Archive for May, 2017

Civita di Bagnoregio: Escape the Chaos of Rome for a Day

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A visit to Rome is always a lively and energetic adventure. With so many interesting sights, a visitor can become overwhelmed by the action. Whenever I visit Rome, I always take at least one day to escape the frenzy and seize the opportunity to experience a different side of Italy. Located about 65 miles north of Rome, Civita di Bagnoregio offers a quiet day in a small town.

Spectacular and Scenic Civita di Bagnoregio

Overlooking the valley from a precarious perch atop a decaying plateau, the Civita we visit today is a mere remnant of the thriving medieval town of its past. A long pedestrian bridge leading from the nearby community of Bagnoregio serves as the only access to the town. Traffic-free and remote, Civita is the perfect place for a relaxed afternoon. A small museum carved into the rock wall displays a vintage olive press, but the town itself is the real attraction. Photo opportunities abound in the crumbling walls and doorways of ancient buildings, and a stroll along the streets in any direction abruptly ends with a spectacular view.

Quiet Setting and Delicious Lunch

Civita offers two excellent options for a leisurely lunch. The recently opened Alma Civita restaurant located just beyond the town square on Via della Providenza serves regional specialties with seasonal ingredients. The Trattoria Antico Forno, specializing in fresh pasta and bruschetta, occupies a 15th-century building located on the town square. Visitors who choose to not walk across to Civita can experience great views of Civita and the surrounding canyon from the parking area on the Bagnoregio side of the footbridge. The Hostaria del Ponte, located at Via Mercatello 11, provides a pleasant lunch with a panoramic view of the area.

Practical Suggestions

While it is not strenuous, the walk across the footbridge from Bagnoregio to Civita is fairly steep, and the streets of Civita are rarely level. Sturdy walking shoes are a necessity. Both the bridge and the town itself are exposed to the elements, so visitors should pay attention to the weather and wear appropriate clothing. With very little shade available, a hat and sunscreen are also advisable.

Civita is best reached by car. An easy 90-minute drive from Rome follows the northbound A1 motorway to the Orvieto exit. From there signs lead the way to Bagnoregio di Civita. To avoid driving out of or into Rome, one can take the train to Orvieto and rent a car there for the day. Visitors can also reach Bagnoregio by taking the train from Rome to Orvieto and taking the bus from Orvieto to Bagnoregio. However, this option requires careful planning since the bus service is very limited. Travelers who make the effort to visit this area are well rewarded with a unique experience.

Sainte-Chapelle: Notre Dame’s Luminous Gothic Stepsister

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Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris sits proudly guarding the Seine River and hosts millions of tourists each year. It is an historic and beautiful cathedral. As impressive as it is, I feel overwhelmed by its immensity rather than captivated by its beauty.  My favorite Paris church, Sainte-Chappelle, is located nearby on the same island in the Seine. Sainte-Chapelle is much smaller and receives far fewer visitors than Notre-Dame and, in contrast to its larger sibling, offers a wonderfully intimate and enchanting experience.

The king and the commoners

Gothic spires of Sainte-Chapelle

In 1239, the French King Louis IX purchased the Crown of Thorns that was said to have been worn by Jesus during the crucifixion and the king needed an appropriate place of worship to house that valuable relic. He built Sainte-Chappelle inside the Conciergerie, his royal compound on the island. Completed in only six years, the church consists of two sanctuaries, one on top of the other. Only the king and royal family were allowed to worship in the upper chapel. Servants and commoners worshiped in the lower chapel.

A symphony of color

Sainte-Chapelle stained glass scenes

In the upper chapel, a rainbow of sunlight streaming through fifteen stained glass windows pierces the dark interior and creates a stunning visual symphony. Walls of stained glass completely surround the sanctuary providing a pictorial representation of more than 1,000 scenes from the Bible. While the images are beautiful, they also served a practical purpose. Books were extremely rare in the thirteenth century and few people knew how to read so the Bible stories were illustrated through the pictorial representations in the mosaics, frescos, and stained glass of the churches. Chairs are set up that allow visitors to sit and admire the scenes. I am always struck with wonderment when I sit in the chapel and admire the artistry. How did those artists create such beauty working with crude medieval tools? 

By contrast, the lower chapel is much less ornate. It is adorned with wall paintings but the light, color and airiness of the upper chapel are missing. The commoners and servants were relegated to a drab, dark chamber for their worship.

A visit to Paris can be exhausting. There are so many sights and museums to visit that many visitors wear themselves out going from one sight to the next. To really enjoy the city, visitors should pace themselves and occasionally take the time to simply relax in a beautiful setting and recharge. Sainte-Chapelle is my favorite place to unwind and refresh.