U2 accepts the Touring Award at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards. Check out: www.u2.com
I Love Touring Italy – Southern Veneto
If you are planning a European tour, why don’t you consider the Veneto region of northern Italy on the Gulf of Venice? Venice is its best-known city and one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. But the Veneto region has a lot more than this great city. There are excellent tourist attractions elsewhere, and you won’t have to fight the huge crowds. With a little luck you’ll avoid tourist traps, and come back home feeling that you have truly visited Italy. This article examines tourist attractions in southern Veneto. Be sure to read our companion articles on northern Veneto, on that Shakespearean city of Verona, and on the university city of Padua.
Our tour of southern Veneto resembles a circle; one that isn’t quite closed. We start our tour in the central Veneto city of Vicenza, one of the wealthiest cities in Italy. We bypass Padua and go southeast to the coastal town of Chioggia. Then we head back southwest to Rovigo, and then finish our tour by going northwest to Montagnana. We could continue north back to Vicenza. Or we could visit other parts of Veneto.
Vicenza, population one hundred twenty thousand, has had a checkered past. Over the centuries it passed from one occupier to another. Its heyday was in the Sixteenth Century as the home of Andrea Palladio, often said to be the most influential person in the history of Western architecture. He designed many of the city’s buildings and all over the Veneto region. About two dozen of his Veneto villas compose a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Palladio was a major influence on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and probably on half of the state capitol buildings in the United States. Don’t even think about touring Vicenza without visiting several of his masterpieces.
The Teatro Olimpico (Olympic Theatre) is Palladio’s last work and one of his best. It is widely considered the first modern example of an enclosed theater. Actually he died six months into its construction but this magnificent building was completed from his sketches and drawings. The building includes five hallways designed to look like streets; each spectator has a view of at least one street. Unfortunately the theater was abandoned after a few performances. The Teatro Olimpico now hosts productions, but only in the summer because winter heating might damage its fragile wood structures.
Palazzo Chiericati is a Renaissance palace that took well over a century to complete. It was built in an area called Piazza dell’Isola (Island Square, now Piazza Matteotti), surrounded by two streams. It became the Museo Civico (Town Museum) in 1855 and, more recently, the City’s Art Gallery.
We have left arguably Palladio’s greatest work for last. Villa La Rotunda whose full name is Villa Almerico-Capra in honor of the Capra brothers who finished the building. This villa was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and has been the inspiration for perhaps a thousand buildings across the globe. Strictly speaking Villa La Rotunda should not be called a rotunda; it isn’t circular but takes the shape of a cross grafted on a square. While the edifice appears completely symmetrical in fact it isn’t. No mistake here, it was designed to fit perfectly into its surroundings and the city of Vicenza on the horizon. Neither Palladio nor its owner lived to see it completed.
Chioggia whose population is some fifty thousand was once the center of local salt production. Perhaps that’s why Genoa destroyed it more than six hundred years ago. Chioggia returned as a fishing port and a tourist attraction. It’s on the Venetian Lagoon about an hour’s boat ride from Venice that it resembles with its canals and Venetian architecture. You’ll enjoy strolling on the Corso del Popolo (the People’s Thoroughfare) with its cafes, restaurants and shops. Chioggia’s Cathedral is old enough to have been restored in the Fourteenth Century. Other sites of interest include the Campanile (Bell Tower) about two hundred ten feet (sixty four meters) high and the Fourteenth Century Gothic church of San Martino.
The town of Rovigo, population about fifty thousand, is rich in history and culture. Its most famous cultural institution is the St. Stephen Cathedral built prior to the Eleventh Century and rebuilt in the Fifteenth and the Seventeenth Centuries. Be sure to see its interior artwork. Other churches worth visiting include the Thirteenth Century Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception), and the Fourteenth-Fifteenth Century Gothic-Romanesque Church of St. Francis.
Several Rovigo Piazzas (Squares) have maintained their historic character. The largest is dedicated to Emperor Victor Emmanuel II and is the site of several palaces. Palazzo Nodari has become the city hall. Palazzo Roncale has become Pinacoteca dei Concordi (Concordi Gallery), one of the most important art galleries in Veneto. The building dates back to the end of the Sixteenth Century and many displayed paintings predate the building itself. The Fifteenth Century Gothic Duomo (Cathedral) faces this Piazza. Given its many restorations and renovations Romanesque and Renaissance period features abound. The Piazza has a statue to the emperor and a Saint Mark’s lion.
How can you tell if a Veneto town is peaceful or not? The answer is quite simple; go to its Leone di San Marco (Saint Mark’s Lion) statue. Take a close look at the tail. If the tail points down the town is peaceful. If it points up watch out; there may be trouble. The tail on Rovigo’s lion pointed down. This call for peace didn’t stop Napoleon’s soldiers from destroying the statue. The statue that you see today was erected in 1881, and its tail still points down.
Montagnana, population about nine thousand, is a medieval city surrounded by walls with four gates and twenty-four fortified towers resembling castles. This city is really unique and you should see it from outside the walls when the sun is setting. Montagnana dates back to the Thirteenth Century when the town was rebuilt. Its highlight is the Castello San Zeno (Saint Zeno Castle) built by the infamous Italian dictator Ezzelino da Romano, who previously ordered the city burnt to the ground. Mister da Romano actually merited mention in Dante’s Divine Comedy where his soul was consigned to you know where. In a sense one has to thank him for one majestic castle, originally set inside a dry moat and built around a center courtyard. The moat, crossed by a drawbridge, was filled in during the 19th century. The Castle’s highest tower, the mastio or donjon, is open to the public and provides fabulous views. Castle San Zeno also houses the Municipal Historical Archive, the town Library, a Theatre Company, and a Study Center devoted to the protection of the castle and its surroundings, with quite a collection of books, maps, artifacts, and other items of historical significance.
What about food? Despite the great variety of food in this once poor but now fairly well off part of Italy many people often ate foods that we might find strange. I’m not talking about lamb and sheep’s milk cheese from the Rovigo area. Pigeon is a specialty both in Padua and other localities. A Padua specialty that I haven’t tasted is made from salted, dried, and smoked horsemeat.
We’ll suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Risotto Nero (Risotto with Cuttlefish). If you don’t like Cuttlefish and its ink you won’t have trouble finding many other Risottos. Then try Baccal?antecato (Dried Cod with Nutmeg, Parsley, and Olive Oil). For dessert indulge yourself with Salame al Cioccolato (Chocolate Salami, Shortbread Biscuits, Figs, Butter, and Cocoa). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
We’ll conclude with a quick look at Veneto wine. Veneto ranks 3rd among the 20 Italian regions both for the area planted in grape vines and for its total annual wine production. About 45% of Veneto wine is red or ros?leaving 55% for white. The region produces 24 DOC wines and 3 DOCG wines, Recioto di Soave, Soave Superiore, and Bardolino Superiore. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. Almost 30% of Venetian wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation.
Bardolino Superiore DOCG is produced west and northwest of Verona near Lake Garda from a variety of Italian and international red grapes. This wine is living proof that Garantita is no guarantee of high quality, some are and some are not.
Levi Reiss has authored alone or with a co-author ten computer and Internet books, but to tell the truth, he would really rather just drink fine French, German, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink what he wants, in moderation. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website www.wineinyourdiet.com and his global wine website www.theworldwidewine.com.
I Love Touring Italy -the University City of Padua
If you are hankering for a European tourist destination, why not consider the Veneto region of northern Italy on the Gulf of Venice? Venice is its best-known city and one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth. Don’t forget that the Veneto region is a lot more than this great city. It hosts many other excellent tourist attractions, and you won’t have to fight the huge crowds. With a little luck you’ll avoid tourist traps, and come back home feeling that you have truly visited Italy. This article examines tourist attractions in the university city of Padua in central Veneto. Be sure to read our companion articles on northern Veneto, on southern Veneto, and on that Shakespearean city of Verona.
Padua, population over two hundred thousand, is only about twenty-five miles (forty kilometers) west of Venice but has always had a life of its own. It was the setting for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Padua claims to be the oldest city in northern Italy, founded early in the Twelfth Century B.C. It held out against the Lombards for twelve years at the beginning of the Seventh Century only to be burnt to the ground. Padua was the headquarters of the Italian Army in the First World War and the site of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s surrender.
The historic city center surrounded by seven miles (eleven kilometers) of Sixteenth Century walls is home to the City Hall, whose wall is covered by the names of the Paduan war dead. Other sites of interest include the Palazzo della Ragione described next and the Nineteenth Century Neoclassical Caff?edrocchi. This caff?s one of the largest in the world and the hub of the uprisings in 1848 perhaps not surprising given its proximity to the university described below.
The Twelfth Century Palazzo della Ragione (Palace of Reason) in spite of its name is not a philosopher’s hangout, but a huge centuries-old marketplace. The hall itself is about two hundred seventy feet (eighty meters) long so when people say you can’t miss it, they aren’t kidding. This magnificent building was heavily damaged by fire early in the Fifteenth Century, unfortunately completely destroying a great collection of frescoes. So the frescoes you’ll see are somewhat more modern. By the way, the collection includes one of the few complete sets of the zodiac signs. The palace is no longer the seat of the Padua government and often hosts art shows.
Padua University in the city’s historic center at the Palazzo del Bo’ (Ox Palace, named for a inn that it replaced) was founded in 1222 when many professors and students left the University of Bologna over the issue of academic freedom. Jurisprudence and theology were the first courses offered. From the Fifteenth Century to the Eighteenth Century the university was renowned for its research, particularly in the areas of medicine, astronomy, philosophy, and law. On June 25, 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia became the world’s first woman graduate when awarded a doctorate in Philosophy in the Padua Cathedral. In addition to mathematics, philosophy, and theology Piscopia mastered the following languages: Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and Arabic. Other famous professors and graduates include Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Giacomo Casanova. You should visit its Anatomy Theatre, the oldest in the world built in 1594. To deal with the issue of overcrowding many university faculties have recently moved to other cities in the Veneto region.
Along the Piazza dei Signori (Seigneurs’ Square) you’ll see the early Seventeenth Palazzo del Capitanio, the residence of the Venetian governors with its great door. The palace included its own church, the church of San Nicolo. The nearby Duomo (Cathedral), remodeled in the mid-Sixteenth Century after a design by Michelangelo, is not one of his best works. The Thirteenth Century Baptistry includes a series of frescoes illustrating the Book of Genesis by an early Renaissance Italian painter. This piazza is home to the city’s St. Mark’s Lion. If you read my companion article on southern Veneto you’ll know what to look for when you get there.
The Fourteenth Century Cappella degli Scrovegni (Scrovegni Chapel) is Italy’s best-known chapel after the Sistine Chapel. It is also known as the Arena Chapel because it stands on the site of a Roman-era arena. The chapel’s fresco collection devoted to the life of the Virgin Mary is virtually unmatched. Before entering the chapel you must spend 15 minutes in a climate-controlled air-locked room reducing the temperature difference between the outside world and the inside of the chapel. Nearby you will find the Musei Civici degli Eremitani (Civic Museum) a former monastery with its collections of Venetian paintings, ancient coins, and other archeological treasures.
Padua’s most famous church is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova (Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua) started around 1238 but only completed after the turn of the century. His remains repose in a beautiful chapel. In front of the church is a Donatello statue of a Venetian general riding horseback. This statue, cast in the middle of the Fifteenth Century, was said to be the first full-size equestrian bronze statue cast since antiquity. Nearby are the Thirteenth Century St. George Oratory and the Sixteenth Century Scuola di San Antonio (St. Anthony’s School) both of which boast great fresco collections, the first by Altichiero and the second by the more famous Titian. There are several other churches to see if you have the time and energy.
Padua’s Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden), founded in 1545, was the first in the world. The Botanical Garden still maintains its original layout, a circular central plot symbolizing the earth surrounded by a ring of water. It has expanded over time. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a center for scientific research. Nature lovers will appreciate the Eighteenth Century Villa Pisani (Pisani Palace) about eight miles (thirteen kilometers) southeast of the city on the Brenta River, home to many fancy, fancy homes. This Palace contains 114 rooms in honor of the 114th Doge, a member of the Pisani family. Napoleon spent a night here before giving the palace away. Make sure to see the trompe-l’oeil frescoes on the ceiling. The adjoining park is a-maze-ing if you get my drift.
One of Padua’s best-known symbols is the Prato della Valle (Valley Meadow), often called the Grassless Meadow, the largest square in Europe after Moscow’s Red Square. It measures approximately one million square feet (ninety thousand square meters) or about fifty football fields. In its center, if you don’t mind the hike, you’ll find a wide garden surrounded by a ditch and lined by 78 statues portraying famous citizens. The site includes the abbey and the basilica of Santa Giustina (Saint Justine), with an interesting art collection. This complex was built around the Fifth Century tomb of Saint Justine of Padua. Napoleon suppressed the monastery in 1820 and it didn’t reopen for more than one hundred years. You can find tombs of several saints as well as relics of the Apostle St. Matthias and the Evangelist St. Luke.
What about food? Padua is a unique city. It claims a variety of food specialties, some of which may not sound all that tempting. Specialties include torresano allo spiedo (pigeon raised in tower lofts), sfilacci (salted, dried, and smoked horsemeat), mushrooms and truffles (that sounds better already), and peaches. Like I said, Padua is a unique city.
Let’s suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Prosciutto Veneto Berico Euganeo (Montagnana Sweet Cured Ham). Then try Bondole (Smoked Pork Sausage). For dessert indulge yourself with Crema Fritta (Fried Cream Custard). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
We’ll conclude with a quick look at Veneto wine. Veneto holds third place among the 20 Italian regions both in terms of the area planted in grape vines and for its total annual wine production. About 45% of Veneto wine is red or ros?leaving 55% for white. The region produces 24 DOC wines and 3 DOCG wines, Recioto di Soave, Soave Superiore, and Bardolino Superiore. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. Nearly 30% of Venetian wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation.
Bagnoli di Sopra DOC also called Bagnoli DOC is vinified in many styles from a variety of international and local red and white grapes in the area approximately between Rovigo and Padua. Colli Euganei DOC is made in a wide variety of styles from local or international white or red grapes on the volcanic hills southwest of Padua.
In his younger days Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books. Now he prefers drinking fine Italian, German, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods and the right people. He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink what he wants, in moderation. He loves teaching various and sundry computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website www.wineinyourdiet.com and his Italian wine website www.theitalianwineconnection.com.
I Love Touring Italy – Launching a Series
The U.S. Tour Operators Association annual survey shows that Italy is the world’s top vacation destination. This country really has something for everyone. Italy’s attractions include secular and religious sites spanning centuries if not millennia, isolated villages and dynamic cities, ski resorts, beaches, and world-class fashion. And you will love its outstanding cuisine, and their unique wines, what wines. Italy has an unmatched selection of local grape varieties. Should you prefer international grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, you won’t be disappointed.
Are you aware that Italy is subdivided into twenty regions? Each and every one is different, and well worth touring. Some such as Piedmont are world famous. Others such as Bascilicata are almost never visited by foreigners, or even by Italians themselves.
Italy can be divided into three major sections: Northern Italy, sharing a border with four European countries (France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia), Central Italy, and the South, traditionally the poorest part of Italy.
Northern Italy is composed of eight regions: The Aosta Valley, Piedmont (whose capital is Turin), Lombardy (whose capital is Milan), Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto (whose capital is Venice), Emilia-Romagna, and Liguria (whose capital is Genoa). Central Italy is composed of six regions: Tuscany (whose capital is Florence), Umbria, The Marches, Abruzzi, Molise, and Latium (whose capital is Rome). Southern Italy is composed of six regions: Apulia, Campania (whose capital is Naples), Basilicata, Calabria, and the islands of Sicily (whose capital is Palermo) and Sardinia.
Each article will present a region and several of its tourist attractions. We love Italian wine and food (as expressed in our series I Love Italian Wine and Food), so we’ll present regional wines and foods of special interest.
Because we’ll be discussing regional wines, let’s briefly look at the Italian wine classifications. These classifications will also come in handy if you’re an armchair tourist and want to enjoy Italian wine at home or in your favorite restaurant. Wine and Food Classification. In 1963 Italy legally defined four wine classifications that presumably help consumers choose their wine. While most wine producing countries have instituted official wine classifications, arguably the Italian system is the most controversial, possibly the most abused, and probably the most ignored by the wine producers themselves. Should you learn a bit about them anyway? We think so.
VdT stands for Vino da Tavola, translated as table wine. Table wines may be made from any grape, or mixture of grapes, anywhere within Italy. Usually they are quite ordinary, and in Italy are often served directly from the barrel. And yet on occasion VdT wines are excellent and priced accordingly.
IGT stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica, which may be translated as Typical Geographic Indication, in other words a wine that typifies its specific location. This classification specifies the wine’s geography but is silent about its composition and production method. As for the previous category, sometimes IGT wines are excellent.
DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin. Each and every region has at least one DOC wine, but some have dozens. A given DOC defines the permissible grape or grape varieties as well as numerous details about the grape growing and wine making process. About one fifth of Italian wine is classified DOC or better. Such a statistic should warn you that a DOC on the label is no guarantee of quality.
DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Guarantita, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin. Please realize that this letter G on the label is no guarantee of quality. But you can expect to pay more for a DOCG wine than for its less prestigious DOC cousin.
Unlike most countries, Italy has gone to the trouble to set up an extensive classification system for food, all kinds of food including olive oil, cheese, and even fruit. Look for the term Denominazione d’Origine Protetta, abbreviated as DOP, which may be translated as Denomination of Protected Origin. You’ll have to decide on your own if it’s worth paying a bit more to buy a certified orange.
Have you had enough of the generalities? It is time to move on to the specific Italian regions.
Levi Reiss has authored alone or with a co-author ten computer and Internet books, but to tell the truth, he would really rather just drink fine French, German, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His global wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com and his Italian wine website is www.theitalianwineconnection.com .
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