Rome’s Protestant Cemetery

Rome’s Protestant Cemetery, Cimitero Acattolico, is situated in a quiet and leafy corner of the Testaccio area. It’s an easy walk from the Piramide metro stop, with stunning views of the Pyramid of Cestius. The pyramid and one part of the Aurelian Walls both provide a boundary.  It’s the final resting place of Goethe, Shelley and Keats, as well as many other individuals from around the world who made the eternal city their homes.

Keats’ burial place is an oasis in a corner spot, with the pyramid looking on.

His iconic epitaph suggests something of the state of mind of the ailing and unsuccessful poet who spent his final days in Rome.

This Celtic Cross was yet another reminder of a faraway homeland…

As with Milan’s Monumental Cemetery, the monuments came in all shapes and sizes here, and all ages and nationalities were represented.


The Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls

San Paolo Fuori le Mura stands on the assumed site of the burial of St Paul. Near the ancient Via Ostiense, the saint’s remains were reputedly taken there by a first century Roman lady, Lucina. Constantine later ordered the building of the first basilica early in which was consecrated in 324 AD. That was later enlarged by Theodosius in the early 5th Century, lasting to the 19th Century when a fire destroyed much of the early structure. A monastery had also been on site since those early days.

Today’s basilica, which was consecrated in 1855, covers much of the same area, and gives a nod to the ancient with its porticoed frontage and beautiful Byzantine style mosaics.

Inside and out, this is a building on a cavernous scale so it was surprising to note that it apparently covers the same area as that fourth century spot for pilgrims.


The triumphal arch, dedicated to her father Theodosius by Galla Placidia is one of the remains of the ancient basilica, and a reminder of the splendour of her mausoleum in Ravenna.

Like San Pietro in Vincoli, the chains that held St Paul are also visible and many pilgrims flock to his tomb, which is located below the altar.

There’s lots more to explore outside the basilica, including a dedicated archaeological area and parts of the monastery.

Definitely worth a little detour from the beaten track, San Paolo Fuori le Mura is easily accessed via a short four-stop metro ride (via Metro line B) from the Colosseum.


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.


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.

Five days in Turin

Earlier this month, I got the chance to spend a short break in Turin/Torino.  There tend to be two reactions when one says they’re going here – either “oh, the Shroud”, or “what’s there, and why are you going?”  It’s not easy to find an up-to-date guidebook in English, but we knew from our visit to Milan when we had contemplated a side trip, there were things that we wanted to see here – including the National Automobile Museum, and the royal palaces.  This was, after all, the first capital of a united Italy, and home city of the Dukes of Savoy/Kings of Sardinia who would go on to lead Italy before it became a republic.  Royal palaces aren’t hard to find.


So much more than 5 days could be filled here, and upcoming posts will explore a few of the sites that we had the chance to visit, armed with the great value 72-hour Torino & Piemonte card.

The city is known for its baroque splendour, long covered streets (with a grid plan nodding to the city’s Roman era heritage), and the spectacular Mole Antonelliana, home to the National Cinema museum.


Have you been to Torino – what was your favourite place to visit there?

A day in Florence

If five days isn’t enough to do justice to all that Milan has to offer, then it was going to be even harder to get much more than a superficial view of Florence in a day. But we decided to give it a go. Having booked our Frecciarossa train tickets well in advance, and tickets for the Pitti Palace and Uffizi, we set out from Milan Central Station on a most unsummery Saturday morning at 8.15, arriving in a sticky Florence threatening rain just before 10.

We weren’t planning to see it until later in the day, but stumbled across the Duomo almost by chance – it’s a stunning creation, although extensive queues meant it was impossible to get to see inside.  Brunelleschi’s dome and Giotto’s bell tower were both great to view from outside regardless.

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(That’s the Baptistery wrapped in grey on the right in the picture above. t’s currently being renovated / restored so we couldn’t get a good look). IMG_4947

Moving on to the Piazza della Signoria, it would have been rude not to snap this iconic Florentine symbol.



Of all the statues in the square including that of Neptune above, the bronze Giambologna, equestrian statue of Cosimo I de Medici was perhaps the most overlooked. Although, thanks to our our Villa Medici tour earlier this year, we’d already been spotting the Medici symbols including the lion/ball combination in the Loggia Lanci. IMG_4949


Crossing the river via Ponte Vecchio, we made our way to the rather austere Palazzo Pitti, for which our Villa Medici Cardinal, then Duke, had abandoned Rome.


Palazzo Pitti dates from the late 1400’s and was originally the home of Luca Pitti, from a rival banking family to that of the Medicis. The family moved here from Palazzo Vecchio in 1549.  Nowadays, the Palace houses a wealth of museums including the Msueo degli Argenti (the Medici Grand Ducal Treasury), a Costume Museum, Porcelain Museum, Royal Apartments, Palatine Gallery, and the Boboli Gardens (which are home to the original of the obelisk that we saw in the Roman family villa).

Why royal apartments?  Well, Pitti Palace was the main Medici home until the family died out in the 1700s. Like Milan, Florence’s Grand Duchy passed into the hands of the Austrians, who took on the Grand Duchy of Tuscany title.  In time, the title passed again to the hands of the House of Savoy – and on Italian unification, Florence was briefly capital of the new nation (until Rome took the role in the 1870s), and the palace was the home to Vittorio Emanuele II.  His grandson later gave the palace to the nation.  That complemented the actions of the last female in the  Medici line, Anna Maria Luisa, who decreed that the family’s art collection remain in Florence.  Hence a treasure trove to explore.



Our first stop was the Musei degli Argenti.(Grand Ducal Treasury) containing everything from the stunning reliquary collection of Christine of Lorraine (wife of Grand Duke Ferdinando I – the ex Cardinal of Roman villa fame!) to silverware to jewellery.

And the Medici imagery came thick and fast,on ceiling imagery, and even in a wonderful tapestry that captured the family’s links with the French royal family.



The rain stopped in time for us to explore the Boboli gardens, sculpted to form a natural amphitheatre facing the palace, and affording spectacular views over Brunelleschi’s Dome.IMG_4711


We could have spent much more time in the gardens and museums, but we had a 2.30 slot at the Uffizi.  Florence’s Renaissance great and good greeted us on the approach…


Thankfully, we’d picked up our tickets at the Palazzo earlier, so there was no queueing involved.  Since July, there have been new rules for Italian State museums (which both today’s museums are), with one major change allowing photography (no flash or tripods).  I think it’s a trial that may be reviewed if it proves troublesome or distracting – it didn’t quite get to that level here, or in Milan’s Pinocoteca di Brera, but I’ll let you have a look at the Museum’s website to have the best available view of all the artwork!

And amidst all the great art, a great view (with much better weather than earlier) of Palazzo Vecchio, and a great reflection of the skyline, both taken from the terrace of the Gallery’s little café.


There was just time for another look at the Piazza della Signoria and the Duomo (even 5 minutes before closing it had a queue for entry) before heading back to Santa Maria Novella for the 6pm train that got us back into Milan for 8.