Close Up | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

We just left the swing bridge of Taranto leading the group towards the Old Taranto, or Tarentum in Latin, the coastal city in the deepest south of Puglia, known for the Italian naval base and its commercial port. Taranto is also called the city of the two Seas, it looks over the Great Sea and the Little Sea. Walking through the ex-Spartan Colony, as Taranto was, we admire a number of old palazzi standing exactly as they did a thousand years ago, when the Byzantines rebuilt what the Saracens had leveled to the ground in 927 AD, several Greek temple ruins from the 6th century BC in Piazza Castello and a number of aristocratic 18th-century palazzi.

It’s about 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the streets of the old town are narrow and dark, there are sounds of voices coming out from stores, mostly men playing cards and drinking beer. Modern music coming from apartments compete with the many styles playing in a tangle of deafening sounds. It does not look like a historical part of town. I am thinking of the reason these Baroque palazzi with elaborate façades are not restored and made into places of interest to visit instead of being rented out to the public. I can only think of shortage of homes, or maybe people in Italy want to live in the new city and those who can’t afford to flee to the newer homes remain in the old part of the town. I have the impression there is not much to do in this town, in that I see young people leaning on the walls of cafés smoking cigarettes and watching tourists go by for hours.
This could not be the dolce vita….. However, I am taking the group to discover beauty, I am not here to criticize. So far, the group has seen nothing but beauty and everyone is very pleased.

We arrive at the St. Cataldo’s Cathedral. From the outside doesn’t appear to be much of anything and I hear the doors are alarmed when the cathedral is closed, usually in the middle of the day. What’s in here to protect? My curiosity is soon satisfied.

A world of beautiful Baroque architecture, Byzantine cupola, frescoes and intricate mosaic work open up to my eyes. The San Cataldo’s Cathedral is huge and overwhelming, it is called the Cappellone (big chapel) for this reason. From the outside I could not imagine all this beauty! The painting on the ceiling and frescoes on the walls painted in 1713 by Paolo de Matteis are colorful masterpieces. The back of the altar to the right side hides the most exquisite games of green and yellow marble mosaics mixed with white inlaid scrolls that skilled craftsmen of the past could ever create. This back area is poorly illuminated, or perhaps is kept in the dark to save on electricity. My photos don’t look so good and it’s OK, even though I would like to take home sharp photos, but the injustice is done to the mosaic work that is kept from showing off its splendor. Seeing it up close is a feast for the eyes.

The Cappellone was built in the 11th century and rebuilt during the course of the centuries in various architectural styles: Baroque façade, Norman bell tower, Byzantine Crypt, Greek columns of different eras and Romanic architecture. One man traveling with my group to Puglia likes to sing classical music in churches and castles. He tries a few notes of the Ave Maria of Schubert and realizes the acoustic in the Cappellone is great, then he continues encouraged by the acoustic. His soft voice carries out all the way to the front, which must have not gone very well with the church keeper who is infuriated at the impromptu performance and shuts off those few lights available in the back area, leaving us in a complete dark feeling a cold welcome.

Well, we have seen enough, we can go now. On the way to the new town we see a squad of Italian sailors in uniform…..some women in the group drool over them…. Italian men look good regardless of what they wear….but a delicious plate of mussel is waiting for us somewhere. Ciao,

This is my entry for this week wordpress photo challenge:


Copyright © 2015 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved


ValHatCelesteStampValentina will host one or two trips a year to Italy with the intention of showing Italy with the eyes of a designer born in those parts and let people experience the ”wheel of emotions” they don’t even know exist. She will take her groups to the non-commercial Italy, areas not beaten down by massive tourism. Valentina will guide the tours through art, architecture, fashion, food-wines, shopping and special adventures organized for people who want to live it up! Check out her books on


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