Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

Architecture

Liberty: Italy’s Art Nouveau

Italy may be best known for its Renaissance and Baroque architecture, but the country’s creative vein didn’t end in the 1700s. During the decades straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, a new artistic movement swept through Europe and the US, which influenced everything from fashion and advertising to the decorative arts. Most significantly, the movement left its mark on the architecture of the time, and still today we can find its organic, botanical lines in facades and interiors across Italy.

Quartiere Coppedè(Photo by Sarah Nichols via Flickr)

In France, this movement was known as “Art Nouveau”, but in Italy it was originally called “Floreale”—soon changed to “Liberty” after the landmark Liberty & Co. shop in London. Breaking from the rigid geometry of the past, the Liberty style was informed by the more fluid lines found in nature (and helped along by new techniques to shape iron, glass, and cement) and became the hallmark of a new generation of upper and middle classes who were looking to build residences and commercial buildings that reflected their distance from the Continent’s historic aristocracy.
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Italy's Islands: The Isole Borromee in Lake Maggiore

When considering Italy's Mediterranean islands, most people conjure up mental images of the southern yachterati hot spots of Capri, Sardinia, and Ischia...famed for their coasts lined with chic beach clubs, bustling towns full of artisan shops and designer boutiques, and luxury hotels and resorts with Michelin-starred restaurants and world-class spas. Though those generalizations are largely true for islands off the country's southern coast, as you move north the character of Italy's islands subtly shifts away from beaches and boats, and begins to favor pristine nature and historic architecture.

Dawn on Lake Maggiore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Italy's lake islands, however, are in a category of their own. These tiny outposts lording over the waters of lakes from Bolsena to Como are often privately owned, home to defensive fortresses or sumptuous villas that either stand mysterious and closed to the curious or, more rarely, welcome visitors to stroll through and admire their lavish excess from an almost forgotten age.

Isola Bella(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Perhaps the most remarkable in the latter category are Isola Bella and Isola Madre, two of the three tiny islands that make up the Isole Borromee (Boromean Islands) archipelago in Lake Maggiore. The second largest of Italy's northern lakes, Maggiore straddles the border between Italy and Switzerland and offers stunning scenery and an elegant La Dolce Vita vibe. Strung like pearls along the lake's shores are a number of delightful resort towns, including Stresa, the perfect jumping-off spot to visit the gem-like Borromean Islands by ferry or private boat.

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2019: The Year of Leonardo

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death, and Italy is pulling out all the stops to honor one of the country's greatest luminaries, a polymath whose genius covered everything from engineering to art, with a number of blockbuster shows in major cities and even the town of Vinci, Leonardo's birthplace.

Leonardo da Vinci- Vitruvian Man.JPG
Public Domain, Link

If you're planning a trip to Italy over the next 12 months, consider seeking out one of these blockbuster shows to see original sketches, designs, and artwork from one of the greatest minds of the western world.

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Something Old, Something New: Recent Discoveries in Pompeii

Pompeii is one of the most famous and important archaeological ruins in the world, and among the most visited cultural sights in Italy. This ancient Roman city just outside Naples was buried in ash and scorching rock from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 (more on that below), and remained more or less unexplored for over 1000 years. In the 18th century, official excavations began, and the site became a popular stop on the Grand Tour between Naples and Sorrento; today millions of visitors walk the paved Roman streets and admire the colorful frescoes and intricate mosaics decorating many of the unearthed villas and public buildings.

Pompei 2(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

What most of these visitors don't know, however, is that the Pompeii Archaeological Park is an active dig, with new discoveries being made almost weekly that shape how historians and researchers imagine life in the city and in the 1st-century Roman empire in general. Almost a third of the Pompeii has yet to be excavated but 2018 has been a year rich with new finds as the two-year Great Pompeii Project kicks off, the most intense period of study in the ruins since the 1950s. Archaeologists have begun a large-scale excavation of Regio V, a stretch of land between the House of the Silver Wedding and the House of Marcus Lucretius Fronto and a number of important clues to the past have been uncovered over the past year.

Just this week, archaeologists uncovered a magnificent fresco depicting the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan decorating an internal wall near the entrance to an elegant villa on Via del Vesuvio, in the Regio V. This somewhat suggestive depiction was discovered just days after that of an equally eyebrow-raising fresco of the Roman fertility god Priapus weighing his member on a pair of scales. Though it was found near the Leda fresco, the depiction of Priapus is unfortunately in much worse condition.

Pompei with Vesuvius(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

What have archaeologists found? Here are some of the most exciting discoveries:

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Italy's Versailles: the Reggia di Caserta

It is said that when Charles VII of Naples first set eyes on the scale model of the magnificent royal palace he had commissioned his architect Luigi Vanvitelli to construct for him outside Naples in 1752, the Bourbon king was filled with such emotion that he feared his heart would be torn from his breast.

king-queen-lion-reggia-di-caserta-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Though your heart is probably safe, your breath is sure to be taken away by the splendor and opulence of the finished Royal Palace of Caserta (or Reggia di Caserta), a triumph of late Italian Baroque architecture that is stunning both for its massive size and ornate style. The largest royal residence in the world, the palace is often compared to that of Versailles in France—with which it shares a number of stylistic and organizational features—and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited monuments in southern Italy.

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