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Gradara – A Medieval Gem

Recently we took a trip to visit the quaint and lovely town of Gradara, which is located in the Central Italian region of Marche in the province of Pesaro and Urbino.

Gradara

Gradara is a fine example of a medieval Italian hill town.

L'entrata

The old fortified gate to the town.

The small piazza just inside the town gates is charming.

The ancient town is characterized by a double line of medieval walls and by the massive castle, one of the best preserved in Italy. 

There are caves carved from the volcanic “tufo” rock located below the town.

The castle dates from the 12th century with expansions made up until the 15th century.

Gradara has some beautiful views of the surrounding landscape and the Adriatic Sea.

Views of Istria – Part Two

Grisignana Bike

One of my favorite places to visit whenever I am in Istria is the beautiful artist’s village of Grisignana. It’s a quaint town perched atop one of Istria’s many hills with gorgeous panoramic views and charming shops and art galleries.

Grisignana Bike 2

It’s also home to an international music center (you can often hear the sounds of students playing piano or violin drifting along the alleyways) and a minor Jazz Festival. Definitely worth a visit.

Beram Church

Another view of Istria which is fascinating are the frescoes of the “Dance of the Dead” found in the tiny chapel of St. Mary of the Rocks near Beram.

Danse Macabre

This is a terrific example of the medieval tradition of the “Danse Macabre or Totentanz” which shows the universality of death for all mortals, no matter who you might be, king or pauper. Seems very relevant today, somehow….

Danse Macabre

Another place I wanted to make a quick stop at was the tiny village of Kringa. Unbeknownst to most folks, Istria was the site of the first official record in Europe of a real person accused of being a vampire. Jure Grando lived and died in the small hamlet of Kringa, and by all accounts, did not like staying still in his grave. There is some validity to the idea that Bram Stoker, creator of “Dracula”, read about the case of Jure Grando:

But there were no obvious direct connections between Grando and Stoker’s Dracula. However, thanks to Professor Elizabeth Miller and her tireless work publishing Stoker’s original notes for Dracula, and deconstructing interpretations that have appeared over the last thirty years or so, we were able to check Stoker’s reading list for Dracula. He used a book by Herbert Mayo, entitled Letters on Truths in Popular Superstition (from 1848), which includes the story of Jure Grando. At first glance this would appear merely to be interesting trivia, but the case of Jure Grando is the first vampire story, from either literature and folklore, that features a crucifix employed as a defensive weapon.

First Blood? The Curious Case of the Istrian Vampire

Jure Grando

Ah Istria…fun in the sun and fun in the shadows…nice views no matter the lighting. 🧛

Views of Istria – Part One

Motovun

We recently made a short Summer trip to the lovely Croatian peninsula of Istria. We enjoyed a relaxing time soaking up the sunshine, local food and drink, and taking short day trips to visit nearby sites. One of our trips was to the ancient hill-town known as Motovun in Croatian and Montona in Istrian Italian (most towns and villages in Istria are in both languages due to Istria’s complex history).

Motovun Street

After driving up the steep and narrow road to the public parking, we started to explore the town by foot and it instantly reminded me of certain hill-towns in Tuscany and Umbria.

The town of Motovun dates back to the ancient Celts and Illyrians and there are inscriptions and engravings in the town dating back to the 1st Century Roman period.

The medieval town that you can walk around in today is fairly well preserved and not overly “touristy”. The ticket to walk along the outer walls and fortifications is worth it if only for the views.

Motovun/Montona is a lovely gem set in the crown of Istrian heritage and is certainly worth the time for a visit.

The Quiescence

The streets of the city are empty and silent. Businesses and schools…shops and restaurants…museums and libraries…all are shuttered and their patrons isolated in houses and apartments. Thanks to the pandemic, we find ourselves in a surreal moment of history where the normal hustle and noise of daily life has been quiesced. Normally, I appreciate the calm and quiet, the city like it is in the early morning hours before the rush begins and the noise invades, but there is something unnatural about this peace, something coerced and oppressive. For maybe the first time in my life I find myself wishing for a return to normality, a restoration of all the quotidian things that I perpetually complain about. There’s the old adage about being “careful what you wish for, lest it come true” and perhaps now I begin to truly understand the full gravity of it.

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Journey to Volterra and San Gimignano

As a post-Christmas treat, we took an overnight trip with friends to Tuscany to visit the towns of San Gimignano and Volterra. I was looking forward to escaping from the Winter fog of Ferrara and visit the beautiful rolling hills where the ancient Etruscans built their fortified cities. Luckily for us it is an easy two-and-a-half hour car ride over the Apennines.

The town of San Gimignano in the province of Siena is famous for its spectacular medieval towers. Built by rival families over the centuries as signs of wealth and power, there were at one time up to seventy-two towers in the city. Alas, due to war, catastrophe and civic reconstruction, only fourteen of the towers now remain.

Medieval Towers of San Gimignano

We took the opportunity to climb the Torre Grossa and see a panoramic view of the town and surrounding countryside.

San Gimignano vista

The views were spectacular and well worth the 200+ stairs we had to climb.

We left San Gimignano in the late afternoon and arrived in the Etruscan town of Volterra where we checked-in to our hotel, had a nice pizza dinner and had a walk around the town.

Volterra by Night

The next morning we went exploring. The town is wonderful example of a Etruscan hill town and there are many lovely vistas…

Volterra vista

…and quintessential slices of Italian life to be seen.

Volterra Cinquecento

My favorite historical sight to see in Volterra is the two-thousand four-hundred year-old Etruscan Gate: the Porta all’Arco.

Overall, it was a great experience and I am looking forward to our next Tuscan trip; hopefully in a few weeks from now.