Italian history

Via_Appia_in_BrindisiThe ancient port of Brindisi can be spotted on the map instantly—right on the Adriatic side of Italy’s “heel.” The Appian Way, the most celebrated road in all of Italy, connected Brindisi (Brundisium) with Rome since the days of the Republic until the fall of the Western Empire. One should not assume, however, that today this city can attract tourists by its architectural marvels. Remnants of the golden age of Rome are scarce here. Even of the two terminal columns that were once placed at the end of Via Appia only one stands today (the other one collapsed in the 16th century and was moved to the nearby town of Lecce). It appears that the most noteworthy historic monument in Brindisi is not man-made: the city boasts a convenient harbor to which it owes much of its significance. From here, the Balkan peninsula is less than a hundred miles away, and throughout its entire history Brindisi served as the primary point of contacts between Italy and Greece, as well as the lands beyond the Greek isles. These contacts took on different forms. During early historic times the area was colonized by Greek settlers who displaced indigenous local tribes: the Messapians, the Dauni and the Peucetii. In the 3rd century B.C.E., the rapidly growing Roman Republic subjugated this area. Brundisium became the gateway to the Greek culture, so cherished by the Roman aristocracy. The advent of Christianity brought forth a new type of traveler, a religious pilgrim completely  uninterested in Hellenistic traditions, but devoted to visiting holy shrines in Palestine. Brindisi turned out to be the most convenient port in Western Europe for reaching those destinations. This trend continued throughout the Middle Ages, despite the breakdown of the Mediterranean transportation network after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Even prolonged periods of Muslim domination in the Levant failed to put an end to religious pilgrimages. When western rulers, inspired by Pope Urban II, resorted to military action in order to reclaim Palestine for Christians, this port became a preferred place of departure for crusading armies and ships with supplies. The fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 caused an influx of well educated Greeks fleeing their homeland. They brought with them a deep appreciation of classical antiquities, as well as manuscripts previously unavailable in the West, thus fueling the European Renaissance. Brindisi was a natural funnel for people, resources and ideas during these developments.
Apart from proximity to the Balkan coast, the city’s harbor has always had a reputation of being the safest and most accommodating in Italy. The famous Greek geographer Strabo favorably compared it to the harbor in Tarentum which had some shallow places and was less protected from the waves. The advantages of the harbor in Brindisi are primarily due to its unique shape: an oblong outer cove connects to the double-armed inner inlet through a narrow straight. To the ancient Messapians, as Strabo reports, this shape resembled the head of an antlered animal, and they named this place Brentesium which literally meant “the head of a stag” (Geography 6.3.6). From the nautical point of view, Brindisi is a harbor within a harbor. During the winter months, sailors especially appreciated these calm waters, completely shielded from surges and rough waves.

See also:
Favorite Italian dishes, by region
Early color photographs of Italy

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church_isanaNot far from Livorno, Italy there is a small village called Isano, the site of a former Knights Templar commandery, dating as far back as 1208. The area has a rich history and the Order is featured in many local legends, often revolving around the themes of healing and supernatural intervention. The location of the currently standing church in Isana was supposedly revealed by Virgin Mary to a young girl, deaf-mute from birth. The girl was also miraculously given the capacity to speak. This helped convince her mother along with provincial ecclesiastical authorities that the new church had been divinely sanctioned. However, the church’s construction was met with fierce opposition from the Devil. He ensured that the building process took as long as possible by harassing the workers and stifling the flow of funds. Locals say that when the church was finally ready and consecrated by the archbishop the gathered crowd heard a loud bang and saw plumes of smoke rising near the bell tower. The Devil had to escape from the newly built house of God, leaving an irregularly shaped hole in the wall, which can be seen until this day.

See also: Legends of the Knights Templar

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Italian car – 1911

November 13, 2012

Curiously, I do not actually know much about this car and who made it. In 1911 this 300-hp Italian car “considerably stirred English motordom.” It reached the speed of 125 miles per hour.  

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Italian sunglasses: brands and reputations

October 28, 2012

Just like with watches, Italians like to have multiple sunglasses and change them often. The difference is, the sunglasses, unlike watches are made in Italy. To be more precise, the majority of these high quality dim glass spectacles are made in a single region, the Province of Belluno. According to some estimates 95% of Italian […]

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Italian People: 5 Main National Traits

July 25, 2012

I am going to list just a few main traits of the Italian national character. Don’t see these as stereotypes, but rather a useful tool for understanding Italy. Anyone is free to disagree, but my personal observations and experiences have been confirmed from some published sources 1. Deep appreciation of history. Italians tend to be […]

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Most ancient and prestigious universities in Italy

July 23, 2012

Italian universities are not as well known as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Sorbonne, but many of them are quite old. I have compiled a list of the most famous universities in Italy. Pavia – The University of Pavia was officially established in 1361, however a law school in Pavia existed since 825. University of Salerno […]

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“Galilean” inscriptions

October 12, 2011

“Palazzo Viviani”, later renamed “Palazzo dei Cartelloni,” features enormous  plaques and a bust dedicated by Vincenzio Viviani to Galileo Galilei. The text on the plaques is quite copious, it lists Galileo’s scientific achievements in considerable detail. I have no desire to reproduce this text (which I have) in its entirety, but one particular line on […]

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Working women in 19th century Italy

September 23, 2011

This remarkable piece of social history comes from an 1881 “Advertiser Notes & Queries.” Do you sense a bit of a Northern bias? Helpful Women Even in Italy husbands are becoming scarce, so that the Italian women are learning to help themselves. Work is not confined to the absolute poor; the middle classes are bringing […]

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Cesare Borgia and his motto

September 4, 2011

Cesare Borgia (1475? – 1507), son of Pope Alexander VI, was one of the most prominent members of the Borgia clan.  His ambitions are clearly seen in the motto which he chose for himself and which, according to some sources, could be found on his ring and his sword: Aut Caesar, aut nihil, “Caesar or […]

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Savoy shield

September 3, 2011

This heraldic shield can be often seen in old Italian crests and symbols previously used by various branches of the military. In terms of blazonry (a highly elaborate lingo employed in heraldry), it can be described as  gules a cross argent. This is the arms of the House of Savoy. It is said to first […]

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