SYRACUSE, SICILY

My recent trip to Syracuse gave me lots of material for posts but as I have written before about this Sicilian city I thought that this time I would hone in on the Archaeological Park of Neapolis which holds Syracuse’s most important Greek and Roman remains.  The Park covers approximately 240 square metres and the Greek and Roman periods are divided by a green, tranquil oasis in the midst of the ruins, called Viale Paradiso.

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Between the two cultures, through the Viale Paradaiso.

The Park came into being between 1952 and 1955 with the idea of bringing together all the monuments, pillars and stones which previously had been located on various private properties and were not accessible to the public.  The result has been an outstanding success.

The Roman part dates back to the 3rd century AD and the Amphitheatre (seen below) is the largest in Sicily at 140 x 190 metres, and it is recorded that the first performance of Aeschylus’ Etnean Women was performed here in 476 BC.  To avoid this turning into a history lesson, I shall leave the images, with captions, to speak for themselves.

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The Roman Amphitheatre which originally had a pool in the centre. Gladiators and animals entered from tunnels left and right.

Not only was the amphitheatre used for drama: political life was played out here too, especially the assemblies in which all citizens participated.

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One of the tunnels through which the animals and gladiators would have entered the amphitheatre.
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Part of the Roman remains at the Archeological Park of Syracuse, Sicily.

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The Greek Theatre has more to offer in the way of remains (but excavations are still ongoing on the Roman side), possibly because it is mostly carved from the rock and is in a certain sense permanent and incapable of being seriously damaged.  There are 8 stairways to the top of the theatre with various walkways running along the seats.  At the top is a rectangular terrace sculpted from the rock dating back to when it was first built. 

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Cave of the Nymphaeum

Caves and niches in the walls of the terrace would suggest offerings to honour the Gods or the Heroes, the above Cave of the Nymphaeum being one of them.  This 6-metre deep cave takes its name from the large basin covered with a vaulted ceiling in which a small waterfall tumbles originating from a branch of the ancient Greek aqueduct.  Statues discovered of the Muses dating from the 2nd-century BC are now on display in the Regional Archeological Museum.  

 

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The Spanish carried off much of the remains in the 16th century but what is left is still impressive

The Ear of Dionysius

Possibly the most interesting and popular sites in the Park.  While this looks like a natural cave it is really the result of tons of material having been extracted from the quarry of which it was a part, over many centuries.  The large cave known as the Ear of Dionysius is 65 metres long and 501 metres wide, narrowing towards the top.  The name was given to it by the painter Caravaggio who visited in the 17th century (and whose painting of St. Lucia hangs in the small church by the Duomo) and who thought its shape resembled that of a human ear.  Popular tradition has it that the cave had been used by a local tyrant to imprison his enemies whose whispers he could hear from the small opening at the top.  I like this version.  Myths are always more fascinating than facts.

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Another view of the Cave of the Nymphaeum

In the Footsteps of The Impressionists

Looking through some images last night reminded me of a trip I took a few years ago visiting the places where the Impressionists had painted (sometimes standing exactly where they had stood as they worked), places like Rouen, Honfleur, Etretat and Le Havre in N. France.  The idea behind the trip was to look at the reality of what the artists had painted and then to make a connection with the painting by viewing it in a nearby gallery.

Where and what they painted at the time was a complete change in the art world, helped by pre-mixed paints in tubes and new vibrant hues like chromium yellow and French ultramarine that freed them from the chore of grinding up lapus lazuli and mixing dry pigment in linseed oil to make colour.  With these aids, their style of painting could now evolve and they were able to paint ordinary subject matter outdoors, capturing the momentary, transient aspects of light and the ever-changing colours of the clouds.

Claude Monet painted more than thirty versions of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Rouen, a church which is a mishmash of architectural styles spanning four centuries, but which is mesmerizing in its scale and grandeur.    As we stood facing the church from the opposite side of the square from where Monet had painted the church, rain was pouring down its exterior walls.  But Monet had painted many rain-washed scenes of the Cathedral so that was good.

Notre-Dame Cathedral, Rouen
Notre-Dame Cathederal, Rouen

The Musée des Beaux-Art in Rouen has a particularly fine collection of Impressionist paintings and when I came face to face with Monet’s misty, murky impression of the rainswept sumptuous west face of this massive Gothic structure, I was nearer understanding why so many were painted in the rain.

Rouen is a maze of cobbled streets lined with beautifully preserved or restored half-timbered houses that lean crookedly together: more than 100 of these houses date back to the Middle Ages.  Many of these streets lead from the Cathedral to the famous Rue du Gros Horloge with its lavish Renaissance clock centred in an elegantly carved arch, and then to the city’s hub, the Place du Vieux Marché ringed by cafés and restaurants housed in 16th – 18th century buildings, and famous as the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.  An iron cross set in a simple little memorial garden marks the spot and a daringly designed slate-covered church dedicated to the saint stands next to it.

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Place Joan d’Arc, Rouen

Not far from Rouen is atmospheric little Honfleur, a town unlike any other in Normandy where the 10-storey high timber and slate-faced buildings that surround its 17th century Vieux Bassin has made it one of the most photographed towns on the Seine.   Bright trawlers jostle together in the old harbour to sell succulent seafood on the quayside, seafood which is later served up by the many waterside restaurants.

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It is here that Eugène Boudin and a like-minded group of friends from Paris formed the Impressionist movement.  Attracted by the beauty of the town and the quality of its light they used to gather at the nearby Côte de Grace Hill above the town, and paint the scene before them, edging towards something experimental and new, using short, broken brushstrokes of untinted and unmixed colour, painting wet paint on to wet paint instead of waiting for one layer to dry, which led to intermingling of the colours.   Later, they would drink and dine in a simple 17th-century farm dwelling, Ferme St. Siméon, now a luxurious and very expensive hotel.

Honfleur

The delightful and intimate little art gallery, Musée Eugène Boudin, founded in 1868 by Honfleur’s best known artist, considered by many to be the father of Impressionism, has one of the best collections of Boudin’s own works – including the wonderful Port de Dieppe – as well as a vast collection of paintings by artists like Jongkind, Isabey, Monet, Dubourg, Mettling, Pissarro, Renoir and Dufy who came to be known as “the Honfleur school”.

Honfleur was also the birthplace in 1886 of the musician Erik Satie and it is worth spending an extra hour or two in the Maisons Satie where you are led from one room to another to the accompaniment of Satie’s music backed by a series of stunning Satie-esque visual effects – like the white piano in an all-white room that clanks and jangles maniacally.

The scene painted by Sisley at La Bouille
This is my picture of a scene painted by Sisley at La Bouille 

A surfeit of art and too many Museums can lead to an inability to be a discerning art critic, so a trip to La Bouille on the banks of the Seine, a favourite spot for Alfred Sisley to paint, came next.   Packed with art galleries and good restaurants, this charming village is a haven of peace.  To see it from the river, you can board a cruise from Rouen and enjoy the scenery along the way, the many little villages along the curves of the Seine and the village life of France.   Canoes and kayaks swish through the water, a little ferry chugs across the river transporting passengers and cars between Duclair and La Bouille, and Sahurs and La Bouille and if you stand by the landing stage and gaze downstream to the loop in the Seine, you are looking at a scene often painted by Sisley.

The quality of light that floods Normandy attracted the painters to the coast at Etretat where the spectacular setting between cliffs eroded into arc-like shapes brought Boudin, Monet, Courbet, Isabey, Delacroix, Degas and Matisse here when it was still a fishing village.  They came to paint the natural arches and stone outcrops (one needle rock stands 70 metres high) shaped by the thundering waves:  they came also to paint the beach scene, for Etretat was a fashionable town in the 19th century, popular with Parisians and writers like Flaubert, Gide and Maupassant were regular visitors.

La Porte d'Aval with L'Alguille (needle)
La Porte d’Aval avec L’Alguile (needle)

(It is still popular with visitors from Paris and Le Havre).  From every angle on the promenade, you can see the scenes the impressionists worked on, but the best view is found by climbing the steps from the promenade and walking along the path at the top of the cliff.

Etretat may have attracted many visitors from nearby Le Havre, but that port city has its own magnificent steel and glass Musée Malraux right on the waterfront, recently revamped to make use of the optimum light.

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The Beach at LeHavre 

Many people pass speedily through Le Havre without realizing that the local Museum houses an unbeatable collection of paintings by the local born Raoul Dufy, full of the dazzling blues and vibrant colours for which he is known.  Eugêne Boudin, the other impressionist who lived here, is represented in the Museum by over 200 canvasses.   Monet was brought up here from the age of five (and taken under Boudin’s wing when he was 15 years old), painted several masterpieces, including the one that some believe gave the name to the group, Impression Soleil Levant (Impression Sunrise) from a position just in front of the museum.  The collection includes the square Giverny waterlily painting and one of his brooding paintings of London’s Houses of Parliament.

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LeHavre 

I knew little of Impressionism before I went looking at the paintings with a ‘painterly’ eye but now I no longer view thundery skies with the jaundiced eye of the philistine.  If there is a bright yellow sun I know that the Impressionists would depict the shadows as violet, and if the shadows are blue I know that the sky must have had strong orange tints.  Now on my walks, when I see changeable and tumultuous clouds I think of the skies I saw, often stretched across half a canvas, and I think, “That’s a Boudin sky” and I don’t even mind that they herald rain.

Monet hated the tag “Impressionism” but whether he liked it or not, it was this that defined the movement.  Unspoilt Normandy, rich in beguiling light, ever-changing skies and the winding Seine made the perfect studio for the painters.

Notes:  I would hate people to think that Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Art only has a collection of Impressionist paintings.  It also houses a fine collection of work by Renaissance and Flemish painters, plus a magnificent Caravaggio and a whole roomful of Veronese (plus it is rich in paintings of Monet’s vibrant poppies).

If time permits, do eat at one of the glass-screened restaurants in Etretat.

Le Havre had to be massively rebuilt after the city’s obliteration during the second world war, but it still retains some old Breton architecture in the St. Francois quarter.

DUBAI – Heaven or Hell?

P1160370Dubai is not one of my favourite places, but it’s a place that fascinates me. The most blingtastic city in the world, it outdoes anything you can think of. The excesses of Las Vegas or old Hollywood are as budget ventures besides the seemingly untold wealth on which Dubai runs.

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A Bit Over the Top?   Pure Gold Necklaces

This is so very obvious on its streets and in its architecture, whether you are walking through the gold souk or one of the outrageously expensive Malls, from the Bugatti in a roped-off area to the £105 it can cost you to reach the Top of the Burj to gaze out on the desert below.

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Behind the Bugatti. Daimler? Bentley?

Bugatti: owner shopping in the Mall


How many of the thousands who ascend the famous ‘fastest lifts in the world’ having paid a couple of week’s salary of a local immigrant worker to do so, think that what they are looking out on is what was actually here before the ‘miracle’ of modern Dubai – desert. Is someone having a laugh?

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Horse-racing, motor-racing, tennis and athletics featuring the world’s top sportsmen regularly amuse local and visiting wealthy patrons, operas featuring singers from the MET and the ROH are constant events, and pop concerts where mega-stars rock up to perform for astronomical sums of money, mean that Dubai is no longer an isolated desert kingdom but a major player in the entertainment field.

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In Dubai, no one is further than a 5-minute walk from a Mosque

Do you want to go skiing in the middle of a 45-degree summer? Dubai can accommodate that. Do you want to go Wadi-bashing in the desert in a 4WD at night? Ditto? Or how about sleeping under the stars (glamping, of course), eating in a restaurant with exotic fish swimming by, sailing along canals as though in Venice, or ballooning with a falcon? All of these Dubai can offer.

But if you can turn away from the glitz and glamour for a moment, there are quieter pleasures to be had. Swimming in the beautiful Arabian Sea (admittedly not so nice now that they have built The Palm and The World in the said sea), surfing, crisscrossing the Creek on Abras and just wandering, fingering the silks and satins and bartering with the shopkeepers in the old part of town, and watching the porters carry the heavy loads to the boats in the Creek getting ready for the journey across the sea to India.

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Arinatucs

Judge for yourself. You’ll love it or hate it, or like me be fascinated by it while being depressed by the knowledge that all this is built on the shoulders of immigrant workers from India & Pakistan, poorly paid and poorly housed. The argument that they might otherwise be starving in their home countries is used a lot in Dubai to justify the continued expansion of the city. That’s not a valid argument in this day and age, is it?


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Spices, dried fruits & nuts.

Things are improving – somewhat. Only about 20 years ago, there used to be camel races where little boys of 4, 5 and 6 were velcroed to the saddles as jockeys. A great scandal rocked the kingdom when one of the camel owners left a boy to die in the desert (he’d become too old at eight to be light enough to ride the camel). Laws now state that no one under the age of 14 can be employed as a camel-racer but rumours abound that there is still illegal racing in parts of the UAE.

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Dhow on the Creek – Old Town

Re-exposure of Commuting on the Creek
Workers Crossing the Creek in an Abra

And finally, an irresistible selection of ceramic lavatories.  Spoilt for choice, aren’t you?P1020468

Strasbourg – Cross Roads of Europe

With the UK about to depart the EU albeit with an extremely narrow margin of Leave votes, my thoughts turned to my visit a few years ago to Strasbourg, site of the European Council and European Parliament and one of the loveliest places in Alsace.

A-Strasbourg-Square

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This delightful city with its medieval churches and half-timbered houses seems to have become a byword for what some in the UK see as a hijacker of British sovereignty.   Which is a shame, because that idea is blinding people to an elegant, international city of great charm that in the Middle Ages was referred to as The Crossroads of Europe.  At that time, goods from the Baltic, Britain, the Mediterranean and the Far East poured across the borders to be traded for wines, grain and fabrics and just like today, when the languages of the 46 member states can be heard in the squares and streets of the city, traders speaking a dozen different languages, met and conducted business.  The city continues to be the crossroads of Europe  as people from different countries work and mingle in Strasbourg’s squares just as they did hundreds of years ago.

Once a free city within the Holy Roman Empire, Strasbourg later came under periods of French and German rule, which has given the ancient centre a unique appearance, half-timbered medieval houses sitting alongside elegant French-style mansions.  In 1988, UNESCO classified Strasbourg as a World Monument, the first time such an honour was given to an entire city centre.

It is an easy place for visitors to discover as the traffic problems that beset most big cities have been solved here with a combination of canal boats, a sleek and comfortable light rail system, local buses, and pedestrianised squares.  Although it presents itself as a folksy-like small town, Strasbourg is very international, cosmopolitan and multilingual.

GRAND ILE ISLAND

This is the historic part of the city where you will find the main sights and using the 142-metre high spire of the Cathedral as your landmark, you will soon find your way around Strasbourg.

The city’s charm has much to do with its canals which surround the Grand Ill island where Petite France, is located.  A 70-minute boat trip (open-top in fine weather) on Batorama’s Twenty Centuries of History, circumnavigates the whole of the Grande-Île before skirting the 19th-century German Quarter.  The turn-around point and good photo opportunity is where the European Parliament, Council of Europe and European Court of Human Rights are head-quartered, a magnificent display of concrete, steel and glass.

Flags-of-all-Nations

On the boat cruise you will see the Vauban Dam, near the confluence of canals by the Pont Couverts, a defensive lock which allowed the entire southern part of the city to be flooded in times of war.  It is P1110618

They even grow grass between the tramlines in the street

Walking around the canals, especially in the early part of the year when everything seems green and lush and the spring flowers are out in abundance is an equally attractive way of seeing the main sights.  This is a city that loves nature and it takes pride in decorating every bridge and windowsill with baskets of flowers, changed according to the seasons.

PETITE FRANCE, STRASBOURG (a UNESCO site)

The number one attraction in Strasbourg is Petite France, a photographic cluster of 16th and 17th-century half-timbered houses reflected in the waters of the canal.  These houses were originally built for the millers, fishermen and tanners who used to live and work in this part of town.  If you have taken the boat tour, you may like also to take a tour of the historic centre with an audio guide (€5.50) from the Tourist Office which will introduce you, via a winding route through the narrow streets, to a truly fascinating old town.

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL Opening hours: 7am-7pm

Cathedral-from-the-canal

The Cathedral, an imposing red sandstone edifice, stands alone in its square and towers above the city.  It was the tallest building in the world until the 19th century and is the second most visited cathedral in France after Notre Dame in Paris, receiving 4 million visitors a year.  Built in 1439 it is considered to be an outstanding masterpiece of Romanesque and late Gothic art with outstanding 12th-century stained glass windows. Inside is one of the world’s largest astronomical clocks.

Try to arrive at the cathedral by noon to get a good viewpoint for the 12.30 display of the famous Astronomical Clock.  The procession of sixteenth-century automata was designed to remind us of our mortality.   Afterwards, you can climb 332 steps to the platform below the cathedral’s twin towers for a stunning view.

The narrow street that leads to the cathedral and the Place de Cathedral are the liveliest places in Strasbourg, especially in summer, and are filled with outdoor restaurants that remain open late into the night.  Entertainment is in the form of jazz musicians, mime artists and clowns.

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This is the oldest house in Strasbourg

And finally, Strasbourg’s Christmas Market has a high reputation but its popularity may be its undoing.  After a few evenings of mulled wine, yuletide cake, Silent Night and Adeste Fidelis, a spring or autumn visit begins to look very attractive.

Strasbourg is a city that has a very special charm at any time of the year and the organisations that dominate its life are what still guarantees peace in Europe.  If you are looking for culture, cuisine and character, Strasbourg is hard to beat.

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A few recommended eating places:  Expect the usual French coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, crème Brulee and crepe Suzette, but be prepared also for the German influence of pork and sauerkraut.

First up though, is wine.  Strasbourg is the capital of one of France’s premier wine regions and if you are in the mood to sample some of the best, head for Terres à Vin, 1 Rue du Miroir, tel +33 3 88 51 37 20, with several by-the-glass options from €3.20 to over €10).

Pain d’Epices, 14 Rue des Dentelles, for indulgent gingerbreads and cake and for the heady scents of spices.

Master-Patissier, Christian Mayer, offers a tea room second to none in Strasbourg at 10 Rue Mercière, just a few yards from the cathedral.

Maison Kammerzell 16 Place du Cathédrale, tel +33 3 88 32 42 14, where the oldest section dates back to 1427, is a Strasbourg institution.  Occupying rooms on four floors, you can sample the house speciality of fish sauerkraut if you fancy that but there are many less thought-provoking dishes from which to choose, average €40 for three courses.

Au Pont Corbeau, 21 Quai Saint-Nicolas, tel +33 3 88 35 60 68, – a warm and welcoming place where the onion soup is so thick you could stand your spoon up in it.  A modest but excellent wine list available.  Average €32 for three courses.

The Batorama Tour departs from the Quai outside Palais Rohan, adults €12.50.

A ticket with unlimited tram and bus trips valid for 24 hours is available for €4.30. Also, you can rent bikes (vélhop) for $5 per day.

Tourist Office, 17 Place de la Cathédrale

MONTPELIER, France

If there’s a city in France that can offer more in the way of enjoyment, relaxation, places to visit outside the area than Montpelier, then I have yet to find it.

Known as the sunshine capital of France because of its 300 sunny days per year, Montpelier lies just 11 km from the Mediterranean coast and has its own wide sandy beach within an easy tram ride.

Narrow-streets-of-the-Old-Town

Montpelier combines recent history and old-fashioned elegance with a youthful feel, mostly due to its large student population and its university.  It had the first medical school in France at which Nostradamus and Rabelais studied and is a delightful mix of old buildings in the centre, and  major new-age industries in modern buildings around the edge.  Lovely beaches are nearby at Palavas-les-Flots. What more could anyone want?

As easy town to get around, the places listed as ‘must-sees’ are more or less grouped together, the Place de la Comédie, the Peyrou garden, the Charles de Gaulle esplanade,  t the Arc de Triomphe,.and the Saint-Roch church, all on the well-trodden tourist route.   However, like European capital cities such as London, Madrid, or Paris, the city abounds with special neighbourhoods with individual identities, some specialising in artisan work, some in antiquities and others devoted to food and wine.  Their social mix gives them a fascination lacking in other towns in the region.

The centre of the action and the beating heart of the pedestrianised centre is the Place de la Comédie.  During the morning there is a market at one side of the Place where the local farmers set up stalls and sell fresh fruit and vegetables: off to one side of this is the flower market, a static garden of jewel-coloured blooms and plants.  During the season an old-fashioned carousel is stationed at the other end of the square near the Opera House (a useful place to arrange to meet someone as is the statue of the Three Graces).  In the middle of the square street artists demonstrate their talents as magicians, living statues, cycle gymnasts, mime artists and break dancers.  Passengers coming from the St. Roch railway station with their wheeled luggage skirt around them as they dodge the colourful trams that glide over the yellow paving while students watch from the nearby cafes, their books open before them.

Cae Riche, Montpelier, France

The large student population makes it a lively spot all year round and gives the city a buzz. The cafés, bars, and bistros in the pedestrianised city square which spill out onto the street are one of the attractions of Montpelier and it can be difficult to find a table at certain times.  One of the busiest cafés, the Café Riche, is also the most popular and dominates the square with a grand awning bearing the name and date of its foundation.

Famed for its produce, Couer de Bouef

Couer de Bouef Tomatoes – a Speciality of the Region

The Montpelier region is known for its local produce, its excellent wine, its fine dining and its farmers’ markets.  It has 3 Michelin-starred restaurants in addition to other excellent eating places and bistros.  Being right in the heart of the Languedoc, the opportunity to sample the luscious wines of the region as well as those of nearby Roussillon shouldn’t be missed, and tastings at nearby vineyards are easy to arrange.

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Restaurant in Montpelier

The old town with its medieval narrow streets is lined with upmarket boutiques and antique shops interspersed with restaurants and typical houses of the area fronted by private courtyards, a  world that sits quite comfortably with cutting-edge design and architecture in other parts of the city.  Check out the mock-Gothic Pavilion Populaire and compare it with the modern, glass-clad town hall.  Even transport gets into the act, with designer trams from the hand of no less than Christian Lacroix!

Montpelier, France
Montpelier

Wander along Rue Foch, a road carved through medieval Montpellier to the Arc-de-Triomphe, a glorious golden stone arch which could only be in France and which was built to honour Louis XIV.  Just beyond this point, you will come upon the king mounted on a horse on the magnificent Peyrou Promenade.

Antigone is Montpelier’s new modern part of the city, is located to the east of the historic centre and is the biggest single development to be built in France.  This extraordinary development which extends the city to the banks of the River Lez, has been designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill and was completed in the 1980’s.

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Antigone

As it’s name implies, the area is based loosely on the architecture of Ancient Greece and a further link is apparent in the boulevards with names like Rue de L’Acropole and Rue de Thebes that open out and lead you into large squares with names redolent of famous Greek events, like Place de Marathon and Place de Sparte.  The neoclassical design of the buildings, the sculptures, and the layout, are dramatically different to the architecture of the old town, and although on a larger than life scale, it is all well proportioned.

At the end of the Antigone district is the Place de Europe, a huge semi-circular area with a crescent of buildings. On the other side is the River Liz adding to the drama of the site and on the opposite bank the ‘Hotel de Region’ also built in the neo-classical style.

Palavas-les-Flots, Montpelier

Palavas-les-Flots, Montpelier

The fishing port of Palavas-les-Flots is worth a trip even if it’s only for a bowl of mussels served with chips (French fries to some) or garlic and herb breads in any one of the ways in which they are served here.  The port is making great efforts to turn itself into a seaside resort but despite the attempts of the many boat owners to entice you aboard for a sea trip, a fishing trip or a tour around the lagoons, it remains firmly a place to visit for its great food.  Bars, bistros, and ice-cream parlours line the central canal and you can walk a few miles along the spit of land to the medieval Maguelone cathedral which stands between sea and lagoon.

 

donna's book

 

Best Guide Book

Montpelier and Beyond Travel Guide is a pocket guide to the best of Montpellier, written by two award-winning travel experts Donna Dailey and Mike Gerard and published by the team behind the successful Beyond London Travel.   Available from Amazon as an e-book or a download for Kindle.

 

Rome: View of the Forum at Night

Rome and the Tiber

Castel-Sant'Angelo-from-across-the-Tiber

Castell Sant’Angelo across the Tiber – Photo Mari Nicholson

The Tiber has been the soul of Rome since the city’s inception, and it could be said that Rome owes its very existence to this strategically important river on whose banks the first settlements were built.  The two sides of the river are joined by more than thirty bridges, creating a fascinating setting for the archeology and history of the eternal city.

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Old View of the Tiber, possibly 18th century

Several of the old Roman bridges no longer exist, in Papal Rome and in the modern city seven were built in the 19th century and ten in the 20th century.

Bridge on the Tiber leading to Castell Sant'Angelo
Ponte Sant’Angelo with statues

The Tiber (named after Tiberius who drowned in the river) is unlike rivers like The Danube, The Seine or The Thames as there is little activity on the water.  In the summer, various boats convey tourists along the stretch of the river, but in general, it seems underused. However, along the Lungotevere, the boulevards that run alongside it, human traffic always seems to flow.

Flooding was a regular occurrence before the high embankments were built in the 19th century when there were houses located along the banks of this navigable river which was used for fishing and bathing.  Over time, however, silting and sediment build-up meant that the river became unsuitable for navigation.

Looking downriver towards the Cavour bridge

Looking down to Cavour Bridge, Rome

As in other cities such as Bangkok, Seville, London and Paris, tour boats were introduced along the river to give locals and tourists a unique opportunity to view the city.  This is a great way to take in the panorama, and immerse yourself in one of the most evocative cities in the world.

A stroll along the Boulevard is also a favourite pastime and a visit to Castell Sant’Angelo and the Jewish Ghetto and Synagogue, which are both situated along the Tiber can be combined in a “Tiber walk”.  There are many restaurants, cafes, and bars down by the river  so sustenance is not a problem: these are very noticeable at night when the warm lights from their windows illuminate the Boulevards.

The Tiber

The Tiber, Rome – Mari Nicholson

Whether you opt for a dinner cruise, a daytime hop-on-hop-off cruise, or a private jaunt, along the way you can admire the great Palace of Justice, designed by William Calderoni;  Sant’Angelo Castle, one of the oldest monuments of Rome; St. Peter’s Basilica, Tiberina Island, a picturesque island linked by one of the most famous bridges in the city, and the innumerable bridges that span the Tiber.

Ponte Sant'Angelo with statues

Ponte Sant’Angelo Looking towards the Castle – Mari Nicholson

When the surface of the Tiber is calm and the monuments that span the river are reflected in the still waters, they increase one’s delight in the vista they offer across Rome.  Ponte Sant’Angelo (by the castle of the same name), Ponte Fabricio, Ponte Rotto, Ponte Garibaldi, they all offer a sense of the history of the city.

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Angel on Pone Sant’Angelo – Mari Nicholson

Angel on the Ponte Sant'Angelo
Angel on Ponte Sant’Angelo

The first named, Ponte Sant’Angela is the most spectacular, being embellished with angels carrying the instruments of Christ’s passion, and was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini whose fountain in Piazza Navona is one of the most photographed in Rome.

The Ponte Sant’Angelo was erected to ease the movement between the Vatican (which was also connected to the Castell Sant’Angelo) and the commercial area across the river.

Ponte Sant'Angelo

The Vatican City is the only zone controlled by the papacy today, but in earlier centuries papal dominion was exercised over the entire city, hence the need for easy connection with the commercial area of the settlement.   Three energetic popes, Urban VIII (1623–44), Innocent X (1644–55), and Alexander VII (1655–67), harnessed the versatile talents of the great artists nd sculptors of the day to build monuments and beautify areas all over Rome but especially in the Vatican area.

View from the Vatican Dome
View from the Vatican to Ponte Sant’Angelo – Photo Solange Hando

A walk along the Tiber, and then up the imposing obelisk and olive-tree-lined road to the Vatican is an exercise in itself and you can be forgiven if you decide to postpone visiting St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum until another day.  It can take a long time to do justice to them both.   A trip to the top of St. Peter’s is a worthwhile exercise but be warned, there are many steps to the top.  A lift goes part way only.

Part of Bernini's Magnificent 4-Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona, Rome

Part of Bernini’s Magnificent 4-Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona – Photo Mari Nicholson

How to get there:  Ponte Sant’Angelo:  Metro Line A, Lepanto stop. Boats leave from nearby.        Buses 23, 34, 40, 49, 62, 280, 492, and 990.        Tram 19.

Weekly Photo Challenge: ABSTRACT

Truly abstract I think.  Love the subtle muddy colours and the starkness of the image.

This is a piece of graffiti on a wall in London’s East End (Brick Lane area).  It’s a wonderful place in which to make artistic discoveries.  This one comes from the camera of London photographer Steve Moore who has given me permission to use it.

Abstract