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Posts tagged ‘Architecture’

From Napoli to Capri, Part 13: Villa Jovis and the Casa Malaparte

Capri is full of the grand houses and spectacular villas of the rich and the famous, and that is nothing new. Some 2000 years ago, the earliest protagonists of the Julio-Claudian dynasty of Roman emperors were setting up resplendent palaces on the paradise Isle, from Emperor Augustus, who took frequent holidays in his Capri villa, to Emperor Tiberius who loved the place so much that he spent the last 13 years of his rule on the island, effectively moving the centre of the Roman Empire to this small but stunning Mediterranean island.

It can be said that Tiberius made as much of an impression on Capri as the island did on him. He spread himself far and wide across its rocky scenery, and the remains of many Tiberian palazzi have been found across Capri, including the ruins which were integral to the construction of Axel Munthe’s Villa San Michele. However, it is widely assumed that of all those palaces constructed for Tiberius’ pleasure on Capri, his main residence was the Villa Jovis, perched on one of the island’s highest peaks with a spectacular view over the Bay of Naples.

The Villa Jovis


The ruins of the Villa Jovis (aka Jupiter’s Villa) can still be seen today, albeit in such a poor state of repair that they resemble the kind of idyllic pastiche of antiquity which came to romanticise the ancient world in the paintings of the Renaissance and later Roccoco periods. Yet the remains are in such a spectacular location that we found our hot and sweaty up hill struggle worth all the effort, not least because next to the palace, you can wander for free around the Parco Astarita which, built into terraces on a largely steep cliff, enjoys the most incredible views of Capri’s famous coastal scenery, not to mention Vesuvius and the Sorrento peninsula beyond.

Views from the Parco Astarita


Most notable of all the sights comprising the Parco Astarita views is the Casa Malaparte. Audaciously built onto the rocky outcrop of the Punta Massullo, the Casa Malaparte is without a doubt the most famous house on Capri, not least because it featured prominently in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film, Contempt (Le Mépris) starring one sultry Brigitte Bardot.

Globally renowned as a masterpiece of Italian modern and contemporary architecture, it was conceived in 1937 by Italian architect Adalberto Libera. The construction is audacious because it dominates the local scenery, with its reverse pyramidal staircase and freestanding curving terrace wall visible from far and wide. Yet despite this, its striking Pompeian red masonry, together with the pine trees which surround it, tend also to ingratiate the house with the local environment. The overall effect is beautiful to look at, even though the best view of this privately owned masterpiece is still, necessarily, from afar.

The Casa Malaparte


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Masterful Museums

Not all the nation’s artistic treasures are in London it seems. For Oxford and Cambridge play host to two of the most spectacular museums in the country. Both the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge hold stunning collections of art and antiquities which befit the learned character of their sponsor universities.

They are, in effect, like all the museums of London rolled into one, conveniently collected under one respective roof. Here, a plethora of ancient relics including treasures from ancient Syria, Egypt and Rome, sit alongside collections of art with a broad sweep across the ages, from Italian renaissance altarpieces to works by Edouard Manet and Pablo Picasso. They host temporary exhibitions so significant that they bring culture lovers from across the world to these alternative cultural capitals. And their collections are hosted in buildings so grand that they out-do some of the world’s most prominent palaces and museums.

Oxford’s Ashmolean


It is on those buildings, and not the collections themselves, that this smaller set of photographs concentrates. Both buildings share a common theme, with ostentatiously grand classical facades imposing themselves upon the visitor with an immediate magnificence. Designed by Charles Cockerell in the 19th century, the yellow stone and marble mix of Oxdord’s Ashmoleon harmonise with the yellow colleges scattered about the city, but stands out for its unapologetic Palladion grandeur in amongst buildings fashioned out of medieval Britian.

The Fitzwilliam building was designed along similar lines, coincidentally with the contribution of the same architect, Charles Cockerell. It is whiter, grander almost from the outside, but here the real treasure is within – in an entrance hall of startling beauty, laced with gold, mosaic, stained glass and marble statutory, designed by Edward Middleton Barry and screaming with Victorian splendour. How can one choose between these two magnificent spectacles?

Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam


My photos focus on that Fitzwilliam interior, and on the yellow-stone exterior of the Ashmoleon (the latter view being conveniently enjoyed from the windows of my hotel room!). To see the magnificent collections contained within… you must visit, as soon as you can!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > Traversing the Duoro

While it may have to beat off competition from ample bottles of port, a rolling city geography and ceramic tiled houses, the Ponte Dom Luís I, aka the Bridge of Luis I, is the undisputed icon of the city of Porto. Extending across the Duoro river with a mighty 172 metre span and a boasting a double decker construction allowing trains to rumble across the top and cars to take the lower road (pedestrians can enjoy both routes), Porto’s bridge is the ultimate way to cross the river which otherwise splits the city in two.

While many assume that the 1886 iron construction was the work of the legendary Gustave Eiffel, it was in fact the design of one of Eiffel’s chief disciples, Théophile Seyrig, Eiffel’s single-story idea having been previously rejected owing to the rapidly expanding city demographic. At the time, it was the widest bridge ever to have been constructed. Today, it may have lost that epithet, but it remains one of the most recognisable bridges in Europe.


After exploring the wonderful region of the Ribeira, next on your list should be a visit to the Dom Luis bridge which will not only provide you with some stunning rooftop views of Porto, but also take you across to the Vila Nova de Gaia region of the city, where the all important Port houses are to be found. While pedestrians can choose between the upper or lower decks, the latter being reached pretty easily from the riverbank of the Ribeira, we opted for the somewhat more vertiginous upper deck, this being reached by walking in a straight line from the wonderful tile-covered central train station. I’m not a vertigo sufferer, but I have to admit that from up there, my arms turned a little shaky as I extended my camera over the side of the bridge to capture the beautiful views it affords of the city.

But as these photos will demonstrate, those both enamoured and feared of heights should opt for the Ponte Dom Luís I – ultimate icon of Porto and the undisputed platform from which to see the city. And so long as you head over the bridge from the Ribeira to the Gaia, you can rest assured that a glass of ruby coloured port will be waiting for you on the other side. 


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Magnificent Milano (Part 6): Stazione Centrale

It’s not often when you leave a city that you start snapping away with your camera, but with the stupendous scale and majesty of its liberty-style architecture, the Stazione Centrale of Milan makes for one hell of a farewell. Inaugurated in 1931, and heavily influenced by the onset of Italy’s Fascist age of might and power, the building pronounces Milan and Italy a true powerhouse of the modern age and a gateway to the advanced engineering which meant that Milan was connected through vast railway tunnels running North through the Alps, and along endless expanses of track traversing the Italian peninsula.


It’s hard to know where to look. While passengers may be accustomed to concentrating on the departures board, Milan’s central station is itself a masterpiece of art which beckons the viewer to look beyond the travel information and up into the soaring 72 metre height of its great loft ceilings, and over the art deco lines and cubist sculptures which represent, in very Fascist terms, the will of the worker and the strength of Milan as Italy’s industrial capital.


The station is mightily impressive. You have to traverse three huge entrance porticos before you even reach the 24 platforms, each bigger than the one before and displaying new feats of architectural engineering and decorative brilliance. What can be termed as “halls” are each double the size of your average city train station, and pack their punch in aesthetic excellence and awe-inspiring impact.

It made leaving Milan that sunny blue-sky day all the more difficult, but think how it must impress as a gateway to the city? Whether it be political propaganda or a testament to design, the Stazione Centrale is a true icon of its age, and seeing it was a magnificent end to our Milanese Odyssey. Arrivederci Milano… we will return to revel in your splendour one day soon.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Magnificent Milano (Part 4): The Duomo, Rooftop forest

In fashioning the most extravagantly elegantly shaped dresses and forging trends to go bankrupt for, the designers of Milan are merely following in the footsteps of their city forefathers who constructed a Cathedral to wow, inside and out. And while their objective was most certainly achieved in all the most conspicuous of places, they didn’t fall short of embellishing even those sections seen more regularly by the birds than by the faithful down below. For the Duomo’s rooftop is every bit as beautiful as its marble facade and its stunning grandiose interior. In fact to my mind, it’s the icing on the cake, and the cherry on top all rolled into one magnificent exhibition of man’s greatest craftsmanship.


The roof of the Duomo of Milan is a veritable forest of marble Gothic spires (some 135 in all) topped by perfectly sculpted images of the saints, flowers and gargoyles. These upward thrusts of stone are coupled with gently arching buttresses which support the nave and make the initial approach along one side of the building and up to the central section a real treat of overlapping stone. Once on the very top, you need to have both a head for heights and a steady footing, as you literally walk on the sloping sides of the vaulted ceiling. But if you suffer from vertigo, think of Mary, whose golden statue still looks minuscule, even from the roof, as it soars upwards hundreds of metres into the sky.


But perhaps the greatest aspect of the roof is the view. Behind the spires and the ancient statues is a city skyline progressing fast with the times. Out of the shadow of modernista palazzos, a vibrant new landscape of skyscrapers and apartment blocks is growing, from Ponti and Pier Lugui Nervi’s iconic Pirelli Tower, to the more recent, twisting form of Zaha Hadid’s Generali Tower or the strangely verdant Bosco Verticale by Stefano Boeri. It’s ancient meets modern, which more or less sums up the character of Milan: A city forging way ahead of many of its ancient Italian cousins, but retaining at its heart one of the most impressive historical buildings of them all: the Duomo.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Magnificent Milano (Part 3): The Duomo, Inside and Out

Move aside Prada, take a seat La Scala. For when it comes to the true and undisputed icon of Milan, it’s the mighty cathedral, Milan’s Duomo which will always take centre stage. The ultimate celebration of the gothic style at its most flamboyant, the Duomo is a veritable forest of multiple spires, and a jewellery box of delightfully pearlescent Candoglia marble which is crafted into an entire cast and crew of saints, sinners and ghoulish gargoyles peppering every inch of the abundantly decorated facade.

We must consider ourselves lucky in this century to see the Duomo in its current state of perfection. For the gigantic structure, which is surely one of the most dazzlingly ambitious historical structures to have ever been built, took some 6 centuries to complete after its commencement in 1386. And happily too, it survived the WW2 bombs which made mincemeat of much of the surrounding area.



So not knowing quite where to begin with this enormous building, which is in fact the third largest church in the world, we spent almost a whole sunny day admiring the Duomo from all angles. Starting with the wonderful roof (which will have a post all of its own), we turned our visit on its head, following the great heights of the soaring cathedral with a protracted study of its beautiful exterior furnishings while waiting, somewhat agonisingly, in the freezing wind, as we queued to get inside. While it took some time to defrost when we finally made it through one of the Duomo’s great bronze doors, the visual feast to be discovered within was more than sufficient to warm us up again.

I have been in many a cathedral, but I don’t think I have ever been quite so dazzled as when faced by the sheer scale and magnitude of this cathedral. Appearing even bigger on the inside than it did on the out, I didn’t know whether to focus first on the elaborately patterned marble floor, the soaring forest of 40 great pillars, the soaring, vaulting ceilings far, far above, or the stained glass windows which are the most complex and stunningly coloured I have ever seen. A mere side chapel of this Cathedral is the size of the principal place of worship of most countries. And just one small panel of the great stained glass windows close to the altar was packed with more detail and narrative than you would find across the entire diameter of a finely crafted rose window elsewhere.

…and inside


If the great propaganda machine of historical Catholicism intended to dazzle and dominate with the sheer theatre of its religious spectacle, this place had me converted. Like a mere supplicant, I felt lost in the scale and sense of awestruck enormity of it all, and by the time we made our way outside again, I had quite lost all sense of proportion. Happily a Milanese lunch, and a quick look at some of the nearby boutique’s average prices gave me the sharp shock I needed to bring me back to reality.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marseille to Marbella, Part III: Waterfront Renaissance

The shady reputation which has dogged Marseille for years was, at least in part, shaken off in the run up to 2013 when the epithet of European Cultural Capital for the year prompted France to pull put all the stops to initiate a revolutionary new look for a waterfront in decay. Sweeping away much of the city’s industrialised port, and making magnificent new use of the ancient stone fortresses which stand like a gateway to the city and recall the age of Dumas and the Count of Monte Cristo, the city embarked on an architectural and cultural renaissance which has reinvented the city’s place on Europe’s artistic map.

MuCEM and the Fort St-Jean


The result is a new waterfront which combines a freshly gentrified old neighbourhood with the implantation of stunning new architecture to produce a dazzling display of cultural verve immediately alongside the Mediterranean sea. Central to the architectural revolution is the Musée des Civilisation dÉurope et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM), a masterly conjoining of a Rudy Ricciotti’s striking modern cube, covered from top to bottom with what looks like a giant lace mantilla, and, across a vertiginous narrow footbridge, the restored Fort St Jean, which today is awash with Mediterranean inspired gardens and striking sculpture. This combination of ancient and modern works surprisingly well. Both buildings are imposing and structural, but in their newly polished finish look dazzling, particularly at night. Next door to MuCEM another striking addition is the Villa Méditerranée, featured in Stefano Boaeri’s striking cantilevered construction which appears to defy gravity as it bends horizontally across a pool of Mediterranean water. 

The Villa Méditerranée and MuCEM by night


But this waterfront would not be complete without the church which stands guardian over it all: the Cathédrale de la Major. Wedged between the sea and the district of Le Panier, the imposing 19th century structure looks like a cross between the Sacre Coeur in Paris, and Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. It’s stripes stone construction seems to echo the typical dress of Riviera beach goers, while adding a touch of elegant sobriety to this newly revolutionised cultural hub.

The Cathédrale de la Major


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Sicily Series | Part X – Baroque Round-up

From Catania to Noto, and all the lavishly decorated theatrical towns in between, Baroque was a huge feature of our Sicilian adventure, and very much characterised the look and feel of South Eastern Sicily. Yes, of course modernity has crept in, placing its often ugly stamp around these towns of baroque splendour, but Sicily is no Manhattan, and for the most part it is the ancient architecture which continues to dominate, even though it is often tired, dilapidated and a mere shadow of its former self. This, I think, is the true essence of the Sicilian Baroque: complete over the top theatricality while bearing all the signs of age and weathering which is a side effect of the harsh climate and the poor economic conditions which still dominate in the region.


For me, nostalgically romantic as ever, it is this battered and broken appearance which gives the Sicilian Baroque its charm, furnishing it somehow for my perception of what the Mediterrananen aesthetic should always look like. Fascinated, I took a lot of photos, as the elaborate lines and fantastical detail of the baroque flourishes became more and more over top. While, throughout the Sicily series on my blog, you will already have seen many of these, I thought I would end this Daily Norm trip to Sicily with a final round up of the many baroque splendours on show.

So let me indulge you in the beautiful Baroque of Sicily, in the abundance of putti (cherubs) and swirling clouds that offer the promise of paradise. Gaze in wonder as life-like statues of the apostles and the saints appear to come to life upon their baroque stage-set, and be dazzled by the plethora of intricately carved balcony corbels, each displaying its unique take on the ultimate Sicilian decoration, as angels and demons, animals and even house owners are rendered in stone and set at the base of palace balconies where they can be best admired from the street below.


Sicily is characterised by its food and its people, by its climate and its architecture, but chief amongst its influences are the tectonic actives and that ever dangerous volcano, Etna, which have so often caused havoc on the island. But with disaster comes beauty, and were it not for the great earthquake of 1693, Sicily might never have been presented with this opportunity to redesign itself in the baroque style. Today we cannot help but admire this aesthetic all the more, both for its fortuitous advent, but also in the knowledge that its fragile foundations may be rocked again one day when the powers below the earth decide its time to stir again…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 


The Sicily Series | Part VIII – Ortygia of Syracuse, the Venice of the South

The legend of Ortygia had come to us through the bathroom. Not that this should be misread as something smutty. For Ortigia the brand of timelessly elegant bath products, room fragrances and soaps is today one of the most prestigious purveyors of bathroom accessories on the market, with stores on Marylebone High Street and Sloane Square in London alone. And while the company, which hails from Sicily and whose packaging awash with leopards and palm trees is the very essence of the Il Gattopardo period, spells it’s name with the Italian ‘I’ it is otherwise the perfect ambassador for this equally stylish stunning little city in Sicily.


Ortygia is more of an island than a city, connected to the bigger city of Syracuse by two narrow bridges. With few cars, plenty of picturesque narrow streets, and surrounded on all sides by the sea, Ortygia has often been called the Venice of Sicily and it’s not difficult to see why. For in place of Florian’s cafe are a host of cosy little eateries with pale striped cushions, blue glass and understated elegance. In the place of ancient treasures sacked from Constantinople you have multiple ruins dating way before the roman times and literally peppering the streets (the incredible ruins of the Temple of Apollo being the first to greet you when you cross the bridge). And instead of Saint Mark’s the main Duomo of Ortygia is a masterpiece mix of the most ravishing Baroque with an ancient Athenian temple.


For me the Cathedral (not to mention the dazzling showpiece square surrounding it) is undoubtedly the highlight of Ortygia. With its elaborately decorated marble facade, the Cathedral shows but one face of an indelibly rich history which oozes from within. For one walk inside and you find an ancient interior not characterised by the Baroque at all. Rather the Cathedral is essentially a remanifestation of the ancient Temple of Athena which has always stood on this spot. It is not just built on the same foundations but is actually constructed over and amongst the original ancient columns which made up the temple. All they have done is filled in the space between the columns, put a roof on top, and that marvellous facade at the front. The effect is to receive an incredible immersion into the most ancient of civilisations, and really gain insight into what a temple back in the times of Ancient Greece would have been like.

Alas we could not spend too long in Ortygia. The sun bounced down on those ancient palazzos and that fine white marble which dazzled all around, and as the afternoon drew on, temperatures rose in unison. We therefore escaped to the air conditioning of our car and the promise of a prosecco back in Noto. But we left Ortygia with a real sparkle in our eyes, and, naturally, a little complementary purchase from its world renowned cosmetics store.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Sicily Series | Part VII – Rocky, Resplendent, Regal Ragusa

It was a fair old drive from Noto to Ragusa, although the fact that our satnav tried to turn us right into a mountain ravine did not help. But when we arrived we felt a little disappointed. Sure, it had a grand looking cathedral and some nice-ish streets but what was it worth the near-death experience on the journey? It was only when we sat down at a local cafe, coffee needs predominating, that I opened my Baedeker and realised that Ragusa is actually a town split geographically in two. And we were in the wrong bit. For the real star of Ragusa, and well worth the fuss, is Ragusa Ibla, its ancient town, built on a steep hilltop across the other side of a rocky mountain valley which splits the town in two.

Of course we were parked on the wrong side of the divide, but the walk at least offered us the best possible vistas of Ragusa Ibla: a cluster of houses and churches which appear to defy gravity in their precarious positioning upon the steep slopes of the hill, and which collectively takes the breath away for the sheer feat of this human intervention upon the Sicilian landscape.


There were many steps down to the crevice which carves Ragusa in two, and many slopes within the old town itself, but the climbing and panting and general opposition to the heat was both a necessity in this car-defying town, and a very useful mode of calorie consumption. It came, after all, just before our arrival in the Piazza del Duomo, where lunch next to a deliciously somniferous trickling fountain provided me with the star dish of the holiday as far as I was concerned: spaghetti with local Bronte pistachios, hard pecorino cheese and gamberetti. Washed down with a little local Etna wine and heaven descended, and that was before the typical ricotta desert of cannoli deconstructed into a mass of creaminess and crumbling texture.


Stamina recovered, we were able to discover the quaint nature of this beautiful town, another with its fair share of fairytale like Baroque brilliance but on a somewhat more compact scale. Walking the narrow streets provided an inescapable exposure to wafts of garlic and pistachio, and to the perfume of herbs drooping from pots crammed onto wrought iron balconies. Some streets were so narrow as trigger maze-like disorientation. Others gave way onto stunning vistas, such as the great glass dome of the Cathedral of San Giorgio which rises above the old town, or the views across the arid mountainous landscape.

But for all those views, and the indelible beauty of Ragusa Ibla, gosh how we bemoaned its location as we made the hike up hundreds of steps, in full 30-something degrees of heat, back to our car parked in the other half of the city. But as we all know, it’s the inaccessible places that are often the greatest gems, and that was certainly the case with the treasure of Resplendent Ragusa.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.