Reggia di Caserta

Royal Palace of Caserta - The Royal Crib

The Royal Palace of Caserta was born from the desire of the King of Naples Charles of Bourbon. The latter, caught up in a "competition" with the French royal family, wished to donate to Naples structures such as to be able to play the role of a city-capital of European level. And he decided to inaugurate a palace that could compete in magnificence and grandeur with that of Versailles.

The monarch chose the architect Luigi Vanvitelli, at that time engaged in the restoration of the Basilica of Loreto. And so he began to build what is now known as the Royal Palace of Caserta. Completed in 1845, the Royal Palace occupies an area of 47,000 square meters and, with over one million cubic meters, can boast of being the largest royal residence in the world by volume.

Now, there are many treasures kept here, but certainly one of the most important is the Royal Crib, set up in the Elliptical Room.
The tradition of the Christmas crib was inaugurated by Charles of Bourbon and then resumed by his successors. It was in particular Francis I, a true lover of crib figures, who turned out to be a great collector of shepherds. The basic structure, called "the rock", is made of cork and occupies an area of 40 square meters. On this are placed the 1200 figures according to strict rules and in compliance with the canonical scenes. The most important ones are made entirely of terracotta. While the minor ones are composed of a core of tow, supported by an iron wire, with only the head, hands and feet in terracotta.

What can be seen today in the Sala Ellittica, however, is a 1988 reconstruction of the majestic 1844 nativity scene commissioned by Ferdinand II. The original was tragically lost when it was stolen in 1985.
In addition to the traditional scenes of the Nativity with the Adoration of the Magi you can see other scenes. There is the Buffalo Pasture, the Stop at the Fountain, the Market and the Neapolitan Tavern with figures of musicians and patrons, useful for the reconstruction of daily life of the time.

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Parco dei Mostri

Viterbo - The Park of Monsters of Bomarzo

The Park of Monsters is also known with the name of Sacred Wood or Villa of the Wonders of Bomarzo. It was designed by the architect Pirro Ligorio on commission of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, called Vicino. Orsini called the park simply "boschetto" and dedicated it to his wife, Giulia Farnese.

The Monster Park is adorned with numerous basalt sculptures dating back to the sixteenth century and depicting mythological animals, gods and just ... monsters. Many attractions are marked by enigmatic and mysterious inscriptions, which have unfortunately survived in small part. However, it should be noted that the current layout of the attractions in the Park is not, except in a few rare cases, the original one, but dates back to the second half of the 20th century, when the Bettini family took it over and put it back into use.

We do not know the original purpose for which the park was built: in the course of time many hypotheses have been formulated that would see the place as an "initiation path". Certainly Vicino Orsini simply wanted to have an enchanted place for the pleasure of others or personal.

Among the many monsters that adorn the Sacred Wood of Bomarzo are: the Sphinxes, Proteus, the Mausoleum (a large boulder apparently shapeless), Hercules and Cacus, the group of the Turtle and the Whale. But also the Elephant, the Dragon, the Orc and Cere (goddess of the harvest and mother of Proserpine). Among the attractions there is also a real curiosity: the Leaning House. This is a small building built on an inclined boulder and therefore deliberately leaning. The peculiarity is that the interior has an irregular slope (the floor is not at 90 degrees to the walls), causing confusion in those who enter.

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Castello di Miramare

Miramare Castle - The summer residence of Sissi

The Castle of Miramare and its park were built at the behest of Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg. In 1855, he decided to build a residence on the outskirts of Trieste overlooking the sea and surrounded by a large park. The building was designed by the Austrian engineer Carl Junker who chose an eclectic style as dictated the architectural fashion of the time. For this reason, in the building, models taken from the Gothic, Medieval and Renaissance periods come together to create a wonderful fusion.

Miramare Castle became famous when Elizabeth of Austria, the famous Princess Sissi, chose it as her summer residence. Elizabeth deeply loved the city of Trieste, not so much for the beauty of its historic center. Nor for the proverbial reserve of its inhabitants, but because it was the port from which she set sail for those longed-for journeys that took her away from Vienna. She arrived there for the first time on November 21, 1856, the first leg of a long official journey that took the imperial couple to the Italian provinces.

During her stays in Trieste, Elisabeth loved to stay at the castle of Miramare, where she was a guest of her brother-in-law Maximilian. Of the castle she loved the large windows overlooking the open sea. After Maximilian's execution in Mexico, Elisabeth often returned to the castle, using it as a "base" for many incognito excursions in the city or in the nearby bays. She particularly liked the one overlooked by the castle of Duino. In September 1882 she arrived in Trieste for an official visit: the residence was still Miramare, where for that occasion the lights of the party returned to shine after a long time.

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Rome - The oculus of the Pantheon

The Pantheon is a famous building of ancient Rome located in the Pigna district, erected as a temple dedicated to all the gods past, present and future. Built in 27 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus, it was later rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian between 120 and 124 AD. In fact, the fires of 80 and 110 AD damaged the previous construction.

The building is composed of a circular structure joined to a portico of Corinthian columns supporting a pediment. Since the end of the 7th century it has been a Christian basilica dedicated to Santa Maria della Rotonda. This metamorphosis has allowed it to survive the spoliation inflicted by the popes over the centuries.

The Pantheon is famous for having a single oculus-shaped window on the dome of almost 9 meters in diameter. From a technical point of view, this opening to the outside allows the light to fall from above and therefore a clever play of chiaroscuro inside.

Around the oculus of the Pantheon many legends, astrological studies and curiosities have arisen over the centuries. According to a medieval legend it was created by the devil escaping from the temple of God. In ancient times it was said that the rain could not enter the temple because of the heat and smoke of the candles that illuminated the interior. Today this remains only a legend. In the Pantheon on rainy days still enters abundant water. For this reason, the floor has 22 holes. This is to allow the rain to filter through.

Thanks to the presence of the oculus, however, curious astronomical phenomena can be observed inside the building, so much so that someone called it "a solar temple". For example, on April 21st, Christmas of Rome, at noon, a ray of sunlight penetrates from the oculus inside and hits the access portal.

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Cappella Palatina

Palermo - The Palatine Chapel

The Palatine Chapel is a basilica located inside the Norman Palace in Palermo. It was commissioned by Roger II of Altavilla, the first Norman king of Sicily. It is a treasure of inestimable beauty, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If the first impression is that of entering a normal Christian church, looking more carefully at its structure is possible to recognize two small churches. To the west you see a Latin church divided by ten columns. To the east (in the presbytery) one recognizes instead a small Eastern Christian church, that is Byzantine, with a square plan surmounted by a hemispherical dome. Even the inscriptions on the walls are both in Latin and Greek. This testifies to the fact that, in this small chapel, at the time of Roger II, the two religious components were counterbalanced and that the rite was "officiated" in both languages.
On the walls you can find wonderful Byzantine mosaics. They are formed by two sheets of glass between which there is a very thin layer of gold.

Unique in the world and of considerable importance and value is the ceiling. It is a ceiling "fatimita a muquarnas" which means stalactites or alveoli. Here you can admire 750 paintings representing the Koranic paradise. There are trees, monsters, peacocks, eagles; men squatting with their legs crossed in the Muslim way, generally in the act of drinking, or hunting. All these scenes belong to Islamic secular iconography, whose images symbolically represented the wish for a happy life after death.

A special mention should be made of the monolithic candelabrum four meters and twenty-six centimeters high placed on the right next to the ambo. Still used today on Easter Sunday, it is divided into five orders and rests on four lions. The lions, which are the symbol of the Normans, bite men and beasts. At the center of the work, Christ, depicted with a beard, immediately stands out. He sits on a cushion and holds a book in his hand. At his feet you can see the figure of a man dressed as an ecclesiastic, probably Roger II, who commissioned the work.

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Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio - The secret passage

Florence is a city that holds many treasures and priceless works of art. Today, however, we are not talking about a painting or a museum, but about a secret passage: the Vasari Corridor.

The Vasari Corridor is an elevated path that connects Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo Pitti. This path passes exactly through the Uffizi and over the Ponte Vecchio. It was built in just 5 months in 1565 at the behest of the then Duke Cosimo I de 'Medici by Giorgio Vasari. Vasari was already famous at that time; in fact, he had already built the current Uffizi Gallery.

The idea of the elevated path was born to allow the grand dukes to move without danger from their residence to the government palace. Security was important. The support of the population towards the new Duke was in fact still uncertain. Moreover, the new system of government had abolished the Florentine Republic, although the republican organs were only symbolic.

The corridor has a fairly linear route, made without substantial constraints of respect for existing buildings. The only exception is the tour around the Torre de' Mannelli, at the end of the Ponte Vecchio. In fact, the family that owned this building strongly opposed the idea of pulling it down.

At the center of the Ponte Vecchio are a series of large panoramic windows overlooking the Arno in the direction of the Ponte Santa Trinità. These windows are quite different from the small and discreet Renaissance portholes. In the past there were two above the central arch. Mussolini had two more made in 1938 on the occasion of Adolf Hitler's official visit. Hitler came here to tighten the Axis between Italy and Germany. It seems that the view was very pleasing both to the Führer and to his entourage. Perhaps this was even the reason that saved the bridge from destruction. All other city bridges did not have the same luck.

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Colonna Traiana

Rome - Trajan's Column

The Trajan Column is a monument erected in Rome in the Forum Trajan in the second century AD. It was erected to celebrate the conquest of Dacia (present-day Romania) by the Emperor Trajan, and commemorates all the salient moments of that territorial expansion.

It is possible that a closer view of the column could be obtained by climbing up onto the terraces covering the lateral nave of the Basilica Ulpia or onto those that probably also covered the porticoes in front of the two libraries. An "abbreviated" reading was also possible without the necessity of going around its shaft to follow the entire story. It was enough to follow the scenes in a vertical order, since their superimposition in the different coils seems to follow a coherent logic.

The narrative, which is articulated along the 200 meters of the frieze, is rigorously organized, with chronistic intentions. Following the tradition of triumphal painting, not only the "salient" scenes of the battles are represented. There are also scenes of marching, those regarding the transfer of troops (12 episodes) and those on the construction of camps and infrastructure (17 scenes, represented with extreme detail). In this scansion of the events appear then the significant events from the political point of view, to which are added some scenes more specifically propagandistic.

Some examples? The torture of Roman prisoners by the Dacians, the speech of Decebalus, the suicide of Dacian leaders with poison. But also the presentation of the head of Decebalus to Trajan and the removal of the royal treasure.

The Trajan Column was an absolute novelty in ancient art and became the most avant-garde point of arrival for the Roman historical relief. It is considered by most to be the most sublime work of the brilliant Apollodorus of Damascus, Trajan's favorite artist.

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Ravenna - The Domus of the Stone Carpets

The Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra is one of the most incredible Italian archaeological sites discovered in the last decades. It all began in 1993 during the works for the construction of some underground garages in via D'Azeglio 47, in Ravenna. From the analyses carried out emerged a palace entirely decorated with wonderful mosaics and marble inlays, dating back to the Byzantine period. Inaugurated by the President of the Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in October 2002, the Domus was awarded the Bell'Italia Prize 2004 and the Francovich Prize 2017.

The site is located inside the eighteenth-century Church of Santa Eufemia, in a vast underground environment located about 3 meters below street level, consisting of 14 rooms paved with polychrome mosaics and marbles belonging to a private Byzantine building of the fifth-sixth century.

Of particular interest and beauty, the mosaics are decorated with geometric, floral and figurative elements considered unique. This is the case of the "Dance of the Geni of the Four Seasons", a very rare representation that shows the Geni dancing in a circle, or the figure of the "Good Shepherd", portrayed in a different version from the usual Christian representation. He is in fact very young, with short hair. He wears a blue tunic with an orange cloth under his neck and shoes on his feet. In addition, he holds a stick with his left arm, and to his right and left appear two fawns. Behind the fawns are two trees as tall as the Good Shepherd, with two birds on the branches.

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Matera - The Crypt of the Original Sin

The Crypt of the Original Sin is a cave-church of Matera discovered in 1963 at Masseria Dragone. It is an absolutely unique place in the world, which for the wonder of the frescoes made, is considered the "Sistine Chapel of the cave".
The Crypt, dug into the rock along the wall of the Gravina di Picciano, rose in the period between the eighth and ninth century. Probably, the cenoby belonged to the Benedictine order, as evidenced by some elements that characterize the cycle of frescoes inside. The crypt has been called for centuries Grotta dei Cento Santi (Cave of the Hundred Saints) because it is completely covered with paintings. The painting is clearly Lombard, with few references to Byzantine art, due to the arrival in Italy in the period of Eastern popes, and Roman painting. This is clear from the simple drawing line, the rich clothes and the expressive faces.

Among the frescoes, a large panel of Genesis is particularly striking. It is a splendid figurative Bible capable of describing the sacred scriptures to the many illiterate faithful. This panel shows scenes from the Old Testament, in particular the Creation and Original Sin, to which the church owes its name. The back wall recounts some of the episodes: the Creation of Adam and Eve, Eve tempted by the serpent, Eve offering the forbidden fruit to Adam. The left wall is enlivened by three niches. Here there are depictions of the triarchy of the Apostles, the Virgin Queen and the Archangels.

After years of desolating abandonment, the rock church has been restored and it is possible to visit it after booking.

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Cenacolo di San Marco

Museum of San Marco - The Last Supper of San Marco

The San Marco Museum is a Florentine museum located in the monumental part of an ancient Dominican convent. The fame of the museum, whose architecture is a Renaissance masterpiece, is due mainly to the presence of works by Beato Angelico, present in many rooms of the convent.

In the refectory of the guest quarters, another small treasure is preserved: the Cenacolo di San Marco. Frescoed in 1486, it is universally attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio. In reality, the artist was at that time at the height of his popularity and full of commissions. Therefore it is believed that he only prepared the drawing, delegating the pictorial realization mainly to his brother Davide and to his brother-in-law Sebastiano Mainardi.

The representation appears serious and monumental, with the characters composed. This aspect makes us think that Ghirlandaio wanted to represent the moment after the announcement of the betrayal. With Judas, always from behind, who already has in his hand the piece of bread offered to him by Jesus and the agitation of the apostles already calmer. Judas has his arm raised in the obvious gesture of dipping the piece of bread into Christ's plate, derived from the Gospel story. And he has a cat near him, a negative symbol.

On the table are lined up glass bottles with water and wine, glasses, cups, knives, bread, cheese and various fruits. Among these are mainly cherries, which with their red color symbolically recall the blood of the Passion.
Behind the figures is a garden with fruit trees, cypresses and a palm tree, a symbol of martyrdom. Among the birds in flight there are two couples flying together, a symbol of the natural cycles that are renewed, and a peacock, a symbol of immortality.

Finally, the inscription on the backrest above the heads of the apostles is curious: "Ego dispono vobis sicut disposuit mihi pater meus regnum ut edatis et bibatis super mensa meam in regno meo". It means: "I prepare the kingdom for you as my father prepared it for me so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom". This is a phrase also used during Mass, which alludes to the transmigration into the Kingdom of Heaven.

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