Saturday 24 June 2017

'Barocco leccese'

There are hazards to visiting Italy and setting your heart on seeing particular treasures as I have discovered over the course of many, many, visits.
Years ago, my youngest son did History of Art at school, and I took him to Florence for a few days so that he could view the paintings and sculptures from the Renaissance that he was passionate about seeing.  One of the many places on his list was a visit to the church of Santa Maria where he longed to see the great frescoe cycle in the Brancacci Chapel done by the young Renaissance painter, Masaccio. Although Masaccio died when he was only 27 years old, and despite his brief career, he had a profound influence on all the other artists during that Quattrocento period. We made our way to the chapel only to discover that the particular cycle he wanted to see was under wraps for restoration - needless to say my son was hugely disappointed. I myself have visited the cathedral of Orvieto twice, three years apart, in order to see a particular frescoe by Luca Signorelli, and both times it has been under wraps. After visiting Italy so many times I now realise that it is best not to set too high an expectation of seeing particular treasures in order to avoid disappointment. It was, therefore, no surprise to discover that the baroque exterior of the Basilica in Lecce that I was looking foward to seeing was under wraps!
The city of Lecce 'Florence of the South'
I was comfortable with the buildings in Lecce - they had a familiarity to them being made of a similar honey coloured limestone that surrounds me back home in the Cotswolds
Many of the balconies in Lecce are held up by a variety of wonderful cavorting beasts - horses, lions, and mythical creatures or as in this case sheep.
It is early afternoon and the Duomo along with the Bell Tower are now shut, fortunately we visited the inside during the morning. What we found extraordinary was that we were able to stand in the sunshine and admire this building and have it completely to ourselves. Carved by Giuseppe Zimbalo, architect and sculptor he was known as 'Lo Zingarello' (little gypsy). He earned the Baroque city of Lecce the title of 'Barocco leccese' which flourished under his guidance during the mid c17th
Bell Tower
From far below the Bell Tower I could just make out a ceramic tiled roof which I endeavoured to capture. When I put the photo into the computer I was very surprised to spot the bronze figure of St. Oronzo which was not visible from the ground. He is holding an orb and cross, the symbol of Christian authority from the Middle Ages. St. Oronzo was appointed to be the Bishop of Lecce by St. Paul in AD57 and some of you may remember that we encountered him previously in the little white hilltop town of Ostuni.  
Bizzarely, in one of these Seminary buildings, castrato singers were once supplied to the Vatican! A practice that fortunately ceased towards the end of the c18th.
 Here is St. Oronzo once again dominating the centre of Lecce - he keeps on popping up all over southern Italy. The column he stands on is from antiquity and once marked the end of the Appian Way - one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic which ran all the way from Rome to nearby Brindisi. The people of Brindisi presented this column to the city of Lecce.
In the Piazza of St. Oronzo is a first century Roman theatre which was discovered in the 1930s. Hidden beneath the main city streets, it was found to be virtually intact complete with orchestra and seats
Down narrow alleyways
and through arcaded passages
we arrive at Lo Zingarello's crowning glory - the basillica of Santa Croce
with its exuberant Baroque rose window
and elaborate exterior covered in many hidden messages and symbols. The caryatid above represents a turbaned warrior from Assia Minor, now Turkey. It is giving out a message regarding the feelings of the people of Lecce towards their invaders. This warrior is now destined to hold up their basilica forever!
the above 3 images courtesy Wiki
Inside the exuberance continues, but I didn't feel that it was too much - I liked it 
In Lecce, unlike northern Italian cities, when the clock strikes one until 4 o'clock you can enjoy the whole place virtually to yourselves.
This is the final post from the Apulia region of Southern Italy.

Friday 16 June 2017

It's Amber Nectar Time Again

Cheap, delicious, easy - give yourselves a treat and make Apricot Conserve - recipe courtesy Perpetua. 
Currently apricots are only £1.50 a kilo.
1 kilo stoned apricots
750 grams sugar
That's it - two ingredients - absolutely nothing else!
  Place the washed and stoned apricots in a large bowl covered in all the sugar for at least 18 - 24 hours. After that time they will look like the photo below - this is known as macerating

The apricots are now surrounded by their own concentrated viscous juice and the sugar has almost dissolved - even if some sugar remains it is alright to go ahead as it will breakdown during boiling.
Bring them gently to the boil. When boiling point is reached, simmer for 20 - 25 mins.
Put into warm sterilised jars, screw on lids -
  that's it, what could possibly be easier or quicker
Now you have the main ingredient to make some easy Apricot & Amaretto ice cream too
350grams creme fresh (full fat)
350grams Greek yogurt (full fat)
300grams apricot conserve
licqueur glass of Amaretto
gently fold the creme fresh and yogurt together, then swirl in the apricot conserve
Churn as per your ice cream machines instructions, after a few minutes add the Amaretto - the alcohol makes for a softer ice cream.
Almond licqueur and apricots are a perfect marriage.

 If you don't have a machine you can place the mixture straight into a lidded container in the freezer and keep mixing it yourself from time to time.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Olive Groves, Vineyards, and Trullis

  The Province of Bari, Puglia, is home to olive oil, wine, and dwellings called Trullis.
 Trullis are scattered all across the landscape where they serve as both simple protective shelters and places to live. You see them in olive groves and vineyards, some are farm dwellings, or domestic homes, and Trullis are now popular as holiday lets.
There origins are obscure, though the name is traditionally applied to ancient round tombs found in the Roman countryside. These little buildings are said to cope well with summers heat as well as winters cold.
The town of Alberobello with its many conical 'hobbitesque' dwellings is considered to be the Trulli capital of the area.
Many of what were once homes have been turned into shops selling specialised local produce and restaurants
The pinnacles of the conical rooftops terminate in various different styles and
some of the roofs are painted with pagan, christian, or magic symbols considered to be a protective element for the residents dwelling inside.

There is even a Trulli church although it is only 90 years old.
  Alberobello is geared up to catering for the tourists, but we enjoyed having a wander around, and purchased several packets of specialised local pasta to pop in our suitcases.

We were very happy to have an opportunity to visit the unspoilt hilltop town of Locorotondo a few miles away. There we met a young Italian wine producer who showed us around his own beautifully preserved Trulli farm and vineyard. His wife gave us a tasty buffet of local produce and we sampled some of his wines.

This southern region of Italy is known as either Apulia or Puglia, but they actually mean one and the same thing - Apulia is the regions traditional Latin name from antiquity, Puglia its modern name.

Tuesday 6 June 2017


Sitting beside the Adriatic Sea, the city of Bari is the capital of the Apulian region in southern Italy
The only previous information that I knew about Bari was discovered on a holiday taken in Turkey three years ago. I learnt that the 744 year old relics of St. Nicholas were purloined in 1087 from the ancient city of Myra, Asia Minor (now Demre in Turkey), and taken by Italian seafaring raiders back to their home in Bari
It was common practice back in the Middle Ages to steal holy relics as they attracted lots of pilgrims. Visiting pilgrims need to be housed, fed, and provided with souvenirs, so relics became a source of income not only for the destinations that held them, but also for the abbeys, churches, and towns en route.  
The fairy lights are connected with a religious festival held each and every May to celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the relics 930 years ago.
Basilica di San Nicola is one of Puglia's first great Norman churches and was built specifically to house the relics.

Inside the basilica there was a statue of St. Nicholas which is carried aloft from the basilica each and every May before it is placed on a boat where it rides the sea for the Festa di San Nicola. As I mentioned earlier the festival celebrates the anniversary of the arrival of the relics, and Roman Catholic pilgrims visit from all over the region to follow the procession at sea in many colourful flotillas. The next day there is a huge outdoor mass where the saint is venerated, and on the last night of the festival there is a spectacular firework display

We found that the relics are held in a reliquary kept down in the crypt, but on climbing down the steep stone stairway were surprised to discover a Christian Orthodox ceremony taking place. The crypt was full of Russian men and women, some of whom were prostrating themselves on the floor as they then made their way to the reliquary and placed the upper part of their body through an opening in it.

We sensed that something very significant for them was taking place but had no idea what. 
On our return home we heard on the news that a small part of St. Nicholas's rib had been removed from the reliquary around the time of our visit. With previous special consent from the Pope it was flown to Moscow in a chartered plane. At this moment thousands of Russians are flocking into Moscow in order to venerate, touch, and kiss the casket containing the rib of St. Nicholas. Apparently President Putin has already visited.
You can see some interesting videos here showing the arrival of the casket in Moscow and it's departure from Bari. The delivery of the reliquary was marked by the festive ringing from all of Moscow's more than 600 churches. The commencement of the ringing began with 'Ivan' the rarely-used great bell in the tower at the Kremlin. The rib will remain in Moscow until mid June when it will then be transferred to St. Petersburg before returning back to Bari sometime in July.
St. Nicholas is Russia's most beloved and revered saint.