Underground chambers of the Colosseum

For the first time, visitors  will be able to visit the underground levels of the Colosseum in Rome.  These are the spaces, the “hypogea,” that held gladiators and animals that fought in the arena.

Construction of the giant amphitheater, similar to modern sports arenas, was begun around the year 70 in the reign of the emperor Vespasian.  The Colosseum, unlike earlier structures, is freestanding.  It seated around 50,000 spectators who were protected from the sun by a huge retractable awning.  It was the setting of thousands of contests, or combat, between gladiators or between animals and men, and even of mock naval battles.  Mobile platforms and elevators were used to haul, or catapult, the performers and scenery from the hypogea to the stage level. Spectators were forbidden from visiting this underground “backstage” area.

Over the centuries time, weather, vandalism and pollution have damaged the massive amphitheater.  Restoration of the entire structure has been ongoing for years, starting with cleaning and shoring up the facade.  Now, work to restore the underground area has been completed and the public will be able to explore parts of the corridors and chambers of the hypogea.

Roman ceremonial chariot found near Pompeii

Recent excavations in and around Pompeii have unearthed some exceptional finds and now researchers have announced the discovery of a ceremonial chariot found in a villa near stables where horses were uncovered two years ago.  The chariot is described as almost intact with iron elements and bronze and tin decorations.  It is believed that the chariot was used in parades or festivities and possibly marriage processions – given the erotic nature of some of those decorations.  This is the first such chariot to be found in Italy.  It is believed to have been so well-preserved because it was sheltered by a portico when the walls of the space it was in collapsed around it and was also spared damage by modern-day antiquities looters who had dug tunnels in the surrounding area.  The chariot is now undergoing a restoration and reconstruction process after its centuries buried in volcanic material.

Dante 700

Throughout 2021 there are expected to be events, shows and exhibits that commemorate the 700th anniversary of the year of Dante’s death.  Already, since 2019, “Dantedi'” has been celebrated on March 25th and again this year many programs are planned for this date.  During his life (1265-1321) Dante travelled to and lived in various Italian towns and cities, starting with his birthplace, Florence, and including Verona, Rome, Pisa, Forli’ and Ravenna. There will be commemorative events connected to Dante in these cities and throughout Italy.   Many of these will be online.  The Uffizi Galleries in Florence is currently hosting  a virtual exhibition in high definition of rarely seen illustrations by Federico Zuccari of the Divine Comedy.  This is the first time that a broad public is able to see the drawings (made between 1586 and 1588)  in their entirety and in such detail.  It’s a treat for art lovers and Dante fans!

Biscotti di Natale

The most familiar Italian sweets eaten during the Christmas season are panettone and pandoro, with the ongoing discussion about who prefers which one and whether or not panettone should have candied fruit peel in it or just raisins. Other confections that are eaten at this time of year are struffoli, zeppole, panforte, pan giallo and pan pepato.  I was interested in discovering biscotti that are typical of the season.  My family always bought ricciarelli for Christmas. They’re from Siena, originating in the fifteenth century, and are a diamond-shaped, dense, delicious type of almond macaroon.  Other biscotti recipes that I found are often based on ingredients that are usual for the festive season:  nuts, dried fruit, honey and spices. There are mostaccioli which, in the Neapolitan version, are made with chocolate, honey, almonds and a spice mixture called pisto. Also from the Campania region are roccoco’ cookies which are crispy, spicy (that pisto again) and doughnut-shaped.  Susumelle, from Calabria, are glazed cookies made with nuts, dried fruits and honey and lightly spiced with cinnamon or cloves. The Christmas dessert table often includes a croccante, a caramelized nut brittle, and wouldn’t be complete without torroni, hard and soft nougats.

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