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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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Matera

Matera Sassi Matera Sassi Sunset Matera Matera

Finally I had the chance to visit Matera and was not at all disappointed. Although I left more confused aout the history of Matera than I started, although it is one of the longest inhabited towns in the world, the only history the town was very interested in pushing was that of the early 1900’s and the poverty of the Sassi.

There are plenty opportunities in the town to see what the Sassi houses looked like, but the best part of the trip was a hike through the Murgia park, where there are many prehistoric caves and rock churches.

If you visit I definitely recommend staying in the Sassi, eating at Ristorante Francesca (greatest staff and ricotta cake ever)!

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!

London, Further Adventures into the British Museum

Here is a fun fact: The British Museum only received about 12 million in donations 3 years ago, last year, that number was 44 million. There is what my thesis is based on, and why I traveled to finally visit the Museum I had always dreamed about. I will be honest, I was still picturing it a bit like the Museum in The Mummy, which it was not.  There is such an impressive collection, but nothing really follows a path, it seems to mixed, not leading a visitor down any chronological path (even the Cairo Museum does at least that). Maybe there is one, but it was not very clear (note: i didn’t bother to buy the guide to the museum so maybe I missed something). One of the most interesting rooms of the museum was The Enlightenment, this room leads you through the ideals and philosophies of the period of the Enlightenment, all in a long corridor like room which is decorated as a library and “Cabinet of Curiosities“, it really is amazing, but unfortunately also dark, so I have no pictures.

British Museum Roof Assyrian British Museum London Assyrian Religion London British Museum British Museum Asia 149

 

I only managed to visit one other museum which was The National Gallery. However, after hearing rumors they have attempted to cut their staff, they also closed more than half the halls due to “lack of staff”, as the staff has since gone on strike. I missed the impressionists, but at least caught the famous Van Eyck.

London, The First Day: Covenant Garden

It may be a little late, but if you didn’t know, last week I went to London. I never planned on going, I have never really wanted to. But I went for my thesis (which will be on the marketing and finances of the British Museum), and found out I actually really liked it! Love is too strong a word for someone who was raised by a politically active, Sinn Fein, Irish American mother, so lets stick with really like.

Covnant Garden Food

Althoughit was cold, I managed quite a bit of exploring, my favorite spot being Covenant Garden by far. I found I loved being in a city that functioned, unlike Rome, but of course after 3 days I did miss my old city.

London Telephone Booth Vespa in London Corner Double Decker Bus in London Golden Eagle overlooking London Eye

The first day was spent learning to understand the tube (why can’t you all just call it the metro, like everyone else) and finding Shake Shack, as our goal with trip was to try all the food we can never get in Italy. The only thing that was disappointing was the 6 pounds for a small burger… go ahead and put that into a conversion, it will make you cry.

Shake Shack then turned into all the amazing food in Covenant Garden, and a walk over to Big Ben, and an attempt at Westminster Abbey.

Big Ben London Big Ben and London Eye Westminster Abbey, London

I was most excited to see Westminster Abbey, as I find it hard to visit any country without going into any church, and well this is the church of London. Unfortunately it costs 20 pounds to see the inside. Yep, 20 pounds… I will convert that for you 30.80 USD, per person, for a church. For a country that gives access to free culture through museums, apparently churches didn’t make that deal. I may be a bit spoiled though, being in Rome, where all churches (and water) is free. The fact that I didn’t get to see this church was probably my biggest regret of the trip, but I am a student and was not about to hand that money over. The outside though is absolutely stunning.

Note on photos: I decided only to bring my 35mm lens and was so happy with the results, I shot entirely in Manual for the first trip ever and I have never been prouder of my photos!

Avoiding the Vatican Museums

The last Sunday of every month, the Vatican Museums are free, if you are planning a trip on a budget you might want to think about that. But, there is also no limit to the amount of people going in. So while you may be able to get in, passing through the line which reaches all the way to Colonnade, after only a 40 minute wait, the museum will be so packed you really won’t be able to see much. Instead, I just waited for our students to be done, but had a look around the Vatican City while waiting. Carabinieri Vatican Capes Vatican Street Black and white Vatican Street Peek into Saint Peter's 026

First Christmas Away

Gingerbread Christmas Cookies

This year will be my very first Christmas away from my family, in another country and without snow. It’s been really strange trying to get excited for Christmas when there are still palm trees outside my window and when I can walk outside in just a sweatshirt. It doesn’t even feel like December. So to make it feel more like the holidays I managed to buy a mini tree (a real one even!), decorate with my roommates and make a million cookies, most of which were eaten immediately.

I had always wanted to spend the holidays in Rome thinking it would be lots of fun, but have realized it’s just not the same without snow, my kittens, and my wonderful wood stove. Although, the city is decorated beautifully with lights shaped to be the flag of every country, and  my favorite sight was a Fiat 500, decorated with Santa driving around.

What has your experience with Christmas in Italy been? Have any recommendations for how to spend Christmas-New Years here in Rome?

I hope you all have a wonderful and happy holiday!

Christmas Lights

Look what I can do

So finals are over! And now I only have one semester and a thesis to get through before graduation! This past semester I took a Computer as a Media Tool class, and I wanted to share some of the things I created.

First is a Stop Motion short I created with a friend, which now we have used for my University, I hope you enjoy!

 

And here is an adorable FIAT 500 I made in Illustrator! 🙂

 

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People Watching in Florence

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I have found I love using people in photography since shooting for WLFR, I also just love to people watch. This past weekend I went up to Florence to do a shoot with two friends. I was able to get some amazing shots (more to come on flickr), and also finally visit the Uffizi. I started a whole set of photos of people looking at the Birth of Venus, however this was the only one that came out well. I must say after this trip through Florence I did enjoy it much more.  I hope to do a lot more of these photoshoots soon!

A shot from inside the Pergamon Museum.

 

 
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The Pergamon Museum is not only home to the Pergamon Altar but also the Ishtar Gate, this Market Gate of Miletus, the Mshatta Facade, and the inside hallway of Christian home from Syria.  These buildings are all impressive, and placing them inside another building gives you the ability to just sit back and take it all in.

One the one hand I loved this set-up, yet part of it felt strange, looking at an entire building within another, surrounded by quite yellow walls. What was your experience visiting this museum?