Museo Archeologico di Sperlonga

Sperlonga Archaeological Museum - The Face of Ulysses

The Ulysses Riviera, the famous stretch of coastline in the province of Latina, has always been linked to Homeric tales. According to legend, in fact, Ulysses stopped here for a long time, a prisoner of the sorceress Circe. Today, however, this area is also known for another reason: the presence of the Sperlonga Archaeological Museum.

The Archaeological Museum of Sperlonga boasts a curious history. It all began in the 1960s, during some work along the Via Flacca, when the remains of a Roman villa emerged. The building turned out to have belonged to the Emperor Tiberius, who used to frequent the area. Thanks to the efforts of the inhabitants of Sperlonga, the precious artefacts and materials were kept in situ. And in 1963, the Archaeological Museum of Sperlonga and the Villa of Tiberius was born.

During the Augustan age, Greek mythology had aroused enormous fascination among the leading figures of high society. Therefore, Tiberius had decided to adorn his residence with precious marble statues recalling some of the most popular episodes. Today, those statues form the core of the museum exhibition. Thus, there is the sculptural group of Polyphemus, the group of Scylla, the Palladian Rape, the Pasquin. But also Ganymede and the statues of Circe and Andromeda. The museum also houses the face of Ulysses, which has now become one of the most frequently reproduced representations in textbooks.

As for the Villa of Tiberius, it formerly consisted of a series of terraces overlooking the sea. Today, only some remains of the kitchen and some remains of the flooring are visible. The most impressive part is the natural cavity. In front of it is still a rectangular basin that once served as a fishpond. The dining room was probably inside the cave. And it was here that the statues now housed in the museum were placed.

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Andora - The story of Andalora and Stefanello

Andora is a pretty town located in the westernmost part of the Riviera delle Palme on the administrative border with the province of Imperia. Situated exactly between the inlets of Capo Mele (to the east) and Capo Mimosa (to the west), at the mouth of the Merula stream that runs through it, it is famous for its vast sandy beaches. These are in fact considered among the most beautiful in western Liguria and extend for almost 2 km in length.

A romantic legend is linked to the birth of the town of Andora. It is said, in fact, that a beautiful girl named Andalora (meaning 'golden heath') once inhabited these lands. This maiden loved deeply and was equally loved by the young Stefanello. Unfortunately, fate was adverse to them and one day the ruthless Saracen Al Kadir arrived and kidnapped Andalora to marry her, tying her to the mast of his ship.

Stefanello then immediately ran to her aid, secretly freeing her, but in his escape he was mortally wounded. It is then said that before he died, Andalora clung to him and the two lovers both threw themselves into the sea, dying in the waves. The Saracen Al Kadir was deeply moved by such a tragic scene. Not only did he immediately convert to Christianity, but he decided to name those places after the two lovers. Thus Andalora became Andora and Stefanello became Stellanello (the neighbouring municipality): two villages united forever.

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Palazzo Colonna

Palazzo Colonna - The Cannonball

Palazzo Colonna is one of the largest and oldest private palaces in Rome. It occupies the block between Piazza Santi Apostoli, Via Ventiquattro Maggio, Via Quattro Novembre and Piazza della Pilotta. It extends over an area where buildings, houses, and fortresses belonging to the counts of Tusculum are already documented before the year 1000.

Its construction began in the 14th century at the behest of the Colonna family (who have been permanent residents there for eight centuries) and continued for about five centuries. This resulted in the superimposition of different architectural styles, exterior and interior, that characterise it and reflect the different eras.

The construction of the splendid and majestic Colonna Gallery dates back to the 17th century, overlooking Via IV Novembre for 76 metres; an authentic jewel of Roman Baroque, it is now open to the public, with the most representative and artistically valuable flats of the Palace, which house the family's Art Collections, notified and bound by the fideicommissum of 1800, where one can admire masterpieces of absolute excellence by the major Italian and foreign artists between the 15th and 16th centuries.

As with so many places in Rome, there is of course no shortage of curiosities. And one of these can be found on the short flight of stairs leading down to the Great Hall. Here you can in fact admire an authentic cannonball. But what is a cannonball doing here? It arrived exactly here in 1849, during the time of the Roman Republic. It was fired from the Janiculum Hill by the French army, under the orders of General Oudinot, who had entered through Porta San Pancrazio and come to the rescue of Pope Pius IX from the Republican insurgents, including Mazzini, Armellini and Saffi, who occupied the centre of Rome for a few months. And it has not moved since then.

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Ca' Dario

Ca' Dario - The Legend of the Cursed Palace

Today we take you to Venice, to tell you the story of a famous palace with a sinister reputation: Ca' Dario. This ancient building, located at number 353 in the Dorsoduro district, overlooks the Grand Canal. The building was commissioned to architect Pietro Lombardo in 1479 by Giovanni Dario as a wedding dowry for his daughter Marietta. The latter was in fact the betrothed of Vincenzo Barbaro, a wealthy spice merchant who owned the palace of the same name in Campo San Vio.

Giovanni could not have known that his gift would turn into a nightmare.

Ca' Dario is in fact infamous for the alleged curse on it: according to legend, its owners would be doomed to bankruptcy or die a violent death. The first victim of this curse would have been Giovanni Dario's daughter Marietta, who took her own life following her husband's financial collapse. The latter, however, did not have a happy ending either and was in turn killed by stabbing. While the couple's son died in an ambush on the island of Crete. A curse that seems to have no end and that year after year increases the building's sinister reputation.

The most recent tragedy seems to date back to 2002 when, a week after renting Ca' Dario for a Venice holiday, bassist John Entwistle died of a heart attack.

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pietra di san patrick

St Patrick's Cathedral - St Patrick's Stone

Today we take you to Dublin, inside a very special place: St Patrick's Cathedral, one of the two Protestant cathedrals under the auspices of the Church of Ireland in Dublin, and more precisely the larger one. It houses an ancient artefact: St Patrick's stone.

But who exactly was this saint?

Most of what we know about St Patrick's life comes from his own words. All written in ancient documents called 'Confesto' and 'Epistola'. He was born in Roman Britain and at the age of 16 was captured by Irish raiders travelling along the west coast of Britain. He did not see his family for about six years. And it was during his enslavement that he found God, praying every day for strength and hope. Once freed, he became a missionary, dedicating his life to bringing Christianity to the pagan population of Ireland.

According to local legend, St Patrick used a well, right where the cathedral dedicated to him now stands, some 1500 years ago to baptise converts. Today, an ancient early Christian tombstone, discovered in 1901, can be seen in the church. It covers the remains of an ancient well that may have been the same one used by St Patrick.

The stone was found near the entrance to what is now St Patrick's Park, next to the cathedral. As many as six slabs like this one were found in 1901, while the park was under construction. These slabs are over a thousand years old and were probably used as burial markers on the site of a church that stood here before the cathedral was built.

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Villa Foscari

Palazzo Vecchio - The painting with the UFO

Palazzo Vecchio has been the ancient seat of Florentine power for centuries and hides treasures of rare beauty. It is impossible to mention them all, from the Salone dei Cinquecento to the Studiolo di Francesco I, without forgetting the remains of the ancient Roman theatre or the striking Quartiere degli Elementi. But today we want to talk to you about a rather curious subject. Because as absurd as it sounds, Palazzo Vecchio is said to have some connection with UFOs, unidentified flying objects. Don't believe it?

If you go to the second floor of the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Sala D'Ercole, you can admire the painting entitled 'Madonna and Child with St. John'. It is a typical 'tondo' depicting the Madonna with the infant Jesus and the little Saint John. This work, attributed to the workshop of Filippino Lippi, has recently gained notoriety for its depiction of a probable UFO. If one analyses the work, in fact, at the bottom right, right behind the Madonna, one can make out a shepherd accompanied by a dog. The two small figures, however, instead of tending their flock as one would expect, are intent on scanning the sky above them.

If one looks up again, following that of the shepherd and the animal, one notices how the artist has inserted an element into the vault of heaven that is, to say the least, peculiar: a grey, circular object. An object with small protrusions reminiscent of a sort of moving spaceship. In short, a flying saucer.

Most art critics have obviously rejected this theory, claiming that the strange object would rather represent the cloud that illuminated the Birth of Christ, a recurring element in numerous other works. However, the painting does not cease to exert a certain fascination and even today, looking at it arouses some perplexity.

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Villa Foscari

Villa Foscari - Elisabetta Dolfin, the white lady

Villa Foscari, known as La Malcontenta, is a Venetian villa designed by Andrea Palladio in 1559. It is located in Malcontenta, a town near Mira in the province of Venice, along the Brenta Canal. It was built for the brothers Nicolò and Alvise Foscari, who belonged to one of the most powerful families of the Republic of Venice. The residence has a majestic, almost regal character, unknown to all other Palladian villas, to which the interior decoration by Giovanni Battista Zelotti and Battista Franco contributes.

But the splendid residence designed by Palladio also has its secrets and, like many ancient residences, can boast its own spectre. It is said that the ghost of Elisabetta Dolfin, wife of the nobleman Nicolò Foscari, haunts its rooms. She was accused in Venice of being a licentious, shameless and unfaithful lady, although she had always proclaimed her innocence.

Foscari exiled her to the beautiful villa that became his prison, probably not a gilded one at all, until his death. The park of the villa was uncultivated and overgrown with weeds and how she survived remains a mystery. No one ever brought her any food and no one ever lived with her in the villa; hypotheses and anecdotes circulate about these strange circumstances. After her disappearance, the white lady is said to have been spotted by those who frequented the villa, glimpsed for a few seconds in its rooms.

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Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Trieste

Natural History Museum of Trieste - Carlotta

The Natural History Museum of Trieste was founded in 1846 at the behest and expense of private citizens, who founded a Society for the study of Natural History, with particular interest in the fauna of the Adriatic Sea.

This museum owes its fame above all to its collection of important exhibits that are unique in the world. The Antonio dinosaur (Tethyshadros insularis) is the largest and most complete dinosaur in Italy and the most important palaeontological discovery in Europe. Carlotta is also a big attraction. She is a 5.4-metre-long white shark caught at the beginning of the 20th century in Kvarner. It is the largest preserved carnivorous shark in the world and has a fascinating history.

There was a time, not too long ago in fact, when the stretch of sea between the Gulf of Trieste and Dalmatia was populated by "Carcharodon carcharias", the great white shark. In 1872, the authorities established a compensation of: twenty florins for catches less than one metre long; thirty for specimens from one to four metres; and one hundred florins if the shark exceeded the size of four metres. On 29 May 1906, Captain Antonio Morin, a navigating commissioner of the Imperial-Regia Guardia di Finanza, caught a great white shark while sailing the Adriatic between Istria and present-day Croatia on board the propeller steamer 'Quarnero'.

The terms of the capture remain mysterious, but even today gunshot holes can be seen on the shark's back. The whole shark - named Carlotta by Morin, in honour of his daughter - was donated to the then Civic Museum Ferdinando Massimiliano (today our Civic Museum of Natural History of Trieste) where it was embalmed entirely, with a daring procedure that lasted many days and "stunk up the whole Piazza Lipsia" (today Piazza Hortis) where the Museum was located.

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Orecchio di Dionisio

Syracuse - The Ear of Dionysius

The Orecchio di Dionisio (or Ear of Dionysius) is an artificial cave. It is located in the ancient stone quarry known as Latomia del Paradiso. Right under the Greek Theatre of Syracuse. The cave has a curious S-shaped shape, which derives from the presence of an ancient aqueduct in the upper part. From that track, the builders dug downwards to create the current shape.

According to legend, its peculiar donkey's ear shape made the painter Caravaggio, who arrived in Syracuse in 1608 in the company of the historian Vincenzo Mirabella, coin the expression "Ear of Dionysus". According to tradition, in fact, the tyrant Dionysius had the cave where he locked up his prisoners dug out and, lurking inside an upper cavity, he is said to have listened to their speeches. Due to its shape, the Ear of Dionysus has considerable acoustic characteristics, amplifying sounds up to sixteen times.

According to reconstructions, Dionysius imprisoned the poet Philoxenus. This was guilty of not appreciating the tyrant's literary works, in this place or in the nearby 'Cave of the Cordaires'. The cave, which is also part of the Latomia del Paradiso, is so called because it was used for centuries by rope-makers who found it an ideal place because of the high humidity inside. It is a large cavern resting on thin pillars of natural stone excavated by man in very ancient times.

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Vicolo dei lavandai

Milan - Vicolo dei Lavandai

The Vicolo dei Lavandai is a meeting point for many Milanese in the Navigli district, a picturesque corner dotted with many trendy places and a destination for many tourists.

The place is also characterised by interesting curiosities, more or less well-known. For example, in Vicolo dei Lavandai, you can admire a curious wash-house dating back to the last century. A testimony to a time when washing machines did not exist and, consequently, people were forced to use manual methods.

Another aspect that arouses curiosity is that, contrary to what is usually thought, it was not women who did the washing up here, but men. In fact, it was they who created their own true trade association. Founded in 1700, the Confraternita dei Lavandai had St Anthony of Padua as its patron saint and it was to him that they dedicated the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Naviglio, located just a hundred metres from Vicolo dei Lavandai.

Along this Milanese alley also runs a stream, 'el fosset', which was fed directly by water from the Naviglio Grande. Here, in what was known as a "brellin", a wooden board, they soaped their clothes.

Recently restored, the Vicolo dei Lavandai (Laundrymen's Alley), a ravine in the Naviglio Grande, has maintained its charm intact. A testimony to the past of the Milanese city, it was in use until the 1950s, and today it is still there, enchanting the Milanese and non-Milanese alike.

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