Sorrento – Off the Wall

Often our daily routine hides the treasures which lie before us.  It happens even in Italy where off the beaten path structures lead to another time, as it does for me in Sorrento.  I steer clear of the tourist-trodden center of Piazza Tasso as the usual walk from my apartment in the hills leads me to my daily routine, gym, shopping, bar, repeat.  Yet, what lies at my feet and Bastione di Parsanoalong my path are structures which shielded Sorrento some 500+ years ago, when Sorrento was a walled city.  All that remains today is the fortified edifice along Via degli Aranci where ordinary blends with antiquity.

The ancient wall runs almost parallel to the tourist friendly shopping street of Corso Italia and today its only invaders are giant tour buses.  Back in medieval times they used these walls to protect Sorrento from invaders and the sea.  I understand the desire to shield such a verdant treasure from the outside world.

Head off the beaten path in Sorrento and visit the archaeological treasure along Via degli Aranci.  Head south on the Corso away from Piazza Tasso and just past the Cathedral, take your first left up a tiny alley, Via Sersale.  At the top you can sit and enjoy a cappuccino in Park Ibsen as the wall of tourists lines up along the gate of Porta Parsano.  It is also possible to visit the Il Bastione di Parsano as they have excavated sufficiently to create a visitors’ area which is free and open daily (the entrance is on Via Sersale).


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A Cinematic Stroll around Malta

The island nation of Malta is one of those out of the way Mediterranean islands that everyone has probably seen as a movie backdrop without realizing it.  It’s where the sun shines over ancient ruins and the blue waves lap on sandy shores.  It’s where the food crosses Africa and Italy in a unique cuisine and the language is decidedly English.  This Friday’s Flicks take you on a cinematic stroll through Malta:

Captain Phillips (2013) – This true story stars Tom Hanks as the Captain of an American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates.

Alexander & Troy (2004) – Both films used the ancient sites of Malta for shooting locations.  Alexander made great use of Malta’s Valletta’s Grand Harbour as the ancient port city of Alexandria…sometimes a thing is not a thing, only in Hollywood!

U571 (2000) – This wartime movie which stars Matt McConnaughey, Harvey Keitel & Jon Bon Jovi mainly takes place aboard a German submarine but there’s a night shot of the Grand Harbour in Valletta.

Grand Harbour Valletta

Popeye (1980) – while this film about the world’s most famous cartoon sailor flopped, it left behind an amusement park in Malta where the shooting set was turned into an attraction now known as Popeye Village, which is open all year…even for weddings!

Casino Royale (1966) James Bond has been all over the world, including Malta, in this spy spoof starring Peter Sellers.

The Malta Story (1953) – This classic WWII flick stars Alec Guinness as a British photo reconnaissance pilot who uncovers an Italian plot to invade Malta.  As with many older WWII movies, there’s often a parallel love theme and this movie is no different.  Sadly you see very little of Malta in this film except for the port at the Grand Harbour as the battered ships return.  The film also shows how war can divide families in a short but charming scene where Mrs. Gonzar meets with her son Giuseppe, jailed as a spy.  Alec tells his girlfriend that he wants her to live in his free world where he can explore his archaeological profession in the middle East and Palestine….oh, if only wishes were true.

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New museum on tap for ancient Herculaneum

Herculaneum Museum ProjectTake one part American philanthropist and one part Italian archaeology and what do you get?  A new museum on the horizon for the crumbling, ancient world of Herculaneum, otherwise known as Ercolano.  This resort site, just outside Pompei, survived in a much better state than its more well-known neighbor from the volcanic eruption of 79 A.D.  Yet, the Italian economy being what it is, neither site has funding to protect the ancient treasures from the modern environment.

Enter David W. Packard, son of a co-founder of Hewlett-Packard and a former professor of Latin and Greek.  His love of antiquities and his generous nature led him to establish The Packard Humanities Institute, which supports conservation of the ancient world, a perfect fit with ancient Herculaneum.

Author Lisa Fantno ErcolanoPackard had wanted to keep it quiet but keeping a generous project like this quiet in Italy is like telling a new lotto millionaire to sit on his hands.  He had launched the Herculaneum Conservation Project last spring to do a feasibility study on a new museum and the news is spreading.  Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper reported the new museum will be located at the rear of the boat pavilion at the Herculaneum archaeological site.  It’s the goal to display much of the furniture, everyday items and even jewelry recovered from the hundreds of remains discovered in the 1980s huddled in the boat sheds.  Italy should thank its lucky stars for David Packard, who is said to have donated as much as $18.5 million to Herculaneum since the turn of the century.

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