Tuesday 30 May 2017

The Walled Garden

 We've had some very hot weather since our return,

and it has been lovely to have time to relax
and enjoy the garden

The flowers in this area have an ethereal quality - we leave them to their own devices to seed and scattered around.
 There could be a happy ending to our Boxus balls that got blight - strangely, and rather unusually, they have started to regrow again, as can be seen above.
However, the Box still look rather shaby, but we are filled with hope.

Friday 26 May 2017

The 9,000 year old town of Matera

I have known about Matera for a long time, but when Andrew Graham-Dixon, Art Historian, and Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli went there for their TV programme 'Italy Unpacked' I decided that it was somewhere that I too would like to visit.  
The settlement goes back to palaeolithic times and occupies a picturesque location on rocks above a deep gorge. 
The town has featured in several biblical films - King David with Richard Gere, Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ, Catherine Hardwicke's The Nativity Story, Timur Bekmambetov's Ben Hur - the architecture and dramatic landscape in the gorge create the perfect backdrop.
Matera declined in influence under the Greeks, and was destroyed by the Franks in 867, but it was rebuilt in the early c11th under the rule of Byzantium. An interesting fact for us was that during the c6th followers of Saint Basil, the Bishop of Caesarea and Cappadocia arrived in Matera fleeing from iconoclastic persecutions. They bought with them Greek religious rites and a community life that revolved around living in underground caves in a very similar manner to their previous existence in Cappadocia, Asia Minor, now Turkey.
The town consists of an attractive upper district and the silent lower Sassi (cave) district where people once occupied dwellings scooped out of the soft rock. Some of 130 rock churches were eventually occupied during the c15th by local people. Even up until the 1960s families of 8 or 10 together with their animals were still living in cave homes without any sanitation.
In his memoire 'Christ stopped at Eboli', Carlo Levi drew attention to the living conditions of the people of Matera, comparing the Sassi (cave) district to Dante's Inferno.
Matera has been continuously inhabited for over 9,000 years exceeded only by Aleppo and Jericho.
Four hundred years ago everyone in Matera, rich and poor, peasants and aristocrats, all lived in caves. 
The rich had grand facades, fashionable porticos, and ornate doorways which led into cavernous rooms hollowed out from the rocks
By the 18th century, the middle classes were moving out to build a new “upper” town of elegant palaces and piazzas. 
The façade of one of Matera's churches, San Francesca, pays understated homage to 'Lecce Baroque'.
The city of Lecce - the Florence of the south, gives its name to what is called 'Barocco leccese'. It is unlike baroque seen anywhere else being exhuberant, fun, covered in putti, flowers, symbols and lots of hiddden messages - a visit to Lecce will be forthcoming
As the day draws to a close, and we drive onwards to our next destination, we take a final look back from the far side of the gorge to Matera's cathedral - a splendid c13th Apulian Romanesque style building dedicated to the Madonna della Bruna and St. Eustace.

Monday 22 May 2017

South of Naples

They say that 'Northern Italy has euros but Southern Italy has soul'. It was certainly very noticeable that the south of Italy is far cheaper - for instance, who could resist a delicious Italian geleto that costs only 2 for a super double scoop in any of your favourite flavours?
In the south tourists are thinner on the ground, reminding me of a visit to Siena over 40 years ago, and having it almost to ourselves. 

Tourists clutching 'selfie sticks' were noticeably absent, but there were several delightful groups of chattering, happy, school children in the Baroque treasure trove of Lecce, one of Southern Italy's appealing cities.
A flight to Naples marked the start of our southern journey eventually ending up in what is known as 'Italy's heel'

It was hot - the sun shone brightly all day, everyday from dawn to dusk
Fine wines

delicious food was on the menu
freshly made pasta
80% of Italy's pasta is made from the durum wheat grown in this southern region 

We visited and travelled along the coast of the Adriatic Sea
to the 
rocky spectacular Gargano peninsula with it's dramatic geological coastline of caves, grottoes, 

and deserted beaches.

Cities were explored

 and quaint hilltop towns 

An ever present feature were the brilliant colours of both the wild and cultivated flowers
and the Olive groves were laden with blossom
In the next post we discover a link to Cappadocia in  Turkey which we visited over three years ago.