San Marino

The most serene Republic of San Marino claims to be the world’s oldest surviving republic. Apparently formed in the early 4th Century by St Marinus fleeing the persecutions of Diocletian, it has remained independent ever since.  Marinus started life in Croatia, before becoming  a stonemason in Rimini. He fled to Monte Titano, forming a monastery and church before his death in 366.

It’s an easy day trip from Rimini by bus, and it’s rugged hilltop location can be viewed from miles around.  The state is made up of the capital San Marino, a medieval citadel hugging the cliff top of Monte Titano, and a range of towns and villages. The total population is just over 33,000.

The scene in the main city is like a medieval fairytale – towers and turrets abound!  And the views over the surrounding countryside are simply stunning. 

Sadly we missed the changing of the guard which takes place daily in the 19th Century Palazzo Pubblico.

Have you been to San Marino – what was your favourite part? 

The Palazzina Di Caccia Di Stupinigi

This is another of Turin’s royal sites designed by Filippo Juvarra. It’s an exquisite hunting lodge, now on the outskirts of Turin, and is easily reached by public transport  


We got there early on a Saturday morning, and the building (designed in the shape of a St Andrew’s cross was glowing in the early morning sunlight. 
Inside, there was an exhibition of’littke princes’ showing Royal children in their finery!


Inside, not all areas are accessible, but those that are are pretty spectacular. And the hunting theme extends to the decor.



Visits also extend to the gardens where it’s possible to see a stuffed elephant, and the stables where the original of the stag on the roof is located.

A day in Ravenna

Ravenna was the last, short-lived, capital of the western Roman Empire (from 402 to 476). Following that it was the home of the Ostrogothic kings of Italy, before a brief return to the Eastern  empire’s fold. It’s known for its mosaics heavily influenced by that empire in Constantinople. So when a chance of a day trip came up, I grabbed the opportunity.

The city stands near the Emilia Romagna coast, and is an easy hour long train ride from either Rimini or Bologna.

It’s also the home of Dante’s tomb – the author died here while in exile from his native Florence.

But mosaics  are what most people are here to see.

Our first stop was the Basilica of San Vitale. This is one of five sites which are accessed via a combined ticket (purchased across from the entrance to this particular basilica).  Its stern brick exterior fails to prepare for the wonders within.

The brick basilica was built in 548, and contains some of the best-preserved Christian mosaics of the era.  As well as stunningly vivid depictions of Biblical scenes, we get an insight into the court of (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian I, and his wife Theodora.

Back outside, and in the same complex stands the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, one of the most intriguing imperial women. She was the daughter of Theodosius (who’s depicted in the famous Obelisk of Theodosius in modern Istanbul), sister of western emperor Honorius, wife of Constantius III, and mother of Valentinian III. She was also married – willingly or not isn’t clear – to the brother of Alaric the Goth, who sacked Rome in 410. The two had a son and lived briefly in Barcelona.

It’s unlikely that she was buried here, despite some myths around a body visible in one of the coffins.  That met a grisly end thanks to a schoolboy and a match. Instead, it’s more likely that she’s buried in Rome under old St Peter’s Basilica. It’s an impressive little site, with its blue mosaics repressing the sky, and Egyptian alabaster ‘windows’ providing natural light from outside. It’s a small space so wait for the space between tour groups if you’d like to have it all to yourself!

We also took the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Ravenna right beside San Vitale. Its cool cloisters were a welcome retreat from the heat – and a reminder that this was once a medieval monastery attached to the basilica. It also housed an old pharmacy in situ, as well as artefacts from more ancient times


After a lunch of local piadine, and a mooch around a modern day mosaic workshop/shop, we were back on the ancient mosaic trail again, and our next stop was the Neonian (or Orthodox) baptistery. The octagonal brick building was built by Bishop Neon in the early 5th Century. Its colours remain stunningly vivid.

It stands beside a more modern Duomo – while it started life at around the same time as the little baptistery, its present appearance dates from the 18th Century.


Our final stop of the day – and getting closer to the station again – was the Basilica of St Apollinare Nuovo.  Devoted to the rather tenacious and long-suffering patron  saint of the city, this is another art history classic that was the heart of the city’s post Roman history. Founded by Ostrogothic (and Arian) King Theoderic, it would later be adapted by Byzantine ruler Justinian, who would try to remove all traces of the earlier court’s heretical beliefs. Could those ghostly hands on the pillars of the ‘palatium’ (palace) below be those of Arian courtiers?

A day wasn’t enough to see everything that this little city has to offer, but it was a great opportunity to get a flavour of some of the wonderful mosaics.

Have you been to Ravenna – what was your favourite site?

Finding Ancient Rome in Rimini

The Roman city of Ariminum isn’t hard to find in modern day Rimini.  I loved these  signs dotted around the city centre, allowing the visitor to see where they are in relation to the ancient sights.

“Here” on the map above is the still impressiv Arch of Augustus dating from 27 BC.  The Arch marked the entrance to the Via Flaminia, the main road between Rome and Milan (in what must have been quite a circuitous route).

It also represents the start of the city’s Decumanus Maximus. which corresponds to the present day Corso D’Augusto, the city’s main shopping street.  A few minutes away stands the more open area on the map representing the ancient Forum.  Nowadays it’s the beautiful Piazza Tre Martiri, lined with cafes and shops- keeping that ancient Forum’s spirit alive!

That forum was also the location where Julius Caesar is reputed to have addressed his troops after crossing the Rubicon. He stands guard over the piazza (which used to bear his name). No-one seems to quite know that river’s current course, although there are villages in the area that have “Rubicone” in their name.  I like to think I crossed it on a train journey between Rimini and nearby Ravenna (where Caesar addressed those troops before crossing the river).

At the other end of the Corso stands the Bridge of Tiberius, like the original arch built in Istrian stone,. Remarkably, buses and cars still trundle along it daily.  

The bridge was begun during the time of Augustus, but was completed by his successor Tiberius.  It’s now over a canal – leading from the seafront and passing the lighthouse and port area shown in my previous post. But it origially stood over the river Ariminus (which gave the city its name). Nowadays that river is known as the River Marechhia, and its course bypasses the city.

Nearby, and also on the Corso d’Augusto was a great new addition to Rimini, Arimini Caput Viarum, a nod to the ancient city’s strategic road position. This was a fanstastic video depiction of hte city’s development, and its fate after the Fall of Rome.  As a free attraction, it was definitely a great way to while away part of an afternoon. 

We were also lucky enough to get free entry to the Museo della Citta which houses some great artefacts – including a model showing what the Arch of Augustus might have once looked like. While it’s impressive now, imagine that the imrpression that gleaming white stone would have had on weary travellers.

In the square outside stands a wonderful site, only uncovered in 1989 – the Domus del Chirugo (or surgeon’s house).  This is a beautifully presented and airy site protected by a modern building.  It was home to an ancient surgeon (his implants are on view in the museum), but the area suffered in the era following the decline of the western Empire.  Those beautiful mosaic floors were integrated into other buildings, and even a medieval cemetery.

Have you explored Roman Rimini and what was your favourite site?


Rimini sits in the province of Emilia Romagna on Italy’s north western Adriatic coast. For those of us coming from the UK, it’s an hour and a half away from Bologna Airport. It’s  a seaside city based around the ancient  city of Ariminum, so it has a historic centre.complete with ancient, medieval and more recent buildings.

The town’s administrative centre from medieval times, Piazza Cavour is dominated by the medieval Palazzo Dell’Aregno and a statue of Pope Paul V, reflecting the city’s place in the Papal States.

And ancient heritage (the subject of a future blog) isn’t hard to find either, including the impressive Arch of Augustus.

The town’s railway station divides that historic centre from the seaside area. At the latter,  there are miles and miles of golden beaches. The ‘Bagni’ system makes this a little different from British beaches. While access to the seafront is free, the area further back from the sea has sub-divided into handily-numbered organized spaces, with ombrellini for hire, changing cabins, cafes, playgrounds and all kinds of sports activities.

Meanwhile, an 18th Century lighthouse stands guard over the canal port area,  with its boats, panoramic wheel and fishermen enjoying the view over the city’s marina.

So, much more than a seaside city and lots to explore.

The Basilica Di Superga: more royal Turin

The Basilica of Superga stands on one of the hills that surround the city of Turin.  It’s a strategic viewing point, used by Duke Vittorio Amadeo of Savoy to give the best view of the field of play during the 1706 siege of Turin.   A promise made at an existing small shrine led to the building of what would later become an impressive basilica, complete with royal apartments and royal tombs.


The basilica’s hill top location can be reached via a 20 minute tram ride from the suburb of Sassi up the steep slopes.  Top tip, get there early for the hourly departure, as the tram can only carry 40 people at a time.  I felt for the poor horses pictured in the station previously performing what must have been an arduous task.

Once up the hill, you can see as far as the distant Alps, and get a feel for the type of viewpoint that helped Vittorio Amadeo break that siege.  The site was full of local Sunday day trippers, picnicking and taking advantage of the great Spring weather.

Filippo Juvarra, architect of many of the sights in royal Turin itself designed this breathtaking basilica, which was eventually completed in 1731.  Apparently, it may have been influenced by Rome’s Pantheon, with more than a dash of baroque grandeur thrown in.  Entry to the basilica itself is free (although we didn’t get much of a chance to look round as there was a mass in progress).  We were able to use our Turin & Piedmont card for a 45 minute tour of the royal tombs.  We could also have chosen a tour of the royal apartments.  The tours themselves are in Italian, and I was able to understand just enough of the fascinating stories of dukes and duchesses, kings and queens.

Royal Turin 

Turin was the home of the Savoy Dukes who would later become kings of Sardinia before becoming Kings of a united Italy in the 1860s.  Naturally then royal palaces such as the Palazzo Carignano (now home to the Risorgimento Museum) above abound!

The Palazzo Reale below dominates one end of the Piazza Castello. It’s home to not one but five museums, as well as being attached to the Duomo and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud. Its origins lie in the 1500s, but owes its current appearance to the work of Sicilian architect Filipo Juvarra.   Its grand staircases lead to a succession of grandly-decorated rooms, and eventually the Armeria Reale, or royal armoury.

Across the square lies the Palazzo Madama, the first home of the Italian Senate, but originally a medieval castle housing the Dukes of Acaja. It’s medieval austerity at the back, but more baroque grandeur at the front, with yet another spectacular Juvarra staircase.