Sunday, December 9, 2012

Villa d'Este Tivoli, Italy

Recently on a conference we took a group to visit UNESCO world heritage Villa d'Este in Tivoli, about 30km from central Rome. This magnificent villa and garden was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito Il d'Este, grandson of Pope Alexander VI. Cardinal Ippolito was appointed Governor of Tivoli by Pope Julius III and given the existing villa as a gift. This official residence was not grand enough for him, so from 1550 until his death in 1572 he worked to reconstruct the villa plus build the most magnificent terraced gardens on the dramatic sloping land. The gardens of Villa d'Este are amoung the earliest of the 'giardini dell meraviglie' (gardens of wonder), and their design symbolise the flowering of the Renaissance culture plus had a profound influence on the development of garden design throughout Europe.  

The great display of drama and magnificence in this garden is considered to be a result of Cardinal Ippolito's disappointment at his failed bids for papacy but further to this he wanted to impress and entertain his visitors. Many statues and much of the marble for the construction of the villa and its gardens was taken from nearby Hadrian's villa which had been left to ruins after the decline of the Roman empire. Reviving Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering plus using innovations in bringing sufficient water supply, the designers created hundreds of water fountains, nymphs, grottoes, plays of water and music that danced and performed across the site. The water fountains use hydrotechnical methods of  pressure to re-channel the water from aqueducts - no power at all is used to pump water up the very steep slope which when you see the scale of this garden, that is a very impressive feat! 

I loved visiting this delightful garden and combined with a visit to Hadrian's villa plus lunch at restaurant Sibilla (see earlier posts  & this is an extremely memorable day trip from Rome.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Restaurant Sibilla Tivoli Italy

Restaurant Sibilla in Tivoli on the banks of the Tiber river, approximately 30km from Central Rome is a spectacular place to enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner. Operating as a restaurant continuously since 1720, this place is a tourist attraction itself, independent of the 2 fabulously interesting attractions, Hadrian's Villa and the beautiful Villa d"Este that exist nearby. It is quite amazing to consider that this restaurant has been in operation for over half a century longer than European settlement in Australia. On the day we visited, the sun was shining and we sat under the very impressive Wisteria vine that has existed for centuries. However in the winter months the fireplace and beautiful indoor furniture would also ensure dining indoors was equally comfortable.

We chose one of the fixed price menus which gave us large portions of incredibly tasty food. The service and attention to detail from all staff was excellent and it is easy to understand how this restaurant has been so successful, entertaining royalty and dignitaries for centuries. We were sharing the outdoor space with an Italian wedding which was wonderful entertainment and made us feel as if we were invited guests. The vistas are spectacular with a gorgeous garden area and Roman ruins right in the grounds where the tables are situated. All our guests thoroughly enjoyed this restaurant and we will definitely return on our next visit to Tivoli, in fact I would love to return when the wisteria vine is in flower as with its vast size the canopy of purple flowers would definitely be worth seeing.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hadrian's villa, Tivoli. (Villa Adriano)

On a recent conference in Italy we visited Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, 29km outside central Rome. It was my first visit to this palace, built by Roman Emperor Hadrian during the second & third decades of the 2nd century AD. The palace is a incredible site of great archeological significance and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Situated in the hills above Rome as a summer retreat to avoid the heat, Hadrian actually ended up governing the empire from the villa in the later part of his life. 

Set on over 250acres, the complex comprises over 30 buildings including palaces, temples, libraries, bath houses, and slave quarters. The buildings largely reflect the Greek, Roman & Egyptian architectural orders, borrowed from what Hadrian saw in his extensive travels and conquests. One of the most impressive areas is the pool and artificial grotto where large banquettes were held. The statues that surrounded the pool have been recreated from the ruins found in the grounds. 

After Hadrian's rule, the villa was used by a number of his successors, but during the decline of the Roman Empire it fell into disuse and ruins. Once you see the size of the complex it is quite incredible to believe that this site sat as ruins for so long, especially when you consider how sophisticated the buildings and architecture were for their era. In 16th Century Cardinal Ippolito Il d'Este saw the potential of what the site held and removed most of the marble that decorated the facades of the buildings, plus the statues that surrounded the pool, to decorate his own villa nearby. 

Be sure to visit the site model that gives you an appreciation of the extent of the complex for it is vast and impressive. Overall this place is hauntingly beautiful, very picturesque and with a guided tour allows you to wander around the archaeological remains and imagine the the life of this powerful dynasty almost 2000years ago.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Silverseas Cruise conference

We have been back in Australia for a few weeks after running more conferences abroad. One of the conferences we held was our first ever cruise conference. Having never been on a cruise previously, I have to admit, I was not necessarily rushing to go on one, but I was curious as to what life on board a large vessel would be like. Well, it was a truly fabulous week and both Lorenzo & I thoroughly enjoyed the experience - I admit we are now cruise converts, (what is not to love about it!) and we are looking forward to the program of future cruises conferences we have in place.

I am told we are a little spoilt because we began our cruising adventure on one of the best liners, Silverseas. Fitted with luxurious large suites, personal butlers for all cabins, beautiful food, a wonderful selection of wines & champagnes and a multitude of restaurant options, it really was a week of indulgence. We began in Istanbul which is one of my favourite cities - a true sense of east meets west is experienced across this sprawling metropolis. From here we visited Mykonos, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Santorini, Crete and finally Athens. Days were spent on shore at the various ports exploring, then the boat would normally leave around 9 or 10pm proceeding to the next port in time for a morning landing. Each day I loved waking around dawn, to throw open the curtains to view our new surroundings, a constant changing scenery. It was a lovely laconic way to travel, no rushing or stress, just the decision of whether to venture ashore in the morning or later in the day, and once back on board, the decision of which restaurant  to dine in for the evening.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Teatro La Fenice, Venice

'Teatro La Fenice', the main Opera house in Venice, whose name translates to 'The Phoenix', has over the centuries literally lived up to its name. After fire destroyed the first building which occupied the site in 1774, then a legal dispute over the ownership of the new building was lost, the theatre company began construction of the building on the current site in 1790. When it was completed in 1792, it was named "La Fenice", The Phoenix, in honour of the company's ability to rise from the ashes, not just on one, but two occasions.

Disaster struck again when, in 1836 a fire completely destroyed the new building, razing it to the ground. However it was quickly rebuilt and opened again in 1837. In 1844 Guissepe Verdi's illustrious association with La Fenice began with the premier of Emani, and premiers of Attila 1846, Rigoletto 1851, La Traviata 1853 and Simon Boccanegra in 1857 all took place here.

One can hardly imagine that such a tragedy could repeat itself, but in January 1996 La Fenice was again completely destroyed by fire, this time caused by arson. In a city built on water this sounds an anomaly, but when the fire broke out, water was unable to reach the building as the nearby canal had been totally drained for repair works. The city of Venice was in mourning.

In 2003, after a monumental effort the new theatre opened, rebuilt to the original design by architect Aldo Rossi and using photographs from the opening scenes of Luchino Visconti's 1954 film 'Senso' which was filmed in the theatre. I recall around this time I was privileged to visit Rubelli, one of the fabric suppliers I use as an Interior Designer, in their spectacular palazzo on the Grand Canal. With gloved hands and incredible care, I was shown some of the burnt fragments of fabric salvaged from the ruins, that the great Italian fabric house of Rubelli used to reproduce the original fabrics for the new building. Italian craftsmanship and attention to detail at its very best, produced a rebuilding of La Fenice of which Venice is understandably enormously proud.

I have been to Teatro La Fenice a number of times since it reopened and the ambience and old world charm is seductive and enthralling. The balcony seats in particular make you feel like the entire production is playing just for you, and one is totally absorbed by the emotion of the performance. Recently there we saw Verdi's La Traviata which was a fabulous performance in what seems like its home, as not only did it premier in this theatre in 1853, but it was also the first opera to premier in the new building when it reopened in 2004!

Copenhagen, Denmark

We have just been in Copenhagen for a few days to organise events for a conference we are running there in mid 2013. It was our first time in this city and it was a delightful place to visit with very friendly people, gorgeous architecture and an interesting history. We were told it is the most cycle friendly city in Europe with an enormous amount of dedicated cycle paths and a very flat topography, so in order to blend in as locals, we hired bikes and explored the city on 2 wheels. 

Surprisingly the city is very low key, with considerably closer access to the Danish royal family and their residences than the British monarchy have, in fact one day whilst walking along the street, a few motorcycles sounded a horn and then 2 cars drove by with Queen  Margrethe & Prince consort Henrik in the first car and Crown Prince Frederik & Princess Mary waving in the 2nd one - so our short visit to Copenhagen even gave us a royal viewing!

In 2013 when we run this conference, we have organised a number of really interesting events including a day trip to Sweden (I didn't realise one could easily drive between  Denmark & Sweden, but the Oresund bridge which is almost 8km long and was built in 2002, connects the 2 countries), plus sailing on viking boats, historical walking tour and touring on canal boats amongst them. 


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Spectacular views from Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, Rome

Since my initial sighting on my first trip to Rome many years ago, I have always loved the Roman Vittorio Emmanuel monument, 'Il Vittoriano', in honour of the unification of Italy, even though I know many Italian citizens do not feel the same way. I adore the unapologetic massive size of the building, seemingly not just celebrating the Italy's birth as a nation, but shouting it at the top of their lungs! Italians often disparagingly refer to it as 'the typewriter' or 'the wedding cake' as its tiered structure and bright white marble lend itself to these comparisons, but I think they secretly love it, as it has become almost as much a symbol of Rome as the Colosseum is. Obviously it does not rival the incredible depth of ancient and historic monuments Rome possesses, but it commands such a presence in Rome that it is hard to ignore.

In all my previous visits to Rome I have only admired it from street level, however this time we went inside to capture the views this monumental building offers. On the first level, via a multitude of stairs, there is a bar serving light meals and drinks which is a very pleasant place to rest after the hours of walking one does around Rome and the views from this level are very good. However for a small cost, you can take a lift (added in 2007), to the top of the monument and the whole of Rome opens in front of you. 

The perspective you get of this sprawling city is truly spectacular, plus you get a understanding of how the ancient ruins and more recent monuments and buildings relate to each other. The layering and how each dovetails into the workings of a large modern city can truly be appreciated with this view. At this level, one can almost touch the two enormous and beautiful statues of the Roman victory goddess Victoria riding on the quadriga, which symbolise liberty and unity. In addition, it is the only way I have ever been able to catch a perspective of the roof of my favourite Roman building, the beautifully preserved Pantheon built by Emperor Hadrian in AD118-125.

The roof of the Pantheon is visible in the centre of this photo