Under the Tuscan Sun …by car

Tuesday 14 July We had a lazy start this morning following an amazing Tuscan buffet dinner at our Hotel (Hotel Etrusco) in Arezzo.  The Tuscan style food was seriously seductive  and as always Tuscan rosso is a nice drop. Once we finally took off in the Mercedes Benz we were much more confident and the satNav is now also making much more sense for us.  We continued the hunt for Piero della Francesca paintings heading first to the tiny village of Monterchi where the quite famous “Madonna del Porto” (a pregnant and very serious Mary supported by two identical angels ) used to sit in the tiny parish church. The church is now closed and the painting has its own impressive dedicated museum and presentation on the art of fresco painting in general together with an excellent movie in English which turned out to be a helpful picture of C15th Italy politically as well as artistically.

This is the only painting of a pregnant Mary, mother of Christ I have seen. Her demeanour is very serious indeed and the angels are curiously identical. It is typical of Piero della Francesca's unique way of seeing his subjects.
This is the only painting of a pregnant Mary, mother of Christ I have seen. Her demeanour is very serious indeed and the angels are curiously identical. It is typical of Piero della Francesca’s unique way of seeing his subjects.

Monterchi is my vision of the true Tuscany…golden and green and productive fields, a farmer working alone with traditional machinery making hay, rivers, mountains, hilltop homes, quiet apart from cicadas, sun beating down…we had to come back once more…it weaves a spell that makes a permanent impact. (on me anyway!)

This is why I had to come back to Tuscany but you need to hear the picture..cicadas, bursting heat, fields into the distance, a weather beaten farmer making hay with primitive instruments, productive crops, green and gold and a certain shimmering light which is like no other in the heat.
This is why I had to come back to Tuscany but you need to hear the picture..cicadas, bursting heat, fields into the distance, a weather beaten farmer making hay with primitive instruments, productive crops, green and gold and a certain shimmering light which is like no other in the heat.
Just part of Piero della Francesca's painting of the resurrection because the upper half is being restored and is covered by a platform under which I took this photo  Francesca painted himself as the second soldier from left asleep.
Just part of Piero della Francesca’s painting of the resurrection because the upper half is being restored and is covered by a platform under which I took this photo Francesca painted himself as the second soldier from left asleep.

From there we journeyed to Sansepolcro, della Francesca’s birthplace (nearby in mediaeval Borgo).  Here in the Museo Civico they have several Francesca paintings including a triptych altarpiece the centre piece of which (Jesus’ baptism by John) is in the National Gallery London. The major work here is the resurrection of Christ of which we could only view half! because of a restoration process going on. We arrived in the middle of a very lively private discussion (though we could hear it all in Italian) between the artists involved in the restoration as to how far to proceed. As with the other Mary painting in the Museo Civica della Francesca painted in his own portrait into the Resurrection scene (in this case one of the sleeping disciples.) Sansepolcro has at least two very impressive basilicas. A massive early Romanesque cathedral with typically huge pillars and a very simple basilica in honour of St Francis.

Here our Piero della Francesca pilgrimage finishes until London! After a shared and very delicious pizza in Sansepolcro we travelled south again to the hilltop town of Cortona made very famous by the books of Frances May starting with “Under the Tuscan Sun”.  Cortona is a very well to do place with many upmarket homes and a huge tourist community no doubt much influenced by May’s books. We drove up to the gate of the old town but did not venture in although I am sure there would be much to see.

I was keen to move on to Montepulciano to revisit the amazing Renaissance church of San Biago which sits outside the old town walls high on its own patch overlooking a vast countryside which seems to last forever. We were last in Montepulciano with the Andrzejewskis and the Sheumacks some years ago and we had driven over from San Gimignano and had not enough time to have a close look at this church which is the cover plate for many books on Tuscan landscape. It is a majestic, beautifully formed building. It is a perfect example of Ruskin’s view that five things only matter in architecture ( form, proportion, beauty, curvature and colour). (in his preface to “The Two Paths”) Our photo does not do this brilliant Renaissance architecture justice. It is place of immense peace, beauty and faith.  I was very glad to spend time in the church and Ann will be pleased not to hear about it again!

Everlasting view from the site of the Church of San Biago in Montepulciano. It is a place of deep peace, beauty and faith.
Everlasting view from the site of the Church of San Biago in Montepulciano. It is a place of deep peace, beauty and faith.
Photography from an iPhone does not do justice to this perfect Renaissance church ..in form. proportion, curvature, beauty and colour combined I believe it has no equal in the world and its setting the same.
Photography from an iPhone does not do justice to this perfect Renaissance church ..in form. proportion, curvature, beauty and colour combined I believe it has no equal in the world and its setting the same.

Cars, satnavs and art in Arezzo!

Installation entitled
Installation entitled “The Towers of Love” by Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr, born 1961 in the Basilica di San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy.
frescoes by Piero della Francesca in Basilica di San Francisco in Arezzo Italy. The frescoes surround the high altar.
frescoes by Piero della Francesca in Basilica di San Francisco in Arezzo Italy. The frescoes surround the high altar.
Fresco of Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca in the Duomo Arezzo Italy.
Fresco of Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca in the Duomo Arezzo Italy.

We began early this morning with the wonderful news that Dave, Nina, Jemilla and Bede were safely back home thanks to many prayers, East Asia airlines and persistence at the Denpasar airport plus some fantastic help with Dave’s car from Chris and Martin Woolley. Thanks guys and welcome back to Oz (and work/kinda/school!) to Dave and Nina, Jemilla and Bede.

Our next fight was with our Garmin SatNav which I, by error, had persuaded to talk to us in Italian! A phone call to Garmin UK steered us back to “British English” which strangely is much easier for us to understand. The SatNav still seems to prefer hotels and other genres to real addresses but so far has actually managed to get us places and home again although the first time we were so intent on looking at the machine and me trying to learn how to drive a Mercedes Benz (very small) car on the wrong side of the road that we went straight past our hotel and had to drive around the block.

The Mercedes Benz is actually fun to drive and is so quiet idling I think it has actually stopped which is not the case; the hardest part I find with all European driving is not the right hand side of the road but having the indicator lever on the left which is so counter-intuitive for me.

We spent the afternoon after a bex and a lie down following the Piero della Francesca trail around Arezzo. Piero was born in San Sepolcro just north of Arezzo and as well as an artist was a serious mathematician. He painted at Urbino, Ferrara and for the Pope in Rome but there his paintings were later painted over by Raphael by order of a later pope. After Rome he returned to his local area here in East Tuscany and painted an exceptional Mary Magdalene in the Duomo of Arezzo, a beautiful Gothic cathedral with some wonderful modern ecclesiastical furniture in the sanctuary.  His major work was a remarkable series of frescoes for the high altar for the Church of St Francesco in Arezzo which combine Biblical events with some doubtful historical and ecclesiastical historical guesses. These centre on the Empress Helena’s supposed discovery of Christ’s true cross while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The cross she finds has many adventures and some of the scenes are quite comical.

Piero della Francesca paints with a joyful humour and happiness which shows on the faces of his subjects. Vasari, the Renaissance painter and historian of art,  who was also born in Arezzo and whose house is a tourist attraction here,  is rather sparing in his praise of Piero concluding “he has justifiably acquired the reputation of being the leading geometrician of his day”. (i.e. as a painter he makes a good mathematician!) This was in 1568. I think it is fair to say that in the C20th and C21st centuries, Piero della Francesca is the main reason many Art students  and tourists come to Arezzo! (and only then, like me, find out that Vasari was born here!)

I am sounding as if the Basilica di San Francesco is just a fee attracting gallery but it is also a serious place of worship and religious discussion.  Currently the display also holds a presentation of Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr, born 1961, and he works out of Alexandria. He has presented a collection of mixed glass “towers” with various quasi – religious symbols which ring a bell with folk from many faiths.  He states that his goal in presenting these symbols in the midst of a significant place of Christian devotion, is to give people of every faith and none, freedom to explore. They certainly made an impact on me! The whole basilica di San Francesco in Arezzo raises the question of religious history and “Christian mythology”. At first sight, it might seem that the faithful by looking at some of these frescoes

Ann in front of the tower of the Palazzo Communale Arezzo.
Ann in front of the tower of the Palazzo Communale Arezzo.
Basilica de San Francesco in Arezzo with a suspended cross in front of the altar which is surrounded by frescoes painted by Piero della Francesca
Basilica de San Francesco in Arezzo with a suspended cross in front of the altar which is surrounded by frescoes painted by Piero della Francesca

could confuse the two but looking at the totality of the chapels in the church (some of which bare witness to deep Christian maturity, courage and martydom as well as the direct faithful presentation of Christian orthodoxy I think we can give Renaissance viewers the benefit of the doubt and the ability to distinguish between “the things that matter about Christian faith” and the stories which have accrued but which don’t carry the same authority.  I can hear some of my critics saying “Richard has lost the plot” but anyone who has read Chaucer or Langland carefully will be aware that Christians in the late Middle Ages could well see the difference between the pardoner and the summoner vs the faithful and dutiful parson.

A Tussle with Tuscany

Sunday 12th July

Today we travelled by not so fast train from Rome via Orvieto and Castiglione to Arezzo where we are ensconced for five days and looking for some quieter days. Arezzo’s major piazza was very quiet in the late afternoon heat but no doubt will be busier tomorrow.

Piazza Grande at Arezzo in Tuscany on a very quiet Sunday afternoon.
Piazza Grande at Arezzo in Tuscany on a very quiet Sunday afternoon.
part of the Piazza Grande with a major many columned church.
part of the Piazza Grande with a major many columned church.

Last full day in Rome and no water in the Trevi so unlikely to be back…

Today was meant to be a lay day as another 34 degrees was forecast but Ann was dragged once more into the tourist maelstrom of summer in Rome to see yet another church or two and a gallery. It was Saturday so the morning trains were far less crowded but the evening trains…let’s just say we had to let one go through to the keeper and get on the following one!

I quote here from Luigi Barzani’s book “The Italians” published in 1964 but even more true in 2015:  “There are sultry days in July and August when the cities, emptied by the natives, are almost completely taken over by the swarms of dusty and perspiring foreigners. During the siesta hour, when even the carriage horses sleep  under their straw hats, the restless tourists finally slow down. They bivouac everywhere. They recline on park benches, kerbstones, the stone brims of fountains or ancient ruins. They place their heads over their crossed arms on cafe tables for a siesta among the empty bottles, the dirty napkins and the recently purchased souvenirs. They then really look like a tired and bedraggled army after a fatiguing battle, who have occupied a city abandoned by their fleeing enemy. They have conquered. The place is theirs.”   He goes on for five pages about us tourists but it is unfortunately all true in mid-summer in Rome when the temperature climbs over the 35.

Today we had three goals…The Church of St Maria del Popolo..a mature and dignified Renaissance lady church at the edge of the bustling Piazza del Popolo.  It is finely endowed church which includes the “Chigi” chapel for which Raphael had some direction of the mosaics and, most popularly a tiny Paul chapel which includes Caravaggio’s amazing “Conversion of St Paul” which has entranced me ever since I went to St Paul’s in Warragul and always wanted a statue of Paul fallen from his horse in front of the School!  We never quite made it but I have been moved to see a picture in the flesh that has spoken to me so much from Art history. Even the horse in the painting appears to be quite moved with what was happening. I think personally that Caravaggio is the painter for the C21st! I did not take a photo but the picture is easy to find.

We then strolled down the Via del Corso which is a long straight shopping drag looking a mile down the road to the Piazza Venezia and veered off to see the Pantheon, an extraordinary Roman survivor with the most massive columns now also a place of worship. The vast dome which Michelangelo used as a model for St Peter’s is open at the top and there are holes in the marble floor for water to escape when it rains!

We enjoyed a long lunch just outside the tourist trap around the Trevi Fountain (closed for repairs) and finally located the Barberini Palace and garden, well hidden,  which now houses Italy’s national art collection. Many outstanding paintings and works are here and especially again Raphael’s “The Fornarina”,  apparently the woman who was his muse and had his heart throughout his life, one Marghereta Luti, daughter of a fornari, a bread maker.  Also of course, Caravaggio, “Narcissus” and a painting which yearns,  by Vouet of the Penitent Magdalene. The Palace itself was the magnificent residence of the family of C17th Pope Urban V111 who did so much to beautify and encourage artistic excellence throughout Rome and its churches, encouraging the architects Maderno, Bernini and Borromini to great deeds of derring-do!

We leave Rome tomorrow regretful not of leaving the heat but of leaving a city which has never been far from the heart of Western civilization, art and architecture.

Ann at St Maria del Popolo Renaissance church in which can be found Carravagio's
Ann at St Maria del Popolo Renaissance church in which can be found Carravagio’s “The Conversion of St Paul”.
External view of St Maria del Popolo Renaissance Church
External view of St Maria del Popolo Renaissance Church
External view of the Roman Pantheon now a place of worship. The pillars don't look much but up close and personal they are huge!
External view of the Roman Pantheon now a place of worship. The pillars don’t look much but up close and personal they are huge!
The Pantheon under the dome which is open to the weather. The marble floor has large holes in several places to allow the water to drain when it rains.
The Pantheon under the dome which is open to the weather. The marble floor has large holes in several places to allow the water to drain when it rains.
Raphael,
Raphael, “The Fornarina”. One of the world’s most discussed paintings, in the Barberini Gallery Rome
Vote's painting of the Penitent Magdalene, in the Berberini Gallery Rome
Vouet’s painting of the Penitent Magdalene, in the Barberini Gallery Rome
Caravaggio's
Caravaggio’s “Narcissus” in the Barberini Gallery Rome

Navigating Naples…old and new volcanoes still cause distress

Extraordinarily preserved animal mosaics from Pompeii in Naples National Museum of Archaeology
Extraordinarily preserved animal mosaics from Pompeii in Naples National Museum of Archaeology
Ann enjoying lunch in Naples in an upstairs boudoir up a 12 inch wide stairway BUT it was air conditioned and we were the only ones there! Magic!
Ann enjoying lunch in Naples in an upstairs boudoir up a 12 inch wide stairway BUT it was air conditioned and we were the only ones there! Magic!

Friday 10th July Dave, Nina, Jemilla and Bede are holed up in Bali unable to fly out because of the volcanic ash from an eruption on a nearby island. I think there could be worse places to be marooned but it is an uncertain time for them. We  spent the day in Naples looking at the terror of Mt Vesuvius’ destruction of Pompeii. Today we took the fast train (296kms/hour) from Rome to Naples, exactly 1 hour through beautiful mountain backed countryside green with many crops in the middle of summer. We spent most of the day in the National Museum of Archaeology which is a stunning classical building in its own right with a stunning 2 storey double marble interior stairway. The museum has two major holdings.  In the C19th the discovery of Pompeii lead archaeologists to remove vast quantities of excavated mosaics, frescoes, bronzes, pottery, sculpture and materials of all sorts to fill eight large rooms of the most exquisite second century lifestyle caught in a moment of time. This was a good thing to do to preserve these precious artefacts but they are now of course out of context and some were damaged in the  process.  Copies of the mosaics and frescoes have been returned to Pompeii where walking on them can cause minimal damage. There is a current display of “Pompeii and Europe” which demonstrates the impact of the C19th discovery and excavation of Pompeii mainly through the eyes of Goethe, Stendahl and Lytton.  In a curious way it resembles the passion many today have for the entombed lives of the Titanic disaster in the C20th.

The second major holding in Naples is the Farnese collection of Roman sculpture accumulated by one of the Papal families and now on display to the public. The Farnese Palace in Rome is now the French Embassy and not easily accessible but the impressive collection of huge sculptures is beautifully displayed in Naples.  It includes busts of all the Suetonian emperors and massively huge sculptures of gods and important folk in early Rome.  In addition the frescoes and mosaics from Hadrian’s villa, the ruin of which we walked in yesterday, are also displayed in the Naples museum. In the afternoon we wandered the streets of Naples not venturing too far in the heat and enjoying an April 18 English newspaper, the only paper in English we could buy although the Italian bookshops have many books in English. I found the Neapolitans to be very friendly and helpful. The city has a bad rep in Melbourne and I am sure there are parts

marble double staircase at the National Museum of Archaeology in Naples
marble double staircase at the National Museum of Archaeology in Naples
Naples Archaeological Museum  Farnese collection  Apollo
Naples Archaeological Museum Farnese collection Apollo
Bacchus in Naples archaeological museum; Farnese collection
Bacchus in Naples archaeological museum; Farnese collection
The
The “Farnese Bull” part of the collection of Farnese in the Naples archaeological museum
Big Julie, part of the Farnese Collection in Naples
Big Julie, part of the Farnese Collection in Naples
Mosaic floor tile from Pompeii, Naples Museum of Archaeology
Mosaic floor tile from Pompeii, Naples Museum of Archaeology
Bust of Vespasian, who with Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD In Naples Museum of Archaeology
Bust of Vespasian, who with Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD In Naples Museum of Archaeology

one should not venture into and I would not be driving there but it is an exciting and interesting city.

Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa D’Este at Tivoli, 40 kms from Rome

Thursday 9th July

Another sweltering day in Paradise in the eternal city found us on a bus tour to the beautiful village of Tivoli and investigating the ruins of the Emperor Hadrian’s Villa from early in the C2nd AD  and the magnificent house and gardens of the Villa D’Este,  a C16th villa handed to Ippolito Este as second prize for missing out on being elected Pope. Ippolito accepted the offer and not only created one of the world’s outstanding gardens with 28 gravity fed fountains but also had his four storey villa decorated with Mannerist frescoes of Biblical, classical and current political themes in a quite unique style. Ippolito saved Tivoli from flood by spending thousands re-creating the town’s water system and the frescoes in his house have a distinct water/Noah/Moses theme.

The Emperor Hadrian was also a far-sighted man who ruled after Trajan and between them they created a golden era of Roman peace and stability after the political entanglements of the Claudian and Flavian dynasties in the C1st. Hadrian created his villa of peace just a half day’s horse ride from Rome on a hill in Tivoli with breathtaking views. He walled the villa, provided two amazing pools which still remain, scores of olive trees, a private garden house for himself, palaces for his many guests and court and very comfortable if small apartments for all his servants and attendants. All is now in ruins with the marble and frescoes long gone and re-used elsewhere but the sense of immense power and potential beauty is everywhere in evidence.

Three days in a row of stifling heat in tourist crowds, on hugely crowded underground trains  and in bustling streets has tested our energy levels and it is a joy to retreat to our hotel haven in Marconi where all is cool and quiet. Ann’s injured leg has stood up to some difficult tests (including well over 250 steps in the Villa D’Este garden today and more tramping around Hadrian’s villa.  Richard has been consuming far too much Italian red wine and excellent home made pasta as can be seen by the photo attached.  Tomorrow a potentially stressful day in Naples awaits!

The Romans copied these caryatids from the Greek Acropolis in the C2nd; when the Greek archaeologists wanted to repair the Erechthion caryatids they had to come to Hadrian's villa to see how they should look!
The Romans copied these caryatids from the Greek Acropolis in the C2nd; when the Greek archaeologists wanted to repair the Erechthion caryatids they had to come to Hadrian’s villa to see how they should look!
Hadrian created three bathhouses in his Villa ..this was his private one I think! but not much left
Hadrian created three bathhouses in his Villa ..this was his private one I think! but not much left
The Villa D'Este contains 28 amazing fountains, some hidden and others that change radically depending on where they are seen from.
The Villa D’Este contains 28 amazing fountains, some hidden and others that change radically depending on where they are seen from.
An overfed Richard takes a rest at the fountains of the Villa D'Este in Tivole
An overfed Richard takes a rest at the fountains of the Villa D’Este in Tivole

What a troika…The world’s smallest country holds the largest cathedral, a set of museums hard to match anywhere and surely the most impressively decorated chapel in the world..five hours in The Vatican.

The Apollo Belvedere ..out of favour today because of his alleged lack of personality but still the epitome of classical grace and elegance for me
The Apollo Belvedere ..out of favour today because of his alleged lack of personality but still the epitome of classical grace and elegance for me
Discovered in the C16th but  known from antiquity,
Discovered in the C16th but known from antiquity, “The Laocoon” bristles with muscular power and energy and seems more alive than any other sculpture in the museums

Wednesday July 8th

At 7.15am we commenced our second 35 degree day in the eternal city with a five hour visit  to The Vatican City,  the walled and gardened tiny city with the world’s smallest train system, exceptionally well manicured and beautiful gardens, a cathedral which is twice the size and breadth of York and which for sheer classical and brute strength has no peer.  Passionate people from every country on earth pour into St Peter’s Square daily and stand in formidable queues to visit the Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel and its many museums and gardens.  We had the privilege of a small and quiet group to visit Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel by meeting at 7.15am. Can there be a more well known image than Michelangelo’s muscular and dynamic ancient of days creator passing life by fingertip to a wan and basically limp Adam? And is there a more sustained image of despair than that of Michelangelo’s “thinker” not yet in Hell but being pushed in that direction with a seeming sense of culpability and what might have been; and Michelangelo’s own skin being offered as a dispassionate Christ appears to deliberately ignore a Mary who seems in awe of the power of judgment; and even the saved seem uncertain of whether the decision is for them. To be there in the still of the morning without the teeming crowds later in the day was a spiritual, intellectual and poetic experience I will not forget.

The stretch and breadth of the museums with their ten ancient world globes, every culture on earth it seems represented, ancient near Eastern cylinders and manuscripts, over 30000 classical figures, a pinocoteca with many wonderful paintings and tapestries and the library with the Codex Vaticanus ( a complete Biblical mss of the C4th). The museum of Contemporary Art was equally impressive, mostly but not only of religious themes and the strength of the fresco and tiling decoration of every surface – floor, ceilings, walls including all the corridors is overwhelming.  The Papal apartments with Raphael’s work and his stable of students are a study in themselves and the peaceful gardens invite reflection and prayer, something we even managed in a quieter section of the cathedral set apart for the purposeThis is a rich diet of spirit, mind, architectural and artistic skill of the highest and an extraordinary concatenation of faces and languages from all over the globe. The most amazed folk in our group were a family of Ecuadorans who had travelled to Italy to meet the Pope only to find that he was in Ecuador! Photographs from our harried iPhone cannot do any justice to this feast of the mind and spirit.  We are glad to have been part of this experience.Michelangelo  The PietaMichelangelo’s Pieta, even through bullet proof glass , combines love and despair in equal measure; in the entrance to St Peter’s Cathedral, it sets in my view, the perfect tone and overcomes the triumphalism of much that follows.

Raphael's Ascension of Christ combines an ethereal event with human commotion, faith and fear
Raphael’s Ascension of Christ combines an ethereal event with human commotion, faith and fear
The crowd in this Papal apartment forbad a proper perspective but this painting by Raphael with Plato conversing with Aristotle and mathematicians and philosophers of every suit arguing their case, for me summarises the best of the Renaissance.. It is an absolute wonder
The crowd in this Papal apartment forbad a proper perspective but this painting by Raphael with Plato conversing with Aristotle and mathematicians and philosophers of every suit arguing their case, for me summarises the best of the Renaissance.. It is an absolute wonder

A Funny thing happened on the Way to the Forum!

Tuesday 7th July

Today we entered the maelstrom of the eternal city in a period of a record breaking heatwave.

We ventured outside our safe haven hotel in suburban Marconi to the Rome underground, five stops on a very crowded train and walking out of the Colosso station to be looking straight at the Colosseum and the Constantine Arch ( in amazing condition compared with the rest of Roman ruins because of Constantine’s decision at the Milvian Bridge to see the cross of Christian faith as they way forward for the Roman Empire. Christian leaders made sure the arch was kept in good nick!)

As usual we boarded the hop on/off bus around Rome, this time in 35 degree heat and fierce Rome traffic.  Again we were reminded how amazing this city is..mixing up C21st buildings and technology with archaelogical ruins well over two millennia years old.

We spent much of our time today, after a city circuit on the red bus,   at the Capitoline Museums where a highlight was a special showing of a much discussed self -portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci under strict security and lighting. This frail parchment portrait, now quite faint, is disputed by the experts as a self-portrait because of the similarity with other portraits of famous philosophers and suggesting that Leonardo was deliberately  setting himself up as their successor. It was nevertheless  a powerful presentation.

The museums of the Capitolene Hill looking out over the forum of Roman ruins contain an amazing collection of sculptures, coins, jewellery, Renaissance paintings and ancient pottery especially early Greek pottery.  The “Hall of Triumphs” contains the Spinario – a life size sculpture of a young boy removing a thorn from his foot as well as the “Capitolene Brutus” a C5th sculpture of a very fierce gentleman. So many highlights including the famous sculpure of the “Capitoline shewolf ” suckling Romulus and Remus..mythological founders of Rome; the remarkable  life size statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, and exceptional paintings including the controversial quite sensuous Caraveggio painting of a young John the Baptist as well as many other Italian Renaissance artists as well as a Rubens painting of the birth of the mythological Romulus and Remus.  The Museum itself is an archaeological dig and the presentation of this area was also a highlight. All of the ceilings of the Renaissance Palace have been restored with remarkable effect and the entire collection would be a week’s study not just the four hours we gave to it.

Constantine remembered! Who said I have a big head?
Constantine remembered! Who said I have a big head?
part of the Roman forum
part of the Roman forum
Marcus Aurelius in full flight. Not just an author of Meditations
Marcus Aurelius in full flight. Not just an author of Meditations and below Ann resting alongside of Neptune after slogging it out in high heat for 4 hours
Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she-wolf ..a famous symbol of Rome's foundation in the Capitoline Museum
Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she-wolf ..a famous symbol of Rome’s foundation in the Capitoline Museum

Neptune Capitolene Museum Rome

169 churches in Valetta Malta

Sunday 5 July  Valetta, Malta

We did not visit them all on this Sunday but we did enjoy sung Communion at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral where they happened to have 40 visiting Swedish catechumen students and their priest who gave an excellent address on discipleship. In addition we were treated to choral support from the visiting choir of Pusey College Oxford. Twenty young men and women who sang with passion and faith accompanied by their own organist who played some amazing Bach before and after the service. It was a friendly and very British affair in a historic, quite plain neo-Classical church.

An extraordinary contrast is the St John’s Catholic Co-Cathedral …an ornately Baroque masterpiece with a painted barrel ceiling, amazing tiles on the floor covering the tombs of famous Knights Hospitalers, an extraordinarily ornate sanctuary area and eight chapels equally rich in ornamentation, one for each of the “langes” or areas from which the  Hospitaler Knights came.  In addition the oratory contains the huge Caravaggio painting of the beheading of John the Baptist ( no photography permitted) and the smaller Caravaggio  painting of St Jerome writing. This is indeed one of the world’s most decorative Baroque cathedrals.

We were privileged also to participate in parts of  devotional services in the Ethiopian community church (which began at 8.00am and was still raging at 10.45am! Also the much more quietly decorated Baroque Church of St Francis and the relative modern music of the Carmelite Monastery church.

The National archaeological museum contains megalithic pottery and figurine remains dating back to 2000- 5000 BC as well as considerably more pottery remains from the Phoenician period of about 1000 BC.

The Garden area overlooking the harbour contains sculpted tributes to many heroes of Malta including Churchill amongst many others. Valetta is to be the 2016 Cultural Capital of Europe and it is easy to see why with even new buildings still being built in the style of the existing architecture which is uniformly stunning.  Valetta remains one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and certainly the city with the most consistently uniform style.

Monday 6th July:

Today was a travelling day flying Aegean Airlines to Rome over Sicily and the Italian coast.  We found the train to the city from the airport and a cab to take us to the Pullitzer Hotel on the outskirts of Rome. We are looking forward to being in one place for a week.

Ceiling of St John's Hospitallers Catholic Co-Cathedral ..paintings of Biblical themes.
Ceiling of St John’s Hospitallers Catholic Co-Cathedral ..paintings of Biblical themes.
Crusader famous knights of  St John's Hospitalers buried in the floor of the Co-Cathedral and covered with stunning ceramic tiles of the highest quality.
Crusader famous knights of St John’s Hospitalers buried in the floor of the Co-Cathedral and covered with stunning ceramic tiles of the highest quality.
The highly ornate sanctuary of St John's Co-Cathedral with gilt everywhere.
The highly ornate sanctuary of St John’s Co-Cathedral with gilt everywhere.
The much more staid decoration of St  Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Valetta in neo-classical style built with money donated by Queen Adelaide of British royalty fame in the C19th
The much more staid decoration of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Valetta in neo-classical style built with money donated by Queen Adelaide of British royalty fame in the C19th
Each morning in Valetta we awoke to this awesome view of a busy harbour overlooked by St Paul's sphere, the majestic dome of the Carmelite basilica and the St John's Catholic co-cathedral
Each morning in Valetta we awoke to this awesome view of a busy harbour overlooked by St Paul’s sphere, the majestic dome of the Carmelite basilica and the St John’s Catholic co-cathedral
A very early convertible fiat outside St Paul's Anglican Cathedral
A very early convertible fiat outside St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral