I felt like I had just stepped into the Hobbit’s Shire when I arrived in the small whitewashed village of Alberobello. Little people scampering in and out of the tiny cone-roofed houses with hairy feet didn’t appear, however. Instead, the village streets were packed with big people like myself, exploring the rows of cone-roofed trulli that proved to be anything from gift shops to restaurants. Bizarre and quirky? By all means, yes.
Surrounded by ancient vineyards, medieval castles, and white-sand beaches, Alberobello sits at the top of the heel that makes the boot of Italy. Not far from the Adriatic coast, it is understandably a magnetic tourist attraction.
The Trulli are actually limestone dwellings that are mortarless, using prehistoric building techniques. The pyramidal, domed or conical roofs are built up of corbelled (stone slabs that progressively overlap each other) limestone slabs. Specific to the Itria Valley in Puglia, they have appeared here since the mid 14th century.
But why the unique construction? One big reason was the need for a dwelling that could be easily dismantled before inspectors arrived to enforce paying higher taxes on the property. However, the golden age for the trulli began in the 19th century due to wine production. Today, fewer are used as a permanent dwelling and many are being converted into Bed & Breakfasts and shops.
Let’s take a peek inside of one…
Most of the traditional trulli include one room under the conical roof with added living space in arched alcoves with curtains hung in front. However, many of the trulli converted into B&B’s are embellished and more expansive. They usually have an open fireplace with a chimney stack, but they are difficult to heat because of the conical roof. The thick walls keep them cold in the winter. The lack of windows and tall conical roof give it a cave-like feel.
As I walked through this trullo, which didn’t take but a few minutes, I was charmed. The light-colored brickwork helped to brighten a room that otherwise would have been much more like a cave. Although it was small, I could definitely cozy up here for a short stay. Everything I need is literally at my fingertips, and when I step outside the doorway, I’m greeted by bright sunshine that reminds me of Dorothy’s Oz.
Bed partially nestled into an alcove
Clean, neat and tidy, the trulli streets in Alberobello are a pleasure to walk, shop, taste the authentic cuisine of Puglia, and meet the locals. Andiamo!
If you would like more information regarding a trullo stay, I suggest you check out Trulli é Puglia. To be clear, I have not personally had any experience with them as I went on a group tour and did not spend the night in one, but I feel that this is authentic as it is locally operated.
When I had my first visit to Rome, I bought a little book from a vendor called “Rome Past & Present.” It has photos of each ruin in the Roman Forum as it looks today, but instantly transforms into its glorious former self of Imperial Rome when you turn a plastic page over it which fills in all the missing pieces. Roman architecture and colors were truly impressive.
Triumphal arches have always attracted me as representing a historical impact by a particular emperor that unfolds a story of intrigue.
Augustus decreed that only emperors could be granted triumphs. They were usually erected over roads where you were forced to pass underneath and be reminded of the emperor’s victory. What was originally intended to be a personal monument became propaganda, intended as an announcement and a way to promote the present ruler and the laws of the state.
There were actually 5 arches in the Roman Forum but only 3 survive today.
The Arch of Titus ~ Arco di Tito, was built in 82 AD by emperor Domitian just after the passing of his older brother Titus. It is the oldest surviving arch in Rome and commemorates Titus’ victories, which includes the 70 AD siege of Jerusalem. It is situated in the NW end of the forum on the Via Sacra, the ancient road that runs through the forum, at its highest point.
On top of the arch, an inscription translates into “The Senate and People of Rome, to Divus Titus, son of Divus Vespasian, Vespasian Augustus.” The word divus refers to one who has died. A relief panel on one side shows the victory triumphal procession with soldiers carrying the spoils taken from the Jerusalem temple. Some of the items include the seven-branched candelabra, or menorah, silver trumpets, and what could be the Ark of the Covenant.
The Arch of Titus was used as the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The Arch of Septimus Severus ~ Arco di Settimio Severo stands in the northwest section of the forum. It was built in 203 AD to commemorate the Parthian (ancient Iraq & Iran) victories by Septimus Severus (who was emperor from 193 until 211) and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta. Interesting to note is that after Severus’ death, Rome was ruled by both of his sons. But not for long, as Caracalla had his brother Geta assassinated so he could have full power. Every mention of Geta was erased from the triumphal arch as well as all public buildings in an effort to eliminate all evidence of his existence.
The inscription across the top translates into a whole lot of names ..“To the emperor Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus Parthicus Arabicus Parthicus Adiabenicus, son of Marcus, father of his country, pontifex maximus, in the eleventh year of his tribunician power, in the eleventh year of his rule, consul thrice, and proconsul, and to the emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus Pius Felix, son of Lucius, in the sixth year of his tribunician power, consul, and proconsul (fathers of their country, the best and bravest emperors), on account of the restored republic and the rule of the Roman people spread by their outstanding virtues at home and abroad, the Senate and the People of Rome (sc. dedicate this monument)”
The Arch of Constantine ~ Arco di Costantino, stands between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the year 312 AD. It is the largest Roman triumphal arch and consists of three arches. As the last of existing triumphal arches in Rome, it is the only one that reused major reliefs from various imperial monuments in Rome of the second century.
The inscription at the top of the arch translates “To the emperor Flavius Constantine the Great pious and fortunate, the Senate and People of Rome because by divine inspiration and his own greatness of spirit with his army on both the tyrant and all his faction at once in rightful battle he avenged the State dedicated this arch as a mark of triumph.”
The last two triumphal arches that reside in the Roman Forum are the Arch of Augustus and the Arch of Tiberius. There is now very little left of them, but we do know that the Arch of Augustus can be seen on Augustan coins. It consisted of three arches and was used as a model for the Arch of Septimus Severus.
The Arch of Tiberius was constructed in 16 AD in the Roman Forum, but very little is know about it except for a relief on the Arch of Constantine. It appears very much like the Arch of Titus with only a single arch plus the addition of a Corinthian column on each side.
Below is a city map of the Roman Forum with the 3 remaining arches. Beginning with the Arch of Constantine just below the Colosseum, let your eyes follow up to the left along the Via Sacra and you will see the Arch of Titus and beyond that the Arch of Septimus Severus.
To wander under these magnificent arches is mind-blowing. They are huge, built to last, and decorated lavishly. Even almost 2,000 years later we are all still reminded of these famous emperors who lived to conquer and build not only a monument but also a name for themselves that would not soon be forgotten.
A leisurely walk through Rome is one of my favorite things to do while spending time in the Eternal City. History has always fascinated me, and here there are endless traces of it.
While spending time exploring the Pantheon neighborhood, I found myself in Piazza di Pietra, Piazza of Rocks. The name is derived from the stones of the former temple that were used to create the piazza.
The Temple of Hadrian, built in 145 AD by Antonius Pius, Emperor Hadrian’s adopted son and successor, still partially remains as a conversion into a modern office building. Eleven Corinthian columns that tower to over 48 feet high Read more →
Dan Brown’s book, “Angels and Demons” flashed through my mind as I crossed the Ponte Sant’Angelo one morning in Rome. Ten Baroque statues of angels line the bridge, each bearing a symbol of the suffering and death of Christ. Designed by Bernini in the early 17th century, they look down demurely at passersby from their travertine marble perches. They feel like a silent presence, outwardly still but internally watchful.
Castel Sant’Angelo awaits at the end of the bridge. Reminding me of a cross between a king’s crown and a wedding cake, it stands majestically among the monuments of Rome. Packed with history, it has been here for 2,000 years. Emperor Hadrian had this huge cylinder, built in 139 AD, as a mausoleum for himself and his family. However, for nearly 100 years after Hadrian’s death, it continued as the burial grounds for succeeding emperors as well, ending with Caracalla 217 AD.
Over the past 2,000 years, Castel Sant’Angelo has been more than a funerary monument. It was used as a fortified outpost, a notorious prison complete with a torture chamber, a palace for the popes embellished with Renaissance art, the keep of the Vatican treasury and finally a museum.
What I discovered as I toured the fortress, now the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo, fascinated me. At the time of Hadrian, the mausoleum was topped by a garden of Cypress trees and crowned by a golden quadriga, a huge statue of him riding a chariot. It was the tallest building in Rome.
In ancient Rome, tombs were not allowed inside the city limits. This pertained to the emperors as well, even though they were looked upon as gods. So Hadrian chose a commanding position just outside the city walls and across the river. Even today, it holds a stately presence among the many monuments of Rome.
It helps to get a bit organized so I’ve included a brief overview of the 6 levels of Castel Sant’Angelo:
Level 1- Begins the winding Roman construction ramp, the Courtyard of the Shooting and the Chapel of the Condemned.
Level 2- Hall of Urns, former prisons, and storerooms
Level 3- Military displays, papal apartments, the courtyard of the angel (Cortile dell’Angel), which houses the former archangel, Hall of Justice
Level 4- Exquisitely decorated papal apartment with sumptuous frescoes by artists of the school of Raphael (Luca Signorelli, Carlo Crivelli), archaeological gallery, historic Armory.
Level 5- Treasury, Library
Level 6- The Angel Terrace providing amazing views of Rome, especially the Vatican and St. Peters Basilica
Upon entering, an old cobbled road winds around the base. This fortress has a lot of stairs. One leads down to the original Roman floor and follows the route of Hadrian’s funeral procession. There is a bridge that crosses the room where the ashes of the emperors were kept. The urns and ashes were scattered by Visigoth looters during a sacking of Rome in 410.
The Sala del Tesoro is the treasury where the Vatican wealth was kept locked up in a huge chest. The rooms are ornately decorated with rich frescoes and marble.
The Passetto di Borgo is intriguing in itself and historically fascinating. You have probably heard of an elevated fortified corridor commissioned in 1277 AD by Pope Nicholas III leading from Vatican City to the Castel Sant’Angelo (thanks to Dan Brown). The passage served as an escape route to the Castle for popes during times of war and sackings.
Enjoy a gallery of photos from my day spent inside this massive fortress. It would take a book to explain everything. One of several things that impressed me was the circular walkways leading up and down within. Wide and tall, they were lit with the golden light from wall lamps. Effectively mysterious…
The Angel Terrace offers dazzling views of Rome from several directions. The wind was gusty so walking from one end to the other for a view was slightly challenging.
It’s from here you can get up close to the majestic Archangel Michael, who stands on the very top. As I gazed up into his face, I had no doubt that he means business.
So what’s the deal about the angel Michael? As the story goes, in the year 590, the Archangel Michael appeared above the mausoleum to Pope Gregory. The angel sheathed his sword, and the pope took it as a sign that the plague was ended. It soon became a fortified palace renamed the castle of the holy angel.
Close beside the Archangel Michael is a large bell, called the Bell of Mercy. Beginning in the mid-1700’s it was wrung to inform the people of capital executions of the prisoners while a prison.
As the grand finale, enjoy some views of Rome taken from the Angel’s Terrace