Travel

Return to Matera

Sassi Matera

 

What is Matera?

Matera, most famous for its “Sassi” or rock dwellings, has been settled in continuously since Paleolithic period. In fact, the area of the Sassi is said to be the site of the first ever human dwellings in Italy! These dwellings were carved into the rock and built on top of each other along the edge of a ravine overlooking the Parco della Murgia. Today while they have been upgraded for modern habitation, some stores and houses still incorporate these caverns and many are accessible to Matera;s tourists.   Matera as an official city founded by Romans in 3rd BC, much later it became Lombard territory in 664, when it became a part of Basilicata.  Matera then passed hands between Basilicata, Puglia and the various reigning families that controlled the territory.

In the early Christian history, Matera housed many Benedictine and Basilian monasteries which were then founded in the various grottoes of the area.

The cavern houses of the Sassi were often inhabited by entire families, who then also stabled their animals in the same living area. Due to these conditions, and the natural issues such as lack of running water, mosquitos, and dampness, the Sassi became an embarrassment of Italy. The Sassi were considered so uninhabitable that they were evacuated in the 1950’s, later towards the 1980s people began to return to the Sassi, today both the modern city and Sassi are livable and accessible, and most Materani are proud to share the history of the caves.

In 1993, the Sassi of Matera were officially recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Now they have also been named the Capital of Culture for 2019.

While Christ Stopped At Eboli  by Carlo Levi brought attention to Matera, the city has also inspired many filmmakers and has set the scene and been the subject of many films such as:

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964).

Bruce Beresford’s King David (1985).

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (

2004).

Abel Ferrara’s Mary (2005).

Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story (2006).

Cyrus Nowrasteh’s The Young Messiah (2016)

Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur (2016)

Roberto Rossellini’s Garibaldi (1961)

Brunello Rondi’s Il demonio (1963)

Nanni Loy’s Made in Italy (1965)

Roberto Rossellini’s Anno uno (1974)

Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Star Maker (1995)

John Moore’s The Omen (2006)

Liu Jiang’s Let’s Get Married (2015)

Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman (2017)

Matera Sassi Built House

Matera Sassi Doors in the Evening

 

Our Time in Matera

From Rome, the train dropped us in Salerno then it was a two-hour bus ride to Matera. We drove through the cliff-like hill side of Basilicata seeing many different landscapes, from the dry fields of yellow grass, the cliffs and mountains only spotted with vegetation, the marshes filled with goats and herons in the water. I still don’t understand how people somehow found their way through all this to end up carving houses out of Tuffo in a mosquito infested ravine, but whatever led them so deep inland to the arch of Italy’s foot, I am glad they did and left us with the beautiful city Matera is today.

Gelato Matera Vizi degli Angeli

My gelato of Figs and Aglianico

As soon as we got to Matera it was time for the most important stop: Gelato.  l remembered the I Vizi degli Angeli Gelateria in the main square, still one of my top gelaterie in all of Italy. This time I got Figs and Aglianico. Normally I would prefer something creamier, but seeing as how Basilicata has only one DOCG wine and they turned it into gelato I decided it had to be done, and really, what can you pair with a strong red wine gelato?
Even though the last bit of light was being covered by dark clouds and the old street lights of Matera only provided scarce yellow light, we wasted no time exploring every winding path of Matera.  Once leaving the main squares the streets become so quiet, only occasionally do you meet a tiny bar or a group of ragazzini.

The next day was dedicated to exploring all the art and history Matera had to offer.

Three Chiese Ruprestri:

Madonna de Idris, and San Giovanni in Monterrone: both connected they stand on top of a small cliff, overlooking both the city to one side and the Park to the other. Inside are Frescoes dating from the 12th and 13th centuries.  The name “idris” leads back to a greek word meaning to guide the street or water, this became another name for Mary in Constantinople, the name spread to Byzantine territory. This specific church was half constructed outside of the natural rock, and have carved into the rock formation.

Santa Lucia alle Malve: The first monastic church by the Benedictine monks dedicated to a woman, originally from the 8th century, many of the frescoes still seen today date to the 13th century.T he church was eventually inhabited before the evacuation in 1950’s.

San Pietro Barisano, the largest of the Chiese Rupestre, dating from the 12th/13th century.

It’s truly amazing how some of the frescoes within the churches have managed to be kept, even though Nature seems to have been against them since the beginning. Of course, every cave has bright green mold creeping along the highest edges, but it seems just to add to the beauty of the churches.

The next stop was MUSMA: Museo della Scultura Contemporanea Matera. Talking to the woman managing the museum she explained to us that Matera has a series of Private museums, all run by women that have been built up mainly through incredible donations. MUSMA happens to be located in the Palazzo Pomarici, the previous palace of one of the various noble families that used to live in the area.

While their permanent collection is stunning, the most memorable was a joint exhibition between MUSMA and the Chiesa Madonna delle Virtu, who both were displaying an exhibition by Novello Finotti “Dalle profondità del tempo”. He did sculptures of stone playing on different aspects of the human body. One of my favorites was a “nest” made of hands, or a sculpture of a naked torso, with the body above the chest becoming a bunch of asparagus. Sassi Matera NightSassi Matera

Matera is really deserving of the Capital of Culture title, around every corner something is happening, from artisan crafts to historical caves to contemporary exhibitions and galleries. If you are planning a trip anywhere in the South of Italy, I highly recommend stepping just a little out of the way to check this city out, I personally cannot wait to be back!

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Rabat Coast waves

The Highlights of Morocco

This past Spring Break I finally got the chance to travel to Morocco! My friends and I traveled to Marrakech, Rabat and Fes, spending two days in each city. Overall I would have to say Rabat was my favorite, besides being the only place we weren’t harrased, it has the coast an beautiful gardens! Every city we went we visited the Medina, although full of life with plenty to see, it was very tiring. We were lucky enough to tag a long with a study group for a tour of Fes’ Medina and that was one of the best times. I would reccommend getting a guide, it makes the medinas seem just a bit more relaxed. I never got the chance to take an excursion into the desert, but it is at the top of my list for next time!

In Marrakech: don’t miss the Ben Youssef Madrasa, it is confusing to walk to but absolutely stunning! All the mosques in Morocco are closed to non-muslims, but the Madrasa’s are open, usually for a price of 10dh (that is only about 1$).

Rabat: the Casbah gardens, and be sure to grab something at the cafe inside the gardens which look over the coast.

Fes: Try to find the Foondooq, where the weavers make scarves and tapestries. The word literally means hotel, but this is an open building where you can see massive looms set up and buy some beautiful cloth!

Hey Berlin, I guess you’re pretty awesome.

011Though I was meant to travel to Berlin as part of a class trip, I decided last minute I would more enjoy the freedom and still went with the class, however not for credit. I stayed in Berlin only from Thursday afternoon to Sunday, and,  well I liked it, but it wasn’t very special. Berlin isn’t like Italy where suddenly you feel in love and can’t stop thinking about anything else. But it was beautiful, it had chai lattes and foliage, it had cute cafes with free wifi, fries with jalapeno cheddar sauce and delicious Indian food. Also, let us not forget,  4euro cocktails at every restaurant and great beer. So yeah, mix all that with the fact that Germany now is offering FREE college tuition, including many a MA program in English, I can do that.

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I stayed in Mitte, on a street surrounded by prostitutes, who look like that girl who turned herself into a Barbie. They all wear knee high heeled boots (with laces), corsets that make their waist the size of my arm, yet somehow huge breasts… all long straight hair, either totally blonde or totally black. These ladies are also apparently not easy. Our first night we bought two 6-packs of delicious Berliner Beer, along with salads and hummus, oh and some fancy wine coolers. Side note: whenever visiting a new country, just buy everything you have never seen before.  Restaurants in Berlin apparently all close by 10:30 so we sat at a closed one and observed the ladies of the night. Well they do say no, quite often, or they try to do that little put up a fight thing for interest, not sure. It was closing in on 1am and only two girls were left, one kept approaching men straight up, but always only if they were in two. She never got a client. Another just turned away everyone. I have never been so amused it takes people watching to a whole new level.297

Another thing I noticed: German people are so unhappy, and mean. Seriously, except for the guy who owned (we think, or at least worked at) Espresso Ambulanz, who was so happy to explain every type of Chai to us. Listen if you are one of these grumpy Germans you need to stop taking what you have for granted. You have FREE education, do you understand? You have yummy beer and soup. You have legit cafes. You have bio stores on every block, and right next to that a delicious currywurst, kebab or fries place! See, there is something for everyone. You also don’t necessarily have to pay for your metro, oh yeah, you have a legit metro. You don’t have a gypsy problem (side story: the only gypsy was outside the monument to Roma people who died in the holocaust….she was attempting to trick  two guys next to me…hmmm). You have DUNKIN DONUTS AND BEN AND JERRYS. Ok so it is a lot about the food.  But also you have the potential for jobs, a functioning government and economy, fall weather, and lots of pretty museums, oh and great style by the way.  So please, cheer up.317

A few examples of grumpy Berlin residents, let us start with the Museum Workers. Listen, I am an archaeology and art history, I understand the fear of hurting your precious colonist trophies.  But the museums are hot, obviously I have a jacket which I want to take off, in fact it’s only a cardigan, I don’t think I can hurt anything by carrying it in my arm, so stop yelling at me. Also, you paid for that expensive  glass protection, I do believe my standing a little close in order to see the artifact, which is a foot behind glass, will hurt anyone. And I still say your Nefertiti is fake. And what is your obsession with taking whole buildings, can’t you be happy with a few artifacts. What would the Middle East be with the Ishtar Gate, the Temple of Inanna, or the Palace from Samarra?

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Next, The Old Lady on the Street: It was a quiet Sunday morning, no one on the giant sidewalk, when a friend and I stopped to admire a sign. At the same time a woman was walking in the same path of us, she stopped directly in front of my friend, sassed her in german, my friend then surprised moved to the side, to which the woman responded Danke, and continued walking in a straight path.

So although Germany was a bit strange, I think I could live there, and by that I mean if there is free education and jobs in English, at least I don’t have to go back to the States just yet.209

Oh and if you go, GO TO THE DDR MUSEUM, you will not regret it, but more on that later.

Looking Back: Travels of 2013

This year has been filled with travels. Other than my home in Rome I went to, Kosovo,Macedonia,  Florence, Corfu, Cairo, Pompeii/Naples, Torino, and then back to the states twice! It was quite an adventurous year, and I am so glad I have been able to share all these travels with every one of you! As the year is coming down I thought it would be fun to share a couple of my favorites from the past year.

Favorite Photo: It is not one of my bests necessarily, but I love this photo all the same, something about it just feels right. I have included it before but I thought I would share for this post.Image

Favorite Place I visited: It is a close tie between Torino and Cairo. I loved Cairo but I really wish I could have seen more in the daylight and had a bit more touristic freedom, rather than acting as a guest to a local. It was good for some things, but limited my desire to adventure at random. Torino I had full freedom and it was very enjoyable, however I was only there for a weekend so it might have been different had I stayed. These two are just so different it really is hard to compare!

Favorite Meal: I will have to say Kosovo for this one. We got dinner at Tiffany’s for 30 euros, which was split between three of us and included an amazing salad which had beets, 4 main course dishes which was shared among the table, as well as other side dishes and drinks. It was mainly veal, with very different sauces. Everything was so fresh and the restaurant had an open kitchen so you were able to see the food being prepared. The whole thing was incredibly filling and just so different from anything I have ever and before it was wonderful.

Favorite Drink: Bicerin in Torino of course! Nothing could compare, this is pure ecstasy in a glass, one of them and the day becomes 50 shades brighter. Don’t be the person who points out how many

espresso, then chocolate, then heavy frothed c...

espresso, then chocolate, then heavy frothed cream… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

calories are in the chocolate and whipped cream… no one likes that person.

Best memory of the year: This actually has nothing to do with travelling, but it was coming home for my friend’s wedding, I was able to see all my friends from high school and have a fantastic weekend. That was absolutely the highlight of my year.

The Egyptian Collection in Torino

Some pieces of the Immortali exhibit

Some pieces of the Immortali exhibit

The painted dancer

The painted dancer

One of the Book of the Dead collection

One of the Book of the Dead collection

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One of the the first "mummies" from pre dynastic Egypt.

One of the the first “mummies” from pre dynastic Egypt.

Pieces from the pre-dynastic collection.

Pieces from the pre-dynastic collection.

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The Temple of Elleysia

The Temple of Elleysia

The Egyptian Museum of Torino is presently undergoing reconstruction, to make a larger exhibition space for their extensive collection. At the time to show as much of the collection as possible there is a special exhibition titled Immortali, as well as the stable collections of the pre dynastic artifacts, the tomb of Kha and the statue room. The Immortali exhibition will be on display from 2013 until the new museum space opening in 2015.

Upon arrival to the museum the entrance uses mirrors, and angled architecture to appear as if the visitor is inside a pyramid. There are signs as well as very kind ticket takers to direct visitors on the itineraries path. The new itinerary for the museum’s renovation begins with Immortali exhibit.This is located in the basement, the path then takes the visitor through the mummy storage space, where a few mummies are visible through windows, then upstairs to the Predynastic and Kha collections, and finally across the courtyard to the statue room and temple of Elleysia.

There are plenty of brochures in multiple languages for information on both the Immortali exhibit and the regular collections of the museum. However if any individual forgets to grab these at the entrance, information is everywhere throughout the museum, as well as more places to grab these brochures.

The first information sheet, being that for Immortali discusses the plans for the future museum and what its layout will be.The plan is for the museum to confirm the famous quote by JF Champollion “The road to Memphis and Thebes passe through Turin.”.

The aims of the Immortali exhibit are to share the artifacts of the cult of the afterlife. The ideas around the afterlife changed throughout periods in Ancient Egypt, this exhibit shows how it was respected and how it differed through the ages. THe exhibit presents artifacts and great pieces of art which take the visitor through a ” vast chronological path” which includes the New, Middle and Old Kingdom as well as the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

Each piece was chosen to show uniqueness of style or material showing a high degree of knowledge and skill as well as ambition of the nobles to tell of their own greatness.

The exhibition most definitely meets its intended aims. It is set up with different display cases and statue center pieces in chronological order. Each case has a large written plaque with in depth but easily read and understandable information about what that particular case shows. For example one case may describe how religion changed during the Middle Kingdom, then how it can be seen through the use of different gods, in different displays.  Another is how funerary practices changed in Roman and Ptolemaic Egypt, with tombs and funerary items to show this.

Each artifact is included with a small card explaining what it depicts, when it came from, when and where it was found, and how it is unique or different from other items of this type.

Though the artifacts seen are similar to those found in most other Egyptian collections from museums around the world, with a few marvelous exceptions such as that of a painted dancer a weaving display, and books of the dead; the Museo Egizio  presents them in such a way that a visitor  even with prior knowledge still walks away with a load of new information. The museum is a much better source even than most books suitible for non academics.

This exhibit is so well presented with such short yet helpful information, provided in both Italian and English (with the possibility of a French guide) that everyone can walk away with a better understanding of Ancient Egypt.

Tours are offered in many languages, and though Immortali has no special events of displays for children the museum has a whole provides children’s events. The most crowd-pleasing being that of a Halloween event.

The Museum was founded in 1824 under Savoy King Carlo Felice, from the collection of Bernardino Drovetti, Napoleons French Consul to Egypt. This original collection housed 5268 items. When Ernesto Schiapperelli was head of the museum, another 25000 objects were added, either through excavation or through auction.  The exhibit of the Tomb of Kha was provided to the museum upon it’s excavation in 1906, it included another 504 items. The Temple of Ellesiya was rescued with the help of the museum from the rising waters of Lake Nasser in 1965. In 1966 Egypt gave the temple to the country of Italy who then put it in the care of the museum.

The Museo Egizio prides themselves on their massive collection ranging over 4000 years. As well as the fact the make this collection and the ancient civilization accessible to everyone. One of their main aims is to present the entire range of Ancient Egyptian history in a clear and interesting way to all.

The Egyptian Museum of Torino succesfully achieves and even goes further than its aims. The museum is fun for those of all ages and levels of Egyptology knowledge *even those with none!). It provides thoughtful information which is easily read and understood. Providing visitors with much on  Ancient Egyptian life throughout the dynasties.

The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 8:30am to 7:30pm. If you are in the area it is a must-see. The collection is fascinating and I can promise you will leave with a new interest in Egyptology and at least one artifact resonating with you.

If you are further away I do recommend a trip to Torino to visit not only this museum, but the many other attractions in the city. It might even be best to save a trip until 2015 when the newly renovated museum will be revealed.

 

Five places I want to Visit

Thirty Day Challenge: Day Five.

Five places you want to visit, this is going to be hard since I really want to see everywhere, but there’s nowhere I can think of I am absolutely dying to see. But I will try to think of my most recent interests.

1. Afghanistan, more specifically the Bamiyan Valley. Honestly I never gave Afghanistan a thought until this year after reading both the Kite Runner and Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Both taking place in between Kabul and Peshawar (Pakistan) I found that I really didn’t know much about the layout of the area, but after hearing about the city and the environment it sounds amazing. I also think it would be very interesting to see the city, post-conflict. Looking at pictures the area really isn’t pop out at you beautiful but it does look calm and mainly the culture really interests me. Bamiyan Valley is mentioned in Thousand Splendid Suns and is where the giant Buddha was carved into rock, however this has been damaged by war I still think it is a very beautiful valley.

2.Cambodia, Angkor Wat. I would love to see the ruins of Angkor Wat as they seem to have not as many tourists and appear to still hold a lot of mystery being essentially untouched. But I have also seen a lot about Cambodia and think it is another place I would really love to experience, it always looks so busy but in a personal way. I think out of any Asian cultures this is the one I would most like to see.

3.Ireland. Since I was young my mother raised me very Irish, teaching my about Bobby Sands, Michael Collins, and Gerry Adams (we even went to see him speak). So I really need to see Ireland. I would love to really except for the weather I think it looks gorgeous and much of it doesn’t appear as urban as I am used to. The only reason I haven’t really visited is I am afraid I have this certain view of how the Irish are and how I imaging Ireland to be, and that when I do go, none of it will be true. But I have had friends study in Cork and they told me it was one of their favorite places in Europe, so I will have to check it out!

4. Petra, ever since I saw Indiana Jones I wanted to go here, I think it is one of the best sites in the world. Though there is not as much research on it, the path leading to Petra holds evidence of hundreds of years of in habitation and the the structure itself is so incredible.

5.Romania. Other than the typical Transylvania, which the castle does look quite interesting, I would really love to see Bucharest. I often see pictures of the architecture there and it just looks incredible. I also haven’t explored many places in Eastern Europe, so I would like to see more of it.

 

How going to an international school has changed me

Suddenly, a whole lot more foreign issues, affect you personally. Where in the past, back home in the states, we would hear about protests, fights, issues in other countries. But they would simply be that just news, we would maybe say something along the lines of “oh how awful” and then going along with our daily lives. After attending school here, and meeting many people from all over the world including the Balkans, Turkey, Syria and Egypt, I have acquired a whole new level of concern. It is no longer simply news. When I hear about something going on I immediately go and try to contact those friends or acquaintances and make sure they are alright. Especially with the Egyptian situation, where I have a number of close friends, it was no longer some interesting current affair on the news, it was real, and I spent the day worrying hoping they would be alright and get home safely every night. Though of course they all were safe, it was still a much more real situation.  Every international news head line means so much more, and suddenly it’s more understandable, because rather than just the media view, I get to hear the view of the people, and see these issues in a whole new light.

This is great, because it shows I am learning a range of cultures and viewpoints. Though there are days I wish I didn’t have to know. I wish I had remained without this knowledge because it keeps me worrying, especially with the last few days.  However in the long run, and especially when deciding political opinions, I think this is someone everyone needs, to experience other countries politics through the people. It’s truly amazing what you will learn, because the official statements of the presidents or parliaments are not always exactly what everyone thinks.

What I have also noticed through meeting such a diverse group of people, and through traveling, is that though most online statistics, including Forbes, says America is the most patriotic country…I have not seen the evidence. Through my travels I have seen that America is nowhere near as patriotic, they are happy, and content with the way things are but not necessarily as proud. Every country I have visited flies many more flags and talk about their countries with much more pride than Americans do. I think a large reason for this is those who do feel strongly about their country, seem to be from ones who have recently or are continuing to suffer. In our living generations, the US has never experienced issues on home ground, other than one time terrorist attacks; there has never been ongoing war or suffering of the masses. These other countries, have overcome, or stayed strong through hard times, and that seems to make them a much prouder people. It’s hard to see ones country as its strongest, unless you’ve seen it at its weakest. As Americans I think what is important for us to realize how lucky we are, and to notice how well off we are in comparison to other countries. Be proud of your own country, but understand how amazing it is we live with a citizenship of so many freedoms and such a good level of living.