National Gallery of Le Marche in Urbino Diary


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.


























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

Spello Photo Diary


During my tour of Umbria, I was most enchanted by the town of Spello, with its steep, narrow and picturesque streets and stone buildings that gave it a medieval appearance. I could imagine myself living in such a tranquil environment. I loved the potted plants and flowers decorating the exteriors of the quaint homes. Located 10 kilometers from Assisi, Spello has Roman roots – the Romans established a colony there in 1 BC, and traces of its Roman heritage remain to this day in the form of three gates. The Arch of Augustus hails from 1 BC to 1 AD. There are gates from the Middle Ages as well. Impressive churches dot the town. My favorite was Santa Maria Maggiore, which dates from 1159, and its Baglioni Chapel that boasts dazzling Renaissance frescoes by Pinturicchio. Rendered around 1500, the frescoes provide a pictorial narration of the childhood events of Mary and Jesus. The main scenes, shaped as lunettes, include the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Dispute with the Doctors. Other churches we saw included Sant’Andrea, dating from 1025 and sporting 14th century frescoes and San Lorenzo, which traces its history back to the 12th century. The Old Town Hall or Palazzo Comunale Vecchio has a bewitching medieval appearance, and there is a 16th century fountain on the same square.

























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

National Gallery of Umbria Photo Diary


One of the highlights of my trip to Le Marche and Umbria was visiting the breathtaking National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia. The collection consists of Umbrian painting mainly from the 13th to 16th centuries and is located in the medieval Palazzo dei Priori, a magnificent medieval palace that also serves as the town hall and municipal library. There is some significant sculpture, too. The oldest piece in the gallery is a wooden crucifix from the early 13th century. Artists represented include the Pisano brothers, Perugino, Ottaviano Nelli, Benedetto Bonfigli, Pinturicchio and Raphael. Many Umbrian artists were influenced by painting in Tuscany, especially by the Sienese masters.
































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

National Art Gallery in Bologna Photo Diary


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.











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

Capri Diary


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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

Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte Diary

One of the highlights of my trip to Naples was visiting the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte museum, which houses a gallery of 19th century art, porcelain, ceramics, an armory and historical apartments. Founded by Charles Bourbon in 1738, the palace was not completed until 1838. Artwork featured at the museum includes The Blind Leading the Blind and Misanthrope by my beloved Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Madonna with Child and Angels by Botticelli and three portraits of Pope Paul II by Titian. Raphael, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Pieter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, El Greco and Caravaggio are just a few of the artists represented. The museum is also home to seven tapestries showing scenes from the Battle of Pavia. The Gallery of Rare Things shows off miniatures, small bronzes, works of majolica, ivory and crystal pieces, gems and jewelry, for instance. I took pictures mostly of the royal apartments, which included the stunning Ballroom. The design of this room was influenced by 18th century findings at Herculaneum and Pompeii. The crystal chandeliers, the Neoclassical divans and the marble floor featuring geometric designs all enthralled me.














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

Churches of Naples Diary


The cobblestoned, narrow streets of the Gothic quarter; via San Gregorio Armeno, where so many shops sell Nativity scene figures; youngsters riding motorbikes with helmets pushed back on the nape of their necks; laundry hanging from clotheslines on balconies overlooking Baroque churches; the steep, picturesque streets of the Spanish Quarter; pizzerias with modest décor where the best pizza in the world is made; 27 centuries of history packed into the historical centre – I found all these features of Naples bewitching.


The cloister of Santa Chiara

The history of Naples intrigued me, too. Of Greek origin, the region was first called Parthenope and later reestablished as Neapolis, meaning “new city,” during 6 BC. Naples played a dominant role in European culture throughout its history as capital of the Kingdom of Naples from 1282 to 1816 and the capital, along with Sicily, of the Two Sicilies from 1816 to 1861, when Italy was unified. During World War II it experienced dark days as it was the most bombed city in Italy. Now the historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Facade of the Cathedral

What I liked best about Naples were the museums and the churches, especially the San Severo Chapel, the Cathedral, the Church of Gesù Nuovo, the Church and cloister of Santa Chiara and the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore. In this post I will concentrate on the churches that influenced me the most. It would take a hundred pages to describe everything that impressed me in Naples.


Interior of the Cathedral

The San Severo Chapel was my favorite with its Veiled Christ and other dynamic sculptures seeping with symbolism. It was created during the 18th century by Prince Raimondo di Sangro as a burial place for his family. Prince Raimondo’s resume fascinated me. He was not only a leading authority on architecture and the military but also made a name for himself as a writer and inventor. For instance, he came up with the idea of a single-barreled shotgun that was fired using gunpowder and compressed air.


Chastity from
I marveled at all the sculptures in the chapel, but I will focus on the three that I was most intrigued with: Chastity, Disenchantment and the Veiled Christ. Raimondo had the sculpture Chastity built for his mother, who died at a young age. I marveled at the female figure’s close-fitting veil adorned with roses. The figure held a broken slab, symbolizing the impossibility of attaining her dreams and goals because her life was cut short. I thought about young men and women killed by drunk drivers, the victims of terrorist attacks and gun violence – all lives tragically cut short, all people who carried broken slabs.


Disenchantment from
The tomb of his father with the dramatic sculpture Disenchantment also caught my undivided attention. Raimondo’s father was a traveler and later became a priest. The sculpture portrays a man freeing himself from a net, which stood for sin. I marveled at the exquisite details of the net, which, according to my own interpretation, could stand for negative energy and bad situations. I sometimes found the need to free myself from negative energy and problems by making changes in my life, thus getting out of the “net.” I freed myself from this sort of “net” by reading and writing, but first and foremost by traveling and learning about various cultures as well as by going to classical concerts and to the theatre.

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Veiled Christ from

For me the highlight of this chapel was Veiled Christ by Sanmartino. The tight-fitting veil was so realistic, draped over the lifeless body. I marveled how the artist could capture the sense of the material so well. I valued other details of the sculpture -. Christ’s hands pierced by nails and the vein on his forehead that seemed to be throbbing. I could actually feel the suffering and the torment.


Veiled Christ from
Downstairs were two skeletons of a man and a woman encased in glass. I could see the veins and arteries that had been preserved for two centuries. The skeletons presented a detailed study of the circulatory system. How this was done remains a mystery. According to a legend, the corpses were injected with some sort of liquid that made the veins and arteries harden.


Then there was the Cathedral that paid homage to Saint Januarius, who freed the city from the plague in 1527. It was constructed by Charles II of Anjou in the late 13th century. Phials with the dried blood of the saint are kept here, and there are big celebrations twice a year, in May and September, when the phials of blood liquefy If they do not liquefy, it means that catastrophe will come to the city. I was enthralled with the frescoes in the central nave and the inlay and gilt work of the 17th century ceiling. There were frescoes galore in the cathedral on the floors and walls, dating from the 14th to the 16th century. The Santa Restituta Chapel boasted some fantastic fifth century mosaics on its cupola. I particularly liked the one depicting a lion. I could practically hear him roaring.


The Church of Gesù Nuovo used to be a palace during the 15th century, which is why it has such a unique façade made of piperno gray rock. The structure was transformed into a church during the 16th century. It took 40 years to decorate the stunning interior, Baroque in style. Designed in the form of a Greek cross, there are three naves surrounded by side chapels. The frescoes in the vault were marvelous, and I loved the marble in various colors that decorated the church. The main altar was made of marble, adorned with bronze and semi-precious stones. I was fascinated by the chapel devoted to Saint Joseph Moscati, a doctor who had worked as a university professor. A bronze statue of the physician stood to the left of the altar where his urn was kept.


The Chapel of the Crucifix was another delight in the Church of Gesù Nuovo. The wooden statue of the crucified Christ was stunning, and the ceiling frescoes amazed. No less than 70 busts of saints and martyrs, sculpted in golden wood during 1617, decorated two reliquaries. The frescoes in the sacristy also held my attention.



Built from 1310 to 1328 in Gothic Provencal style, the Church of Santa Chiara has a single nave with nine chapels on each side and boasts artistic treasures from the 14th to the 18th century. The double lancet and three-mullioned windows were breathtaking. The church also featured the tomb of Robert I of Anjou, erected from 1343 to 1345.


However, the highlight for me was the cloister with its remarkable 18th century majolica ornamentation. It was the most beautiful cloister I had ever seen. The majolica tiles adorned the pillars and benches in the garden and showed off landscapes and mythological scenes as well as scenes from village life. I loved the complimentary yellows and blues used to portray a lively country dance. The village scenes remained me of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Other tiles showed villagers bowling.


The cloister also included the Opera Museum made up of nine rooms of artifacts from antiquity to the 20th century. I saw the remains of a Roman spa that once was part of a patrician villa, dating from 1 AD. Marble objects and reliquaries also made up the collection.



Last but not least, the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore also took my breath away. It was built on the site of a Romanesque church from 1283 to 1324, but from the 15th to 18th century underwent many architectural changes. St. Thomas Aquinas taught for a year in the monastery that had adjoined the church. There are three naves in the basilica gushing with superb frescoes and impressive paintings. Two side naves have chapels adorned with frescoes and tombs.

In the Chapel of the Frescoes, the frescoes on the walls portrayed Christ on the Cross, Mary Magdalene and the apostles. In the Chapel of St. Anthony Abbott, it is possible that one fresco was even created by Giotto. The Chapel of the Crucifix was adorned with frescoes dating from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, and the altar boasted a 13th century crucifix.

I was dumbfounded by the ceiling fresco, hailing from 1707, in the sacristy. It celebrated the Dominicans’ triumph of faith over heresy. But I was not only intrigued by what was above me but also by what was below. A slab in the floor announced that Irish-born Richard L. Concanen, the first Bishop of New York, was buried in the basilica during 1810. In the apse there were tombs of Aragon rulers. The pulpit dated from 1559, and the organ from 1751, with 1,640 pipes. There was a painting by Jusepe de Ribera in the basilica as well as copies of creations by Titian and Caravaggio.

For me these churches – as well as the Archeological Museum and the Museo di Capodimonte – represented Naples. The San Severo Chapel ranked first on my list with its stunning, symbolic statues and the breathtaking Veiled Christ. I had never seen anything like the cloister at Santa Chiara. The San Severo Chapel, the Cathedral, the Church of Gesù Nuovo, the church and cloister of Santa Chiara and the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore with their unforgettable splendor were highlights of my trip.

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