Rome by Night: Famed cinematographer sets his lights on Imperial Fora

Rome’s Imperial Fora is set to be illuminated in a new project designed by renown Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.

Famed for his work on films including “Reds”, “The Last Emperor”, “Dick Tracy” and a bevy of other hits, he is possibly best known for his work on  “Apocalypse Now”, for which he won an Oscar.

Now he’s turning his sights – and lights – to Rome’s Imperial Fora to be lit up on 21st April, 2015 on occasion of the Natale di Roma (with Natale being Italian for ‘Christmas’, and also ‘Nativity’ or – as in this case – ‘Birthday’).

The permanent display will cast light on Rome by night, on the Imperial Fora, a collection of public squares that date back to 46 BC-113 AD, located just by the Roman Forum.

Once the hub of economical, political and religious powers of the Roman Empire, the site was virtually lost until Mussolini began restoration after taking power in the 1920s. Unfortunately these works included the building of the Via dei Fori Imperiali road through the middle of the Fora, purportedly to give ‘Il Duce’ views of the Colosseum from his office.

Storaro’s project is to light the ruins from below, giving a soft illumination designed to open up the Fora, highlighting the remains of the various columns, temples and other remains by night.

This is all part of an 800 thousand euro project by Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, who wants to see a more courageous utilisation of Rome’s archaeological sites, which he says have a unique artistic heritage like no other on earth. It is thus his responsibility to oversee more cultural investment in his beloved city of Rome, Italy.
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Italian Wine: what’s in a name?

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What’s in a name? That which we call a rosé, by any other name would taste as sweet.

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Italian wines may be very easy to drink.

They might not however be so easy to understand.

Italy has a complex naming system and more grape varieties (over 2000!) and more wine regions (over 400 officially registered producers!) than anywhere else in the world.

Most Italian wines are traditionally made by small, family-run producers. So rather than having the wines being known just after the winemakers themselves, they are classified in accordance with the location in which they are produced, plus the grapes and blends used.

This helps people select wines they like, even from small winemakers that may not be widely known.

Price alone is not always a good indicator of quality, however there are some ways to understand the Italian wines and pick out your favourite!

Red, white and hues

Italians like to help a man out when choosing Italian wine by obligingly writing on the label if it’s red (‘rosso’), white (‘bianco’) or rosé (also helpful, it’s known as rosé).

But don’t let colours fool you – the Sangiovese, for instance, that makes wines such as Tuscany’s famous Chianti Classico is typically quite orange in colour and tends to fade as it is aged. Thus, bold red flavours may actually have more browny-orange tonalities.

Other wines may be marked as ‘frizzante’, which means lightly sparkling wine, including the ‘Spumante’  that comes in a traditional bulbed bottle with a champagne-esque cork, like the Prosecco version made towards in the north. Spumante  is then either ‘dolce’ or ‘brut’ , being sweet or dry.

Location. Location. Location.

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Italians are very specific about what classifies as a certain type of wine. Growing on one side of the hill may be classified as one wine type, on the other side may be a completely different kind – even if it’s the same grape variety.

Take for instance the Tuscany wines, Brunello di Montalcino, Nobile di Montepuliano and Chiant and Chianti Classico wines. They are all made from Sangiovese grapes.

Brunello, from (“di”) Montalcino, Nobile made in Montepulciano, and Chianti and Chianti Classico wines from the Chianti region all have distinct characteristics, even though they are kilometres apart.

This is owing to variations in the “microclimates”, meaning that sun exposure, the slope of the land, the terrain, winds and more can have a great affect on the wines produced. Growing on the western or southern  slopes and you have great sun exposure and nice sea breezes that facilitate complexity and boldness in the resulting wines. Growing on the northern slopes usually means a slower ripening process that will mean less complexity in the finished result.

If you’re good at geography (or the wine producers have very helpfully included a little map on the label), keep in mind that very, very generally Italian wines from the top of the ‘boot’ are lighter and crisper due to the cooler climate. Further down the toe you go, it is hotter and the wines produced are more likely to be stronger and bolder.

Time for a Wine

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Obviously you can look at the year and see how old a wine is.

But going back to Montalcino, take 100% Sangiovese grapes then after harvest, place them under an extensive maceration period to give that big red colour and tannic flavour. Store the resulting liquid in oak barrels. If the wine is taken out after six months, bottled and kept for another 6 months, it is possible to label the wine Rosso di Montalcino (Red from Montalcino, being that it is, well, a red from Montalcino).  Alternatively, the wine can be kept in the barrel for at least three years (two in large Slovenian oak barrels known as ‘botte’ and possibly also a few months in a smaller French barrique) before being bottled. Keeping it in the bottle for at least another four months, then and only then – some 4 years or 50 months since harvest – the wine be labelled as a Brunello di Montalcino. However, if you’re not in a rush, you can also store some of the bottles for another year and then release the ‘Riserva’ version.

Now, if the Sangiovese grapes are grown 35 kilometres away on the slopes surrounding Montepulciano, blended with up to 30% of grapes including Canaiolo Nero, aged  in oak for one year and then bottled, it is known as Rosso di Montepulciano. Leave it an extra year in the barrel and you have Nobile di Montepulicano. Another year and it’s the Riserva.

But travel a little further down the road and you enter into the Chianti region, where the blending and aging can even be the same, but the names cannot.

And wine producers who try to be tricky about their labelling face up to 6 years in prison for commercial fraud.

Confused yet? It’s enough to turn a person to drink!

A Grape or a Gripe to Pick

If you like Chianti wine, for instance, then chances are good that you will like most wines produced from Sangiovese grapes in other areas too.

This isn’t always an easy way to go however given the 400 different wine varieties in Italy, especially when you have to remember if it were the  Lambrusco Maestri or Lambrusco Marani you enjoyed… or was it Lambrusco di Fiorano or maybe Lambrusca di Alessandria? Then there’s Lambrusca Vittona, Lambruschetto, Lambrusco Barghi, Lambrusco Montericco, Lambrusco Oliva, Lambrusco Salamino, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa and who could forget, Lambrusco Viadanese?!

And remember our Nobile di Montepulciano produced in Montepulciano in Tuscany? There’s also the Montepulciano grape that makes Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, in Abruzzo.

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IGT, DOC, DOCG…OMG!!!

Italy has a very helpful classification system to help identify quality production and blending for all Italian wines.

Firstly, there is Vino da Tavola – table wine. This is usually produced for daily family consumption or as the house wine for restaurants. There are not a lot of rules governing blending and grape types, but does that not necessarily mean it’s not good to drink.

Indeed, some of Italy’s most famous SuperTuscan wines were classified thus  until the newest denomination was created just for them, I.G.T. (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). These wines do not follow the classic guidelines listed below. These are table wines that are made typical to the production zone. The more boutique versions can cost much more than the below D.O.C.G.

D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wines are governed by strict regulations on everything from irrigation to harvest, blending and bottling designed to preserve historic character and quality of the wines. Sulphurs are added in only once during the initial fermentation during which they are mostly burnt off, meaning they are good for people with sulphur allergies too.

The most strict classification is D.O.C.G. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). This is a top level of classification for top-quality blends. To be declared D.O.C.G., the wine must undergo strict tests and checks on its production process by a regulatory board that determines if the wine and its maker adheres to all the regulations.

You can spot a D.O.C. or D.O.C.G. wine by a paper ring around the neck that proves it has been government-approved and that all the taxes have been paid. Each wine maker must declare at the beginning of the season how many litres of wine they intend to produce. They are then allocated the number of these tags accordingly. If at the end of the season, they produce more wine than expected, you may find excess D.O.C.G. wine sold cheaper in unmarked bottles direct from the winery or in wine stores (an ‘Enotecca’).

But all this is not the same as actually enjoying a wine tasting immersed in the Tuscan hillside.

Enjoy tastings of traditional Tuscany products at Tuscan villa estates owned by historic Tuscan families on the Taste of Tuscany wine tour. Walk through the Tuscan countryside and visit a famous Tuscan villa on the  Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Expand your Tuscan horizons on the small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni too, including lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate.

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Visiting Venice: The Grand Canal

 

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The Grand Canal – or Canale Grande in Italian – is the main waterway that snakes a whole 3.8km through the historical centre of Venice.

A boat ride along the Grand Canal gives you the most fabulous perspective on the architectural history of one of Italy’s most charming cities, most of which were built by some of the city’s most well-known families.

Whilst originally wider, the Venetians have built over the waterway, narrowing Grand Canal to just 30-90 metres in width.

The Grand Canal is lined with stunning buildings mostly from the 13th-18th centuries. Not all of them have walkways along the water’s edge, meaning that some of the spectacular façades are only visible from the water.

Four bridges cross the canal, the most historical and famous being the Rialto.

Otherwise, to cross the Grand Canal, one would have to use a traghetto, a gondola-type boat in which people stand all together to get from one side to the other.

And then there are the gondolas.

From the Grand Canal, many smaller canals then vein out through the rest of Venice.

Enjoy a luxurious boat ride, hear all the fascinating stories (and a touch of gossip) on our Grand Canal Tour.

Artviva: offering great small-group tours in Venice and Venice_Private_tours.

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‘Round Rome: The Pantheon

Rome, Italy

The Pantheon is one of the most famous buildings in Italy’s capital city and a must-see site on any visit to Rome.

It is also is the oldest domed building. The dome itself, the top of which is an oculus (an open hole), is to this day still the largest dome of unreinforced concrete in the world.

Marcus Agrippa built the Pantheon under the reign of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD). A rebuilding was undertaken by Emperor Hadrian around 27AD. It then burnt down in the year 80. Domitian rebuilt it but it caught fire again in 30 years later.

At each point, various alterations were made.

There is much debate about the forms the Pantheon has taken throughout its history, from the shape and placement  of the portico to the direction it faced, not to mention great discussions about the internal layout!

Architects, structural engineers and historians alike to this day ponder upon how exactly it was achieved to set in place a dome without the use of steel rods or similar reinforcement.

One thing for certain is that it is an architectural wonder of the world.

The word Pantheon derives from the Greek for ‘common to all gods’. Although this was likely not the official name of the original structure, it has nonetheless proven accurate given its history spanning the varying religions throughout Rome’s history.

Initially the Pantheon was likely the sacra privata (private chapel) of Agrippa, rather than being a public temple (aedes publicae), however it has been a a Roman Catholic church since the 600s. Masses and celebrations such as weddings are still held there to this day.

As to the inside of the Pantheon, there are the tombs of some Italian royalty – King Vittorio Emanuele II, King Umberto I and his Queen Margherita.

The tomb of artist Raphael here lies also, just by that of his dear fiancé who died just before their wedding.

***

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Italy: Milan Expo 2015

Milan Expo 2015

Milan Expo 2015

The Italy Milan Expo 2015 theme is to be: Feeding the planet, energy for life.

The concept behind this Expo 2015 is related to how tradition and technology blend with culture and creativity in providing food for the planet.

Proposed sub-themes are:

  • Science for Food Safety, Security and Quality
  • Innovation in the Agro Food Supply Chain
  • Technology for Agriculture and Biodiversity
  • Dietary Education
  • Solidarity and Cooperation on Food
  • Food for Better Lifestyles
  • Food in the World’s Cultures and Ethnic Groups

Running from 1st May to 31st October 2015, some 109 years after Milan, Italy, first hosted a World Expo.

The tradition of the Expo (a.k.a. universal exposition, world fair or world exposition) grew from France’s custom of holding national fairs, the first being in Paris with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844.  As with many a French fashion, other Europeans followed suit. In 1928, the International Exhibitions Bureau began overseeing the fairs as international sanctioning body.

Want to visit Milan Expo 2015 with us? Email staff@artviva.com to find out about our new 2015 Milan Expo tour or visit www.artviva.com

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Pompeii, Italy: relics & ruins

Pomepii Italy

Eumachia Building, Pomepii Italy

On 24 August, 79 AD the city of Pompeii and all its inhabitants were buried alive by a violent eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano that dominates the plain.

For the past 250 years, Pompeii has been a popular destination for visitors to Italy and today it one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations with 2.5 million visitors per year. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.

The eruption occurred, somewhat ironically, just one day after the Vulcanalia festival dedicated to Vulcan, the Roman god of fire (including that of volcanoes).

This festival was celebrated annually on 23rd August, the hottest time of the year when crop and grain fires were most likely to break out. To placate the deity of the flame, the work day began by the light of fire (candles). People hung cloths out in the hot sunlight. Then, bonfires were lit and live fish and animals were thrown in as a sacrifice to Vulcan.

And just one day after these celebrations in 79 AD, Vulcan responded by spewing out a mass of lava that destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and others in its surrounds.

Pompeii Italy (photo by Qfl247)

Pompeii Italy
(photo by Qfl247)

Pompeii had been established in the 6th or 7th century by the Osci people, before taken over by the Romans in 80 BC. At the time of the eruption, the population of Pompeii had grown to around 11,000.

Waves of lava and billowing smoke left around 4-6 meters of ash and burning stone covering the villages.

And for the following 1500 years, there it remained.

Around the beginning of the 1600s, Pompeii was rediscovered only to be left there again until the mid-1700s.

After this time, excavation work revealed a city almost perfectly preserved under a layer of ash. With no air or moisture exposure, items laying beneath the ash remained intact.

Pompeii’s protected ruins and relics today present an incredible testimony of everyday life from nearly two thousand years ago.

Revealed from the ashes was a complex water system, including the Stabiane Terme and a port.

There are the temples of Apollo and Jupiter, a gymnasium and a local market with various shops. There’s even a red-light district, evidenced by the raunchy decorations on the walls!

You can see an amphitheatre that was one of the oldest and largest of the time, with a capacity of 12,000 people. Numerous private dwellings have been found, famous for bearing frescoes that are still in excellent condition.

Pompeii Italy

Pompeii unearthing – plaster casts of decayed victims

Most touchingly, as part of the excavation works, plaster was poured into voids left behind where the dead once lay. The result are plaster forms showing the precise position of person at the time of the eruption.

***

We can take you on a private guided tour of Pompeii with a great tour guide.

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Tuscany Towns: San Gimignano

 

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San Gimignano is one of the most famous and charming hilltop towns in Tuscany, Italy.

And for good reason.

Known for its towers (and its award-winning gelato), San Gimignano is the perfect representation of a well-preserved medieval hilltop town.

It has something to offer for pretty much everyone.

For history-lovers, it has a fascinating past. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage location and has the greatest collection of medieval towers.  Walking up to the lookout at the very top of the town gives the best views of the towers and of the stunning Tuscan countryside surrounds.

For foodies and wine-ies there are delicious recipes and great wines to match. The gelato alone is worth the visit, then there are great cured meats and traditional Tuscan dishes that pair perfectly with the famous Vernaccia white wine made here. There is even a wine museum!

(And did we mention the gelato?)

For artists and photographers, there are stunning vistas to capture. There are also many a purveyors of fine arts if you prefer to buy ready-made.

San Gimignano is also a great place to shop for hand-painted ceramics that are famous from this area.

If you are interested in the beaten part of “off the beaten path”, there is the torture museum filled with a bevy of instruments of pain.

We also love the shoe and bag stores offering  great selection of fine leather products.

Well, actually, we love it all!

***

You can visit San Gimignano with us on our small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting  San Gimignano plus Siena and Monteriggioni, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at a traditional Tuscan estate.

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Celebrating Italy Bike Riders!

 

With his recent Tour de France victory, Italian Vincenzo Nibali became the first Italian to win the world’s most famous cycling race in 16 years.

It came just a few days after another important celebration for Italian cycling, the centenary of the birth of Gino Bartali.

Born in 1914 in the quaint Tuscan village of Ponte a Ema, part of the Bagno a Ripoli in the Tuscan countryside area just outside of  Florence, Bartali became one of the greatest Italian champions in road cycling.

Among his many victories, Bartali won the Giro d’Italia in 1936, 1937 and 1946, spliced with winning the Tour de France in 1938 and 1948.

With his cycling career interrupted by World War II, he went to great efforts to help rescue Jewish people, immortalising Bartali as more than just a sporting champion but a true Italian hero.

At just 13 years of age, he started racing, turning professional at 21. His career took off as fast. So much so that just five years later when he married Adriana Bani, the ceremony was celebrated by Cardinal Della Costa, with Pope Pius XII giving the happy couple his blessing.

Known for being a fervent Catholic, he was eventually blessed by two other Popes throughout his career, with Pope John XXIII even asking Bartali to teach him to ride a bike!

Upon his death in 2000, condolences were sent by the Italian prime minister of the time, Giuliano Amato. Two days of mourning were called by the Italian National Olympic Committee, whilst silences were held prior to sporting events around Italy.

To celebrate 100 years since the birth of Gino Bartali, the town of Ponte a Ema held a great series of events. There was a bike race through the town, an exhibition of historical bicycles, motorbikes and cars. And then, a historical parade complete with music and flag throwing.

See if you can spot the two Artviva staff all dressed up in the parade!

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Italy recipe: how to make & use Pesto

Basil & Pine Nut Pesto  (Photo from recepty.cz)

Basil & Pine Nut Pesto
(Photo from recepty.cz)

“Pesto” normally refers to Pesto alla Genovese, made from fresh basil and pine nuts.

It is commonly served coasting pasta and being a dish that can be prepared in advance and then served either warm or cool, it is a staple item in many an Italian fridge throughout Spring and Summer.

Whilst it can be bought from the supermarket, for the most part it is either homemade or bought fresh from a local delicatessen.

The classic Pesto recipe involves throwing around 8 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, ½ cup of pine nuts, 3 peeled cloves of garlic (or more or less to taste) and a good pinch of salt into a food processor. Start blending slowly, drizzling in extra virgin olive oil in through the little hole at the top of the blender. Stop once you have reached a slightly runny consistency. Then, add in about ½ cup of quality grated Parmesan cheese.

Stir well with a wooden or plastic spoon. Basil tends to react with metals so using wood or plastic stops the pesto from turning black. If it does turn black, the taste is still the same so it’s only really an aesthetics issue.

Store the pesto in a glass jar with a layer of olive oil over the top so it stays nice and fresh. Whilst it will be good for some months, you can also freeze it in ice cube trays for winter usage.

Pesto with pasta is a simple and delicious Italian recipe that is super easy to make. Once you have coated the pasta with pesto, you may need to add an extra drizzle of olive oil to stop the pasta drying out.

You can add in a few diced up cherry tomatoes and/or some fresh mozzarella cheese to jazz it up a little more.

In Siena, they cook some chopped tomato and then add in the pesto. The pesto ice cubes are good for this purpose.

There is also Pesto lasagna – simply take your fresh pasta sheets and line with pesto in between for a great summer lasagna recipe.

You can spread it on crostini or sandwiches. Use pesto as a dip for slices of carrots, cucumber and other summer vegetables as a starter dish.

 

Learn more about local food on our Italian Food Tour in Florence.

To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

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Rome Restorations: Trevi Fountain

Trevi Founder works underway  (Photo from www.forque.com.au)

Trevi Founder works underway
(Photo from www.forque.com.au)

Like many an aging beauty, one of Rome’s most fabulous must-see sites, the Trevi Fountain, is having a little work done.

Nothing major, of course, just a few discreet interventions.

There is going to be some work on removing blemishes from the marble façade and clearing up of a couple of dark spots by way of new lighting. Implants of new pumps will be also undertaken.

And to keep away the crows pigeon feet, there’ll be some lifting of deterrent barriers.

The water, from an aqueduct that is said to have quenched thirsts of the ancient Romans, has been drained to allow for the works, whilst most of the fountain is under scaffolding.

The Trevi Fountain works are being covered by the Fendi fashion house as part of an Italian government project to allow companies to sponsor works in exchange for advertising space.

All up, this restoration is going to cost around 2.2 million euro and take just under 1.5 years.

Given the fountain is 252 years old, that’s really not so long.

And if you’re travelling to Italy during this time and upset about seeing this great place to visit in Rome covered in scaffolding, hopefully a nice gelato or delicious glass of wine can go a little way in cheering you up.

Until restorations are complete, our Original Rome Walk Tour will be skipping a visit to the Trevi Fountain.

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