Grottaglie Diary

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During the arsviva travel agency’s tour of Puglia, we stopped in the Ceramics Quarter of Grottaglie, a town famous for its superb ceramics made in artisans’ studios. What impressed me the most was the Museum of Ceramics in the 13th century Castello Episcopio. I loved discovering small, captivating museums during my trips. This museum only had three rooms, but they were three rooms with dynamic designs from the eighth century to the contemporary age. Creativity abounded.

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Some of the 400 objects were archeological while others were made of majolica. There were traditional ceramics on display alongside abstract constructions. Nativity scenes also held a prominent position in the museum’s content. Through these objects, I got a sense how ceramics played a role in life, how ceramics depicted the age in which they were made. I particularly liked one abstract work that reminded me of a sculpture by Alexander Calder, whose art was well-represented in the National Gallery of Art of Washington, D.C., near my hometown.

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That’s not all there was to see in Grottaglie, but we did not have time to see more of the town. The main church, Chiesa Matrice, was built in 1379. Princes and dukes once called the Palazzo Cicinelli home. Another palace, the Palazzo Urselli, sported a Renaissance façade and an impressive 15th century gate. The Monastery of San Francesco di Paolo was said to be a Baroque gem.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Bassano del Grappa Diary

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During my four-day excursion to north Italy with the arsviva travel agency, we visited the picturesque town of Bassano del Grappa, located 65 kilometers from Venice. It is known not only for its vineyards and Venetian villas but also for its Palladian wooden bridge and for the impressive collection of paintings by Jacopo Bassano (also referred to as Jacopo dal Ponte) in its Civic Museum.

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First, a bit about the town: Bassano del Grappa was first mentioned in writing as far back as 998 AD. The symbol of the city, the Ponte Vecchio was designed by the renowned architect Palladio in 1569. A wartime casualty and a victim of floods, the bridge has been rebuilt several times, but the current structure remains faithful to Palladio’s original design.

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The town does not lack a castle or a cathedral, either. Ezzelini Castle has not been in use for six centuries. Hailing from 998 A.D., the cathedral now boasts a 17th century appearance, Two of Jacopo’s paintings adorn the interior. Historical monuments abound. The Civic Tower was constructed around 1312. The Loggia of the Mayor dates back to the 15th century. The elegant blue clock has decorated its façade since 1430, though the current one was built in 1747. The loggia features frescoes. The squares of the town are picturesque, though there was a large market on the main square while we were there. Intriguing churches of various architectural styles also dot the town.

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The Civic Museum captured my undivided attention for more than two hours. The museum boasts the largest collection of renditions by Jacopo in the world. There was much more to see than Bassano’s masterpieces, however. The art gallery displays some 500 paintings from the 13th to 20th century. Sculptures also delight. There is a 17th century cloister, too.

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Jacopo Bassano lived from 1510 or 1515 to 1592. He was a Renaissance Venetian painter whose later works fall into the category of Mannerism. Born in Bassano del Grappa, he resided in Venice during the 1530s before returning to his hometown for good in 1539. Often experimenting with various styles, Jacopo was influenced by Titian, Tintoretto, Durer, Raphael and Roman art, for example. The painting guru is known for his religious paintings rendered in natural landscapes. He also studied the role of light and created significant nocturnal scenes.

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Here are some examples of the artwork in the Civic Museum that kept me entranced for two hours. Some of the paintings, but not all of them, are by Jacopo Bassano.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

National Gallery of Le Marche in Urbino Diary

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One of my most memorable experiences of my trip with arsviva to Le Marche and Umbria was my visit to the National Gallery of Le Marche in Urbino, a medieval town with steep, romantic streets, a stunning cathedral and the intriguing museum at the birthplace of master painter Raphael. The gallery is located in a majestic building – the Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, built in the 15th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We entered a elegant porticoed courtyard. The collection focuses on the Renaissance period, with works by Raphael, Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello and Titian, for instance. Raphael’s masterpiece La Muta, Uccello’s six-panel Miracle of the Desecrated Host and Titian’s The Resurrection are three of the many gems in this collection. The building also includes a small study that is decorated in trompe-l’oel style. The intarsia work is this room is remarkable. I especially love the squirrel! The doors boast latticework.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Leipzig Diary

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A fountain in Leipzig

When I saw that arsviva offered a day trip to Leipzig, I jumped at the opportunity. I had no idea what to expect, but I had enjoyed their day trips to other places in Germany, such as Nuremberg and Bamberg. Besides, our guide would be one of the best I had come across. With a specialty in architecture, she also had led the thrilling tours of Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel’s creations.

There were many things that awed me about Leipzig. The first and foremost, was, indeed, the architecture – how the modern and historical styles did not clash but rather provided a sort of artistic harmony.

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A contemporary statue in downtown Leipzig

The guide told us about the history of the city, and I had read about Leipzig’s trials and tribulations before the trip. During the seventh century, Leipzig got its name from the Slavic Lipsk, which means “a settlement where the linden trees stand.” The town was first mentioned in writing during 1015. It was founded in 1165, soon gaining a reputation as a trade center. The beginning of the 15th century changed the character of Leipzig, as a university was established here, and it became a prominent center of higher education. Goethe and Nietzsche had studied here.

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A beautiful book published in Leipzig

The Leipzig Book Fair, the second biggest book fair in Germany, has its origins in the 17th century. Book publishing took off in Leipzig during the 18th century and continued to play a major role until World War II, when the Graphic Quarter was mostly destroyed by bombs. The Battle of Nations in the 19th century took place near Leipzig. The 1813 ordeal pitted Napoleon’s France against the Prussians, Austrians, Russians and Swedes. The allied nations came through victorious, and Napoleon had no choice but to leave Germany. We would visit this monument later in the day.

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This painting from the Museum of City History shows the destruction during World War II.

The city became part of the German Empire in 1871, and the years before World War I were rosy. Then, after the war, the Weimar Republic was established, though short-lived. In 1933 the National Socialists took over, and Hitler’s reign of terror would continue until the US army freed the city on April 18, 1945. Then in July of that year, the Americans handed the city over to the Soviets. The totalitarian regime that was called the German Democratic Republic or East Germany existed from 1949 to 1989, when Communism was defeated in Germany in part thanks to the citizens of Leipzig and their demonstrations. Today more than 40,000 students vie for degrees in Leipzig, a truly university town. Leipzig was coined the “City of Diversity” by the German government in 2008.

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Gothic and modern architecture in a university building

The Augustusplatz, spanning 40,000 square meters, was a wonder in itself. The Gewandhaus, where the symphony played, and the Opera House took me by surprise, as I usually was not so enthralled with modern architecture. I took special note of the Paulinum, where the current structure resembled a former church that was destroyed by the Communists on this site in 1968. The 2012 creation really brought a sense of unity to modern and historical styles.

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The first high-rise in Leipzig

I also was enthralled with the first high-rise building in Leipzig, an 11-storey edifice constructed in the 1920s. Its design was inspired by the clock tower at St. Mark’s Square in my beloved Venice. For a moment, I mentally went eight years back in time and recalled winding through the empty, romantic streets of Venice on a Sunday at seven o’clock in the morning. The experience was magical, to say the least. In the present again: The tall Leipzig building was topped with a ball that showed the phases of the moon and a sculpture of a man ringing a bell. The German words for “Work overcomes everything” stood out on a gable.

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From the Museum of City History exhibition of the modern era

We also spent some time in the train station. No, we were not going anywhere by train, but rather we were admiring the masterful technical achievement that consisted of two entrance halls and two waiting rooms plus 25 platforms. In the early 20th century, this transportation hub ranked as the largest main train station in Europe after the architects transformed four stations into one. It made Prague’s main station look so tiny. I always felt a sense of excitement in train stations. I thought of the many trips I had taken by train. Prague’s train stations were starting points for what turned out to be superb experiences during which I became acquainted with an intriguing part of the country and also, most importantly, got to know myself better. The trips to Olomouc, Liberec, Turnov –  each journey provided me with insights about the external landscape as well as the internal landscape of my mind.

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A postcard of the Church of St. Nicholas

Unfortunately, it was not possible to take photos in the Church of St. Nicholas, the largest church in Leipzig. I tried to imagine October of 1989 in the church, when citizens crammed inside, protesting against the totalitarian regime and creating a path for democracy. The people of Leipzig really had made a difference in the so-called Peaceful Revolution, and this had been where it all began. On Mondays, ever since the early 1980s, prayers for peace were held here, too. I wondered when there would be peace in the world, if ever. So many tragedies, so much violence rocks the world today. The world was the most dangerous it had been during my 46 years on this earth, I mused. And it only seemed to be getting more and more dangerous day-by-day.

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From a postcard of the Church of St. Nicholas

I admired the architecture of the impressive church. Although originally constructed in Romanesque style during the 12th century, it was transformed into a Late Gothic structure boasting three naves during the first quarter of the 16th century. Three steeples boast Baroque decoration. Now the prevailing style of the interior is classicist, a characteristic that the church took on in the late 18th century. I loved the palm tree capitals on the stately columns most of all, especially the pink and green colors. The pillars made the church appear even more lively. It was not just an architectural masterpiece with a past, but it felt like a masterful design with a present, too. I tried to imagine Bach performing here, as he has served as organist from 1723 to 1750. I tried to imagine Martin Luther preaching here as churchgoers became familiar with the Reformation. It was a profound experience, standing there, gazing at the gem of an interior.

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The Church of St. Thomas

You could not miss the Bach monument in front of the Church of St. Thomas, which was constructed in 1212 as a monastery church for Augustinians. By 1355 the Romanesque structure had been transformed into Gothic style. Now it has a Late Gothic character with a late 15th century appearance. Real hair adorns Jesus’ head on a 16th century crucifix. The church holds the distinction of having one of the steepest gable roofs in the country.

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The ceiling of the Church of St. Thomas

The interior got a Neo-Gothic makeover during the revolutionary years of 1848 and 1849. Still, there were elements of the church that were much older than that. I saw a triptych altar from the 15th century, for instance, and even some Romanesque traits remain on the exterior. I especially liked the stained glass windows. Many people come here to pay homage to Bach, who worked as cantor here from 1723 to 1750. His grave is located in the choir.

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The stained glass windows at the Church of St. Thomas were extraordinary.

We also saw a modern church, built only several years ago. The interior was so sparse and minimalistic. There was a large wooden cross on one wall, and on the opposite wall another big cross was made of glass. I preferred Baroque and Gothic churches, definitely, but there was a profound sense of harmony in its simplicity. It ranked as an architectural gem in my book, though it was not my preferred style. There was something special about seeing this space stripped of frivolous decoration.

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Built from 1899 to 1905, the New Town Hall was another gem, purposefully reminiscent of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. With an area of 10,000 square meters, it is one of the biggest town halls in the world. The tower reaches a height of 1,147 meters, making it the highest town hall tower in Germany. It was a pity there was not more time to spend examining this building, but we had a lot to see. The town hall fountain featuring creatures from fairy tales and a figure of a young boy playing a flute was a gem.

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The New Town Hall

I was drawn to Klingerhaus, the birthplace of the 19th century Symbolist painter, sculptor and writer Max Klinger. I did not know much about Klinger, except that he had been influenced by Goya’s art. I recalled gazing in awe at Goya’s paintings in the Prado and at the artist’s drawings in the small, quaint contemporary art museum in Passau. I liked the Renaissance architecture of the building. I was particularly enthralled with the red gables and oriels that made the building look so dynamic.

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Klingerhaus

We walked by Auerbach’s Cellar, a tavern Goethe had frequented and the inspiration for a scene in Faust. We went into the Mädler Passage, an arcade building that reminded me of another arcade structure in Naples. It was modeled after the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan from 1912 to 1914 and boasted a central rotunda. A Glockenspiel of Meissen china charmed audiences on the hour.

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The Old Town Hall

I ate a hearty lunch in a narrow Baroque court teeming with restaurants and cafés – there were over 30 of them, in fact. Then I made my way to the Old Town Hall across the square. The first Renaissance hall in Germany, it was constructed in 1556. It was heavily damaged by bombing during World War II but rebuilt. The city administration worked here until 1905, and soon afterwards the Museum of City History opened in the impressive space. Shops were situated amidst the lovely arcades. I loved the gables and tower clock.

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The interior of the Old Town Hall

At the Museum of City History, I learned that the history of Leipzig is, in effect, the history of Germany and former East Germany. A remarkable exhibition of modern history from the revolutionary years of 1848-49 to the present enthralled me. Rarely have I been so enlightened and moved by an exhibition. Citizens were not satisfied with the political situation in 1848 and revolted, hoping to gain a constitution for Germany, among other goals. But it was not to be. The city became a central point for the German labor movement, German social democracy and women’s movement from the 1850s to 1871, when the German Empire was founded. Jewish fur traders flocked to the city, and their businesses flourished. Indeed, before World War I Leipzig was thriving.

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The interior of the Old Town Hall

From 1918 to 1933 Leipzig found itself in the Weimar Republic, an era that had to deal with the political and economic issues that followed the war. Yet Leipzig experienced the Roaring Twenties, and when things turned for the worst, the Great Depression of 1929. Then, in 1933, the National Socialists took control. The city was subject to much bombing during the war, and forced laborers toiled in the city during the war. US troops liberated Leipzig in April of 1945, but in July the Americans turned over the city to the Soviets. The German Democratic Republic was established in 1949, as Leipzig then became part of the totalitarian East Germany. Companies were nationalized, and cheaply built housing estates cropped up. Before the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, thousands of citizens escaped to the West. At the end of the 1980s, more inhabitants made it to the West. During the 40th anniversary of East Germany, the state employed violence to repress demonstrations. The Peaceful Revolution began on October 9, 1989, and the Leipzig protests would play a major role in the collapse of the Communist regime. In 1990, after 58 terror-ridden years led by dictators, democratic elections were held in Leipzig. There was much construction, and Leipzig earned the nickname “the Boomtown of the East.”

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From the Museum of City History exhibition about the modern era

The exhibition also focused on book publishing in Leipzig, which played a major role from the 18th century up to World War II. Until 1945, the biggest book fair in the world took place in Leipzig, and now the city hosts the second largest book fair in Germany. The exhibition also concentrated on Leipzig as a city of music, mentioning Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Grieg, Wagner and others who greatly influenced the town.

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From the Museum of City History exhibition of the modern era

There were many places in Leipzig that I did not have time to explore. For instance, I would have loved to have visited the museums in the former houses of Mendelssohn and Schumann. I longed to see the richly decorated facades of buildings on the Brühl, where, at the turn of the 20th century, 700 fur companies had been located. I would like to linger in the Baroque Coffee Baum, where famous musicians had once gathered. The Memorial Museum, at the site of the former State Security forces, would certainly allow insights into the terror-ridden years as part of East Germany.  There are other museums that I wanted to visit as well– the Grassi Museum of Applied Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts are just two examples.

During my day in Leipzig, I gained so much knowledge about life in the city and in Germany, especially from the middle of the 19th century to the present. I was won over by the architecture, both modern and historic. I left Leipzig, knowing I had to return in the not-so-distant future. Its strong impression will forever be stamped in my memory.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Kladruby Monastery Diary

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I had visited Kladruby Monastery about 20 years before I participated in the arsviva tour of architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel’s creations in west Bohemia. I had wanted to pay the Benedictine Monastery another visit for a long time.

I already knew a bit about the fascinating history of the place. Kladruby Monastery was founded by Prince Vladislav I during 1115. It was established on the Nuremberg-Prague trade route. The monastery made quite a name for itself at the end of the 12th century and during the 13th century. The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Saint Wolfgang and Saint Benedict was consecrated in 1233 with King Wenceslas I on hand for the ceremony. (King Wenceslas I was not the only royal to visit the monastery; King Přemysl Otakar I held negotiations there during the 13th century, too.)

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There was much looting later that century, but around 1370, a new abbot was appointed, and the situation improved. The Chapel of All Saints was added during that period. Then Hussite Wars brought devastation to Kladruby. The Hussites and then the army of the Emperor Sigismund took control of the monastery in the 15th century. The Benedictines returned in 1435, though it took about 70 years for things to shape up. The monastery flourished during the early 16th century, and more monks called Kladruby home. This was a glorious time of expansion. A school was set up; both Catholics and Protestants attended.

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Things took a turn for the worst with the onset of the Thirty Years’ War. The monastery was looted and pillaged. Because the Catholics won, Kladruby was once again in favor after the wartime turmoil. Expansion and reconstruction took place in the Catholized land.

Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, a Czech architect of Italian origin, became associated with the monastery in the early 18th century, when he was in charge of doing a makeover of the church in Baroque Gothic style, which emphasized Gothic features in a distinctly Baroque style. Thanks to his efforts, the church interior is bewitchingly beautiful.

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In 1785 Emperor Joseph II dissolved the monastery. The Benedictines packed their bags, and the Windisch-Graetz clan moved in. During their tenure, they divided the monastery into apartments. One part of the complex was made into a brewery. The Windisch-Graetzes, however, did build a library that is rather impressive.

Kladruby was nationalized after World War II, and terrible times were to come. Sick cattle grazed on the monastery’s property while other parts were transformed into offices. Reconstruction did not begin until the middle of the 1960s.

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I was especially intrigued by the Dining Room, which showed off an 18th century pewter service. What I found most intriguing, however, was the portrait of Cardinal Schwarzenberg. No matter where I stood, his eyes were always staring at me. I gazed at the portrait of the red-drapery clad cardinal with a stern expression from several angles.

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In the ambulatory we saw many sandstone statues by Late Baroque sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun, one of my favorites. His works are so dynamic and powerful. It was evident that Braun’s sojourn in Italy had influenced his creations. Most of these statues were inspired by Greek and Roman historical themes while some stood for allegories of character traits. They were all original except for the statue of Count František Antonín Špork, who had been a prominent cultural figure and patron of the arts in the early 18th century. He had founded Kuks, a former hospital that had once been located across from a popular spa, and he commissioned Braun to make statues of vices and virtues for the Baroque exterior of Kuks.

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I had visited Kuks for the third time the previous year, and Braun’s statues were certainly a highlight. The newly restored Dance of Death paintings lining a hallway and the Baroque pharmacy there were also impressive. I had also examined the statuary carved from sandstone rocks in Braun’s Bethlehem, situated near Kuks. Those accomplishments are by no means the only ones on Braun’s résumé. He authored several statuaries on Prague’s Charles Bridge, such as The Vision of St. Luthgard, which was his first work. It brought him much acclaim. At Kladruby we also saw 12 woodcuts depicting scenes from Christ’s childhood. It astounded me how it had been possible to portray so much detail in the 16th century carvings.

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At the monastery there are about 500 sculptures, paintings and portraits of John of Nepomuk, the Czech patron saint of Bohemia who was drowned in the Vltava River on the orders of King Wenceslas IV during the latter part of the 14th century. The king and archbishop were at odds over who should be the abbot of the prosperous and influential monastery. John of Nepomuk showed his support for the Pope by confirming the archbishop’s candidate, which infuriated the king. John of Nepomuk became a saint in 1729.

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Then came the Santini-designed Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Saint Benedict and Saint Wolfgang. Santini had been inspired by the Italian radical Baroque use of geometry and symbolism. I see Santini’s structures as rational yet radical. Santini elevates Gothic art to a new form, offering fresh perspectives and giving new insights. I fondly recalled last year’s arsviva tour of Santini’s structures in east Bohemia and Moravia. I had learned so much about Santini’s creations, and my appreciation of the architect had grown.

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Santini was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a stonemason, but palsy prevented him from doing so. As a student he was mentored by Prague-based architect Jan Baptiste Mathey. During a four-year sojourn in Italy, Santini became enamored with works by Italian architects Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarnini and their radical Baroque style. Santini was commissioned to reconstruct many religious sites. Baroque art became the fashion during the era when the Catholic army triumphed in the Thirty Years’ War and remained so afterwards, when the Catholicism flourished in the Czech lands. During a mere 46 years, Santini cast his magic spell on about 80 buildings.

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It amazed me how the church at Kladruby – the third biggest church in the Czech lands – retained its Gothic charm while also celebrating the Baroque style. I loved the details, such as the slots for candles in the benches of the choir. The pulpit was shaped like a boat rocking on a stormy sea. The Baroque organ – which still worked – boasted 1,270 pedals. Santini designed the impressive organ case. At the bottom of the main altar, there was a small statue of Christ on the cross, and I noticed that the Christ figure was crooked. I wondered what that symbolized. Two devils appeared in paintings in the church as well. Directly below the gushingly Late Baroque dome decorated with a scene of the Assumption was a large eight-pointed star of many layers. It was just one of many eight-pointed stars symbolizing the Virgin Mary that appeared in the church. I also liked the Romanesque elements that Santini had retained. I loved the many frescoes on the walls as well as the church’s stucco ribs and helical vaults. The play of light was also dynamic. Light played such a major role in Santini’s designs.

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The high altar, one of Braun’s masterpieces, was perhaps the most intriguing as it featured both Gothic and Baroque elements. It showed scenes from the life and torment of Jesus Christ and scenes from the history of the Benedictine Order. The Assam brothers, who had been Late Baroque gurus, had also decorated sections of the church.  I recalled the church in Munich that they had decorated. The Late Baroque adornment there was so overwhelming that it had made me dizzy.

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We also visited the Windisch-Graetz Empire style library, which held 33,000 volumes and included a gallery. On display were weapons of various sorts and objects obtained during travels abroad.

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I was more than satisfied with my visit to Kladruby and would recommend it to everyone who has time to see sights in west Bohemia. What impressed me most about Kladruby’s history was that it reflected the history of the Czech lands going through eras of prosperity, destruction and rebirth. Visiting the monastery was like reading a 900-year old illustrated text. Santini’s geometric symbolism, his use of Gothic and Baroque elements and the play of light greatly impressed me. Braun’s statues were so lively. Each facial expression told a story – some of delight, some of anguish. It was as if it was possible to see into the soul of each character represented in the statues.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.

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National Art Gallery in Bologna Photo Diary

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I visited the National Art Gallery (Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna) in 2014, when I went on a trip with the travel agency arsviva. The collection includes paintings from the Emila region. It features works from the 13th to the 18th century. The gallery has been open to the public since 1875. I especially was drawn to the medieval art.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Capri Diary

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I immediately signed up for a day trip to Capri on the arsviva tour of Naples and the surrounding area. I was thrilled. The azure sea, the beautifully blue sky, the terraced slopes on the massive cliffs – I could hardly wait.
After we disembarked from the ferry, we got on a small boat, which held about 20 or 25 people. Then we cruised around the island. I was enthralled by the scenery, but at the same time I was terrified. I had never been on such a small boat. The waves – though no doubt gentle – rocked the boat back and forth as we took photos. While I have an affinity for mountains, I have always felt – no pun intended – like a fish out of water near the sea. I don’t even remember how to swim, though I did take lessons as a child. Each time the boat rocked to one side, I was convinced that it would capsize, I would fall in the enchantingly azure water and drown.

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Yet, at the same time, I was captivated by the intense beauty of my surroundings. There was a pleasant sea breeze on that beautiful September day. The rocky coast, the high cliffs, the grottoes, the natural arches made by the rocks, the houses set precariously on the cliffs – it was breathtaking and a bit surreal for me. As the boat navigated around the caves, I worried that it would get stuck and that we would be trapped there. Still, the caves had a sense of mystery to them, a sort of mystical quality. The Blue Grotto was not open on that day – the water level was too high, but the other grottoes we saw were remarkable.

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I was especially intrigued by the red box-like villa of the now deceased journalist and writer Curzio Malaparte (whose name means “wrong-sided”), who had fought for Mussolini during the so-called “March on Rome” in 1922, but became a fervent opponent of the Italian dictator when Italy changed sides during World War II. After the war he flirted with the Communist Party. Malaparte was known for his anti-Hitler and anti-Mussolini writings. He was kicked out of the National Fascist Party and was arrested by Mussolini on numerous occasions. The rebellious author had been a Republican most of his life but died a devout Catholic.

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His villa was built from 1938 to 1941. Some critics call it a masterpiece of Italian modern architecture while others see it as an eyesore. I was drawn to it because it was unique. Some features of the villa include reverse pyramidal stairs that lead to a roof patio. It lurks precariously on a cliff 32 meters above sea level, looking as if it may fall into the water at any moment.

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Before my trip to Capri, I did a little research about the island, a large limestone and sandstone rock that has a population of about 12,500. The total surface area of the island, made up of towns Capri and Anacapri, comes to 11 square kilometers while the island is six kilometers in length. Mountains can be found on the island, too. The highest is Mount Solaro at 589 meters.

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Capri was once a Greek colony. It got its name from wild goats on the island. The Romans took over in 29 AD when Emperor Augustus saw it for the first time. Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, formed close ties with the island. He lived as a recluse there during the last 10 years of his life. After his death in 37 AD, things were not so rosy for Capri, and later many pirate raids took place on the island. After the Romans, Capri switched owners many times. The Spaniards controlled the island for a lengthy period. The island has certainly had its share of trials and tribulations, such as the plague during the 18th century. It was ruled by the Bourbons before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy.

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Tourism officially started on Capri in the 17th century, when the first tourist, French antiques dealer Jean-Jacques Bouchard, visited the island. During the “Dolce Vita” years of the 1950s and early 1960s, none of the names in cinema, the arts and politics could resist Capri’s charm, and they were often seen on the island wearing so-called Capri pants and espadrillas. A number of well-known personalities have lived on Capri, and today many celebrities have homes there. The founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Ilych Lenin, even visited Maxim Gorky at that writer’s residence on Capri in 1908. Queen Victoria made a point of staying on the island. Norman Douglas was another Capri resident.

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Back to my trip: I was thrilled that I had survived the boat ride. From the Marina Grande we took the funicular to the town of Capri. I was glad that I did not know then about one of the first rides in the funicular during the the early 20th century, when two cables broke – a tragedy that resulted in two deaths. However, my ride, thankfully, was uneventful. We all made it to the main square safely.

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I soon found myself on the main square, the Piazzetta, bustling with crowded, outdoor cafés. I took a seat at one café and drank a Cola Zero. The waiter served me surprisingly quickly. When I got the bill, I was shocked that a small bottle cost six euros. At least I did not have to wait an hour to pay.

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Then I took some time to take in my surroundings. I saw the clock tower, the former bell tower of a cathedral. I admired its architecture featuring an eastern-influenced cupola and arcades. I stood in front of the Church of Saint Stephen, which had Baroque elements and a central dome. It was not open, but later I found out that the interior included Roman fragments from the Villa Jovis, which we would see a bit later on, as well as sculptures and paintings. I took a short walk through narrow, winding paths, past designer shops and white houses, toward the marina. Then I headed back for our meeting at the main square.

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We trekked uphill to the Villa Jovis. Away from the busy main square Capri was tranquil with narrow streets flanked by magnificent villas and gardens. I occasionally stopped to take in the stunning scenery.

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Villa Jovis, named after the god Jovis or Jupiter, hailed from 27 AD, when it was constructed for Tiberius, who lived like a recluse there until he died in 37 AD, when he was 79 years old. It stands on Mount Tiberius, which is 335 meters high. It is by no means the only villa Tiberius had built on Capri; he had no less than 12 constructed on the island. Villa Jovis, though, is the biggest of them all, measuring 1.7 acres or 7,000 square meters.

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Below the villa we saw the remains of a watch tower that Tiberius had used as a sort of telegraph system. He would signal to the mainland via fire or smoke. We explored the former living quarters, the administrative area, the reception area and what had been a hall offering magnificent views of the sea. We saw the remnants of the complex system of water tanks that had collected rain water for the villa and the area where the baths used to be along with a complicated heating system. Part of the ruins may have even once been an observatory.

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Tiberius was a complicated historical figure. He made quite a name for himself as a general but didn’t seem too enthusiastic to take on the role of emperor. He was known as a sad, weary, reclusive old man in an unhappy marriage. Augustus forced him to leave his beloved wife to marry into the emperor’s family. There were rumors of Tiberius’ cruelty and perversion. For example, it is said that he threw his enemies into a bottomless abyss. Yet, it is probable that there was little truth to these stories. Tiberius ruled for 22 years and during that time only about 50 people were accused of treason. Only half of them were actually convicted. He certainly was no friend of the Senate, which abhorred him, even refusing to grant him divine honors after his death. One of the reasons Tiberius fled to Capri was because he was afraid he would be assassinated, and his villas on Capri were well-guarded and hard to reach.

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After taking many snapshots of superb views, I wandered down the narrow, winding streets, invigorated by the tranquil atmosphere and found an excellent family-run restaurant. Then I went closer to the center and did some window-shopping. I was impressed with the ceramics sold on the island.

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While I did not have time to get to Anacapri, other members of the tour did. They visited the villa of Axel Munthe, who, in the first half of the last century, had been a Swedish writer, physician and psychiatrist. He was known for helping the poor free of charge, and he had bravely offered his medical services during wartime. His Villa San Michele includes impressive gardens dotted with Egyptian relics. I hope I have a chance to return someday to visit Anacapri and other sights on the island.

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While Capri seemed idyllic as I walked along its narrow, picturesque lanes, I would not buy a villa on the island if I ever become rich enough to do so. I found the sheer cliffs daunting and in a way terrifying. I was certainly not at home by the sea. It was a thrilling place to visit, but I would prefer to buy an apartment in Paris or Rome, though I doubt I will ever have the money to do so!

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On the way back to Naples, I sat on the upper level, outside on the ferry, feeling the sea breeze on my face and watching the hypnotizing movement of the waves. I did not feel scared on the ferry as I had on the small boat. I breathed in the fresh sea air and was thankful I had had another superb day during my trip to Campania.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.