Tag Archives: Passions

Step seven – The other two cities

Our hotel in Carcassonne was located near the walls of the old medieval city of ” La Citè” in the old neighbourhood of Trivalle, just halfway from the old Bastide St. Louis….

In rue Trivalle (just opposite the hotel) stands a three-story house whose façade, long neglected, has recently been restored, House Montmorency. The ground floor is made of stone like the framing of the stories, but it have an inside structure of wood. This type of construction, common in the sixteenth century – probably the date of construction of the building – was obviously fragile due to frequent fires that were ravaging towns: this is one of the few building that have survived over the centuries in the region. The name of Montmorency is given by a family of the sixteenth century, the most famous of its member being Henri de Montmorency, Lord of Damville, who during the Wars of Religion between 1585 and 1591 was the captain of the Catholic “moderates” based in the Trivalle area, that was the scene of violent clashes, as the one that took place between the 14 and 16 April 1590, when the fortress pulled over the lower town and the suburbs more than 600 cannon shots.

One of the many houses that presents a cathar symbol (a flag in this case, disturbed by the wind…) a cross that has became the symbol of the region…

A church dedicated to Our Lady seems to have existed in the fourth century. It was then mentioned at the beginning of the tenth century under the name of Sainte-Marie-du-Saint-Sauveur. This church was served by regular canons living under the rule of St. Augustine. The Capuchins settled in the Church of Our Lady of the Abbey in 1592 and restored it completely. In the nineteenth century, the chapel again changed its name to St. Gracious and became the major seminary chapel. It houses now the Diocesan Museum.

On the outer wall of Notre-Dame of the Abbey, a magnificent fresco realized in 1991 by ” The City of the Creation “a company based in Lyon. Measuring 100 m of length and 5 m of height, the fresco represents strong moments of the past of the medieval City between XI ° and XIII ° century. In the form of miniatures from the 11 letters of “Carcassonne”, it offers a succession of historic pictures staging characters of the crusade among whom Trencavel, Saint-Louis, Simon de Montfort, the “heretics”, the Saracens and the crusaders…..

Between old houses and little shops…………….


……at the end Rue Trivalle surprises with the old Royal Manifacturing building, with the coat of arms of the king of France on the main entrance door. Material benefits accompanied the honorary privileges. Manufactures Royales each received three thousand pounds a year as a subsidy for rent and a bonus for the amount of linen exported to the Levant. In return, the Manufactures Royales had to maintain the number of jobs in business and ensure a minimum production. Former home of a noble family Carcassonnaise, the building was bought in 1694 by a relative of Colbert, who founded a cloth mill. The latter will take the title of Manufacture Royale in 1696. The only building from that time still visible, is the owners’ home. The Royal Factory grew until 1789, but by lack of investment, modernization of equipment and accounting rigor, the establishment went bankrupt.

On the side door of the old factory, has disappeared the word “Royal”, it was cleared out in 1789, during the French Revolution.

Near this building there’s the access to the oldest bridge of the town “Pont Vieux” (‘old bridge’) and it is indeed old, dating from the 14th century. Until the 1800s it was the only bridge between the Bastide (the ‘newer’ lower town) and La Cite (the ancient walled town) over the river Aude. It’s closed to traffic and it’s a really nice walk for pedestrians…

On the other side of the bridge the building of the Old Hospital still exists (very much restored), and it is nowadays a house for pensioners.

In front of it, the little chapel Of Notre-Dame de la Santè (Our Lady of the Health). It was formerly used as the chapel of the hospital and this function certainly gives the explanation for the name….

This chapel is a true jewel and a perfect example of the Flamboyant Gothic architecture, though it was built during the Renaissance period. In the choir of the chapel behind the altar stands a nice statue of the Virgin and Child. Another statue of the Virgin is to be found outside, hidden in a recess of the wall. Although the dimensions of this chapel are very small, it is still visited by many people who come there to pray, or just light a candle. Obviously many visitors had their whishes granted according to the wall full of ex-voto….

Just around the corner of a beautiful house recently renovated, there’s one of the most frequented place, Square Gambetta.

Built on the former Place Coal after various properties acquired or expropriated by the City, following a city council decision of 20 December 1850, it was then called Place St. Cecilia. It took the name “Gambetta Square” by decree of July 7, 1883 with the addition of a garden. This garden remained in its state until March 27, 1944 when “by order of the German occupation authorities” began the demolition of the square. 
After the liberation of the city on 22 August 1944, the Municipality worked to remove the stigma of the passage of the occupant.
On the platform facing the east stands the Monument of the Resistance, by the sculptor Iché, presented to the City of Carcassonne by the Resistance Veterans. The sealed urns at the feet of the monument contain soil from the Buckenwald camp. 

The Museum of Fine Arts, closing one side of the square.

Oh my…how much I love this kind of old houses, very french, don’t you think?

As well as this school….

….or this Court of Justice….

We walked so far as to reach the first lock of the city on the Canal du Midi (south canal)………

The work of Pierre-Paul Riquet and excavated in the XVIIth century to link the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the Canal du Midi, formerly used for transporting goods and people, is today frequented by numerous boaters and tourists and flows through the centre of the city of Carcassonne. In 1996, the Canal du Midi was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The locks, bridges, aqueducts and canal bridges along the 240 km of the waterway are witness to the technical prowess of its constructors and also a work of art..The canal banks, once towpaths, are fringed with different varieties of trees and are a ideal walking and cycling trail for visitors

From there we walked toward the Bastide St. Louis.  The bastide is hemmed by boulevards built in the 18th and 19th century over the old, once fortified town ditches. The military enclosure and the gates protect the “ville basse” or lower town. Its surrounding wall was built betwen 1355 and 1359, under the orders of the comte d’Armagnac; it was 2,800 metres long; the bastions were built after 1359; at that time, people simply erected in the corners some round-shaped towers, greater than the other parts of the wall. Toward the end of the 16th century, during the wars of religion that devastated the South of France, the town was flanked with 4 bastions located at each corner: the bastion of Saint-Martial in the northwest, the bastion of la Figuières in the northeast, of Montmorency in the southeast, of la Tour Grosse or les Moulins in the southwest (now called du Calvaire).

On the eve of the French Revolution of 1789, the lower town had yet only 4 gates: – the western gate, porte de Toulouse or des Augustins (rue de Verdun), adorned with two handsome towers forming like a manor, which were restored in 1749. But because of a Council decree issued on 31 May 1778 ruling that the walls, towers, ditches, ramparts and walkways were to be handed in perpetuity to the Lower Town Community, the consuls let this monument fall into decay, and it was entirely destroyed in 1806.
– Rue des Carmes (located at the end of today’s rue Georges Clemenceau).
– The western Rue des Cordeliers, located at the eastern end of today’s Rue Aimé Ramond (formerly rue de la Mairie).
– The gate, porte des Jacobins, currently preserved and registered on the additional Historical Monuments inventory.

Situated right in the heart of the main avenue of the lower city, nested between two shops so that it would almost go unnoticed, the Church of Notre-Dame du Mont Carmel (XIV century) remains open permanently. Very dark, very Gothic also, you can admire especially an attractive altarpiece and some very old statues made with golden wood.

Near the church there’s a place very dear to the people of Carcassonne, Place Carnot….

Place Carnot, while one of many squares scattered throughout town, is the “heart” of the city, the central square since medieval times that has been the main meeting place and market for the lower town.  Place Carnot is where the open-air vegetable, fruit, and flower market is held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  This is the place to sit and enjoy a morning café creme or afternoon Pastis at one of the many cafés’ outdoor tables and watch people walk past. Place Carnot is where you can enjoy watching children chase pigeons past the Fountain of Neptune or skate on the seasonal skating rink that is assembled during the Christmas season.  This is where many free musical events and an occasional wine tasting are hosted during the year.

The history of the square is very rich.  At the junction of the main streets of rue de Verdun and rue Georges Clemenceau, royal surveyors marked out a large square. After 1355, the square was reduced to the size we see today. After the fire in 1622 which destroyed more than 150 houses and the arcades filled with shops round the square, a new corn market (now the covered market) was built on the site of the Officiality. This cleared the square. On 27th December 1792, during the French Revolution, Jeanne Establet, or Joan the Black, was guillotined here with two of her accomplices. Two years later, Father Henri Beille, Vicar of Alet, a non-juring priest became the only victim of the Reign of Terror when he was executed. During the Napoleonic Empire, the square was renamed Place Impériale. It became Place Royale during the Restoration of the Monarchy, then Place Dauphine, Place de la Liberté and Place de la Révolution, Place aux Herbes (1852) and, finally, Place Carnot (1894).

At the center of Place Carnot is the marble Fountain of Neptune.  The fountain is surrounded by a rose-colored marble basin from the village of Caunes-Minervois which has been producing marble since Roman times. Neptune was sculpted by Italian artist Barata and his son and finished around 1771.  Beneath Neptune are marble figures of dolphins and naiads.

Straight from Place Carnot, one the old gates of the Bastide, the Jacobins’ Gate…..

Raised in 1779 on the place of an old gothic gate, it is part of a more ambitious town planning. In the 18th century old gothic buildings were not fashionable anymore. Bishop Bazin de Bezons decided to raze those old gates and build modern and monumental entries to the Bastide in neo- classical style. There were four gates (north, south, east, west) which were old were destroyed.The Jacobins’ Gate which is the south gate of the Bastide is the only one that was erected. The royal coat of arms decorating the gate was destroyed during the French Revolution. The little house next to the gate was formerly the lodging house of the doorkeeper. There is a very nice fountain too, on the square facing the gate…

We walked around a little portion of the old Bastide walls. The three bastions we see today in the Lower Town are the only remains of the former fortifications. They date back from the 16th century.There were five of them originally. Bishop Armand Bazin de Bezons ordered in 1764 to demolish the two others together with the ramparts. The fortifications were replaced by the Boulevards.

And then, through some little streets and alleys, here we are again, on the Pont Vieux towards the Citè…..

Stunning view, isn’t it? We’ll keep this view in our eyes and in our hearts for a very long time…..

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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Step six – Within the walls of Carcassonne

Above, a mold of La Citè and its walls as seen inside the castle. You can see in it a castle and a church…….

The castle of Carcassonne, known as the “Palatium” or Château Comtal has a strong claim to be called a “Cathar Castle“. When the Catholic Crusader army arrived in 1209 they first attacked Raymond-Roger Trencavel castrum at Bèziers and then moved on to his main stronghold at Carcassonne. The castle takes its shape and position from the need to be a safe place, fortified and capable of receiving attacks without succumbing to them. It is a fortress within a fortress that is the city itself, since both have their own walls and watchtowers and defense.

During the French royal domain, between 1228 and 1239, the castle was completely redesigned to become a fortress within the city. Several structures were built. A barbican with a walk and a parapet wall guarding the entrance to the castle, just before the moat surrounding the entire inner wall; the entrance to the castle, framed by two towers, with machicolation, accessible only by a fixed bridge with a stone, followed by a liftgate driven counterweights. The walls replaced the original fence completely surrounding buildings. At the end of the stone bridge, overlooking the pits, the door of the castle and single access point, is flanked by twin towers that defend the entrance to the main courtyard.

The castle consists of two bodies in a building forming a L. In the northern area is a chapel dedicated to St. Mary, notable the apse of the Romanesque period. Only a fence separates the castle from the rest of the walled city.

Galleries made with wood in order to launch missiles on several assailants. They are placed 40 meters in height above the courtyard and two are located also on the belt of the castle walls.

On the walls of the castle there are nine towers, two of them being the highest in the city, the tower of the Chapel and tower Pinte, from the Visigoth period. The rest of the towers were built over the XII century, and are identical both inside and outside: consisting of four plants, including the ground floor. On the ground floor and first floor the ceilings are vaulted, while the upper floors are flat. Communication between plants is done through holes in ceilings. The Tower of Justice, built on the site of another tower (a Gallo-Roman prison) was used by the Inquisition.


The Lapidary Museum is located inside of the castle. Since 1927 are on display local archaeological findings in the department of Aude, ranging from the Roman to the Gothic, through the Romanesque, as well as some findings from the castle restoration. Present also some documents on the history of the city and the restoration carried out by Viollet-le-Duc. It is an ideal complement to finish the visit to the Castle and the Cité de Carcassonne. It’s worth stopping to admire its statues, alabaster, frescoes … not to mention the view of the city, which can be admired from its large windows……

A very short walk separates the castle from the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus ………The original church is thought to have been constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Theodoric the Great, ruler of the Visigoths.

On 12 June 1096, Pope Urban II visited the town and blessed the building materials for the construction of the cathedral. Construction was completed in the first half of the twelfth century. It was built on the site of a Carolingian cathedral, of which no traces remain. The crypt too, despite its ancient appearance, dates from the new construction. Around the end of the 13th century, during the rule of kings Philip III, Philip IV, and the episcopates of Pierre de Rochefort and Pierre Rodier, the cathedral was reconstructed in the Gothic style. It remained the cathedral of Carcassonne until 1803, when it lost the title to the present Carcassonne Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Michel de Carcassonne).

The Church of Saints Nazarius and Celsus obtained the status of historical monument in 1840. Around this time, the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc renovated the church along with the rest of the citadel. In 1898, the church was elevated to a minor basilica.

The sandstone basilica’s floor plan is based on a Latin cross, internally measuring 59 m in total length, 16 m in nave width, and 36 m along the transept. The oldest part of the church is the Romanesque tripartite nave. The main entrance in its north wall is formed by a Romanesque portal of five receding arches over two doors. A fortress façade forms the west wall, as is common for medieval Languedocian church buildings. The transept and choir were rebuilt in the Gothic style. The larger windows in this part of the church permit a better illumination compared to the darker romansque nave. The central stained glass window of the choir from 1280 is one of the oldest ones in the south of France. Together with the upper trefoils (the Resurrection of Jesus and the Resurrection of the dead), it depicts the life of Jesus in 16 medallions.

If you’re willing to know more about it, here’s a link to a very exhaustive brochure….

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Posted by on August 27, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Step three – Aigues-Mortes

 The day we decided to visit the fortified city of Aigues-Mortes (meaning dead waters = marsh) was incredibly hot, and almost all the visit consisted of a long walk on the ancient town walls, but the view, the history we savoured and that blue sky (along with lots of water) made up for the discomfort….(sorry….lots of pics of hubby….)

The foundation of the city is said to have been by Gaius Marius, around 102BC but there is no documentary evidence to support this. A Roman by the name of Peccius fitted out the first salt marsh and gave his name to the Marsh of Peccais. Salt mining started from the Neolithic period and was continued in the Hellenistic period, but the ancient uses of saline have not resulted in any major archaeological discovery. It is likely that any remains were destroyed by modern saline facilities.

In 791, Charlemagne erected the Matafère tower amid the swamps for the safety of fishermen and salt workers. Some argue that the signaling and transmission of news was not foreign to the building of this tower which was designed to give warning in case of arrival of a fleet, as for the Magne Tower at Nîmes

The purpose of this tower was part of the war plan and spiritual plan which Charlemagne granted at the Benedictine abbey, dedicated to Opus Dei (work of God) and whose incessant chanting, day and night, was to designate the convent as Psalmody or Psalmodi. This monastery still existed in 812, as confirmed by an act of endowment made by the Badila from Nîmes at the abbey.

At that time, the people lived in reed huts and made their living from fishing, hunting, and salt production from several small salt marshes along the sea shore. The region was then under the rule of the monks from the Abbey of Psalmody.

In 1240, Louis IX, who wanted to get rid of the influence of the Italian navy for transporting troops to the Crusades, focused on the strategic position of his kingdom. At that time, Marseille belonged to his brother Charles of Anjou, King of Naples, Agde, Count of Toulouse, and Montpellier, and King of Aragon. Louis IX wanted direct access to the Mediterranean Sea. He obtained the town and the surrounding lands by exchange of properties with the monks of the abbey. Residents were exempt from the salt tax which was previously levied so that they can now take the salt unconstrained.

He built a road between the marshes and built the Carbonnière Tower to serve as a watchtower and protect access to the city. Saint-Louis then built the Constance Tower on the site of the old Matafère Tower, to house the garrison. In 1272, his son and successor, Philip III the Bold, ordered the continuation of the construction of walls to completely encircle the small town. The work would not be completed for another 30 years. This was the city from which Louis IX twice departed for the Crusades: the Seventh Crusade in 1248 and again for the Eighth Crusade in 1270 for Tunis where he died of dysentery.

The year 1270 has been established, mistakenly for many historians, as the last step of a process initiated at the end of the 11th century. The judgment is hasty because the transfer of crusaders or mercenaries from the harbour of Aigues-Mortes continued after this year. The order given in 1275 to Sir Guillaume de Roussillon by Philip III the Bold and Pope Gregory X after the Council of Lyons in 1274 to reinforce Saint-Jean d’Acre in the East shows that maritime activity continued for a ninth crusade which never took place.

There is a popular belief that the sea reached Aigues-Mortes in 1270. In fact, as confirmed by studies of the engineer Charles Leon Dombre, the whole port of Aigues-Mortes, including the port itself, was in the Marette pond, the Canal-Viel and Grau Louis, the Canal Viel being the access channel to the sea. The Grau-Louis was approximately at the modern location of La Grande-Motte. At the beginning of the 14th century, Philip the Fair used the fortified site to incarcerate the Templars. Between 8 and 11 November 1307, forty-five of them were put to the question, found guilty, and held prisoner in the Tower of Constance.

Aigues-Mortes still retained its privileges granted by the kings. Curiously it was a great Protestant in the person of Jean d’Harambure who said that the one-eyed light horse commander of King Henry IV and former governor of Vendôme should be appointed governor of Aigues-Mortes and the Carbonnière Tower on 4 September 1607. To do this, he took an oath before the Constable of France Henri de Montmorency, Governor of Languedoc. But one Catholic, the Lord of Berichère, supported the rival Adrien de Chanmont. The conflict continued until 1612, and Harambure, supported by the pastors of Lower Languedoc and the inhabitants, finished it by a personal appeal to the Queen. He eventually resigned on 27 February 1615 in favour of his son Jean d’Harambure, but King Louis XIII restored him for six years. On 27 July 1616 he resigned again in favour of Gaspard III de Coligny, but not without obtaining a token of appreciation for the judges and consuls of the city. At the beginning of the 15th century, important works were being undertaken to facilitate access to Aigues-Mortes from the sea. The old Grau-Louis, dug for the Crusades, was replaced by the Grau-de-la-Croisette and a port was dug at the base of the Tower of Constance. It lost its importance from 1481 when Provence and Marseille were attached to the kingdom of France. Only the exploitation of the Peccais salt marshes encouraged François I, in 1532, to connect the salt industry of Aigues-Mortes to the sea. This channel, said Grau-Henry, silted up in turn. The opening, in 1752, of the Grau-du-Roi solved the problem for a while. A final solution was found in 1806 by connecting the Aigues-Mortes river port through the Canal du Rhône à Sète.

From the walls we had a great view of the salt pans, the water pink colored because of some shrimps (the same color they give to the flamingos there – plenty of them).

After lunch we had the chance to see the town from another point of view, by a little train, in and out of the city wall…..shaded this time!

It’s been really a nice day, so full of colors, smells and wind…such a sweet memory to cherish.

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Posted by on August 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Mellifont – a reminescence from the past

Mellifont Abbey is a ruined 12th-century Cistercian monastery near Monasterboice in County Louth, Ireland. It is of considerable historical significance, for it was the Cistercians’ first and most important abbey in Ireland, and a site of conflict between the Irish and the Anglo-Normans.

By the mid-12th century, Irish monastic life (as in many other places) had become significantly less austere and more corrupt than in earlier days. So in 1140, Malachy, Bishop of Down, invited a group of severe Cistercian monks from Clairvaux to set up a monastery in Ireland and act as a reforming influence. Malachy had stopped by Clairvaux in France during a pilgrimage to Rome and had been so impressed by St. Bernard (founder of the Cistercian order) and his monks that he converted to the monastic life himself. Malachy was canonized a saint after his death. A group of Irish and French monks settled in this remote site in 1142 and began construction in the traditional Cistercian style. This marked the first time that a monastery was built in Ireland with the formal layout used in the Continent. The name Mellifont comes from the Latin, ‘Fons Mellis’ meaning ‘Fount of Honey’.

The Abbey was extremely successful from it’s earliest stages, and it developed rapidly. Monks from Mellifont were dispatched to found ‘daughter houses’ around Ireland, within just five years of the foundation of Mellifont in 1147 a daughter house had already been established at Bective in County Meath and within twenty years the Cistercians had establishments in Connacht, such as that founded at Boyle, County Roscommon in 1161. It is recorded that at least 21 abbeys were founded by monks from Mellifont.

The Cistercian community in Ireland faced a grave crisis following the Norman Invasions of Ireland in the late twelfth century. Irish established Cistercian institutions such as Mellifont became embroiled in a power-struggle with the Cistercian establishments that came from England following the invasion. The outcome of what became known as ‘The Conspiracy of Mellifont’ led to a dramatic reduction in the powers and number of monks allowed to Mellifont. Despite these restrictions, Mellifont remained one of the richest monastic institutions in Ireland due to it’s huge landholdings of the rich agricultural land of Meath and Louth.

It was probably due to this vast ownership of prime land that Mellifont was one of the first of the Irish monastic sites to be dissolved in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Mellifont became the private fortified home (1556) of Sir Edward Moore, using materials scavenged from the monastic buildings. This house was the site of a turning point in Irish history. After Hugh O’Neill, last of the great Irish chieftains, was defeated in the Battle of Kinsale (1603), he was given shelter here by Sir Garret Moore. O’Neill soon surrendered to the English Lord Deputy Mountjoy and was pardoned, but he fled to the Continent in 1607 with other Irish leaders in the Flight of the Earls. Later Mellifont played host to William of Orange, who established his headquarters at Mellifont during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The site of Mellifont Abbey and its manor house was abandoned in 1727.

Of the site itself there isn’t much of the original Abbey left standing today. However excavations have revealed the foundations of many of the buildings, so it is easy to get a good sense of the size and layout of this important Abbey. Mellifont became the standard format for all Cistercian Abbeys in Ireland, and many other monastic orders were influenced by the layout. The cloisters were positioned at the south, and were surrounded by a range of domestic and spiritual buildings, with a cruciform shaped church to the North. The site is certainly worth visiting for its famous Lavabo. This building is in the Romanesque style of architecture, and dates to the early thirteenth century. It is octagonal in shape and served as the ritual washroom, where the monks would wash their hands before entering the refectory for meals. Excavations revealed fragments of lead pipe that brought the water into the central fountain. The interior was decorated with delicate images of plants and birds. A number of fragments of the fine architectural features are on display in the visitor centre.

The first ruins visitors encounter are those of the abbey church, which has a typical cruciform plan and some gravestones in its floor. Beyond this, to the south, is the cloister (with only a short section of its colonnade remaining) and the chapter house. The chapter house remains mostly intact and is partially paved with medieval glazed tiles that originally decorated the church. Adjacent to this was the refectory, kitchen and warming room. The monks’ sleeping quarters was in the eastern range.

Up the hill from Mellifont Abbey and worth a quick look is a ruined little church, of unknown date but presumably used by the lay employees of the monastery.

My daughter is sorting out things to throw away and things to keep, when she finally will be at her own home, we hope in just a few months. So we were lost among books, photos albums and travels diaries…I found myself so longing for coming back to the Emerald Isle….


Posted by on March 15, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Back to Milan…..yes, again.

Last saturday of february, rainy and windy….we took a train to Milan for another day in the city. We arrived at the Centrale railway station under a heavy rain….

Milano Centrale is the main railway station in Milan, and one of the main railway stations in Europe. The station is a railway terminus and was officially inaugurated in 1931 to replace the old central station (1864), which was a transit station and could not handle the new traffic caused by the opening of the Simplon tunnel in 1906. It is served by high speed lines and conventional railways.

The first Milano Centrale station opened in 1864 in the area now occupied by the Piazza della Repubblica. It was designed by French architect Louis-Jules Bouchot (1817–1907) and its architectural style was reminiscent of Parisian buildings of that period. The station was designed to replace Porta Tosa station and Porta Nuova station and was interconnected with all lines, either existing or under construction, surrounding Milan. It remained in operation until 30 June 1931, when the current station was opened. There is now no trace of the old station left. King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy laid the cornerstone of the new station on April 28, 1906, before a blueprint for the station had even been chosen. The last, real, contest for its construction was won in 1912 by architect Ulisse Stacchini, whose design was modeled after Union Station in Washington, DC, and the construction of the new station began. Due to the Italian economic crisis during World War I, construction proceeded very slowly, and the project, rather simple at the beginning, kept changing and became more and more complex and majestic. This happened especially when Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister, and wanted the station to represent the power of the fascist regime. The major changes were the new platform types and the introduction of the great steel canopies by Alberto Fava; 341 m (1,119 ft) long and covering an area of 66,500 square metres.

Construction resumed in earnest in 1925 and on July 1, 1931 the station was officially opened in the presence of Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano. Its façade is 200 metres wide and its vault is 72 metres high, a record when it was built. It has 24 platforms. Each day about 330,000 passengers use the station, totaling about 120 million per year.

The station has no definite architectural style, but is a blend of many different styles, especially Liberty and Art Deco, but not limited to those. It is adorned with numerous sculptures. “The ‘incongruous envelope of stone’ (Attilio Pracchi) of this gigantic and monumental building dominates Piazza Duca d’Aosta.” On September 25, 2006, officials announced a € 100 million project, already in progress, to refurbish the station. Of the total cost, € 20 million has been allocated to restore “certain areas of high artistic value” while the remaining € 80 million will be used for more general improvements to the station to make it more functional with the current railway services. The project includes moving the ticket office and installing new elevators and escalators for increased accessibility.

Off the train and on the subway to Piazza del Duomo….I’ve already posted about the stunning Milan Cathedral here, if you’ve missed it.

Looking over the main square in Milan, there’s also the Galleria, simply as that as the MIlanese called it, its full name being Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Read more about it here.

We did a little shopping under its arches and we had a nice coffee break.

We tried to get lunch at our usual place, a nice self-service restaurant overlooking the spires of the Cathedral, but it was so crowded we gave up….

Instead we choose a cozy and traditional restaurant just behind the square, and I’m glad we did….

After lunch it was time for the very reason we went there, the Mucha exhibition held at the Royal Palace, on the right of the Cathedral….

Alfons Mucha is one, along with Lempicka and Klimt, on mine and my daughter fav artists….and the exhibition was great!

He was one of the greatest  Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist, known best for his distinct style. If you wanna know more about him, read this.

The one above is the piece my daughter likes the most, in fact she has a copy in her bedroom, see below….

For the ones who purchased a guided tours at specific times (as we did) there were free tickets for another exhibition about the history of bijou. We enjoyed it as well, many pieces were not new to me, having seen them already in another contest.

It was a very interesting visit indeed….we had just the time for a quick tea break at the Palace bistrò, before catching the train back home…

Till next time Milan… revoir….


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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in Uncategorized


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A palace for photography

Few hours to spend in Milan between appointments, so……

Palazzo della Ragione, (literally, palace of the Reason) for about 8 centuries, was in fact the heart of Milan’s trade and business activities. As you leave the Cathedral square and walk towards Piazza Mercanti, you reach the Mediaeval Broletto Nuovo, which is now called Palazzo della Ragione. The word “Broletto” comes from the word “Brolo” which, in the late Middle Ages, indicated an open grass field where markets were commonly held.

The building was constructed between 1228 and 1233 for podestà Oldrado da Tresseno. It maintained a central role in the administrative and public life of Milan until the late 18th century. In 1773, under Empress Maria Theresa, it was restored and enlarged, to serve as legal archives. The structural changes were designed by architect Francesco Croce, who added a new upper floor with large round windows and restyled the whole building based on Neoclassic canons. Other major modifications of the buildings were done in 1854 by architect Enrico Terzaghi; these included glass panes that closed the ground floor ambulatory, which was reopened between 1905 and 1907. Between 1866 and 1870, the building housed the headquarters of the Banca Popolare di Milano, a major Milanese bank, but thereafter returned to its function as a legal archives seat until 1970. In 1978, Marco Dezzi Bardeschi restored the building again, but he strongly opposed any proposal of structural change, including that of removing the upper floor added by Croce

The palace is decorated with a relief representing Oldrado da Tresseno (podestà of Milan and fierce prosecutor of the Cathar heretics), and the bas relief of the scrofa semilanuta (“half-woolly sow”), which has been object of much controversy among scholars of the foundation and origins of Milan. Constructed in Mediaeval style, it has a rectangular floor plan, with a double portico on the open ground floor which thus forms a large covered but open-air area. At the time of the Visconti rulers, this area was used for trade, both for buying and selling merchandise, and for professional services such as notaries and intermediaries.

This is one of the busiest areas of the city and it is frequently full of tourists and passers-by, including the people of the city who like to stroll here. This part of the city provides a suggestion of life in a Mediaeval settlement. You will also find musicians and street artists here, who are always willing to perform for some spare change.

Delineating the piazza are buildings from different eras that are the result of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century restoration works: beside Palazzo della Ragione there are Loggia degli Osii (1316), Palazzo delle Scuole Palatine (XVII century), Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo dei Giureconsulti (1561) and the Casa Panigarola (built in the fifteenth century and restored in 1899). The piazza, once rectangular in shape and completely adorned by porticoes, was established in the Middle Ages as a centre of political, commercial and urban life. A function that it upheld until the eighteenth century. There were six entrances leading to the city districts. In the piazza, where the curb of a sixteenth century well can still be found, there was once “la pietra dei falliti” (‘the stone for bankrupts’) where malefactors were exposed to public shame. Those who went bankrupt had to sit on the stone and withstand insults and jeers while, from the balcony of the Loggia degli Osii known as the  parlera, a judge read the sentence and put all the person’s assets up for auction. The surrounding streets were named after the trades carried out in each district: Armorari, (Armourers) Spadari (Swordmakers) Cappellari (Hatmakers), Orefici (Goldsmiths) Speronari (Spurmakers), Fustagnari (Cotton traders).

In the second half of the nineteenth century the piazza was subject to urban planning restorations that changed the original aspect but it still remains a picturesque corner of Milan with a distinctly medieval flavour. Often the piazza is a ‘stage’ for outdoor exhibitions, markets and concerts.

Now, let’s go inside the palace…..

Today, Palazzo della Ragione is used for photography exhibitions, which are rendered even more attractive by this unique building. The exhibition currently on display is about the photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson and other foreign photographers, how they looked at Italy thought their cameras….

Beside Cartier-Bresson’s photos of his almost 30 years travels to Italy, there are works of Robert Capa following the american troops in Italy in 1943, the religious world of David Seymour, photos of life details and little villages by Cuchi White, or Herbert List and William Klein. Last but not least, Sebastiao Salgadotelling the story of the last tuna fishermen in Sicily.

“It’s easy to loose happiness, because it’s always undeserved. Same for Italy. Her grace, often unexpected, it’s seldom immediate. Because, from the very beginning, she lavishes poetry to better hide her truths” – Albert Camus

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Posted by on January 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Our home away from home

Speaking of places we like so much and where we keep coming back, a name rise up from our hearts….Castellane, Provence region of France. First time we were there by chance, on the road to Camargue and we stayed at this hotel (a little bit expensive but it was just for one night). We immediately fell in love with this little village and we promised to be back soon….and we did, four more times…(photos taken over the years and already published – most of them – in previous posts).

The town of Castellane is a very old city located upstream of the Gorges du Verdon, at 724 meters above sea level.

The Roc, or Notre Dame overlooking the city is 184 meters above the city. The historical site has been occupied since the High Middle Ages. The site is accessed from the center of town behind the old Church of St. Andrew. The walk takes about 30 minutes, and it’s totally worth it! You can see it behind the Church of St. Victor. The old parish church of Saint-Victor-standing part of the thirteenth century and is a listed building. It is constructed in a similar manner and on the same plane as the Church of St. Andrew, the old town above the present town. It was the seat of a priory of the abbey of St. Victor in Marseilles. The apse is decorated with Lombard bands, each hoop is monolithic. Unusually for the region, it has a collateral novel revoûté the seventeenth century. The base of the tower date from 1445, but the summit was rebuilt in the eighteenth century. This work follows the damage done by Protestants in 1560. Its altar date from 1724. The choir is adorned with paintings, framed in wood, an Annunciation carved in high relief of gilded wood from the eighteenth century. The wooden furniture, the stalls, the pulpit and the lectern at the foot hexagonal form, in total, an interesting set of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The furniture also includes a silver chalice of the early seventeenth century, whose foot is multilobed.


The Chapel of Our Lady of the Rock, belongs to the former Convent of Mercy. But the wall and the south facade only dates from the late twelfth century, having been shot in half during the wars of religion, and rebuilt in 1590. Crumbling in 1703, it was again rebuilt in the early eighteenth century and in 1860. A tent foliage and scrolls date from the Renaissance. The furniture includes a statue of the Virgin, in marble, of the sixteenth century and two paintings of St. Charles Borromeo and St. Francis and St. Jane de Chantal, classified for tables and frames gilded, bearing the arms of the Bishop of Senez Duchaîne and dated the seventeenth century. She has received numerous votive offerings dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including classics engraved plates (136 total), bridal bouquets (21 total), a given array after a vow to Our Lady, dating from 1757, a given array after the cholera epidemic in 1835, a table given by a released prisoner, dated 1875, thanks for a given table after a smallpox epidemic, dated 1870, a table, given by a person who escaped a shipwreck in 1896.

The second time we stayed at this other hotel, not bad but it’s located just on the main street and it’s a bit noisy….plus it hasn’t a closed garage for bikes, so for hubby it’s usually a big “no”…..

In the early ninth century, all the area around the current town of Castellane was inhabited by only 84 people. To protect themselves from invasions, inhabitants shifted to the top of the Rock which dominates the valley of the Verdon, and on the terraces below the Rock. Some vestiges of this site of Castellane, who was appointed in SINAC 813 (current place called Signal and Petra Castellana in 965) are still visible. For practical reasons, the people then settled at the foot of the Rock in the bottom of the valley. Gradually, three towns came into existence: the Rupes, on top of the Rock, soon entirely occupied by the castle (built in 977 by Pons-Arbaud and Aldebert); the Castrum, halfway up, on a larger site but easy to defend; the Burgum, current site, easily accessible and facilitating trade.

In 1189, Baron de Castellane Boniface III was attacked by his lord Alfonso I of Provence whom he refused to honor, and must forfeit. Another war broke out between the Baron and Count of Castellane in 1227. In 1262, Charles I of Anjou submittied Boniface VI of Castellane. In the thirteenth century, the family of Castellane lost possession of the city in favor of the Counts of Provence. To protect themselves from these attacks, in addition to the protections specific to the city, the Castellane lords built a series of fortified outposts: Demandolx, Chasteuil, Rougon, and perhaps Taloire.

The Black Plague reached Castellane in 1348, and was followed by a devastating flood of Verdon. In 1390, Raymond de Turenne ravaged the surrounding territory and the village of Taulanne, failed to take the city, but destroyed the wooden bridge over the Verdon River. The bridge was rebuilt with stones in mid ‘400, and since then that road was frequently used as a route between the site and the Mediterranean. It was in March 1815 that Napoleon crossed this bridge when returning from exile in Elba: hence the bridge and Castellane also form part of the popular Route Napoleon tourist route.

In the middle of the fifteenth century, the high village is completely abandoned in favor of that of the lowland site. Provence was attached to the Crown of France in 1483.

The most monumental fountain, in the main square, features a pyramid on which is carved a cross on a square compass, two chisels and a mallet, emblems of the Freemasons. At the top of the pyramid is a pedestal with a ball.

From our third visit here we have always stayed at this cozy hotel, well known by all the bikers crossing these roads….

What we like the most while there, is strolling around little alleys and looking for something interesting, and hubby usually is so good at finding little treasures….and we always come back home with some local goodies…

On the place de l’église, the Porte de l’Annonciade is the scene of the Fête du Pétardier every year. This is the celebration of an episode which took place long ago. In 1586, the Wars of Religion brought terror to France. The Baron of Allemagne and the Duc de Lesdiguières began to covet the little town, but they had not reckoned with the courage of an inhabitant of the village, Judith Andrau, who poured boiling water from the top of this gate on the Captain directing the operation. Castellane was once again freed from the claws of those who wanted it as theirs and the streets rang with the joy of victory. Ever since, the inhabitants of Castellane have celebrated their heroine’s courage every year on the Sunday closest to 31st January.

Let’s not forget we are in the Provence region, the land of lavande, and you can find plenty of that here….(and sunflowers too)

It’s been already three years since we were there last time, we have to plan the next trip….


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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


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