Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Attending Mass in the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia

St. Benedict (San Benedetto) enjoys a very special place in the life of Norcia (Nursia, in Roman times), where he was born, probably in about the year 480, reaching manhood as the remnants of the Roman Empire slid into chaos. During the subsequent Dark Age, monasteries were often the main focal points of culture, learning, spiritual zeal and readiness for social action, in contrast to the agitated sea of barbarism that surrounded them on all sides. Benedict formulated a humane and reasonable set of precepts for his monks, and this Rule of Saint Benedict became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason, Benedict is often called the founder of western monasticism and therefore by extension perhaps also the founder of modern Europe. He is, in any case, the patron saint of Europe.

Attending Mass in the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia
The Basilica of St. Benedict on the main piazza of Norcia, Umbria.
For those inspired by traditional services in ancient churches, nothing equals attending Mass in the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia in Umbria. The Basilica is located on the main piazza of Norcia. Vespers and Compline are open to the public every day in the crypt of the Basilica. The time for Vespers varies throughout the year from 5:30 pm in summer, 6:15 pm in autumn and winter, and 4:15 pm in Lent. Compline is at 7:45 PM all year round and, by special dispensation, for Compline, Mass is recited in latin and is accompanied by Gregorian chant. To participate, you should wait at the red rope at the stairs leading down to the crypt on the left side. It's courteous to ask the monk who unlocks the door whether you may participate. The door is locked for the duration of the service (30 minutes).

The monks have recently established a micro-brewery at their monastery. They make a light and a heavy beer, both of which are available in the bars around Norcia and at the monastery gift shop. Here is a video of the inauguration of the brewery.

More about things to see and do in Norcia, Italy.

Vacation accommodation in Chianti, Tuscany.

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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Things to see and do in Orvieto, Italy

The Region of Umbria in central Italy is somewhat neglected by visitors from abroad when compared with its celebrated northern neighbour, Tuscany. This neglect is quite unjustified. Umbria is a Region of varied and magnificent landscapes, charming villages, great food and a number of splendid "art cities", among the foremost being Orvieto.

Orvieto Italy
The Cathedral of Orvieto, Italy
Among the things to see and do in Orvieto, Italy, the first "sight" is in fact Orvieto itself sitting atop a tuffa butte rising 640 ft above the surrounding rolling green hills. This spectacular vision is augmented by the sight of the Cathedral of Orvieto rising above the town, the golden mosaics on its facade glittering in the sun. Orvieto itself is completely pedestrianised and can be most enjoyably reached via a funicular. Orvieto is characterised by an unusually high number of fine 13 C houses and palaces, including a papal palace that now houses Orvieto's municipal museum, and the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo.

The site of Orvieto was a major Etruscan nucleus and the butte is riddled with Etruscan excavations forming a virtual underground city of tunnels, galleries, wells, stairs, quarries, cellars, unexpected passageways, cisterns, and superimposed rooms with numerous small square niches. Outside the city is the Etruscan necropolis of Crocefisso di Tufo which is composed of a hundred or so chamber tombs laid along a rectangular street grid, with numerous examples of Etruscan inscriptions.

A more recent excavation is the Pozzo di San Patrizio, "Saint Patrick's" well, a deep well accessed by a double helical stairway and dating from 1528. The energetic visitor can descend the entire 175 ft - and climb back up again. The massive 14 C Fortezza dell'Albornoz is also worth a visit.

More Orvieto tourist information, sights, festivals and wines.

More history of Orvieto.

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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Carsulae Roman ruins in Umbria, Italy

Visitors to central Italy, including southern Tuscany and Umbria, should take the opportunity to visit Carsulae Roman ruins in Umbria, Italy if they do not plan a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum (Ercolano). While Carsulae does not offer intact buildings, frescoes and Roman city streets full of shops, it does nevertheless give a very good impression of the layout of a provincial Roman town.

Carsulae Umbria Italy
Aerial view of Carsulae in Umbria, Italy
Carsulae's growth into a major town was a result of the building of the via Flaminia, in 220-219-BC. Indeed, The Via Flaminia is the cardo or main street of Carsulae. During its golden age, Carsulae supported a large complex of thermal mineral baths, theatres, temples and other public amenities, the remains of many of which are clearly discernible today. Since the present ground level is much the same as in Roman times, not a great deal of excavation has been necessary to reveal the town plan, despite vast quantities of stone having been carted away over the centuries for use in other buildings in the mediaeval towns of this part of Umbria.

The location of Carsulae is pleasantly bucolic even today making it a nice place for a picnic break during your exploration of the site and the nearby towns, including Terni, which is about 20 km away and has a considerable Roman amphitheatre of its own.

More about Casulae Roman ruins.

More about Roman Umbria.
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Gubbio in Umbria, Italy

The town of Gubbio in Umbria, Italy, is a must-see for anyone visiting this part of Umbria (Perugia is 45 km away to the SE). Its location on a steep hillside surrounded on the higher levels by alpine forest, is especially charming. Gubbio's historical centre has a good selection of mediaeval, Gothic and Renaissance structures built of gray limestone and has great views over the beautiful countryside. Just outside the town is a Roman amphitheatre, one of several substantial Roman remains in the area.

Gubbio Umbria Italy
The town of Gubbio in Umbria.
The main sights of Gubbio include:
  • The Roman Theatre dating from the first century BC.
  • The Roman Mausoleum.
  • The Palazzo dei Consoli (14 C), housing the Eugubine Tablets.
  • The Palazzo and Torre Gabrielli.
  • The Duomo (Cathedral - alte 12 C) with its striking rose-window.
  • The Palazzo Ducale, built starting in 1470, for Federico da Montefeltro.
  • The Church of San Francesco (13 C). The frescoes in the left side date from the 15 C.
  • The Church of Santa Maria Nuova, a typical Cistercian structure of the 13 C.
  • The Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo, with a nave and four aisles, is located outside and above the Gubbio.
Gubbio is famous for a festival known as the Corsa dei Ceri, a race held annually on 15 May, in which three teams, devoted to Sant'Ubaldo (the patron saint of Gubbio), San Giorgio, and Sant'Antonio, run through crowds of cheering supporters (clad in the distinctive colours of yellow, blue and black, with white trousers and red belts and neckbands), up much of the mountain from the main square in front of the Palazzo dei Consoli to the basilica of Sant'Ubaldo, each team carrying a statue of their saint 4 mm tall and weighing about 280 kg, mounted on a wooden octagonal prism. The race is one of the best-known folkloric events in Italy.

More about Gubbio and its sights.
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