Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ten Overlooked Sights In Italy

When the monthly magazine L'Espresso took a poll to ask Italians what it means to be Italian, people throughout the country overwhelmingly replied their art and history.  The sights in Italy are infinite.  Every kilometer of the country burgeons with historical gems.  While most tourists flock to popular places such as the Vatican, St. Mark's in Venice, or Michelangelo's David in Florence, many more pearls lie hidden in full view.  These places have fewer tourists, yet their historical depth tend to intrigue visitors.  

Here are my top ten picks of overlooked sights in Italy:

10) The Greek Philosophers City in Velia -- The Greek philosophers Parmenides and Zeno lived and lectured among these ruins in the 5th century B.C. The vast complex has a trail that winds up to a hilltop castle built during medieval times.  There's also a Roman theater, a Forum, and a Roman villa tucked behind brush.  Velia is located in the Cilento National Park where you can camp, hike, and enjoy the beaches.

9)  The Abbey and Cemetery of Montecassino -- One of the few remaining territorial abbeys, this monastery is important to scholars because it holds many original codices from the medieval ages.  Built over a Temple of Apollo in the sixth century A.D., the Nazis tried to take over the region in 1944, but a battalion of Polish forces routed them out.  A moving tribute to their heroism can be found at the bottom of the abbey in the form of a large cemetery and memorial.

8)  The Arberesh in Civita, Calabria -- The Albanians are the largest minority in Italy and have been here since the 16th century when they escaped the Ottoman onslaught across the Adriatic.  Today, hotels are named after Skanderbeg and monuments to Albanian heroes are everywhere in this area. The Arberesh have retained an ancient form of Albanian and linguists flock here to study their unique tongue. At Civita, in particular, you can visit the ethnographic museum and walk across a devil's bridge.

7)  The Etruscan Tour -- These mysterious ancients left bulbous tombs in Certeveteri, vibrant fresco tombs in Tarquinia, and a 180-meter deep well on the hilltop of Orvieto. Start at the National Etruscan Museum in Rome and then drive through the countryside to each of these impressive towns.

6) The Paper Makers of Amalfi -- The Valley of the Mills is a hiking trail going past the ruins of Amalfi's famous paper mills, which began their production in the 13th century. At the end of the trail, you can picnic next to a beautiful waterfall.  Thereafter, you can buy some limoncello in Sorrento, enjoy a concert at Ravello, buy ceramics in Vietri sul Mare, or check out the abundance of things to do in this region at one of my all-time favorite blogs:  Ciao Amalfi.

5)  The Villa of Tiberius at Sperlonga -- Emperor Tiberius had a summer home in Sperlonga while he still ruled Rome.  These ruins now contain a mammoth cave and an impressive museum of items that were found inside the villa.  A public beach is right next door.  Sperlonga is also near Gaeta, where you can visit Split Rock, Cicero's Tomb, or follow signs 80 km into the mountains to see the Grotto di Pastena.

4) Medieval Physicians of Salerno -- The oldest medical school on the continent also had the largest number of women physicians. They wrote prescriptions for things like wandering uteruses and worms in the ears. Walking toward the medical school means stopping at the macabre Duomo full of anguished scenes of saints as well as their unburied bones. On the way out of the city, you can follow signs to a hilltop Argonese Castle.

3)  Sailing with Odysseus across Scylla and Charybdis -- Sailing from the Italian mainland to Sicily, a ferry takes you across the Strait of Messina, considered to be the original Scylla and Charbybdis where Ulysses passed. From here, my top picks for travel in Sicily are the ancient ruins of Agrigento and the ancient philosopher-city of Siracusa.

Strait of Messina

2)  Archeological Park of Baia -- Three enormous terraces have baffled archeologists for centuries.  Nobody knows definitively what purpose these ruins served.  Located in the Phlegraean Fields or Fields of Fire, visitors can wander through what looks like baths, steep stairwells, open gymnasium spaces, and three temples, including the Temple of Echoes.

Temple of Echoes

1)  The Sassi Caves of Matera -- These caves date back 7,000 years, but people inhabited them until the 1970's when the government deemed them dangerous and had the caves evacuated.  The picaresque city of Matera cuts into a mountain and you can stay in cave hotels.  Mel Gibson filmed The Passion of Christ here.


Gil said...

Monte Cassino - My father had a younger cousin that left Naples to live at his beach place in Scauri. Most of our family knew him and his deceased wife as they had made a trip or two to the States. When my daughter studied and lived in Florence she looked up relatives in Naples including Zio Nino. When we visited our daughter in Florence we went to Scauri and visited Zio Nino. When we left he insisted we return and visit him. A year or so later my wife and I went back to Italy and picked up some junk our daughter had stored with friends in Florence and then we headed to see Zio Nino. While visiting him we took a lot of little trips including Monte Cassino that he claimed he took my parents to five times during the two or three months that they spent with him many years before. Long story short the guard at Monte Cassino would not let Zio in as his shorts were too short and his knees were exposed. When we got back to the car my wife looked in the box of our daughter's stuff and dragged out some drapes. She wrapped them around Zio and the now Zia Nino took us on the grand tour of Monte Cassino.

When I got back to work one of the young kids asked me about our trip and when I mentioned Monte Cassino he knew everything about it. Why! He said every Polish kid growing up in New Britain, CT when he did had fathers and uncles that served in WWII and they, the kids, heard the story of Monte Cassino on every holiday.

Barbara said...

What a charming story, Gil! Thanks for sharing it.

Joshua said...

Interestin list. Before the earthquake, I would have added L'Aquila, probably the largest historical city most people miss.
Well, even after the quake. It needs the support that only outsiders can bring, and it is still beautiful, even cracked.

Diana and "Guido" said...

You are nominated for 7-links. See our last post.