ALFAMA NEIGHBORHOOD

Visiting the area to the strains of a Fado song: very romantic, isn’t it? From Baixa we move towards Alfama, the oldest part of the Portuguese capital. This is the part of the city full of crumbling old buildings, narrow cobbled streets, and endless opportunities to enjoy a panoramic view from one of the several miradouros – means viewpointslocated at the highest points of each hill. One of the most famous (and crowded at the sunset) is Miradouro das Portas do Sol, with stunning views over red roofs out to the Tagus river. Nearby, you can reach a second viewpoint, called Santa Luzia, a panoramic colonnated terrace.

Originally, Alfama was situated outside of the city walls, where only the poor and disadvantaged resided. As Lisbon grew into an important port, the district retained its lowly status as the tough and deprived district where sailors and dock workers lived. Today, Alfama has shrugged off its grim reputation, being transformed into a fashionable artisan district, while still retaining its character and dilapidated charm.

One of Lisbon’s must-visit attractions, is the Sao Jorge Castle, visible from almost anywhere in the old town. Sao Jorge is a Moorish Castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic centre, dating back to Middle Ages. It’s a solid climb up through Alfama’s winding streets to get there, or ride the number 28 Tram to the Largo da Graca, if You want to take it easy (but it’s incredibly popular with tourists and locals alike, so wait patiently to take it). Once there, you’ll have unrivaled 360-degree views on the city, plus the chance to wander the old castle walls, still provided with the old cannons on display.

The castle’s plan is roughly square, and it was originally encircled by a wall, to form a citadel. The castle complex consists of the castle itself (the castelejo), some ancillary buildings (including the ruins of the Royal Palace), gardens, and a large terraced square where You can enjoy the impressive panorama. The main entrance to the citadel is a 19th-century gate surmounted by the coat of arms of Portugal. This gate permits access to the main square (Praça d’Armas), which is decorated with old cannons and a bronze statue of Afonso Henriques, the Portuguese monarch who took the castle from the Moors.

Another monument to see in the area is the Lisbon’s cathedral (): the oldest church in the city, with construction starting in the 1100’s on the site of an even older Moorish mosque. The exterior of the old church resembles more that of a fortification than religious centre, with massive solid walls and two imposing clock towers.
The word Sé derives its name from the initials of Sedes Episcopalis which when translated means bishop’s seat. Interestingly the first bishop of Lisbon to have his seat here had no roots or ties to the region but was actually an English crusader named Gilbert.

to be continued ..

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LISBON STORY

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I love Lisbon. It was love at first sight last summer when we went to Portugal for visiting Lisbon and Algarve region. Portogueses are wonderful people, they’ll make You feel at home really easily. We spent such lovely days in this sunny, lazy country. Portugal is rather small, easy to visit, and I would like to share the tale of our most significant moments here.

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We stayed in Arroios area, really close to Baixa and Chiado quarters: this is the heart of the citylife, near Rossio Square: a stimulating area, full both of museum and shops and coffee in the lively streets of the old town. Walking aimlessy far and wide, You’ll come across some of the most famous monuments of the city.

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Baixa is located between the hills of Alfama (Castle Area) and Chiado. We start the visit from two symbols of Lisbon: the Elevador de Santa Justa and the ruins of Convento do Carmo.
Situated at the end of Rua de Santa Justa, it connects the lower streets of the Baixa with the higher Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square). Since its construction the Lift has become a tourist attraction for Lisbon as, among the urban lifts in the city, Santa Justa is the only remaining vertical (conventional) one. Others are actually only funicular railways.

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The Carmo Convent and its Church were built between 1389 and 1423 in the plain gothic style, typical for the mendicant religious orders. The church has a Latin cross floorplan. The main facade has a portal with several archivolts and capitals decorated with vegetal and anthropomorphic motifs. The rose window over the portal is partially destroyed. The stone roof over the nave collapsed after the earthquake in 1755 and was never rebuilt, and only the pointed arches between the pillars have survived. Even so, it’s not difficult to imagine how imposing its architecture must have been.

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The Rua Augusta Arch is a stone, triunphal arch-like, historical building on Praça do Comércio. It was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. It has six columns and is adorned with statues of various historical figures. Significant height from the arch crown to the frame imparts an appearance of heaviness to the structure. The associated space is filled with the coat of arms of Portugal. The allegorical group at the top, made by French sculptor Célestin Anatole Calmels, represents Glory rewarding Valor and Genius. Originally designed as a bell tower, the building was ultimately transformed into an elaborate arch.

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Urban development of the banks of the Tagus river, to Praça do Comércio was given a definitive impulse in the early 16th century, when King Manuel I built a new royal residence – the RibeiraPalace – by the river, outside the city walls. The area was further developed with the building of a port, shipbuilding facilities, and other administrative buildings that regulated the commerce between Portugal and other parts of Europe and its colonies.
On 1 November 1755, a great earthquake, followed by a tsunami destroyed most of Lisbon, including the Ribeira Palace and other buildings by the river. José I’s Prime Minister, the Marquis of Pombal, coordinated a massive rebuilding effort led by Portuguese architect Eugénio dos Santos, which designed a large, rectangular square in the shape of a “U”, open towards the Tagus.

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The square was named Praça do Comércio, to indicate its new function in the economy of Lisbon. The symmetrical buildings of the square were filled again with government bureaux. The centrepiece of square was the equestrian statue of King José I. This bronze statue, the first monumental statue dedicated to a king in Lisbon, was designed by Joaquin Machado de Castro, Portugal’s foremost sculptor of the time.

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In the end, we’re back to Praça Dom Pedro IV, simply called Rossio. The Portuguese take pride in their great square with its stone paving, designed to resemble the oceans, big fountains and statue of -supposedly- Dom Pedro IV. Lisbon revolves around Rossio, where the students come to sing, workers to protest and tourists to enjoy the atmosphere sitting at the bar tables. This name has its roots well before the big earthquake, when the area of Praça dom Pedro IV was the capital’s central open area accessible to all common people. The rough translation of Rossio means “common land” and it was here that the old city of Lisbon centered around during the 13th century: here public shows, bull fights and royal proclamations occurred. During the era of the Inquisitions Rossio was also the public executions ground.

to be continued…

MEMORIAL SITES

Berlin can’t be separated from Second World War and the Holocaust tragedy: to visit Berlin means to retrace some of the saddest moments of human history, and this cannot leave us indifferent. In any case, recalling the past help us not to forget. This is a trip through the Memorial sites of Berlin: it’ll not be easy, but it’s necessary.

The Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

According to Eisenman’s project, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent an ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.
However, some observers have noted the memorial’s resemblance to a cemetery, cause of the field of grey slabs that resemble rows of coffins. While each stone slab is approximately the size and width of a coffin, Eisenman has denied any intention to resemble any form of a burial site.
The memorial’s grid can be read as both an extension of the streets that surround the site and an unnerving evocation of the rigid discipline applied. Walking in the middle of the pillars, higher towards the center, you can really feel what loneliness, powerlessness and despair mean. Suddenly, You’re totally isolated from street noise and sights of Berlin, wrapped in an unnatural silence.

The space in between the concrete pillars offers a brief encounter with the sunlight. As visitors wander through the slabs the sun disappears and reappears. One is constantly tormented with the possibility of a warmer, brighter life. Some have interpreted this use of the space as a symbolic remembrance of the history of European Jews whose political and social rights constantly dropped.
I read so many hypothesis of symbolism about the different height of the pillars: some claim that the downward slope that directs You away from the outside symbolically depicts the gradual escalation of the Third Reich’s persecution of the Jewish community, first forced into ghettos and removed from society, separated from family and finally, “removed” from existence.
Some have interpreted the shape and color of the grey slabs to represent the loss of identity during the Nazi regime.
And finally, some of the blocks appear to be unfinished. Many see this unfinished appearance as asserting that the task of remembering the Holocaust is never over. 

East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is in Mühlenstrasse, to the Sprea riverside, in Friedrichshain neighborhood. Walking in the strip of land between the two wall -nowadays You can see some sections of the west wall-  You can admire the famous Oberbaumbrücke over the Sprea.

East Side Gallery, like the name says, was the part of the wall facing east. At the moment of the fall of the wall, the future East Side Gallery was immaculate white: it became a huge palette for mural artists of the period. Thanks to this, the only piece of remaining wall survived.

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Memorial of the Berlin Wall

This monument celebrates the division of the city and the death resulting from this sad situation. Built in 1998, it’s situated between Bernauer Straße and Ackerstraße, it extends along 1.4 kilometers. It consists in a Visitor Center and the Documentation Center, but the grounds also include the Chapel of Reconciliation and the excavated foundations of a former apartment building whose façade functioned as the border wall until the early eighties.

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Checkpoint Charlie

It was an important checkpoint located between the Soviet and the US sectors. Located in Friedrichstraße. 
Created in 1961 after the construction of the wall, it was the only passage for allied military forces, visitors and diplomatic staff.

After riunification,  the checkpoint was removed and nowadays the original guardhouse is inside the Alliierten Museum. In 2000 was inaugurated a  faithful reconstruction of the first american control cabin, today a touristic “meeting point”.

to be continued…

UNTER DEN LINDEN

Literaly “under the basswoods”, this is one of the most elegant avenue in Berlin, that connects the Museum Island to Brandenburg Gate, in Mitte neighbourhood of Berlin. This is for sure the most famous area of the city, with many important buildings, like the Opera House and the “Kronprinzenpalais” (palace of the heirs to the throne). The boulevard is also studded with embassies and university buildings.

The Brandenburg Gate, a monumental gate built in the eighteenth century as a symbol of peace, is Berlin’s most famous landmark. During the Cold War, when the gate was located right near the border between East and West Berlin, it became a symbol of a divided city. Curiously, when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it became instantly the symbol of a reunited Berlin, with people flocked to the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate.

The Brandenburg Gate is situated at the end of Unter den Linden, that cuts through the center of Berlin. The gate was originally part of a wall surrounding Berlin and was the main entrance to the city. It is the only gate that remains of this former city wall. Architect Carl Gotthard Langhans based his design on the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. The gate was named Friedenstor (Peace Gate) since it was meant to symbolize a period of peace after years of war during the reign of Frederick the Great. Quite prophetic, isn’t it?

The gate has five passages: the central and widest one was reserved for the royals; the adjacent passages were for use of the aristocracy while ordinary citizens were only allowed to use the outer two. The bronze quadriga of victory crowning the gate was created in 1793 by Johann Gottfried Schadow. The four-horse chariot is driven by the winged Goddess of Peace.
In 1806, when Berlin was occupied by French troops, Napoleon ordered the quadriga to be taken to Paris. After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the quadriga was triumphantly taken back to Berlin, and was turned into a symbol of victory: an iron cross and eagle were added to the laurel wreath. At the same time the square near the gate was renamed Pariser Platz and the statue on the quadriga was called Victoria, from the Roman Goddess of Victory.

Gendarmenmarkt is another famous square of Berlin: created at the end of the seventeenth century as a market place – the Linden Markt – it’s really characteristic for the presence of three landmark buildings: the Französischer Dom (French cathedral), Deutscher Dom (German cathedral) and the Konzerthaus (Concert hall). In the middle of the square is a statue of Friedrich Schiller, a famous German poet. The Französischer Dom and Deutscher Dom are two seemingly identical churches, situated opposite each other on either side of the Konzerthaus.
The oldest of the two is the Französischer Dom, built between 1701 and 1705 by the Huguenots, a religious community persecuted in France that sought refuge in Protestant Berlin.


Right in front of Brandenburg Gate, You’ll find the so called Reichstag, an imposing neo-Renaissance parliamentary building. Constructed between 1884 and 1894, mainly funded with wartime reparation money from France, was initially a parliament with weak powers, infact most of the legislative power was in the hands of the chancellor and, until 1918, the emperor. The Reichstag played a significant part in Hitler’s ascend to power, after a fire broke out in the building, with Hitler, at that time chancellor, blaiming the Communists. The building was not repaired and was damaged even more at the end of the Second World War, when Soviet troops entered Berlin, and never used like before till the birth of the reunified Germany. The highlight of the new Reichstag is its striking glass dome, added to the project cause of the insistence of the German government. Nowadays it’s open to visitors, who can look onto the plenary hall below. You can walk onto the roof of the building for views over the area or, even better, ascend a helical ramp that brings you to a viewing deck with unique views over the city.

If You’re not tired yet, You could proceed walking along the Tiergarten, the most famous park in Berlin: it’s bisected by the wide 17th of June Street (Straße des 17. Juni), which culminates in theVictory Column (Siegessäule), a red granite column crowned with the statue of a golden-hued goddess. The monument was built in the late nineteenth century to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Prusso-Danish war of 1864.

to be continued..

HEART OF BERLIN

Next day we decided to explore the Mitte area, the most historical area in Berlin: from our hotel, we crossed Oranienburgerstrasse, where You can find some interesting buildings, such as the “Postfuhramt” – it was an ancient stable with two hundred horses employed to delivery mail – and the “Neue Synagoge”, the largest synagogue in the world, completed in 1866, but sadly set on fire during Kristallnacht in 1938, and after also damaged in 1943 by air raids. It was reconstructed starting from 1987.


We continued to the Sprea island (Museumsinsel), where are located many international museum of the city. The history of Museum Island started with King Frederick William III who, in 1810, commissioned the creation of a public museum on Spree Island.  In 1822 Karl Friedrich Schinkel drew up plans to develop the island, and a first museum building, the Royal Museum – nowadays the Altes Museum – opened in 1830. The museum was built to allow the general public to view the royal art treasures of Prussia. The other museum were established during XIX century. Sadly, most of these buildings were destroyed during World War II and, after the conflict, the collections were split up between East and West Berlin. After German reunification the collections were brought together again and a masterplan was drawn up, to not only restore all five museums but also expand and modernize the museum complex.


We took the chance to visit the Pergamon Museum, where you’ll find a remarkable collection of Greek, Roman and Babylonian antiquities. Highlights include impressive monuments such as the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Market gate of Miletus and the enormous Pergamon Altar. It’s really impressive to see such kind of artifacts included in closed rooms, with for example, Ishtar Gate that nearly reach the ceiling.

After the visit, we took a stroll around the Museum complex: crossing the colonnade, You’ll reach the Dom, Berlin’s main cathedral, that was built at the end of the XVIII century as a protestant counterpart of the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The cathedral is lavishly decorated in the Baroque style.




The basement of the cathedral holds the Hohenzollern family crypt. It contains more than ninety sarcophagi, including that of Frederick William, the Great Elector.
If You don’t have fear of heights, you can climb to the dome and enjoy a great view on the rooftops of the city.


The garden in front of the Dom is called “Lustgarten”. The garden was originally created as an exotic garden for Princess Luise, spouse of the Great Elector. King Frederick William I, the so-called ‘Soldier-King’, turned the garden into a military parade ground. Here you find Altes Museum, reopened in 1966 as a museum of contemporary art, it houses nowadays ancient Greek and Roman antiquities. The building resembles infact a Greek Ionic Temple.


to be continued..Cris

 

CITIES OF THE WORLD: BERLIN

I’m not sure about where I have to start speaking of Berlin. In February I leaved without many expectations to visit it for the first time, so I admit I’ve been taken by surprise from this city. What do you think first about Berlin? Probably the first things you remember are historical events: Second World War, the cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall…and so on.

What can I say is: you’ll find in Berlin all of these, but also much more. Strolling throught the streets of the several quarters, you’ll perceive the many souls of the city: there is a Renaissance Berlin; a contemporary one; a place where abstract and graffiti art have significance; a city which offers ideas in many fields, sometimes alternative and still a bit subversive.

Personally I was surprised by the capability of this city not to succumb to the shadows of its past: Berlin could have eclipse after the destruction and the senseless violence of the war: ever since the creation of a unified Germany in 1871, the nation’s tumultuous history has had a profound impact on the history of its capital Berlin.
Many historic neighborhoods and monuments were destroyed during the Second World War, but since the reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, historic areas like Potsdamer Platz and Pariser Platz have been completely revamped. Nowadays, Berlin is once again one of Europe’s main cities: lively, dynamic and inviting.


With the following posts, I’ll retrace my steps and accompany you across some of the salient points of Berlin, starting right now from the Castle of Charlottenburg. We arrived in the afternoon, and we started right away our exploration from this western district, even if we couldn’t visit the inside of the residence.

This is the biggest historical palace left after the Second World War in Berlin, though burned to the ground during the Second World War but it has been completely reconstructed. The palace was built at the end of the 17th century and was greatly expanded during the 18th century. It includes much exotic internal decoration in baroque and rococo styles. A large garden surrounded by woodland was added behind the palace.
Originally commissioned by Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III, and built as a modest summer residence, the Schloss still nowadays show the grandeur of the Hohenzollern dynasty who for centuries ruled over Prussia.

The central and oldest part of the palace is the domed Altes Schloss (Old Palace) Here you can visit the apartments of Frederick I and Queen Sophie Charlotte. The rooms are decorated in a sumptuous Baroque style with plenty of stucco, wood paneling, gilded ornaments and frescoes. Other interesting rooms include the Oval Room, which looks out over the garden; the opulent Schlosskapelle, a chapel with an impressive royal box; and the Porcelain Chamber, laden with more than two thousand pieces of Chinese porcelain.

to be continued…

PALLADIAN VILLAS OF VICENZA

Hello! Today we return to Italy for a moment to talk about a little jewel I recently discovered: I’m talking about the city of Vicenza, located in Veneto region. Less famous than Verona and Venezia, undoubtly it worth a visit to discover an important side of Italian architecture.

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If you’re taking a one-day trip to Vicenza, I suggest to start early in the morning with the visit of two of the most famous Palladian Villas: Villa Valmarana ai Nani and Villa Capra (so called “La Rotonda”).
Valmarana ai Nani is a splendid architectural and artistic site, composed by three buildings connected thanks to a well-preserved vintage park. The buildings “Palazzina” (1669), Foresteria and Scuderia (1720), are surrounded by green areas based on symmetry, axial geometry and on the principle of imposing order over nature: the famous “Giardini all’Italiana”. The garden is open to all  those who visit the villa.
Palazzina and Foresteria are frescoed by Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, called in 1757 from the owner Giustino Valmarana. The Villa takes its name from the 17 stone dwarf-statues, previously scattered into the garden, and now placed on the surrounding wall of the property.

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Family Valmarana still live in the Villa, considered the maximum expression of the eighteenth century and the hightest proof of Tiepolos mastery. From the “Palazzina” building, dominated by statues of several divinities, you could enjoy a peaceful panorama on the Valletta del Silenzio,  with the Sanctuary of Monte Berico in the background.

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Villa Almerico Capra, named “La Rotonda” is achievable by walk from Villa Valmarana: designed and builded for commission from Andrea Palladio in 1570, the name “Capra” derives from the Capra brothers, who completed the building after it was given to them in 1592. From 1911 the building is owned by Family Valmarana, that opened the complex to visitors starting 1986. This building is conserved as part of the World Heritage Site “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas”.


The site selected was a hilltop just outside the city: rather than a villa, infact, you could call it a “palazzo”: the design is for a completely symmetrical building having a square plan with four facades, each of which has a projecting portico. The name La Rotonda refers to the central circular hall with its imposing dome, beautifully painted with frescoes by artists such as Anselmo Canera and Alessandro Maganza.

A full morning is enough when not crowded to visit both the villas, then in the afternoon you can head to the city center, with its beautiful and well-preserved historical buildings.

to be continued…

POSTCARDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD: BERLIN

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“Per visitare Berlino bisogna saper vedere anche quello che non c’è più e saper intuire una ingannevole realtà. Qui gli eventi sono cicatrici sul volto della storia, ma la loro capacità evocativa è intatta. A Berlino nulla resta più visibile di ciò che si cerca di cancellare.”

“To visit Berlin must be able to see what is not here anymore, and be able to grasp a deceptive reality. Here events are scars on the face of history, but their evoking ability is unaltered. In Berlin nothing remains more visible than what you are trying to delete.”

(Johann Bernhard Merian)