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Upcoming Fundraiser at the Sistine Chapel Turns Heads

Sistine Chapel

Each day, as many as 20,000 visitors pay up to €16 per person to enter the Vatican Museums, the highlight of which is the Sistine Chapel. This coming weekend, reports Crux, approximately 40 fans of German automaker Porsche will get to pay up to €5,000 each to take a private tour of the Vatican, which includes dinner in the museums and a concert in the famous chapel.

Porsche has advertised the event on its website as the Exclusive Porsche Tour of Rome, which includes these tour highlights:

  • Access to the Vatican Museums outside the official opening hours
  • Magnificent concert in the stylish setting of the Sistine Chapel arranged exclusively for the participants
  • Unforgettable dinner in the midst of the exhibition at the Vatican Museums
  • Visit to the papal gardens at the Vatican and the Necropolis on the Via Triumphalis
  • Porsche Travel Club driving tour (two days) in the southern Lazio region

Meanwhile, Monsignor Paolo Nicolini, the managing director of the Vatican Museums, maintains that the event is the “debut of ‘Art for Charity,’ an initiative to exclusively support the charitable projects of the pope. This initiative is organized directly by the Vatican Museums and is directed at big companies. With the payment of a ticket, they can contribute to financing charity projects.” Nicolini told reporters on October 16 that, “The Sistine Chapel can never be rented because it is not a commercial place.”

The one-off event stands to raise about €200,000—almost half of what the Vatican Museums could raise in a full day off of tourist admissions, with only a fraction of the wear and tear. Artnet added:

“Since his inauguration, Pope Francis has put significant emphasis on the plight of the poor and has gained a reputation for his pragmatic and forward-thinking interpretation of scripture. This latest move may indicate that he is prepared to capitalize on the Vatican’s rich cultural heritage for the benefit of those in need.”

Map of Italy’s Earthquake Zones

I just saw word on Twitter that northern Italy has suffered yet another earthquake,. A 5.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Modena area in Emilia-Romagna around 9:20 p.m. Italian time. This is the latest in a series of earthquakes to hit the region over the past few weeks, leaving more than 20 dead and thousands displaced all over northern Italy and particularly in the Po River Valley.

So what is going on here?

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Centuries of History and 300,000 Wheels of Cheese Destroyed in Deadly Italy Earthquake

The latest reports about the earthquake that hit Emilia-Romagna this weekend state that at least seven people were killed, 50 injured, and more than 13,000 have been displaced. The 6.0 earthquake struck early Sunday morning north of the city of Bologna in the town of Finale Emilia. According to The Guardian, the quake “wrought havoc in small towns and villages dotting the countryside between Bologna, Ferrara and Modena.”

The Guardian filmed a video that looks at the destruction, including the loss of “centuries of history.” Destroyed or severely damaged in the earthquake include the Palazzo dei Veneziani and Castello della Rocche in Finale Emilia; towers of a 14th century castle in San Felice sul Panaro; and the church of San Martino in Buoncompra. Other news outlets are reporting that more than 300,000 wheels of cheese worth €250 million have been destroyed.

The last major earthquake to hit Italy was the one that struck the Abruzzo city of L’Aquila in 2009.

Seven Longobard Sites Newest Additions to UNESCO Heritage List

Saint Michael at the Sanctuary of Saint Michael in Apulia

Saint Michael at the Sanctuary of Saint Michael in Apulia

Last month, UNESCO inscribed Italy’s newest World Heritage sites: The Longobards in Italy. Places of the Power (568-774 A.D.). Treated as one entity, these seven sites stretch from as far north as Castelseprio, a small village in Lombardy where is located Santa Maria Fortis Portas and the castrum with the Torba Tower, to as far south as Benevento and its Santa Sofia church complex. All of these sites represent, according to UNESCO, “the high achievement of the Lombards, who migrated from northern Europe and developed their own specific culture in Italy where they ruled over vast territories in the 6th to 8th centuries.”

While the Longobard sites are the newest ones to be recognized by UNESCO, they are among the least well known of the many UNESCO buildings and sites in Italy, which now leads the world with 45. To learn more about each of the “Longobards in Italy” sites, including where they are, how to visit them, and the treasures they contain, visit Italia Longobardorum, the website of the group responsible for formally submitting these sites for UNESCO World Heritage consideration. You can also click on the links below for the individual sites:

Venice’s Elite Beaches No Longer Off Limits

Lido di VeneziaAs of today, the elite Lido di Venezia, the summer playground of the Lion City’s elite since the 1900s, will be open to all who wish to visit its shores. In what is being called a “mini-revolution,” Venice’s Mayor Giorgio Orsoni has signed an ordinance that requires that the exclusive, cabana-lined beaches of the Lido be open to the general public.

While regular beach-goers will not have access to the cabanas, which cost up to €9,000 per year to rent, the umbrella or towel service that comes courtesy of several luxury hotels here, or lifeguard service (you know, because some lives are worth more than others to save), they will have the right to bring their own towels, chairs, and umbrellas and set up on the Lido’s white sand shore. Proponents of the measure are naturally elated at the egalitarian overture this new law suggests. Of course, the elites, or “pass holders” as the Ansa news agency calls them, are unhappy that their yearly expenditures have not afforded them the exclusivity they paid for. Some of the headlines I saw while researching this story lamented that the elegant beaches of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” are now being given over to pop culture.

What do you think about the new ordinance in Venice? Do you think you may try to visit the Lido as a non-pass holder on your next vacation to Venice? Please leave a comment below or let me know what you think by contacting me on Twitter @italofileblog.

Perugia in the Spotlight

The Griffin of PerugiaPerugia has been in the news a lot lately but for all the wrong reasons. The picturesque capital of the region of Umbria has been the location of the media circus that has been the Amanda Knox/Raffaele Sollecito trial. And with the two having been convicted for the murder of Meredith Kercher, Perugia will certainly be in the spotlight as the appeals process begins.

It pains me that many people are getting their first look at Perugia through the lens of a sensational murder case because Perugia is a destination I like to recommend to travelers looking for a new place to explore in Central Italy. Perugia is an austere, university town – indeed, its one of Umbria’s hill towns – with several unique characteristics that make it ideal for discovery. Here’s my brief list of its charms:

A History of Rebellion
roccapaolinaWhile Perugia’s early history as a member of the Etruscan League is noteworthy, it is the city’s rankling of Rome that give it a reputation of rebellion. You could even say that Perugia has a “salty” past, as a large part of the town’s character was formed due to a battle with Rome in the so-called Salt War. From the early days of the Papal States, the people of Perugia were often at odds with the church. In 1540, things really came to a head when Rome doubled the tax of salt in 1540. The Perugians rebelled by drastically reducing their consumption of salt, resulting in pane sciapo, a bread made with little or no salt that is still consumed in Perugia today. Pope Paul III was the pontiff responsible for levying the high taxes during this time and made sure to punish Perugia when papal troops (led by his son) captured the city. The Rocca Paolina, a massive fortress built by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, bears the inscription “ad coercendam Perusinorum audaciam” (to curb the audacity of the Perugian people). This is the only fortress I know of that was built to keep its citizenry in rather than thwart outside invaders.

An Artistic Pedigree
800px-Palazzo-Priori-PerugiaA few of the aesthetic pleasures of Perugia include the stark caverns of Rocca Paolina, which has been retrofitted with escalators that run from between the upper and lower parts of town; the Etruscan walls; the Fontana Maggiore, a curious, round fountain built by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano; and the Piazza Italia, the lovely, tree-lined square overlooking the Umbrian valley where many Perugians take their evening passegiata. But Perugia is known in particular for the artist Pietro Vannucci (Perugino). You may also know of Perugino from his frescoes on the walls of the Sistine Chapel and for being a mentor to Raphael. Perugino’s works decorate the Collegio di Cambio in the Palazzo dei Priori and are also featured in the National Gallery of Umbria. Both of these places lie, aptly, on the Corso Vannucci – Perugia’s main street.

City of Chocolate
baciperuginaFinally, one of the best reasons to visit Perugia is because it is a mecca for chocolate lovers. Perugina Chocolate, creator of the Bacio, the hazelnut and chocolate confection that comes wrapped in a love poem, is headquartered in Perugia. Long since purchased by Nestle, Perugina still maintains the Bacio brand, as well as a few others, and has a chocolate boutique on – you guessed it – Corso Vannucci. In addition to Perugina, the city is also site to a chocolate festival each October called Eurochocolate. The festival is a chance for artisanal chocolatiers to show off their products and for guests to learn about chocolate based on a particular theme. If you’re so inclined, you can even stay in the Etruscan Chocohotel (how’s that for combining brands?). This hotel is in the lower town of Perugia, so not among the old, medieval treasures of the upper town. But, they do give you a bar of chocolate upon check-in and have a restaurant that features several dishes made with chocolate.

Photos © Paolo Bertinetto, Agnese Salinas, Maurizio Zanetti, fotopierino

The Scariest Place in Tuscany

Shrine to Vicchio Victims

Shrine to Vicchio Victims

Last year saw the release of the book the Monster of Florence, a true tale about a serial killer who terrorized the hills around the Tuscan capital for almost 20 years, from 1968 until 1985. While several men were tried for the heinous crimes, many Italians, crime experts, and the book authors Mario Spezi and Douglas Preston, believe that the real killer remains on the loose to this day.

I knew nothing about the sensational story of the Monster of Florence when I was first doing research for one of my Italy guides long ago. Certainly, I had heard of Il Mostro, the dark comedy by Roberto Benigni based on the crimes and the search for the perpetrator,  but I hadn’t given it a second thought. You can be sure that the tourism boards did not wish to point out the areas where these crimes had taken place. In fact, two of the victims – Horst Meyer and Uwe Rüsch – were tourists who were camping in the Tuscan hills.

As a travel writer, I also wasn’t keen to reveal this scary piece of Tuscan history. No use in discouraging travelers from visiting Tuscany just because of a few terrible incidents, I thought. But looking back on one of my research trips, I realized that I had actually stayed in a hotel – by myself – just minutes from one of the crimes scenes. The thought of it still sends shivers up my spine.

The part that especially upsets me is a memory of strolling into my hotel in the early evening. I had gone to a local pizzeria and enoteca to pick up my dinner for the evening. I was strolling the quiet suburban Tuscan streets in the twilight without a worry. Little did I know that the Monster of Florence had likely prowled down this same street searching for victims or on his way back from a fresh kill. Did I mention that the story of the Monster of Florence was the inspiration for Hannibal Lecter? Did I also mention that this particular evening was September 10, 2001? Horrible events – both past and future – were swirling about and I had no clue!

Well, I still have no desire to reveal where my fateful hotel was. That would not be fair to the hotel. But above is a map of the locations of the crimes. On the Monster of Florence UK website you can view a timeline of the events and their locations. Read these at your own risk! You’ll never look upon the Tuscan hills in the same way again!

By the way, here is a full-length 48 Hours video of author Douglas Preston speaking of his own entanglement with the case as well as the more recent murder trial of American student Amanda Knox in Perugia.

Photos from Monster of Florence UK website and www.prestonchild.com

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