Selinunte, Sicily Italy,

Classical Greek city rising out from the sand.

The Ancient Greek Classical city of Selinous, modern day Selinunte is on the south-west coast of Sicily in the heart of the Mediterranean.

Immigrants from the Greek settlement of Megara Hyblaea (Sicily East Coast) founded Selinous in the 7th century BCE. They named it after the wild celery that once was abundant there. Selinous prosperity and prestige grew in the next few centuries following its foundation and become exceedingly affluent and glorious from exporting wine, cereals, olive oil and ceramic artefacts. 

Admired and envied throughout the Mediterranean, Selinous was a target for invaders. On a fateful day in 409BCE, 100,000 soldiers of the Carthaginian army attacked and almost destroyed the city. Of the 25,000 inhabitants, 16,000 were butchered, and another 7000 were enslaved. Any that survived escaped to the ancient Greek city of Akragas (Agrigento). 

Finally abandoned around 250BCE, the forces of nature then buried Selinous as windblown sand and earth covered the city.

A result of Selinous being mostly buried and forgotten was that the city was frozen in time, similar to the fate of Pompeii.

Palm trees ruins and blue sea. Selinunte. Sicily. Italy.
View of palm trees and the blue waters of the Mediterranean sea from the evocative ruins of the archeological site at Selinunte. Sicily. Italy.

Modern excavations have been revealing, and it is being regarded as the most complete preservation of an Ancient Greek classical city. 

Boosting several Doric Greek temples all identified by a letter, Selinunte archaeological park is the largest in Europe and one of its most beautifully located.

Two highlights being Temple E, which is one of the most complete Greek temples in the world and the massive ruins of unfinished 6th BCE Temple G, which would have been the fourth largest temple ever built in the ancient Greek world. 

Nearby Ancient Selinous is Cave di Cusa which was the ancient quarry used to provide masonry for the Temples. The quarry includes many abandoned colossal cylindrical drum blocks still waiting for two thousand years to be transported to the ancient city. 

Click to view the complete Selinunte image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Paestum, Italy.

Majestic Ancient Greek Temples.

Originally named Poseidonia, in honour of the Greek Sea God Poseidon, Paestum was founded in the 7th century BC by Ancient Greek colonists from the city of Sybaris which was situated in the current Gulf of Taranto in southern Italy.

Its location was chosen for its fresh water supply and rich fertile plain, ideal for agriculture. Its site also allowed for excellent land access through the Lucanian hills to the seaport. The city became wealthy enough to mint its own coins and became an important centre of Magna Graecia–Greek colonisation in Italy.

After a few hundred years, the city was occupied by the indigenous Lucanians and then by the Romans in the third century BC. Paestum succumbed to malaria after the fall of Rome and was eventually abandoned in the late 9th century.

Paestum was a must see by any traveller engaged in the famous Grand tour- 17th to early 19th-century.

For nearly 1000 years, Paestum and its grand majestic temples were overgrown by tangled vegetation and partially submerged in swampland until the mid-18th century, when the ancient site was rediscovered by road crews. 

The three ancient Greek Doric temples of Paestum (Hera, Hera II and Athena) are ranked amongst the best preserved Greek Temples in the world.

Paestum Italy.
Paestum. Campania. Italy. The cover panel mural painting from the Tomb of the Diver (Tomba del Tuffatore) from the Tempa del Prete necropolis. This panel, which was the tomb lid, shows a naked youth executing a prefect dive into a blue sea. The dive is thought to symbolize the passage from life to the death.

The museum house the extraordinary cycle of mural paintings from the 5th century BC Tomb of Diver, which are the only type of its kind in the world and are the only example of Greek wall painting with figured scenes from the Archaic, or Classical periods to survive in their entirety.

Paestum is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Click to view the complete Paestum image gallery

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Garden of Ninfa, Italy.

A triumphal synthesis of humanity’s imagination and nature’s richness 

The bewitching Garden of Ninfa (Giardini di Ninfa) is set amongst the ruins of a medieval town and is located 70 kilometres southeast from Rome in the territory of Cisterna di Latina within the central Italian region of Lazio.

Described by many as the most romantic garden in the world, the origins of Ninfa go back to Roman times and are immersed in myth. Tradition tells that Ninfa was named after a temple consecrated to the water divinities, nymphs, the locals believed occupied the natural springs and gentle flowing river that meanders through the verdant landscape. 

Prior to developing into a garden of rare beauty, Ninfa was a small town of strategic importance and political influence. From the 8th century, travellers traversed the route through Ninfa to get from Rome to Naples and when the Appian Way (Via Appian) was impossible to traverse because of flooding rains.

In 1159, Cardinal Rolando Bandinelli was consecrated at Ninfa as Pope Alexander III. He was inaugurated at the Church of Santa Maria, whose evocative remnants are visible today.

The distinguished Caetani family, who had ties with the papacy, took control of Ninfa in the 13th century, buying out local proprietors and titleholders.

During the papacy crises, known as the Great Schism (circa 1378), anti-pope factions razed Ninfa to the ground. Never to be rebuilt, the town lay deserted for several centuries, mainly because of the untamed growth of the nearby marshland, a breeding ground for malaria. 

I asked, amazed, what that most puzzling great garland of flowers, that mysterious green ring, could be. “Nympha, Nympha,” said our host. Nympha! then that is the Pompeii of the Middle Ages, buried in the marshes – that city of the dead, ghostly, silent. 

Ferdinand Gregorovius German Historian – when he first viewed Ninfa from the hilltop town of Norma in 1852

Garden of Ninfa. Lazio. Italy.
View of the serene waters of the Ninfa river and the Ponte Romano (Roman Bridge). Town on top of the hill is Norma. Garden of Ninfa. Lazio. Italy.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, members of the noble Caetani family, lovers of botany, created some foundations of the garden seen today.

The garden remained abandoned until the 19th century, when visionary members of the Caetani family rolled up their sleeves and began the arduous process of regeneration and restoration. The legacy of their energy, boldness and foresight endures today.

The garden, a botanical, wildlife and spiritual sanctuary, spreads over 8 hectares (20 acres). Abundant in faunae and native and exotic flora, the garden has over 10000 species of plants, 152 species of birds and a rich variety of fauna that inhabit the lake and river.

The leafy winding pathways are a softened with dappled light and burst with ethereal vistas. The paths unite all parts of the garden and gently pull you to explore the curious and ghostly ruins of the medieval towers, walls and churches, all of which are romantically cloaked with plants such as climbing roses, ivy and scented jasmine.

Several ornate bridges span the serene river named Ninfa, as it serenely drifts in its progress through the lush landscape. And the 12th-century castle and tower cast mirror like impressions on the small lake they border.

The garden of Ninfa is the visionary fusion of many generations of the Italian, English and American-born members of the family. A tour de force of man and nature, Ninfa is a beguiling union of humanity’s creativity and the grandeur and order of nature.

Note: Ferdinand Gregorovius was a German historian who specialized in the medieval history of Rome. He is best known for Wanderjahre in Italien (Years of Wandering in Italy), his account of his Italian travels in the 1850s.

Click to view the complete Ninfa image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Segesta, Sicily Italy.

Glorious Architectural Legacy of Ancient Greece

The archaeological park of Segesta is in the commune of Calatafimi-Segesta within the western province of Trapani on the island of Sicily, southern Italy. Ancient Segesta was one of the principal cities of the Sicilian indigenous people, called Elymians. 

The Elymians according to legend (and the Greek Historian and general Thucydides) were originally Trojans who fled the destruction by the Greeks of the ancient and famous city of Troy. Having found haven in Sicily, they merged with local peoples and become one. 

From the 8th century BCE, the Ancient Greeks colonised or influenced most of Sicily and Segesta was no different. The city adopted Greek culture, including architecture and temple building. 

Standing glorious in magnificent isolation on a low hill amid verdant country side and framed by mountains is the Greek Doric Temple of Segesta. 

One of the three orders designed by the Greeks was the Doric order. The other two were the Ionic order originating from the Ionian Greek city states from Asia Minor and the Corinthian order, named for the Greek city-state of Corinth. The Romans later adopted these orders.

One of the most magnificently sited classical monuments in the world, the temple was constructed between 42 and 16 BCE.

It was built to impress the ambassadors from Athens whom the Segestans were eager to win over to help protect them from their hostile Greek rival Selinous (modern day Selinunte). 

Ancient Greek Theatre. Segesta Sicily Italy.
Segesta. Sicily. Italy. View from the rear of the Greek Theatre, which stands on the highest part of the ancient city at about 400 metres on the cliffs of Mount Barbaro.

Believed to be the work of a great Athenian architect, the Doric order peripteral temple authentically follows the existing models of classical architecture of Greek cities in Sicily and comprises 36 limestone columns, arranged by 6 columns on the facade and 14 on the sides. 

The temple was abandoned before completion, possibly due to war and conflict. Incompletion is assumed because the columns are unfluted, the lifting bosses (knobs) have been left inserted in the structure and there is no evidence of a cella and roof being built. 

Nearby is the well preserved ancient Greek Theatre, which stands on the highest part of the ancient city at about 400 metres on the cliffs of Mount Barbaro. Dating from the second half of the 2nd century BCE, the theatre originally accommodated 4000 people and has a stunning backdrop overlooking the beautiful panorama of the Segesta territory which is dominated by Mount Inici. 

Click to view the complete Segesta image gallery.

All content, images and text are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome Italy.

Green lungs of Rome.

The Villa Borghese Gardens (80 hectares) is the third largest public park in Rome, Italy.

Originally, a private vineyard, the Park Garden was redesigned and enlarged in the early 17th century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V). It was further landscaped following an English-style gardens design in the 19th century.

The main building of the Villa is the 17th century Casino Nobile, which houses the Museo or Galleria Borghese. Designed by Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan Van Santen), the Villa was built to house the extensive collection of paintings, artwork, ancient statues and artefacts owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

Often referred to as the green lungs of Rome, the park, which is easily accessible from anywhere in Rome, features wide leafy shady lanes, landscaped gardens, several museums, neo classical temples, beautiful fountains and many monuments and statues.

Biking through park. Villa Borghese gardens. Rome. Italy.
Rome. Italy. People biking through the leafy lanes within the Villa Borghese Gardens, which is the largest public park in Rome.

It also has a scenic lake or lagoon that allows tourists and locals to hire boats and row in amongst the water fowl and around the imitation Ionic Temple of Aesculapius.

It’s a pleasure to walk or bike through its shaded pathways and observe Romans and visitors at play or relaxing and escape the hectic streets of Rome. Note: The Villa Doria Pamphili is the largest landscaped park in Rome and the Villa Ada is the second largest.

Click to view the complete Villa Borghese image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Villa d’Este, Tivoli Italy.

Garden of the High Renaissance.

The Villa d’Este is situated 30 kilometres east north of Rome in the lush, picturesque and historical hilltop town of Tivoli, in the Lazio region of Italy. 

Renowned for its spectacular use of water, the Villa d’Este represents the quintessence of the Italian garden of the late High Renaissance and has elements of the mannerist and baroque architectural styles.

Converted from a Benedictine monastery into a sumptuous palace around 1550, the much-copied Villa d’Este is a masterpiece of Italian Garden. 

Hundred Fountains. Villa d Este. Tivoli. Italy.
Villa d Este. Tivoli. Italy. View along the avenue of the hundred fountains or Le Cento Fontane at the Villa d’Este at the hill town of Tivoli. The wooded walkway is flanked on one side by over one hundred hand carved waterspouts jetting out cooling water into three overlaying canals.

The Villa d’Este is one of the most significant and complex examples of Renaissance water gardens in Europe.

Visually stimulating, spectacular and theatrical, the Villa d’Este has been a tremendous influence on European garden design.

Its grounds, which have varying elevations, are replete with greenery, sculpture and statuary and a myriad of imaginative fountains, grottoes and water features. 

Tivoli and the Villa d’Este is a very rewarding and relatively easy and relaxed day trip from Rome. Whenever I travel there, I usually take the train, which takes about 1 hour from Rome. 

The Villa d’Este is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Click to view the complete Villa d’Este gallery.

All text, images and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Caserta Italy

The 18th century Royal Palace or Reggia di Caserta is Italy’s most magnificent Palace and one of Europe’s grandest Royal residences and its immense park garden is one of the most dazzling in Europe. 

The Palace or Palazzo Reale was built at the behest of Charles III of Bourbon (who never ended up living there). Designed by Luigi Vanvitelli, southern Italy’s greatest architect, the construction of the Palace began in 1752 and completed in 1774. 

Palace and garden were to be the pride of the Bourbon monarchy and be so beautiful as to rival and even overshadow Versailles in France. 

The lavish and vast Baroque Palace comprises five storeys, 43 staircases, 1,790 windows and 1,200 rooms all arranged around four courtyards.

The royal park, also designed to rival the gardens of Versailles, stretches for 3 kilometres across the park in a straight line from behind the Royal Palace. 

The immense avenue is flanked by hornbeam hedges and lined by narrow lawns and punctuated by stepped cascades, ponds, groups of statues and fountains with mythological themes. The avenue finally ends up at the base of the great cascade, a waterfall some 75 metres high which tumbles into the basin of Diana and Actaeon. 

There is also a Botanical Garden known as the English Garden. The garden was the first of its type on the European mainland and is in the naturalistic style similar to those created by the famous English Landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Caserta is located 40 km north of Naples in the Southern Italian region of Campania. I have made the trip many times via train from Rome. The station is opposite the Palace. 

The Palace complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. 

Click to view the complete Caserta image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Orto Botanico di Roma Italy

Well-secluded from the masses, the Orto Botanico di Roma (Botanical Garden of Rome) is unassumingly on the lower slopes of Gianicolo or Janiculum Hill in the medieval neighbourhood of Trastevere, Rome, Italy.

A peaceful and green sanctuary, the Garden accessible by crossing the River Tiber away from the chaotic tourist centre of Rome.

Established in 1883 on the formerly private grounds of the 17th century Palazzo Corsini, the Orto Botanico di Roma succeeded the Papal Botanical Garden dating back to the Renaissance period. Going back in history even earlier, the area that contains the Palazzo Corsini and the Botanical Garden encompassed the thermal baths of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, who reigned between 193 to 211 AD. 

Managed by the Sapienza University of Rome, the Botanical Garden spreads over 12 hectares (30 acres) of sloping land contains over 3000 plant species from all over the world. Gravel pathways gently wind around the well-marked Garden that provides a full sensory journey of smell, touch, taste and varied shades of light and colour.

The Garden is replete with various specimens of exotic Palms, a bamboo forest, a Japanese garden, a medicinal garden, various greenhouses, cascading waterfalls and fountains and exceptional specimens of mature trees, native to the area and from all regions of the world. The enchanting Orto Botanico di Roma offers a relaxing serene refuge from the hustle and bustle of Rome and is on the top of my list to visit whenever I visit Rome.

Click to view the complete Orto Botanico di Roma image gallery.

All text, images and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.   

Naples, Italy.

Laying in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and rising like a mythical siren from its half-moon bay, Naples, is Italy’s third largest city and arguably its most bewitching.

Capital of the southern Italian region of Campania, Naples was founded by ancient Greek colonists between the Seventh and Sixth Centuries BC and for most of its history, since then, it’s been the desire of many conquerors and admirers and the city is filled with magnificent indelible legacies of its past.

For a period, Naples was Europe’s largest city, a capital of glamour that attracted kings, aristocrats, intellectuals and artists. Travellers on the famous grand tour acclaimed Naples to be the most glorious capital of the west.

When the 18th century famous writer and poet Goethe visited Naples, he declared it a paradise. The site of the bay, the islands and volcano the castles and villas inspired him to famously declare that ‘anyone can be forgiven for losing his mind in Naples’.

The central neighbourhoods of Naples are like an open-air museum where every element of life has been elevated to an art form. Streets are lined with authentic pizzerias, formidable fortresses, magnificent Baroque churches, grand royal palaces, lively piazzas and colourful outdoor markets.

Narrow dusty cobblestone alleys branch off the bustling streets and are replete with laundry fluttering above between houses. Whilst below, barking dogs hastily avoid being run-over by zooming scooters piled with two or three helmetless passengers. The Historic Centre of Naples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The complete image gallery of Naples can be viewed via this link – Naples Italy.

All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas.

Pompeii Italy.

Providing a breathtaking illusion of antiquity, the ancient city of Pompeii is near the bay of Naples in the southern Italian region of Campania and is still and forever shadowed by its tormentor, Mount Vesuvius.

According to myth, the Greek hero Herakles bestowed upon Pompeii its name whilst passing through Italy after defeating the three-headed monster giant Geryon. The name Pompeii derives from the word Pompe/Pompa, the Ancient Greek word for the procession in honour of Herakles’s triumph over the giants as one of his twelve labours.

The Campanian Oscan, a local italic population, established Pompeii on the end of ancient lava flow sometime around the 8th century BC. It was only a small site. Pompeii’s foundation, as we know of today, is attributed to the ancient Greeks, who took full control of the region and transformed Pompeii (and nearby city of Herculaneum) into an important trading centre and port.

The city developed and grew especially under the powerful influence of the nearby ancient Greek coastal colonies of Cumae and Neapolis (Naples). The beginnings of the city planning and buildings were established during this period. 

The Greek political influence diminished when Pompeii fell under the control of the Etruscans and then the Samnites and in 290 BC the city became a subject ally of Rome. However, Greek (Hellenistic) culture continued to be the leading influence, especially in art, architecture, religion and way of life.

Pompeii became a Roman colony in 80 BC and by now was the largest trading centre in the southern portion of the coast.

The city was bursting with wealth and was transformed with new public buildings and monuments. Many large villas with mosaic floors, Greek art and garden courtyards were built for its wealthy citizens.

The city became a favourite resort of the opulent Romans and model place for families to settle.

It all sounded too good to be true when In AD 62, Mount Vesuvius, now stirring, gave warning of its destructive power when Pompeii was devastated by a major earthquake. However, warning signs were mostly ignored and Pompeii, now with a booming population of about 20,000 inhabitants, choose to rise above the ruins and continued to grow and prosper whilst rebuilding and restoring its damaged buildings and infrastructure. 

The reconstruction of the city was in full swing when the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred in AD 79 (August 24, according to some historians). 

In just over two days, Pompeii was buried under volcanic debris (lapilli, ash and red-hot scoria) between 5  to 7 metres deep. At least 2000 people who choose to stay in Pompeii and see it out were trapped and died. Poisonous gases killed some others who escaped the city whilst trying to reach safe ground.

Pompeii was lost to the world for around 1500 years, when rediscovered accidentally around 1600. Small-scale excavations started around 1748 and then finally, in 1860, large-scale scientific and systematic excavations organised by the Italian government were underway. Today, around three-fifths of Pompeii have been excavated.

Pompeii is a vast site and even at the peak of the summer tourist season, I could capture images with no people in the vicinity. I highly recommended you visit it if you get the chance. Ideally, you will set aside a full day for it. Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The complete Pompeii image gallery.

All Images, Text and Content Are Copyright Steven Sklifas.