Naples’ Pharmacy of the Incurables: merging science, magic, and art

Naples’ Ospedale degli Incurabili is an old and still-functioning hospital in the centre of the southern Italian city that is linked to a wealth of interesting stories of early medicine, magic and alchemy, religious people and those recognised as saints for dedicating their lives to helping the poor and sick here. Founded around 1520, it … More Naples’ Pharmacy of the Incurables: merging science, magic, and art

Palermo’s Palazzina Cinese: a Bourbon king’s fantasy of China

When visiting Palermo in Sicily, you might be expecting to see a range of cultural influences, including, Norman, Arab and Spanish, but the existence of a palace designed in a Chinese style may come as more of a surprise. As trade with Asia grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, people across Europe started to collect … More Palermo’s Palazzina Cinese: a Bourbon king’s fantasy of China

Stanze al Genio: preserving Italy’s majolica tile treasures

Collector Pio Mellina first took an interest in traditional Italian hand-painted “majolica” floor tiles around the age of 12, when he used to go rummaging around antique markets in Sicily with his art-loving mother. Their bright colours and varied patterns were the initial aspects that intrigued him. These often revealed glimpses of the origin and … More Stanze al Genio: preserving Italy’s majolica tile treasures

Villa Palagonia: the enchanted mansion of monsters

At a first glance, Villa Palagonia in Bagheria, to the east of Palermo, could be a villa like any other. But walk further into its gardens, and you will enter into the strange and mysterious world of Francesco Ferdinando Gravina II, the eccentric 18th century Prince of Palagonia. The villa was constructed on behalf of … More Villa Palagonia: the enchanted mansion of monsters

Scylletium and its manuscript collector son Cassiodorus

A trip to the ancient site of Scylletium on the eastern Calabrian coast, south of Catanzaro, is a journey back along the historical roots of the Italian peninsula. Its beginnings are unclear, but in classical times it was either believed to have been founded by an Athenian colony involved in the Trojan War or by … More Scylletium and its manuscript collector son Cassiodorus

A moment in the oratory of St. Catherine of the Night

I’ve always hoped to discover more about St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). I was drawn to her firstly because I share her name, but also because she was a strong woman, producing a lot of spiritual writing, not being afraid to speak her mind, and working hard to help the poor and sick. When I … More A moment in the oratory of St. Catherine of the Night

Leonardo da Vinci’s vineyard: the revival of a hidden passion

I returned to Milan for the first time in years this month and I decided to seek out the sites linked to Leonardo da Vinci. Of course I wanted to see the “Last Supper” masterpiece in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, but I also heard that for a short period of time there … More Leonardo da Vinci’s vineyard: the revival of a hidden passion

Getting lost in Donnafugata castle and its magical gardens

You may be familiar with Donnafugata castle it if you watch the television drama about Inspector Montalbano, as some of the show was filmed there. In fact, the castle is the home of Mafia boss Don Balduccio Sinagra in the series. Situated to the west of Ragusa, the name “Donnafugata” has varying explanations. Information at the … More Getting lost in Donnafugata castle and its magical gardens

Pause to ponder: four Italian art jewels based in Edinburgh

At the end of October I returned to Edinburgh, my university town, for a cousin’s wedding. I took the opportunity to spend a morning revisiting the Scottish National Gallery on the Mound. It was a sweet reminder of the various Italian (and other) art jewels that I discovered as a student here more than ten years ago. … More Pause to ponder: four Italian art jewels based in Edinburgh