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Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Parmigiano-Reggiano comes from a strictly defined area: both the cheese and the milk from which it is made are produced only in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Mantua, by a consortium of 600 small dairies. The cows graze in open pastures or are fed locally-grown fodder, and all-natural fermenting agents are used to give the cheese its particular flavour and texture.

Today, as eight centuries ago, the process is the same: milk, fire, rennet and the skill and knowledge of cheese masters are the basic ingredients. The giant truckles are aged naturally for at least a year (usually two years or more), all the while being brushed and turned, and inspected daily to check that they match up to strict consortium standards.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a DOP (Designazione d’Origine Protetta) product, which means it meets special EU quality standards. If buying a truckle (or, more likely, part of one), you should look for ID markings on the rind: the words PARMIGIANO REGGIANO, the identification number of the dairy, the month and year of production, the acronym DOP in pin-dot stencil.

Real Parmigiano-Reggiano is straw-coloured and the colour is always uniform throughout the cheese. Inside, the cheese forms long, thin flakes radiating from, or converging towards, the centre. The internal mass tends to be soft, minutely granulated, and dotted with barely visible holes. Although these traits remain constant, it is still possible to detect differences between individual cheeses. As is the case with any hand-made product, each truckle has a touch of individuality.

Explore Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena with Blue Guides’ new ebook on the region of Emilia Romagna. See here for details.

Sustainable living in Bolzano

The Municipality of Bolzano moved to create Casa Nova in 2002, in response to growing demand for affordable housing. The new mixed-use district was to provide exemplary quality of life despite the high building density (3.5 m³/m² for a total of 350,000 m³). An important goal was to respect the highest standards of sustainability established by the independent European rating agency KlimaHaus, which is headquartered in Bolzano.

Possibly the most successful of the eight building blocks is Christoph Mayr Fingerle’s Castelfirmiano complex of 2008 (EA7, the second closest to the River Adige). Within the bounds of a subsidised housing project with restrictions, Mayr Fingerle has tried to create good, sound architecture that will encourage social interaction among residents. The design fully embraces the project’s core objective of ‘park living’, but to enhance the interplay between the agrarian landscape and the inner garden courts Mayr Fingerle modified the shape and floor plan of the three individual buildings in the polygonal housing block, reducing the depth of the buildings foreseen in the master plan and altering the corners so the inner court would appear larger than it is, its angled sides creating an effect of breadth.

To resolve basic issues such as the design of the façade and the interior finishings the team met several times with the complex’s future inhabitants. A full-scale model of the façade was built to help everyone understand the architect’s intentions and hence close the gap between the clients’ expectations and the building’s final form.

For the flats the architect developed four basic modules, on the basis of which 92 different floor plans were created to meet the needs and desires of 92 families. All the flats receive light and air from the east and the west; there are no northern exposures. The top-floor split-level lofts have rooftop terraces with views of the surrounding mountains. Oak-panelled porches inserted in the concrete façade create a feeling of warmth and comfort; the irregular arrangement of windows reflects the different configuration of the interior spaces while creating an impression of lightness. The building blocks are connected by two levels of parking; three large openings in the ground provide the car park with natural air and light from the garden, making it easier to find one’s way and eliminating ‘scary’ dark areas. Each flat has a cellar, and the car park’s large central atrium can be used for group events.

Circulation from public to semi-public to private space was a key issue for the architect: large entry foyers promote contact and community life, and the garden pathways, some wider than others, mimic the spatial experience of a village with its a main street and narrower cross-streets. In order to meet ground-floor inhabitants’ desire that private gardens be as large as possible, the latter are interspersed with the semi-public green areas.

Visual artist Manfred Alois Mayr helped define surface colours and textures. Externally, the team chose a raw concrete façade, based on a special grain size and using mineral aggregates typical of the region (notably pale yellow and white dolomite). The street-side façades have been treated with a high-pressure water jet to bring out the grain structure of the concrete; the rough surface suggests the monolithic appearance of a ‘hard outer shell’ and accentuates the unity of the building block; the perception varies depending on the light and distance. The garden walls are treated with a thin veil of white paint that emphasises the area’s private character while seeming to enlarge the garden itself. The architectural and chromatic sobriety of the windows and railings increases the buildings’ sculptural effect. The simple, discreet tone of the materials is graduated from the entry areas to the doors of the individual flats. Through small details such as smooth, sensual wooden handrails, the materials create a feeling of warmth and comfort.

Blue Guides' Trentino and the South Tyrol, by Paul Blanchard, is now available as an ebook.

Comments on Blue Guide Venice

 

Venice has been one of the world’s leading destinations for the cultural traveller since the 18th-century Grand Tour.

View the book’s contents, index and some sample pages, and buy securely from blueguides.com here»

 

18.04.2013
15:53

Turin restored and rejuvenated

The famous Savoy collection of Egyptian antiquities was largely gathered during the 18th and 19th centuries and was extensive enough by the 1830s for Champollion to do much of his work on deciphering hieroglyphics in Turin. For years the collections seem to have gathered dust but there has now been a vibrant revival of the museum. Somehow it has caught the imagination of the city.  It  buzzes with energy and school groups, with the number of visitors now topping half a million a year. At first I was a little disappointed with the traditional cases of artefacts in the first rooms but the sculpture gallery is stunning, and one has to accept that this is a better collection than that in the British Museum. There are especially good arrangements of everyday life found in undisturbed tombs.

The finest restorations are to be found in the coronet of palaces and hunting lodges that encircles the city: the “Corona di Delizie” or “Crown of Delights” as they have been known since the 18th century. The Villa della Regina is walkable from the centre, along the Via Po, through the majestic Piazza Vittoria Veneto, across the Po and up the hill past the Neoclassical church of the Gran Madre di Dio, built to celebrate the return of King Vittorio Emanuele I after the Napoleonic hiatus when Piedmont had been ruled from France. The villa originally dates to the early 17th century but derives its name from Queen Anne-Marie, the niece of Louis XIV who married Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy, and made it her home. She died here in 1728. There is an elegant ‘classical’ garden behind the villa and its private vineyard is still kept up.

Forty minutes from the centre of town is the Venaria Reale, the vast 17th–18th-century hunting lodge of the royal family. Virtually abandoned after the third wife of Carlo Emanuele III died here in childbirth in 1741, it has now been subject to a massive restoration programme. The first rooms of the Reggia, the main palace, are devoted to the Savoy dynasty, which originated in Savoy in 1003, so making it the oldest in Europe. (With the dynasty secure in Piedmont, Sardinia and then Italy, Savoy itself was passed to France in thanks for French help in the unification of Italy in 1860.) Here you can find the dynasty’s members listed and thus sort out the rulers and their marriages into the other royal families of Europe. A gallery of (reproduced) portraits of all the more significant members provides further help. The next rooms show the growth of Turin as a capital and document the works of the two great architects of the dynasty, Guarino Guarini in the 17th century and Filippo Juvarra in the early 18th.

Juvarra (1678–1736), who arrived in Turin in 1714, was appointed architect of the Venaria Reale and completed the astonishing vestibule there as well as the palace church dedicated to St Hubert, the patron saint of hunting.  Yet this is only one part of the complex that can be visited. There are two exhibition areas (with exhibitions of the fashion designer Roberto Capucci and Lorenzo Lotto on show until the summer of 2013), the  royal Savoy barge as well as many of the original rooms of the earlier palace. Then there are the gardens now being recreated after falling into decline in the 19th century. There is a complicated ticket system under which you pick and choose what you want to see, but we found that it is better to go for the €20 ticket that covers everything. The planned 18th-century town, the borgo antico, alongside the palace, is full of eating places.

When the royal family abandoned the Venaria Reale, it was Juvarra who was asked the design the new hunting lodge at Stupinigi, to the south of the city. This is a wonderful building and the restoration is magnificent. The lodge is owned by the order of St Maurice and its future was in doubt when the order fell into financial problems but on 15th March, 2013, it opened again and it is hoped that this will be permanent. Every room is beautifully decorated, not least with 18th-century hunting scenes set in the adjoining park. The central hall is simply staggering: Juvarra’s architecture, if you do not know it, is altogether a revelation, whether here at Stupinigi or in the entrance hall he designed for the Palazzo Madama back in the city or at the Superga, the ‘victory’ church on a hill overlooking the city that later became the mausoleum of the royal family.

Filippo Juvarra’s royal hunting lodge at Stupinigi.

After the Second World War, the royal family, discredited through their association with fascism, went into exile and many of their former palaces, especially those in Piedmont, began to crumble. The rejuvenation of these buildings has been astonishing and puts Turin back on the map as one of the finest cities in Europe for the Baroque.

There are many other sights in Piedmont to explore. The Castello di Masino, beautifully restored by FAI, the Italian ‘National Trust’, was our favourite but we also loved the castle at Issogne, on the old Roman road to Gaul, across the regional border in Valle d’Aosta. All these delights will be crammed into my forthcoming tour of Turin and the surrounding area in May.

Charles Freeman is historical consultant to the Blue Guides and author of Sites of Antiquity: 50 Sites that Explain the Classical World.

A palatial art museum in Trieste


Revoltella remained unmarried but he was not socially reclusive. His dinner parties attended by bejewelled beauties, his French chef’s extravagant concoctions and his gleaming gilded tableware were famous. At a gala banquet which he gave in honour of Franz Joseph’s brother Maximilian, on the eve of the latter’s departure for Mexico to take up his imperial appointment, the centrepiece, which drew gasps of wonder from the assembled guests, consisted of four hounds sculpted from butter attacking a wild boar confected out of sausage. It is difficult to gauge what motivated Revoltella. Was it business? Insecurity? A desire to impress? Ambition for social status, or for acceptance? A genuine regard for art? Did he have good taste? It is hard to say. His palace is a deliberate showpiece, but is neither impressively original nor depressingly vulgar. His chosen philosophers, whom he had sculpted at the top of the main stairs, were Galileo, Newton, Descartes and Leibniz: not thinkers, as such, concerned with the destiny of the soul, but physicists and mathematicians, an Italian, an Englishman, a Frenchman and a German. His collection of paintings contains the kind of thing that one might expect from a man of his time and status: Biedermeier portraits and romantic images of the Orient: there is a good Cairo street scene by Ippolito Caffi. In the study hangs a vivid Egyptian landscape showing the Suez canal slicing its way up from the Red Sea to Port Said.

From the library (which contains a copy of Revoltella’s own travel journal, which he wrote during his trip to Suez in 1861), a false door designed to imitate a bookshelf leads through to a small cabinet, once a bathroom, where some of the early treasures of the collection are housed, among them a model by Canova for his famous heroic nude statue of Napoleon holding a celestial ball intended to carry a Winged Victory. (The completed statue, in Carrara marble, never pleased the little emperor. He felt that the golden Victory figure appeared to be flying ominously away, and the statue was consigned to the vaults of the Louvre until purchased by Napoleon’s nemesis, the Duke of Wellington, who displayed it in his London home, Apsley House. It is still there.)

The collection in the adjoining building is rich in Italian art of the 20th century. De Chirico, Morandi, Carrà, Sironi, Burri: all are represented by at least one work. Particularly interesting are the local Trieste painters, whose work is less often seen in international collections. Piero Marussig is the best known; but also interesting are Carlo Sbisà (1889–1964), who found inspiration in the Italian Renaissance, and Bruno Croatto (1875–1948), known for his powerful realism.

The Draughtswoman, by Carlo Sbisà
Portrait in front of the Palatine ruins, by Croatto

The wonderful Palazzo Grimani, Venice

Tucked away in a quiet nook in the sestiere of Castello is Palazzo Grimani, newly opened to the public, after years of restoration. I arrived late one afternoon, just as dusk was falling. As I climbed the wide stairway to the first floor, the sound of ethereal music floated down to greet me. A tall, slim woman in black was singing Josquin, accompanied on period instruments, to a small assembly in the portego. It was a magnificent way to begin a tour of this extraordinary place.

The palace was begun (so the Blue Guide tells us) around 1530 by Cardinal Domenico Grimani, son of Antonio (who was Doge from 1521–23), and work was continued to enlarge the palace by Antonio’s grandson Giovanni, Patriarch of Aquileia. It has been suggested that Jacopo Sansovino may have been involved in the work, collaborating directly with Giovanni Grimani.

Cardinal Domenico had a famous collection of Classical sculptures. At the death of his grandson Giovanni (in 1593) they were donated to the Republic, forming one of the first ever museums of Classical antiquities (and they are still on public view, constituting the main core of the Museo Archeologico in Piazza San Marco). Domenico was an important collector in other fields, too: he purchased works by Bosch, Memling and Dürer, drawings by Leonardo, and paintings by Raphael, Giorgione and Titian. At the death of the last descendant of the family in 1865, all the works of art which had remained in the palace were sold and dispersed. What you see today, as you visit the palace, are the rooms themselves, stupendously decorated in a wealth of original styles, the former backdrops for these marvellous works.

Vista through to the Laocoön, viewed from the vestibule in front of the Tribuna.

At one end of the portego, the central hall that runs the length of piano nobile, is the Cameron d’Oro where plaster casts of famous Classical sculptures (including the Laocoön) evoke the marbles once exhibited here by the Grimani. The room leading off it, the Sala a Fogliami, is perhaps the most remarkable in the whole palace, because of its ceiling, covered with a fresco showing thick foliage and fruit trees—peach, pomegranate, pear, medlar and quince—populated by birds which appear to be attacking each other. Amongst the plants the painter included maize and tobacco, recently arrived from north America. The motif of the birds, it is said, was designed to symbolise Giovanni Grimani’s stern stance against heresy, a reference to his acquittal by the Inquisition, who had accused him of unorthodox attittudes to predestination. There is a bench in the room: the best thing you can do is prostrate yourself on it, flat on your back, and just look:

Fighting heron and hawk. Ceiling detail of the Stanza a Fogliami.

The extraordinary Tribuna was designed by Giovanni Grimani to display some 130 pieces of his statuary collection. Its sober atmosphere recalls the vestibule of the Laurentian Library in Florence—and it is now empty except for the Ganymede (a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original) which has been returned from the Museo Archeologico and now again hangs from the centre of the ceiling as it did in the Grimani’s day.

The Sala di Doge Antonio, and the little vestibule and chapel adjoining, are decorated with exotic marbles. The ceiling of the chapel is decorated with the following Latin motto: “Thou has protected me, O Lord, in thy tabernacle, from the slander of tongues.” By fireplace in the main room is a bronze bust of the Doge himself, a stern-looking man. Leading off from here are the Camerina di Apollo and Camerina di Callisto, decorated in the 1530s in stuccowork and fresco.

Camerina di Apollo: ceiling decoration.


In an adjoining room are four extraordinary panels by Bosch (c. 1503) representing Paradise and Hell, the Fall of the Damned, and the Ascension to Heaven. The image of the Fall is memorable in the extreme: like a scene from a nightmare, souls are represented as having tumbled through a great hole, and they now sit helpless in the dark, far from the light which streams through upon them, unreachable, from the manhole high above their heads.

Adapted by Annabel Barber from the forthcoming new edition of Alta Macadam’s Blue Guide Venice.

Burano in February


As work on the new edition of Blue Guide Venice gets underway, and as I start planning my next trip there, my thoughts turn to the island of Burano. On a sunny day in February—and if we’re lucky there will be some sunny days this month—the colours of Burano’s houses are at their absolute best.

Burano is most famous perhaps for three things: its lace, its S-shaped biscuits, and its colourful façades. But there is more. The little church of San Martino, for example, approached down the wide Via Galuppi, contains a wonderful painting by Tiepolo. It is a rare treat to be able to admire a work of Tiepolo without having to crick your neck back to look at a ceiling fresco. This is a Crucifixion, commissioned by a pharmacist in 1722 (his donor’s portrait is included, in an oval frame at the far left, not shown in the detail here). Christ is depicted victorious, his eyes cast upwards. One of the thieves has already being taken down and his body is being untied; the other still writhes upon his cross. In the foreground, the grieving, grey-faced Virgin swoons into the arms of the two Marys.


Via Galuppi and Piazza Galuppi, where the church stands, are named after the island’s most famous son, the composer Baldassare Galuppi, who was born here in 1706. He was immortalised by Browning, in “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”.

Oh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find!
I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
But although I take your meaning, ’tis with such a heavy mind!

Here you come with your old music, and here’s all the good it brings.
What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were the kings,
Where Saint Mark’s is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings?

Ay, because the sea’s the street there; and ’tis arched by—what you call
—Shylock’s bridge with houses on it, where they kept the carnival…

The skipping rhythm of the verses is intended to imitate the notes of a toccata played on a clavichord. The themes of gaiety and masked revelry and death are particularly relevant in a Venetian February, the season of Carnival and Lent. Though if the sun shines, there is no need to dwell on them for long.

There are plenty of places to eat on Burano. Al Gatto Nero offers local fish dishes, including a risotto di gù alla buranella (Burano-style goby risotto).

The joy of Giambattista Tiepolo

by Charles Freeman

At the end of a recent tour of Friuli in October, I asked members of my group what they had enjoyed most, High on the list were the Tiepolos in the Patriarchal Palace in Udine. Commissioned in the 1720s by the Patriarch of Aquileia, Dionisio Dolfin, member of an aristocratic Venetian family, they were designed to highlight the link between the Patriarch and the patriarchs of old, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Perhaps the two finest works are Rachel hiding the idols from her father, Laban, and The Judgement of Solomon. Their state of preservation is remarkable.

The Judgement of Solomon (1726), fresco in the Patriarchal Palace of Udine. The subject was a popular choice of decoration for public buildings which also served as law courts.

Tiepolo was still young, just thirty, when he began his commission, but already his work is assured. The colours are rich, the soaring perspectives painted with the confidence that was to stay with him throughout his Europe-wide career. He always comes across to me as someone who loved painting for its own sake, not as a means of sorting out some internal angst.

So it was frustrating to arrive at our next destination, the vast Villa Manin, and to find that we were a few weeks too early to see the majestic Tiepolo exhibition that opened there on 15 December (and lasts until 7 April). It is open every day, even on the afternoon of Christmas day (further information and booking on the Villa Manin website).

The exhibition boasts a wide scope. There are works from Venice and the villas of the Venetian countryside, where Tiepolo spent much of his life, many of which have been brought back from the galleries as far flung as new York, Montreal, Helsinki and Stockholm. Several of the canvases are enormous—luckily the central rooms of the Villa Manin can take them—together with the preparatory drawings for them. So the vast canvas (7m by 4m) of St Thecla freeing the city of Este from the plague, from Este cathedral (completed in 1759 in commemoration of a plague of 1638) is there together with the preparatory study now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The opportunity has been taken to restore the canvas: in fact there is a sense of opulent generosity about this exhibition that is far removed from the austerity that is afflicting so many Italian archaeological sites at the moment.

The exhibition is linked to the Patriarchal Palace in Udine and the Sartorio Museum in Trieste, which contains a fine cache of Tiepolo drawings. So the show promises a true feast for those who find themselves drawn to an artist who is perhaps the finest Italian painter of the 18th century.

Udine and Friuli are covered in Blue Guide Northern Italy and Blue Guide Concise Italy. Charles Freeman is historical consultant to the Blue Guides and author of Sites of Antiquity: 50 Sites that Explain the Classical World.

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Al Dente: Madness, Beauty & the Food of Rome
A celebration of Lucca
Romantic music in a Baroque setting
Blue Guide India Delhi Launch
Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life
The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci’s Arithmetic Revolution
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The Roman Forum
Whispering City: Rome and its Histories
The 15th-century Health Museum at Edirne
City of Fortune, How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
Books about Istanbul
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Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor
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The 54th Venice Biennale stars Tintoretto
Holy Bones, Holy Dust
RECOMMENDED PLACES TO STAY AND EAT ON CRETE
Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity
Full Circle: How the Classical World Came Back to Us
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Blue Guide Northern Italy
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A day trip to Ostia Antica from Rome - highly recommended
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A day trip from Venice up the Brenta Canal
A day trip to Murano from Venice
Pietrasanta, Pisa: in search of Stagi
Reading list for Venice
Reading list for Florence and Tuscany
The Best Credit / Debit Card for Travel
Ruskin on Venice
Reading list for Rome
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