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9 posts from July 2010

July 09, 2010

Tivoli and Catacombs {text by Andrew}

Friday, July 9th

Today we visited an immense villa in the small town of Tivoli outside Rome:  the villa d'Este.  

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This villa was the brainchild of a Cardinal d'Este, the son of Lucrezia Borgia, and the grandson of Pope Alexander VI.  Pope Alexander VI was among the most controversial figures in the most controversial period of the Papacy, and was accused of simony (granting ecclesiastical honors for secular considerations) and ordering the execution of political rivals.  His daughter Lucrezia (by one of his many mistresses before becoming Pope) was a pawn (perhaps willingly) in the political machinations of the Borgia family, and was married several times under suspicious circumstances as directed by her male relatives. Ippolito d'Este was the issue of one such union, and attained the position of Archbishop of Milan and then Cardinal.  He had aspirations of becoming Pope, but they were never fulfilled.

He built a grand villa at the top of a hillside, and acquired a talented crew of architects, painters, sculptors, and hydraulic engineers.   This team put together an ambitious plan to cover the hill itself with a garden and a series of 500 fountains, and for around the last 25 years of the Cardinal's life, work continued on the plan.  It was completed after his death in 1572.  To attain the desired effects, the team had to recover lost techniques from ancient Rome for hydraulic engineering.  The gardens had an enormous influence on European landscape design over the next centuries.

Here are some more pictures showing the villa, the gardens, and the fountains.

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Hard to believe, today is our last day in Rome.  We went this morning to see the Catacombs, where 500,000 Christians and Jews were buried outside the walls of Rome.  There was an ordnance in effect that nobody could be buried inside the city, for health reasons.  The only exceptions to this rule were burial of creatures deemed to be divine, mostly including the better class of emperors -- hence the tombs of Julius and Augustus Caesar and others in the Forum.

The Catacombs were exactly what we expected, only more so.  20km of underground passages on four levels excavated from volcanic stone for the purpose of burying folks.  Each corridor had small slats cut into each side where bodies could be placed; the bodies would then be sealed in using brick, stone, or marble.  Sixteen Popes were buried in the Catacombs we visited.  The Romans knew of the Catacombs, but did not know that secret Christian meetings were held in the corridors.  No photography was allowed inside the catacombs.

We also went to St Paul's basilica, which was a magnificent church built around 300-400 AD at the location of the death of St Paul.  The magnificent church was destroyed by fire in 1823 after surviving mostly intact for almost 1500 years.  The church was rebuilt according to the original plan, based on contributions of historically appropriate materials from a wide range of countries.  As you can see from the pictures below, the church today is beautiful, and the only sign of the previous destruction is the long row of capitals of the original columns, lying outside the cloister.

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Rome s90-9303 Rome s90-9313



July 03, 2010

Saturday - Sea Day

Hi everyone!  We're at sea all day today so I've had some time to catch up on the blog.

You'll notice that Gwen and Maddy aren't wearing the same florescent pj's anymore.  This is because we found two pretty white dresses for them at one of the ports.  There are no clothes for kids on the ship - just a tshirt that says "Celebrity Cruises" and costs $35.  They still don't really care what they're wearing and that's good because we won't get their missing suitcase until we dock in Naples (tomorrow).  Yes, that's one day before the cruise is OVER.   I'm just thankful that it wasn't MY suitcase that went missing!

The girls are loving the cruise.  There's a Fun Zone for them to hang out and do crafts and play games with other kids and it gives the grownups time to do stuff on the ship without them.

Time to run!  I'll post some more later!  Sorry I'm not answering questions in comments but there's just no way to do it with the internet on ship being so expensive!  We do love hearing from you though!

July 02, 2010

Santorini {text by Andrew}

Friday July 2 - Santorini

Today, we visited Santorini.  This is a small cycle of islands forming a circle.  3500 years ago, they were a single big island with a celebrated civilization, but a massive volcanic eruption destroyed all life on the island, causing the center to sink to the bottom of the ocean, and kicking off an 800-ft high tidal wave that traveled over 200 mph through the Aegean and destroyed whatever it met.  This is believed to be the downfall of Crete and the entire Minoan civilization.  Small wonder these folks had so many angry, jealous gods in their pantheon. 
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After the eruption, only the perimeter of the original volcano remained above water, as a small circular chain of islands.  These were slowly repopulated from the mainland, and due to their craggy volcanic structure, the rebuilding focused on the ridge line at the top of each island in the chain.  The resulting towns are dramatically build out hundreds of feet above the beautiful Aegean, sparkling white with the famous blue domes.
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We took a tender from our boat to a small port below the town of Fira.  Passage to the top is accomplished by one of three means:  taking a near-vertical cable car, or taking a mostly horizontal donkey up 600 steps, or climbing the 600 steps while avoiding the three natural hazards of the area:  donkeys going up, donkeys going down, and what the donkeys left behind.  We took the cable car.
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The top is a warren of streets following the ridge, all beautifully whitewashed, with amazing views available within twenty steps of any point.  The outer perimeter is nice restaurants, all overlooking the water.  The inner perimeter is boutiques and places selling jewelry and gold.  A level or two lower, the boutiques give way to less ritzy and more reasonable shops that don't sneer at the word "sandwich."
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We wandered around for maybe 3-4 hours, had some drinks, had some lunch, and went in and out of various stores.  It got hot pretty quickly, and eventually we took the cable car back down and head back to the boat to relax.  Next, we're on our way to Naples and Pompeii, which will require a full day at sea tomorrow before docking early the day after.

July 01, 2010

Rhodes {text by Andrew}

Thursday July 1 - Rhodes

Today, we arrived in Rhodes, about which we had heard good things: castles, knights, and ruins.  Rhodes is a Greek island far to the South, off the coast of Turkey, around 200km around.  It was settled by the Greeks, where several cities lived in relative harmony for many years, welcoming peaceful visitors and working together to repulse pirates and such. 

Unfortunately, the island has slowly been tilting, so the bustling harbor of the Greek settlement we visited is now far under water.  The current port, where we landed, lies around 40km away.  This port is where popular history sites the Colossus of Rhodes, another of the seven wonders of the ancient world -- for those following along at home, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was the other wonder-site we've visited on this trip.  The Colossus was a monument to Helios, god of the Sun, patron of Rhodes, and an aspect of Apollo.  It is believed to have been about 110 feet high, and despite the prevalence of the popular story, did not straddle the harbor.  Instead, it was built inland around 300 BC, survived for two generations, and was then destroyed by earthquake along with the entire city.  The residents sent to Delphi to inquire at the Oracle whether it should be rebuilt, and were given a resounding 'no.'  The pieces of the statue were left standing until the island was taken over by Christians, who carted the pieces away.
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The island changed hands more often than an unduplicated toy in Gwen and Maddy's bedroom.  Anyone who was anyone in the Med at one point owned Rhodes: Greeks, Italians, Turks, Byzantines, Egyptians, Crusaders, you name it. 

In 1309, the Knights of St John (aka Knights of Rhodes, Knights Hospitaller, and a good half-dozen other names, not counting the ones popularized in Monty Python) occupied the island, ending the Byzantine era, and contributing most of the architecture that makes up current-day Rhodes.  The Hospital was a charity arm that would provide lodging, food, drink, and healing for those in dire straits.  The old city runs from the Hospital to the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of St John, the two most important structures.  After a couple of hundred years, the island was taken over again by Suleiman, and a few remaining Knights were allowed to leave for Sicily before regrouping in Malta under the new moniker the Knights who say Malta (quickly shortened to simply the Knights of Malta).
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We began with a visit to the ruins at Kameiros, which was one of three large Dorian settlements in Rhodes -- these three plus another three cities on the mainland made up the key six cities of the Dorian Hexapolis.  After visiting and taking some pictures, we headed back to the city for a short tour.  We saw the sequenced moats, the Palace of the Grand Master, the Mosque (now secular), and the Hospital, and also spent a fair bit of time wandering through the numerous shops in the city, shopping for clothes for the girls, and letting Gwen discover the best places to buy swords.
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When we first saw this little girl, our heart strings were tugged and all of our tour mates were digging into their pockets for change.  What a sad sight.  A few minutes later we turned several corners and found ourselves in the large plaza area and noticed that there seemed to be a theme of little girls begging on the streets with accordions and puppies.  And all of the children were playing the same song over and over again.  It's as if someone decided that it wasn't precious enough to have a small child begging on the street so they decided to give her an accordion and teach her one song.  Then they upped the precious quotient by tossing in a little puppy.  I had to wonder if they rotated out the dogs as they got older so there would always be a puppy for each child.  Oddly interesting but still sad.
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