Monday, 31 December 2012



Basel or Basle is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany.

During the days of the Roman Empire, the settlement of Augusta Raurica was founded 10 or 20 kilometres upstream of present Basel, and a castle was built on the hill overlooking the river where the Basel Münster now stands. But even older Celtic settlements (including a vitrified fort) have been discovered recently in the area predating the Roman castle.

The town of Basel was called Basilea or Basilia in Latin (from Ancient Greek Basileia, Βασιλεια meaning kingship) and this name is documented from 374 AD.

The Magyars destroyed Basel in 917, and later burnt down the monasteries of St. Gallen and Rheinau. Their incursions only ended when they were routed by the German king Otto I in 955.

In 1019 the construction of the cathedral of Basel (known locally as the Münster) began under German Emperor Heinrich II. In 1225–1226 the Bridge over the Rhine was constructed by Bishop Heinrich von Thun and lesser Basel (Kleinbasel) founded as a bridgehead to protect the bridge. The bridge was largely funded by Basel's Jewish community which had settled there a century earlier. For many centuries to come Basel possessed the only permanent bridge over the river "between Lake Constance and the sea".

The Bishop also allowed the furriers to found a guild in 1226. Eventually about 15 guilds were established in the 13th century. They increased the town's, and hence the bishop's, reputation, influence, and income from the taxes and duties on goods in Basel's expanding market.

In 1347 the plague came to Europe but did not reach Basel until June 1349. The guilds, asserting that the Jews were responsible—several had been tortured and confessed—demanded they be executed, which the Council did in January 1349, except for a few who escaped to Alsace. The council then forbade Jews in Basel for 200 years, except that their money was helpful in rebuilding after the Basel earthquake of 1356 which destroyed much of the city along with a number of castles in the vicinity. The city offered courts to nobles as an alternative to rebuilding their castles, in exchange for the nobles' military protection of the city.

In 1412 (or earlier) the well-known guesthouse Zum Goldenen Sternen was established. Basel became the focal point of western Christendom during the 15th century Council of Basel (1431–1449), including the 1439 election of antipope Felix V. In 1459 Pope Pius II endowed the University of Basel where such notables as Erasmus of Rotterdam and Paracelsus later taught. At the same time the new craft of printing was introduced to Basel by apprentices of Johann Gutenberg.

The Schwabe publishing house was founded in 1488 by Johannes Petri and is the oldest publishing house still in business. Johann Froben also operated his printing house in Basel and was notable for publishing works by Erasmus. In 1495, Basel was incorporated in the Upper Rhenish Imperial Circle; the Bishop of Basel was added to the Bench of the Ecclesiastical Princes. In 1500 the construction of the Basel Münster was finished. In 1521 so was the bishop. The Council, under the supremacy of the guilds, explained that henceforth they would only give allegiance to the Swiss Confederation, to whom the bishop appealed but in vain.

The city had remained neutral through the Swabian War of 1499 despite being plundered by soldiers on both sides. The Treaty of Basel ended the war and granted the Swiss confederates exemptions from the emperor Maximillian's taxes and jurisdictions, separating Switzerland de facto from the Holy Roman Empire.

On 9 June 1501 Basel joined the Swiss Confederation as its eleventh canton. It was the only canton that had been asked to join, not the other way round. Basel, had a strategic location, good relations with Strasbourg and Mulhouse, and control of the corn imports from Alsace, whereas the Swiss lands were becoming overpopulated and had few resources. For its part, Basel secured the military help of the other cantons when threatened, and some protection for its rural subjects outside its walls. A provision of the Charter accepting Basel required that in conflicts among the other cantons it was to stay neutral and offer its services for mediation.

In 1503 the new bishop Christoph von Utenheim refused to give Basel a new constitution whereupon, to show its power, the city began the construction of a new city hall.

In 1529 the city became Protestant under Oecolampadius and the bishop's seat was moved to Porrentury. The bishop's crook was however retained as the city's coat of arms.

The first edition of Christianae religionis institutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin's great exposition of Calvinist doctrine) was published at Basel in March 1536.

In 1544, Johann von Brugge a rich Dutch Protestant refugee was given citizenship and lived respectfully until his death in 1556 then buried with honors. His body was exhumed and burnt at the stake in 1559 after it was discovered that he was the Anabaptist David Joris.

In 1543 De humani corporis fabrica, the first book on human anatomy, was published and printed in Basel by Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564).

There are indications Joachim Meyer, author of the influential 16th century martial arts text Kunst des Fechten ("The Art of Fencing") came from Basel. In 1662 the Amerbaschsches Kabinett was established in Basel as the first public museum of art. Its collection became the core of the later Basel Museum of Art.

In 1792 the Republic of Rauracia, a revolutionary French client republic, was created. It lasted until 1793. After three years of political agitation and a short civil war in 1833 the disadvantaged countryside seceded from the Canton of Basel, forming the half canton of Basel-Landschaft.

Basel's "shopping mile" goes from Clarastrasse (Claraplatz) to Marktplatz and up Freiestrasse and Gerbergasse to Heuwaage and Bankverein. Much of the shopping here is in specialty stores and luxury boutiques, with a few department stores. Like other large Swiss cities, Basel has many jewelers, horologers (watches), and chocolatiers. Try to veer off the beaten track and check out Schneidergasse (off of Marktplatz), the hilly Spalenberg and adjacent little alleyways such as Heuberg, Nadelberg, which are not only lovely to walk through but where you are likely to find more original shops, selling artisan jewelry, antiques, specialty items, vintage clothing, books, art, etc. Retailers are generally cheery and very competent, polite and helpful.

There are many places in Basel, including bigger kiosks, where you can buy (relatively) cheap - and mostly kitschy - souvenirs, but if you're looking for something special, go to Heimatwerk (see below). Souvenirs are also available at the SBB Station.

Prices of name brands are generally uniform across the city - and across the country. Discounting has only recently made inroads in Basel. Expect to pay the same price anywhere for a Swiss Army knife or a watch.

Most stores close promptly at 6:30PM Mo-Fr, except for Thursday when many stores are open until 8 or 9PM. Stores close by 5PM on Saturday and nothing is open on Sunday. Exceptions are the stores in and around the train station, the supermarket Coop Pronto at Barfüsserplatz and a number of small family businesses in residential areas. VAT is included in prices, and there is generally no haggling. Some luxury stores offer tax-free shopping for tourists.

                                                        Basel’s Top 5:
  1. The Basel Minster is one of the main landmarks and tourist attractions of the Swiss city of Basel. It adds definition to the cityscape with its red sandstone architecture and coloured roof tiles, its two slim towers and the cross-shaped intersection of the main roof. The Münster is listed as a heritage site of national significance. Originally a Catholic cathedral and today a reformed Protestant church, it was built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles. The late Romanesque building was destroyed by the 1356 Basel earthquake and rebuilt by Johannes Gmünd, who was at the same time employed for building the Freiburg Münster. This building was extended from 1421 by Ulrich von Ensingen, architect of the cathedral towers at Ulm and Strasbourg. The southern tower was completed in 1500 by Hans von Nußdorf.
  2. The Basel Town Hall locally known as Roothuus is a five hundred years old building dominating the Marktplatz in Basel. The Town Hall houses the meetings of the Cantonal Parliament as well as the Cantonal Government of the canton of Basel-Stadt. The Great Council Chamber at one time featured a series of frescoes painted in 1522 by Hans Holbein the Younger however these have mostly been lost. Fragments of the work as well as some of the initial drawings are kept in the Kunstmuseum.
  3. The Basel Historical Museum, opened in 1894, is one of the largest and most important museums of its kind in Switzerland, and a heritage site of national significance. The museum is divided into four sections (buildings), three of which are within the city of Basel. These are Barfüsserkirche, Haus zum Kirschgarten and the Musikmuseum. The fourth section, the Coach and Carriage Museum lies slightly outside Basel, in the neighbouring town of Münchenstein. 
  4. The Gates to the Walled City. A (third) ring of fortifications around the whole old city was constructed after the great earthquake of 1356, to provide security for the then roughly 20,000 inhabitants of Basel. A number of these gates can still be seen at the perimeter of what used to be the medieval city
  5. Zoo Basel is, with over 1.7 million visitors per year, the most visited tourist attraction in Basel and the second most visited tourist attraction in Switzerland. Established in 1874, Zoo Basel is the oldest zoo in Switzerland and, by number of animals, the largest. Through its history, Zoo Basel has had several breeding successes, such as the first worldwide Indian rhinoceros birth and Greater flamingo hatch in a zoo. These and other achievements led Forbes Travel to rank Zoo Basel as one of the fifteen best zoos in the world in 2008. Despite its international fame, Basel's population remains attached to Zoo Basel, which is entirely surrounded by the city of Basel. Evidence of this is the millions of donations money each year, as well as Zoo Basel's unofficial name: locals lovingly call "their" zoo "Zolli" by which is it known throughout Basel and most of Switzerland.

Saturday, 22 December 2012



Angers is a city in western France, about 300 km (190 mi) southwest of Paris, and the chef-lieu of the Maine-et-Loire department. Angers was before the French Revolution the capital of the province of Anjou, and inhabitants of both the city and the province are called Angevins.

The first sign of human presence in Angers dates back to 400,000 BC. Vestiges from the Neolithic are more abundant and include numerous polished stone axes. Burials from 4,500/3,500 BC were also discovered in the actual castle grounds.

During the 5th century, the Andecavi, a Celtic people, settles north of the Loire. By the end of the Age of Iron, Angers is a relatively densely populated oppidum. The name Juliomagus, might it be more ancient, is not attested before the 3rd century AD. The Roman town consisted of many villas, baths and had an amphitheatre as well as a temple dedicated to Mithra.

Successive Germanic invasions in 275 and 276 forced the inhabitants to move on the highest point of their city and to build a wall around a small area of around 9 hectares.

Angers gets its first bishop in 372, during the election of Martin of Tours. The first abbey, Saint-Aubin, is built during the 7th century to house the sarcophagus of Saint Albinius. Saint-Serge abbey is founded by the Merovingian kings Clovis II and Theuderic III a century later. In 2008, ten sarcophagi form that period were discovered where Saint-Morille church once stood during the tramway construction.

From the 850s, Angers suffers from its situation on the border with Brittany and Normandy. In September 851, Charles the Bald and Erispoe, a Breton chief, meet in the town to sign the Treaty of Angers, which secures the Breton independence and fixes the borders of Brittany. However, the situation remains dangerous for Angers, and Charles the Bald creates in 853 a wide buffer zone around Brittany comprising parts of Anjou, Touraine, Maine and Sées, which is ruled by Robert the Strong, a great-grandfather of Hugh Capet.

In 870, the Viking chief Hastein seizes Angers where he settles, but quickly surrounds after a siege. He takes again control of the town in 873, before being ousted by the Carolingian Emperor.

Fulk I of Anjou, a Carolingian descendant, is, first, viscount of Angers (before 898 until 830) and of Tours (898-909), and count of Nantes (909-919). Around 929, he takes the title of count of Angers and founds the first Anjou dynasty.

During the 12th century, after internal divisions in Brittany, the county of Nantes is annexed by Anjou. Henry II Plantagenêt keeps it for more than 30 years. At the same time, he also rules the vast Angevin Empire, which stretched from the Pyrenees to Ireland. The castle of Angers is then the seat of the Court and the dynasty. The Empire disappeared in 1204-1205 when the King of France, Philip II, seized Normandy and Anjou.

Henceforth a part of the Kingdom of France, Angers becomes the "Clé du Royaume" (Key to the Kingdom) facing independent Brittany. In 1228, during Louis IX's minority, Blanche of Castile decides to fortify the city and to rebuild the castle. Later, during the 1350s and 1360s, the schools of Law, Medicine and Theology, renowned in the whole Europe, are organised in a university. In 1373, Louis I of Naples and Anjou orders the six tapestries illustrating the Apocalypse of St John known today as the Apocalypse Tapestry.

King René of Anjou contributed to the economic revival in a city that had been diminished by the Black Death (1347–1350) and the Hundred Years War (1337–1453). A man of great culture and generosity, René transformed Angers into a cultural and politic centre and held there a brilliant Court. He transformed the castle moat into a menagerie and built several gardens. He also founded in Angers a new Ordre du Croissant which was supposed to compete with the Order of the Golden Fleece, created several years before.

In 1474, Louis XI of France, who wants to seize Anjou, comes to Angers with his army, asking for the keys of the city. René, then 65 years old, does not want to lead a war against his nephew and surrender his domains without any fight. Thus, Anjou ceased to be an appanage and felt definitely into the Royal domain. After his death, René is buried in 1480 in Saint-Maurice cathedral.

In 1598, the Edict of Nantes is prepared in Angers by Henri IV. From the 6th of March until the 2th of April, Angers is de facto the capital of France and the King tries by all means to satisfy the Catholics of the city, for example by laying the cornerstone of the new Couvent des Capucins.

In 1619, Louis XIII of France gives the governance of Anjou to his mother, Marie de' Medici. The Queen mother settles in Angers, at the Logis Barrault, with her chaplain, Cardinal Richelieu.

At the premature death of Louis XIII, his son Louis XIV is only an infant and France is troubled by several famines and epidemics and by politic instability. In 1649, the people of Angers launch a revolt against rising taxes, a movement that started the Fronde in Anjou. 

The Fronde was a nationwide military conflict opposing some aristocrats favoring a less autocratic regime to the Royal forces held by Anne of Austria, Queen mother and regent, and her prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin. The Royal repression in Angers is narrowly avoided by the bishop Henri Arnauld, who intercedes with the Queen mother. Bishop of Angers until 1692, Arnauld deeply marked the religious life of the city during the second half of the 17th century.

In 1652, Henri Chabot, Duke of Rohan and governor of Anjou, decides to back Louis of Condé, chief of the Fronde. Angers becomes again a rebellious city and Louis XIV sends his army to seize it. The Duke of Rohan immediately surrenders and thus avoids the sack of the city.

The first months of the French Revolution are relatively quiet in Angers. In 1789, the city looses its ancient administrative positions, replaced in 1790 by the department of Mayenne-et-Loire, soon renamed "Maine-et-Loire". Anjou, as a political entity, disappears, although the new departement includes most of its territory.

The War of Vendée, a Royalist rebellion and counterrevolution led in Vendée, a department located at the southwest of Maine-et-Loire, reached the Loire in March 1793. The Royalist army soon crosses the river and goes as far as Granville, in Normandy, in November. Pushed back, the Vendéens go back south and, to cross the Loire again, have to attack Angers.

The city is defended by 4,000 Republican soldiers, whereas the Royalists are at least 20,000, but weakened by successive fights and deceases. The Siege of Angers occurs the 3rd and 4 December 1793. The Royalists' bad tactic, as well as the strength of Angers city wall and castle, cause their loss. They consequently go back north for a while, around Le Mans, before eventually crossing the Loire in Ancenis the 16th of December.

In 1794, a fierce repression is conduced in the whole region against the Royalists. In Angers, 290 prisoners are shot and 1020 others die of illness in jail. The city also welcomed many refugees, mostly Republicans living in Royalist rural areas. Between the 19th and the 31st of May 1793, between 650 and 1000 Republican families seek asylium in Angers.

In September 1939, when Poland is invaded by Germany, the Polish government-in-exile settles in Angers. It left the city the 12th of June 1940, after the invasion of France by the Wehrmacht. Angers falls to the Nazis during the same month. The Germans make it the seat of a regional Kommandantur. In 1941, a first Resistance movement, called Honneur et Patrie, is created in Angers. 60 Resistants are shot at Belle-Beille range in 1942 and a German bunker factory employs 6000 people in 1943. In July 1942, 853 Jews are arrested and sent to Auschwitz.

The night of the 28th May 1944, the first Allied bombing occurs over the Saint-Laud quarter. 243 people die and many others are wounded. Successive attacks the 29th and 30 May destroy the train station and its surroundings which are reconstructed in the 1950s.

After liberating Avranches and Rennes, General Patton and his 5th infantry division arrive in Anjou the 5th of August. To seize Angers, they decide to enter the city by its eastern side to surprise the Nazis. The 9th of August, they cross the Maine and start the fight. Helped by the local French Forces of the Interior, they progressively move forward the city centre. The fight is nevertheless difficult and Angers is liberated the day after, at around 5 p.m.

After the end of the war, the city experiences a quick development and demographic growth. In 1971, a decision is made to reestablish a public university, and the Université catholique d'Angers is split between the Université catholique de l'Ouest, private, and the Université d'Angers, public. Angers has had since then two different universities.

                                                        Angers' Top 5:
  1. Angers Cathedral was constructed on the orders of bishops Normand de Doué and Guillaume de Beaumont after the original building burnt down in 1032. The transept's stained glass window of Saint Julian is considered a masterpiece of French 13th century glasswork. The cathedral is the seat of the diocese of Angers and a national monument of France. The original Romanesque church was rebuilt with Gothic details in the mid 12th century. The single-aisle plan was vaulted with pointed arches resting on a re-clad interior elevation. The nave consists of three simple bays, with single bays on either side of a crossing forming transepts, followed by a single-bay choir, backed by an apse. During the Middle Ages both Angers Cathedral and Amiens Cathedral laid claim to the possession of the head of John the Baptist. Angers Cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries by two ambitious successive bishops, Normand de Doué and Guillaume de Beaumont.
  2. Tour Saint-Aubin. Completed in 1170, it was the bell-tower of an abbey closed during the French Revolution and destroyed in 1810. Elaborately sculptured 11th and 12th century arcades also survive in the courtyard of the Prefecture.
  3. The Maison d'Adam (Adam's House), located behind the cathedral, is an excellent example of the half-timbered houses which were built during the Middle Ages. Many similar houses, although smaller, are also visible along the streets around the castle.
  4. The Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angers, located in the Renaissance Logis Barrault, displays a collection of paintings and sculptures dating from the 14th century to today. It is particularly renowned for its 18th century paintings, including works by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Van Loo, Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean Siméon Chardin. The museum also contains a graphic design studio, a gallery devoted to the history of Angers and a temporary exhibition gallery.
  5. The Château d'Angers. Founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou, was expanded to its current size in the 13th century. It is located on a rocky ridge overhanging the river Maine. Originally, this castle was built as a fortress at one of the sites inhabited by the Romans because of its strategic defensive location. In the 9th century, the Bishop of Angers gave the Counts of Anjou permission to build a castle in Angers. It became part of the Angevin empire of the Plantagenet Kings of England during the 12th century. In 1204, the region was conquered by Philip II and an enormous castle was built during the minority of his grandson, Louis IX ("Saint Louis") in the early part of the 13th century. The construction undertaken in 1234 cost 4,422 livres, roughly one per cent of the estimated royal revenue at the time. Louis gave the castle to his brother, Charles in 1246. Today, owned by the City of Angers, the massive, austere castle has been converted to a museum housing the oldest and largest collection of medieval tapestries in the world, with the 14th century "Apocalypse Tapestry" as one of its priceless treasures. As a tribute to its fortitude, the castle has never been taken by any invading force in history.

Intrepid Travel

Tuesday, 18 December 2012



Bari is the capital city of the province of Bari and of the Puglia region, on the Adriatic Sea, in Italy. It is the second most important economic centre of mainland Southern Italy after Naples, and is well known as a port and university city, as well as the city of Saint Nicholas.

The city was probably founded by the Peucetii. Once it passed under Roman rule in the 3rd century BC, it developed strategic significance as the point of junction between the coast road and the Via Traiana and as a port for eastward trade; a branch road to Tarentum led from Barium. Its harbour, mentioned as early as 181 BC, was probably the principal one of the district in ancient times, as it is at present, and was the centre of a fishery. The first historical Bishop of Bari was Gervasius who was noted at the Council of Sardica in 347. The bishops were dependent on the Patriarch of Constantinople until the 10th century.

After the devastations of the Gothic Wars, under Lombard rule a set of written regulations was established, the Consuetudines Barenses, which influenced similar written constitutions in other southern cities.

Until the arrival of the Normans, Bari continued to be governed by the Byzantines, with only occasional interruption. Throughout this period, and indeed throughout the Middle Ages, Bari served as one of the major slave depots of the Mediterranean, providing a central location for the trade in Slavic slaves. The slaves were mostly captured by Venice from Dalmatia, the Holy Roman Empire from what is now Prussia and Poland, and the Byzantines from elsewhere in the Balkans, and were generally destined for other parts of the Byzantine Empire and (most frequently) the Muslim states surrounding the Mediterranean: the Abbasid Caliphate, the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba, the Emirate of Sicily, and the Fatimid Caliphate (which relied on Slavs purchased at the Bari market for its legions of Sakalaba Mamluks).

For 20 years, Bari was the center of the Emirate of Bari; the city was captured by its first emirs Kalfun in 847, who had been part of the mercenary garrison installed there by Radelchis I of Benevento. The city was conquered and the Emirate extinguished in 871, due to the efforts of Emperor Louis II and a Byzantine fleet. Chris Wickham states Louis spent five years campaigning to reduce then occupy Bari, "and then only to a Byzantine/Slav naval blockade"; "Louis took the credit" for the success, adding "at least in Frankish eyes", then concludes by noting that by remaining in southern Italy long after this success, he "achieved the near-impossible: an alliance against him of the Beneventans, Salernitans, Neapolitans and Spoletans; later sources include Sawadān as well." 

 In 885, Bari became the residence of the local Byzantine catapan, or governor. The failed revolt (1009–1011) of the Lombard nobles Melus of Bari and his brother-in-law Dattus, against the Byzantine governorate, though it was firmly repressed at the Battle of Cannae (1018), offered their Norman adventurer allies a first foothold in the region. In 1025, under the Archbishop Byzantius, Bari became attached to the see of Rome and was granted "provincial" status.

In 1071, Bari was captured by Robert Guiscard, following a three-year siege. Maio of Bari (died 1160), a Lombard merchant's son, was the third of the great admirals of Norman Sicily. The Basilica di San Nicola was founded in 1087 to receive the relics of this saint, which were surreptitiously brought from Myra in Lycia, in Byzantine territory. The saint began his development from Saint Nicholas of Myra into Saint Nicholas of Bari and began to attract pilgrims, whose encouragement and care became central to the economy of Bari. In 1095 Peter the Hermit preached the first crusade there. In October 1098, Urban II, who had consecrated the Basilica in 1089, convened the Council of Bari, one of a series of synods convoked with the intention of reconciling the Greeks and Latins on the question of the filioque clause in the Creed, which Anselm ably defended, seated at the pope's side. The Greeks were not brought over to the Latin way of thinking, and the Great Schism was inevitable.

A civil war broke out in Bari in 1117 with the murder of the archbishop, Riso. Control of Bari was seized by Grimoald Alferanites, a native Lombard, and he was elected lord in opposition to the Normans. By 1123, he had increased ties with Byzantium and Venice and taken the title gratia Dei et beati Nikolai barensis princeps. Grimoald increased the cult of St Nicholas in his city. He later did homage to Roger II of Sicily, but rebelled and was defeated in 1132.

Bari was occupied by Manuel I Komnenos between 1155–1158. In 1246, Bari was sacked and razed to the ground; Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, repaired the fortress of Baris but it was subsequently destroyed several times. Bari recovered each time.

Isabella di Aragona, princess of Naples and widow of the Duke of Milan Gian Galeazzo Sforza, enlarged the castle, which she made her residence, 1499–1524. After the death of Bona Sforza, Queen of Poland, Bari came to be included in the Kingdom of Naples and its history contracted to a local one, as malaria became endemic in the region. Bari was awakened from its provincial somnolence by Napoleon's brother-in-law Joachim Murat. As Napoleonic King of Naples, Murat ordered the building in 1808 of a new section of the city, laid out on a rational grid plan, which bears his name today as the Murattiano. Under this stimulus, Bari developed into the most important port city of the region. The legacy of Mussolini can be seen in the imposing architecture along the seafront.

Through a tragic coincidence intended by neither of the opposing sides in World War II, Bari gained the unwelcome distinction of being the only European city to experience chemical warfare in the course of that war.

On the night of December 2, 1943, German Junkers Ju 88 bombers attacked the port of Bari, which was a key supply centre for Allied forces fighting their way up the Italian Peninsula. Several Allied ships were sunk in the overcrowded harbour, including the U.S. Liberty ship John Harvey, which was carrying mustard gas; mustard gas was also reported to have been stacked on the quayside awaiting transport. The chemical agent was intended for use if German forces initiated chemical warfare. The presence of the gas was highly classified, and authorities ashore had no knowledge of it. This increased the number of fatalities, since physicians—who had no idea that they were dealing with the effects of mustard gas—prescribed treatment proper for those suffering from exposure and immersion, which proved fatal in many cases. Because rescuers were unaware they were dealing with gas casualties, many additional casualties were caused among the rescuers through contact with the contaminated skin and clothing of those more directly exposed to the gas.

On the orders of allied leaders Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower, records were destroyed and the whole affair was kept secret for many years after the war. The U.S. records of the attack were declassified in 1959, but the episode remained obscure until 1967. Indeed, even today, many "Baresi" are still unaware of what happened and why. Additionally, there is considerable dispute as to the number of fatalities. In one account: "[S]ixty-nine deaths were attributed in whole or in part to the mustard gas, most of them American merchant seamen;" Others put the count as high as, "more than one thousand Allied servicemen and more than one thousand Italian civilians."  Part of the confusion and controversy derives from the fact that the German attack, which became nicknamed "The Little Pearl Harbor" after the Japanese air attack on the American naval base in Hawaii, was highly destructive and lethal in itself, apart from the effects of the gas. Attribution of the causes of death to the gas, as distinct from the direct effects of the German attack, has proved far from easy.

The affair is the subject of two books: Disaster at Bari, by Glenn B. Infield, and Nightmare in Bari: The World War II Liberty Ship Poison Gas Disaster and Coverup, by Gerald Reminick.

Bari's cuisine, one of Italy's most traditional and noteworthy, is based on three typical agricultural products found within the surrounding Puglia region, namely wheat, olive oil and wine. Bari cuisine is also enriched by the wide variety of fruit and vegetables produced locally. 
Local flour is used in homemade bread and pasta production including, most notably, the famous orecchiette ear-shaped pasta, recchietelle or strascinate, chiancarelle (orecchiette of different sizes) and cavatelli.

Homemade dough is also used for baked calzoni stuffed with onions, anchovies, capers and olives; fried panzerotti with mozzarella, simple focaccia alla barese with tomatoes, little savoury taralli, friselle and sgagliozze, fried slices of polenta all make up the Bari culinary reportoire.

Olive oil and garlic are widely in use. Vegetable minestrone, chick peas, broad beans, chickory, celery and fennel are also often served as first courses or side dishes.

Meat dishes and the local Barese ragù often include lamb, pork and often horse meat, considered something of a local delicacy.

Pasta al forno, a baked pasta dish, is very popular in Bari and was historically a Sunday dish, or a dish used at the start of Lent when all the rich ingredients such as eggs and pork had to be used for religious reasons. The recipe commonly consists of penne or similar tubular pasta shapes, a tomato sauce, small beef and pork meatballs and halved hard boiled eggs; but different families have variations. The pasta is then topped with mozzarella or similar cheese and then baked in the oven to make the dish have its trademark crispy texture.

Bari, being the capital of an important fishing area, offers a range of fresh fish and seafood, often eaten raw. Octopus, sea urchins and mussels feature heavily. Indeed, perhaps Bari's most famous dish is the oven-baked Riso, patate e cozze (rice, with potatoes and mussels).

Bari and its province, not to mention the Puglia region, have a range of notable wines including Primitivo, Castel del Monte and Moscato di Trani.

                                                        Bari’s Top 5:
  1. Bari Cathedral is the cathedral of Bari, senior to, though less famous than, the Basilica of St. Nicholas. The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Bari-Bitonto, as it was previously of the archbishops, earlier bishops, of Bari. It is dedicated to Saint Sabinus, a bishop of Canosa, whose relics were brought here in the 9th century. The present building was constructed between the late 12th and late 13th centuries, mostly in the last thirty years of the 12th century, and was built on the site of the ruins of the Imperial Byzantine cathedral destroyed in 1156 by William I of Sicily known as the Wicked (il Malo); to the right of the transept it is still possible to observe traces of the original pavement which extends under the nave.
  2. The Castello Svevo (Swabian Castle) Probably built in 1132 by Norman King Roger II, it was destroyed in 1156 by king William I of Sicily and rebuilt and reinforced in 1233 by the Holy Roman emperor Fredrick II. During the Angevin domination, it went through several transformation, and after being acquired by Duke Ferdinand of Aragon, was donated to the Sforza family and passed to Bona Sforza, Queen of Poland. After Bona's death, it was returned under the King of Naples and transformed into a prison and barracks. The castle is surrounded by a moat on all sides, except the northern section, which was bordering the sea and can be accessed from the bridge and the gate on the southern side. It is mainly composed of the Aragon walls and the main Swabian tower, and is currently used for exhibitions.
  3. The Teatro Petruzzelli is the largest theatre of the city of Bari and the fourth Italian theatre by size. The history of the Teatro Petruzzelli of Bari begins when Onofrio and Antonio Petruzzelli, traders and ship builders of Trieste presented the design of the theatre of their brother-in-law, the engineer Angelo Bari Cicciomessere (then Messeni) at the city of Bari. The proposal of the Petruzzellis was accepted and in 1896 they signed the contract between the family and the city administration. The contract is dated 29 January 1896. Two years later, in October 1898, work began and ended in 1903. Inside the theatre was painted by Raffaele Armenise. Petruzzelli took from the Corato the primacy of the largest theatre of Puglia. The theatre was inaugurated on Saturday 14 February 1903 with the masterpiece of Meyerbeer, Les Huguenots.
  4. The Pinacoteca Provinciale di Bari or The Provincial Pinacotheca in Bari is an important Italian Artistic Paintings Museum. It was instituted on July 12, 1928 and initially accommodated at the Palace of Government. In 1936 it moved to the Palace of Province, along the sea boulevard in Bari, where nowadays is still kept its huge artistic inheritance. The Pinacoteca was named in honour of the famous Italian painter Corrado Giaquinto.
  5. The Basilica di San Nicola is a church in Bari, that holds wide religious significance throughout Europe and the Christian world. The basilica is an important pilgrimage destination both for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe.
    The basilica was built between 1087 and 1197, during the Italo-Norman domination of Apulia, the area previously occupied by the Byzantine Catapan of which Bari was the seat. Its foundation is related to the stealing of some of the relics of St. Nicholas from the saint’s original shrine in Myra, in what is now Turkey. The new church was built to shelter Nicholas' remains and Pope Urban II was present at the consecration of the crypt in 1089.

Monday, 17 December 2012



Lecce is a historic city in southern Italy, the capital of the province of Lecce, the second province in the region by population, as well as one of the most important cities of Puglia. It is the main city of the Salentine Peninsula, a sub-peninsula at the heel of the Italian Peninsula and is over 2,000 years old.

Because of the rich Baroque architectural monuments found in the city, Lecce is commonly nicknamed "The Florence of the South". The city also has a long traditional affinity with Greek culture going back to its foundation; the Messapii who founded the city are said to have been Cretans in Greek records. To this day, in the Grecìa Salentina, a group of towns not far from Lecce, the griko language is still spoken.

According to legend, a city called Sybar existed at the time of the Trojan War, founded by the Messapii Italic tribe. Later it was occupied by the Iapyges and conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BCE, receiving the new name of Lupiae.

Under the emperor Hadrian (2nd century AD) the city was moved 3 km to NE, taking the name of Licea or Litium. Lecce had a theater and an amphitheater and was connected to the Hadrian Port (the current San Cataldo). Orontius of Lecce, locally called Sant'Oronzo, is considered to have served as the city's first Christian bishop and is Lecce's patron saint.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Lecce was sacked by the Ostrogoth king Totila in the Gothic Wars. It was conquered by the Byzantines in 549, and remained part of the Eastern Empire for five centuries, with brief conquests by Saracens, Lombards, Hungarians and Slavs.

After the Norman conquest in the 11th century, Lecce regained commercial importance, flourishing in the subsequent Hohenstaufen and Angevine rule. The County of Lecce was one of the largest and most importants fiefs in the Kingdom of Sicily from 1053 to 1463, when it was annexed directly to the crown. From the 15th century, Lecce was one of the most important cities of southern Italy, and, starting in 1630, it was enriched with precious Baroque monuments. To avert invasion by the Ottomans, a new line of walls and a castle were built by Charles V, (who was also Holy Roman Emperor), in the first part of the 16th century.

Porta Napoli
In 1656, a plague broke out in the city, killing a thousand inhabitants.

In 1943, fighter aircrafts based in Lecce helped support isolated Italian garrisons in the Aegean Sea, fighting Germans during World War 2. Because they were delayed by the Allies, they couldn't prevent a defeat. In 1944 and 1945, B-24 long-range bombers of the 98th Heavy Bomb Group attached to the 15th U.S. Army Air Force were based in Lecce, from where the crews flew missions over Italy, the Balkans, Austria, Germany and France.

Lecce boasts a unique gastronomic and culinary treasure trove which is mostly thanks to the areas natural products and the traditions of peasant cookery. The basic ingredient for almost all of Salento dishes is olive oil. Gabriele d'Annunzio himself sung the praises of the oil, writing that it travelled from the ancient oil-presses as far as England. Indeed, olive oil is the element of Pugliese cookery which makes Salento one of the most renowned eating areas in Italy.

Wine is also an important element in traditional cookery and it is known as "lu mieru" in Lecce dialect. Homer wrote of a "sea of wine": in September the sea becomes dark because of the sea storms and during the grape harvest the sea around Puglia turns the colour of wine. Lecces wines are a good accompaniment for a meal or a dessert and can be used for blends. Each wine carries with it the flavours, scents and colours of the earth and air of its vineyard.

There are plenty of traditional recipes which have been handed down from generation to generation. These include dishes like "ciceri e tria" which is a kind of homemade lasagna with chick peas, or tasty horsemeat spiced up with some chili peppers.
The other essential element of the Salento diet is bread. Great care is taken in the preparation of oiled breads and Pizzi, both typical breads from Lecce.

Finally, there are the famous Pugliese desserts and pastries like strufuli, cartellate and cupete with toasted almonds. A visit to Lecce is not complete without trying a "pasticciotto" filled with cream or a "fruttone" with stuffed with marzipan and covered with chocolate.
Most of the restaurants and pizzerias in Lecce are in the towns old centre. If you walk down Via Palmieri towards Piazza Duomo you will come across a whole series of pizzerias and restaurants including the Piction, an elegant and refined restaurant which serves excellent spaghetti with scampi.

 There is Maccheroni which serves excellent maceroni with sauce. If you are looking for a more characteristic and unusual place then try Alle due Corti dei Giugni which serves excellent horse meat. If you continue down the main thoroughfare, you will see the Dominga, where you can enjoy some superb first courses including "spaghetti alle cozze". You can try the areas famous "pizzi" and oiled breads at La Rusticana. 

Lecce offers a range of activities all year round. There are numerous cinemas, pub, discos, festivals, theatres, and many other places and shows to spend an evening having fun, in the company of lovely, southerners. In every corner of the city, are fun, spirited and cordial people, who make up a population that have always faced life with a lively, daring spirit throughout all the adversities and problems they have come across over the centuries. Many festivals take place in Lecce, during the summer, from June to September. Food and typical, local produce are on offer here, as well as good music. Don't miss out on the special "lampascioni", which are little, wild, onions. There are also many festivals that take place in the surrounding area, such as a beer festival and wine feasts. All these festivals are great fun and very lively.

                                                        Lecce’s Top 5:
  1. Lecce Cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Lecce. The cathedral was first built in 1144, with repairs in 1230. It was rebuilt in 1659 by the architect Giuseppe Zimbalo by order of bishop Luigi Pappacoda, whose remains are kept in the altar dedicated to Saint Orontius of Lecce (Sant'Oronzo), the patron saint of the city. The cathedral has two entrances. The principal one is on the north side of the church, the other on the square onto which it faces. The principal façade is sober and elegant, while the second portal is a masterpiece of Baroque art with statues representing Saint Orontius between Saint Justus and Saint Fortunatus. The church is built on a Latin cross plan with a nave and two aisles, separated by pillars and pilasters. The central nave and the transept are covered by a wooden ceiling in which are paintings representing the Martyrdom of Saint Orontius and the Last Supper. There are twelve altars. In the cathedral square are other monuments: the bell tower, the bishop's palace and the seminary.
  2. The Castle of Charles V  was built in Lecce by Charles V in 1539. The building was designed by the architect Gian Giacomo dell’Acaya and to build this fortress two constructions were pulled down: the Chapel of the Trinity and the Monastery of the Benedictine Order of the Saint Cross. The castle did not have only defensive functions, in the 18th century one of its rooms was used as a theatre. From 1870 to 1979 it was used as military district. Nowadays it is the seat of the Cultural Affairs of the township of Lecce, a backdrop for many cultural initiatives. Visitors can remain charmed with the delicate ornaments of the interiors: the capitals and the decorated big room, with imposing big stained glass windows. The rooms of the upstairs are sustained by imposing stone columns. 
  3. Porta Napoli - Also know as Arch of Triumph, it was erected in 1548 to pay homage to Charles V and thank him for having fortified the town. Twenty metres tall, the arch is situated in a square named after it, where S.Giusto once was.
  4. Torre del Parco ("Park Tower") is one of the medieval symbols of Lecce. It was erected in 1419 by the then-18 years old Giovanni Antonio del Balzo Orsini, prince of Lecce. The tower, standing at more than 23 meters, is surrounded by a ditch in which bears (the heraldic symbol of the Orsini del Balzo) were reared. The whole complex was the seat of Orsini's tribunal and of a mint, and after Giovanni Antonio's death, it became a residence for the Spanish viceroys.
  5. The Roman Amphitheater was built in the second century AD and once held 25,000 spectators. The amphitheater is partially excavated but monuments have been built above most of it. You'll see the remains near Sant'Oronzo Square where there's a Roman column topped by a copper statue of Saint Oronzo, the city's patron saint.


Sunday, 16 December 2012



Brno by population and area is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, the largest Moravian city, and the historical capital city of the Margraviate of Moravia. Brno is the administrative center of the South Moravian Region where it forms a separate district Brno-City District.

The Brno basin has been inhabited since prehistoric era, however, the direct ancestor of Brno was a fortified settlement of the Great Moravia Empire known as Staré Zámky which was inhabited since the Neolithic Age to the early 11th century. In the early 11th century Brno was established as a castle of non-ruling Prince from the House of Přemyslid, and Brno became one of the centres of Moravia along with Olomouc and Znojmo.

In 1243 Brno received the large and small city privileges from the King, and thus it was recognized as a royal city. In 1324 Queen Elisabeth Richeza of Poland (cz: Eliška Rejčka) founded the current Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady where is now her final resting place. In the 14th century, Brno became one of the centres for the Moravian regional assemblies, whose meetings alternated between Brno and Olomouc. These assemblies made political, legal, and financial decisions. Brno and Olomouc were also the seats of the Land Court and the Land Tables, thus they were the two most important cities in Moravia. From the mid 14th century to the early 15th century the Spilberk Castle had served as the permanent seat of the Margraves of Moravia (Moravian rulers), one of them was elected the King of the Romans.

In the 1641 Brno became the sole capital of Moravia. During the 17th century Spilberk Castle was rebuild into a huge baroque citadel. In 1777 the Brno Bishopric was established. In 1839 the first train arrived in Brno from Vienna, this event was the beginning of rail transport in today's Czech Republic. In the years 1859-1864 the city fortification was almost completely removed. In 1869 a horsecar service started to operate in Brno, it was the first tram service in today's Czech Republic.

Veveří Castle
In the mid 11th century, Moravia was divided into three separate territories; each one of them had its own ruler, coming from the Přemyslids dynasty, but independent of the other two, and subordinated only to the Bohemian ruler in Prague. Seats of these rulers and thus "capitals" of these territories were castles and towns of Brno, Olomouc, and Znojmo. In the late 12th century, Moravia began to reunify, forming the Margraviate of Moravia. Since then, until the mid of the 17th century, it was not clear which town should be the capital of Moravia. Political power was therefore "evenly" divided between Brno and Olomouc, but Znojmo also played an important role. The Moravian Diet (cz: Moravský Zemský sněm), the Moravian Land Tables (cz: Moravské Zemské desky), and the Moravian Land Court (cz: Moravský Zemský soud) were all seated in both cities at once. However, Brno was the official seat of the Moravian Margraves (rulers of Moravia), and later its geographical position closer to Vienna also became important. Otherwise, until 1642 Olomouc was larger than Brno as the population number is concerned, and it was the seat of the only Roman Catholic diocese in Moravia. Since 1573, Olomouc was also the seat of the only Moravian university existing at that time (nowadays Palacký University of Olomouc).

Mahen Theatre
In 1641, in the midst of the Thirty Years' War, the Holy Roman Emperor and Margrave of Moravia Ferdinand III commanded permanent relocation of the diet, court, and the land tables from Olomouc to Brno, as Olomouc's Collegium Nordicum made it one of the primary targets of Swedish armies. In 1642 Olomouc surrendered to the Swedish army which then stayed there for 8 years. Meanwhile Brno, as the only Moravian city which managed to defend itself from the Swedes, served as the sole capital of the state (Margraviate of Moravia). After the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648), Brno retained its status as the sole capital. This was later confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II in 1782, and again in 1849 by the Moravian constitution. In 1948 the communist government of Czechoslovakia abolished Moravian autonomy, stripped Brno of its title, and transferred all political power in the country into one center which is Prague. At the present day, the Moravian Land Tables are stored in the Moravian Regional Archive, and ranks among the national cultural sights of the Czech Republic.

In 1919 two neighbouring towns, the town ofKrálovo Pole, and the town of Husovice, and 21 other municipalities were annexed to Brno, creating Greater Brno (cz: Velké Brno). Greater Brno had 7 times larger area and population of about 222 thousand - before that Brno had about 130 thousand citizens. In 1921 Brno became the capital city of the Land of Moravia (cz: země Moravská), before that Brno was the capital city of the Margraviate of Moravia. Seven years later, Brno became the capital of the Land of Moravia-Silesia. In 1939 Brno was occupied by the army of Nazi Germany, and in 1945 it was conquered by the Red Army.

When the First World War ended in 1918, the population of Brno included about 55,000 German speakers, including almost all inhabitants of Jewish origin. However, most of Brno's Jewish population of about 12,000 were murdered by the Nazis during the German occupation of the country in the years 1939-1945. All Czech universities including that of Brno were closed by the Nazis in 1939, and the university dormitory in Brno was subsequently used as the headquarters of Gestapo. About 35,000 Czechs and also some American and British POW´s were imprisoned and tortured there, with about 800 civilians killed. One source says that executions were public for local Germans for a 3 Reichsmark fee. After the end of the Second World War in 1945, the surviving ethnic German residents were forcibly expelled, as was the case throughout Czechoslovakia. In the so-called “Brünn death march,” beginning on 31 May 1945, about 27,000 German inhabitants of Brno were marched 40 miles overland to the Austrian border. According to postwar testimony collected by German sources, about 5,200 of them lost their lives during the march. However, later estimates by Czech sources put the death toll at about 1,700. The Czech sources say that most deaths were due to an epidemics of Shigellosis.

At the beginning of the Communism Era in Czechoslovakia, in 1948, Brno ceased to serve as the capital city of Moravia. Since then Moravia has been divided into several administrative regions subordinate to Prague, and Brno is the seat of the Regional Authority of the South Moravian Region, originally called the Brno Region. In 1968 Brno was recognized as a statutory city.

Czech food is mostly based around pork and potatoes. A Czech favorite is smažený sýr, fried cheese, which is available at many restaurants and fast food stands. A good option is to visit one of the many pubs or restaurants that usually offer traditional Czech food all day long. You could easily find a restaurant where you get a meal and a drink for around €5, even in the city center. Many of these places also offer cheaper special (limited, pre-prepared) menus at mid-day. Cafés offer a nice selection of rolls and pastries if you're looking for breakfast food. Visit the cukrárna near the House of the Four Idiots on nam. Svobody and try a rakvička ("little coffin", small pastry covered with cream). This is the only place in the Czech Republic to find the chocolate ones. 

The traditional Brno beer is Starobrno, a traditional non-alcoholic drink is kofola (a very different but captivating kind of cola). Both must be tasted in draught form! Dark beer (černé pivo) is sweet and not very common here. There is a small private brewery named Pegas a block west from the steeple of St James Church (sv. Jakub). The pub is equipped with modern brewing technology, beer is made right in front of the guests' eyes.

The go-to bar is the cramped and smoky Charlie's Hat (know to most locals simply as Charlie's), east on Koblizna street from the north end of Freedom Square (50 Kč entry, includes drink voucher). A cluster of more down-tempo bars frequented by students can be found along Dominikánská (Kavárna Trojka - students caffee and bar)and Starobrněnská just west of the Zelný trh (cabbage market square). Around the main square you can find a lot of clubs, pubs, restaurants, coffee houses and lounge bars.

                                                        Brno’s Top 5:
  1. The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is located on the Petrov hill in Brno-Center. It is a national cultural monument and one of the most important architectural monuments of South Moravia. The interior is mostly Baroque, while the impressive 84m high towers were built between 1904 and 1905 by architect August Kirstein in the Gothic Revival style. Traditionally, the bells of the Cathedral toll midday at 11 o'clock in the morning instead of at 12 o'clock. According to the legend, during the Thirty Years' War, the invading Swedes laid siege to the city of Brno but had promised that the attack would be halted if they had not succeed in taking the city by midday on August the 15th. When the battle was underway some shrewd citizens decided to ring the bells an hour early, fooling the Swedes who broke off the siege and left empty-handed. Brno was the only city to repel the Swedes during this war.
  2.  Moravské zemské muzeum (Moravian Museum in English) is the second largest and oldest museum in the Czech Republic. The museum was founded in July 1817 by Emperor Francis I.  Its collections include over 6 millions of objects from many fields of science and culture.
  3. Veveří Castle  is a castle located some 15 km northwest of Brno,  on the River Svratka. According to legend, the castle Veveří ("squirrel" in Czech) was founded by Přemyslid Duke Conrad of Brno in the middle of the 11th Century, then only as a hunting lodge. Nevertheless, the first credible recorded mention about the castle is from the years 1213 and 1222, when King Přemysl Otakar I used the fortified castle as a prison for rebellious peers. Initially, it was apparently a wooden residence situated near the church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary west of the present compound. In the 1220s a stone castle on the extremity of the rocky promontory behind a deep moat cut out of the rock started to grow. The so-called keep is the only structure which has remained well-preserved from this oldest building stage.
  4. Mahen Theatre is a Czech theatre situated in the city of Brno. Mahen Theatre, built as German Deutsches Stadttheater in 1882, was one of the first public buildings in the world lit entirely by electric light. It was built in a combination of Neo-renaissance, Neo-baroque and Neoclassical architectural styles. The city theatre Reduta in Brno burned down in 1870, and the city council decided to build a new theatre building within a short time period. Thanks to the efforts of then mayor Gustav Winterholler, the decision was taken to build a bigger and better theatre at the place of Obstplatz (today's Malinovský square). The commission was assigned to the renowned Vienna architectural studio Fellner and Helmer. The studio was specialized in projects of theatre buildings. Around 1880, their modern type of theatre building was considered as a model.
  5. Špilberk Castle is an old castle on the hilltop. It began to be built as early as the first half of the 13th century by the Přemyslid kings and complete by King Ottokar II of Bohemia. From a major royal castle established around the mid-13th century, and the seat of the Moravian margraves in the mid-14th century, it was gradually turned into a huge baroque fortress considered the heaviest prison in the Austro-Hungarian empire, and then into barracks. This prison had always been part of the Špilberk fortress.