Pasticceria Lamarmora

A wonderful institution - also known as Caffé Lamarmora - with original decorations on the façade from the 1930s, in the heart of Iglesias in south-west Sardinia. The name of the town sounds Spanish, and many of the buildings and narrow streets look Spanish, but the name is actually an adaptation of the original Latin name, Villa Ecclesiae. The older name Metalla, as it may have been known by the Romans (no one is certain, for Metalla may have been at a different location) indicated its origins as a mining centre, and its silver and lead were famous as early as Phoenician times. After a long Roman occupation, the town was ruled for many centuries by Pisa and then Aragon.

As for the name of the café (to revert to the English spelling), and of the piazza on which its stands, Alberto Ferrero La Marmora was a 19th century naturalist who wrote the most important early study of Sardinia, including its geology and mineral wealth. He was born in Turin, and like his presence, many of the advertisements bear witness to the years when Sardinia was part of the Savoyard kingdom ruled from that city.

                                                                           ©Edward Burman

                                                                         ©Edward Burman

The statues of Mont'e Prama

 
 The small Museum at Cabras which holds some of the statues from Mont'e Prama (the others may be seen in Cagliari).

The small Museum at Cabras which holds some of the statues from Mont'e Prama (the others may be seen in Cagliari).

The full-size stone statues at Mont’e Prama were discovered underground at the site of a necropolis close to a nuraghe. They have been described by English-language experts as ‘one of the most remarkable discoveries made anywhere on Italian soil in the [20th] century’ and ‘perhaps the most extraordinary find of the century in the realm of art history.’ Yet they remain little known because research and excavations are still ongoing. 

They were found in 1974 on a hill between the lagoon of Cabras and the sea where the existence of miniature palm trees explains the name of the location, the ‘Hill of Palms’. It was not a massive single monument like many in Sardinia, with what appeared at first to be a series of sacred wells linked along a ridge by vertical stele-like stones like pieces of a domino set. It seems that the warrior figures had once looked down across the landscape, before being smashed and pillaged by invaders anxious to destroy the power they symbolized.

                               Four statues from Mont'e Prama in the Museum at Cabras, near Oristano

                              Four statues from Mont'e Prama in the Museum at Cabras, near Oristano

                           

Mother and son

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The image of mother and child is strongly linked in western minds to the Mary and Jesus of countless paintings and sculptures in museums and churches everywhere in Europe. Perhaps the most famous one is Michelangelo's Pietà in St Peter's in Rome, where the child has become a slender adult.

So this pre-Christian version of a similar story, of a mother who holds in her lap a son who has been killed in battle, is especially moving.

It was found in Urzulei, near Nuoro in the heart of Sardinia, and may be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, where it is described as female goddess. It dates from the 8th to 7th century BC. But the doyen of Sardinian studies Giovanni Lilliu called it 'The mother of the slain man', and even uses the word Pietà in his description of what he called a young aristocrat. It is only 10 centimetres high.

Nuraghe at Sant Antine

Around seven thousand nuraghi survive in various states of conservation across the coastal plains and hills of western Sardinia. They were stone towers with surrounding buildings, mostly built from around 1,800 BC to serve as fortified villages, military strongholds or family compounds - like a miniature version of the fortified towns on mainland Italy from the Etruscans to medieval and Renaissance hilltop towns.

This one, south of Sassari at Torralba, is one of the best preserved and most famous.

 

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A late Sardinian church

The Cathedral at Sassari is at first sight an extravagantly Baroque church whose façade in facts dates from the 18th century. It is known as the Duomo di San Nicola. But like the island itself it is an intriguing blend which began as an early Romanesque structure which was built over as a Catalan Gothic building in the 15th century during the Aragonese occupation of the island. My first visual link on seeing it was in fact with the cathedral at Palma, in Mallorca.

In the three niches on the façade are three local martyrs from the harbour of Porto Torres, St Gavino, St Proto and St Gianuario, the name of the first one being a uniquely and distinctive Sardinian name. Above them, on the next storey, is a statue of San Nicola, the Greek bishop of Myra, now in Turkey, and patron saint of mariners and fishermen as well as children.

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An early Sardinian church

This beautiful early church, San Giovanni in Sinis, dates at least from the 6th century AD, and may be even earlier. It stands on the Sinis Peninsula, roughly half-way down the western coast of the island, and most likely owes it origins to early Christians arriving at the nearby port of Tharros - a few hundred metres away - and immediately setting up a place of worship.

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A Roman meeting place!

After the grandiose temples and palaces of Rome it's fascinating to see this open-air public latrine, discreetly hidden behind the Forum of Ostia Antica, where Roman citizens could sit and chat while performing their ablutions.

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                                                                       ©Edward Burman

Ostia Antica: a shopping street

This well-preserved shopping street, with fine brickwork and parts of the second storey - especially on the last building on the right - gives as good an idea of a Roman city as Pompeii. Yet it's just a short drive, or metro trip, from the centre of Rome.

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                                                                    ©Edward Burman

 

Looking Across Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica was the original port of the city of Rome at the mouth of the River Tiber, which became silted up and unusable as a port. The city, seen here, was a major commercial centre with tax offices, warehouses for storage and transport links - what today we would call a logistics centre.

It's a wonderful place to wander and explore only a short distance from Rome. In the winter months especially there are very few visitors, who soon disappear into its vast labyrinth of streets and roofless buildings.

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                                                                 Photos ©Edward Burman

A 16th Century Theme Park

In 1552, Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, a scion of one of Rome's four great medieval families, commissioned the architect Pirro Ligorio to build a garden in the valley of family lands near Viterbo, north of Rome. It was intended as a source of comfort in a moment of great personal difficulty, and the words in this kiosk - which I have translated below - convey the idea that he had of creating a magical private world.

We can imagine the same words being used at the entrance of a 19th century freak show.

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                                                                       ©Edward Burman

Those of you who travel the world to see its wonders and splendours, come here where you will find horrible faces, elephants, lions, bears, ogres and dragons

Yaotuo Kiln, Shaanxi

This large multiple kiln site has family traditions going back ten generations. The Zhou family had their own private temple, and a descendent still works the nearby kiln. The vast kiln complex is in Chengcheng County, north-east of Xi'an

 A fine architectural decoration on the main wall of the now mainly ruined Zhou Family Temple

A fine architectural decoration on the main wall of the now mainly ruined Zhou Family Temple

                                                               ©Edward Burman

 Here is a Zhou family potter in direct tenth generation succession to the founder of the family business in the 18th century

Here is a Zhou family potter in direct tenth generation succession to the founder of the family business in the 18th century

                                                                        ©Edward Burman