Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur)

Santa Maria’s fortress-like, earthquake Baroque-style Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, together with the convent and separate bell tower, were built on roughly 1.25 hectares on a 19 m. (60 ft.) high hill surrounded by a 1.6 m. thick defensive retaining wall on all sides like a fortress, The wall is augmented by stone buttresses every 10 m..

Church of Our Lady of the Assumption

Church of Our Lady of the Assumption

The church is a National Historical Landmark (by virtue of Executive Order nos. 260 on August 1, 1973, 376 on January 14, 1974 and 1515 on June 11, 1978) and was also chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on December 11, 1993 as part of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, a collection of four Baroque Spanish-era churches.

NHI Plaque

NHI Plaque

It was probably built by Fr. Alejandro Peyrona before the close of the 18th century, totally burned by fire in 1822, reconstructed in 1824, restored in 1859 by Fr. Lorenzo Rodriguez and finished in 1889 by Fr. Juan Zallo.  During the revolution, the church was a rebel stronghold.

The grand stairway

The grand stairway

The church is 99 m. (325 ft.) long and 22.7 m. (74 ft.) wide and is approached by climbing a wide 85-step, 4-flight piedra china (granite) stairway, the first and second flight having 20 steps each, the third 22 and the fourth 21 plus two additional steps. The gently rising stairway, with three landings, tapers from 13 m, wide at street level to 1.5 m. narrower at the top. It has a sweeping view of the lower plains and the town of Santa Maria.

View of Sta. Maria town

View of Sta. Maria town

The simple, solid brick façade, with its three windows and one blind niche, has a recessed arched entrance framed by a pair of exaggerated rectangular pilasters, dividing the whole façade into three well-defined planes, and thick, massive walls with delicately carved side entrances (with few openings) and heavy circular buttresses or corner drums that end up in decorative urn-like finials. A stringcourse extends from one corner drum to the other across the façade, .

Side entrance

Side entrance

The eastern and western side of the outer walls are reinforced by 13 huge quadrangular buttresses, typical of Earthquake Baroque architecture.

Huge quadrangular buttresses typical of Earthquake Baroque architecture

Huge quadrangular buttresses typical of Earthquake Baroque architecture

The first buttress from the front is adorned by a huge bas relief, visible as one ascends the front stairway, retelling how the statue of Our Lady of Assumption was found on top of a tree.

According to tradition, the statue was washed up on the beach, undamaged from the wreck of a Spanish galleon.  It was installed on the original ermita (chapel) built at the foot of the mountain.  It would periodically disappear, only to be subsequently found on the same guava tree on top of the knoll where the church now stands.

Huge relief retelling how the statue of Our Lady of Assumption was found on top of a tree

Huge relief retelling how the statue of Our Lady of Assumption was found on top of a tree

The middle buttress on the eastern wall (back) is built like a staircase for easy maintenance of the roof, back when thatched roof was the norm in Philippine churches (now lighter corrugated galvanised iron roofing is used).

Middle buttress built like a staircase for easy maintenance of the roof

Middle buttress built like a staircase for easy maintenance of the roof

The main entrance and the blind niche on the curvilinear,  cock comb-shaped open pediment (topped by a small cupola) have circular arched forms.  Lateral ones have segmental pediments.

The church interior

The church interior

Inside is a long single nave with 9 pairs of Ionic pilasters dividing the interior elevation into 8 bays. Wind chimes hang from the lamps inside and the huge altar features some fine old tiles. A series of smaller altars, 3 on each side of the apse, flank the main altar.  There’s also a pulpit and a lectern. The church houses the statue of the one-meter tall, dark Virgin of Santa Maria.

The main altar

The main altar

The church pulpit

The church pulpit

The celebrated, 4-storey, squat leaning bell tower, consisting of stacked octagonal horizontal cross-sections of decreasing diameter (typical of Earthquake Baroque church towers), stands separately near the middle of the nave. Covered by a dome with balustrade that is capped by a cupola (with a cross on top), this Chinese pagoda-like tower is decorated with single pilasters, finials and blind and real semicircular arched fenestrations.  A clock, on the third level, faces the stairway for churchgoers to see.

The 4-storey, octagonal bell tower

The 4-storey, octagonal bell tower

The tower was built in 1810, during the renovation of the church, and furnished with a bell the following year. After the bell tower was remodeled in 1863, its foundation gradually settled down and, today, the imposing structure is slightly leaning or tilting.

The currently roofless onvent

The currently roofless onvent

Partly blocking the frontal view of the façade of the church and accessible from the church by an elevated stone walkway (underneath which is a gate that leads to the back courtyard) is the convent. Damaged during the 1880 earthquake, it was rebuilt by Fr. Benigno Fernandez and greatly renovated in 1895.  An 8 m. high stone fence, erected in 1859 by Fr. Rodriguez, surrounds the buildings.

Part of the 8 m. high wall

Part of the 8 m. high wall

From the back courtyard, another wide stairway, similar to the front but on the opposite side (also built by Fr. Rodriguez in 1859), leads down to a brick walkway that leads to an old abandoned circular camposanto (cemetery) at the foot of the hill now overwhelmed by exuberant foliage. Within the brick fence of the cemetery are the ruins of a former old brick chapel (ermita) and old graveyards.

The back stairway

The back stairway

Address: Santa Maria – Burgos Rd,, 2705 Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur. Tel: (075) 732-5568. Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption: August 15.

How to Get There: Sta. Maria is located 369.75 kms. from Manila and 38.25 kms. south of Vigan City.

Villa d’Este – Gardens (Tivoli, Italy)

The Garden of Villa d'Este

The Garden of Villa d’Este

The palatial setting of Villa d’Este is surrounded by a spectacular terraced garden, in the late-Renaissance Mannerist and Baroque style, which took advantage of the dramatic slope but required innovations in bringing a sufficient water supply, which was employed in cascades, water tanks, troughs and pools, water jets and impressive concentration of fountains, water games. This masterpiece of the Italian Garden is included in the UNESCO world heritage list.

Descending into the garden from the villa

Descending into the garden from the villa

Reviving Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering to supply water to a sequence of fountains, the cardinal created a fantasy garden whose architectural elements and water features had an enormous influence on European landscape design and their garden planning and water features such as fountains, nymphs, grottoes, plays of water and music were much copied in the next two centuries, in European gardens from Portugal to Poland to St. Petersburg. The result is one of the series of great 17th century villas with water-play structures in the hills surrounding the Roman Campagna, such as the Villas Aldobrandini and Torlonia in Frascati; the Villa Lante and the Villa Farnese at Caprarola.

Strolling the gardens

Strolling the gardens

  • Painter, architect, archaeologist and Classical scholar Pirro Ligorio was commissioned to lay out the gardens for the villa, with the assistance of Tommaso Chiruchi (he had worked on the fountains at Villa Lante) of Bologna, one of the most skilled hydraulic engineers of the sixteenth century. In the technical designs for the fountains, Chiruchi was assisted by Claude Venard, a Frenchman who was a manufacturer of hydraulic organs.
  • From 1605 Cardinal Alessandro d’Estegave the go-ahead to a new progam of interventions.  He restored and repaired the vegetation and the waterworks and created a new series of innovations to the layout of the garden and the decorations of the fountains.
  • From 1660 – 61, works on 2 fountains were carried out involving Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
  • In the eighteenth century the villa and its gardens passed to the House of Habsburg after Ercole III d’Este bequeathed it to his daughter Maria Beatrice, married to Grand Duke Ferdinand of Habsburg. The gardens were slowly abandoned and  The hydraulics fell into disuse and ruin, and many of the collection of ancient sculptures, enlarged under Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, were disassembled and scattered to other sites. This picturesque state of decay continued, without interruption, until the middle of the 19th century.  It was recorded by Carl Blechen and other painters.
  • 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.

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The garden has been celebrated in poetrypainting and music:

Villa d’Este’s fame and glory as one of the finest gardens of the Renaissance was established by its extraordinary system of fountains.  It has 51  fountains and nymphaeums, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls and 220 basins, all fed by 875 m. of canals, channels and cascades, and all working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps.

The gardens, now part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani, fall away in a series of terraces. The garden plan is laid out on a central axis with subsidiary cross-axes, refreshed by some 500 jets in fountains, pools and water troughs. Originally supplied with water by the Rivellese spring (which supplied a cistern under the villa’s courtyard), it is now supplied with water by the nearby Aniene River, which is partly diverted through the town, a distance of a kilometer.

Vialone

The Vialone with the Cenacolo in the background

The Vialone, a large, 200 m. long terrace that lies between the villa and the gardens, was constructed between 1568 and 1569.  It has a panoramic view of the gardens and countryside beyond and the Cardinals used the space for fireworks, games, spectacles and festivities. Originally shaded by two rows of elm trees (except for the space directly in front of the villa, left empty to preserve the view), the terrace is enclosed at one end by the Fountain of Europa and, at the other, by the Cenacolo, an immense loggia and belvedere, in the form of a triumphal arch, that provided shade beneath in summer, as well as commanding viewpoints of the scenery. Its interior, originally intended to be decorated with stucco decoration, gilding and frescoes, was never finished.

The double loggia in the center of the terrace, made with travertine stone from 1566–1577, is attached to the facade of the villa. Two stairways provide access to the ceremonial salons on the lower floor. Its upper level, created as a terrace for the Cardinal’s apartments, contains a Nymphaeum (grotto) where the Fountain of Leda is located.  The original statuary of the fountain, depicting Jupiter and Leda transformed into a swan and four children (Elena, Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux), was sold in the 18th century and is now in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. The original fountain featured a novel hydraulic trick – water spouting from a vase held by Leda struck a metal disk, causing flashes of light to reflect on the walls of the grotto.  The statuary has been replaced by headless statue of Minerva, found in the garden of the Palazzo Manni in Tivoli.

The Fountain of the Tripod, a copy (the original is now in the Louvre) of an ancient Roman fountain in the center of the Vialone, has only been there since 1930.  It consists of a marble basin supported by a central column and three pilasters. The Fountain of the Sea Horses, the original fountain on the site, was moved, by Ippolito, from Hadrian’s Villa to his garden.  It is now in the Vatican Museum.

The Fountain of Europa, at the northeast end at the top of the garden, was begun by Ippolito but was not finished until 1671. Its design, copying that of the Grand Loggia, consists of a triumphal arch with two orders (Corinthian and Doric) of columns.  The large empty niche in the center once held a sculpture Europa Embracing the Bull which is now in the VIlla Albani in Rome.

From Fountain of the Tripod, two ramps lead down to the upper garden and, at either end, there are symmetrical double flights of stairs. The shaded Cardinal’s Walk, attached to the retaining wall of the terrace, leads from one side of the garden to the other, passing by several grottos which are built into the retaining wall. The Grotto of Igea and Aesculpius, at the southeast end of the walk, just below the Fountain of Europa, is decorated with tartar flakes, mosaics and colored fragments of sea shells, and a small portion of the original fresco. It originally held two statues.  The statue of Aesculpius, the God of Medicine, is now found in the Louvre while that of Igea, the daughter of Auesculpius and the Goddess of Healing, is now in the Vatican Museum.

The Loggia of Pandora, in the middle of the Cardinal’s Walk, just below the center of the Villa, is covered, with arcades looking out at the garden. It contains a nymphaeum built into the wall and, originally, was decorated with mosaics and with two statues of Minerva and a statue of Pandora carrying a vase (actually a concealed fountain pouring out water) of water (symbolizing the evils of the world).   The statues were sold in the 18th century.  The staue of Pandora and one of the Minervas are now in the Capitoline Museum. In the 19th century, the nymphaeum was converted into a Christian chapel, a favorite place of the composer Franz Liszt, who dedicated two pieces of music to the chapel.

Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Cup)

Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Cup)

The Fountain of the Bicchierone, one of two fountains created for the villa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was made between 1660 and 1661 on a commission from Cardinal Rinaldo I d’Este. The basin of the fountain, in the form of a large shell which reaches up to the level of the terrace, has a toothed Bicchierone (cup or chalice) in the center, from which water sprays upwards. Bernini supervised the building of the fountain and, following its inauguration in May 1661, had the height of the spouting water reduced, to avoid blocking the view from the Loggia of Pandora. Though not part of the original design of the garden, the fountain became a link between the architecture of the palace and the garden.

Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Cup)

Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Cup)

The Loggetta of the Cardinal, a small ballustraded terrace between the Fountain of the Biccherone and the garden, was said to be the Cardinal’s favorite spot for reading and discussing poetry and art, and watching the construction of the garden around him. Surrounded by high laurel hedges and stone benches, it originally had a large statue (now found in the Louvre), installed shortly after the Cardinal’s death, of Hercules with the boy Achilles in his arms, overlooking the garden below. It was one of three statues of Hercules, in central positions along the central axis, that were all visible when seen from the bottom the garden, aligned with the loggia of the villa at the top.

The Grotto of Diana, at the end of the Cardinal’s Walk, below the Gran Loggia, is a large underground vaulted chamber decorated from 1570-72 by Paolo Caladrino.  It is completely covered with mosaics of mythological scenes, with images of fish, dragons, dolphins, pelicans and other animals, as well as the eagles and apples of the d’Este family. The rustic fountain, its central feature, has a statue of the goddess Diana in a large niche decorated with stucco reliefs of landscapes, the sea and a ship. Sold in the 18th century, all of these statues are now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Some of the original 16th century majolica floor tiles can still be seen.

A walkway, below the Loggetta of the Cardinal, traverses the garden and passes by three grottoes. The Grotto of Hercules, in the center, is covered by the Loggetta of the Cardinal. Beneath it is  a cistern and some of the hydraulic machinery for the fountains below. The grotto once had stucco reliefs of either animals or the labors of Hercules and a statue of Hercules in repose (now in the Vatican Museum).

Mask spouting water in the Grotto of Pomona

Mask spouting water in the Grotto of Pomona

The Grotto of Pomona, similar in design to the Grotto of Hercules, has some of its original mosaic decoration still visible. The water from a white marble mask (found when the fountain was restored in 2002) pours into a fountain.

Fontana dell'Ovato (Oval Fountain)

Fontana dell’Ovato (Oval Fountain)

The Oval Fountain (Fontana dell’Ovato) one of the first and among the most famous fountains in the garden, was designed by Pirro Ligorio as a water theater, spraying water in variety of forms. Begun in 1565 and finished in 1570, it was made by fountain engineers Tomasso de Como and Curzio Maccarono, with sculpture by Raffaello Sangallo. A massive stone basin, set against the semicircular back wall, cascades water into the fountain and sprays it into the air while water jets into the basin, from vases in the hands of statues of Nereids, and also sprays in fan shapes from vases in niches in the semicircular wall behind the fountain.

fontana-dellovato-oval-fountain-2

An artificial mountain, rising above the fountain, symbolizes the Tiburtine landscape.  The mountain is pierced by three grottoes, each pouring forth water, and is decorated with statues representing the Sibyl Albunesa with her son Melicerte, by Gillis van den Vliete (1568), and statues representing rivers Erculaneo and Anio, by Giovanni Malanca (1566), all of which pour water into the Oval Fountain.

An upper walkway, above the fountain, leads past past the ring of basins and cascades. The Grotto of Venus, the fountain’s own grotto, was designed by Pirro Ligorio and built in 1565–68. It served as a meeting place for guests on hot summer days. A figure of Venus, similar to the Capitoline Venus, and two putti , the original statues of the grotto, are no longer there but traces of the monochrome murals of grotesque figures, tiles and sculpted grotto walls still remain.

The fountain on a side wall, framed within a Doric, contains a sculpture of a sleeping nymph in a grotto guarded by d’Este heraldic eagles, with a bas-relief framed in apple boughs that links the villa to the Garden of the Hesperides.

Flanking the central axis are symmetrical double flights of stairs that lead to the next garden terrace.  The Grotto of Diana, richly decorated with frescoes and pebble mosaic, is on one side. Water rom the central Fontana del Bicchierone (“Fountain of the Great Cup”), planned by Bernini in 1660, issues from a seemingly natural rock into a scrolling shell-like cup.

La Rometta (Little Rome)

La Rometta (Little Rome)

To descend to the next level, there are stairs at either end.  La Rometta (“the little Rome”), an elaborate fountain complex, is at the far left.  The boat, with an obelisk mast, symbolizes the Tiburtina island in the Tiber, below the statue of Rome Triumphant.

Hundred Fountains

Hundred Fountains

The water jets of the Hundred Fountains (Cento Fontane), on the next level, fill the full length of a long rustic trough.  The Fontana dell’Ovato ends the cross-vista. A visitor may walk behind the water through the rusticated arcade of the concave nymphaeum, which is peopled by marble nymphas by Giambattista della Porta. Above the nymphaeum, the sculpture of Pegasus recalls to the visitor the fountain of Hippocrene on Parnassus, haunt of the Muses.

Hundred Fountains

Hundred Fountains

The 16th-century Fontana di Diana Efesina (Fountain of Diana of Ephesus) has water flowing from her numerous breasts, symbolizing fertility and abundance, both of nature and of intellect.

Fountain of Diana of Ephesus

Fountain of Diana of Ephesus

The central Fontana dei Draghi (Fountain of the Dragons), dominating the central perspective of the gardens, was erected for a visit in 1572 of Pope Gregory XIII whose coat-of-arms features a dragon. It unites the terrace to the next.  The sound of this fountain was in contrast to a nearby Uccellario with artificial birds. Central stairs lead down a wooded slope to three rectangular fishponds set on the cross-axis at the lowest point of the gardens.  It is terminated, at the right, by the water organ (now brought back into use) and Fountain of Neptune (belonging to the 20th century restorations). 

Neptune Fountain

Neptune Fountain

The very formal Fountain of the Owl, at the southwest part of the garden, below the Fountain of Rometta and the Fountain of Proserpina, was built between 1565 and 1569 by Giovanni del Duca, These 3 fountains have terraces connected by stairways, with nymphaeums placed beneath the terraces. Placed on a terrace surrounded by walls with niches, it crowned with the white eagles and lily symbols of the d’Este.

The Fountain of the Owl (a.k.a. Bird's Fountain)

The Fountain of the Owl (a.k.a. Bird’s Fountain)

The fountain, covered with polychrome tiles, has the coat of arms of the d’Este, held by two angels, at the top, above the niche flanked by Ionic columns. Though the architectural elements are intact, the statues of two youths holding a goatskin which poured water into a basin held by three satyrs are missing or were destroyed. The sculpture in the niche, believed lost, was rediscovered during a renovation in 2001–02, hidden under mineral deposits and earth.

This fountain also produced music, thanks to Its ingenious automaton made by the French organ maker Luc Leclerc, installed in 1566, before the Fountain of the Organ on the other side of the garden. It featured wenty painted bronze birds placed in the niche, posed on two metal olive branches. Each bird sang an individual song, produced by piped water and air. A mechanical owl appeared, and the birds stopped singing; then, at the end of the performance, all the birds sang together. This musical feature was admired and copied in other European gardens, and functioned until the end of the 17th century. It needed constant repair due the action of the water on its delicate mechanism, and by the 19th century were completely ruined. The decorative elements of the fountain were completely restored in the 19030s, and restored again in 2001-2002, [21]

During the restoration work of 2001–02, the workers found some of the original mechanism that produced the bird songs, including the wind chamber, the tubes that moved the air and water, and the machinery that made the owl move. Using modern materials, Leonardo Lombardi was able to make a new version of the old machinery so the birds can sing and move again.

The series of terraces above terraces and the imposing constructions in the hanging cliffs of the “Valle gaudente” bring to mind the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world plus, the addition of water (including an aqueduct tunneling beneath the city) evokes the engineering skill of the Romans.  Its landscape, art and history (which includes the important ruins of ancient villas such as the magnificent Villa Adriana) as well as a zone rich in caves and waterfalls (which display the unending battle between water and stone) is generally considered within the larger and, altogether extraordinary, context of Tivoli itself.

Fountain of the d'Este eagles

Fountain of the d’Este eagles

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.

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.

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

Seine River Cruise (Paris, France)

Seine River Sightseeing Cruise via Bateaux Parisiens

After our morning tour of the Eiffel Tower, we made our way, by foot, to the boat docking station at Port de la Bourdonnais where we hopped aboard a popular and modern Bateaux Parisiens glass-topped trimaran  to embark on a quintessential, scenic and leisurely cruise along the Seine riverbanks.

Port de la Bourdonnai

Bateaux Parisiens trimaran

All aboard …..

Bateaux Parisiens has a fleet of four trimarans, three named after legendary French actresses (Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani and Jeanne Moreau) and another after a French businessman (Pierre Bellon). They each hold up to 600 passengers.

The author

Our trimaran, with terrace and exterior passageways, was well equipped, clean and well maintained, with plenty of outdoor seating at the upper deck.

Jandy and Grace

The company also has nine smaller boats, some of which are used for dinner cruises and private events.  They offer high priced lunch and dinner, to the sound of the resident band, with a choice of four different a la carte menus, on separate restaurant boats.  All boats follow the same 12-km. long route.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Eiffel Tower

Louvre Museum

Grand Palais

A fantastic introduction to the highlights and magic of Paris, we soaked up the passing sights of iconic, world-famous monuments and landmarks as we cruised up and down  the Seine River.

Musee d’Orsay

National Museum of the Legion of Honor and Orders of Chivalry

National Assembly

Registry of the Paris Commercial Court

On the left bank are the Notre Dame Cathedral, the National Museum of the Legion of Honor and Orders of Chivalry, Conciergerie, National Assembly, Les Invalides, the Institut de France, and the Musée d’Orsay.

Paris City Hall

Institut de France

Hotel Dieu

 

Paris Conceiregerie

On the right bank, during the return trip, are the Louvre,  the Grand Palais, the Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Garden, the Paris City Hall, and the Eiffel Tower.

Pont Neuf

Pont Alexandre III

Pont au Double

Pont de la Tournelle

We also glided beneath beautiful historic bridges (more than 30 bridges span the river), including the famous Pont Neuf. Even the Seine riverbanks, collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, are a sight to behold.

Pont de Sully

Pont de l’Archevêché

Pont des Invalides

Pont d’Iéna

Pont Marie

Pont Saint Louis

After half an hour, our boat turned around and cruised back up along the opposite bank. Our 1-hour cruise ends back at the original departure point near the Eiffel Tower.

Passerelle Debilly

Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor

Bateaux Parisiens: Pontoon 3, Port de la Bourdonnais, 75007 Paris, France. Tel: +33 825 01 01 01 and +33 1 76 64 14 66.  Open 9:30 AM – 10 PM. Website: www.bateauxparisiens.com. Admission: adults (€15), children under 12 yrs. (€7), free for children under 3 years old. Ticket will be valid for one year at any given time. Departures: April to September (from 10:15 AM -10:30 PM, every 30 mins., no departures at 1:30 PM and 7:30 PM), October to March (from 11 AM -8:30 PM, at least every hour). Book online in advance to avoid queues. The boat also departs from Notre Dame Cathedral. Audio guide commentary with musical accompaniment, from a handset, available in 13 languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, American, Russian, Dutch, Polish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean). Smoking is not allowed on the boat and animals are not permitted on board.

How to Get There: Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel (RER C) 5 . Nearest metro: Trocadero or Bir Hakeim

Puerto Princesa Underground River (Palawan)

Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa Media Tour

Upon checking in and having lunch at the Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa, Lester, Charmie, Joy and I walked along Sabang Beach towards the wharf for the first of our resort-sponsored activities – a visit to the world-renowned Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR).

Puerto Princesa Underground River

Puerto Princesa Underground River

This beautiful 5,753-hectare national park and terrestrial reserve, considered as one of the most important biodiversity conservation areas in the country, is also is one of the few places where a full mountain to sea ecosystem still exists.  Around the park are the ancestral land domains of at least two indigenous cultural communities (Tagbanuas and Bataks).

Sabang Port

Sabang Port

A major tourist destination in the country, this national park is ideal is a spelunker’s paradise. This underground section of the Cabayugan River, at 8.2 kms. (5.1 mi.), is reputedly the world’s longest navigable underground river.  It is also ideal for trekking, swimming, birdwatching and hiking deep in the forest.

Visitors waiting for their ride at Sabang Port

Visitors waiting for their ride at Sabang Port

The area was declared as a national park on March 26, 1971 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 835 to protect the unique environmental and cultural features of the area.  In the late 1980s, the late Jacques Cousteau penetrated up to 3 kms. into the cave system.  In 1983-86, its area was increased from 3,901 hectares to its present 5,753 hectares (includes an adjacent area of good forest around Cleopatra’s Needle).

Magnificent limestone cliffs

Magnificent limestone cliffs

In 1986, its jurisdiction was returned to the DENR Southern Luzon Regional Office.  In 1991, its area was expanded to 22,202 hectares.  That same year, it won the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold Award for Environment.  In 1994, management of the park was turned over to the Puerto Princesa city government.  It is also partially supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Puerto Princesa Underground River

The author at Puerto Princesa Underground River

This national park was declared a natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO on December 4, 1999 due to its outstanding universal value and, on January 28, 2012, was voted by the global community as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, for being the longest navigable subterranean river.

Registration Area

Registration Area

The park, managed by the Puerto Princesa City government through a Protected Area Management Board, is the first such national park devolved and successfully managed by a local government unit.  Its mission is to “protect the underground river in its natural state.”

Lester, Joy, Charmie and the author at the beach

Lester, Joy, Charmie and the author at the beach

Lying on the foot of the 1,028-m. high Mt. St. Paul (Sabang’s highest point), the park is located in Sitio. Sabang, Brgy. Cabayugan, 81 kms. west of Puerto Princesa City and is bounded on the north by St. Paul’s Bay and on the south by the Babuyan River.  The dome-shaped Mt. St. Paul was named as such after London’s St. Paul Cathedral in 1850 by British sailors of the HMS Royalist.

The short hike from the beach to the lagoon

The short hike from the beach to the lagoon

The park’s topography ranges from flat terrain to rolling hinterlands, from hills to rocky mountains  of marble and limestone, and from rocky shores to white sand beaches. It is also composed of lush tropical old growth forest, thinly vegetated karst limestone cliffs (one-third of the park’s area) and thick jungle cover.   The park also has 290 hectares of marine area encompassing shoreline and offshore corals reefs.

The turquiose lagoon

The turquiose lagoon

The park protects a dense, primary or old growth tropical rainforest which covers two-thirds of the park. Its forest, representing 8 types of forest formations, consists of at least 285 tree species and is dominated by dipterocarps. Vegetation types include lowland forest (often with a 35-m. canopy), coastal and karst forest.  Aside from these, there are also 800 identified plant species.  The underground river supports plant species such as Dracontemelon dao, Pometia primata and Diospyrus sp.

All geared up and ready to go ....

All geared up and ready to go ….

The forest is home to at least 30 species of mammals, 265 bird species, 19 species of reptiles including 2-m. long monitor lizards or bayawak (Varanus salvator) plus 10 species of amphibians. The underground river is inhabited by countless cave-roosting bats plus the endemic and threatened Palawan flying fox (Acerodon leucotis) and the restricted-range Palawan swiftlet (Collocalia palawensis).

Entering Pining Cave

Entering Pining Cave

Ever since being identified as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, the PPUR management has organized booking to ensure that there would be no overcrowding. Transport from mainland to the entrance to the PPUR is well-organized and they now have environmental charges for the upkeep of the place.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (37)

Into the dark recesses of the cave ……

A “No Permit, no entry” policy is also strictly implemented in the park and, before our going to the park, permits were formally secured from the St. Paul Subterranean River and National Park Office. Once at the port of Sabang, we all waited some time for our turn to board our assigned motorized outrigger boats.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (51)

The 20-min. boat ride from the port to a beach on the northwest coast of the city, on the far side of the bay, was uneventful and smooth all the way. During the trip, we passed many beautiful limestone cliffs along the way.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (83)

Upon arrival at the beach, we all registered our names at the PPUR office and then made a short hike, under huge shady indigenous trees, to the edge of a picturesque clear, turquoise blue lagoon framed by ancient trees growing right to the water’s edge.  On the other side of the lagoon was Pining Cave, the entrance to the underground river.  We again waited our turn to board small 8-seater outriggers boats that would transport us into the cave.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (79)

Soon our turn arrived and we were assigned an English-speaking guide plus an oarsman. Life vests and helmets were provided. Lester and I were seated at the prow of the boat and I was assigned a spotlight on our bow to somehow light up an incredible world carved out of rock.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (62)

Throughout the tour, I was directed by the guide on where to point it. With only this spotlight as light source, my digital camera had a hard time focusing in the dark cave. We were paddled slowly into the deeply fissured, yawning opening of the huge cave below the vertical limestone cliff.  As we entered, vertical slabs of limestone hung over us like giant teeth and edible-nest swiftlets would swoop in over our heads.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (74)

A strip of bacon …… ?

The river is navigable up to about 4.3 kms. (a little over half its length) , with brackish waters underneath going as deep as 30 ft., but a typical 45-min. river cruise covers only 1.5 kms. of the navigable stretch.  We were to pass through a series of caves with cathedral chambers, wide hallways studded with stalactites, stalagmites and other interesting geologic formations.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (49)

As we paddled deeper into the darkness, we reached, at the 0.6-km. mark, the high, vaulted 60 ft. high “Cathedral,” the underground river’s first main attraction.  Everywhere I swung the spotlight, there were bats hanging like fruit from the cave roof.  Their droppings around the walls of the cave gave out a distinct odor.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (52)

Here, our very knowledgeable park guide showed us spectacular limestone formations with a kind of orange toffee color.  The stalactites and stalagmites inside are associated with so many things and a number were aptly named the “Holy Family” (a group of figures like a Nativity scene), the “Angel,” the “Virgin Mary” and the “Candle” (a giant bulbous stalagmite like a melting candle).  The guide would occasionally inject his lecture describing the elements of this natural wonder with some really funny anecdotes and jokes, their creative flair making the experience even more entertaining.

Stalactite

Further on, we passed the “fruit and vegetable” section, with stalagmites on the walls that look like giant mushrooms, garlic, an upside-down corn, a clump of cacao beans, carrots and pumpkins, all as big as the average human being. Our guide also pointed to us what was supposed to be strip of bacon, half the face of Jesus Christ and a woman with shapely legs that he aptly called Sharon Stone.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (92)

Further ahead, at the 1-km. mark, is a marvelous, 400-m. long and straight gallery called “God’s Highway.”  Upon reaching a breathtakingly high dome with a 65 m. (213 ft.) vertical clearance (the cave’s highest point) above river level, our boat turned around.  Not covered by our route was the “Glittering Stone,” at the 3.8-km. mark, and the “Rockpile,” at the 4.3-km. mark.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (55)

The grandeur of the unique formations, small and large chambers, stalactites and stalagmites of the underground river that we saw during our interesting and very enjoyable river boat ride, all uniquely designed by nature, makes it truly deserving as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.  A truly awesome natural spectacle.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (111)

Exiting the cave

Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) Office: Badjao Inn, 350 Rizal Ave., Brgy. Bancao-Bancao, Puerto Princesa City 5300, Palawan. Tel: +63(48)723-0904 (Sabang). Fax: +63(48)434-2509. E-mail: info@puerto-undergroundriver.com and undergroundriver_ppsrnp@yahoo.com. Website: www.puerto-undergroundriver.com.

Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) Booking Office: City Coliseum, Peneyra Rd., Puerto Princesa City 5300, Palawan. Open Mondays to Fridays, 8AM to 4PM with no lunch break, and Saturdays and Sundays, 8AM-12 noon and 1-5PM.

Steps in applying for a permit:

  1. Get a transaction number and wait for your turn.  Make sure to bring a valid ID with you when you purchase your permit.
  2. Fill out the form and submit personal details for processing. If you book through an agent, they will require the full name and age of everyone in your group.
  3. If you’re a walk-in visitor, proceed to Counters 1 and 2. Tour operators and travel agencies line up on Counters 3 and 4
  4. Let the staff compute the payment.
  5. Obtain the signature of a PAMB representative to finalize your permit.

General Entrance Fees to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

  1. Adult (Filipino) – P100
  2. Minor (Filipino) – P75
  3. Adult (foreigner) – PhP150
  4. Minor (foreigner) – PhP100
  5. Senior Citizen – PhP100
  6. Differently Abled – PhP100

Cave Entrance fees -includes payment for the paddle boat and use of protective gear (helmets, life vests):

  1. Adult (Filipino) – PhP175
  2. Minor (Filipino) – PhP100
  3. Adult (foreigner) – PhP250
  4. Minor (foreigner) – PhP150
  5. Toddlers and children 3 to 12 years old – PhP75. Children below 2 years old are not permitted for safety reasons.

Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa: Sabang Beach, Sitio Sabang, Brgy. Cabayugan. Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. Palawan Sales Office: Jeco Bldg., Rizal Ave. Extn., Puerto Princesa City.  Tel (+63 48) 434 1448 to 49 and 723 7278. Mobile Numbers (+63 917) 308-3245 and (+ 63 917) 308-3245. Cebu Sales Office: Sheridan Bldg., Ouano Ave., NRA, Mandaue City.  Tel: (+63 32) 236-1001. Fax: (+63 32) 345-1000. Mobile number: (+63 917) 306-6984. Manila Sales Office: tel: (+63 2) 939-8888. Mobile number: (+63 917) 726-5224. E-mail: reservations@sheridanbeachresort.com.  Website:www.sheridanbeachresort.com.
Instagram: @sheridanresorts
Instagram official tag: #SheridanPalawan
Twitter: @sheridanresorts
Facebook: facebook.com/sheridanbeachresortandspa

Royal Palace and Phimeanakas Temple

The steep-sided, pyramid-like Phimeanakas Temple

The steep-sided, pyramid-like Phimeanakas Temple

Phimeanakas (“celestial temple”), a Hindu temple in the Khleang art style, is located close to the center of a 5 m. high walled enclosure that once housed the the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom (its tallest scalable temple).  Located north of Baphuon, it was built during the reign of Rajendravarman (from 941-968).  It was then rebuilt, in the shape of a 3-tiered, steep-sided pyramid (a representation of Mt. Meru), by Suryavarman II.

Jandy climbing the narrow wooden stairway to the top

Jandy climbing the narrow wooden stairway to the top

The top of this rectangular pyramid, made with laterite and roughly hewn sandstone, originally had a tower which, according to Chinese scholar Zhou Daguan, was crowned with a golden pinnacle.  The edge of the upper terrace had galleries.with windows and balusters, a unique architectural feature

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Gallery at upper terrace

Artistically uninteresting, most of its decorative features are broken or have disappeared and there are only hints of its former splendor. Still, Jandy, Violet and I clambered up, via a narrow wooden stairway at the back, to get to the second and third levels. Here, we had good views of nearby Baphuon.

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Hints of its former splendor

Hints of its former splendor

According to legend, the king spent the first watch of every night in the tower to make love to a woman thought to represent a nāga. During that time, not even the queen was permitted to intrude.  However, during the second watch,  the king would return to his palace and the queen. If the naga, the supreme land owner of Khmer land, did not show up for a night, the king’s days would be numbered.  If the king did not show up, a certain disaster  would strike his kingdom.

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Interior of gallery at upper terrace

The royal palace’s construction was began by Rajendravarman II.  Fronted to the east by the Terrace of Elephants, it was used by Jayavarman V and Udayadityavarman I and later added to and embellished by Jayavarman VII and his successors. Except for two sandstone pools (once the site of royal ablutions), located near the northern wall, very little remains of the royal palace.

Osang and I at what remains of the tower

Violet and I at what remains of the tower

Bantay Kdei (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Banteay Kdei (meaning “Citadel of Chambers”), located southeast of Ta Prohm and 3 kms. east of Angkor Thom, was used as a Buddhist monastery and was built with soft sandstone from the middle of the 12th century to the beginning of the 13th century by king Jayavarman II. Changes and additions account for Banteay Kdei’s unbalanced layout. Many of its galleries and porches have collapsed and the wall enclosing the temple was built with reused stones. At least two different art periods, Angkor Wat and Bayon, are discernible at Banteay Kdei.

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei

The elements of its original design seem to have been a central sanctuary, a surrounding gallery and a passageway connected to another gallery. The original features of the temple were enclosed by a moat. During the Bayon Period, another enclosure and two libraries were added. The 700 by 500 m. (2,297 by 1,640 ft.) outer enclosure, made with laterite, has 4 entry towers.

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The name “Hall of the Dancing Girls,” a rectangular courtyard to the east, was  derived from the decoration which includes dancers. The second enclosure’s cross-shaped entry tower has three passages.  The two on either end are connected to the literate wall of the enclosure by 200 scrolls of figures and large female divinities in niches. The interior court has a frieze of Buddha.

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A causeway, built at a later date, is bordered by serpents and leads to the third enclosure’s entry tower. It comprises a laterite wall and includes a gallery with a double row of sandstone pillars that open onto a courtyard. Parts of this area have been walled in and passage is limited.

P1210362P1210363Vestiges of the wooden ceiling can still be seen in the central sanctuary. The galleries and halls, which join it in a cross to the four entry towers, are probably additions. Two libraries open to the west in the courtyards on the left and right of the causeway.

Terrace of the Leper King (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square of  Angkor Thom and immediately north of the Terrace of the Elephants, we accessed this U-shaped structure from the main road.  This is thought, by some, to have been used as a royal cremation site.

The Terrace of the Leper King

The Terrace of the Leper King

It was built at the end of the 12th century, in the Bayon style, by Jayavarman VI who reigned from 1181 to 1220.  Its modern name is derived from a 15th-century sculpture, discovered at the site (now replaced by a replica) called the “Leper King.” The original statue now sits in the courtyard of the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

Osang beside the replica of the statue of the Leper King

Osang beside the replica of the now shrouded statue of the Leper King

The  statue, with thick lips, energetic chin, full cheeks, slightly open mouth, aquiline nose and clear brow,  sits in the Javanese fashion (with his right knee raised) on a platform on the terrace. The position of its missing hand suggests it was holding something. Its nakedness and teeth being shown in a smile are absolutely and strangely unique in Khmer art.

Bas reliefs

Detail of bas reliefs

Mystery and uncertainty surround the origin of its name. Some say it was so called because of its discoloration and the lichen and moss growing on it, reminiscent of a person with leprosy.  It  also said to depict Yama (the Hindu god of death or judgement), Kubera (the god of wealth, an alleged leper) and also fits in with the Cambodian legend of Yasovarman I (Dharmaraja), an Angkorian king who had leprosy.

The false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall

The false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall

The terrace is faced with dramatic bas-reliefs, both on the interior and exterior. During clearing, the EFEO (Ecole Française d’Extreme-Orient) found a second, 2 m. wide laterite wall, faced with sandstone, with bas-relief similar in composition to those of the outer wall. EFEO recently created a false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall.

Terrace of the Elephants (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Terrace of the Elephants

Terrace of the Elephants

The 350 m. long Terrace of Elephants, part of the walled city of Angkor Thom, is named for the carvings of elephants on its eastern face. We entered this ruins from the road at the east. The terrace, dedicated to Buddhist and replica to the Bayon style of art, was built at the end of the 12th century.

Detail of bas relief

Detail of bas relief

Attached to the palace of Phimeanakas, the terrace was used by Angkor‘s King Jayavarman VII as a giant reviewing platform from which to view his victorious returning army, for public ceremonies and also served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall.

The author and Jandy at the terrace

The author and Jandy at the terrace

As most of its original structure was made of organic material that has long since disappeared, most of what remains are the foundation platforms of the complex. It has five outworks extending towards the Central Square; three in the center and one at each end. The retaining wall’s middle section is decorated with life-size garuda and lions. Towards either end are the two parts of the famous parade of elephants, complete with their Khmer mahouts and princes