30 Jan 2015

A wedding at the abbey

Fossanova Abbey, Priverno, Italy
The choir was practising before the wedding service.

A wedding was taking place when we visited Fossanova Abbey during our day out in Priverno with my husband's sister and her husband. It was still possible to walk around inside the Abbey and I took photos at a distance as I didn't want to intrude during the ceremony. We happened to be outside when the happy couple came out of the abbey. The guests threw white roses and red balls instead of rice or paper confetti and everyone, especially the children, enjoyed the humorous moment. I'll post more of our visit to Fossanova Abbey another time.
It's chilly, but sunny here today. Hopefully the last lot of snow which settled after the heavy snowstorms mid week will begin to melt.

25 Jan 2015

The Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Rome

A very early morning train journey into Rome's Termini Station on our way back to the airport last October gave me time to take a walk from Piazza dei Cinquecento across to Piazza della Repubblica and go into the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.  I've passed the building many times, but only vaguely remember going inside once before.

This church was built on the ruins of the Baths of the Emperor Diocletian with a complex of buildings (built AD 298) that covered many hectares of land with luxurious baths, exercise rooms, halls and libraries surrounded by gardens. It fell into disrepair when invaders destroyed the aqueducts that fed the Baths in the sixth century. It is now one of the museums in the city that houses the national collection of Roman antiquities.

Pope Pius IV commissioned Michelangelo, then 86, to convert the grand hall of the Baths into a church. Early in the 20th century the frontage at the entrance was removed to reveal the unadorned wall of the caldarium (hot room) of the Baths.  The atrium in the centre of the church was once the tepidarium (warm room).

A huge vestibule leads into the atrium with transepts and chapels either side.
Eight of the pink granite pillars came from the Roman Baths.
North transept
South transept

High altar

The Meridian of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The meridian is a type of sundial. The bronze line set in yellow white marble runs diagonally across the floor of the south transept for 45 m. and finishes in the left part of the choir and was used to regulate the time for Romans until 1846. In 1702 the astronomer and mathematician Francesco Bianchini built this meridian line at the request of Pope Clement XI who wanted to check the accuracy of the Gregorian calendar and exactly work out the moveable date of Easter.  Santa Maria degli Angeli was chosen because of the south orientation of the building, the stability when using sensitive instruments to make calculations and the vast scale and height of the walls which allowed the precise measure of the sun's progress through the year. In addition, holes were constructed in the ceiling to mark the passage of the stars. The line was restored in 2002 and is still operational today.
On the subject of time, a cannon is fired each day at noon on the Janiculum Hill.

Also in the south transept is a model of another device to measure time which you can read about below.

It was good to take time out in a city that I love, even for half an hour or so, in a building which has fascinating elements of the religious, the artistic, the scientific and, of course, the historic under one roof. People were coming in for several reasons; to gaze at the architecture and artistic features, to light a candle and say a prayer.  There was soft taped music playing Gregorian chant- which was pleasing to listen to and a reminder that there was a Carthusian monastery in Michelangelo's day next to the site. I could have gone into the cloisters that remain.

However, I needed to go back into the hustle and bustle of a city beginning a new day where workers were walking purposefully to their offices, students going to their lectures, early morning tourists and travellers were on the move in the nearby bus and railway station.

Opposite Santa Maria degli Angeli are the 19th century buildings and colonnades in the Piazza della Repubblica
with the Fontana delle Niadi in the middle.  The buildings follow the line of the Baths of Dioclesian 's benched portico.
The area is a busy one and many visitors probably pass through to more popular tourist sites using buses or the Metro, but I've always walked though the area in the early morning to get to places in the historic centre.

It's a manageable walk along Via Nazionale to Palazzo Venezia and many of the well known tourist attractions. Then I would take short cuts to the Piazza Navona Quarter or the embankment by the River Tiber. Buses and the Metro are useful and sometimes necessary to get across the city, but you notice more when walking, of course.

Today it's cold and dry and the snow has gradually melted leaving some icy patches on the road and pavements so no walking out for me!  Later on I shall join others in recording the birds in our garden as part of the RSPB Birdwatch. Our pet cat is sadly missed after his sudden and traumatic last hours.  I was expecting more birds and different varieties to venture into our garden, but the population and species seem to stay the same; blackbirds and robins except for what I think is a little wren who lurks in the undercover of the hedge. Bigger birds are quite entertaining as they sit in the surrounding neighbourhood trees before flying off.

A few days ago - thankfully all gone now!

20 Jan 2015

Looking back, looking forward

As I haven't been taking photographs recently I'm sharing some more of our time in Italy last September and October.  In between work in the house and on the land we went out to places near the coast, although we didn't actually get down to any coastal resorts.

South Lazio is divided into the inland and the coastal regions and as one would expect, the climate, terrain and vegetation is very different.  From our province we have to drive through the southern range of mountains, the Lepini Mountains, to get to the coastal plain.  The main road from our provincial town is a fast one which then joins the north/south Appian Way and we can follow this or cross it and take the minor roads that have been constructed in a grid pattern alongside the canals that were constructed to drain the Pontine Marshes of Latina province.

This reclaimed agricultural land, some of which is at sea level, is now fertile land with plenty of water for irrigation and the produce grown is sent up to Rome markets. The constructed water channels improved the marshland, but when they were not maintained and stagnant water was not pumped out epidemics of malaria were frequent.  Mussolini used his programme of draining the marshes as a propaganda exercise, but then the area became ruinous once again during WWII; water channels were neglected so that they became brackish, farmhouses deliberately blown up as a strategy to hinder the progress of the liberation of Rome. It must have been an inhospitable place at that time.

These days folk who have bought land, especially those who have developed it seem to enjoy a good living. For our family it used to be a tradition to chose a large water melon from one grown in the fields and sold at the side of the road on our way back from a day at the sea with the children.

A hill town in the Lepini Mountains

The Appian Way which links Rome to coastal resorts such as Terracina and beyond.

L'Arca Ristorante, Priverno, S. Lazio

We took my sister-in-law and husband out for lunch to a restaurant in that area which is owned by a friend. Over the years we've seen the plants flourish and the whole area around the buildings become an oasis of greenery due to the abundant water supply that can be sprayed on the trees and grass.

This was an interesting shrub, although I don't know what it is. Do you have any idea? It had these orange balls that I think were seed heads.
* I found a photograph in the gardening book Cottage Garden written by one of my favourite gardeners, the late Geoffrey Hamilton. The shrub is called The Strawberry Tree (arbutus unedo).
Apparently it bears small, white flowers in the autumn followed by red fruit, which can be seen in my photo, including the pale orange dry seed heads.

On our drive in the area we passed this place selling mature trees. The olive trees looked amazing, but I suspect they're very expensive to purchase.

                This was a new roundabout in the middle of the grid system of roads and water channels