The Eiffel Tower: Up Close and Personal

Everyone visiting Paris should explore the Eiffel Tower – at least once. Visit all three levels and experience the 1 IMG_0278 (2)historical panoramas of the city. But while a single exploration may satisfy the attraction of the tower itself, the views of the iconic structure must be savored from assorted locations throughout the city. But the finest unobstructed views are to be found nearby.

At any time of day, but especially at night, perhaps the best unobstructed views of the Eiffel Tower 1 Eiffel a_edited-1can be found beside the pool and fountains of the Palais de Chaillot, also known as the Palais du Trocadero. Located across the river Seine and less than 400 yards from the tower itself, the first Palais on the hill here was built for the 1878 World’s Fair. That structure was rebuilt for the World’s Fair in 1937 and now presents two curved wings separated by a central esplanade.

Between the Palais and the river are some 30 acres of beautiful gardens and 1 Paris Oct 2005 008park areas highlighted by the long, rectangular central pool and fountains. Especially at night, the lighted fountains are spectacular as is the remarkable view of the nearby tower.

On the opposite side of the Eiffel Tower from the Chaillot fountains is the long stretch of grass known as the Champ de Mars offering the next best unobstructed view of the tower. In the 16th and 17th centuries this was a park and garden area but by the 18th century it had become a training ground for the cadets attending the École Militaire, or Military School, located at the end of the long grassy area. At that time the field was 1 IMG_0275 (2)enclosed by a fence and accommodated military training exercises involving as many as 10,000 men at a time.

From its original size of more than 100 acres, size of the field was reduced several times to accommodate World Fairs and Expositions until it reached its current size of about 60 acres. One of these fairs was the Universal Exposition of 1889 which included the construction of the Eiffel Tower itself. The park now stretches more than one-half mile from the river to the Military Academy with a width of some 300 yards. In addition to the lush grassy center of the park you’ll find garden areas with shrubs and flowerbeds.

While the areas close to the Military School and next to the Trocadero Eiffel 1fountains offer the best unobstructed views of the Eiffel Tower, some of my favorite views are from the small parks immediately adjacent to each side of the tower itself.

Here you’ll find wonderful trees and ponds along often quiet meandering footpaths lined with benches and lampposts. Depending on the season and Eiffel 3the time of day, these parks can seem almost intimate while offering intriguing yet seldom seen angles of this quintessential Paris landmark.

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Beauty & History along the Normandy Coast

The 4th of July holiday that we celebrate in the U.S. reminds us of the freedoms we enjoy today. But it’s also an opportunity to honor the many human sacrifices that have been made to create, ensure and maintain those freedoms and liberties. And while the day is observed only in the U.S. it should also be a reminder of the many American lives that have been sacrificed around the world in order to protect not only our own freedom but also the freedom and liberty of our friends and allies.

And of the many places where those American sacrifices are honored, none is more Pointe du Hoc 2beautiful to me than the simple monument dedicated to the 2nd and 5th Army Ranger Battalions that scaled the 100-foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc overlooking and threatening the landing zones along the Omaha and Utah sectors of the Normandy beaches in France near the end of World War II.

If you’re spending time in France this year I’d strongly Pointe du Hoc 5recommend that you take the opportunity to visit not only the memorial at Pointe du Hoc but also the nearby Normandy beaches where the amphibious assault was centered and the beautiful and moving Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial nearby, covering some 72 acres and containing the remains of almost 10,000 American military casualties.

The Normandy beaches can be reached by train from Paris in only about two hours, so a long day trip is not out of the question. But there is so much history and beauty to see along the coast here that a stay of two or three days or more would not be wasted. Among your opportunities here are:

• The town of Bayeux is a central part of the coastline here (only about 30 minutes from the Normandy beaches) and a good spot to stay for touring the cost area. Bayeux itself offers the magnificent tapestry museum (Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux), the British War Cemetery, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Museum of the Battle of Normandy.
• A walk along Omaha and Utah beaches, a trip to the Pointe du Hoc memorial and a stroll through the beautiful cemetery are definitely my personal favorite Normandy experiences.
• An easy day trip (45 minutes) west of Bayeux is lovely Sainte-Mere-Eglise where you can visit the incredible Airborne Museum as well as the beautiful Sainte-Mere-Eglise Church.
• An easy day trip (1½ hours) southwest of Bayeux is the unique town of Mont-Saint-Michel, with its beautiful Abbey, its impressive defensive walls and the highest tides in Europe.
• An easy trip (1½ hours) east of Bayeux is the town of Rouen with its huge Cathedral (so beautiful that Claude Monet chose to paint it more than 30 times) and a wonderful old town with cobbled streets winding between old houses, churches and cathedrals.

Mont_Saint-Michel by PlineThe Normandy coastline is packed with countless beautiful vistas and historical locations that will create unforgettable memories whether you choose to spend a week or just a day exploring what is one of France’s most impressive regions.

Photo By Pline

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Paris After Dark

Paris is known around the world as the City of Lights, or La Ville Lumiere, but the origin or true meaning of this moniker is a matter of some debate. It’s understandable that many assign this description to the fact that beginning at least by the 18th century the city attained a well-earned reputation as a center of enlightenment in fields of philosophy, academia, social structuring and political discussion. As a result, by the middle of the 19th century Paris was widely recognized as one of the most progressive and inspiring cities in the world.

But while recognizing this historical importance of the city as a guiding light for many human endeavors, I must tell you that after many visits I consider the “City of Light” description as an inadequate but well-intentioned description of the city’s enduring nighttime beauty. Champs Elyesse

While daytime sights and scenes abound, if you have visited Paris without exploring the city at night, you have made a serious mistake. Of course a few of the city’s most renowned locations do attract large crowds at night, perhaps most notably the Eiffel Tower. Actually, as outlined in David Downie’s inspiring book “PARIS, paris: Journey Into the City of Light”, this famous landmark deserves a great deal of credit for the widespread use of the city’s endearing title.

Upon its inauguration in 1889 as the world’s tallest structure, the Tower was lighted by some 10,000 gas lamps and featured two powerful searchlights that panned the surrounding city with bright light. Today, that historic gaslight image is replicated with hundreds of small sodium lamps. Eiffel StreetBut now, every evening on the hour, the tower also sparkles to life with some 10,000 light bulbs covering the entire structure.

While this may be the most visible light show in the Paris night, it is only one small act of a much larger performance. Many other major monuments deserve a nighttime visit, including the Pantheon, Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur, the Dome at Les Invalides, the Palais Garnier opera house and the Arc du Triomphe. But don’t limit your after-dark excursions to monuments only. Fountains, gardens, bridges and even neighborhood streets and their squares make equally tantalizing evening choices.

And some of the city’s best nightly views combine more than just one of these intoxicating elements. As an example, for one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower, cross over the Seine Arc 2to the nearby Trocadero where you can add the beauty of its lighted fountains to an outstanding view of the tower. Or add to the glory of a well-lit Arc du Triomphe by climbing to its viewing platform to experience a panoramic vista that includes the glittering and not-too-distant Eiffel Tower and the endless lights of the famous Champs-Elysees stretching out below you.

And at the busy Place de la Concorde you can admire the square’s two glorious fountains and the nearby Madeleine Church while standing beneath the lighted 3,000 year old Luxor AcademyObelisk. Or stand on my favorite bridge, the pedestrian Pont des Arts, and admire the lights of the stately Institute of France building, the Louvre Museum, the tip of the Ile de la Cite and the historic Pont Neuf bridge.

But an evening enjoying the lights of Paris is not about any particular destination; it’s about the journey itself. Just wander along some of the great boulevards or through some of the quaint neighborhoods at your leisure. While there are countless options, one of my favorite nighttime walks is to take the one-mile stroll along historic Rue de Rivoli from the Louvre, past the Tour St. Jacques and then, as Rue de Rivoli becomes Rue St. Antoine, through the Marais district and to the Place de la Bastille.

Regardless of the time of year (but especially during the Christmas season) Coupeone of my favorite Paris experiences is an evening stroll. Give it a try and I think you’ll find that the different look and feel of Paris at night will become one of your favorite memories of this remarkable city.

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A Loire Valley Castle – and Much More

France’s Château de Chenonceaux is one of the most popular castles in the be1 Chenceauautiful Loire Valley. In fact, it is often listed as the second most visited castle in the country, behind only the Palace of Versailles.

Built in the 16th century this unique structure spans the River Cher near the quaint village of Chenonceau. But, although the castle is spectacular on its own, a visit here should include much more than just the chateau itself.

1 Entry ChenceauThe unforgettable journey to the chateau begins with a long stroll down the magnificent entry road sheltered by towering trees.

But the experience gets even better if you take advantJan 05 086age of the opportunity to stroll through not just the formal gardens adjacent to the castle but also through other gardens surrounding the chateau.

Don’t miss the Garden of Diane de Poitiers with its raised terraces located just upstream from the castle, on the right bank of the river. Here you’ll find over 100,000 flowering plants as well as a variety of trees and shrubs with strawberry plants and violets bordering the paths throughout the area.

This is only one of several gardens at the estate, including Catherine’s Garden, the Green Garden and the Vegetable Garden. And don’t forget the restored 16th century farm and farmhouse that feature thJan 05 114e Jardin des Fleurs where all of the flowers displayed in the castle are grown.

Add visits to the Circular Maze and the Bouquet Factory and you’ll quickly learn that the castle is only one part of a great experience. But while the castle, its gardens and grounds are unique and incredible, my ultimate visit there includes spending at least some time, and better yet a night, in the small village of Chenonceau itself.

If you’re already in Paris, you’ll be happy to know that the small town of Chenonceaux is only a pleasant two-hour train ride away. And while this is definitely close enough to warrant a long day trip, why waste the chance to spend the night? Located just a short walk from the train stop, the quaint village itself (2007 population:351) offers no “touristy” temptations, which means you won’t be lost in a crowd.

On the opposite side of the railway crossing from the castle, the village does offer a Tourist Office where you can get maps, directions and recommendations. Just continue along the roadway leading away from the castle and across the rails for about 200 yards and then turn right on the next road. The Tourist Office is on your immediate right. But there’s more to do along this road so don’t stop just stop there. Several small and unique shops, including a terrific pottery shop, are located farther along the road.

And to find the best place to stay, continue to the end of the block and on your left you’ll find the ivy-covered walls of the Auberge du Bon Laboureur Jan 05 098( This magnificent “hotel” occupies a restored 18th century postal relay house as well as its grounds, wonderful garden and several ivy-covered village houses. The guestrooms offer country decor and furnishings, but added modern conveniences include flat-screen televisions with satellite channels and free Wi-Fi.

This is not only the perfect place to sleep; it’s a great place to dine. The on-site restaurant offers traditional French cuisine featuring fresh produce from the hotel’s vegetable garden in either its fine dining room or on its more relaxing terrace. Or, if you’re tired and would prefer to stay in your hotel suite, they offer in-room service as well.

At the hotel, turn right to continue along the street there to enjoy more of the town. You’ll find more restaurants and shops along this street as well. When this street branches in less than 100 yards, take the branch to your right. Soon, on your left, you’ll see a small, quaint square with the town’s 12th century chapel.

This very small chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was restored in the 16th century 1 Chapelbut if you make your way around to the back of the chapel you’ll get a better view of its historic architecture. Continue a short distance along the road, past the chapel in the square, and you’ll find yourself back at the train station.

My strong advice: do not miss an opportunity to visit Château de Chenonceau, its grounds and gardens. And if you’re visiting Paris anyhow, take the time to ride the train and spend a relaxing night in the village of Chenonceau that’s only a 15-minute walk away from the castle.

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Escape from San Marco

Summer travel is in full swing throughout Europe now and, for the independent traveler, the age old problem has returned – how to avoid crowds while enjoying the journey.

And this problem is bigger in Venice than in most other European cities. Spread out over 117 small islands with narrow streets crossing over more than 400 bridges crossing some 150 canals, Venice has very little room to accommodate the more than 20 million tourists that visit the city each year.

Magnifying this problem is the fact that the vast majority of these visitors will go to see the top four attractions – St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Grand Canal and St. Mark’s Square. Conveniently, all four of these sites are located right at St. Mark’s Square. Unfortunately the results of this convenience are crowds that may leave you with something painfully close to claustrophobia.


Rather than making the San Marco district the center of your visit go instead to the more tranquil Dorsoduro district located just over the majestic Accademia Bridge. Here you’ll find the real Venice and with fewer tourists, great museums, terrific galleries, picturesque canals, unforgettable churches and affordable restaurants.Chiesa 3

Among the many art museums and galleries be sure to visit the acclaimed Gallery of the Accademia, an excellent museum with numerous works by Venetian greats including Bellini, Tintoretto and others. And nearby is a superb collection of modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection located in the former home of the wealthy American art collector with a wonderful terrace overlooking the Grand Canal.

The district also boasts one of the city’s best palazzo museums, known as Ca Rezzonico, whose interior has been dedicated to 18th century Venice. You’ll be able to experience what palace life was really like, from furniture and dinnerware to fantastic artwork, in this elegant palace.

The Dorsoduro is also stocked with magnificent churches, both small and large. In the large category is the Chiesa Santa Maria Salute which, while plain on the inside, offers a classic Venetian exterior with a spectacular view. And just past the church you’ll reach the eastern tip of the island with an even better view that includes the campanile across the canal in St. Mark’s Square.

But one my favorite churches is the small and unassuming San Sebastiano, the 16th century parish church of the renowned Venetian Renaissance painter Veronese. Although very plain on the outside, the interior of this hidden gem is awash in the works of the city’s great artist – from the sacristy and nave ceilings to the altar and walls.

These are just a few of the remarkable sites to see here. But the real beauty of staying in Dorsoduro, or at least spending an extended period of time here, is the ability to take leisurely strolls through the peaceful old streets and canal-side promenades of the district without battling hoards of tourists.

The main walking route for locals and tourists alike is the street Zattere. Originally built in the early 16th century this stroll provides views across to the nearby island La Giudecca and its majestic Redentore Church. You’ll also find a wide array of excellent food and drink options along Zattere as well as on many side streets.

Bottom line: for the ultimate visit to the real Venice – away from the crowds but packed with art, history and unforgettable churches, galleries and views – concentrate on the Dorsoduro district.

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A Gaudi Feast in Barcelona

A trip to Barcelona would not be complete without a visit to some of the works of one of its most celebrated resident, Antonio Gaudi. Prior to his death in 1926 after being hit by a street car, the renowned artist created a legacy of impressive architectural gems spread throughout the city. Seven of his buildings have been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, and to view just a few of these is indeed a feast for the senses.

What I consider to be only an appetizer for this feast is considered by many to be the ultimate achievement by the architect. If ever completed, the Sagrada Familia is projected to be the tallest church in the world. Begun in 1886, this controversial basilica attracts some three million visitors each year. But, while the vision is Gaudi’s, over the last 90 years since the artist was buried here a variety of different architects have strived to enhance and finalize that vision. The result, although a stunning and unique architectural feat, seems to me to be a bit haphazard, disjointed and overcrowded.

My next course in this Gaudi feast is the Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera, or stone quarry. Built for the Mila family in 1906 along my favorite street in Barcelona, the exquisite Passeig de Gracias, features a rolling façade, beautiful iron balconies and large windows. The tour here usually includes an apartment with furnishings as well as the lobby, roof and attic. Although expensive, it’s worth taking the tour here if only to see the spectacular roof.

I would choose another of Gaudi’s World Heritage sites as my entrée – the magnificent Guell Palace. The lavishness of this home can be found everywhere – from the coffered ceilings to the stained glass and ivory inlays and the mosaic chimneys on the roof. This site, on a non-descript street just off Las Ramblas, is featured on our audio walk through Barcelona and the tour is well worth the rather costly fee. Do not miss this one!Gaudi-Batllo-0279ret

Finally, for dessert, I’d return to the wonderful Passeig de Gracias to visit the impressive Casa Batlló. The first thing that strikes you here is the incredible mosaic and tile work on the exterior walls. Inside, the central atrium and the uniqueness of the living spaces will leave you wanting to see more. And with the magnificent roof and stunning courtyard you will get your wish. This is also an expensive location to tour, but if you love beautiful architecture you will not regret spending your time and money here.

Gaudi fans will certainly note that I have not included one of the architect’s most renowned spots and one of the most visited in Barcelona, the Park Güell. Gaudi’s iconic mosaic bench and dragon are incredible, but the Monumental Zone portion of the park itself is comparatively small. I’d still highly recommend a visit here, but more for the overall beauty of the park itself and the amazing views of the city it offers.

Picture By Amadalvarez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Sites to See in Rome – The City’s Best Museum

From the Mammertine Prison that dates back to the 4th century BC, you’ve now walked up the 1st century “Stairs of Mourning” to reach the summit of the Capitoline Hill. For over two millennia this hill, like the forum below it, has been at the center of development and governance of the city of Rome. And today, it is the home of my favorite museum in the city – The Capitoline Museum.

This is perhaps the smallest of the “Seven Hills of Rome” and it was known as the Campidoglio, or “the capital” because of its importance to the city and its government. Today, the hill’s magnificent square is known simply as the “Piazza del Campidoglio”. Designed by Michelangelo early in the 16th century, the square now stands between the two buildings of what is perhaps Rome’s most prominent museum.

Equally beautiful is the architect’s grand staircase known as the “Cordonata”, referring to a sloped road composed of many sections. Although usually referred to as a “stairway” this sloped pathway eliminated actual steps so that horses and the carriages they might pull could make the journey from the bottom of the hill. Symbolically, it also connected the center of ancient Rome to the developing area of the new city below.

Three large building are located on Piazza del Campidoglio. The oldest is the Palazzo Senatorio or “Palace of the Senators”. This central building with its large fountain stands opposite the grand Cordonata stairway and overlooks the Forum itself. A fortress was first built at this site in the 11th century on top of an ancient building known as the “Tabularium” that housed the public records of ancient Rome. The current structure then served as the seat of the Roman Senate until 1870 when the City Hall and official seat of the Municipality of Rome began to occupy the building. (Before you leave the square, walk along the path leading past the right side of the palace and you’ll find a broad terrace overlooking the forum with a panoramic view that extends all the way to the coliseum. This is one of the most dramatic views of the area that you can find and a perfect place for a picture.)

Facing each other from across the square are the two magnificent buildings that make up the Capitoline Museum: the Palazzo dei Conservatori, or “Palace of the Conservators”, that dates to the Middle Ages and the Palazzo Nuovo, or “New Palace”, which was finished in 1654. Many of Rome’s most famous sculptures and artworks can be found in these two buildings.

Facing the Senate Palace, the building to your left is the Palazzo Nuovo, designed by Michelangelo but not completed finished until long after his death. Inside you can see mostly classical sculpture including the famous ‘Dying Gaul’, a Roman marble copy of a lost ancient Greek statue from the 3rd century BC. And one gallery holds the Capitoline Venus, another Roman copy of a 3rd-century BC Greek statue that was the symbol of feminine beauty for centuries. This building also offers the beautiful equestrian statue of Roma1024px-She-wolf_of_Romen Emperor Marcus Aurelius that was originally located at the center of the square until being moved for safety and replaced by a replica.

Directly across from the Palazzo Nuovo is the final building on the square: the Palazzo dei Conservatori. This palace housed the city government of Rome during the Middle Ages but it is now the second Capitoline Museum on the square. Inside, you’ll find a collection of sculpture and paintings including the famous statue of Lupa Capitoline, or “Capitoline Wolf” – the statue of a she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus that has become one of the best known symbols of Rome. (Picture by Rosemania ( There’s also Lo Spinario, or “Boy with Thorn”, a famous and often reproduced bronze statue of a boy removing a thorn from his foot. But my favorite exhibits in this building are the pieces that remain of the giant statue of Emperor Constantine the Second that was originally located in the Roman forum.

These surviving parts, like the ruins of many ancient statues, are mostly the head, hands, and feet of the statue. That’s because this statue, like so many ancient statues, was what is known as an “acrolith”, meaning that the head, hands and feet were made of marble while the rest of the statue was made from less expensive materials, usually wood. The wood was normally hidden by cloth so that only the marble parts of the statue were exposed and visible.

If you want to visit any museums in Rome, the Capitoline Museum is the one I’d highly recommend.

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Sites to See in Rome – The City’s Most Infamous Stairway

From the Mamertine prison that dates back to the 4th century BC you can walk about 100 yards to reach two of Rome’s most popular museums in a wonderful square that was created by Michelangelo in the 14th century. And you can make that short walk along the path of a stairway that was built in the first century AD and would soon become known as the city’s infamous “Stairs of Mourning”.

In Latin, the word for a prison is “carcer” and the street that passes the left side of the building that houses the Mamertine prison is the Via di San Pietro in Carcere, or “Street of Saint Peter in Prison”. Our English word “incarcerated”, meaning imprisoned, is derived from that Latin word “carcere”.

And this stairway that leads up from the prison to the top of the Capitoline Hill follows the ancient path of the Gemonian Stairs, known by the nickname “Stairs of Mourning”. Those Emperor_Tiberius_-_Royal_Ontario_Museum_-_DSC09793original stairs were built here around the beginning of the first century AD and often used as a place of execution in ancient Rome, especially under the reign of Emperor Tiberius.

At first the tradition was to just throw statues of disgraced public figures down the stairs where they would then be destroyed by the mob gathered there for the event. But as morality in the empire disintegrated the bodies of the offending officials themselves soon followed their statues down the stairs, often after having been tortured in the prison at the bottom. Perhaps the bloodiest day on the stairs occurred when the friends and political allies of a condemned Commander of the Praetorian Guard, the bodyguards assigned to protect the Emperor, were all massacred on the stairs under the orders of Emperor Vitellius,.

The condemned were usually strangled and then their bodies were thrown onto the stairs. But even the victims of executions carried out in other locations throughout the city were sometimes brought here to be put on public display. And the corpses were often left on open display to rot on the staircase in full view of the Forum where people would desecrate their bodies and wild dogs would feed on them. After a few days, the decaying bodies were finally removed and thrown into the Tiber River.

Death on the Gemonian Stairs was considered especially dishonorable but several senators were among the numbers executed here. And in the year 69 AD even Emperor Vitellius, who had himself condemned many to death on these stairs, was executed right here ending his reign as Emperor that lasted just eight months.

At the top of these stairs that represent one of the darkest eras in Roman history, you’ll find a shining example of what would become Rome’s brightest days in terms of art, sculpture and design – Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio and its Capitoline Museums.

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Sites to See in Rome – The City’s Most Infamous Prison

One of the most popular sites to visit in Rome is the Roman Forum, located immediately adjacent to the even more popular Coliseum. While it’s estimated that some 4 million visitors tour the coliseum, around 2.5 million make it over to the Forum. But the vast majority of those visitors are unaware of what I believe to be the most historically intriguing portion of that walk.

Starting next to the magnificent Arch of Septimius Severus, near the far western end of the Forum, climb the stairway leading up and away from the arch. At the top of the first set of stairs and around to your right you’ll find an overlook area with a spectacular view looking down on the Forum.

When you’re finished enjoying the view, look back at the tall white marble church adjacent to the stairway and you’ll see the word “Mamertinum” on the level below the church entrance. This is the church of San Guiseppe dei Falegnami, and it was built in the 16th century above what is perhaps Rome’s most infamous ancient prison. You can visit this remarkable prison through the entrance doors located directly under the Mamertinum inscription.Wiki 2 - attribution not required

It’s believed that this prison was used primarily for enemies of the state. Foreign military commanders who had been defeated were kept here until they could be paraded in a triumphant procession through the Forum and then strangled in public Most of the other political prisoners eventually died of starvation or were executed. Still other famous prisoners held here included martyrs and saints. In ancient Rome mere imprisonment, or incarceration, was not recognized as a punishment.

Go thought the entrance and on the street level you’ll find steps leading down to the upper level of the prison itself, which was actually at the ground level of ancient Rome. On the wall in this upper room of the prison you’ll see a plaque with the names of some of the more well-known prisoners that were held here. This list also includes information on when and how each of those prisoners died. Another plaque lists martyrs and saints who were held here as well as prominent visitors who came here on pilgrimage.

According to tradition, the list of prisoners that were held here includes Simon Peter of Cephas (a humble fisherman that we know as Saint Peter) and Saul of Tarsus (a modest tent maker that we know as Saint Paul). While there is no hard evidence supporting this traditional belief, that assertion has been widely accepted since at least the 5th century. Some believe that Paul may have been imprisoned here before his crucifixion and Peter before being beheaded, probably on Vatican Hill.

On this level you’ll also find a small round opening in the floor that is now covered with a grate. This hole was originally the only access to the lower level of the prison and it was through this hole that prisoners were thrown into the lower cell. Imagine the terror that must have overwhelmed those prisoners who were dropped through the hole into a dark, dank chamber below.

Fortunately, you won’t have to jump through the hole to see the lower chamber since narrow stone stairs now lead you down into the dark cell. This lower cell is about 7 meters or 23 feet in diameter with a height of only around 6 feet. It is known as the Tullianum, believed to have been named for Servius Tullius, the builder of this portion of the prison.

In this lower chamber you’ll find a small, red marble altar with a relief of Saint Peter performing a baptism. The cross on this altar is upside down, not to make it look satanic but in recognition of a prominent Christian belief that Peter was crucified in an upside-down position at his own request because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.

Some believe that the lower chamber may have originally been used as a cistern because of the fact that a small spring still rises below an opening in the floor near the altar. According to religious legend, Peter produced that spring in order to have water with healing properties which he could then use in baptizing his fellow prisoners.

It’s not known when the chamber here stopped being used as a prison but it was still operating until at least the late 4th century AD. After it became, and remains today, a pilgrimage site.

This is a small site with few specific objects to see. But for Christians, the religious implications of the events that transpired here some two thousand years ago are well worth the few minutes required to experience it. For others, the sheer impact of standing where such tragic yet important ancient activities occurred can be a memorable part of a visit to Rome.

Next in Rome, we’ll climb the city’s most infamous stairway.

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A Modern Jewel in Copenhagen

As our walk in Copenhagen demonstrates, this is one of northern Europe’s most beautiful and historically important cites. But while the most impressive sights to see in Copenhagen are historic, the city has not ignored its present and future vibrancy .

And one of the most impressive and enjoyable things to see in Copenhagen is the building that is commonly referred to as the Black Diamond, sitting beside the historic Slotsholmen waterfront. Starting from the beautiful walkway along the water at the entrance, the views are spectacular of the newer luxury structures lining the revitalized neighborhood on the opposite side of the canal. But here the historic beauty of Copenhagen is matched by the striking modern design of this much newer addition to the city.

Completed in 1999, the Black Diamond became one of the first of many cultural buildings now located along this enchanting waterfront stroll. Fulfilling its primary role as the home to the Royal Danish Library, this contemporary black-mirror walled buildingBlack Diamond Google 2 connects the old and the new of the city. Behind the new library structure, and connect by a broad elevated walkway, is the old library building that originally opened in 1906. This is Copenhagen’s main library and, including collections housed at four additional branches throughout the city, the Royal Danish Library holds virtually all known Danish printed works dating back to 1482. The genesis of the library was founded in 1648 by King Frederick III and opened to the public in 1793.                Google Earth Pro

But in addition to the library, the modern building offers the “Queens Hall”, an intimate concert hall that seats a maximum 600 patrons. With world-class acoustics, this is the perfect setting for jazz and chamber music concerts as well as assorted theatrical events. And if photography is of interest to you, you’ll also find the National Museum of Photography, a collection of more than 50,000 images dating back to 1839 but with an emphasis on photography during the 19th century.

Combine all of this with the bookshop, a nice café and a rooftop terrace and I think you’ll find the Black Diamond to be one of the most beautiful and entertaining sites to see in all of Copenhagen.

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