Labirinto della Masone

Fontanellato - The Labyrinth of the Masone

Near Fontanellato, a small town in the province of Parma, lies one of the most curious and evocative places in Italy: the Labyrinth of the Masone.

Opened in 2015, the Labyrinth of the Masone is the brainchild of Franco Maria Ricci, who has always been fascinated by labyrinths. It is a cultural park that extends over seven hectares and includes a labyrinth made up of bamboos of different species (the largest of its kind in the world). Ricci discovered his passion for bamboo in the 1980s. He planted more than 200,000 bamboos during these years and around twenty different species, from dwarf to giant bamboos, can be found in the park. Bamboo is in fact an extremely fast-growing plant that does not get sick, does not shed its leaves in winter, and absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide.

As for the botanical part, Ricci relied on Davide Dutto, and inspired by the labyrinths depicted in two Roman mosaics, one preserved in the Bardo Museum, the other in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, he created one, introducing traps and forks into the Roman labyrinth scheme. The perimeter, in the shape of an eight-pointed star, is reminiscent of fortified cities such as Palmanova or Sabbioneta.

The park's spaces also house Franco Maria Ricci's art collection and his publishing house, temporary exhibitions, lectures and presentations, concerts, a restaurant, cafeteria and gastronomy.

This art collection, spread over five thousand square metres, has been collected by Ricci over some fifty years, reflects his personal taste and is constantly expanding.

The works, including paintings, sculptures and art objects, number around five hundred. It starts in the 16th century, with works by mannerist artists, including Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli, Luca Cambiaso and Ludovico Carracci. It continues into the 17th century, widely represented in both painting and sculpture, with works by Valentin de Boulogne, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Lorenzo Merlini. Considerable space is dedicated to the 18th and 19th centuries, with paintings by Francesco Hayez, Giovanni Carnovali, pastels by Rosalba Carriera and Jean-Étienne Liotard. Then, there are also watercolours by Giuseppe Pietro Bagetti, marble sculptures from the Neoclassical period depicting mainly Napoleon-related figures. All by Antonio Canova, Lorenzo Bartolini, François Joseph Bosio. Not to mention the terracottas in the French sphere. Finally, special attention is paid to artists from the Parma area.

In short, the Labyrinth of the Masone is an absolutely unique place with remarkable treasures, which absolutely deserves to be visited.

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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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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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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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Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento

National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento - A Unique Room

One of the most surprising museums in Turin is undoubtedly the National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento. It is the oldest and most important museum dedicated to the Italian Risorgimento because of the richness and representativeness of its collections. It is the only one that can officially boast the title of "national". Founded in 1878, it is located in Turin in the historic Palazzo Carignano.

The exhibits on display in the museum, which can be attributed to a wider historical period, date from 1706 (the year of the siege of Turin) to 1946 (the birth of the Italian Republic) with particular attention, as already mentioned, to the relics of the Risorgimento, which are linked to a period of time between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the First World War.

Very varied is the typology of the exhibits: arms, standards, uniforms, printed documents and manuscripts, and figurative works. The place of honour is undoubtedly represented by the Chamber of Deputies of the Subalpine Parliament, a national monument since 1898 and the only original example in the world of the parliamentary halls established after the revolutions of 1848. In this hall, which is used for the museum's temporary exhibitions and cultural events, there are large paintings depicting Italian military history from 1848 to 1860, which is recounted both by the events linked to the official army and the events linked to the epic of Garibaldi's volunteers.

The National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento attracts thousands of visitors every year. In 2016 alone, it was visited by around 150,000 people.

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Tempio di Valadier

Valadier Temple - The church in the rock

In the Marche region there is a really suggestive temple. It is the Valadier Temple, right at the entrance of a high mountain cave, near Genga and the more famous Frasassi Caves. A decidedly curious place, the interior of a cave, where a temple could be built. Its neoclassical shape, with an octagonal plan, stands out with an extremely suggestive effect against the edges of the cave wall, as if seeking refuge in the dark natural cavity.

In reality, as early as the 10th century and for hundreds of years, people found refuge within the walls of this cave. It was used to hide from the looting that raged in the area.

It was in 1828 that Pope Leo XII, originally from Genga, had the temple built here on top of an old church, based on a design by the architect Giuseppe Valadier. For the pontiff, the place was to be a refuge for Christians who wanted to ask for forgiveness. This earned him the nickname 'refuge for sinners'. Inside, a Madonna and Child sculpted by Canova's workshop was placed, later replaced by a copy. The original can be seen in the Genga Museum.

Today, the Valadier Temple is a highly evocative destination, especially when the traditional living nativity scene is performed at Christmas. It is a place that leaves all those who visit it for the first time breathless, but also those who, returning, cannot help but be amazed every time they find themselves enveloped in its magic.

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Museo Stibbert

Stibbert Museum - The Japanese Armory

The Stibbert Museum in Florence was born from the collections of Frederick Stibbert. This Englishman, whose mother was Tuscan, restored and enlarged the small Villa Montughi here at the end of the 19th century, creating the sumptuous family villa. Having enriched himself with the railway business in his English motherland, Stibbert then settled in Florence. Upon his death, he donated the villa, the park connected to it and the collections kept there to the city, thus creating an important foundation that opened the house to the public.

Currently the entire collection consists of over 36,000 inventory numbers (for about fifty thousand objects). For the most part they are all exhibits, the result of the original nucleus left by Stibbert at his death but increased by various gifts and later purchases. In the museum are exposed ancient weapons, along with art objects. The most impressive section, however, is certainly that of armor. Absolutely unique for wealth, internationality and scenograficità of the exposure. It boasts almost 16,000 pieces from various eras, mostly from central Europe.

Among the various museum collections there is also the Japanese one, the largest in the world outside Japan.

The three rooms that house the Japanese Armory were originally designed to house medieval European materials. But already around 1880 Stibbert began to take an interest in Far Eastern armaments, coinciding with Japan's reopening to external markets after 1868. The collection has about 95 complete suits of armor, 200 helmets, 285 short and long swords and weapons in auction, 880 tsuba (the guards of the sabers) as well as accessories all of great quality and workmanship.

The objects are located almost all between the Momoyama period and the Edo period (from 1568 to 1868). Some, however, are earlier, to be placed in the second half of the fourteenth century.

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Bronzi di Riace

National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria - Among the Riace Bronzes

In the aftermath of the 1908 earthquake, the idea of creating a large museum in Reggio Calabria was born. A museum entirely dedicated to Magna Graecia. Thus was born the National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria.

The new permanent exhibition now has 220 display cases and is spread over four levels. These tell the story of human settlement in Calabria from prehistory to Romanization. All according to a chronological and thematic criterion.

The visit begins on the second floor, from prehistory and protohistory. It continues on the second floor among the cities and sanctuaries of Magna Grecia. Follow the mezzanine with its Necropolis, and finally the ground floor. The basement is reserved for temporary exhibitions. There is also the lapidary and a small archaeological area related to a strip of the necropolis found in 1932.

On the ground floor, since 1981, there is a special section. It houses the famous Bronzes. They are kept together with the so-called Head of the Philosopher and the Head of Basel.

The Riace Bronzes are considered among the most significant examples of classical Greek art. These are two bronze statues depicting two naked men. Originally armed with shield and spear, they are the symbol of the city of Reggio Calabria. Found in 1972, near Riace Marina, they were discovered during a dive. The hypotheses on the origin, the dating and the authors of the statues are different. They probably date back to the middle of the fifth century BC and it is assumed that they were thrown into the sea during a storm to lighten the ship that carried them. Or, that simply the boat sank.

These are the most famous finds in the world, but they are not the only precious examples of Calabrian history. At the National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria, in fact, there are exhibits related to a wide chronological span. Some of them are unique for their beauty, majesty or state of preservation.

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Palazzo Te

Palazzo Te - The cave of the Secret Garden

Palazzo Te is one of Mantua's most famous buildings and appreciated by tourists. Surrounded by the trees of the gardens, it appears almost as if by magic as it must have been for those who approached it in the past, leaving the walls of Mantua and crossing the bridge that connected the Te island to the city. The building is a villa dedicated to Federico II Gonzaga, built in just 10 years by Giulio Romano and his workshop and still splendidly preserved. With a cycle of frescoes unique in the world.

But why is it called that?

The origin of the name is clearly not derived in any way from the English national drink. But then where does this appellation come from? There are only a few hypotheses in this regard. One of the most accredited hypothesis dates back the name to the T formed by two roads that crossed in the center of the island where the Palace was built. The other hypotheses make reference to the fact that Te is a contraction of "Tejetum", a term used in the past for this location. In the meantime the name continues to grant the palace an aura of mystery.

Among the most characteristic corners of this place there is undoubtedly the cave of the Secret Garden. This is one of the details that most attract visitors who come to the garden, on the left side of the exedra.

The cave dates back to a period after the construction of Palazzo Te. Proof of this is the fact that the first mention of it is found in a document dated 1595. This strange environment is to be attributed to the will and imagination of Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga, whose enterprises can be seen inside the niches. The environment has suffered heavy damage with the removal of the shells that adorned the walls, along with rock concretions and mosaics, and with the disappearance of water games that surprised visitors.

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Parco archeologico del Colosseo

Colosseum Archaeological Park - The 5 stages not to be missed

The Archaeological Park of the Colosseum is a vast area that includes the Flavian Amphitheater, the area of the Roman Forum and the Palatine, the Domus Aurea on the Oppio Hill, the Arch of Constantine and the Meta Sudans. With tens of millions of visitors, the site is among the most visited in the world and the first in Italy. The park preserves and enhances some of the most important archaeological evidence of the history of Western civilization, from the end of the Bronze Age to the contemporary age.

The first? Without a doubt the Colosseum. What is always the most visited monument in Italy has become an icon. The reasons? For its exceptional architecture, for the fame of the gladiators and the games, for its fortune over the centuries, from medieval and Christian reuse to the ideological one that have made it the symbol of an empire and today that of the city of Rome and the world.

Then there is the Roman Forum: the political and civil heart of ancient Rome. This beats under a complex stratification of streets, squares and buildings of which history, excavations and restorations have repeatedly changed the face. An archaeological panorama unique in the world that also includes masterpieces of medieval art.

Another important treasure is the Palatine. On the Palatine are preserved the remains of Iron Age settlements related to the oldest core of the city of Rome. Seat of important city cults, including that of Magna Mater (Cybele), between the second and first centuries BC, the hill became the residential district of the Roman aristocracy. Here they created refined residences characterized by exceptional pictorial and floor decorations, such as those preserved in the House of the Griffins.

Another fundamental stop of the Archaeological Park is the Arch of Constantine. This monument, located in Piazza del Colosseo, next to the remains of the famous fountain, is an imposing triumphal arch. It manifests Constantine's desire to make it a florilegium of Roman political sculpture.

Last, but not least, there is the Domus Area: what remains of Nero's palace houses in magnificent architecture the secret wonders of Roman painting, rediscovered in the Renaissance and destined to fascinate the visitor today, thanks to the virtual reconstructions of the rooms.

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