Postcard from Monopoli, Italy: Almost had the place to ourselves

monopoli fishing boats

An ancient fortified port in Puglia at the top of the heel of Italy’s boot, Monopoli has a reputation for being less touristy than many of the picturesque towns in the region. We hopped a train there from Lecce in mid-November, way past high season, and almost had the place to ourselves. Even the locals were sparse. Which meant the old town center was perfect for us to wander freely among its plazas and narrow streets.

The custodien closing the heavy wooden doors of the Baroque cathedral at noon kindly allowed us to do a whiplash tour just as the church bell was ringing its 12 dongs. The basilica dedicated to Madonna della Madia was constructed in the mid-1700s on the site of an earlier church.

Construction of the first church began in 1107 but was halted due to a lack of building materials for the roof. But, lo and behold, a miracle occurred in 1117. A raft formed from enormous beams tied together (a madia) floated into the harbor bearing an Byzantine image of the Virgin Mary. The revered icon is centered above the altar, and a piece of one of the original beams which allowed the completion of the roof is preserved as a holy relic atop a gold pedestal.

As someone who devoted part of her youth to buying, selling, trading and mortgaging real estate during marathon Monopoly matches, how could I not be drawn to a city bearing the name of the game.

Before hopping the train back to Lecce, the next post will take you to one more spot in Monopoli.

Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: A city filled with churches

When Ferdinand III (1199-1252), King of Castile, conquered Cordoba in 1236, he launched a flurry of construction projects to formalize the city’s conversion to Catholicism. The mosques destroyed in the process provided convenient foundations and served as quarries for building numerous of these. Through the centuries, the original medieval structures received Renaissance alterations topped by a Baroque overlay.

Shells left by pilgrims who have traveled the Camino de Santiago dangle from the statue of Santiago, or Saint James the Greater, in the temple built atop a mosque and dedicated to the saint. Following the death of Jesus, James proselytized throughout the Iberian peninsula before returning to preach in Samaria and Judea.

In the year 44, King Herod Agrippa I (11 BC-44 AD) ordered him beheaded, making James the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. According to Acts 12:20-23, Herod himself perished later that same year because: “he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Legends associated with Santiago as the patron saint of Spain claim he, with neck intact, miraculously appeared armed atop a horse to lead outnumbered Christians to victory in a battle with the Moors – 800 years following his death.

And, continuing on a saintly topic, a large silver vessel enshrined in the Basilica of San Pedro contains a jumbled assortment of skulls and bones purported to belong to the Martyrs of Cordoba. According to accounts recorded by San Eulogio, these 48 Christians were beheaded by their Muslim rulers between 851-859 for their violations of Islamic law, mainly blasphemy and apostasy, or renunciation of the Islamic faith.

Eulogio’s writings, The Memorials of the Saints, ended abruptly upon the priest’s own execution in 859.

 

Postcard from Bergamo, Italy: A skeletal glance at her churches and religious art

Continuing on a sped-up photographic post-mortem of our visit to Bergamo this past summer….

These randomly combined snapshots are assembled primarily from her Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Alexander, a Roman soldier beheaded on this spot in 303 when the emperors created many martyrs in their efforts to purge their legions of all Christians; a baptistery first constructed in 1340, deconstructed but saved three centuries later and then finally reassembled across from the Cathedral another two centuries later; and the adjacent Colleoni Chapel, a church and mausoleum with distinctive marble patterns and a rose window built by the Colleoni family in the late 1400s. Plus, some other church images and religious art from Bergamo’s museums.

Apologies to Bergamo and artists including Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Oh, and to San Alessandro, for forgetting to mention flowers sprang up and bloomed from the blood shed during his martyrdom.