Italy

Lecce, the Baroque Florence.

From all the travelers I personally know there are hardly any who have visited Lecce, the capital of Salento.  None the less those who did, all agree that it was a pleasant surprise and I cannot do anything else than join them in their astonishment.

    

Lecce, named the Baroque Florence, is a surprising city where the festoons and the solomonic columns of the buildings recently restored to be transformed into hotels or luxury B & B, coexist with the facades that illustrate the passage of time.  Attached angels, escutcheons and volutes corroded by the time give a unique character to this “Florence of the South”.  The historic center of Lecce is surrounded by its impressive walls and arched gates where me and just some few other tourists are walking aimlessly through the streets of the city of Salento enjoying their smells and sounds, and always with our eyes raised, being awed by the impressive Baroque façades. Just as in Rome and other Italian cities, is strolling through the streets of Lecce a delight, where I discover cul-de-sacs that house traditional workshops, or perhaps the study of a painter or a bakery with the typical sweets of the region. My visit to Lecce surprised me as few cities can do at this point.

Not as well-known as other Italian cities, this minor city bursts with a multitude of palaces (over 30), a duomo, 3 basilica, more than 30 churches and countless exquisite facades that beautifully decorate its neat streets. I`m lucky to have Giorgia as my local guide.  So I got stuffed with a bit of everything: history on the most ancient features such as the Roman amphitheater, Porta Napoli, Porta Rudiae, Porta San Biagio, Duomo di Maria Santissima Assunta, Piazza Sant’Oronzo,…, as well with art expositions, local customs and traditions, folktales, culinary highlights of the student nightlife, …

Giorgia took the time to show me her beloved city with such enthusiasm that I secretly fell in love with those cobblestones, those cast iron street lights, those stairs full of people having fun, those statues of saints looking down on us, watching us and blessing us.  Both, Giorgia and Lecce at daytime they’re magic but at night they bedazzle!

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Rome, Imperial vibes

Rome is not just a destination, it’s an experience. The capital of the old empire possesses a rich heritage with the relics of over two thousand years of inhabitation. The city is made up of layers of history interwoven to an almost overwhelming degree: medieval churches build on ancient basilicas above Roman palaces; house and apartment blocks that integrate remains of eroded Roman columns, carvings, escutcheons and inscriptions. Exploring the Italian capital by feet is a no-brainer if you look at the density of Rome’s traffic. With imagination I reconstruct the old empire as I walk the cobble roads, alleys and piazzas which follow the lines of ancient amphitheaters and stadiums.  I take Piazza Navona as the center of the city from where I calculate that I’m probably twenty till thirty minute walk away from most of the places I want to see – the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Piazza di Spagna, St. Peter’s, the Trevi Fountain, Castel St. Angelo, Villa Borghese or the bohemian Trastevere district. And getting to those emblematic places is the real adventure as behind every corner lays a new puzzle piece of what was. Sometimes it is a façade with angels, another time it is a beautiful fountain with no name and a lot of times it’s a kind of déjà vu sensation as we all have seen Rome a billion times on postcards, movies and so on.

It is always the unexpected here in Rome.  Every now and then it even seems like things doesn’t fit.  The Pantheon for example… or the building is too big, or the square is too small. The Colosseum for example… is that even possible the way it stands so high and vertical, the way it seems so solid and brittle at the same time, standing here in the middle of a modern city.  There is even a religious capital inside a political capital… a city inside a city. Is Nicola Salvi’s Fontana di Trevi the façade of a building?  I tell you, at every corner there is a new bit of the long story of this city. Rome has fifty monumental fountains and hundreds of smaller fountains and over 2000 drinking fountains, more than any city in the world, it counts over 900 churches, 14 catacombs and about 40 Roman ruins to visit.  It has the Tiber river flowing through and you can walk along it taking sunset pictures at the over 30 bridges it contains and even an island to take a rest at the riverside. It’s blessed with an endless list of restaurants, takeaway pizzerias, pasta bars, charming coffeehouses, taverns with sunny terraces and crowded ice-cream shops without closing hours.

Rome at night is what I liked most and what I recommend most. The heat of the day fades away and a fresh breeze runs through the streets. The streetlight gives a special vibe to the city and transforms it into a magical place with luring bars and clubs, with local youngsters gathering together on the minor squares and students from all over the globe celebrating student life as they do each evening. There is no queuing at 2am and at 4am there are no people to mess up a nice picture… a unique moment for a city as Rome.

There is this moment without the souvenir fridge magnets racks and without fashionable shop windows… there is just me and these small ancient stonewall passages. The same passages that were there a thousand years ago and now and hopefully another thousand years withstanding modernization.

Recommendations:

  • Before hitting Rome, read a bit about its history. Who were Julio Ceasar, Pompeyo, Augusto,…
  • The same for its art, lookup the history behind fontains, emblematic bridges, squares,… Having a bit of information before you get on the streets will save a lot of time and will change the way you perceive its beauty. You can click on the links in this post or click on this INFO-GUIDE that I found online and helped me a lot to understand more about Rome.
  • The ruins of antiquity allow us to reconstruct with the imagination how Imperial Rome was. But after spending three hours in the Roman Forum, looking at broken columns and scattered stones, you’ll want to enter a building that still stands. Similarly, if you visit 20 baroque churches in a single day, you will be so “saturated” that they will all look the same to you. So alternate between ancient and modern. In Rome you have enough variety to avoid monotony.
  • Most of the important monuments are inside the Aurelian wall, which delimits the center of the city and whose area is quite accessible on foot.
  • Rome, it’s an ancient place, yet it’s so much more than an open-air museum: its culture, its food, its people make up a modern, vibrant city so enjoy every aspect of it.
  • We all know what a pizza should taste like but if you really want something original, fresh and with superior quality… I recommend Pizza Grand Gourmet as an alternative on anything else you’ve ever experienced. 🙂

Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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