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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Cathedrals then and since
16/08/2010

The main Duomo of Siracuse is built on the heights of Ortigia, a site that was already sacred when the Greeks arrived and started a 5th century BC temple to Athena. This building had world-famous decorations, and huge gilded statue of the goddess on the roof, which caught the sun's rays and acted as a beacon for sailors.
The current cathedral, rebuilt after the earthquake, still uses the Doric columns as its skeleton. They are literally in the walls. The internal shape is thus very much that classically proportioned, simple rectangle, and is also spare and dusky. Some Norman columns also still stand, adding a further angularity to the lines. Off to the south side, a number of small chapels have been added, and these are decorated in full Baroque extravagance, with cherubs and friezes and leaves and scrolls and angels and apostles and everything else that could be crammed into the space. You wander from the dim sobriety of the temple to these fantasias and back again as if in a bipolar religious mania.
The façade is Baroque, but as with most of the period's external decoration in Siracuse, it is restrained and formal. The piazza in front of it is beautiful, and pedestrianised so very pleasant. We saw three Guardia pushing an electric cart with a flat battery, which made everybody in the café laugh.

Places and people
The Madonna blesses the waters.
15/08/2010

Every summer we have ended up somewhere exciting for the local ritual of blessing the waters. It often coincides with the Assumption, for example in Nice. But sometimes it's different, as in Northern Spain where St James is invoked. We'd just got the anchor down when it all started. The huge statue is on the back of a commercial tug boat, which came off the quay and did a slow round of the harbour. Around it (and us) was a huge melee of craft -fishing boats, small sports boats, RIBs, three coast guards. No yachts actually followed sadly, but we hooted our foghorns and joined in gleefully. Blessings are always welcome!

Places and people
Entering Siracuse harbour
15/08/2010

This is the magnificent fortress, the Castello Maniace, at the entrance to the Porto Grande of Siracuse. Behind it you see the beginning of Ortigia from the east. This is the 'old town', built on its eponymous island and the ancient heart of the city. In fact, the area was badly shaken by an earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt in beautiful, elegant Baroque.
Siracuse has been high on our list of places to visit. For 250 years the city rivalled Athens in power, and is the only Sicilian town ever to have been a major player across the Mediterranean. Here the Tyrants ruled, followed by the Roman imperium, then the Arabs came back and held the island till the Normans took it away. After them more northern Europeans (Swabians, actually), and then the Spanish, before Garibaldi invaded on his way to the unification of Italy in the mid-nineteenth century. Some Sicilians, allegedly, see Italy as another in this millennial history of foreign occupiers; whether this is fair or not, Sicily has its own language, gastronomy, architecture and volcanoes, but has not the tradition of ardent separatism that characterises Corsica.

Places and people
Fireworks
15/08/2010

This is a big date in southern Europe, when the church celebrates the assumption of the Virgin into heaven. Here, directly after midnight, there was a massive fireworks display. You can see how still it was from the reflection of the explosions in the water, in the bottom part of the picture.
We had a spectacular view from the cockpit, and were astonished that there were no other boats out. Not even little sports boats just out for the display. Fantastic!

Places and people
Powerful women
08/08/2010

These wonderful images belong to pre-nuraghic Sardinia and are several thousand years old. They are described as the 'divine feminine', believed to be goddesses. Their importance is inferred from their positioning and the huge numbers and range of them in significant sites.
Of course there's lots of academic controversy about matriarchy and matrifocal societies, here as elsewhere. In particular, surely someone has written about the changing representations of women in this archaeological record. From these majestic, passive figures, there seems an abrupt transition to the energy of the bronze statuettes. But there's also a change from these powerful images to pictures of women that are either mundane (the breast displaying camp-follower) or passive in another way. One of the most famous statuettes is a beautiful tiny figure of a woman with her dead son across her knees, as if in a pieta brought about by war or vendetta. Despite their vigour and impact, these women do not have the sense of control offered by their predecessors. Later came the Carthaginians, and then the Romans; sculpture becomes more representational and women take their place amongst more familiar images of home, deity and imperial power.
We loved these ancient women, their stature and solidity. Some are big, maybe 60cm high, but others are tiny. The three dimensional Buddha-figures are detailed and charismatic. By contrast the angular, proto-cubist statues are like alien representations of power.



Places and people
Bronzes and more
08/08/2010, National Archaelogical museum, Cagliari

The famous bit of the archaeology here is the nuraghic bronzes, the many wonderful statuettes made in bronze found in nuraghic sites all over the island. They are full of verve, archers and soldiers, animals of all kinds, hieratic figures armed and praying, while others wear mysterious hats as if walking the dusty roads of inland China.

Places and people
Ancient Sardinia
26/07/2010, Nuraghe Santu Antine

There are an astonishing 7000 nuraghi and other pre-historic structures dotting the Sardinian landscape. These constructions, including menhirs, complex graves, sanctuaries and the famous towers form part of the view as much as the towers of mediaeval churches punctuating the flat lands of East Anglia. A nuraghe is basically a round tower, but as the centuries went by, they became increasingly complex, often with additional, smaller towers around the central one, connected by curtain walls, containing wells. Essentially they are castles, built thousands of years before feudal Europe discovered the need for such things.
One of the best preserved is Santu Antine near Torralba; there are some more pictures in the album. The complex sits in the middle of pasture and hay fields, the next tower in clear sight a few miles away. In the picture above we are on the top of the central tower, which was originally about 80 feet and three storeys high. The separate floors are still obvious inside, with various mysterious niches, slitted windows and high stairs. There are then three two-storey towers connected by thick walls. Tunnels run inside the walls, which with light and plaster would be high, narrow corridors. Around the main nuraghe were about ten huts.
These complex constructions started to be built in the early Bronze Age, in 1800-1500BC, and continued through to the early Iron Age, in 900-500BC, Santu Antine's main central tower going up in around 1600BC. This makes the heavy, dressed stones that make the upper layers all the more remarkable.
Nuraghi were obviously defensive in nature, in a society which has seen millennia of local warfare and vendetta. Their spiritual and social context is much less well understood. Such buildings obviously required organisation and direction, but whether the builders worked in any sense co-operatively, or were serfs driven by overlords, isn't known. They left buildings and statues and bronze pieces, but not writing.
It s clear that there was trading and cross-cultural fertilisation between Sardinia and other cultures, for example the similarity of Santu Antinu to Mycenean Tiryns, or bronze grave gifts that are very similar to work from Minos and Cyprus.
The nuraghe is a strange place, filled with wind and time. They are so old, so much mirror and maker of the landscape, have seen so much and yet held their secrets. We scrambled around, nattering about history, memory and imagination, finding it almost impossible to see what life had been like in this stone pile, surrounded by rich farmland and constant enmity.
This was the highlight of a couple of days car-touring. We made ourselves car-sick on the beautiful twisty roads of the centre of Sardinia, but enjoyed visiting some of the smaller centres. Nouro is particularly nice, with a sweet old town. It is the birthplace of Nobel laureate, novelist Grazia Deledda. It now prides itself as a home to makers, artists and writers and we saw some good, original work, particularly in ceramics.

Places and people
Olbia
26/07/2010

The war on Maurice has been nearly all-consuming, but we should note that Olbia is an excellent cruiser stop. You are alongside Molo di Brin, for free. You are charged EU5 a day for refuse disposal; we were told this is a scam but we're now satisfied it's legit, and we're happy to pay it. After nowhere to deposit rubbish since Villamarina, we had a lot of waste by the time we got here! And why should Olbia's tax payers bear the cost of our refuse! You can buy water at the fuel dock, which is good for cooking, but not for drinking, at 5c per litre. No electricity. The quay is very close to the centre of town and all its amenities, which includes hardware shops selling all sorts of rodent-killing options, and two very good chandleries.
Shelter here is good. We have seen 20kt easterlies which put some chop into the bay but nothing to be concerned about. The holding in the anchorage seems good. Then yesterday bought 30kt westerlies whistling down the river and off the mountains. All the boats rigged additional chafe protection on their lines, but otherwise we were all very snug and safe. Three boats sat out the wind at anchor with no apparent problems.
We plan to stay another three or four days. Our shopping in Ostia has done us well, but except for Ajaccio and Bonifacio, we have bought few provisions in the last two months, and our stocks of basics are running low. Also we hope to hire a car and make a couple of day trips into the exciting interior of Sardinia. Then we will make tracks further south to Caligari and Sicily.
This picture is the lovely St Simplicio, the main church of Olbia. It is an elegant, spare granite building, unusual in that the apse faces west, built around the 11th and 12th centuries. Olbia is mostly famous for having little architecture to reflect its long history. It was founded by the Greeks in about 400BC. What we notice is a lot of very spare Italian Art Deco, shown in curved balconies and severe window surrounds. If you are ever in Olbia, look upwards, above the shop windows and street markets, and you will see it in building after building.

Places and people
Batteries and forts
16/07/2010

Military structures dot the archipelago, including the huge NATO base on the east coast of San Stefano. Many, like this decrepit Forto San Giorgio, are derelict.
The islands of course are important, controlling eastern access to the strait and the fertile, convoluted headlands of north east Sardinia. Nelson famously hung out here for a while, pre-Trafalgar. He couldn't go ashore as the Kingdom was neutral at the time, but he was very taken with Sardinia. He wrote that Great Britain should seek to annex Sardinia rather than Malta, as its key Mediterranean base, for its harbours, facilities and friendly people. The Admiralty, of course, ignored him.
Before Nelson, one of Napoleon's first command missions (in 1793) had been to conquer Sardinia, and particularly these islands. He failed miserably. Local troops knew these complicated, rocky, shallow waters, and led his navy a merry dance. Their leader Domenico Millelire in particular sailed in and out of passages, bays and straits, taunting the French ships until in the end they went away. Millelire got the first gold medal issued by the Sardo-Piedmontese Navy for his dashing bravery.
If you know the islands well, this kind of marine guerrilla defence would be excellent. It can be very confusing in broad daylight, with modern charts and visual aids to differentiate one bay (depth say 4m) from the next (depth 1.2m with nasty rocks), or to tell which one leads to a passage and which is a dead end in which your ships will be trapped. At night, without those helpers, it must be impossible.
We've had an excellent few days in the archipelago - which have actually been very cheap as there's nothing to spend money on. But it was time to move on.

Places and people
Quarries
16/07/2010

Up the hill from the quay, to the east, are the remains of an old granite quarry. You find a collection of half-finished statues, including this blurry-faced bust identified on the tourist map as Costanzo Ciano, a WW1 naval hero. Heikell uses this name, but gives in fact the biography of Costanzo's son, Gian Galeazzo Ciano; he became Mussolini's son-in-law but was executed for treason in 1943. (He had voted against Mussolini at the key meeting which led to the dictator's downfall in July, but was captured by the Nazis and taken to Mussolini's puppet state in Northern Italy and shot there.) Whichever member of the charming family is involved, for obvious reasons they didn't complete this typically bombastic portrayal, and the man now has a great view out to sea.

Places and people
Dolphins, crystals, rigs and rangefinders
14/07/2010

About 20 minutes walk inland from the sailing yacht jetty in the northern corner of Porto Palma is a complex that houses a church, a café, a dolphin research centre and two small museums. All this is within the crumbling buildings that seem to have belonged either to the old granite mines or to some fish processing plant. It's good to see them being reused.
The dolphin research institute is one of a network monitoring sealife around the cetacean sanctuary of which this is the southern apex. It reaches to Toulon at one corner and nearly to Rome at the third. They have lots of doubtless fascinating information but sadly nearly all of it is in Italian. Some excellent pictures though.
One of the museums is dedicated to the complex mineralogy of Sardinia, and its exploitation over the last few hundred years. A huge carving is pictured which was made here and then taken by barges to Ishmalia, via Suez. You can also see examples of the many shells and crustaceans around here, many of which are now very rare but some, such as the green sea urchins, are readily seen when snorkelling.
The other little museum celebrates the sea and lives working at sea around the islands. It's rather a haphazard collection including this beautiful model of a working boat. There is also a fully rigged mast and spars and many smaller versions. Besides this, enormous basket-work cray-pots, a working, wind-up air-raid siren (demonstrated for us by the guide), an early diving bell, many ropes and the biggest knot-boards you've ever seen. Most baffling was a big metal disc, held in a vertical position, inscribed with arcs and mysterious formulae. This turned out to be a calculator for the cannon-batteries firing against enemy aircraft. Once you've got the range (see rangefinders in separate display case), you can calculate the parabola and shot weight you need. It must have taken a while to set up and then some lickety-split mental arithmetic.


Places and people
The home of the Hero
11/07/2010

From the jetty a road leads inland. It's just a track, rather than a sealed surface. After about 15 minutes you come to a 'roundabout' with turnings left and right. We were fortunate enough to find a friendly shepherd, about to milk his bell-hung flock. He told us (and was able to make us understand) that we needed to turn left and follow the curving track. Once we'd done that, we saw a sign for the museo, which took us on a short scramble through the woods, and to the walled fence of the compound. Turn right and you quickly come to the entrance of the museum. Note (which we didn't find out till afterwards) that if you then go on another 50m you find a café, for coffee and croissants.
This compound is the last home of the hero of the Risorgimento, Guiseppi Garibaldi. He had been in exile, for participation in the republican uprisings inspired by Mazzini, spending much of the time in South America. When able to return, he bought the northern half of Caprera.
By early 1860, the moment had come for promoting an Italy of the Italians, creating a nation which had never existed before. At that time the northern third of the peninsula, including Piedmont and Nice, fell under the Duchy of Savoy, whose head held the title of King Vittorio Emmanuel of Sardinia (courtesy of mediaeval shenanigans by the Papacy). The southern third, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, an unhappy yoking of Naples and Sicily, was ruled by a junior branch of the Spanish Bourbons. In the convoluted events following the Napoleonic wars and France's protracted dithering about its preferred form of government, the House of Savoy agreed to cede Nice and Savoy itself for gains in the peninsula. This irritated Garibaldi, who was born in Nice, but in the end he yielded to such changes, and indeed to a monarchy rather than a republic, to pursue the dream of unity
Our hero raised a small force which obtained arms from the Savoy-Sardinian Prime Minister, Baron Cavour. Cavour also organised discreet naval protection for the garibaldini as they sailed south from Genoa, although publicly he denounced the action. Garibaldi's army rapidly conquered/liberated the land as far north as Naples.
At this point, Cavour became concerned that if the garibaldini invaded the lands held by the Rome, the major European powers would intervene to protect the millennium-old temporal power of the Pope. He therefore organised for the Piedmontese army to meet Garibaldi at Teano, in October, where Garibaldi ceded the territory he had won to the King.
In effect, Cavour's intervention stopped Garibaldi marching on Rome. He had handed the southern third of the country to the new regime and retired to his home on Caprera, where he ran an experimental farm for the remaining 27 years of his life. It is not clear whether he did so in a huff, or felt that he had done all he could; our sources differ on this point. Whatever his emotions, it seems that Garibaldi was essentially a charismatic mercenary captain whose passionate beliefs were well utilised by the wily rulers of Savoy to bring about a united Italy without provoking armed intervention by stronger powers.
From the shrine to Garibaldi that is his Casa Bianca, modelled on an American hacienda, you would think that he had single-handedly liberated all of Italy. The place is full of personal mementoes that further the cult - his sextants and swords, the bed he died in, his uniforms and gramophone. There is very little about the man himself. His later life is unchallenged: his first wife died in the Sicilian campaign, and for many years he lived with his partner Francesca, whom he finally married when he was 72. The small graveyard at the Casa Bianca includes Francesca, both their children (the last of whom died in 1959), plus at least two other daughters. One is described as being the child of one of the maids, the other's mother is not mentioned at all.
Notwithstanding this scepticism, there are many sweet touches. The 143 year old pine tree that Garibaldi planted at the birth of Clelia, Francesca's daughter. The tomb of his favourite mare, Marsala, and a lovely painting of his mother. For us, of course, there was a lot of interest in the two boats on display. One is a competition rowing scull. The other, shown in the picture, is the boat that the Sardinian Navy (as it then was) gave to Garibaldi in 1860, for navigating around the archipelgo. The stability of its keel, the strong construction but shallow draft are all typical and functional in these waters. They do not say what rig it carried, but it was probably the classical Latin vela of the area, a big sail suspended from a heavy yard which crossed the mast - now generally called the lateen rig.
The museum is EU5 each. You go round in small groups, led by an Italian guide, but they ticket office will give you an English leaflet if you ask. The Italians in our group were suitably reverential and we restrained any awkward questions for another time.

Places and people

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