THE TREE CATHEDRAL IN BERGAMO
If you’ve been to Italy, you’ve probably been to Rome. It’s got most of the sites and attractions that come to mind when people even THINK of Italy: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, Saint Peter’s Basilica. The city’s cobblestone streets, medieval architecture, and Renaissance-era fountains are (literally) what romance is made of.
GARDENS OF BOMARZO IN NORTHERN LAZIO
But for a truly unique travel experience, I like to visit the most unusual places of the country, where tourists are rare to see, places with one-of-a-kind photo ops, and chances to interact with authentic local Italian communities.
THE MATERA SASSI IN BASILICATA
Have you heard of Baia? It was the Las Vegas of ancient times, attracting people from far and wide to its state-of-the-art baths and nightlife spaces. Powerful icons of ancient times were known to frequent Baia, from Nero to Cicero to Julius Caesar. If you want to walk in their footsteps now, however, you’ll need some scuba gear.
THE SUNKEN CITY OF BAIA IN NAPOLI
Because of Baia’s location over natural volcanic vents, its water level slowly rose to swallow its once majestic buildings. Saracens sacked it by 1500, but some meaningful relics still remain under its waters to this day. Take time to visit Baia for an unparalleled perspective on antiquity. You’ll feel like it’s been frozen in time! It’s truly like no other place.
PYRAMIDS OF ZONE IN CISLANO
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December 17-23 Predating the birth of Jesus by centuries, this Ancient Roman celebration, in honor of the God Saturn, is marked by parties, gift-giving, and role reversals.
The first-century AD poet Gaius Valerius Catullus described Saturnalia as ‘the best of times’: dress codes were relaxed, small gifts such as dolls, candles and caged birds were exchanged.
Saturnalia saw the inversion of social roles. The wealthy were expected to pay the month’s rent for those who couldn’t afford it, masters and slaves to swap clothes. Family households threw dice to determine who would become the temporary Saturnalian monarch. The poet Lucian of Samosata (AD 120-180) has the god Cronos (Saturn) say in his poem, Saturnalia:
‘During my week the serious is barred: no business allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games of dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping … an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water – such are the functions over which I preside.’
Saturnalia originated as a farmer’s festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season in honour of Saturn (satus means sowing). Numerous archaeological sites from the Roman coastal province of Constantine, now in Algeria, demonstrate that the cult of Saturn survived there until the early third century AD.
Saturnalia grew in duration and moved to progressively later dates under the Roman period. During the reign of the Emperor Augustus (63 BC-AD 14), it was a two-day affair starting on December 17th. By the time Lucian described the festivities, it was a seven-day event. Changes to the Roman calendar moved the climax of Saturnalia to December 25th, around the time of the date of the winter solstice.
From around 1583 the Church of Scotland ( Presbyterian) discouraged ‘Yule’ celebrations. The church believed that there was no basis for celebrating the day as it didn’t reflect what was in the bible. There are even records of some people being arrested over unlawful celebrations during
the years it was officially banned.
When something is just ‘made-up’ the permutations can be endless.