book didn't do their homework, because the cathedral had been rebuilt in the 15th century, leaving nothing of the Byzantine church behind.  This is the only problem I've had with this guidebook, but it was very disappointing.  The town was gorgeous, but there was really no reason for me to go there.  Here are a few pictures, anyway:

View from the top.  You can see the Adriatic Sea in the distance
Piazza della Liberta
So, that was kind of a let down.  But, I made up for it this evening, when I visited Santa Maria del Casale, a fairly large church located in the suburb of Casale, about 15 minutes walk from my hostel.  The church was built in the 13th century, but I was there primarily for the interior decorations.  There are a large number of frescoes surviving from the 14th century, and they were undertaken by Italian artisans but in a Byzantine style.

Tree of Life

If you compare these frescoes with the others I've taken pictures of (mainly just fragments, but still) you'll notice that these look more like mosaics such as those I saw in Istanbul than the other frescoes.  The facial features, the poses, the detailing, how static the figures all looks much more Byzantine than western, particularly surprising considering that these were made well after the Norman conquest.  I was pretty disappointed about today, but this church more than made up for it.

Tomorrow, bright and early (ugh) I'm off to Lecce, and then immediately to Otranto.  I'll be staying in Lecce for the night, but spending the day in Otranto.  On Monday I'll be in Taranto, and then Catanzaro for a few days.  Please feel free to ask some questions!