7 October 2014
 Valletta, Malta

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

The two-and-a-half island nation of Malta is not quite like anywhere else.

Malta is pretty much right in the middle of the Mediterranean. 93 kilometers or 55 miles south of Sicily and Europe, 288 kilometers or 180 miles north of Tunisia and Africa. East of Gibraltar, and west of Alexandria and Jerusalem.

Here are photos from our visit of October 7.

Malta BLOG 07Oct2014-7993 Malta BLOG 07Oct2014-7987 Malta BLOG 07Oct2014-7976

Inside the Grand Master’s Palace

Malta BLOG 07Oct2014-7962 Malta BLOG 07Oct2014-7958

The Co-Cathedral of Saint John

 

Malta BLOG 07Oct2014-7954 Malta BLOG 07Oct2014-7950

Malta06

Silver Cloud at the dock in Valletta on a previous visit. Photo by Corey Sandler

And, of course, that location made it so very important as a crossroads and rest stop for invaders, crusaders, pilgrims, and traders.

It is heavily Catholic and has a long tradition of Christianity, and yet it was greatly influenced by the Middle East and the British Empire.

They also speak (along with English) a language of their own: Maltese.

The Republic of Malta covers just 300 square kilometers, 116 square miles. It is one of the smallest and most-densely populated countries in Europe.

Malta03 Malta02

The major cathedrals in Valletta and Mdina are among the most spectacular in Europe. They hold fabulous art, much of it imported (along with the artists) by the Knights of Malta who held the island during the Crusades. Photos by Corey Sandler

Malta is actually about twenty islands, islets, and rocks. Only three are inhabited: the principal island of Malta, and the secondary island of Gozo.

In between them is the tiny isle of Comino (Kemmuna): just over one square mile and home at last count to less than a dozen people.

Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt, Sicilians, the Knights of St John, the French and the British.

Malta07 Malta04

Doorways and balconies in Valletta, above, and Mostar below. Photos by Corey Sandler

The last colonial power was the British, and for that the Maltese suffered greatly, and stood up bravely, during World War II as the Axis powers pummeled Valletta.

Malta has a long Christian legacy and, depending on who is making the call, it can claim to be—with Rome—an Apostolic See. That term is applied to a church or a community founded directly by one of the Apostles.

The fine print is that there were some gaps in the leadership and ownership of Malta over the past two thousand years.

Malta01

A mysterious alleyway in the Alice-in-Wonderland town of Mdina. Photo by Corey Sandler

But in any case, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul was shipwrecked and ministered on the island.

Along with its Christian sites, several Megalithic Temples may be the oldest free-standing structures in Europe.

According to Catholic belief, Christianity arrived in 60 A.D., in the personal hands of the Apostle Paul who—according to a detailed account in the Acts of the Apostles—was being taken by ship to Rome under arrest for a religious infringement.

Paul had asked to be judged before Caesar, his right as a Roman Citizen. Another prisoner on the same ship was Saint Luke, who made his own record of the voyage.

The vessel wrecked just off Malta.

According to the accounts, the men who washed ashore were taken to the villa of Publius, a leader on the island. Paul cured Publius’ father of a fever, and that was sufficient to convince Publius to convert to Christianity.

Malta went from the Romans to the Byzantines who ruled from Constantinople for four centuries, which brings us up to the year 870.

Next up were Arabs and Moslems, who took control of Malta as part of the Emirate of Sicily, and later the Caliphate of the Fatamids in 909.

The Arabs advanced the island’s irrigation and farming, and also brought the Siculo-Arabic language which would eventually become Maltese.

Maltese is a Semitic language using 30 characters based on the Latin alphabet.

The Muslims allowed Christians to continue to practice their religion, although they had to pay a tax as a sign of subjugation.

Today, Malta is among the most Catholic nations on the planet.

All photos by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer (Kindle Edition)

6 October 2014
 Trapani, Sicily: Above and Beyond.

 By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Trapani, on the west coast of Sicily, was the ancient port for the important city of Erice. It’s an interesting old city, worth exploring.

But for me, the excitement comes when you look up, or around the bend.

Much of Trapani’s economy still depends on the sea. Fishing and canning are the main local industries, with fishermen using the frighteningly violent mattanza technique to catch tuna: a large net drawn tighter and tighter by men in the water, culminating in up-close slaughter in shallow water.

Trapani Italy 28Apr2013-3116

Our ship at the dock is one of the largest structures in town.

Trapani Italy 28Apr2013-3098

One of my visits coincided with an Iron Man competition, beginning with a swim in the harbor and moving on to bicycles, and then a long run. Very much worth watching, and then retiring for a cold beer.

Selinunte BLOG 06Oct2014-7940

On the beach.

Coral is also an important export, along with salt, marble and marsala wine. The nearby coast is lined with numerous salt-pans.

Trapani has some of Europe’s oldest salt marshes, and is still home to a few of the windmills once used to drain water from the basins. The slow summer-long dehydration technique was known to the ancient Egyptians, and in Sicily dates at least from the time of the Greeks and Romans. The windmills were added in Medieval times.

Trapani Italy JS 28Apr2013-1090461 Trapani Italy JS 28Apr2013-1090456

Salt pans and an old windmill at Trapani.

The Church of Sant’Agostino (14th century, with its splendid rose-window

The Cathedral (built in 1421, but restored to the current appearance in the 18th century by Giovanni Biagio Amico). It includes an Annunciation attributed to Anthony van Dyck.

Trapani Italy San Lorenzo Cathedral 28Apr2013-3085

San Lorenzo Cathedral, Trapani

ERICE

Above Trapani is Erice, on the slopes of Monte San Giuliano. It was founded by the ancient Elymians, a people mostly lost to history.

The town, at around 2,360 feet or 750 meters above sea level, overlooks the city of Trapani and out to the Aegadian Islands off Sicily’s north-western coast.

Trapani Italy JS 28Apr2013-72dpi-1090472

A country scene in Sicily, near Erice

The original settlement was named after the Greek hero Eryx, the son of Aphrodite and King Butes of the Elymian people on Sicily. It was destroyed in the First Punic War by the Carthaginians.

Two castles still stand: Pepoli Castle, which dates from Saracen times of the 2nd to 4th centuries, and the Venus Castle, dating from the Norman era about 1100. The Venus Castle is said to have been built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus, well-known throughout the Mediterranean in the ancient age, and an important cult was celebrated in it.

In a classic book by the Roman author Aelian in the 2nd century, he wrote that animals chosen for sacrifice would voluntarily walk up to the altar to be killed. Today, tourists ride the funivia or cable car to the top, or ride up on buses. Voluntarily, nevertheless.

SELLINUNTE

On this visit, I went with a group of guests to the ancient Greek settlement of Sellinunte. I call it a settlement, although it once held as many as 100,000 people in a grand setting along the sea with several temples and an acropolis.

Three significant buildings==about 2,5– years old, have been put back upright. All around are the pieces of dozens more, plus and entire district of villas and shops and unknown other structures that still lies unexplored.Something for future generations…

Selinunte BLOG 06Oct2014-7937 Selinunte BLOG 06Oct2014-7929 Selinunte BLOG 06Oct2014-7918

 

All photos by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.

4-5 October 2014
 Sorrento: Vesuvius, Pompeii, Capri…and Paestum

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Sorrento is a gem of one of the most beautiful, dramatic, and dangerous regions in all of coastal Italy: Campania. On the mainland, it stretches from the Amalfi Coast and then Sorrento north to Naples. In between are Pompeii and Herculaneum.

And from almost everywhere you can see the hulking threat of Mount Vesuvius: one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

The wide Gulf of Naples is framed by three major islands: the most famous is Capri just west of Sorrento. West of Naples is Procida and further out Ischia.

On this visit, I did something (pick your word) brave, adventureseom, stupid) and rented a car in Sorrento. We drove about two hours south, below Salerno to the fabulous Greek ruins at Paestum, from about 500 BC. Not to make less of the Acropolis and other better-know Greek sites, but Paestum is to me the most spectacul;ar of all.

And on a gorgeous Saturday in October there were only a few tourists at the site.You don’t have to endure a white-knuckle drifve-yourself tour: there is a train from Naples or you can hire a car and driver. Here’s some of what we saw:

PAESTUM

PaestumBLOG  03Oct2014-7826 Paestum BLOG 03Oct2014-7837 Paestum BLOG 03Oct2014-7823 Paestum BLOG 03Oct2014-7817

Photos by Corey Sandler

SORRENTO

SORRENTO8 SORRENTO2 SORRENTO1

POMPEII

POMPEII0 POMPEII1 POMPEII2 POMPEII3

HERCULANEUM

HERCULANEUM3 HERCULANEUM2 HERCULANEUM1

CAPRI

CAPRI1

 

AMALFI

B-Amalfi Coast 17Apr2014_DSC0774

The best real estate value in Amalfi: a miniature village at the top end of town. Photo by Corey Sandler

Capri has been a resort since Roman times. Actually the Greeks were there earlier, and are believed to have given the island the name Kapros, meaning wild boar.

Natural wonders include limestone masses called Sea Stacks (Faraglioni) and the famed Blue Grotto.

Now, let’s consider the mainland of Campania: Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Naples.

B-Amalfi Coast 17Apr2014_DSC0736

Positano from above, midway through our drive of two thousand turns from Sorrento. (I counted them.) Photo by Corey Sandler

Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s.

John Steinbeck may have helped.

In an essay in Harper’s Bazaar, Steinbeck wrote: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Positano was featured in the film, “Under the Tuscan Sun” in 2003. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones somehow used the solace of the cafés of Positano to write the song “Midnight Rambler.”

B-Amalfi Coast 17Apr2014_DSC0743

Huge lemons of the Amalfi Coast. Granita (real Italian ice) for lunch, Limoncello after dinner. Photo by Corey Sandler

B-Amalfi Coast 17Apr2014_DSC0766

Fruits for passion? Red peppers at a roadside stand along the Amalfi Coast. Photo by Corey Sandler

Naples was founded in the 8th century BC, as a Greek colony, first called Parthenope and later Neápolis (New City). Neápolis became Naples.

The city was at its peak as the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, from 1282 until Italian unification in 1816.

B-Naples 18Apr2014_DSC0831 B-Naples 18Apr2014_DSC0815

Inside the spectacular Naples Cathedral (parts dating from the 13th century), and the shadow of the church on the street outside. Photos by Corey Sandler

By the 1st century, Pompeii was one of a number of towns located around the base of Vesuvius. The area had a substantial population which grew prosperous farming the rich volcanic soil.

The 79 eruption, which is thought to have lasted about 19 hours, released about 1 cubic mile (4 cubic kilometers) of ash and rock over a wide area to the south and south-east of the crater, with about 10 feet (3 meters) falling on Pompeii.

B-Naples 18Apr2014_DSC0880

More treasures of Herculaneum at the Archeological Museum. Photo by Corey Sandler

It is not known how many people were killed, but the remains of about 1,150 bodies–or casts made of their impressions in the ash deposits–have been recovered in and around Pompeii. The total number could be between 10,000 and 25,000.

B-Naples 18Apr2014_DSC0895 B-Naples 18Apr2014_DSC0897

The greatest treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum are on display not at the ancient cities, but instead safely and handsomely displayed at the Naples National Archeological Museum. Photos by Corey Sandler

Most of those killed at Pompeii died from a combination of blast and debris, and suffocation through ash inhalation. About a third were found inside buildings, probably killed by the collapse of roofs.

By contrast, Herculaneum, which was much closer to the crater, was saved from tephra falls by the wind direction, but was buried under 75 feet (23 meters) of hot material deposited by pyroclastic surges.

The last major eruption took place in March 1944, in one of the almost-forgotten moments of World War II.

B-Amalfi Coast 17Apr2014_DSC0797 B-Amalfi Coast 17Apr2014_DSC0794 B-Amalfi Coast 17Apr2014_DSC0789 B-Amalfi Coast 17Apr2014_DSC0778

Scenes of the town of Amalfi. It’s not easy, but it is possible to find back alleys free of tourist throngs. Photos by Corey Sandler

————

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

3 October 2014
 Civitavechia, Italy. A Voyage of Bookends: From the Port of Rome to the Wonders of Istanbul

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We arrived in Civitavecchia, the Old City, the ancient port of Rome. Some of our guests will leave here, and we wish them safe travels.

To guests just joining us, welcome aboard. And for those who have been with us since Monte Carlo, prepare for a change of view: from elegant or gaudy modernity to classic Greek, Roman, and Ottoman culture and history. Add to the mix the Venetians and the Crusaders.

We are sailing first to Sorrento, from where we can see Mount Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum in one direction and the lovely island of Capri in the other. There is so much to see and do here: add to the mix Naples to the north, the Amalfi Drive to the south. And for the adventurous: Paestum.

Continuing down the coast we arrive at Trapani on Sicily, the largest island of the Mediterranean. And then Valletta on much smaller Malta; smaller but of unmeasurable fascination.

We round the corner and head to two of the best-known of the Greek Isles: Mykonos and Santorini. The first a pleasant place of windmills and beaches. The second, a handsome setting atop a ticking time bomb, the site of one of the largest volcanic explosions of our planet.

And then Kusadasi, a Turkish delight and gateway to the spectacular ruins of Ephesus. Once a seaport and an important Greek and then Roman holy site, it became one of the foundational churches of early Christianity.

We end with a passage through the Dardanelles, alongside the trenches of Gallipoli, one of the most horrific killing fields of World War I, and then arrive at Istanbul.

I’ve sailed this itinerary many times and happily do it again; it is like floating through a course in ancient history…done in fine style.

Here is our scheduled itinerary:

1430

 

2 October 2014
 Olbia, Sardinia: Ancient Peoples and the Jet-setters of the Emerald Coast

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

In Sardinia, the traditionalists are partial to Sardinian, although in Olbia many old-timers speak a dialect of Catalan Spanish.

But these days the old-timers are much outnumbered by an influx of international persons of great wealth and portability.

We used to call them “jet-setters.”

I think of them as sometimes interchangeable denizens of places like Saint Bart’s, Monte Carlo, and other playgrounds of the party people.

In Olbia itself, much of the older architecture and a bit of the culture is still heavily influenced by the Spanish and the Habsburgs who ruled here for many centuries.

B-Olbia Sardinia 16Apr2014_DSC0711 B-Olbia Sardinia 16Apr2014_DSC0705

Ancient Nuraghi are scattered throughout Sardinia, most about three to four thousand years old. Archeologists are at work on examining and restoring a major site near Olbia.

The newer construction in Olbia and in nearby modern gathering places like Porto Cervo are a little bit Las Vegas, a little bit San Tropez.

The lingua franca is Euros, American Express, MasterCard, and Visa.

And they call the region the Costa Smeralda: The Emerald Coast.

Sardinia is about 23,821 square kilometers or 9,200 square miles, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. Only Sicily is larger.

B-Olbia Sardinia 16Apr2014_DSC0707

Archeologists and workers restore an ancient nuraghe.

Olbia is at the northeast corner of Sardinia. On the other side of the north end of the island is Alghero, about 136 kilometers or 85 miles away. Cagliari, the capital, is at the south end about 277 kilometers or 172 miles away.

The Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Popes, Aragonese, the Dorias, the Italians, and a few others remade the settlements of Sardinia over the millennia.

There’s one other who had an impact in the northeast corner of the island.

Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan IV has lived far from his family’s historic roots in Persia and Iran for all of his life.

Born in Geneva in 1936 and now a British citizen, the Aga Khan is the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Ismailism within Shia Islam. He has an estimated 15 million followers in more than 25 countries.

Most Nizari Ismailis live in African and Asian countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. There are also sizeable communities in the United States, Canada, and Britain.

The imam part of his job description accompanies other roles as a business magnate, real estate developer, and racehorse owner and breeder.

His name was regularly found in close proximity to the phrase “international playboy”.

Not to matter: the Aga Khan IV is considered by his followers to be the proof of God on earth as well as infallible and immune from sin.

The Aga Khan claims to be a direct descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad through Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, considered the first Imam in Shia Islam, and Ali’s wife Fatima az-Zahra, Muhammad’s daughter from his first marriage.

According to Forbes Magazine, the Aga Khan is one of the world’s ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of US$800 million, although some think he has a lot more than that.

He is unique among the richest royals in that he does not rule over a geographic territory.

Which brings us to Sardinia.

In 1962, the Aga Khan began development of Porto Cervo and by extension the Costa Smeralda. It grew quickly from a hangout for the Aga Khan and his crowd to become an international destination.

All sorts of characters, including former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, bought villas there. A large home up on the hill is said to be owned by–or in the possession of–Vladimir Putin. That falls under the category of “interesting if true.”

B-Olbia Sardinia 16Apr2014_DSC0722

B-Olbia Sardinia 16Apr2014_DSC0715

Lifestyles of the rich and infamous at Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda of Sardinia.

The Aga Khan sold off most of his Sardinian holdings in 2003 to an American real estate baron.

And in 2012, the Smeralda property was sold again, this time to the Qatari royal family (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani) through the Middle Eastern state’s sovereign fund, Qatar Holding.

Today the Costa Smeralda and Porto Cervo is known for summer events like the Rolex Cup sailing race,

The Rally Costa Smeralda off-road driving competition, a very high-end food festival, and a new event, Fashion Week.

There are also white sand beaches, a much-celebrated golf club, private jet and helicopter service, and hotels costing several thousand dollars per  night in the peak season.

B-Olbia Sardinia 16Apr2014_DSC0724

A modern evocation of things ancient, at Porto Cervo.

And if you’re looking to buy a little pied-a-terre, consider that luxury real estate brokerage Engel & Völkers ranked Costa Smeralda as the most expensive location in Europe.

OLBIA STILL TO BE EXPLORED

The modern city of Olbia, as well as many other versions of the city, were built one atop another. Every time a foundation is excavated or a pipeline installed, archeologists find traces of ancient Punic, Greek, Phoenician, and Roman settlements.

The Archeological Museum of Olbia, near the port, is itself built atop part of the old Roman port.

Within the museum are some spectacular pieces ranging from two-thousand-year-old oil lamps and amphora to the petrified remains of Roman galley ships.

Olbia BLOG 02Oct2014-7781 Olbia BLOG 02Oct2014-7779 Olbia BLOG 02Oct2014-7784 Olbia BLOG 02Oct2014-7782

 

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler, and all rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

——————————————————————————————–

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer (Kindle Edition)

30 September/1 October
 Livorno, Italy: Gateway to the Treasures of Florence, the Tower of Pisa, and the Rooftops of Lucca

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Livorno is Italy’s second-largest port, after Genoa. It’s a city of some interest itself, although most visitors use it as a gateway to inland gems.

From Livorno you can easily reach the great city of Florence (Firenze) or see one of the world’s iconic sites, a certain tower in the town of Pisa. Or you can head to beautiful Tuscany, Siena, and Lucca.

B-Livorno 12April2014 _DSC0591

The Terrazza Mascagni along the waterfront in Livorno honors the hometown composer. Photo by Corey Sandler

Livorno, home to about 160,000, is on the Ligurian Sea on the western edge of Tuscany.

Livorno was considered an ideal, or model town during the Italian Renaissance; it is among a relative few Italian towns that was actually planned.

B-Livorno 12April2014 _DSC0590

Not Venice, but the Venice District of Livrorno. Photo by Corey Sandler

At the end of the 17th century it was within fortified town walls—a few still stand—and crossed by navigable canals. The remnants are in Livorno’s Venice district.

This region, and especially Florence and Tuscany were advanced places for language, art, and music. The Italian Renaissance was centered around Florence from the 1400s to the 1700s.

B-Livorno 12April2014 _DSC0587 B-Livorno 12April2014 _DSC0585

The Central Market in Livorno. Photo by Corey Sandler

Not coincidentally, it was the home of the Medici family, patrons of many of the great artists of the time.

In Florence, the Basillica di Santa Maria dei Fiori was begun in 1296 and completed in 1436.

B-FLORENCE_DUOMO1

Il Duomo in Florence. Photo by Corey Sandler

Alongside is Giotto’s Tower. And it is topped with Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, one of the world’s largest.

The Medici Chapels are the private sanctuaries of Florence’s most influential family of the Renaissance period.

Michelangelo’s David is the centerpiece of the Florence Academy, the Accademia.

B-FLORENCE_ACCAD1

Deeper within the Accademia, past David, is a storehouse of antiquities that would be the star of most other museums anywhere in the world. Photo by Corey Sandler

David is certainly quite a man, but my favorite part of the Academy lies deep within, kind of like an art museum’s attic. There are shelves of busts and vases, any of which would be a treasure at a lesser museum.

The largest collection of art in Florence, worth a trip all by itself, is the Uffizi Gallery. Built as the offices—the Uffizi—for Florentine magistrates, it became a museum in the 17th century.

By most appraisals, the world’s greatest collection of Italian masterpieces.

And there’s this old bridge, the Ponte Vecchio (which means, old bridge). It’s lined with shops and tourists.

It’s also an easy way to cross over the River Arno to the Oltrarno, (Beyond the Arno) the Left Bank of Florence, the south side of the Arno.

On the Oltrarno is the fabulous Pitti Palace which includes three major museums. The Galleria Palatina is known for its collection of Raphaels. The Museo degli Argenti (The Silver Museum) for its applied art objects. And Boboli Gardens a handsome landscaped garden with a café.

The Pitti Palace is mostly Renaissance in design. The core dates from 1458 and was originally the little town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker.

The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

It’s almost like a private gallery in a great home, featuring Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Pietro da Cortona.

Another of my favorites is Santa Croce, near the Duomo but off the regular tourist beat. It appeals to my preference for unusual mixtures.

The Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world, with sixteen chapels.

Construction replacing an older building was begun in 1294 and completed in 1442. The floorplan is an Egyptian or Tau cross (a symbol of Saint Francis).

And from 1857 to 1863, a neo-Gothic marble façade was added.

The architect was Niccolo Matas from Ancona. He worked a prominent Star of David into the composition.

Presumably he had permission from the Franciscans, and presumably they also knew he was Jewish.

Matas had wanted to be buried at the church, but they couldn’t bend that much. Instead he is buried under the porch and not within the walls.

Inside are crypts for some of the most illustrious Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini.

Okay, so there is this city with a tower. Pisa is on the right bank of the junction of two rivers, the Arno and the Serchio, a city of about 87,500.

There is more to Pisa than just the Leaning Tower: at least 20 other historic churches, palaces, and other sights.

B-Pisa 11April2014 _DSC0575 B-Pisa 11April2014 _DSC0533

The Tower and the Baptistry in Pisa. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 1063 admiral Giovanni Orlando, coming to the aid of the Norman king Roger I, took Palermo from the Saracen pirates. The gold treasure he took from the Saracens allowed the Pisans to start the building of their cathedral, campanile or bell tower, and baptistry.

Construction began in 1173. Almost immediately, the tower began leaning to the southeast.

The reason was quickly apparent: an insubstantial foundation on loose and wet soil. It took five years, until 1178, for the tower to reach the third floor.

Then construction was halted for almost a century. The Pisans were unsure how to proceed, and they were distracted by wars with Genoa, Lucca, and Florence.

This was actually a stroke of good luck, since it allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Otherwise, the tower would almost certainly have toppled.

B-Pisa 11April2014 _DSC0571

The Arno at Pisa.Photo by Corey Sandler

In 1272, construction resumed. To try to compensate for the tilt, engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other.

The tower began to lean in the other direction. Because of this, the tower is actually curved, banana-like.

B-Pisa 11April2014 _DSC0544 B-Pisa 11April2014 _DSC0551

Within the Baptistry at Pisa. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 1990, after several heart-stopping incidents in which modern instruments showed a sudden shift, the tower was closed to the public. The bells were removed to take some weight off the top, and cables were fastened around the third level and anchored several hundred yards away.

The tower was straightened by 18 inches (45 centimetres), returned to the angle it had held in 1838.

Prior to the restoration, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees. Today the tower tilts 3.99 degrees southwest.

The medieval walled city of Lucca dates from the time of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.

Major sights include the Romanesque Duomo, built in the 13th century;  the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi; and San Michele in Foro.

B-Pisa 11April2014 _DSC0563 B-Pisa 11April2014 _DSC0559

Other gems of Pisa including the Piazza Cavalieri. Photos by Corey Sandler

Or you can go to the former Roman forum and sit at a sidewalk café in the circular piazza and feel like a Lucchesian.

While you’re there, listen for the echoes of favorite son Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca in 1858.

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST IN LOVORNO

Livorno was once a very cosmopolitan city, attracting traders and scholars from across Europe, including substantial Jewish and Muslim communities.

In the 18th century there were 14 rabbis and congregations.

Almost all was lost in World War II. In 1962, the Italian government paid for the construction of a new synagogue in Livorno. It is a striking modern design intended to evoke the feeling of a tent in the desert. Within, under a painted starry sky are some of the pieces of the old synagogues of Livorno.

Livorno BLOG 30Sept2014-7769 Livorno BLOG 30Sept2014-7768

All photos by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution copy please contact me.