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  • Uncategorized

    Abu Dhabi

    OK, so it’s finally happening. After all that bragging and boasting on the phone the time has arrived to show off the brilliant UAE capital to all our friends and family.

    There is a lot to consider as we prepare to play tour guide in the city; never fear, though, there is so much to be proud of in our amazing emirate and enough activities to fill a lifetime of holidays. The hardest thing might be deciding what not to do. Let’s embrace our visitors and treat them to an unforgettable getaway – Abu Dhabi style.

    Whether you’re here on holiday, you’re new to the country or you’ve been here a while, your time in Abu Dhabi still requires some careful planning. There’s just so much to do here you can’t possibly experience absolutely everything that’s cool about this city in only seven days. So to help you make the most of your stay, here are our top tips for the perfect week in the capital.

    Day 1 - Corniche, Emirates Palace and Heritage village

    Let’s start the day by enjoying a scenic stroll through the Corniche. The Corniche is one of the most beautiful stretches in the UAE, made up of an eye-catching 8 km of manicured waterfront lined with cute cafes, play areas and an award-winning beachfront. Part of the appeal of a holiday in Abu Dhabi is the lovely weather, so why not kick off your week with a good old-fashioned sunbathing session? The city has so many brilliant beaches to choose from, but the huge Corniche is a great place to start. It doesn’t cost a single dirham to access and the pathway to of the Corniche Park are perfect for jogging, walking or cycling on. It boasts a huge inflatable waterpark, an outdoor gym, yoga classes and loads of food trucks.

    While walking along the Corniche it’s impossible to miss the Founder’s memorial is a permanent tribute of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE and a great place to learn about him through art, nature, words, stories and multimedia experiences. The centerpiece of the memorial is a public artwork named The Constellation, a dynamic 3D portrait of Zayed that can be experienced differently from around the city.

    From the end of the Corniche, a 5 minutes walk will take you to Emirates Palace, possibly the most opulent of Abu Dhabi’s hotels. It’s worth a visit just to see the beautiful building and amazing grounds. But if you can keep a couple of hours free in your afternoon for the most majestic, gasp-inducing of afternoon tea experiences, make a royal appointment at Emirates Palace. The Royal Afternoon Tea Affair is a step above the usual cucumber sandwich fare, too, with luxurious bites such as 24k gold-crusted salmon sandwiches on pumpernickel bread, king crab on brioche, plus freshly baked scones and decadent dessert.

     

    With your belly full, take a taxi to  the Heritage Village fora blast with the past. Embracing the vibrant, progressive and thoroughly modern Abu Dhabi is brilliant, but it is nice to take a glimpse into the past now and again, too. Modern-day Abu Dhabi is glitzy, lively and buzzing with excitement. But it’s fascinating to see what it was like before it was transformed into the bustling metropolis that it is today. You can retrace the steps of the emirate of a bygone era at Heritage Village, a faithful reconstruction of a traditional oasis on the Corniche breakwater. Replicating everyday life in the pre-oil era of the UAE, this walled complex contains a fort (used to repel invaders from the sea), a souk (for trading goats and other goods), and a mosque. Check out the open museum to get up close with traditional aspects of the desert way of life, from a goat’s hair tent to a campfire with coffee pots. Visitors can also get a first-hand look at a series of workshop where craftsmen showcase skills such as metalwork, glass blowing, pottery, weaving, spinning and pottery before picking up mementos at the spice shop, which offers a wide range of dried herbs, handmade soaps and treasured trinkets. This is a fun way of learning about the history of the city, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

    Day 2 - Louvre, Manarat, Mangroves national park

    Since opening in November 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has been named one of the Seven Urban Wonders of the World. This dream development that was more than a decade in the making has proved well worth the wait. The structure of the museum really is beautiful. Before you even start to examine the amazing objects that are housed inside, you’ll be totally wowed by the building. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, this is the kind of building that was made for Instagram. The Rain of Lightroof is made from thousands of metal stars, and when the sun filters through the gaps, the effect is absolutely stunning. Just walking around the promenade, looking out over the water and photographing the cool tree statue and other striking piecese of art is a brilliant experience on its own. Then when you get inside, the collection of more than 900 incredible artworks and artefacts is out-of-this-world amazing. The landmark venue is home to hundreds of incredible works of art, spanning centuries and civilizations, from artistic visionaries such as Van Gogh and Andy Warhol to Leonardo da Vinci. 

    However, Louvre Abu Dhabi is not he sole artistic hub of Saadiyat Island. A short taxi ride will take you to Manarat Al Saadiyat. There’s always so much going on at this arty hub. Whether you’re into music, cinema. Art, or just want to work on your own creative skills, you’ll find something to capture your interest at Manarat Al Saddiyat. This establishment was the first piece in the Saadiyat Cultural district jigsaw, and its program is always full of workshop, gigs, art fairs and other special events. Head to the drop-in studio to have a go at creating your own work of art for 30 dirhams. All the materials are provided and art instructors are on hand to offer inspiration. Meanwhile, the Cinema Space is a legendary Abu Dhabi institution. Free screenings of restored classics and contemporary world films are shown every Monday and Saturday.

    Before you arrived in Abu Dhabi, you might have imagined that it was a place made up entirely of skyscrapers and sand. But many people don’t realize the city is home to so many areas  of natural beauty as well. The Mangrove National Park contains thousands  of mangrove trees and a huge variety of wildlife. There are still plenty of gorgeous views of the lush mangroves to take in, but you won’t see them at such sedate pace from the land. A taxi ride from Saadiyat to downtown Abu Dhabi will take you to the Mangroves Anantara hotel where you can rent a kayak to explore the natural park. Have yourself an “oar-some” time by picking up a paddle and taking to the azure waters for a fine kayaking session. There aren’t many better ways to explore the vast mangrove forests, and you can even journey to some of the emirates vast network of idyllic islands while doing so.

    Although you can still see the towering buildings of the Downtown area from the water, it feels far removed from all the hustle and bustle of the city. Head here a few hours before sunset and hire yourself a couple of kayaks. Then you are free to explore the waterways between the trees, hunt for wildlife and rest on the secluded beaches at your leisure. Afterwards you can grab a coffee from one of the many food outlets along Eastern Mangroves Promenade, then sit back and relax as you watch the sun go down.

    Day 3

    Take a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Mere words cannot do this magnificent landmark justice. Put simply, it is an awe-inspiring architectural marvel that you must visit. Voted the world’s second favorite landmark (ranking above iconic tourist attractions such as the Taj Mahal and the Sydney Opera House), the gleaming white structure boasts 82 domes, the world’s largest hand-woven carpet and a chandelier bedded with one million crystals. Free guided tours are held during the week, with knowledgeable staff on hand to answer questions and boost your understanding of Islamic culture. The bold vision of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan is a fitting legacy to his leadership.

    The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the most important things to see while you are staying here in the capital. Just driving past it for the first time is enough to make your jaw drop. With countless gold-embellished white domes, it really is a beautiful creation (and one of the biggest of its type in the world). The structure can hold up to 40.000 people, and it was inspired by designs from Turkey, Morocco, Pakistand and Egypt. The iconic prayer hall holds the world’s largest chandelier, and the experience of wandering bare foot around the immaculate passage ways is totally humbling.

    Stroll around Umm Al Emarat Park. Abu Dhabi is blessed with many picturesque green spaces and Umm Al Emarat Park in the Mushrif area is one of the best. One of the largest and oldest park in the city it is home to an animal barn, amphitheater, botanical garden, children’s garden and many other wonderful features. Take a picnic, go for a jog or just enjoy walking around. On a Saturday afternoon, you can also experience the Ripe Market. This community event features more than 100 awesome stalls full of fruit, vegetables and other local produce. So whether it’s fresh food you want or a little something to spruce your home, you can be sure the Ripe Market has the answer. But it’s not all about splashing the cash, there’s live music, entertainment, workshops and activities also on offer.

  • Uncategorized

    AirBNB

    Airbnb has completely changed the game for travellers.

    No longer do we to have face the all too limited choice between a hotel or hostel for our accommodation. Now we have the potential to choose a cute little Parisian studio, a townhouse in New York’s hipster district, a secluded Italian farmhouse or a modern, centrally equipped apartment in London – and everything else in between. And we get to have it all to ourselves.

    We’ve used Airbnb countless times, from short weekend trips to Berlin, week long stays in Buenos Aires and nearly a month in Brazil. And it’s something we’ll continue to use for lots of future adventures.

    With its dramatic global growth, it’s now a more feasible alternative for long-term slow travellers too and it helped us out more than once during our two year Latin American adventure. In fact, alongside housesitting, a week or two in our own place when we were just about ready to kill our dorm mates (through no fault of their own) and had pretty much got bored of travel, it saved us.

    Whilst it may not come with a four-legged friend, and it’s certainly not free, renting on Airbnb can often work out significantly cheaper than a hostel or hotel, especially if there’s more than one of you or you plan on staying for more than a week. It’s also a great way to get out of the hotel district and into a real neighbourhood, which is a fantastic thing in our opinion!

    However, for first-timers used to the flexibility, convenience and security of a hotel/hostel, we recognise that Airbnb can be a little daunting. And maybe a little strange. That’s why we’ve come up with this beginner’s guide – so that you can understand how it works, learn from our mistakes, find the perfect room or apartment, and hopefully save a bit of money on your next trip!

    Set up a profile

    As you can imagine when people are renting out their home, they want to be pretty certain that you are who you say you are. That means that once you create a profile (complete with great photo!), in order to be accepted for a number of bookings you will need to go through an additional verification process. This is pretty easy to do but will involve linking a social media account, uploading a photo ID (driving license, passport) and confirming your email address and phone number.

    Check out previous reviews

    If your Airbnb of choice has been around for a while, there should lots of comments from previous users. Read them.

    Of course, don’t focus on the single bad review in a sea of gleaming references, but if lots of people mention that the area isn’t great, that the flat was a mess or that the host was useless, it’s probably worth moving on to the next rental.

    If you’re truly an Airbnb virgin, we’d recommend that your very first rental is in fact one with lots of good reviews. Once you’ve been through the system a few times, you’ll be more likely to let certain ‘quirks’ slide and understand the process better, but newbies may need to ease themselves in gently. We think Airbnb is amazing, so we want your first time to be great!

    Be aware of weekly / monthly discounts

    A substantial proportion of Airbnb hosts knock off a significant amount for stays of a week, and even more for stays of a month – which is why it’s so popular with digital nomads and long-term travellers.

    In fact, on a couple of occasions we’ve discovered that by actually booking longer than we’ve technically needed or wanted, it’s worked out cheaper.

    Check the location

    After a particularly ‘interesting’ stay in the suburbs of Toulouse, we’ve learnt to check and double check the location of our potential Airbnbs verrrry carefully. One factor that affects the price of properties quite significantly is location, so if it seems too good to be true, make sure that you’re not in the middle of nowhere or the sort of place you shouldn’t go out in at night.

    Another good way to assess this is in the comments. Remember, the host can say anything and, as a first-time visitor to the city, you might not be aware of the city’s no-go areas. Previous guests are usually pretty good at alerting future guests to this in the reviews. Similarly, simply looking at a flat on a map can be misleading – before booking, check out public transport options to/from the city centre from the apartment to make sure that there is a convenient and cost-effective option and that you are not hours away from the sights you want to visit on your trip.

    Check the facilities carefully

    Whilst you can select certain facilities within the search function, it’s really important that you check the facilities listed very carefully.

    A good example of this is whether or not there is a kitchen. We’ve found several apartments where it stated there was a kitchen (the host had selected it in the facilities check-list) but in the written description, it became clear that this was purely for making breakfast or using the microwave – not at all suitable for cooking a proper meal.

    We’ve also found it really useful to double check about the quality of the internet connection and whether their claim to aircon is actually true. Whether hosts intend to mislead potential guests or not, sometimes what is specified is neither correct nor accurate. So, if you depend on quick internet or plan on cooking lots of meals, it’s best to make certain before spending your money and confirming your booking.

    The price depends on numbers of occupants

    Unsurprisingly, if you plan on bringing a horde of mates with you, it’s going to cost a little more than a couple’s retreat.

    You can put the number of guests in the initial search, so please do so or your results will not reflect the true cost of your stay, and you may miss out on better value accommodation.

    Be flexible

    If you’ve already booked your flights, then of course, you’re going to be limited. However, if you’re dreaming of a long weekend in Rome, then it might pay to check out the accommodation options in tandem with potential flights. By looking at availability a week or few days either side of your preferred dates, you might find an absolute gem of an apartment available within your budget.

    There really is something for every budget

    When you’re brought to your initial search results page, some of the nightly rates may look more like weekly. However, do not fear – Airbnb really does cover every budget (it’s just that it covers some very large budgets too!).  Have a tinker about with the search criteria and request that only rentals within you min/max budget appear.

    For those travelling independently and on a smaller budget, consider renting a private room as opposed to the entire place. It will be significantly cheaper and give you the opportunity to make some local friends – but don’t forget….

    ...if renting a private room you need to check the small print

    As we use Airbnb to get a little alone time, we usually choose to rent entire apartments rather than private rooms. However, on a recent last minute trip to Valencia in peak tourist season, when anything that was vaguely pleasant and affordable had been booked up for months, we had to look into renting a room instead. There are so many extra things to consider when doing this!

    Things such as who will I be sharing with (some people run there apartments like hostels and rent out multiple bedrooms to different people), what is the bathroom situation, is security a concern (most private rooms don’t have their own locks), does the host have kids (that’s certainly an apartment we’d choose to pass-over) and will I have access to all the facilities (several places we’ve come across limit you to your room only) are all issues that need to be considered.

    Ask questions in advance, understand that each private room offer may differ vastly in terms of what they’re offering and, if you aren’t comfortable with what’s on offer, do not book.

    Don't forget extra fees

    When you’re working to a particular budget, you need to consider the extra fees that will be applied. For starters, an Airbnb service charge applies to all bookings and is non-negotiable. Additionally, a significant number of hosts will apply a hefty cleaning fee to your rental cost. Often, an apartment that is perfect for your budget on first look will reveal itself to be way more than you can afford when you factor in all these costs.

    Also bear in mind security deposits. We’ve only ever rented one place that required this, and had no problem getting it returned, but always check the small print to establish whether this is applied to your booking. Unless you completely wreck the place, you’re unlikely to lose it, but if it means having an extra couple of hundred pounds stopped on your credit card – it might not be money you have to spare.

    Booking is not always instant

    So, you’ve found your perfect apartment and you want to get it locked in as soon as possible. Unfortunately however, it’s often not that straight forward.

    Whilst there are certainly a number of ‘instant book’ properties on the website (those with the lightning bolt next to them), for most you have to contact the host to check the availability. This may mean a quick response and a booking not long after, but in some situations, such as during high season, you’ll be met with stoney silence or a polite message from the host stating that they’re fully booked.

    And so, it’s on to the next one!

    ...which is why you need to contact lots of hosts!

    From years of booking with Airbnb, we’ve learnt to send out lots of feeler messages to potential hosts. Of course, it’s probably best not to approach places you have no interest in staying, but usually you’ll find a handful that fit your requirements – send them all a message!

    This way, you should always secure at least a couple of offers and pre-approvals and hopefully, you won’t be left homeless for the night.

    And remember, when you do reach out to potential hosts, add a few lines about yourself, why you’re visiting their home town and why their place would be perfect! If they like you and have availability, then they’ll often reply quickly and ‘pre-approve’ you, which means your booking can be made much quicker.

    It's not a hotel

    If you’ve been used to a concierge service or on-site assistance, Airbnb could be quite a shock. Whilst a number of hosts are available to check you in personally, provide a tour of the property and tell you how everything works, lock-boxes or keys with neighbours (who often don’t speak English) are not uncommon. In case this happens, it’s often best to ask your host any important questions prior to arriving at the property.

    You’ll also be responsible for your own housekeeping. This might not be a problem if you’re only there for a couple of days, but if your stay is longer than a week, you’ll need to consider the issue of clean towels and sheets. We’ve never stayed anywhere where these have been changed during our stay, so for long-term rents it’s worth renting somewhere with washing/drying facilities etc or a laundrette nearby.

    Not all rentals are created equal

    Every Airbnb will be a little bit different – often dependent upon the motivation for the rental.

    You see, as the company has grown, so too have the number of hosts utilising the site as a business, meaning it’s really not uncommon to stumble across users with 25+ different properties in one city (this is now generating a lot of controversy in some cities).

    The benefits to renting with one of these guys is that you do achieve much more of a hotel set-up. There won’t be any clothes in the wardrobe, photos of the owner or knick-knacks about the place, but often you also won’t find cupboards full of condiments or plenty of tea bags. Of course, there are exceptions, and a number of these ‘business renters’ have supplied fridges stocked with beer and even a Nespresso machine.

    We actually quite enjoy staying in someone’s home, but there’s no denying there’s a difference. Here, you are surrounded by treasured possessions and fragile keepsakes, shelves full of books and a real sense of the place and city that you’re living. Whilst you should still make yourself at home in these rentals, everything should be treated with the upmost respect – and that includes not rooting through their underwear drawer!

    Just remember as well that if you have that one truly amazing experience in a genuine ‘home’, the next one may well not measure up – each host is different and offers a different level of care or support. Some will sit down with you and explain where to find hidden gems in the city, whilst others will just give you the key and leave.

    Only pay via AirBNB secure system

    This should be obvious, and yet we ourselves have been asked to pay external to the website. Whilst it may be tempting to avoid the Airbnb service fees (which can become pretty steep should your stay be of significant duration), you will lose all the protection that the company can give you should everything go tits up! Also, if someone is asking you to pay outside the system, you really have to question their motivations.

    Communication is key

    As we’ve mentioned elsewhere in this article, once you’ve got your reservation sorted, communication with your host is really important.

    Let them know when you’ll be arriving and the best way to contact you. You may well be in a country where you don’t have internet, so those messages your host sends with Whatsapp on the day of your arrival will be lost in cyberspace until you hit internet again.

    Find out all the important information before you board your flight, train or bus. Mobile phone number, address, how to get to the accommodation, specific instructions for entry – all are essentials that you’ll need to store off-line. The Airbnb app has a number of these available even without internet, so make sure you download it.

    If you want to check-in a little earlier in the day, or your flight home doesn’t leave till late at night, make your host aware in advance. We’ve found people to be quite flexible and willing to suit our schedule, but only when they are given a heads up.

    The hosts get to review you too

    We told you earlier how important reviews are when choosing a place to rent, however do remember that your hosts can leave a review about you too.

    Their purpose isn’t to moan that you left a sock in the bed or a bit of sand in the shower, but if you leave the flat in an absolute tip, with bags full of rubbish in the kitchen and a broken bathroom door, they may well call you out for it.

    Despite paying a cleaning fee, the unwritten rule is that you leave the place reasonably tidy upon departure – make sure you do.

    What if I need to cancel?

    What happens next really does depend upon the property.

    Some are very flexible, and even cancelling last minute means you’ll only lose the Airbnb fees. However, some others (especially if you’ve booked during high season) are much stricter, and even cancelling 30 days before your reservation will see you sacrificing a significant amount of the total booking fee.

    The hosts can opt for a ‘Flexible, Moderate, or Strict’ cancellation policy, and their choice will be very clearly marked in the rental information. Always make sure to check this small print, especially if you’re booking quite far in advance.

    Once you’ve clicked on the hyperlink, you’ll be taken to the cancellation policy page where it very clearly outlines exactly what you’d be entitled to in the event of a cancellation.

    You should also be aware, that although rare, hosts sometimes cancel too. In fact, this happened to us, at incredibly short notice. Should this happen to you, depending on how far in advance, your host may well face a financial penalty. Although we managed to secure alternative accommodation at really short notice (on the day in fact!), we have heard of situations where Airbnb have assisted users to find another place to stay (sometimes providing additional funding if the cancellation is last minute).

    AirBNB has a resolution team

    If the above happens to you, there is thankfully support at hand.  If your host cancels unexpectedly, or your dream apartment turns out to be not so perfect, then Airbnb does have a fantastic resolution service. We’ve never really had to use them, but travellers we know have had great success in getting issues resolved and support very quickly.

    If you’re not happy, don’t be afraid to reach out – that’s what they’re there for!

  • Adventures,  Camping,  Liwa Oasis

    Liwa Oasis

    A trip to Liwa in the Empty Quarter (or Rub Al Khali) is a must for any off-roader during their time in the Middle East. It’s the biggest sand desert on the planet. The sheer scale of the scenery and the size of the dunes has to be seen to be believed. This epic route is more of an expedition than just a spot of camping, so go prepared for the experience of a lifetime.

    Home to the Bani Yas tribe, ancestors of the current ruling family of Abu Dhabi, the fertile Liwa “crescent” stretches over 150 km, and is dotted with small villages. Mezaira’a, at the center of the crescent, is the largest settlement and if you are heading into the desert, the shops and the petrol station here will be your last chance to buy provisions and fuel, so stock up. Extra jerry cans of petrol are essentials and it’s better to take too much food and water than too little. Four our camping night we took 10 L of water that we used for drinking, washing and cooking.

    An essential part of any Liwa adventure, camping in the desert is the most popular way to spend the night and can be a truly unforgettable experience.

    Waking up to miles of sand rolling into the distance or the sight of the snaking silvery dunes under the moonlight is quite magical. This area provides some of the best desert views in the UAE.

    You can camp just about anywhere, so take any of the roads and tracks into the desert off the main road through the oasis. Just make sure you drive far enough from roads, habitations and activity to find a peaceful spot and get settled, long before the sun goes down.

    One particular good area is on the road to Moreeb Hill, passing the Liwa Resthouse.

  • Cairo

    Cairo

    Day 1 - Giza, Memphis and Saqqara

    Before the year 3000 BC, Egypt was divided into Upper Egypt (the southern part) and Lower Egypt (the norther part), according to the flow of the river Nile. It was finally united and with its uninion the Egyptian Dynasties were born (30 overall). The symbol of this unification is in the crown worn by most pharaohs in their statues, the red elongated one that symbolizes lower Egypt and the round white one that stands for the upper Egypt. Egyptian history is divided in Old, Middle and New Kingdom; what Cairo will let you discover is the Old Kingdom.

    The capital of the Old Kingdom was Memphis, now at the edge of Cairo. The name Memphis comes from “mem” which meant “stable” and “nefer” that stands for beautiful (as in “Nefertiti” or Nefertari”). During the Middle Kingdom the capital was moved to Abu XX, in the south. The Middle Kingdom was the time when Egypt was ransacked by the Hittities who spread chaos in the country till King Amon Moses defeated them and moved the capital to Luxor, giving a start to the New Kingdom.

    All these historical facts are reflected in tombs-construction and pyramids. Pyramids are characteristics of the Old Kingdom, whilst in the New Kingdom pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings.

    The Three Pyramids of Giza

    When the Egyptian started building pyramids (with the III Dynasty), they usually built them on the west bank of the river Nile. West is were the sun sets, and were the sun god Ra will get the soul of the dead pharaoh to escort him to the after life. And of course the pyramids needed to be set on a flat area and slightly elevated to survive the (numerous) floods of the river. The Ghiza plateau served all these purpose and for this reasons the pharaohs of the IV Dynasty decided to erect their resting places here.

    Despite 6 pyramids in this area, your attention will be immediately caught by the big pyramid of Cheope (2500 BC). It was build over the course of 20 years with over 2 millions block of limestone coming from a quarry on the mountains east of Cairo. It’s surface was originally smoothened by more whitish-looking limestone that was either raided in the centuries or just degraded, and it’s top adorned by a small gilded triangle (raided, it goes without saying). Do not believe the stories spread by Hollywood and by comics of slaves being forced to build pyramids. It has been estimated that 20.000 persons worked actively at its constructions, joined by 80.000 seasonal workers (those farmers that could not work during the Nile floods). And every single person was doing this work voluntary, as an offer the the living god, the pharaoh. And recompensed with beer.

    The main entrance is not the one through which hordes of tourists enter today, but the one above, sealed by a a massive block of granite. This was after all a burial building, there was no need to reopen that door once the pharaoh had been mummified and buried. The entrance to the tomb is around 15$ per person, but we followed the advice of our guide and did not go inside. Aside from the massive flow of people swirling those corridors, the tomb is completely empty. There are mush better pyramids to visit inside in Sakkara. However, a stop in front of the map gave us an idea of the inside. There are three burial chambers: one is incomplete, one is falsely named the Queen burial room (the Queen has her own pyramid just behind) and the main one. However, when the tomb was opened, the archeologists found the sarcophagus with no lid and the mummy still inside; for this reason they were led to believe that there still is an hidden chamber.

    Just behind the pyramid of Cheope there are three smaller ones, for his mother, his Queen and his sister. When the archeologists were working on the pyramid of the mother, they accidentally found an hidden pit (preserved by the sand from the tomb raiders) with the furnitures of her royal chambers.

    In 1950 on the North side of the pyramid, another pit was discovered hiding the wooden remains of a boat; this boat, that symbolizes the sun boat through which the soul and body of the pharaoh would cross the river to the afterlife, has been recently restored and can be visible in the Museum.

    On the east side there can be found the mutabahs. Only pharaohs could be buried in a pyramid, but the nobles and the ministers could build smaller and flat tombs around the pyramid of the pharaoh they served. Those cannot be accessed but later during the day there is a treat waiting for you!

    Cheope’s second son, Chefren, built 50 years later a smaller (but still impressive) pyramid right behind the big one of his fater. The best view is following the paved street till the viewpoint with the parking lot: from here the 130 m of the pyramid of Chefen will appear to you much more than the ones of Cheope, but it’s simply because it’s built on a higher plane. Look at the tip of the pyramids and you will understand how they were looking in the ancient times, with that whitish limestone cover that made their surface smooth. It’s the only tomb in the Ghiza plateau that has a funerary temple (more to come about it!). Just to the left, the grandson of Cheope, Micerino, built his pyramid 70 years later

    The Sphynx

    Even before reaching the Sphynx, you will notice the harbor at its feet. Before the construction of dams the Nile flooded once a year and its water used to cover the 7 kms to Giza and were used to carry the blocks of limestone from the quarry to this area.

    Just to the right of the harbor, the entrance to the valley of the funerary temple of Chefren opens for you: this funerary construction is made of external limestone, but the walls are made of granite and the floor is alabaster. There used to be a granite roof as well but his son Micerino recycled the material to build his own pyramid…

    This area were you are standing was were the whole process of mummification was taking place. The body of the deceased pharaoh was brought here and the priests washed him with Nile water. His face was then dressed with the jackal mask of Anubis, the deity of the afterlife, the inner organs were removed and put in small jars (canopi) but not the heart, that was embalmed and resealed in the chest cavity. The body was the immersed in salt water to let the skin dry, washed with essential oils and covered with linen bandages. The bandages were glued together and the mummy was carried along the ramp that you see in front of you up to the pyramid.

    Now follow that same ramp that the dead pharaohs were taking and reach the marvelous sphynx. The name sphynx comes from the ancient sheseban (image of a god). Its origin dates at the time of the construction of the pyramid of Chefren: that area was being used as a quarry for the limestone and one massive piece was left untouched because of its poor quality. The workers carved it with the body of a lion and the face of Chefren. For years it lay covered by layers of sand; in 1750 BC an Egyptian prince that was visiting the pyramids fell asleep on the sand and in his dreams the Sphynx spoke to him asking him to unbury her and become a true king. Upon waking up, the prince started digging and brough the Sphynx back to light, thus becoming pharaoh Thutmose IV. During the centuries the sphynx was worshipped by the Greeks and the Romans conquerors who built small temples in front of her. The nose is missing due to an Arab fanatic in the Middle Ages that believed the Sphynx was a malevolent spirit. 

    On your left while you are standing on the ramp, look for the village where the pyramid builders used to live.

    Memphis

    Even during the New Kingdom, when Luxor was capital, the famous Ramses II resided in Memphis during the year. Here he built his palace, whose ruins now cover the whole neighborhood, and a temple dedicate to the god Ptah, deity of creation. The ruins of the temple are nowadays an open air museum in the middle of Memphis. Statues of the god are everywhere, either depicted as he is molding clay or holding a sceptre. You will notice that differently from Giza, where the ruins have been well preserved by the dry soil, here almost all the statues are ruined because of the clay’s presence. Only two are still in one piece, the sphynx (depicting either a pharaoh, or his XXX) and the granite statue of Ramses II. Ramses is depicted with symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt, and his left leg forward, since he his actions are commanded by his heart. Inside the museum there is a bigger limestone statue of Ramses II, found lying there on the left side; for fear that the materials would get damaged, the whole museum was built around it. Ramses II or Ramses the great ruled from the age of 26 for 67 years, and he had 40 wives and over 200 children. All the statues of the pharaohs are depicting some hieroglyphs that carry their birth name and the coronation name inside an oval (cartouche). As every hieroglyph, they can be read either from right to left or from left to right, depending on where the faces of the humans or the beaks of the birds are oriented. But of course such a difficult and elaborate way of writing could not be used in everyday life, and the more simple demoticon was used for contracts, marriage licenses etc. 

    IMG_2845

    Saqqara

    When driving around Memphis it’s stunning to see the plush vegetation of palms and other trees, but it’s even more impressive the abrupt stat of the desert once you reach Saqqara. Seems like the exact place where the water of the Nile reached at the time of its floods is marked by a line of trees that suddenly turn into sand. Saqqara gets its name from the god with the face of a dog that was hereby worshipped. In Saqqara you will see the first pyramid, called the “step pyramid” (2700 BC).

    The First and Second Dynasties of pharaohs were buried in mud mastabaha that of course did not survive the injuries of time. The first pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, Djozer, was the first one to commission to his architect Imhotep a stone tomb that would survive for centuries. Now, we all know the name Imhotep from movies such as The Mummy; the truth is that after this first building he became so famous that he was nearly revered as a god. First of all, Imhotep built a colonnade entrance with 42 columns shaped like papyrus plants, that symbolizes the 42 provinces of Egypt (there is also a small wall separating the Upper from the Lower Egypt. He was still not confident enough to believe that the columns would held the weight of a granite roof of papyruses trunks so he attached them to the wall. 

    You walk the colonnade and reach an open court, symbolically delimited on your left by a mastabah and on your right by the step pyramid. The first idea of Imothep was to simply build a stone rectangular mastabah; upon seeing it Jozer asked him to make it longer, the to add a send mastabaha on top, then one more, and so on. This is why the pyramid has this appearance of steps. Djozer’s son got the idea from his father but his pyramid crumbled to pieces. It was Djozer’s nephew Neferu that carried on the pyramid idea, first building a very audacious 56 degrees steep angle pyramid that he had to adjust towards the tip (bent pyramid of Dashur) and the building the first real pyramid ad we know them in red limestone (red pyramid in Dashur).

    While walking the open court look for an opening to your right: this is the area where the hepstat festival was held. The hepstat was sort of a reconfirmation of the pharaoh every 30 years, where he was to battle with a bull to prove he still ha the strength to rule. Later on in the dynasties, this became a rule every 5 years cause rarely the pharaohs ruled up to those 30 years.

    After the brief excursus to Memphis for the Fourth Dynasty, the Fifth Dynasty went back to Saqqara for their pyramid building. Don’t be discouraged by their appearance from their outside: yes, they do look just like mounds of sands, but that simply because the blocks of limestones had been “recycled” by the 4 following Dynasties of the Middle Kingdom when the economy was not doing well. The Fifth Dynasty pyramids were the first to have hieroglyphical carvings inside. Those were either prayers or spells that the dead pharaoh could use to pass through various chambers or alcoves of the afterlife. This habit was lost in the Middle Kingdom, and was resumed in the New Kingdom where the walls of the tombs were carved with hieroglyphics and papyri guiding the pharaoh through the afterlife journey. What came to be known as “The Book of the Dead”.

    In Saqqara you will encounter the pyramid of Teti, the one pyramid which we visited inside. Through a small and long tunnel you will reach two burial chambers, where the roof is covered with carving of stars and the walls of hieroglyphs; look for the cartouche of Teti XXX. In the main chamber you will be awed by the size of the sarcophagus around which the whole pyramid was built, cause there would be no way of making it fit through the small corridors.

    Just out of the pyramid, the real jewel is the mastabah of Teti’s prime minister and brother-in-law. The inferior part of the wall was covered thought the years by sand and it’s just perfectly preserved. As you walk through the chambers, various altrelief depict scenes of everyday life, hunting scenes, and some colors are also preserved.

    Day 2 - The Egyptian Museum

    The Egyptian Museum was first meant to rise on the West Bank of the Nile, but the French who were leading the project soon realized it was too dump and they started to build it in 1897 on the East Bank instead. The facade is strongly pink, with statues of Isis wearing greek tunics and the latin names of the Egyptian dynasties. Lotus and papyrus plants (symbols of Lower and Upper Egypt) decorate the garden. 

    The lower floor is mainly dedicated to the three Kingdoms and the upper floor to the Tutankhamun collection. The first feeling when you walk inside is that someone is moving out, boxes on the sides of the rooms, walls half painted, tape and scaffolds, and plastic sheets over some of the antiquities. Fortunately the new museum (over which 1 billion dollars was spent, with donations from all over the world -300 millions from Japan-) seems to be almost ready to open and host the entire collection by the end of 2020.

    In front of the entrance on the right hand side there is a copy of the Rosetta stone (the original is at the British Museum). It dates to the era of Ptholomeus V and reports the same thing in hieroglyphic, demotic and ancient greek. Thanks to this a French linguistic by the name of Champollion was able to interpret hieroglyphics for the first time.

    On the left corridor you will encounter artifacts of the pharaohs who commissioned the pyramids from our Day 1 visit: Djozer (the most ancient statue of the museum dating 2700 BC, his right hand closed on the chest to symbolize power and the left resting on the leg in a sign of peace) and Mykerinos (depicted in 3 steles with the horned goddess Hakkur and a second female figure representing one of the 42 provinces of Egypt, which started the belief that there were a total of 42). In the cases take a look at the small heads that were buried in the sarcophagus in case the mummy was destroyed, to allow the soul to find the right body at the time of resurrection. On the walls dozens of false doors catch your attention, those were found in the tombs and only the soul was able to pass through them. 

    At the end of the corridor turn right and then right again. This room hosts a few masterpieces. In the centre of the room, the durite bust of Chepren, with a falcon protecting his neck from behind. On the left one of the very few wooden statues (made of sycamore wood) representing a high priest. The eyes are the particularity: the white is made of quartz, and the eye is crystal with a nail in the centre to mimic the pupil. The same eyes are found in the limestone statue of a scribe in an adjacent case. Here the eyes outline is made of copper, that due to oxidation has acquired a green hue, making  it look like make up.

    Remember the smaller pyramid in Giza, behind Cheope’s, belonging to his mother? The alabaster sarcophagus, the canopis, the furnitures (bed, chairs, walking throne) that were found in the shaft next to her pyramid are all displayed in the next room. Here a case displays a tiny ivory statue, the only remaining image of Cheope. Cheope’s brother and his wife are depicted in two statues with amazing colors: note how the skin coloration of the men is always darker compared to the females’ (who were rarely under the sun). Cheope’s brother was the general of the army, so both his fists are clenched. 

    Out of this room begins the Middle Kingdom. Here the sarcophaguses are inlaid with sacred hieroglyphics inside since pyramids were no longer being built. The Middle Kingdom only lasted 2 Dynasties before the Hittites occupied the country for 200 years. This long period of occupation is reflected in the sphynx that you see along the corridor with the face of a lion, far from the Egyptian style. But look closer and you will see between her paws a cartouche: once the Egyptians took their reign back, they carved all the Hittites statues.

    Cairo Egyptian Museum

    Once the Hittites were chased, the New Kingdom started, the pharaohs were now identified as gods. Art changed, with carved faces on sarcophaguses, statues with longer and curved false beards, as you can see in Hatshepsut’s bust. But, wait! Hatshepsut is a woman, how can a woman be pharaoh? Hatshepsut was the royal daughter of King Tuthmosis I. She married her half brother and together they had Tuthmosis III, future heir of the throne. After her husband died, since her son was too young to rule, she proclaimed herself pharaoh and kept the power even when Tuthmosis III reached the adult age. According to testimonies she had a strong personality and was a great ruler, exploring Africa and being depicted with the darker skin of a man. Around the bust you will see some statues of her and a sphynx with her appearance, none of those carry her cartouche since her son after her death removed all of them as a sign of contempt for the mother who stole his throne.

    Continue along the corridor and on your left a room is dedicated to Amenophis. With the New Kingdom, Luxor became the capital and its protecting local god, Amon, started being identified with the sun thus becoming Amon Ra. During the Eighteen Dynasty, King Amenophis III started professing the existence of a single god, Atten god of the solar disc. He forbade the worshipping of any other god, closed all temples and made himself intermediary between the people and the god, taking the name of Akhenaten. This was the first ever attempt to a monotheistic religion. Two important facts can shed more light to this religious change. The arrival of Joseph into Egypt according to the Bible dates around this period. Secondly, the parents-in-law of Amenophis III (whose wife was Nefertiti) carried very non-Egyptian names, Yuya and Tuyah, with a strong jew influence. In any case who was very unhappy with this monotheistic religion were the priest who fomented the crowds and overthrew the pharaoh, making his young son Tutankhamun king. In the room dedicated to Amenophis III the cartouche is missing from all the statues, removed by the priest to condemn him from eternity (the soul was not able to find its body without it). Amenophis III revolutionized art, his statues are androgynous since the pharaoh as an intermediary to the god was bot male and female. He was one of the few pharaohs that allowed representations of scenes of everyday royal life with his wife, Nefertiti (whose beautiful face you will see in a casa on the left), and his son Tutankhamun.

    Now climb the stairs to the upper floor, admiring the long papyri with the book of the dead that accompany your ascent.

    The upper exhibition starts with the story of how Tutankhamum tomb was found. Tutankhamum was 9 when his reign started and 19 when he died. Compared to other pharaohs he definitely played a minor role in the history of ancient Egypt, but he came to be very famous in the modern world since his tomb was the only found intact (up to now).

    Carter, an english archeologist had been digging in the area for years and never found anything. The tomb of Tutankhamun was just next to the one of the one of Ranses IX and no one thought there could be another one in the vicinity. For this reason the tents of the workers and the other archeologists were laid on top of the site where the tomb was buried by layers of sand. It was discovered on the 4th of November 1922 by chance, a local child was playing in the area and tripped on a hidden step. The step lead to a corridor at the end of which a door was hiding around 5000 antiquities in perfect state.

    Amongst the treasures there were thrones, canopis, jars with essential oils, foldable beds, festival chair and a lot more. Interesting is to notice that two different cartouches appear engraved on his throne, one that translates into Tutankatten, his birth name (given to him by his dad Amenophis III to honor the only god Atten) and one that translates to Tutankamon, the name he took to please the priests. This may be one of the reasons why the high priests honored his death with so many gifts and gold. According to Carter’s photos and testimonies, in the main chamber two statues guarded a wall behind which laid the actual shrine of the pharaoh. The four huge gold shrines exhibited in the corridor, one slightly bigger than the other, were arranged as a matryoshka and in the smaller one (guarded by statues of deities) the mummy was kept into three sarcophagus. 

    The external sarcophagus is in Luxor, the middle on in gilded wood is kept in a smaller room on the right side together with the innermost gold sarcophagus and the burial mask of Tutakhamun. The mummy is at the museum in Luxor. What the historians wonder is, if there was so much gold and treasures in the tomb of a pharaoh that barely ruled for 10 years without leading any war, conquering anything, what was there in the burial chambers of the more important pharaohs?

    One exhibition that we really enjoyed was the room dedicated to the animal mummies. Animals were mummified for three main reasons: to be buried with the pets you were attached to during your life; as food readily available inside the tomb at the moment of resurrection; and as votive animals inside temples. All sorts of animals can be found there, from crocodiles, to baboons, cats, dogs and a huge fish as well.

    In the two rooms at the two opposite ends of the first floor there is the royal mummies exhibit. A separate ticket has to be purchased to see them, but it’s definitely worth the price. Here you will find the mummy of Ramses II (look at his nails and hair perfectly preserved), of Hatshepsut, of Thutmosis, of pharaohs who died in the battle and got their skulls crashed. The skin is black due to the preserving fluid they employed. It’s nice, in a way, to finally be able to put a “face” to all these stories (pardon the black humor).

    Always on the upper floor, a wing is dedicated to the treasures of the tombs of Yuya and Tuhya, the parents of Nefertiti. Their richness is manifested in the gilded artifacts and in the beauty of their sarcophaguses, with their mummies inside in pristine conditions. In the smaller, adjacent room an exhibition of utensils (from combs to spires, from tweezers to arc, from agricultural tools to mirrors, from dices to carving tools) will allow you to understand how the Egyptians were living their everyday life and conquered so much with so little

    Day 3 - Old Cairo and the Citadel

    Today we made a jump forward in history. The ancient Egyptian Dynasties ended when Alexander the great conquered Egypt and the greek culture pervaded the country. During the Ptolemaic Kingdom, the Roman Empire expansion to Egypt was made famous by Cleopatra, her liaison with Julius Caesar and later with Marc Anthony that she followed to was against Octavianus Augustus, a war that was lost thus delivering Egypt to the Romans. At the time, the capital of Egypt was still Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander the Great, and the Romans built the first nucleus of Cairo which was a fortress named Babylon (900 ac). 

    While walking towards the stairs that will take you to the heart of Babylon, notice Cairo Metro line on your right. It was built where once a canal of the Nile river was running, a natural passage to the Red Sea (a sort of primitive Suez Canal) and made the commerce blooming in this area. This was the reason behind the Roman decision to build the fortress on this site as a protection for the traders.

    When, under Emperor Constantine, the Christian religion became the official religion of the Roman Empire and the persecution stopped, churches started to sprout in the fortress that today represents old Cairo. Helen, mother of Constantine, ordered the construction of numerous churches in this area. This site was considered particularly holy for the Christians because, according to the Bible, the Holy Family stalked by Herodes intent on killing the newborn king, seek shelter in a cave in this area for three months. On the site of the cave the Christian built the Cave Church, or Church of Saint Sergius. As the majority of the religious places that you will visit today, this church that dates III century has a basilica-style layout with three aisle separated by Corinthian columns. Differently from Catholic churches, coptic churches have icons all around their walls and an “iconostasis”, an ebony wooden wall that separates the transept from the main seating area and through which the worshipper takes the Eucharist. The “coptic” term through which Egyptian Christians are referred with, comes from the greek name Egyptos that the arabs that followed the Romans could not pronounce. Coptic Christians have their own cross with 4 arms, the trinity symbol at the end of each arm the cross of David in the center and symbol of Christian fishes between the arms. Coptic Christians also have their own language, derived from Greek with the addition of seven letters (this was an additional help to Champollion in deciphering hieroglyphics). 

     

    A ramp of stairs will take you to the Church crypt where you can admire the cave where according to tradition the Holy Family hide for 3 months and the well from which they drank. Here the first church was built in the I Century.

    Follow the road outside of the Cave Church and you will reach the Ben Ezra Synagogue, an old church that in the X century was sold to the Jew Ben Ezra to cover some of the Christians debts. Once again, the location is not casual: according to the tradition, the daughter of the pharaoh found the basket with baby Joseph inside just in the nearby canal. Nowadays the Synagogue is not being used due to the paucity of Jews in Egypt: it takes at least 10 man to preach a liturgy and there are less than 200 Jews in all Egypt. that has not always be the case, the population was over 200.000 before Israel was created, but the majority of them moved to the new country and the relationship between Israel and Egypt has never been too good. Egypt never supported the creation of Israel; in 1967 president Nasser was so aggressive against Israel that the Israeli retaliated by invading Sinai and keeping it until 1973, when the Egyptian army declared war to get the region back. A cease-fire from the United Nations brought the two countries to a peace treaty with which Israel gave Sinai back to Egypt as long as the region was kept a demilitarizing zone.

    Retrace your steps and walk the stairs up to the convent of Saint George, a greek orthodox church with 25 monks living inside. Next to the convent, the greek cemetery hosts the body of the previous orthodox pope who died in a plane crash. The convent is beautiful from the outside, but the inside was completely rebuilt inside after the fire of 1967; only the marble columns are original.

    Right after the convent, just by the side of the road on your left, stop to have a look at the remains of one of the turrets of the fortress. This will help you understand how the next church on the itinerary is a true rarity, the Hanging Church. You will immediately notice that the church is located on top of a ramp of stairs, elevated from the level of the street: this is because it has no fundaments, it was built using 2 adjacent turrets as support and bridging them with palm trunks. Once you reach the top of the stairs, the corridor to access the church displays on the right the photos of some of the 118 coptic popes and on the left of the King Farouk (last King of Egypt before the presidential republic in 1952), and the following presidents (Nasser and Mubarak among the most famous).

    The church is dedicated to Saint Mark; originally from Tunisia, Saint MarK started following Jesus as an apostle (this is why the Coptic religion is “apostolic” and has its own pope). According to tradition, the Last Supper was held in his house. After the Resurrection, Saint MarK went to Europe and only years later started preaching the Bible in Alexandria and the whole Egypt. Persecuted by the Romans, he was finally beheaded and his head was sent to Rome: only in 1967 it was brought back to Cairo where it is still kept inside the cathedral. Inside the church, some of the numerous icons represent Saint Mark; notice how is skin is dark, despite him coming from a land of fair-skinned people he was often depicted with a darker tan since his worshipper wished he was Egyptian. Next to his icon, in the right corner, you can find a Madonna of the XVIII century referred to as the “Egyptian Monna Lisa” due to her eyes following you. 

     

    Now raise your heads to the ceiling, it’s entirely made of wood and in the shape of a boat, symbol of salvation. The pulpit is made of 15 columns, one in front symbolizing Jesus, 12 for the apostles and 2 for Saint Mark and Saint Luc (evangelists). If you wish to better understand what lies beneath your feet, go to the room on your right hand side. Here you can appreciate looking through a glass floor the round shape of one of the two towers, the palm trunks and the lack of foundations. 

     

    The church is dedicated to Saint MarK; originally from Tunisia, Saint MarK started following Jesus as an apostle (this is why the Coptic religion is “apostolic” and has its own pope). According to tradition, the Last Supper was held in his house. After the Resurrection, Saint MarK went to Europe and only years later started preaching the Bible in Alexandria and the whole Egypt. Persecuted by the Romans, he was finally beheaded and his head was sent to Rome: only in 1967 it was brought back to Cairo where it is still kept inside the cathedral. Inside the church, some of the numerous icons represent Saint Mark; notice how is skin is dark, despite him coming from a land of fair-skinned people he was often depicted with a darker tan since his worshipper wished he was Egyptian. Next to his icon, in the right corner, you can find a Madonna of the XVIII century referred to as the “Egyptian Monna Lisa” due to her eyes following you. Now raise your heads to the ceiling, it’s entirely made of wood and in the shape of a boat, symbol of salvation. The pulpit is made of 15 columns, one in front symbolizing Jesus, 12 for the apostles and 2 for Saint Mark and Saint Luc (evangelists). If you wish to better understand what lies beneath your feet, go to the room on your right hand side. Here you can appreciate looking through a glass floor the round shape of one of the two towers, the palm trunks and the lack of foundations. 

    The Arabs conquered Egypt in 641 ac, defeating the Romans. They were not used to living by the sea, so they changed the capital from Alexandria to Cairo, and built the first mosque right outside the Roman fortress that forms Old Cairo. Only the posterior section is original, the rest of the mosque has now been reconstructed since it was originally built in mud bricks that did not survive through the centuries. The following Arab dynasties started employing Christian architects that introduced them to the use of bricks.

    After getting Jerusalem back from the crusaders, Salah ad-Din conquered Egypt in the XII century and built at the edge of Cairo the Citadel to host his court. A little car ride will take you to this vast fortress on a plateau at the borders of Cairo. From the Citadel the Sultan’s slaves, the Memluk, rebelled in the XIII century and took control of the country keeping the power until the Ottomans defeated them in 1517. We did not visit the Citadel inside, but from the outside you can admire the Alabaster Mosque of Mohamed Ali. Built in the style of the Blue Mosque in Istambul, it was commissioned by Mehmet Ali, an Albanian serving in the Turkish army that in 1805 took the power and founded a royal dynasty that continued up to King Faruk in 1952. Inside the Citadel, Mehmet built a royal palace that was used by his successors up to his nephew that took the court to the royal palace in downtown Cairo.

  • Uncategorized

    Emirates Bio Farm

    Our start of 2020 was in a farm, but not any farm, the Emirates Bio Farm! I had put my eyes on it for quite a while, checked their website, their farm tours, their events. Unfortunately it’s not a quick drive from Abu Dhabi, so we kept postponing it forever. In the end we decided to book for the New Year brunch and tour! On the 1st of January we hit the road around 10, aiming to be there at 11.45, in time to sign up before our farm tour starting at 12. When you are almost there, the beautiful Omani mountains start appearing in front of you, then you reach the place and you can’t believe how much greenery there can be in the middle of the desert.

    It’s in fact the largest private organic farm in the UAE. It was established in 2016 on a 250,000 Sqm facility to continue the founding principles of advocating for environmental protection, health and well-being of all UAE residents – a guiding principle which they embrace from the teachings of sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE and an early champion of environmental protection.

    At 12 they took us on a half an hour tour on the tractors around the farm, they told us the story of the place, how they transformed the desert sand into soil where you can grow quinoa, lettuce, kale, carrots, beetroot, tomatoes, eggplants and a lot more. The irrigation system takes the water from 100 m below ground and takes it throughout the whole farm. The soil is a mixture of sand, compost and chicken poop (there are 15000 chicken on the farm, which produce 8000 eggs a day).

    The tour ends with a visit to the greenhouse, where with an ingenious mechanical system, the air is cooled down and even in the hot UAE summers they are able to grow plants.

     

    The buffet lunch was just amazing, with a huge variety of dishes, all made with the freshly grown vegetables from the farm. Before the drive back to Abu Dhabi we stayed a couple of hours reading in one of the greenhouses, slept a bit and head back home with a few veggies and plants.

    Conclusione

  • Sir Bani Yas

    Sir Bani Yas

     Sir Bani Yas is an  island about 150 miles southwest of the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi and it’s certainly not your standard stop in the desert. Not long ago, this 30-square-mile island—the biggest of eight Desert Islands just offshore—was abandoned. The Bani Yas tribe, who first moved here 7,000 years ago, left it for good at least a century ago. In the early 1970s, you could still see why. There were no trees or freshwater sources here; just craggy rocks and bare shorelines lapped by the waves of the Arabian Gulf. That’s when Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founder visited and made a bold plan. He’d transform it into a nature reserve to give sanctuary to endangered animals of the UAE, Africa, and beyond. Since the death of Sheikh Zayed in 2004, Sir Bani Yas has been transformed into a wildlife park. More than 350 km of original fencing has been torn down to create an ‘open range’ safari feel on the refurbished island. Some creatures, such as the spotted deer and the athletic sand gazelles, roam wild – hence the 50km/h speed limit on the single lane, paved road – while others, such as cheetahs, are contained in sprawling, expansive pens. You can almost mistake the scene of oryxes, gazelles, hyenas, jackals, and cheetahs for a Kenyan savanna. 

    A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Abu Dhabi via the E-11 highway will allow you to hop onto one of the four short, daily ferry rides (departing at noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.). We took the earliest, so as to be able to still make the most of the afternoon ahead of us. Three resorts dot different parts of the island. We had reserved Desert Islands, a bigger resort on the north shore of Sir Bani Yas, set up at Sheikh Zayed’s former vacation home. And indeed the Hotel has a decor of Arabian, Asian and African influence, apparently designed to look as if Sheikh Zayed himself decorated it with exotic artifacts from his travels.The ground floor room was spacious and comfortable, with a broad balcony overlooking the sprawling pool. 

    Once you reach the hotel, there are so many activities to choose from that you run the risk of forgetting about the beautiful sandy beaches of the island. 

    Whilst the beaches are beautiful and it’s great to spend some time relaxing, everything is geared more towards getting out and making the most of the landscape, whether on dry land or in the water. And there is something for everyone with history and culture tours (there’s an ancient Christian Monastery on the island dating back to 600AD), kayaking, diving, snorkelling, horse riding, archery, nature walks, wildlife drives and mountain biking among other. 

    After booking our 2 activities for the weekend, we spent a couple of hours at the beach which, despite the hotel pool heaving with overnighters, was absolutely deserted.

    We started our exploration of the island around 4:30 pm with a guided walk through a narrow, lunar-like wadi (valley or ravine). A wadi is technically a dried up river bed. The 90-minute walk rises slightly amidst the salt that in the century has risen from the depth of the island towards the surface, thus creating patterns of twisting rocks and shadowy crags that boast a rainbow of colors from the reddish hues of oxidized iron mixing with yellows from sulfur, purples from magnesium, green from copper and some sparkle from hematite on the red-rock floor.

    Although seemingly quite flat from the road, the landscape does boast some impressive rock formations and offers a completely different perspective from high up. The wadi is mostly made of salt and is therefore quite bare of vegetation. The crunching sound under your feet is the gypsum, the salt from which plaster is made of. Gypsum is white but it gets some color from the other neighboring minerals. We learnt from our guide that plaster differs from chalk in that the former can become solid again (as in plaster casts) while the latter does not have this ability.

    You’ll have no choice but to eat in the hotel while staying here – it is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Don’t fear though, because you’ll be spoilt for choice with the food on offer. You can choose from a huge breakfast buffet at The Palm all-day-dining restaurant where the friendly chefs will whip you up a made-to-order omelette. For dinner there are a few options. We did a catch buffet barbecue at Amwaj. Set right on the beach, a small walk from the hotel, its décor is pretty special with cosy, oversized chairs and sofas on the terrace creating a relaxed vibe that makes you feel a world away from Abu Dhabi.

    The Arabian Wildlife Park safari that we did early morning of our second day is the highlight of any visit. Up to half a dozen guests jump into an open-sided Land Cruiser to make leisurely 90-minute drives.  The windows are open and the roof lifts up so you can be sure to get close up and unobstructed views of whatever you may be lucky enough to see. While you are driving towards the gated areas of the park, it is difficult to imagine that in the beginning there were only 70 dates trees in the island while now there are over 2.5 million trees—like the umbrella thorn acacia, olive trees, apple and pear trees, or the gum tree that the eland antelope are so drawn to— planted by hand. The pipeline system to irrigate this vast area (mostly made of salt, do not forget about it) extends over 73,000 miles. In addition, the resorts plant a mangrove for every guest.

    Wildlife is literally everywhere on the island, and even before venturing behind the gates of the wildlife park we’d seen plenty of Sand Gazelles (the namesake of Abu Dhabi) and Arabian Hyrax to name only a couple. The Arabian Hyrax are actually the whole reason why Sheik Zayed created all this: they were a symbol of the gulf, nearly extinct 40 years ago, and now thanks to Sir Bani Yas no longer endangered. Behind the gates, this must be about as close as you can come to a safari outside of Africa, where 16 thousand of beasts of 27 different species now live, including Indian Black Bucks (the fastest one, at 87 km/h), Sand Gazelles (the most numerous), Barbary Sheep, Arabian Oryx (with their straight horns), peacocks (the blue ones are from India, the green ones from Burma) and Spotted Deers (those are antlers, not horns!). 

    After reaching the top of the mountain that stands at the center of the island (1040 ft), on the other side of the island we had a close-up encounter with reticulated giraffes. But the highlight of the safari was for certain getting to know the 3 cheetahs that roam the park (5 more will soon be coming). With an initial jump start of 7 meters, they can reach 120 km/h in 3 seconds and are really elegant and impressive felines. Two of them are brothers, Gabriel and Gibbs; you will easily recognize Gibbs from his limping. They are the perfect example of teamwork, with Gabriel running to catch the prey and Gibbs doing the killing. The third cheetah is Cuba, he lives by himself since he is not related to the other two and the Park wants to avoid fights among these endangered predators.

     

  • Bologna

    Bologna

    History

    The first settlements of Bologna date back to the first millennium BC, years in which it represented an important center for Etruscans and Celts. The two names of the city, Bologna and Felsina, originate respectively from the Celtic “Bona” (fortified center) and from the Etruscan “Fetzna”. The Romans dominated Bologna from 189 BC until the fall of the Empire. In 774 the city was conquered by Charlemagne who handed it over to the Pope. In 1115 it became a municipality, and in the XI-XII century its economy exploded thanks to the system of canals and the silk trade. In 1257 it was the first Italian municipality to promulgate the “Liber Paradisus” with which slavery was abolished, and slaves were bought with public money and freed.

    In the XIV century, internal struggles undermined the independence of the city which in a few decades was dominated by various noble families (Pepoli, Visconti, Bentivoglio) until it returned under Pope Julius II in 1506. In 1796 it was conquered by Napoleon who kept it until 1815, the year in which with the Congress of Vienna, the city returned to the Pope. Finally, in 1860, Bologna was annexed to the kingdom of Italy

    Tour of the city center

    Piazza Maggiore

    Start the tour from Piazza del Nettuno (1); in 1564 buildings were demolished to make room for this square, where one of the symbols of Bologna was erected. The statue of Neptune was commissioned by Pius IV as a symbol of papal primacy over the world, and the Flemish Jean de Boulogne (known as Giambologna) was hired to sculpt it. The statue represents the god of the sea, Neptune, surrounded by four cherubs that embrace dolphins, to represent the four largest rivers known at the time (Ganges, Nile, Amazon River and Danube). On the four sides of the tank there are four engravings in Latin that say: made to adorn the square, made for the use of the citizens, made with public money and the date of 1564. As the engravings say, in the past it was used by citizens to draw drinking water and to wash clothes. Giambologna wanted to make the genitals of the god bigger without being admonished by the Church: the thumb of the the left hand seen from a particular position appears to be the erect member.

    Piazza del Nettuno with Palazzo Re Enzo in the back
    Sala Borsa
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    The liberty-style inside Sala Borsa

    Behind you stands a Milanese-style building commissioned by the Visconti family as the headquarters of the city’s militias. In 1883, with the Kingdom of Italy, the Sala Borsa (2) was built to house the Bologna Stock Exchange (closed in 1903). The art nouveau interior hall had various functions (sports hall) and only since 2001 has it been the seat of the municipal library. It is worth a quick walk inside to see the Roman remains in the trapdoors on the floor.

    Back in Piazza del Nettuno, the building opposite Sala Borsa is Palazzo Re Enzo (3), built in 1245 as an extension of the Palazzo del Podesta’. It takes its name from being a prison of Enzo, son of Federico Barbarossa, for 23 years. It was apparently a pleasant imprisonment, as Enzo asked to be buried in the city. The vault by the side of the building was the site of the city hangings: the condemned were first blessed in the little church next to it, now deconsecrated.

    Between Palazzo Re Enzo and Palazzo del Podesta’ (4) there is a cross vault with the four patron saints of the city at its corners. If two of you stand at two opposite corners and whisper against the column you will be able to clearly hear the other person’s voice: it was a method used by the priests to confess the lepers

    Palazzo del Podesta'
    Palazzo d'Accursio

    From the vault, exit towards Piazza Maggiore (5)and turn around to admire the Palazzo del Podesta’ (4) under which you have just passed. The Arengo Tower is one of the largest suspended towers in Italy: its 5 tons bell was hoisted by Aristotele Fioravanti, architect of the Buda Castle in Budapest, and known for having moved the Templar tower in Bologna by 13 meters to look for gold hidden under it. The bell was ringing to call the Bolognese to gather in case of war, and in the last 100 years it tolled at the end of the Second World War and the fall of fascism.

    In front of you stands the Church of San Petronio (6), the largest in Bologna, and although unfinished one of the largest in Europe. It’s the largest gothic brick church in the world. It’s dedicated to Petronius, bishop of Bologna in the V century and sent to revive the city from the barbaric invasions. The church was begun in 1390, when Bologna already had a cathedral: the idea of its realization was not born in fact from the Church but for the will of the citizens. The architect Antonio di Vincenzo died 10 years after the workings began. This, together with obstacles from the pontifical prelate, interrupted the constructions for years. In 1514 a new project would have made it bigger than San Pietro in Rome, but it was never put in place. In 1530 Charles V was crowned as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire inside San Petronio.

    In 1562 Pope Pius IV decided to give priority to the construction of other surrounding buildings, and the works to complete the church were interrupted for good in 1563. The Church of San Petronio was consecrated only in 1954, and since 2000 has housed the relics of the Saint.

    Inside you can see the 4 crosses that for centuries and up to 1798 were outside the gates of the first city walls of Bologna, and which today are oriented as they were then. San Petronio is home to the largest sundial in the world, completed by Cassini in 1657 which measures 67 meters long, and even today misses the astronomical noon by a few seconds only.

    Santa Maria Labarum Coeli
    San Salvatore

    Stroll through Via D’Azeglio (7), turn into Piazza dei Celestini and reach the Church of Santa Maria Labarum Coeli (8), from 1700. Labarum Coeli has no Latin translation: the name comes from the fact that the area was frequented by a prostitute named Baroncella . As the Church could not take this name, it was Latinized. Since 2006 it has hosted the Copts of Bologna.

    Take a quick detour to admire the church of San Salvatore (9), very ancient and restored in the 1600s. Raise your gaze to the top of the façade: a large caliber bullet fired by the Austrians in 1849 from the hills of Bologna is clearly visible .

    From 1213 the Franciscans are in Bologna and begin the construction of the Basilica of San Francesco (10) which ends in less than 30 years. After the arrival of the French in 1796, the church was deconsecrated and emptied. The church also suffered major damage during the Second World War. The facade is Romanesque but the building is in French Gothic style.

    Outside the church of San Francesco there are three tombs of the “Glossatori” which preserve the remains of the first university professors of the Middle Ages; at the time the University was above all jurisprudence, and the “Glossatori” commented on Roman law texts with additions to the margins (glosses).

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    Glossatori Tomb

    Follow via Porta Nuova to return to Piazza Maggiore. In front of you, on the last side of the square that remains to be explored, opens up the Archiginnasio (11). It was finished in 1563 in order to give a home to the University (lessons were first held in public places) which remained there until 1803. Walking along the Pavaglione portico (which takes its name from “papillon” because here were hanging the silkworms) you will reach the door of the municipal library of the Archiginnasio, founded in 1838. 

    Palazzo dei Banchi and the Portico del Pavaglione
    The inside of Archiginnasio

    Entering the courtyard there are more than 6000 student coats of arms and inscriptions of the professors representing the largest heraldic mural complex in the world. Climb up to the first floor to visit the anatomical theater of 1637. Constructed of fir wood, it has a chair on the right from which the professor read the anatomy books, dominated by a canopy supported by the statues of the skinned, and under it a stand from which the assistant indicated the body parts on the corpse the barber was dissecting on the marble table in the center.

    The anatomical theater
    The Archiginnasio library

    Out of the theater turn left under the portico and continue to the church of San Domenico (12). In 1218 the Dominicans arrived in Bologna and in 1240 completed the construction of the Basilica and the convent, inside which the remains of San Domenico (who died in Bologna in 1211) are preserved. In the square in front of the church there are two more tombs of the glossatori , the first medieval university professors.

    The Quadrilatero

    Return to the Pavaglione porch and turn right this time into Via Clavature (13). You are entering the true heart of ancient Bologna, where every street takes its name from the trades that were practiced there. Along Via Clavature, on the left side, is the Church of Santa Maria della Vita (14), founded in the 13th century by the flagellar brotherhood. This religious order was dedicated to welfare activity and in 1287 transformed the Church into the first hospital in Bologna. The hospital occupied the entire building between the Pavaglione and the Church, but when the numbers became excessive the first triage was created, and the patients who were too serious were sent to the portico in front of the church, called the Porch of Death (1347). 

    Santa Maria della Vita

    Enter the Church to admire the Compianto of the Dead Christ of Niccolo dell’Arca (second half of the 400).

    Continue your walk in the quadrilatero immersing yourself in the ancient craft and commercial traditions: home to barbers, goldsmiths, fishermen, furriers, blacksmiths, to each of whom one of the streets is named.

    Exit the quadrilatero in via degli Orefici and turn right to get to Palazzo della Mercanzia (15). In 1382 the Municipality established the seat of the Foro dei Mercanti in this palace built by the same architect as the Church of San Petronio: once the work was completed, the merchant court was established. Today it sacredly preserve the original recipes of the filling of tortellini, Bolognese ragu’, “certosino”, green lasagna, as well as the size of the real tagliatella (8 mm wide, or the 12270th part of the Torre degli Asinelli, and thick from 6 to 8 tenths of a mm). On the façade of the building that gives on Via Castiglione a plaque from the XV century lists the privileges of the students: to them the municipality paid for books, food and clothing.

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    Piazza Santo Stefano

    From right to left, Chiesa del Crocefisso, Chiesa del Sepolcro and Chiesa dei SS Vitale e Agricola. In the back, the Chiesa della Trinita'

    The walk in Piazza Santo Stefano (16) will let you experience with your feet what the ancient Bolognesi were feeling everyday while walking the strees of the city: the pavement is still made of ancient pebbles. Admire in front of you the beautiful Basilica of Santo Stefano (or delle Sette Chiese, the Seven Churches), a complex of very old churches. The church from which you enter is the Chiesa del Crocefisso, of Lombard origin from the eighth century; in the crypt one of the columns is said to be of the same height as Jesus (1.70 m, very high for the time). At the bottom of the crypt two urns hold the remains of the Saints Vitale and Agricola. The church that is immediately on the left is the Church of the Sepulcher, dating back to the 5th century and built by Petronius as a simulacrum of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. The hexagonal plan of the church and the numerous pillars suggest that it was built on a temple of Isis. Inside, a shrine contained the relics of the Saint Petronio that the faithful could worship the week after Easter by kneeling through a small door (from 2000 the relics are in San Petronio). 

    In the past, Bolognese prostitutes went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Easter morning to recite a prayer to Mary Magdalene, a prayer that was never revealed. Look among the columns for the one in black marble, symbol of the flagellation of Jesus: touching it would seem to guarantee 200 years of indulgence in the afterlife. The last basilica on the left is the Church of the Saints Vitale and Agricola, the oldest of the complex and dedicated to the first two martyrs of Bologna, victims of Diocletian’s persecution. The basilica already existed in 393, as suggested by the Roman floor. From the last Basilica exit on the Pilate Courtyard: the distance between this point and San Giovanni in Monte (the only natural hill in the vicinity) is the same existing between the Holy Sepulcher and the Calvary in Jerusalem. The small Church of the Trinity at the end of the courtyard had to have a different shape but it was rebuilt in 1800. Since the time of the Crusades there was a piece of the Holy Cross, later removed in 1950. Much more impressive, however, is the medieval cloister on the right, with capitals and tombstones bearing the names of the fallen Bolognesi of the Great Wars.

    The churches are therefore 4 and not 7, and none has the name of Santo Stefano …

    Just outside the basilica, under the portico on the right, take Corte Isolani (17) to reach Strada Maggiore. Under the wooden portico of Corte Isolani, look up and sharpen your eyes to find three arrows stuck in the wooden ceiling. There are three legends behind them: one of three assassins sent to kill an adulterous noblewoman who, at the sight of her beauty, hurled the arrows at the top; one of an armed conflict; and one that of a goliardic joke made in 1877 by students to the professor who was restoring the porch.

    The portico of Corte Isolani, with the three arrowns
    Torre degli Asinelli e Garisenda

    And now, towards the symbol of Bologna, the two hanging towers (18). They are located at the crossroads of the 5 streets that led to the 5 gates of the city in the year 1000. Despite the names (Torre degli Asinelli and Garisenda), it is not certain that precisely those two families built them.

    The Torre degli Asinelli is 97 meters high but from the thickness of the walls of the top floors it is believed that it was originally at least 20 meters higher. Built between 1109 and 1119, its summit was remade in the 1400s. It has a 2.2-meter overhang that makes it the highest hanging tower in Italy. In 1300 it became possession of the Municipality that turned it into a prison. The Visconti made it an observation point, adding a wooden walkway that connected it to the Garisenda. Over the years it has hosted television antennas and during the Second World War it was used to spot bombing and direct relief efforts.

    The Garisenda is 48 meters high and has an overhang of 3.2 meters. Initially it was 60 meters high but was cut off in 1351 for the collapse of the foundations. It is mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy, and a plaque recalls its verse: if someone leans back against the Tower on a cloudy day and looks up, the moving clouds give the sense that the Tower falls on you.

    The University neighbourhood

    Walk in via Zamboni (19) and you are in the heart of the university area of ​​Bologna. As you head towards Piazza Verdi, remember that the oldest University in the world went hand in hand with Goliardic associations. And at this point we cannot forget the “taproot” of the goliards. This taproot was originally located in the quadrilateral to prevent access to carriages, but became a meeting place for the Goliardia and a symbol for them. Due to the great rivalries with the other Italian universities, the taproot was repeatedly ripped off and stolen by rivals. When, for urban reasons, it was removed from the original site, the Goliardi raised a protest and occupied the town hall until they obtained the taproot back and carried it in procession and in great pomp in Via Zamboni, where it was walled to the ground (20). After innumerable damage caused by cars, it was restored by the municipality in the 1960s. The engraving on it reads SVQFO (Sacred and venerable order of the taproot).

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    Piazza Verdi is the heart of the university area. The walls you see behind you are a wreck of those of the second circle. Piazza Verdi hosts the Teatro Comunale (21). it is located in the place where the Bentivoglio Palace was standing until 1507, when it was destroyed by the popular fury. Initiated in 1756, it was the first theater built with public funds and rented by the municipality. Opened in 1763 (only second to the San Carlo in Naples, both La Scala and La Fenice are younger), it is a theater closely linked to Wagner: it was the first theater to host the Parsifal outside Germany. In 1931, the director Toscanini was invited to direct at the Comunale but refused to open the concert with the fascist hymn, and was slapped: since then he left Italy for 15 years.

    Retrace your steps and at the beginning of Via Zamboni on the left you will find the entrance to the Ghetto (22), founded in 1556 following a papal bull. There are 3 entrances to the Ghetto, this one in particular still has the hinges of the gate. Lose yourself in the lanes of the ghetto, enjoy the absence of cars and head towards via Marsala (23).

    The "Portici" of Bologna

    Bologna

    What is missing in the ghetto (the architecture was left to the Jewish community) and that you can find once you arrive in Via Marsala (23), are the “portici”. The famous Bolognese arcades were born in the Middle Ages as spontaneous projection of private buildings on public land. With the boom of the university new houses were needed: the citizens began to extend the beams of the floors of the first floor to the outside, supported first by wooden capitals and then masonry. In 1288 a ban of the municipality established that all the new houses should have a porch and that those already existing should build it, leaving the burden of maintenance to the owner but guaranteeing the use of the land to the municipality. The arcades had to be at least 2.66 meters high (7 Bolognese feet) and wide to allow the passage of a man on horseback. In the poorest areas, very often the measures were not respected. In Via Marsala you can admire the highest portico (of the Officers’ Club) and in front of it the oldest portico. Bologna also boasts the longest portico in the world, the portico of San Luca, with 666 arches and 3796 meters long, built between 1600 and 1700.

    The Canals of Bologna

    Keep walking towards Via Piella (24). From the river Reno and Savena (west / east) a water network was developed between the XII and XVI. From south to north, Bologna has a drop of about 40 meters. The canals Reno and Savena enter the city together with a stream, the Aposa. The Reno canal is divided into Canale del Cavaticcio (connected to a small hydroelectric power station since 1995) and Canale delle Moline which supplied 15 mills. The Canale delle Moline connects Bologna to Ferrara and flows into the Po, thus linking Bologna to Venice. All this means that until 1950 Bologna had a functioning port. The Bolognese canals served as a means of connection and transport, to regulate the waters of the Apennine rivers during seasonal flow, and to supply energy to the water mills. A series of locks (some attributed to Leonardo) are all that remains of the Bolognese navigable system active from the 12th to the 20th century, without which Bologna could not have developed its economy.

    The economic boom of the medieval Bologna was due to silk processing and trading. In 1272 silk processing was exclusive to the city of Lucca, but in that year its secrets were stolen and soon this industry flourished in Bologna. The Bolognesi implemented this industry with the invention of the “bolognese mill”, thanks to which Bologna became one of the most important European silk centers. The Bolognese fleet became notable, so much so as to defeat the Venetian fleet in 1271: the victory granted to the Bolognese favorable commercial duties. Silk was the leading commercial sector in Bologna for a long time and in 1500 40% of the population dealt with silk. In 1600, 119 silk mills were in operation in Bologna.

    Admire in Via Piella one of the few uncovered portions of the kilometers of canals that flow under Bologna.

    The Towers of Bologna

    From Via Piella retrace your steps to see two more of the Bologna towers. The towers of Bologna had a noble and military function, and between 1110 and 1200 there were about a hundred; today there are about 22 left. The towers gave luster to the family that built them, but they could also have offensive or defensive effects. “Tower-houses” were slightly different, lower but with a mainly residential function, less thick walls and more openings. During the 13th century many towers were either cut off, demolished, and some collapsed. The last tower was demolished in 1919. The foundations of the towers go down from 5 to 10 meters under the ground, the base is built with large blocks of selenite and then the tower rises with ever thinner walls. From 3 to 10 years were necessary to build 60 meters of tower.

    Reach the Torre Prendiparte (25) (also called Coronata), built in the second half of the 12th century and 59.5 meters high. At 50 meters from the ground there is a “crown” that reduces the thickness of the walls and lightens the tower. In 1700 it was a prison of the Church, various inscriptions of convicts remain including a “held captive for having impregnated two sisters”. A little further on is the Torre Azzoguidi (26), with its 61 meters of height, the second highest in Bologna, and severed as well.

    Take a right into Via Atabella and reach San Pietro (27), the true cathedral of Bologna. The first construction dates back to the X-XI century and measured 57 meters in length, but after a fire in 1141 it was completely rebuilt and enlarged in 1184. In light of the numerous basilicas that were being completed all over Bologna, the Church made a (vain) attempt to expand San Pietro and make it more majestic. The current version is from the 1700s, with a baroque facade. The bell tower represents the true jewel of the cathedral: it holds inside a smaller round early Christian bell tower. The largest bell weighs 33 quintals, and together with the other 3 they reach a total of 65 quintals: to ring them, 23 bell ringers are required.

    Finish your ride under the portico of Via Indipendenza and look up at the porch ceiling (28). You will notice three writings: “Panis vita”, “Canabis protectio” and “Vinum laetitia” (bread is life, hemp is protection, wine is joy). From 1330 until the second post-war period, the production of hemp with woven use was very widespread between Bologna and Ferrara.