Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa (Venice, Italy)

Courtyard o the palazzo

Courtyard o the palazzo

The  Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa, originally the ancient casa da stazio, an L-shaped building located at the intersection of the rios of San

Bronze bust of Antonio Grimani (Andrea Briosco)

Bronze bust of Antonio Grimani (Andrea Briosco)

Severo and Santa Maria Formosa, was the residence of the Venetian doge Antonio Grimani. It was substantially altered in 1532-1569 by his grandsons Vittore, procuratore generale of the city, and Giovanni Grimani, cardinal and Patriarch of Aquileia, giving it a classical stamp.

Giovanni allegedly collaborated with celebrated architects such as Jacopo Sansovino, Sebastiano Serlio and  Andrea Palladio.

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Two new wings, doDSC00364ubling the size of the building, were added.  A vast Roman-style inner courtyard, with loggias of marble colonnades (unusual in sixteenth-century Venice) and asymmetrical porticoes, was laden with artfully arranged sculptures, reliefs and inscriptions.The palace was completed in 1575 by Giovanni Rusconi while Alessandro Vittoria was responsible for the ornamentation of the doorway.

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The palace is composed of three parts with a small backyard. The façade, sporting

Bronze bust of Hadrian (Ludovico Lombardo)

Bronze bust of Hadrian (Ludovico Lombardo)

characteristically massive windows arches, is decorated with polychrome marble.

The most striking feature of the interior is the Sala di Psiche (c. 1540), with frescoes by Mannerist artists such as Francesco MenzocchiCamillo Mantovano and Francesco Salviati.

Other artists who worked to the palace’s decoration include Taddeo Zuccari and Giovanni da Udine.

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Bust of Antinoüs, favorite of Hadrian

Bust of Antinoüs, favorite of Hadrian

The palazzo once held the archaeological collections (one of the finest of the time), strikingly displayed on shelves, mantelpieces and plinths in settings of the high ceiling, specially designed Tribuna and the courtyard, amassed by Cardinal Domenico Grimani and Giovanni Grimani, and donated to the Republic.

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Palazzo Grimani, internationally important for its architectural originality, the quality of its decoration and the history of its development, was purchased by the State in 1981 and, in 2001, a decree of the Ministry of the Cultural Heritage gave responsibility for its management to the Superintendency of State Museums in Venice. On December 20, 2015, it was reopened as a museum.

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An especially valuable addition to its museum circuit, the palace displays a few HiDSC04670eronymus Bosch paintings from the Grimani collection: depicting the dream-like Visione dell’Aldilàl’Ascesa all’Empireo, and la Caduta dei dannati e l’Inferno; and the Triptych of Santa Liberata, and the Triptych of the eremiti (Sant’Antonio, San Girolamo and Sant’Egidio).

Sculpture gallery

The Sculpture Gallery with “The Rape of Ganymede (Reinhard Gomer)” hanging on the ceiling

The extraordinarily high quality decoration of the rooms iDSC04680ncludes outstanding stucco work and frescoes, reflecting the confidently unconventional taste of the Grimanis.

Palazzo Grimani, unique in Venetian history and architecture, is a fascinating treasure house of cultural, artistic and historical riches.

Statue of Laocoon and his sons

Statue of Laocoon and his sons

Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa: Ramo Grimani, 4858, 30122 Venice, Italy. Tel: +39 041 241 1507 and +39 041 5200345. E-mail: info@palazzogrimani.org and sspsae-ve.grimani@beniculturali.it. Website: www.palazzogrimani.org. Open 8:15 AM – 7:15 PM. Admission: € 4.00 + € 1,50 reservation fee.

Palazzo Strozzi (Florence, Italy)

Palazzo Strozzi

Palazzo Strozzi

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections (3)Palazzo Strozzi, facing the historical Via de’ Tornabuoni, is one of the finest examples of Renaissance domestic and civil architecture.  It has, since World War II, been Florence’s largest temporary exhibition space and, today, the palace is used for the now-annual antique show (founded as the Biennale dell’Antiquariato in 1959), international expositions, fashion shows, and other cultural and artistic events such as “Cézanne in Florence, Two Collectors and the 1910 Exhibition of Impressionism.” During our visit, there ongoing exhibits were “Migrazioni” (Liu Xiadong, April 22-June 19, 2016) and “From Kandinsky to Pollock: The Art o the Guggenheim Collections” (March 19-July 24, 2016)

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections

Designed by Benedetto da Maiano and begun in 1489  , the palace was built for Florentine banker, statesman and merchant Filippo Strozzi the Elder, a rival of the  Medici who had returned to the city in November 1466.  He desired the most magnificent palace to assert his affluent family’s continued prominence and, perhaps more important, a political statement of his own status.

Wooden model of the Palazzo Strozzi

Wooden model of the Palazzo Strozzi

To provide enough space for the construction of the largest palace that had ever been seen in Florence, a great number of other buildings were acquired during the 1470s and then demolished. A wood model of the design was provided by Giuliano da Sangallo. Italian architect Simone del Pollaiolo (il Cronaca), in charge of its construction until 1504, left the palace incomplete and the palace was only completed in 1538, long after Filippo Strozzi’s death in 1491.  That same year, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated it but it was returned to the Strozzi family thirty years later.

Cortile (Central Courtyard)

Cortile (Central Courtyard)

Cortile (Central Courtyard) (3)It remained the property and seat of the Strozzi family until 1937, after which time it was occupied by the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni which made great changes to the building. Since 1999, it has been managed by the City of Florence. The Palazzo is now home to the Institute of Humanist Studies, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi (Palazzo Strozzi Foundation), the noted Gabinetto Vieusseux, with its library and reading room, and the Istituto Nazionale del Rinascimento (Renaissance Studies Institute), the last two occupying the building since 1940.

The dominating cornice

The dominating cornice

StairFrom Palazzo Medici, Filippo copied the cubic form, designing its three floors around a cortile  (central courtyard) surrounded by an arcade,  inspired by Michelozzo. Its rusticated stone was also inspired by the Palazzo Medici but with more harmonious proportions. However, this free-standing structure is surrounded on all four sides by streets unlike the Medici Palace which is sited on a corner lot and, thus, has only two sides. The ground plan of Palazzo Strozzi, rigorously symmetrical on its two axes, with clearly differentiated scales for its principal rooms, introduced a problem new in Renaissance architecture (given the newly felt desire for internal symmetry of planning symmetry) – how to integrate the cross-axis.

The paired mullioned windows

The paired mullioned windows

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong) (3)The three sides overlooking the street each have three arched portals. The palazzo, with its dominating cornice (typical of the Florentine palaces of the time), has paired mullioned  windows (bifore) and wrought-iron lanterns, done by an iron-worker named Caparra, decorating the corners of the palace exterior. As they rise to the keystone, the radiating voussoirs of the arches increase in length, a detail that was much copied for arched windows set in rustication in the Renaissance revival.

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong)

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong)

Palazzo Strozzi: Piazza degli Strozzi, 50123 Florence, Italy. Tel: +39 055 264 5155. Open daily, 10 AM – 8 PM (Thursdays, 11 PM). E-mail: info@palazzostrozzi.org. Website: www.palazzostrozzi.org. Admission: €12.00.

Villa d’Este – Villa (Tivoli, Italy)

The Villa d’Este, a villa  near Rome  listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, is a fine example of Renaissance architecture and the Italian Renaissance garden. Since December 2014, it has been run as a State Museum  by the Polo Museale del Lazio.

Villa d'Este

Villa d’Este

Here are some historical trivia regaring the villa:

  • The Villa d’Este was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, son ofAlfonso I d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia;  grandson of Pope Alexander VI and the appointed governor of Tivoli (from 1550) by Pope Julius III (the villa was the pope’s gift). Cardinal d’Este, after 5 failed bids for the papacy, saw to its construction from 1550 until his death in 1572, when the villa was nearing completion. He drew inspiration (and many statues and much of the marble used for construction) from the nearby Villa Adriana, the palatial retreat of Emperor Hadrian.
  • The villa was entirely reconstructed to plans ofpainter-architect-archeologist  Pirro Ligorio and carried out under the direction of the Ferrarese architect-engineer Alberto Galvani, court architect of the Este.
  • The rooms of the Palace were decorated under the tutelage of the stars of the late Roman Mannerism, such as Livio Agresti (the chief painter of the ambitious internal decoration) fromForlì, Federico Zuccari, Durante Alberti, Girolamo Muziano, Cesare Nebbia and Antonio Tempesta. The work was almost complete at the time of the Cardinal’s death (1572).
  • Pirro Ligorio was responsible for the iconographic programs worked out in the villa’s frescos.
  • In the 18th century, the lack of maintenance led to the decay of the complex and the villa and its gardens passed to theHouse of Habsburg after Ercole III d’Este bequeathed it to his daughter Maria Beatrice, married to Grand Duke Ferdinand of Habsburg. The villa and its gardens were neglected.
  • In 1851, Cardinal Gustav von Hohelohe, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingfürst, obtained the villa, in enfiteusi, from the Dukes of Modena.  To pull the complex back from its state of ruin, he launched a series of works. Between 1867 and 1882, the villa once again became a cultural point of reference.
  • After World War I, Villa d’Este was purchased for the Italian State, restored, and refurnished with paintings from the storerooms of the Galleria Nazionale, Rome.
  • During the 1920s, it was restored and opened to the public.
  • Immediately after World War II, another radical restoration was carried out to repair the damage caused by the bombing of 1944.
  • During the past 20 years, due to particularly unfavorable environmental conditions, the restorations have continued practically without interruption. Among these is the recent cleaning of the Organ Fountain (also the “Birdsong”).
Entrance

Entrance

Here, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este brought back to life the splendor of the courts of Ferrara, Rome and Fontainebleau. The villa is surrounded, on three sides, by a sixteenth-century courtyard sited on the former Benedictine cloister. The central main entrance leads to the Appartamento Vecchio (“Old Apartment”) made for Ippolito d’Este.  Its vaulted ceilings was frescoed in secular allegories by Livio Agresti and his students, centered on the grand Sala, with its spectacular view down the main axis of the garden.

Courtyard

Courtyard

To the left and right are suites of rooms.  The suite on the left contains Cardinal Ippolito’s’s library and his bedchamber with the chapel beyond, and the private stairs to the lower apartment, the Appartamento Nobile, which gives directly onto Pirro Ligorio’s Cenacolo (Gran Loggia) straddling the graveled terrace with a triumphal arch motif.

Cenacolo (Grand Loggia)

Cenacolo (Grand Loggia) with its triumphal arch motif

A series of highly decorated rooms, less formal than the Cardinal’s personal apartments above it, are each decorated with a specific theme, all connected to nature, mythology and water. Reached by a large ceremonial stairway that descends from the courtyard, they have high vaulted ceilings (receiving light from a series of openings to the courtyard above), are connected to each other by a long narrow corridor and were used for private moments in the life of the Cardinal; listening to music or poetry; conversation, reading and religious reflection.

Corridor

Corridor

The ceiling of the corridor, decorated with late 16th century mosaics representing a pergola inhabited by colorful birds (making it seem a part of the garden) and also features three elaborate rustic fountains containing miniature grottos framed with columns and pediments.

Room of Noah

Room of Noah

The Room of Noah, dated to 1571 (at the end of the decoration of the villa) and attributed to Girolamo Muziano (famous for scenes of Venetian landscapes), has walls covered with frescoes designed to resemble tapestries, intertwined with scenes of Classical landscapes, ruins, rustic farm houses, and other scenes covering every inch of the ceiling and walls. The major scenes portrayed are the Four Seasons, allegories of Prudence and Temperance, and the central scene of Noah with the ark shortly after its landing on Mount Ararat, making an agreement with God. A white eagle, the symbol of the d’Este, is prominently shown landing from the Ark.

Room of Moses

Room of Moses

The next room is the Room of Moses. The fresco at the center of its ceiling shows Moses striking a rock with his rod, bringing forth water for the people of Israel, an allusion to the Cardinal who brought water to the villa’s gardens by making channels through the rock. Other panels show scenes from the life of Moses, a hydra with seven heads, the emblem of the family of Ercole I d’Este(an ancestor of Ippolito) and fantastic landscapes.

Room of Venus

Room of Venus

The Room of Venus originally had, as its centerpiece, a large fountain (a basin of water with a classical statue of a sleeping Venus) with an artificial cliff and grotto framed in stucco. In the 19th century, the basin was removed and the Venus (removed after the death of the Cardinal) was replaced by two new statues of Peace and Religion representing a scene at the grotto of Lourdes. The original terra cotta floor, featuring the white eagle of the d’Este family, is still in place. The 17th century painting on the ceiling of angels offering flowers to Venus is the only other decoration in the room.

First Tiburtine Room

First Tiburtine Room

The First and Second Tiburtine Rooms both made before 1569 by a team of painters led by Cesare Nebia, both have a common plan and its decoration illustrates stories from mythology and the history of Tiburtine region (where the villa is located).  The walls are covered with painted architectural elements (with the spaces between are filled with floral designs, medals, masks and other insignia), including columns and doors and elaborate painted moldings and sculptural elements.

Second Tiburtine Room

Second Tiburtine Room

Illustrated in the Second Tiburtine Room is the story of the Tiburtine Sibyl, its main theme,  plus the legend of King Annius (the Aniene River, which provides the water for the fountains of the villa, takes his name from him). The Sibyl, King Annius and the personification of the Aniene River, along with the Triumph of Apollo, all appear in the frescoes of the room.

Battle

Wall painting detail at First Tiburtine Room 

The frescoes of the First Tiburtine Room illustrates the story of three legendary Greek brothers (Tiburtus, Coras and Catillus) who defeated the Sicels, an Italic tribe, and built a new city, Tibur (now Tivoli). Their battle, as well as other events in the founding of the region, is illustrated in the central fresco of the ceiling. The decoration of the room also includes the Tenth Labor of Hercules as well as pairs of gods and goddesses (Vulcan and Venus; Jupiter and Juno; Apollo with Diana; and Bacchus with Circe) in painted niches. On the wall is an illustration of the oval fountain, which Ippolito was building at the time the room was decorated.

Salon of the Fountain

Salon of the Fountain

The Salon of the Fountain, designed and made between 1565 and 1570, probably by Girolamo Muziano and his team of artists, was used by Cardinal Ippolito as a reception room for guests, who had just arrived through the garden below, and for concerts and other artistic events.  A wall fountain, its central element, was finished in 1568 by Paolo Calandrino.  Its basin rests on two stone dolphins. The fountain is covered with multicolored ceramics and sculpture, encrusted with pieces of glass, seashells and precious stones, and is crowned by the white eagle of the d’Este family.

The fountain at the Salon of the Fountain

The fountain at the Salon of the Fountain

The central niche has reliefs depicting the fountain, the Tiburtine acropolis and the Temple of the Sibyl. On the other walls are images of the house and unfinished garden and fountains, and a small illustration, on the opposite wall, from the fountain of Ippolito’s villa (now a residence of the Pope) on the Quirinal Hill in Rome. The ceiling paintings are devoted to scenes of mythology with each corner having portraits of a different gods and goddesses (tradition says that the painting of Mercury is a self-portrait of Muziano).

Ceiling fresco at Salon of the Fountain

Ceiling fresco at Salon of the Fountain

The central fresco on the ceiling, modeled after a similar work by Raphael in the Loggia of Psyche in the Villa Farnesina, depicts the Synod of the Gods, with Jupiter in the center surrounded by all the gods of Olympus. The hall connects with the loggia, and from there a stairway descends to the garden.

Room of Hercules

Room of Hercules

The Room of Hercules, dating to 1565–66, was also one by Muziano. The ceiling paintings depict eight of the labors of Hercules, surrounded by depictions of landscapes, ancient architecture, and the graces and the virtues. The ceiling’s central painting shows Hercules being welcomed into Olympus by the gods.

Ceiling fresco of Hercules welcomed to Olympus

Ceiling fresco of Hercules welcomed to Olympus

The Room of the Nobility, done by Federico Zuccari and his team of painters, has a central ceiling fresco depicting “Nobility on the throne between Liberality and Generosity.” The decoration on the walls includes paintings of busts of Classical philosophers (Diogenes, SocratesPlatoPythagoras,  etc.), the Graces and Virtues, and Diana of Ephesus (the goddess of Fertility).

Room of the Nobility

Room of the Nobility

The Room of Glory, completed between 1566 and 1577 by Federico Zuccari and eight assistants, with painted illusions of doors, windows, tapestries, sculptures, and of everyday objects used by the Cardinal, is a masterpiece of Roman Mannerist painting. The Allegory of Glory, the central painting of the ceiling, has been lost but there are allegorical depictions of the Virtues, the Four Seasons, and of Religion, Magnanimity, Fortune and Time.

Room of Glory

Room of Glory

The Hunting Room, built later than the other rooms (from the end of the 16th or beginning the 17th century), is in a different style.  It features hunting scenes, rural landscapes, hunting trophie and, oddly, scenes of naval battles.  The “Snail Stairway,” built with travertine stone, descends to the garden. Originally built to access a pallacorda (an ancestor of tennis) court which Ippolito imported into Italy from the French Court, the space where the court was located now houses the cafeteria and bookstore.

Hunting Room

Hunting Room

The Villa’s uppermost terrace ends in a balustraded balcony at the left end, with a sweeping view over the plain below. The grounds of the Villa d’Este also house the Museo Didattico del Libro Antico, a teaching museum for the study and conservation of antiquarian books.

L-R: Kyle, Cheska, Grace and Jandy

L-R: Kyle, Cheska, Grace and Jandy

Villa d‘ Este: Piazza Trento, 5, 00019 Tivoli,  RM, Italy. Tel: 0039 0412719036. Fax: 0039 0412770747. E-mail:  villadestetivoli@teleart.org. Website: www.villadestetivoli.info.

Open 8.30 AM – 6.45 PM (May to August), 8:30 AM – 4 PM (January, November, December), 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM (February), 8:30 AM – 5:15 PM (March), 8:30 AM – 6:30 PM (April), 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM (October) and 8:30 AM – 6:15 PM (September). Admission: € 8.00. The visitor can take pictures without any physical contact with the cultural heritage and he cannot use either flash or tripod. 

How to Get There:

  • Taking the blue regional COTRAL busRoma Tivoli-Via Prenestina at the bus terminal just outside Ponte Mammolo station of metro line B; the stop Largo Nazioni Unite is about 100m far from the entrance of the Villa.
  • Taking the urban train line FL2 (Roma-Pescara Line) from Tiburtina stationto Tivoli station (Stazione Tivoli), then, local bus CAT number 1 or 4/ to Piazza Garibaldi stop; the stop is in Tivoli’s main square in front of the Villa.

Hadrian’s Villa (Tivoli, Italy)

Our first trip outside Rome brought us to Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana in Italian), a large, important Roman cultural and archaeological site, major tourist destination (along with the nearby Villa d’Este and the town of Tivoli) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Tibur (now modern-day Tivoli). It is situated southeast of Tivoli, on a small plain extending on the slopes of the Tiburine Hills. In early times, it was accessed by the Via Tiburtina and the Aniene river, a tributary of the Tiber River.

Hadrian's Villa

Hadrian’s Villa

Roman Emperor Hadrian, who was said to dislike the palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome, built the villa  as his retreat from Rome.   Around AD 128, it became his official residence, actually governing the empire from here during the later years of his reign. Therefore, a large court had to live there permanently and a postal service kept it in contact with Rome 29 kms. (18 mi.) away. Although its architect is unknown, it is said that Hadrian had a direct intervention in the design of the villa.

L-R: Cheska, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

L-R: Cheska, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

After Hadrian, the villa was occasionally used by his various successors. Busts of Antoninus Pius (138-161), Marcus Aurelius (161-180), Lucius Verus (161-169), Septimius Severus and Caracalla have been found on the premises and Zenobia, the deposed queen of Palmyra, possibly lived here in the 270s after her defeat by Emperor Aurelian.

The author with Jandy

The author with Jandy

In the 4th century, during the decline of the Roman Empire, the villa gradually fell into disuse.  It was partially ruined as valuable statues and marble were taken away and, during the destructive Gothic War (535–554) between the Ostrogoths and Byzantines, the facility was used as a warehouse by both sides.

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Remains of lime kilns, where marble from the complex was burned to extract lime for building material, have been found. In the 16th century, much of the remaining marble and statues in Hadrian’s Villa was removed to decorate Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este own Villa d’Este located nearby. In the 18th century, many antiquities were also excavated by dealers such as Piranesi and Gavin Hamilton to sell to Grand Tourists and antiquarians such as Charles Towneley. They are now in major antiquities collections elsewhere in Europe and North America.

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Today, the villa is a property of the Republic of Italy and, since December 2014, was directed and run by the Polo Museale del Lazio . Because of the rapid deterioration of the ruins, the villa was placed on the 100 Most Endangered Sites 2006 list of the World Monuments Watch.

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The site of this luxurious complex is a vast area of land (much still unexcavated) with over 30 buildings (including a theatre, libraries, a stadium, servants’ quarters, etc.) covering an area of at least 1 sq. km. (c. 250 acres or 100 ha.), all constructed in travertine, lime, pozzolana and tufa, plus many pools, fountains and water features; thermal baths (thermae); underground supply tunnels; and classical Greek architecture. Abundant water was readily available from aqueducts that passed through Rome, including Anio Vetus, Anio Nobus, Aqua Marcia and Aqua Claudia.

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The ground stretches from north to south on a rise of about 40 m., starting from the foot of Monte Arcese, at the top of which is the town of Tivoli. The scale was so amazing, we spent hours wandering among the extensive ruins but only explored a number of buildings. There are essentially three types of buildings in Hadrian’s Villa – servants quarters, secondary buildings (ex. Great Baths) and noble buildings (ex. Small Baths).

1950s plastic model of Hadrian's Villa

1950s plastic model of Hadrian’s Villa

The villa, described as an architectural masterpiece and the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, recreates a sacred landscape and shows echoes of many different architectural orders (mostly Greek and Egyptian) and innovations.

Wall of the Poikile

Wall of the Poikile

The designs were borrowed and utilized by the very well traveled Hadrian who personally supervised the building work and included these architectural features to remind him of his travels, of the countries he had visited and the times the bisexual Hadrian spent with his deified favorite and lover, Antinous (accidentally drowned in Egypt), around whose youthful charm a cult was established.  It is thought that Hadrian modelled parts of his palace on sites he knew and admired throughout his empire, from Athens to Egypt, giving them names such as Lyceum, Academy, Prytaneum, Canopus, Poikile and Tempes. He even made an Underworld.

The Pecile

The Pecile

One of the first stops on our tour of the villa was a little pavilion housing a 1950s plastic model of the villa, giving us an idea of the original appearance of the site. We then passed through a large Wall of the Poikile (a huge rectangular colonnade with a pool in the center, half the structure rests on a large artificial platform), arriving at Hadrian’s Pecile, a huge garden surrounded by an arcade and a large, restored rectangular 232 by 97 m. swimming pool, fishpond or lake in the center of the quadriportico, originally surrounded by four walls (creating a peaceful solitude for Hadrian and guests) with Greek-style colonnaded (these columns helped to support the roof) interior.

The Cento Camerelle (Hundred Chambers)

The Cento Camerelle (Hundred Chambers)

The less visible Cento Camerelle (Hundred Chambers), beneath the esplanade of the Pecile, consists of dozens of rooms of lower quality that identify them as the living quarters of the Villa’s serving class. To keep these rooms from becoming too humid, it has a hollow double wall separating them from the adjacent hill. and vast amount of rooms in the Chambers help .

The Building with Three Exedrae

The Building with Three Exedrae

The Building with Three Exedrae, a rectangular, highly articulated complex, has a triple exedra with porticoes on three of its outer walls. One wing of the building has mainly open spaces while the other more has more enclosed areas.  The north-facing rooms were used for summer banquets.

The Canopus

The Canopus

Caryatids

Caryatids

Statue of Neptune

Statue of Neptune

The Canopus (named after an Egyptian resort next to Alexandria), one of the most striking and best preserved parts of the villa, is a 119 m. long by 18 m. wide lake with Greek-influenced architecture (typical in Roman architecture of the High and Late Empire) that can be seen in the Corinthian columns, connected to each other with marble, and the copies of famous Greek caryatids  that surround the pool.

Statue of an Amazon

Statue of an Amazon

Statue of Ares

Statue of Ares

The Serapeum

The Serapeum

At its farthest end is the Serapeum, a temple with with a peculiarly-shaped umbrella dome  and artificial grotto dedicated to the god Serapis. The Corinthian arches of the Canopus and Serapeum as well as the domes of the main buildings, show clear Roman architecture. Fine mosaics are still preserved in a row of sleeping chambers.  Some of the more recent finds and statues from the site are on display in a museum near the Canopus.

The Small Bath (Piccole Terme)

The Small Bath (Piccole Terme)

Just northwest of the Canopus, in the central part of the villa, are the ruins of the Great and Small Baths. In front were the palestras, open paved courtyards where excersises took place, then calidariums (hot water bath), tepidarium (warm bath), laconicums (circular shaped saunas) and frigidariums (cold water rinsing room). Scattered throughout are a few latrines, one of a single seater in the Small Baths and two public ones in the Great Baths.

The Great Bath (Grandi Terme)

The Great Bath (Grandi Terme)

The Great Baths (Grandi Terme) were paved in opus spicatum (a simple black and white mosaic) while the Small Baths (Piccole Terme) were done in the higher quality marble opus sectile.

Frigidarium of the Great Bath

Frigidarium of the Great Bath

Both used white marble (especially typical of water basins in the villa) revetments as a type of finish and colored fresco ceiling decorations could also be found throughout each (the Small Baths even have some of the red and white pattern still visible today). The noble Small Baths exhibited more elaborate architecture.  At the Octagon Hall, the perspective view through other rooms create an illusion of infinite space.

Beautiful stucco decoration at the Great Bath

Beautiful stucco decoration at the Great Bath

The Praetorium, dating to 125-133 CE, has two distinct levels.  The upper level, reserved for distinguished guests, has lavishly decorated rooms facing a large garden to the south, with walls and pavements in opus sectile, and Doric columns of cipollino marble.  The lower level, composed of three floors of substructions (servants’ lodgings), supported the richly decorated upper part.  It has rooms of utilitarian purpose such as storage rooms and perhaps dormitory rooms for the service staff.

The Praetorium

The Praetorium

Hadrian’s Villa:  Largo Marguerite Yourcenar, 1, 00010 Tivoli RM, Italy. Tel: +39 0774 530203. Admission: €6.50. Open 9 AM to 7 PM.

How to Get There: Frequent buses, operated by Cotral, run from Rome to Tivoli along the Via Tiburtina. They depart from a bus station outside Ponte Mammolo Metro station on Linea B, nine stops from Stazione Termini. This bus service stops on the main road, the Via Tiburtina, about a mile from Hadrian’s Villa. Ask the driver where to get off, then walk along the suburban Via di Villa Adriana to the site’s entrance. An alternative service from Rome to Tivoli, which runs along the Via Prenestina, stops nearer to the villa, but is very infrequent.

An alternative is to catch a second bus out from Tivoli to the archaeological site. A local company called CAT runs a bus service (numbers 4, 4X) from Tivoli to the suburbs near the Villa Adriana. It calls at various bus stops in Tivoli including Piazza Garibaldi. Tickets cost €1 per journey and can be bought at the CAT office, shops and news-stands in Tivoli and from a bar opposite the bus stop (buy your return ticket in advance). Ask the driver where to get off, as the bus drops you a few hundred yards from the site. To return towards Tivoli, leave the villa, walk past the little park and continue straight along the road for a few yards till you find a bus stop. Since the CAT local bus takes the same Via Tiburtina route up into Tivoli as the Cotral buses, you can cross the road and change to the Rome-bound service without riding all the way back into Tivoli.

You can then return to Rome by one of three methods: catch the occasional Via Prenestina bus, walk back to the Via Tiburtina to catch the frequent Rome Cotral bus, or take the CAT service either to the Via Tiburtina or all the way back into Tivoli and change there for a Rome service. It can be slow getting back into Rome during the rush hour, so it’s worth considering visiting on a Saturday when the roads may be clearer.

Fountain of the Four Rivers (Rome, Italy)

Fountain of the Four Rivers

Fountain of the Four Rivers

The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), triumphantly and theatrically unveiled to the Roman populace on June 12, 1651, is Rome’s greatest achievement in this genre and the epitome of Baroque theatricality.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

The author (right) and son Jandy at Piazza Navona

The author (right) and son Jandy at Piazza Navona

This fountain, which can be strolled around, was built on Piazza Navona, the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD. It was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Innocent X (reigned 1644-1655).  The pope’s family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced onto the piazza as did the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone of which Innocent was the sponsor.

Palazzo Pamphili

Palazzo Pamphili

Bernini‘s design was influenced by the design of the Monument of the Four Moors (Monumento dei Quattro mori). It may have also been influenced by a fountain in Marino, Lazio which was constructed to commemorate the defeat of the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

The obelisk

The obelisk

The base of the fountain is a basin whose center has a slender, ancient Egyptian obelisk, brought in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius to Rome by the Emperor Caracalla. It was built for the Roman Serapeum in AD 81 but had been buried for a long time at Capo di Bove.

Pamphili family emblem

Pamphili family emblem

Beneath it are four semi-prostrate giant nudes of river gods, all in awe of the central tower surmounted with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive twig, symbol of Papal power and the Holy Spirit. The river gods depict the four major rivers of the four continents, (whose rivers feed the ocean, represented by the large pool) as then recognized by the Renaissance geographers, through which papal authority had spread.

The river gods

The river gods

Supported on the base by a jagged and pierced mountainous disorder of  travertine marble rocks, the marble giants are arranged at the center of a scene of carved grottoes and decorated with flowers, exotic plants and 7 animals (a horse, a sea monster, a serpent, a dolphin, a crocodile, a lion and a dragon) that further carry forth identification.

Lion

Lion

Sea monster

Sea monster

Each carries a certain number of allegories and metaphors with it. The Nile, representing Africa, has a head draped with a loose piece of cloth, meaning that no one, at that time, knew exactly where the Nile’s source was.  Symbolically, this also refers to what the Catholic world saw as the dark ignorance of the “pagan” world: the sculpture has not seen the light of Christianity

Statue of the Nile River

Statue of the Nile River

The apathetic Ganges river god, representing Asia, carries a long oar, representing the river’s navigability, and looks away from the light of the Church, representing the spiritual ignorance of this hedonistic land.

Statue of the Ganges

Statue of the Ganges

The Danube, representing Europe, touches the Pope’s personal coat of arms, since it is the large river closest to Rome.  The most “civilized” and cultured of the figures, the Danube looks toward and embraces the light of the lord.

Statue of the Danube

Statue of the Danube

The Río de la Plata (the word plata means “silver” in Spanish), representing America, sits on a pile of coins, a symbol of the riches America could offer to Europe. The Río de la Plata also looks scared by a snake, showing rich men’s fear that their money could be stolen. Although he throws his hands back in surprise, this representative of the newly converted lands has begun to see the light.

Statue of the Rio de la Plata

Statue of the Rio de la Plata

There are a number of urban legends regarding the fountain, nasty rumors fed by the famous rivalry between the Bermini and Borromini, designer of the church of Sant’Agnese right in front of the fountain.  Borromini lost the fountain commission to Bermini. Many tour-guides, would tell you that Bernini positioned the cowering sculpture of the Rio de la Plata River as if it feared the facade of the church could possibly crumble against him; that the statue of the Nile covered its head so as not to have to see the church; and that the statue of Sant’Agnese on the facade of the church, with her hand on her chest, seems to reassure the Rio de la Plata of the church’s stability. However, the truth is the fountain was completed several years before Borromini began work on the church.

Church of Sant' Agnese

Church of Sant’ Agnese

Today, this revolutionary and grandiose monument to the power and glory of the pope and his family and dynamic fusion of architecture and sculpture, with its highly dramatic, evocative, and individualized figures, dramatically spurting water and a wealth of surprising and charming sculptural details, continues to amaze and entertain visitors to Rome.

Fontana del Moro

Fontana del Moro

Statue o the Moor

Statue of the Moor

One of our Tritons

One of four Tritons

Piazza Navona has two other fountains – the Fontana del Moro, at the southern end, and the Fountain of Neptune at the northern end. The Fontana del Moro has a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta in 1575.  In 1673, Bernini added a statue of a Moor,  standing on a conch shell, wrestling with a dolphin.

Fountain of Neptune

Fountain of Neptune

The Fountain of Neptune was also created by Giacomo della Porta in1574.  In1878, the statue of Neptune, by Antonio Della Bitta, was added in to create a balance with La Fontana del Moro.

Museo di Roma

Museo di Roma

Other buildings within the piazza include the Museo di Roma, housed in the large Neoclassical Palazzo Braschi, covering the history of the city in the period from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century; and the Church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli), the national church of the Spanish community in Rome.

Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Fountain of the Four Rivers: Piazza Navona, Boccadellaverità, Rome, Italy.

Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens (Vienna, Austria)

Schonbrunn Palace

The 1,441-room, Baroque-style Schonbrunn Palace (GermanSchloss Schönbrunn),  a former imperial summer residence, is one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in the country. The palace, as well as its gardens, reflect the changing tastes, interests and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

Entrance court

The complex includes the Tiergarten (an orangerie erected around 1755) and the Palmenhaus, a noteworthy palm house which replaced, by 1882, around 10 earlier and smaller glass houses in the western part of the park.

Schonbrunn Palace interior

The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years. Here are interesting historical trivia regarding the palace:

  • The name Schönbrunn, meaning “beautiful spring,” has its roots in an artesian well whose waters were consumed by the court. In 1642 came the first mention of the name “Schönbrunn” on an invoice.
  • The palace had its beginnings as a mansion called Katterburg, erected in 1548.
  • From the 1740 to the 1750s, during the reign of empress Maria Theresa (who received the estate as a wedding gift), the Schönbrunn Palace, in its present form, was built and remodeled.
  • Eleonora Gonzaga, wife of Ferdinand II, spent much time there.  The area  was bequeathed to her as a widow’s residence after the death of her husband.
  • From 1638 to 1643, Eleonora added a palace to the Katterburg mansion. The origins of the Schönbrunn orangery seem to go back to Eleonora as well.
  • Franz I commissioned the redecoration of the palace exterior in Neo-Classical style as it appears today.
  • Franz Joseph, the longest-reigning emperor of Austria, was born at the palace and spent a great deal of his life there. On November 21, 1916, he died there at the age of 86.
  • On November 1918, following the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy, the palace became the property of newly founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum.
  • After World War II and during the 1945 to 1955 Allied Occupation of Austria, the palace provided offices for both the British delegation to the Allied Commission for Austria and for the headquarters for the small British military garrison in Vienna.
  • In 1955, with the reestablishment of the Austrian republic, the palace once again became a museum.
  • In 1961, the palace was used for the meeting between U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.
  • Since 1992, Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H., a limited-liability company wholly owned by the Republic of Austria, administered the palace and gardens, conducting preservation and restoration of all palace properties without state subsidies.
  • In 1996, Schönbrunn Palace, together with its gardens, was cataloged on the World Heritage List  by UNESCO as a remarkable Baroque ensemble and example of synthesis of the arts (Gesamtkunstwerk).
  • Since the mid-1950s, Schönbrunn has been a major tourist attraction. In 2010, Vienna’s most popular tourist destination was attended by 2,600,000 visitors with the whole Schönbrunn complex (Tiergarten SchönbrunnPalmenhausWüstenhaus and the Wagenburg)  accounting for more than five million visitors.
  • The palace was recently selected as the main motif of the The Palace of Schönbrunn silver coin, a high value commemorative Austrian 10-euro coin minted on October 8, 2003.  The central part of the frontage of the palace, behind one of the great fountains in the open space, is seen at the obverse.
  • Every year, the Summer Night Concert Schönbrunn is held here.

Check out “Imperial Carriage Museum (Wagenburg)

The sculpted garden space between the palace and the Sun Fountain is called the Great Parterre. This French garden, a big part of the area, was planned in 1695 by Jean Trehet, a disciple of André Le Nôtre.

The author at the Great Parterre

Rose trellis in Privy Garden

It contains, among other things, a maze and is lined with 32 sculptures, which represent deities and virtues.

Statue of Amphion (Joseph Baptist Hagenauer)

Statue of Gaius Mucius Scaevola (Johann Martin Fischer)

Statue of Janus and Bellona (Johann Christian Wilhelm Beyer)

The garden axis points towards a 60 m. (200 ft.)  high hill which, since 1775,  has been crowned by the Gloriette structure (Fischer von Erlach had initially planned to erect the main palace on top of this hill) which now houses a café and an observation deck providing panoramic views of the city.

Statue of Mars and Minerva (Veit Königer)

Statue of The Abduction of Helena (Johann Wilhelm Beyer)

Maria Theresa decided that the Gloriette  be designed to glorify Habsburg power and the Just War (a war that would be carried out of “necessity” and lead to peace). During the Second World War, the Gloriette was destroyed but was restored in 1947 and, again, in 1995. 

Gloriette

The gardens and palace have been the location for many films and television productions. They include:

Center, L-R: Vicky, Grace, Isko and Jandy

Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens: Schönbrunner Schloßstraße 47-49, 1130 Wien, Austria. Tel: +43 1 81113239. Open 8:30am-6:30pm.  At the official website, tickets can be purchased in advance for tours and tour packages. In addition, many classical concerts, featuring the music of Mozart and his contemporaries, can be enjoyed at the spectacular Orangerie or Schlosstheater halls. 

How to Get There:  take U1 going to Leopoldau at Keplerplatz, transfer to U4 going to Hütteldorf at Karlsplatz, exit at Schonbrunn

Mirabell Palace and Gardens (Salzburg, Austria)

The Grand Parterre of Mirabell Gardens

The Grand Parterre of Mirabell Gardens

After checking in and freshening up at Hotel Garni Evido Salzburg City Center, we all met up at the lobby to begin our exploration of the city, starting with the nearby Mirabell Palace and Gardens, a listed cultural heritage monument and part of the Historic Centre of the City of Salzburg UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most beautiful Baroque gardens in Europe, it was built along a north-south axis and oriented towards the Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Salzburger Dom cathedral.

View, from Rose Hill, of the Small Parterre,  Salzburger Dom and Hohensalzburg Fortress

View, from Rose Hill, of the Small Parterre, Salzburger Dom and Hohensalzburg Fortress

The palace, outside the medieval walls of Salzburg, was built about 1606 according to Italian and French models, at the behest of Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich  von Raitenau as a residence for his mistress Salome Alt. From their union, 15 children were born, 10 of whom survived. When von Raitenau was deposed and arrested in 1612, Salome and her family were expelled. After Wolf Dietrich’s death, the palace was renamed “Mirabell” (from the Italian word mirabilebella meaning “amazing” or “wonderful”) by his successor, Markus Sittich von Hohenems.

Mirabell Palace

Mirabell Palace

Prince-Archbishop Franz Anton von Harrach had Mirabell Palace redesigned, according to plans designed by the famous architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, in a lavish Baroque style from 1721 to 1727, integrating the individual buildings into a self-contained complex. On June 1, 1815 the later King Otto of Greece was born here, while his father, the Wittelsbach crown prince Ludwig I of Bavaria served as stadtholder in the former Electorate of Salzburg.

Rosenhugel (Rose Hill)

Rosenhugel (Rose Hill)

On April 30, 1818, the palace was damaged by the great fire that swept through the city.  A number of frescoes, including those by Johann Michael Rottmayr and Gaetano Fanti, were destroyed by the flames but the masterly grand marble staircase that led into the palace and the marble hall, one of the most precious works of art at Mirabell Palace, survived unscathed.

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From about 1818, Mirabell Palace owes its present unassuming Neoclassical appearance to Peter de Nobile, the court’s architectural consultant and director of the Vienna School of Architecture. The edging of the windows, the capitals and stucco work are details that bear witness to the palace’s former splendor. Charming putti (cherubs) decorate the marble balustrade and the sculptures in the niches, all among the finest products of the European Baroque, are the work of the famous Georg Raphael Donner.

The Rape of Persephone

The Rape of Persephone

Aeneas and Anchises

Aeneas and Anchises

On June 3, 1944 Gretl Braun, the sister of Eva Braun (later to marry Adolf Hitler), married SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler‘s liaison officer on Hitler’s staff, at the Mirabell Palace, with Hitler, Himmler and Martin Bormann as witnesses. Eva made all the wedding arrangements.

Rape of Helen by Paris

Rape of Helen by Paris

Today, Mirabell Palace houses the offices of Salzburg’s mayor and the municipal council (its rooms are not open to the public). The Marble Hall, considered to be one of the most beautiful wedding halls in the world, was formerly the prince-archbishops’ ballroom and a concert venue for Leopold Mozart and his children Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart.  Meetings, awards ceremonies and romantic concerts (Salzburg Palace Concerts) are regularly held here. Mirabell Palace is also a popular location for weddings.

The author at the Grand Panterre

The author at the Grand Panterre

Grace at the Grand Parterre Fountain

Grace at the Grand Parterre Fountain

The famous, geometrically-arranged Mirabell Gardens was redesigned, under Prince-Archbishop Johann Ernst Graf von Thun, in 1689 based on plans by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, and completely remodeled around 1730 by Franz Anton Danreiter. Noted for its boxwood layouts, it has mythology-themed statues dating from 1730.

Grace and Jandy

Grace and Jandy

The “Grand Parterre,” the oldest part of the Mirabell Gardens that is still preserved, is embraced by a marble railing decorated with vases by Fischer von Erlach.

Vase by Fischer von Erlach

Vase by Fischer von Erlach

In the heart of the garden is a large fountain, with four statue groups sculpted by Italian sculptor Ottavio Mosto from 1690 around it – “The Rape of Prosperina,” “The Rape of Helena by Paris,” “Aeneas and Anchises,” and “Hercules and Antaeus,”  symbolizing the 4 elements (fire, air, earth and water).

Statues of Roman gods and godesses

Statues of Roman gods and goddesses

On the balustrades are statues of Roman gods and goddesses (Ceres, Pomona. Venus, Vesta, Juno and Chronos, Bacchus, Jupiter, Mars, Hercules, Vulcan, Hermes and Apollo) made by B. van Opstal in 1689.

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The Heckentheater (Hedge Theater), a hedge maze located in the main part of the Mirabell Gardens, was created between 1704 and 1718 and is one of the oldest hedge theaters north of the Alps.  The Heckentheater is still used for performances in the summer, including concerts of the Salzburg Festival.

The Von Trapp children at the Hedge Theater

The Von Trapp children at the Hedge Theater

The Zwergerlgarten (Dwarf Garden) features a number of misshapen creatures, made of white Untersberg marble, dating back to the time of Archbishop Franz Anton Harrach.  In 1854, the gardens were opened to the public by Emperor Franz Joseph I.

Kyle and Cheska at the Small Panterre

Kyle and Cheska at the Small Panterre

The “Small Parterre,” the part of the Mirabell Gardens just along the backside of the Mirabell Palace, is directly attached to the Grand Parterre.  At its core is the Pegasus Fountain with a copper statue of Pegasus made in 1661 by Kaspar Gras from Innsbruck for the well on the Kapitelplatz near the Salzburger Dom cathedral.

Pegasus Fountain

Pegasus Fountain

There it stayed until 1690. After that time, it was used for the well on the Mirabellplatz Square until the great fire of 1818, and finally transferred to its current location in 1913. From Rosenhügel ( “Rose Hill”), we had a beautiful view all over the Small Parterre towards Salzburger Dom and Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Maria and the Von Trapp children at the Small Panterre

Maria and the Von Trapp children at the Small Panterre

Several scenes from the 1965 movie The Sound of Music were recorded here. Maria (Julie Andrews) and the von Trapp children (Charmian Carr as Liesl, Nicholas Hammond as Friedrich,  Heather Menzies as Louisa,  Duane Chase as Kurt,  Angela Cartwright as Brigitta,  Debbie Turner as Marta and Kym Karath as Gretl) sing ‘Do-Re-Mi‘ while dancing around the Pegasus Fountain and using the steps as a musical scale.

Fraulein Maria and the children at the Grand Parterre Fountain

Fraulein Maria and the children at the Grand Parterre Fountain

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Mirabell Palace and Gardens: Mirabellplatz 4, 5020 Salzburg, Austria. Tel: +43 662 80720. Open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thurdays, 8 AM – 4 PM; Tuesdays and Fridays, 1 – 4 PM.   No visit in case of special occasions.  The Mirabell Gardens are  open daily from approximately 6 AM to dusk.  Admission is free. The Hedge Theater and Dwarf Garden are closed during the winter.   The Orangerie is open all year round, 9 AM – 4 PM.

Silver Pagoda (Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

From the Throne Hall, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I proceeded to south side of the Royal Palace complex.  The beautiful Silver Pagoda, built in honor of the Lord Buddha, is the official temple of the king of Cambodia.  Formerly known as Wat Ubosoth Ratanaram, its official name is Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot (“Temple of the Emerald Buddha”), after the green baccarat crystal Buddha it houses.  Its name is commonly shortened to Wat Preah Keo.

Mandapa of Satra and Tripitaka

Mandapa of Satra and Tripitaka

Constructed in 1962, at Queen Kossamak’s command, by King Norodom Sihanouk, it replaced the wooden pagoda built by his grandfather in 1902,  the original aging structure being too weak to stand. During the Khmer Rouge years, more than half its contents were stolen but the pagoda itself was pretty much unscathed.

King Norodom's Statue

King Norodom’s Statue

The Silver Pagoda, is so named because of its 5,329 silver floor tiles, each around  20 cm. (8 inches) square and each weighing 1.125 kg (2.48 lbs), and having a total weight of more than 6 tons. Some of its outer facade was remodeled with Italian marble. The pagoda’s construction shows the clear influence of Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaeo, also home to a precious crystal Buddha to which the one in Phnom Penh bears an uncanny resemblance.

King Ang Duong's Stupa

King Ang Duong’s Stupa

After removing our hats and leaving our footwear outside, we were allowed to enter the vihara which houses a rich collection of 1,650 royal gifts received by the Royal family over the years, including artifacts and Buddha images, many of them national treasures.  The pagoda is more a museum than place of homage and no monks stay in permanent residence here. However, on entering the pagoda, we only saw a small area of the temple’s signature  silver tiles as much of the floor was covered by carpets. Photography is also not allowed inside.

Kantha Bopha's Stupa

Kantha Bopha’s Stupa

On display are gold and jeweled Buddha statues, notably a a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha (the “Emerald Buddha” of Cambodia) and an impressive, life-sized gold Maitreya Buddha. The latter, housed in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, was created in the palace workshops between 1906 and 1907.  It weighs in at 90 kgs., is dressed in royal regalia commissioned by King Sisowath, and is decorated with 9,584 diamonds (the largest of which weighs 25 carats).

Reamker Frescoes

Reamker Frescoes

The main building (vihear) is bounded, to the east, by the statue of King Norodom (sitting on a white horse) and to the north by the Mondapa of Satra and Tripitaka, a library housing Buddhist texts.  At the eastern corner is the bell tower, south of which, near the exit, is a model of Angkor Wat. South of the vihear stands 4 structures, from west to east – the chedi (stupa) of King Suramarit and Queen Kossamak, the Dharmasala, the Chedi of Princess Kantha Bopha and the Phnom Mondop (Mount Mondop, where the statue of Preah Ko is situated). The last mentioned is an artificial hill with a pavilion housing a bronze footprint of the Buddha from Sri Lanka.

Osang, Jandy and Osang at Kantha Bopha's Stupa

Osang, Jandy and Osang at Kantha Bopha’s Stupa

These structures are surrounded by a wall – the oldest part of the palace – covered with 80 m. long, colorful series of frescos depicting episodes from Reamker, the Khmer version of the Indian Ramayana, , one of the great Hindu epics.ainted from 1903 to 1904, its bottom half has faded, throughout the Khmer Rouge years, due to neglect. Some restoration has been done but much of the damage is still clearly visible.

Royal Palace: Samdach Sothearos Blvd., Phnom Penh.  Open daily, 8 to 11 AM and 2 to 5 PM.

The Throne Hall (Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Throne Hall (Preah Tineang Tevea Vinichhay)

Throne Hall (Preah Tineang Tevea Vinichhay)

Upon paying the admission fee of US$6.25, Jandy, Osang, Violet and I started our guide-less tour of the Royal Palace grounds.The first major building we passed was the open-sided Preah Tineang Phhochani, the banqueting and dance hall, inaugurated in 1912. The pristine gardens of the palace grounds are dotted with topiaried trees and are planted with tropical flowers and plants such as Allamanda catharticaCouroupita guianensis and Jatropha integerrima.

Osang, Violet and Jandy at top of grand stairway

Osang, Violet and Jandy at top of grand stairway

We started with the cross-shaped Throne Hall (Preah Thineang Dheva Vinnichay Mohai Moha Prasat, or “Sacred Seat of Judgement”), the most impressive building in the royal compound.  The Throne Hall , crowned with 3 spires, is the second building to be built on this site.  The King’s confidants, generals and royal officials once carried out their duties here and it is still in use today as a place for religious and royal ceremonies (such as coronations and royal weddings) as well as a meeting place for the King’s guests.

A 7-headed naga

A 7-headed naga

The first building was constructed of wood in 1869-1870, under King Norodom, then demolished in 1915 and the present 30 x 60 m. building, a  faithful reproduction of Norodom’s wooden palace, was built in 1917 and inaugurated by King Bat Sisowath in 1919. This building, as well as all buildings and structures at the Royal Palace, faces the east (best photographed in the morning). The building’s central, 59 m. high spire is topped with the white, 4-faced head of Brahma.

A garuda appearing to support the roof

A garuda appearing to support the roof

Inside are 3 royal thrones (2 traditional and 1 Western-style) and golden busts of Cambodians kings and queens, starting from the reign King Ang Doung onwards. However, we, as well as all other visitors, weren’t allowed to go inside, much less take pictures of the interiors, even from the outside.  We could only take photographs of its exterior.

Spire topped with the white, 4-faced head of Brahma

Spire topped with the white, 4-faced head of Brahma

The hall’s broad and grand entrance stairway has banisters formed by 7-headed nagas.  Each column of the colonnaded veranda is topped by a garuda with outstretched wings, all seemingly supporting the eaves of the roof.

Hor Samranphirum

Hor Samranphirum

To the right of the Throne Hall is the Hor Samran Phirum, the Royal Rest House, built between 1915 and 1917.  It is not open for public viewing. On coronation day, this small pavilion is used as a royal rest house and waiting area.  Here, the incoming King and Queen wait for their elephants to be bought around. On one side of the building is a door and some posts which are used to harness the elephants while the royals board.  The king no longer keeps elephants and, today, this building is used to house gifts from foreign dignitaries as well as the royal musical instruments and utensils used in royal coronation processions.

Hor Samritvimean

Hor Samrit Vimean

Exhibits at Hor Samritvimean

Exhibits at Hor Samrit Vimean

One small but elaborate pavilion we could photograph, both inside and out, was the Hor Samrit Vimean, also known as the Bronze Palace. The Royal treasury, this tall but narrow building houses regalia vital to the coronation ceremony including the Great Crown of Victory; The Great White umbrella of state; The Sacred Sword; The Victory Spear; The Fan; various procession group figures bearing the national, religious and monarchy flags; and clothing worn during King Sihamoni’s coronation on October 2004. We joined other tourists at the small display room at the lower floor where we observed, and photographed, display cases exhibiting some of the more minor royal regalia and utensils. At the rear, we note the 7 mannequins wearing seven days’ worth of colors.

Preah Tineang Phhochani

Preah Tineang Phhochani

Just north of the Preah Tineang Phhochani, the palace grounds are closed to visitors so we could only observe the other buildings beyond from afar. Getting a much-needed facelift and shielded by a huge tarpaulin (with the actual likeness of the building inside) during our visit was the cast-iron, French-style Pavilion of Napoleon lll, the oldest surviving structure on the palace grounds.  It was presented by French Emperor Napoleon III to King Norodom in 1876 and re-erected here. The pavilion was used by the Empress Eugenie (Napoleon’s wife) during her inauguration of the Suez Canal in in Ismailia, Egypt in 1869. It now serves as a museum of royal memorabilia and a photo exhibit of former Cambodian kings.

The Pavilion of Napoleon III and the Preah Reach Damnak Chan

The Pavilion of Napoleon III and the Preah Reach Damnak Chan

West of the pavilion is the Preah Reach Damnak Chan.  Built in 1953, it’s partly a museum housing a collection of gifts to the royal family while another part is an office for the Ministry of the Royal Palace.  Just past the Pavilion of Napoleon III, a gateway provided us access to the Silver Pagoda.

Royal Palace: Samdach Sothearos Blvd., Phnom Penh.  Open daily, 8 to 11 AM and 2 to 5 PM.

Preah Sothearos Boulevard (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Preah Sothearos Boulevard

Preah Sothearos Boulevard

After our short visit to the National Museum, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I proceeded on our way to the nearby Royal Palace. The Royal Palace, a good example of Khmer architecture, covers an area of 174,870 sq. m. (402 m. x 435 m.). Its layout features a defensive wall (kampaeng), throne hall (preah tineang), Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Preah Keo Morakot), stupas (chedei), towering spires (prang prasat) and mural paintings.

Osang feeding the doves

Osang feeding the doves

The complex is divided by walls into four main compounds.  On the south side is the Silver Pagoda, on the north is the Khemarin Palace, on the west is the private sector (or the Inner Court) while the central compound contains the Throne Hall . The buildings of the palace were gradually built over time, some were dismantled and rebuilt as late as the 1960s, but some old buildings date back to the 19th century.

Gamely posing with a sentry at his ost

Gamely posing with a sentry at his post

From Street 184, we turned right to the surprisingly car-free (save for one tourist bus) Preah Sothearos Blvd. On its left is a wide promenade with yellow hexagonal floor tiles.  Here, flocks of black, white and gray doves congregate.  Children enjoy chasing them while adults feed them with corn kernels and peanuts bought from vendors nearby. Beyond the promenade is a small park, Sisowath Quay and the mighty Mekong River.

The open-air  Preah Thineang Chan Chhaya ("Moonlight Pavilion")

The open-air Preah Thineang Chan Chhaya (“Moonlight Pavilion”)

On the boulevard’s right are the high, yellow crenelated walls of the Royal Palace. We passed two guardhouses, one of them manned, gamely posing with the guard on duty. The  open-air  Preah Thineang Chan Chhaya (“Moonlight Pavilion”), built alongside a section of the palace walls, dominates the facade.

The Victory Gate

The Victory Gate

One of the most notable buildings of the Royal Palace, it serves as a venue for the Royal Dancers, as a tribune for the King to address the crowds and as a place to hold state and royal banquets. During the 2004 coronation of King Norodom Sihamoni, it was used for a banquet and a tribune for the new king.  It also has a balcony that is used for viewing parades marching along Sothearos Boulevard.

Finally ... the visitor's entrance gate

Finally … the visitor’s entrance gate

Past the pavilion is the Victory Gate which faces the entrance steps leading to the palace’s Throne Hall. Traditionally, this gate was only used by the king and queen though it is now used to admit visiting dignitaries.  As such, this gate was locked.  However, the entrance for tourists wanting to tour the palace was nearby.  Upon entering, we walked along a short corridor to the ticket booth.