Just Castles


This blog post is completely out-of-order – in that you last read about Italy and now we are in mid Europe and 4 weeks later in our trip. I am not sure if my blog needs rationality but, since I haven’t posted for a week because I haven’t had time to write but I did have time to process photos for Julie’s photo album, here is a collection of Castles on the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers. Castles can range from the ruins used by a Robber Barron to extensively refurbished occupied dwellings.


ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageThe view from high up in Český Krumlov Castle within the Czech Republic Image


Monte Cassino – the Battle, the Abbey and the Commonwealth War Cemetery

Monte Cassino – the Battle, the Abbey and the Commonwealth War Cemetery



Douglas Lyne, a British veteran who fought at Monte Cassino, recalled*: “Monte Cassino was an objective hated by every Allied soldier anywhere near it.  So when we saw 250 Flying Fortresses buzzing up from the south on that perfectly clear February day, we thought wouldn’t it be marvellous if they dropped the whole lot on the monastery, then whoosh, down came 500 tons.  There was a colossal cheer, you could have heard it all the way to Naples.”  He paused, and when he continued his voice had changed.  “All except this one very close friend of mine, who said, ‘what are you thinking of, Douglas? are we in this war to destroy monasteries?’ And then I had a huge double take.  I thought, my God, what are we up to? I saw that in the last year and a half we had become literally barbarized.  We had become indistinguishable from any other army, the German army, the Russian army, the army of Genghis Khan, part of the great marauding horde whose instinct is to destroy, whose training is to destroy.”  Douglas Lyne sums up: “A bird of sanity perched on my shoulder.  I think he’s been there ever since.”          * “Monte Cassino – the Story of the Most Controversial Battle of World War II” by David Hapgood and David Richardson

In the background to the resting place for 3982 identified and 289 unidentified Commonwealth soldiers are the heights of Monte Cassino, the site of one of the most bloody campaigns of WW2.


I think the reason for our stop at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Cassino may have had more to do with our bus driver needing a compulsory rest stop than allied patriotism. While the 114,979 had been killed or wounded during the four months campaign contained many Americans, all those from the US are buried at Anzio in the north, and our party was predominantly from the US.. There no Australians buried there either. At this stage of the war our troops were fighting for the survival of Australia in New Guinea as the Pacific had become our first priority. Hundreds of Canadians died in this series of four battles, and there were two Canadians in our party who knew that some small towns had lost many young men in this distant place. There were also rows and rows of New Zealanders put to rest here. In a serious of bloody battles attempted to dislodge the German Paratroop regiments with their Tank supports more than 300 New Zealand soldiers were killed, including nearly half of the Maori battalion the lead a major assault on the Mount.  I am very glad we stopped there.


In this place 289 Graves are lacking a name but there is a memorial list for more than 4000 servicemen whose bodies were never found. I find this epitaph very moving.


This Grave is named and it could be a relative of my Grandfather, who left England for Australia in the 1870’s.


In many wars the ANZACs fought together, but at Cassino our Kiwi brother were teamed up with the Indian Gurkhas in some of the fiercest fighting.

The four battles for Cassino had a well lead, desperate German force with an enormous tactical advantage of the high ground, with well prepared defences. The Allied troops were fighting uphill, with no cover and over flooded ground preventing their used of armour. They had an enormous advantage of manpower, material and complete control of the Air. The Allies only won because of their preparedness to pay the price with their men – a butcher’s bill.

Lest We Forget

To return and finish with the Monastery. Built originally by St. Benedict in 529 AD, it had been destroyed and rebuilt four times before WW2, in 581 and 884 it was sacked, it was damaged by earthquake in 1349 and by Napoleon in 1799. Each time it was more lavishly rebuilt and after 1866 was considered an Italian National Monument. It wa, however, s a key stronghold in the 100 Km Gustav Line defending Rome from the Allies. From the Allied point of view, it caused the Germans to keep some of their best troops away from France. Eventually Rome was to fall 2 days before D Day. The Allies were sure that it was being used as an observation post. They were afraid that under heavy attacks German troops would shelter within the Abbey and then launch counter attacks on vulnerable, exposed troops. Accordingly , on February 15, 1944 the abbey was almost completely destroyed in a series of heavy American led air-raids. Enquiries after the war established that at the time of the attack, only civilians were within the buildings (230 killed) and , ironically, the ruins proved to be much more effective in sheltering the German troops, in active fighting roles, than the complete building ever would have. The building was restored after the war. I couldn’t get a photo from a moving bus so you will have to manage with two from Flickr with creative commons licenses one from 1944 and the second after its reconsecration in 1964


Abbey Cassino

 A magnificent building no doubt, but no replacement for nearly 150,000 men, Allied and German, killed or crippled during the advance on Rome.

Pompeii – an Environmental Calamity Set in Stone

ImageWhat do you think about when you see news of another natural disaster killing thousands of people? Has media coverage of cyclones, tsunamis, bush fires, and famines desensitized your feelings so that you feel more for a road accident victim in your neighbourhood than masses of people who you feel no connection with? The photo above, of my American friend John in Pompeii, seems to catch the moment of realisation that, nearly 2000 years ago, this was a man like me, whose life just ended like switching off a light.ImageImageSome visitors to this amazing place were only expecting a small ruin and were surprised to find a Roman town which once housed 20,000 people. Except for the lack of a roof on most buildings, it is almost as it was when people looked over these town walls into the rich agricultural fields that surround the town.ImageImageImageWalking in through the Gateway in the wall, imagine driving your donkey with its heavy cart over the deeply rutted road. The only reminder that you have not arrived in this town prior to Vesuvius blowing its top in 77 AD, is the dress of the tourists thronging its main east west road.ImageOur guide directs us towards a traffic jam on a narrow side street. He says it was always this way on market day outside the largest of the cities many brothels. A feature of this particular establishment was the wall murals that allowed clients to point out the particular services they required.ImageImagePompeii had an articulated water supply carried along lead pipes. Wealthy households had the water running into their homes but water was supplied publicly to everyone. The water was carried in lead pipe which are still in the ground. When we travelled to Bath in England we were told that the lead for Pompeii actually came from the mines in England. Except for the new brass tap, this is an original drinking fountain.ImageImageImageLooming in the background is continental Europe’s only active volcano. Vesuvius is just as dangerous today, well over due for an eruption with nearly a million people living in close proximity.ImageHere are pictures of some “old crocks” in Pompeii. The Pottery in the shed has been recovered, in many cases with contents intact. The walking crocks are Julie in I amongst the ruins.ImageImageImageAncient Pompeii ruins on the left with modern villas on the right. Only two-thirds of Pompeii has been uncovered in excavations of the site which began in 1748. They have revealed well-preserved remains of buildings, mosaics, furniture, and the personal possessions of the city’s inhabitants.

The Colosseum – Rome’s Answer to the Sydney Opera House?

For a city to be recognised in the world stage it has to have an iconic image. Sydney, my home city has an amazing harbour, book ended by the harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. I suspect that in Rome the Colosseum is the international icon.


Alongside the Colosseum, but built more than 200 years later is The Arch of Constantine, a Triumphal Arch which spans the Via Triumphalis, the road on which Emperor entered the city of Rome after a major military victory. The pockmarked appearance of the outer walls is not from gun fire but where the marble facade was ripped off to provide building materials for other later Roman projects.



It only took 9 years to build the original amphitheatre,. It was financed by the spoil from the looting of the Great Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. The building was carried out by 60,000 Jewish slaves. They were the lucky ones, as the Historian Josephus estimated that 1,100,000 Jews died during the military campaign by Titus to destroy Jerusalem and crush the zealots. The Arch of Titus, at the end of the Roman Forum nearest to the Colosseum, commemorates this victory, and bas-reliefs show Roman soldiers making off with booty from the temple. Later, in AD 135 the Hadrian Emperor  began a concerted campaign to eradicate the Jewish religion and  the new Christian cult, building pagan temples on the site of the Temple and on the Hill of Golgotha.  Hadrian also then renamed the entire country of Israel as Palestine, a Latinisation of Philistine, a terrible insult to the Jews at the time.



The Colosseum held 55,000 spectators who had free entry to their own seats. Their “ticket’ was made of pottery because it was permanent entry to that seat. It only took 20 minutes for all those people to be seated because there were 84 entrance with direct wide passages to your seat. This seating was broken in separate areas for the various Roman classes.


The arena was originally named after the Emperor Vaspasian Flavian, who built it. Alongside it was an enormous statue of the Emperor Nero, during whose reign the fire had destroyed much of Rome, leaving this area open for redevelopment. This bronze statue, later melted down, was nicked named the “Colossus” by the Romans and this name became attached to the massive stadium.



What was the purpose of the Colosseum? At this stage the Empire was in decline, with its strength depending on the Emperor at the time. The Roman Poet Juvenal coined the phrase “Bread and Circuses” to describe what had happened to Rome, when the population’s approval could be won, not by excellent government but through diversion, distraction, or the mere satisfaction of their immediate, shallow requirements by provision of subsidised food and free entertainment.  Festivals and games held at the Colosseum could last 100 days and the people were fed  when they attended. The money not only for the building but for these festivals came from the spoils of the Empire which previously was used on the Army. Over 400,000 people died in the Colosseum in the 390 years it was open for entertainment.




In the event of rain the entire roof of the Colosseum could be covered by canvas sails unfurled by teams of sailors pulling on ropes. These images show the under floor construction where animals were stables and large numbers of men could move quickly into the arena. Some have suggested that for the re enactment of a famous naval victory the Central area was flooded to allow boats to fight a simulated naval battle.

A View of the Vatican and St. Peters

A View of the Vatican and St. Peters


As my friend Bob said today, “you don’t have to be religious to get a lot out of a visit to The Vatican Museum and St Peters”. However, I do think some understanding of church history probably helps keep it all in perspective. I will suggest that, if in Rome, go on an organised tour for two reasons. When we went straight in with our prearranged passes at opening time, the queue already extended for at least a kilometre!, meaning a wait of 2 hours. Secondly a guide not only gives you passion and knowledge about what you are seeing (and you don’t get lost!) but you also get through locked doors and chained off areas that others do not. That’s how I got into the  ‘Bramante Staircase’, inside a large square tower, a dramatic spiraling structure, consisting of two intertwining staircases that form a DNA-like double helix, built of carved stone, created by Donato Bramante in the early 1500’s it was used as a model for the more recent replica created in 1932 by Giuseppe Momo, built to serve as an entry for the Vatican Museums and now used as the exit.

Vatican staircase

Besides its impressive stonework and design, the tower offers spectacular views across Rome and the Vatican property.  While our guide lead the party down into the Museum, I sprinted up the top, leaned out one of the top tower openings and photographed this panorama of Rome as seen from one of the high points in the Vatican.


Rome Pano Cropped

Now many modern camera make panoramas with the click of the shutter button and a slow pan across the subject. I would like to show how this is done without the clever camera software. The image above is actually made of seven separate pictures, each one overlapping about 20 percent. Ideally this would be shot on a tripod but since my tour group was receding downwards into a crowded Vatican corridor and my tripod in Australia, my camera was handheld with me pivoting from the waist, concentrating on keeping the horizon straight. Just rotating the neck gives a maximum view of 80 degrees so This image showing more than 180 degrees so the buildings appears distorted and the horizon is curved. This is how the pictures are stitched together in Photoshop leaving only the narrow strip in the middle to form the finished panorama. When you press the button in your camera on the “panorama” setting, this is what the software is doing for you as you pan across the view.

Rome Pano Uncropped.black BG resized


Down in the amazing corridors you move forward in the crowd, struggling to know where to look. The floor is Amazing, the walls are amazing , the ceilings are amazing and then there is art work on display every where. In cabinets like the vases and the crumbling Etruscan Terracotta statues more than 3000 years old, on wall are enormous Tapestries illustrating historic themes and there are  marble statues on plinths just every where. Throughout the Renaissance centuries the Italian Popes competed to buy the best ancient art from all over and put it on display in these corridors. The very greatest of artists accepted their commissions and we are left to marvel at the human creative spirit.

Crowded vatican Corridor

Male Statues


Photographing a painting

Vatican ceiling

Vatican ceiling wall

Vatican ceiling wall

Vatican Wall with spectators

All these images were taken hand-held, without flash in low light conditions, surrounded by crowds. I am happy that I have been able to capture just a little of the splendour and beauty.


St Peters

St Peters interior

St Peters ceiling HDR2



This is a statue of St Peter, the best known of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. He is a man we can learn so much from – it is a pity he is also somewhat controversial. He was a passionate man – the Disciple who declared Jesus first to be the Messiah, whose faith was declared by our Lord to be an exemplar for the foundation of the Church. He tried to walk on water to Christ. He promised to never forsake Him. He defended Him with a sword after Judas betrayed Him. He denied Him three times before the cock crowed. He wept with repentance for this sin. He was forgiven by Christ after His resurrection. He was a fearless leader of the new Church in times of terrible persecution. He accepted the rebuke of Paul when he was shown to be wrong in his partial treatment of Jewish Christians over the Gentile converts. What an example Peter is to us of Grace – the way we sinners are forgiven by Christ despite our feeble faith and used by Him despite our human nature.

Why then is Peter controversial? I think it is a Protestant reaction to the claims of the Roman Catholic Church that Peter was given Primacy over the other Apostles, became the first Pope and therefore lends his authority to subsequent Popes who claim to be walking”in the shoes of the Fisherman“. It is tradition the that Peter served as Bishop of Rome for 25 years before being crucified, upside down by the Emperor Nero, during his persecution of the Christian sect that he blamed for the fire that had destroyed most of Rome. Actually there is no mention of Peter being in Rome in the Bible (as there is with the Apostle Paul). The first written report of Peter having been in Rome is by Clement in about 96 AD. While some claim that Peter’s first letter is written from Rome (He actually writes it is from “Babylon”), others believe that this could mean Egypt. The first St Peters Basilica was certainly erected above a burial site, said to contain the remains of Peter among other early church leaders. It was excavated in 1950 and many bones recovered. Pope Pius XII stated that none could be confirmed as Peter’s with certainty.  Further bones, including those of a man in his 60’s, were discovered in 1968 and Pope Paul VI announced that they were Peter’s. The chief archaeologist however, said that he was not convinced that they were Peter’s.

Whatever is the truth about Peter,s leadership of the Church in Rome should not take away from what I have said about Peter in the first paragraph or the fact that in Rome there have been Christians worshipping Jesus for more than 2000 years. This is a magnificent building well worth a visit. Even if it is over ornate for my taste as a place to worship, I am glad I had the opportunity to visit, and to share the occasion with others.




The Pieta by Michelangelo was surrounded by a crowd 10 deep just to the right of the entrance to the cathedral behind a screen of bullet-proof glass in a darkened corner.

St  Peters Exterior HDR2



St Peters seen from the street outside as you would view it when the Pope addresses the crowd. The building on the right is where the Conclave of Cardinal meet to select a new Pope. The day we visited was being called “The Day of Two Popes” (except in Italian) because it was the first day that both the new Pope Francis and his retired predecessor were in the Vatican at the same time as Popes.

Tivoli – An Escape from Roma


With ruins of Ancient Villas in the foreground and the view to Rome beyond, here is the playground of Emperors and cardinals at Tivoli


Thirty Km North East of Rome, cool in summer while the city sizzles, situated at the falls of the Aniene river where it issues from the Sabine hills, is Tivoli. It is a half day excursion from Rome and absolutely worth the effort, especially with the assistance of a knowledgable local guide. Here is a gallery of photographs from the gardens.










The gardens are part of Villa d’Este, commissioned by Cardinal Ippolio II d’Este son of Alsonso i d’Este  and Lucrezia Borgia and grandson of Pope Alexander VI. He had been appointed Governor of Tivoli by Pope Julius III, with the gift of the existing palace. From 1550 until his death in 1572, when the villa was nearing completion, Cardinal d’Este created a palatial setting surrounded by a spectacular terraced garden, which took advantage of the dramatic slope but required innovations in bringing a sufficient water supply, which was employed in cascades, water tanks, troughs and pools, water jets and fountains. This garden and their water features were imitated in the next two centuries from Portugal to Poland.

Drawing inspiration (and many statues and much of the marble used for construction) from the nearby Villa Adriana, the palatial retreat of Emperor Hadrian, and reviving Roman techniques to supply water to a sequence of fountains, the cardinal created this fantasy garden.

Of course the Gardens need people to appreciate them. First is a group shot of Group Barbara on out Trafalgar Italian Concerto Tour, then an excursion of nuns checking out the gardens built by a Prince of the Church 550 years ago, then a series of individuals enjoying these amazing surroundings.








Lastly the view again back to Rome. If you get the chance to visit Italy, don’t miss out on a trip to Tivoli, beauty, peace, nature roman art – without the heat and crowds.