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.

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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!

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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!

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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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.

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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Slick Snack: Italian Garlic Bread Recipe

Garlic bread is a traditional side dish served in many Italian restaurants… just not those actually in Italy.

In Italy, you may find instead it’s leaner and lighter cousin, Bruschetta.

What is commonly – albeit erroneously – called Bruschetta abroad (i.e. toasted bread with tomatoes) in Italy is actually called Bruschetta al Pomodoro (a.k.a toasted bread with tomatoes).

The traditional Bruschetta recipe rather is made around harvest time when the just-pressed olive oil is greeny-gold and peppery. It is intended to allow one to taste the quality of the olive oil.

In Tuscany, this slick snack goes by the name of fett’unta, a term coming from ‘oily slice’.

So, how to make traditional garlic bread?

Cut your bread into slices then toast either on a barbecue or straight on the oven rack (but never under the grill).

Once each slice is nice and golden, take a peeled clove of garlic and lightly rub it on each piece of the bread.

It may seem like not much garlic is going on each slice but if you rub too much on, you’ll end up with a very spicy end result. However, since garlic is good for cholesterol,  infections, ulcers, high blood pressure and for warding off the common cold (and of course, vampires), if you have need for excessive garlic, go hardy.

Next, drizzle the bread with quality olive oil. Then, sprinkle with a pinch of salt to taste. Serve hot.

Yep, Bruschetta is pretty much just really classy toast.

So now you know how to make it. But how do you pronounce Bruschetta? With your best Italian flair, try saying ‘brew-sketta’.

Yep, it’s not ‘brew-shetta’. Since the Italian alphabet doesn’t have the letter K, ‘ch’ is used to make the K sound.

Bruschetta is not a dish to serve alongside a meal, but rather either is presented as a little snack upon arrival or occasionally together with an antipasto platter.

One of the most simple and tasty recipes that takes just minutes to prepare. Well, if you don’t count growing, harvesting and pressing your own olives!

For great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group 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.

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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Italy in August – we’re all going on a summer holiday!

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Summer is a great time to travel to Italy. The flavoursome tomatoes make it worth the journey in themselves! Then there is the gelato, the crisp white wines, the festivals, the divine weather… One tip though for anyone planning a … Continue reading

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Michelangelo’s art in Italy: Praise & Parody

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Michelangelo may not have been well-known for his social skills, however he certainly knew how to express sensibilities in his artwork.

Our Florence art historian guides call Michelangelo’s David the most important artwork ever created, whilst my high school art teacher called that small gap between Adam and God’s fingers in the Sistine Chapel “the most important space in art”.

Many people on our Original David Tour in Florence and Vatican tour, in Rome are regularly bought to tears by the site of our favourite nudes, David and Adam.

Michelangelo’s works even inspired one of our guides to quit their day job in their native country and move to Italy to study art history.

The works also continue to inspire others in creating copies, sketches and a few parodies.

We’ve already shared a few inspired-by’s for Michelangelo’s David.

Now here we have compiled a small selection of Sistine Chapel take-offs.

And speaking of sensibilities, we left out the pull-my-finger one…

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See the real deal with us! We bring the history of David to life on our Original David – Accademia Tour.

Visit the Sistine Chapel with our best Rome and Vatican tour, guides on our small-group skip-the-line Vatican tour.

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

 

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Venice – sights, sighs & splashes

It’s not just the stunning sights in Venice that have the power to take your breath away like no other city.

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There are also the many stairs to get up and over the bridges crossing the waters of the Venetian canals.

These bridges are just one element of Venice’s unique relationship with water.

There is the distinctive and colourful buildings contrasted with the serenity of the canals. The sing-song way in which the locals speak, seemingly in tune with the lapping of the water. The inimitable façade of San Marco Basilica, it’s pieces having come from many shores by merchants descending upon Venice. Market stalls held on boats bobbing along the shoreline sell fresh produce direct to passers-by. Garages hold boats instead of cars, with locals running their errands in a little run-about that buzzes along the waterways. Lovers kiss mid-bridge, standing in the middle of each overpass to gaze as longingly into each other’s eyes as along the canals before them.

And then there are the gondolas.

It all combines to make a visit to Venice a must on any decent bucket list.

Then there is the regular flooding of the high waters that the locals just take into their gumbooted stride…

Seeing this city during high waters is truly a wonderful and quite peculiar experience. Waters rise up several times throughout the  year, flooding the charming streets, the must-see main piazza of Venice – St Mark’s Square – and even the St Mark’s Basilica therein.

At these times, platforms are put up around the city to serve as walkways, turning each well-dressed local into a catwalk model sashaying – or should that be, splashaying – in glamorous Wellingtons through the water.

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

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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The simplest Tuscan fish recipe: baked sea bass

Delicious Italian fish recipe

Delicious Italian fish recipe

Cooking in Tuscany comprises making delicious traditional Tuscan recipes using a few simple and fresh ingredients.

One great example is baked sea bass – Branzino. This simple recipe is great for dinner parties as it can be prepared ahead of time, makes very little mess, looks impressive and tastes delicious!

There is also no need to make a separate side dish as it’s all-in-one.

Preheat your oven to 180° Celsius.

Take one fillet of branzino per person. Lay the pieces on a piece of baking paper large enough to wrap the fish into a parcel.

Onto each fillet, lay a few thinly sliced rounds of fresh zucchini, some cherry tomatoes cut in half, a few capers (rinsed to get rid of the vinegar or salty taste according to how they have been preserved), a slice of lemon, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil plus salt and pepper to taste.

Fold up the paper to make little parcels. Place them in the oven and cook for around 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the vegetables are soft.

You can either wiggle the fish onto plates or even serve the parcels directly so diners can open their little dinner presents themselves.

Italians normally eat a pasta or risotto dish as a first course, so this is a perfect light main to follow. If you’re not carb-ing up with pasta or risotto, then you may wish to serve with a side of potatoes cooked with chopped tomatoes (to add a splash of colour).

Buon appetito!

For great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group 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.

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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