Ancient Ravenna Italy

Imagine a city filled with 1600-year-old buildings richly decorated with original artwork. Ravenna, Italy, is just that place. The capital of the Western Roman empire from 402 AD until the fall of Rome in 476 AD, Ravenna’s earliest extant religious buildings date to that period. The larger, grander buildings were constructed in the 6th century. Mosaic tile artwork covers the interiors of many of the ancient churches, baptistries and mausoleums begun between 400 AD and 550 AD that remain in perfect condition today. Here are some of my photos of many of them.

The Neonian Baptistry, ca. 430 AD, is one of the oldest buildings in Ravenna. The interior is lavishly decorated in mosaic tilework and sculpted stone.

The Mausoleum of Galla Placida, also dates to the early 5th century.

This is the ceiling of the Arian Baptistry, built in the late 5th or 6th century. It was placed next to the ancient cathedral which was destroyed long ago.

Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, dedicated in 504 AD, features a row of 22 Virgins along one wall and 26 Martyrs along the other.

Possibly the most beautiful because its interior is covered in ancient mosaic art, the Basilica of San Vitale was constructed in the mid 6th century. The building is considered to be one of the best examples of early Christian architecture in Europe.

Sant Apollinare in Classe is another beautiful mid 6th century Christian church in Ravenna.

In addition, two other important buildings of this era, the Archiepiscopal Chapel (ca. 500 AD) and the Mausoleum of Theodoric (ca. 520 AD) can be visited.

Resources:

Find more about Ravenna’s ancient churches at the UNESCO World Heritage site here.

Wikipedia’s entry for Ravenna is a detailed history of the city with links to entries about each of these ancient religious buildings.

Ravenna is jsut 85 miles south of Venice and is linked to that city by train and highways.

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Slowly Exploring Italy

“Slow travel” means taking time to explore the places you visit. It’s a “hub and spoke” way to travel.  Staying in one cottage or apartment for a week or longer and taking day trips to surrounding places is an ideal way to discover more than just the touristy centers of major cities. Italy, for example, offers many opportunities for exploration of historic, artistic cities and beautiful agricultural areas.

The early spring view from “our” kitchen window in Montaione.

On our first trip to Italy my husband and I stayed for three weeks in Montaione, a village in Tuscany. We caught the train from a nearby town for day trips to Florence several times. We explored Siena twice —  one of those days was Easter Sunday. We spent days in San Gimignano, Pisa, Cortona, Assisi and Volterra. We explored the Chianti region. We enjoyed just roaming the countryside, poking around in small ancient villages, going inside very old churches. (Here is a link to the place where we stayed in Montaione.)

The villa called Castel Marinoni in Barbarano, Italy.

Another time we spent ten days in the Veneto, the region in northeastern Italy that includes Venice. We stayed in a very Italian apartment (that means a kitchen and a bedroom – no living room) in a village named Barbarano near Vicenza. (Here’s a link to gorgeous pictures of the property where we stayed and the surrounding area.) We made three train-trips into Venice, several drives to Vicenza, went twice to Padua and to Verona. We were there in the off-season when the rent was very low. That trip was really our introduction to Italy and we couldn’t have chosen a better place to begin.

The village children of Cetona after their performance, dressed as winter, summer and autumn.

On our third trip to Italy we stayed in a small village named Cetona on the line dividing Tuscany and Umbria. Although we were tourists who visited Orvieto and other small cities, what I remember best was the experience of “living” in a small Italian village for a week. We were there in May when the school year was ending. One evening all the children in the village put on a performance with all the village in attendance. Children dressed in homemade costumes representing summer, autumn and snow danced in the village center. Although we didn’t understand a word, we loved the experience of temporarily being part of life in a small Italian town. (The place we rented on that trip seems to no longer be advertised on the internet. Prices of rentals in that area have sky rocketed but some good deals are still available on AirBnB.)

I plan to share with you in my next few posts some of the beautiful but less well-known places we have visited in Italy. I hope you’ll discover that renting a small place and exploring the Italian countryside can be very affordable and very interesting, and that you’ll plan your own trip there soon!

Libbie

The photo at the top of this post is of the doorway of our apartment in Cetona.

 

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 1 – My Irish Home at Fruit Hill

My home in Ireland this year and last was on a former dairy farm that dates to the 17th century. My hosts, Dick and Susan, sold their cows and some of their land a few years ago and turned to hosting visitors in their three self-catering rentals. (“Self-catering is a British term for a vacation rental with cooking facilities.) I discovered Fruit Hill last year, While there I made new friends.

This year I stayed in a small cottage that Dick built in the early years of this century around a massive chimney that was all that remained of an old “bake house.” Dick and Susan have rescued a large late-17th century house from ruin and live there now with several of their children. They never seem to stop working, but they always made time for conversation with me.

Just outside my windows a local farmer grew a field of hay.  After he harvested and bailed it and hauled it away he brought in a large herd of steers. Sometimes they peered at me over the stone wall separating us.

The view from my window.

Opposite the cottage there’s a beautiful view from my kitchen window of a large field of hay. I enjoyed photographing the changing of the seasons there. (A photo of the view from my kitchen window is here.)

Fruit Hill farm has truly become my Irish home. I am very comfortable there. I feel fortunate to have found it. I now have two more generous Irish friends. I have the luck of the Irish, indeed!

Libbie

The photo at the top was sent to me by Susan. It was taken by Gareth Landy.
The lower photo is of a nosy steer who wanted to know what I was up to. He was just outside my living room window.
Here’s a link to a post with many photos I created last year at Fruit Hill.

Here’s a link to Fruit Hill’s website: fruithill-cottages-ireland.com

 

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 2 – The World’s Friendliest People

The Irish people – as a group, a culture – are the friendliest, nicest people I’ve ever met. It seems they are all friendly, welcoming and interested in talking with strangers. Many times people who noticed my accent asked me where I’m from. When I said “America” they would then ask “where in America?” Then we’d begin to talk about their trips to the U.S. or their desire to visit my country.

I met the ladies shown above baking Irish soda bread “the way our mothers did” and had a nice chat with them while they continued mixing bread. They were participating in a community fundraiser which took the form of a local fair and “tractor and old car rally.” The proceeds of the event, which was sponsored by their priest, went to an orphanage in Romania and to a group providing clean-water wells in Africa. For years men from their small village have gone to Romania for a week each year to build and repair structures there.

During a trip around all of Ireland this summer I spent one night at a lovely small hotel in Belfast. Áine was the young woman at the reception desk morning and night. She was delightful to my friends and me. She was warm and chatty and helpful, always smiling. I find the people of Northern Ireland to be very welcoming.

A story about my husband’s distant cousin, Mary, whom we met on our first trip to Northern Ireland. Mary had no idea who we were or that we would be calling her but when we did she immediately came to meet us, took us home to dinner, took my husband to play golf at her club, introduced him to her priest so we could learn more about his ancestors, and gave us old family photos sent back to Ireland in the late 1800s. That didn’t all happen in one day but over just three or four days. Mary and her husband have become good friends and have welcomed us and other members of our family warmly many times. I’ve always been really happy to know her.

Louie is the 16-year-old son of the owners of Fruit Hill where I’ve stayed on my last two trips to Ireland. Louis is cute – he has a head full of curly black hair which he has been wearing in a large “afro” but recently changed to a “man bun.” He was always polite to this older American lady. He was very helpful to me this summer, doing any favor I asked. Louis and his brother and sister work hard around their home, clearing brush, cleaning rental cottages and more.

Jerry is one of the guides/gatekeepers at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Gardens and Arboretum. He is one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Jerry learned my name on the first day we met. He always greets me with a big smile and a promise to take me on a tour of the garden to show me something special. Jerry once told me that 100,000 people a year visit the arboretum. Being remembered from one year to the next makes me feel very special.

In Ireland I had brief conversations with friendly clerks in supermarkets and retail shops. Rental car agents are always helpful but I remember one young man in Waterford especially for his interest in my travels and my country.  I remember the lady at the table next to mine in a café who struck up a conversation and (before it was done) recommended a perfect place for me to retire to in Ireland. I remember more people than I have space here to tell you about. I love the Irish people. I look forward to returning to be with them again next year.

Libbie

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 3 – It’s So Green!

50 Shades of Green. Look at lovely Ireland from almost any spot, look in any direction, and you’ll see a world of green. As you drive the highways and old farm roads in Ireland all around you are rolling hills covered in green pastures, crossed by hedges and stone walls. Tunnels of trees made by overarching branches are found along many roads. Driving south from Dublin through low green mountains you’ll see cattle and sheep munching on green hillsides. Driving around the country, you’ll pass green pastures (that turn to gold in late summer) and many homes proudly decorated by beautiful flowers and blooming shrubs. Climb the hills following winding roads to the top where you’ll find a green view over the expanse of Ireland, the emerald isle.  It seems that it’s always springtime in Ireland.

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 4 – Gardens!

Gardens draw me to Ireland more than anything else. Irish gardens are old (usually) and lush (always) and green, highlighted by spectacular displays of flowers and blooming trees. Most of the best gardens are built around a lake or small river. Each garden is unique.

I’ve been to many gardens in Ireland.  There are five that are my favorites. I return to them as often as possible. At the top of this post is a spring view of the azaleas and rhododendrons in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum. The photo was taken in May when they are at their best. The arboretum is huge, comprised of hundreds of acres. The garden makes up just a small portion of the arboretum but the walking trail around the garden is three kilometers long. I love walking around that trail, finding many new things each time.

Altamont is a called a “woman’s garden” because a woman named Corona North nurtured it for much of the last century. Her large home, now unlived in, overlooks a formal garden filled with many species of narcissus (daffodils) in spring and roses in summer. The walk leads to a small lake surrounded by many trees and bushes including a California sequoia and very old beech trees.

Mount Congreve was the life’s work of Ambrose Congreve. He began gardening there, on his family’s large estate, when he was 11 years old. He continued until his death at the age of 104. Its 70 acres are criss-crossed with trails leading through woodlands where thousands of azeleas and rhododendrons and hydrangeas (called “hortensia” in Ireland and England) bloom.

Mount Usher Gardens are especially beautiful in spring when bluebells cover the ground and the garden is filled with blooming bushes and flowers. Many species of small trees have been planted in this garden and spring is the best time to see them when they’re covered in bright new leaves. Placed on both sides of a small river, the garden stretches over a large area laced with walking trails.

I found a new favorite to my list this year. When I was in Ireland in 2016 I discovered Colclough Gardens (pronounced Coke-lee) at Tintern Abbey. I visited it once or twice in the springtime when it’s filled with flowers, blooming apple trees and the beginnings of a large vegetable garden. This year I visited it six times over the course of the summer, usually allowing about two weeks between visits. It is enclosed within an old walled garden It’s quite small when compared to the other gardens I’ve mentioned here. Around the edges of the garden a perennial garden with many species of flowers flourishes. The middle of the garden contains all types of vegetables. Recently planted apple trees were heavy with fruit. This lush garden is organic.

Gardens pull me back to Ireland, time after time. I’m already anticipating next year’s visit.

Libbie

Resources: In Ireland this year I found a detailed book entitled The Open Gardens of Ireland by Shirley Lanigan. A number of other books by this author are offered on American Amazon.com but this one isn’t there yet. It was published just this year. In Ireland you can probably find a copy at a good book store.

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Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 5 – New Ross

New Ross seems to draw me. Every trip I’ve made to Ireland has included time in New Ross and three times I’ve stayed for many weeks or months in the countryside nearby. It’s become “my town” in Ireland. I find the people here to be very friendly and the town is a good base for exploring southeastern Ireland.

William Marshall was an important Norman-English knight who won the friendship and admiration of King John of England. He was given a wealthy bride, Isabella de Clare, the daughter of “Strongbow” (Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke). Together they brought the southeastern corner of Ireland out of the middle ages. Isabella is credited with beginning the town of New Ross in the year 1189. William Marshall made New Ross his port city because of its location on the river Barrow. This “power couple” began the city of Kilkenny and built the Irish Tintern Abbey a few miles from New Ross.

Today this 800-year-old town is becoming a popular stop on tour itineraries. That’s largely because of the connection to New Ross of President John F. Kennedy. The president’s ancestors lived on a farm six kilometers outside New Ross. His great-grandparents departed Ireland on a ship from here. Today a replica of that ship, the Dunbrody, provides an opportunity to discover the miserable conditions immigrants to the New World were made to endure. One of the last public appearances President Kennedy made was in New Ross. That event has never been forgotten and it’s memorialized on the main street of the town today. Irish-American donors and the Irish government cooperated to create the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near the old Kennedy family farm.

The town is hilly. The old town center lies along the river banks and a new, modern town is developing on the other side of the hill. Little has changed in the old town. Three tall steeples grace the skyline. The thosel – Irish for town hall – is at the center of a small nest of shopping streets. It appears to date from the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Many of the shops and pubs are old, and bear the names of their owners. Not much has changed in the last 50 or 100 years, and I like that.  I’m already making plans to return next year.

Libbie

The photo above is of the ship Dunbrody. The building behind it is the very good tourist information center. It houses a small museum about Irish emigration and a good restaurant.

 

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