Italy: The stuff of dreams

As a young girl, I had vivid dreams of running through fields of wild flowers in slow-motion, dressed in creamy muslin with a floppy hat. Four decades later, I found those fields near a tiny Italian village in Umbria. Some of the details did not quite match up – I was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and cap – but it was a dreamy place, all the same.

High in the heart of Monti Sibillini National Park, we came upon a vast open plain, the Piano Grande, and the exquisite mountain village of Castelluccio perched atop a hill amid an ocean of wild flowers.

The peaceful scene was a balm to our bruised spirits after hot, hectic days in crowded cities and mayhem on Italian motorways.

We waded, slow-motion – of necessity – through knee-deep scarlet poppies, wild mustard and cornflowers marvelling at the riotous colours of “The Flowering”, an annual spectacle on the plain surrounding the village. An elderly, stooped man with a walking stick was harvesting wild flowers with a hand scythe.

We drove up to the village and apart from a few hardy trekkers, there were no other foreigners there – but as we wandered the steep streets and pathways of the little village, there were signs of ancient stone buildings, dating back hundreds of years, undergoing a stylish spruce-up to attract the tourist euro.

The view over the Piano Grande was breathtaking.

We watched a young shepherd usher a small flock of sheep and lambs, wearing name tags and bells, through the village and up to a green hillside pasture where he spent the afternoon in the shade of an umbrella.

Little shops were selling local delicacies – wine, sheep-cheese, salami, hams made from wild boar and the renowned Castelluccio lentils – to housewives in aprons and head scarves.

Postcards of the scene in winter showed a blanket of snow over the mountains, village and plain, and skiers on the small ski-field nearby. I imagined my dream transforming into a winter version and returning to this most beautiful place.

*Castelluccio is a village in Umbria, in the Monti Sibillini National Park, central Italy. The village, situated at 1452 metres, is the highest settlement in the Apennines and lies above the Great Plain (Piano Grande, 1270 metres).

The village dates from the 13th century or slightly earlier, but was also settled by the Romans.

The Piano Grande is renowned for the cultivation of lentils which are quite different from varieties elsewhere. The climate and soil of the high plain contributes to their thin skin and soft consistency, allowing them to be cooked without having to be soaked first.

The area is a favourite with hang-gliders and para-gliders and there are schools in the village that offer lessons and rentals on a seasonal basis. Skiing in the winter and tramping in the summer are popular activities.

– nzherald.co.nz

Italy: The stuff of dreams – Travel – NZ Herald News http://nzh.tw/10859502 via @nzherald

Colosseum reveals secret hues

(ANSA) – Rome – The Colosseum is usually thought of as a blinding arena clad in shimmering white marble that set off the crimson-flecked violence of the killing floor.

Only one locale, the gallery of the mad emperor Commodus – memorably played in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator by Joaquin Phoenix – was known to have been decked in other colours.

Until now, that is.

Restorers at a mid-level tier of the ancient amphitheatre say they’ve found “a riot of colour” in many other niches and galleries.

“They’ve uncovered complex decorations, floral patterns in polychrome glory including azure, ochre, pink and green,” said the superintendent of the iconic Rome monument, Rossella Rea.

“We’ve known since the 19th century that the Colosseum’s white splendour was punctuated by square red plaster tiles, but we never expected to find such multi-hued decorations, a veritable riot of colour,” she said.

Alongside this “technicolour surprise,” Rea went on, the restoration team also uncovered, underneath centuries of graffiti and visitors’ signatures inscribed in the ancient stonework, “symbols of ancient machismo and blood lust as well as erotica including phalluses.

“The Colosseum was full of colour, covered in frescoes,” Rea said.

Rea said the new decorations would ‘hopefully be on view from next summer, joining the other new features the Colosseum has added, enhancing its timeless lustre’.

The 2,000-year-old symbol of Rome, set for a 20-million-euro clean-up and restoration starting this year, recently expanded its range of tourist attractions when it opened up the underground pits where gladiators and wild beasts waited before being winched from darkness into the arena’s cruel glare.

The so-called ‘hypogeum’ (literally, ‘under ground’) was restored in a multi-million-euro project that also installed new, muted lighting effects.

Rea said the hope was to have recaptured ‘some of the atmosphere’ of the breathless moments before the games commenced, when the armoured or naked fighters and the wild animals were hauled up through 80 trap-doors.

The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre (its proper name) attracts some four million visitors a year.

Construction on the arena started between 70 and 72 AD under the Emperor Vespasian.

It was completed in 80 AD by his son Titus, who financed the project from the booty his armies seized in the war against the Jews in 66-70 AD.

Titus inaugurated it with 100 days of games including the recreation of a sea battle between Romans and Greeks.

The father-and-son team – the so-called Flavian emperors – built their monument to Rome’s grandeur in travertine stone before giving it the marble cladding that amazed contemporaries – and was still its crowning glory until generations of popes picked away at it for their own architectural testaments.

“Hardly any of the marble is left now,” Rea said, “but that loss has been partly compensated by the discovery of these stunning pictorial remnants, a secret trove of colour we never knew existed”.

Colosseum reveals secret hues http://ow.ly/gOKZU

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