Abbey of San Galgano - The Sword in the Stone

The Abbey of San Galgano is a Cistercian abbey, located about thirty kilometres from Siena, in the municipality of Chiusdino. This enchanted place, one of the most suggestive on the itineraries of Tuscan spirituality, has become famous over time for a famous legend.

Two hundred metres from the abbey is the chapel of Montesiepi, also known as the 'round' because of the circular shape of its central structure. Confined in a rock a couple of metres from the altar is an old iron sword, placed here by Saint Galgano.

Galgano Guidotti (although there is some doubt about the surname) is a real personage, born in 1148 in Chiusdino and died in 1181, as attested by documents that still exist. He decided to drive his sword into the rock, after a life of debauchery, as a powerful gesture of conversion. According to the acts of the beatification process, which record the testimony of the saint's mother, Dionigia, when Galgano went to Rome on a visit to Pope Alexander III, envious people went to the hermitage of Montesiepi and tried in every way to pull the sword out of the rock. Not succeeding, they broke it. Then, on the saint's return, by a miracle, the sword was restored.

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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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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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Roccia dell'Orso

Palau - The legend of the Bear Rock

Established in 1994, the first in Sardinia, the Maddalena Archipelago National Park covers over 20,000 hectares of land and sea. It embraces over 60 islands, large and small, shaped by wind and currents. Now, an aura of legend surrounds the cape in front of the park. It takes its name from a spectacular natural sculpture resembling the silhouette of a bear, which seems to point to the sea with its head. This is the Bear Rock, a natural monument visited by thousands of hikers, which stands on a granite plateau over 120 metres high.

Imposing, it watches over the nearby town of Palau, a renowned tourist resort in northern Gallura. It is little more than five kilometres from the town. It can be reached via a panoramic path that starts from the Capo d'Orso fort, one of Palau's many nineteenth-century military fortifications.

This area has always been a source of ancient legends. According to Victor Berard, a writer and scholar of Homer, Capo d'Orso is the only place in the Mediterranean that can be identified with the 'land of the Lestrigons'. This is the land where Homer places the landing of Ulysses in search of food and water for his crew. And where the Greek leader himself suffered a serious defeat.

The episode is described in Book X of the Odyssey, where Ulysses disembarked to supply his three ships at a spring called 'Artacia' (i.e. 'of the Bear'). While he was drawing water, he saw a wisp of smoke rising in the distance, indicating the presence of indigenous people. As he approached the place, he met a young girl of considerable stature to whom he tried to speak to communicate. However, the girl was frightened and began to shout to get the men's attention. These men, of gigantic stature, were led by Antiphates, king of the Lestrygonians. They were a people of cannibals and feasted on the men of Ulysses whom they managed to capture. And with their great physical strength they destroyed two of the ships by throwing boulders on them. So Ulysses himself was forced to hastily retreat with the only boat he had left.

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Vieste - The legend of Pizzomunno

If you come to Vieste, you may come across an imposing limestone monolith about 25 metres high: the Pizzomunno. It's located at the beginning of the beach south of the town, known as "del Castello" (of the castle). And its imposing bulk almost seems to stand guard over Vieste. Its charm has made it the symbol of the Gargano town itself. A number of legends, often variations on one another, are linked to it.

It is said that at one time, when the town was just a village inhabited by fishermen, a tall, strong young man named Pizzomunno lived there. Also living in the same village was a young girl of rare beauty, with long hair the colour of the sun, named Cristalda. The two young people fell madly in love. Every day Pizzomunno tackled the sea in his boat and the mermaids would emerge from the waves to sing sweet songs in honour of the fisherman. The sea creatures did not just sing, but captive to Pizzomunno's gaze offered him immortality several times. If he agreed to become their king and lover.

The love that the young man lavished on Cristalda, however, made the sirens' offers vain. One of the many evenings when the two lovers went to wait for the night on the islet that stands in front of the coast, the sirens, seized by a raptus of jealousy, attacked Cristalda and dragged her into the depths of the sea. Pizzomunno ran after his beloved's voice in vain.

The following day, the fishermen found the young man, petrified with grief, on the white rock that still bears his name. It is said, however, that every hundred years the beautiful Cristalda always returns from the abyss to join her young lover and relive their ancient love for just one night.

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Rocca dei meli

Rocca Meli Lupi - The legend of Donna Cenerina

The Rocca Meli Lupi is a medieval manor house rebuilt by Bonifacio and Antonio Lupi in 1385. It is a historical residence, enriched over time with countless works of art and priceless testimonies of the past, it has always remained the property of the Princes Meli Lupi who still live there.

The Rocca preserves fresco decorations and pictorial cycles by Nicola dell'Abate, Cesare Baglione, Ferdinando and Francesco Galli Bibiena. Grotesques and frescoes along sumptuous galleries and corridors of mirrors are signed by famous artists. The Throne Room and the Bridal Chamber are splendid, as well as the furnishings.

Like all self-respecting castles, Rocca Meli Lupi also boasts its own ghost, that of Cassandra Marinoni, better known as Donna Cenerina.

This woman, in 1548, married Diofebo II Meli Lupi, Marquis of Soragna, in Cassano d'Adda. During the absences of her husband, who followed Ottavio and Alessandro Farnese in many military enterprises, she administered the small feud in the Po Valley, where she welcomed her sister Lucrezia, who in 1560 had married Count Giulio Anguissola, a violent and mean man who had dissipated the family's assets and, after the separation from the woman, meditated to kill her to take possession of her inheritance.

On June 18, 1573 Anguissola appeared with a group of armed men in Cremona where Lucrezia was and, managed to enter with the deception, killed her with stab wounds hitting also Cassandra who had gone to visit her. Seriously injured, the next day the marquise was taken to Soragna where she died.

Legend has it that the ghost of Donna Cenerina still appears today in ash colored clothes. Hence the nickname of "Donna Cenerina".

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Bocca della Verità

Rome - The legend of the Mouth of Truth

The Mouth of Truth is a huge, world-famous marble mask whose legend has it that it could bite the hand of anyone who places it in its mouth. The famous large sculpture has a diameter of 1.75 meters. And it is dedicated to the God of the Sea, depicted with a bearded face and with pierced eyes, nose and mouth.

The work was located in the Piazza della Bocca della Verità until 1632. That year it was decided to wall it up in one of the walls of the pronaos of the nearby Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. This is the place where it can still be admired today.

Now, there are many legends about the Bocca della Verità which, despite the passing of years and eras, continues to feed the curiosity of any visitor.

One of the most famous tells of an unfaithful woman who was led by her justifiably suspicious husband to the Mouth of Truth to be tested. And who managed to save her hand with a ruse. In fact, the indicted woman asked her lover to also show up on the day she was to be tested. She also asked him to pretend to be crazy and embrace him in front of everyone. The lover carried out her instructions perfectly. So the woman, upon slipping her hand into the Mouth, could quietly swear that she had only ever been embraced in her life by her husband and that man whom everyone had seen. Having told the truth, the woman was able to withdraw her hand from the tremendous Mouth unharmed, even though she was guilty of adultery.

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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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Mostasù dèle Cosére

Brescia - The Mostasù dèle Cosére

Walking in the historical center of Brescia, walled up at the corner between corso Goffredo Mameli and contrada delle Cossere, one encounters a real curiosity: the "Mostasù dèle Cosére". What is literally the "faccione delle Cossere" in Brescian dialect, is an ancient relief.

The relief reproduces a big head, or a big mask, with a long beard and a chiseled nose. The features of the face show a serious and calm expression. But, on the whole, even considering the wear and tear of the time, the sculpture appears definitely a never completed sketch. Its real origins are not known, nor the real origin, nor the events that interested the sculpture in the centuries, in particular the one that brought to the removal of the nose, but many are the stories that circulate about it.

The most famous one is about the chiseled nose. The traditional legend refers to the medieval fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines and to the descent of Emperor Henry VII to Italy in 1311. To the expulsion of the Ghibellines from Brescia by the Guelphs, in 1311, Arrigo VII put the city under siege. So, after having conquered it, he would have sworn to destroy the walls and cut off the noses of all citizens.

His fury would be appeased only thanks to the intervention of the papal legate Luca Fieschi and the payment of a heavy bounty. The Emperor would have been content to cut off the noses of all the statues. The Mostasù did not escape the imperial disfigurement and remains as a testimony of the ferocious episode.

A variation of the legend, however, would have it that Arrigo VII, after entering the city at the end of the siege, would not have found any citizen to realize his oath, being all the citizenship hidden to escape him, and only at this point, asked for advice to Fieschi, would have fallen back on the noses of the statues.

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