Month: April 2015

London – Keats 1

Penguin Little Black Classics have recently appeared in our local bookshop. We have purchased quite a few titles from this range of little thin books (60 pages) because they make ideal reading material for train or plane journeys.

No 13 in the series is a selection of poems by John Keats including the The Eve of St Agnes, first published in 1820, the year that Keats travelled to Rome in search of a cure for his tuberculosis. For more about Keats in Rome see our earlier blog posts.

Keats’ London life had been centred around Guys Hospital where he was studying medicine and working as an assistant surgeon. Guys is in Southwark, in an area rarely visited by tourists until recently when the very high office tower, known as the Shard, was built nearby.

Guy’s hospital was founded in 1721, and is now a large modern hospital, although the old historic buildings at the entrance still, on the outside at least, look something like they did in Keats’ time.

Guys Hospital London


Albany – Anzac Day

Today on Anzac Day, Australia commemorates the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli during World War I.

When World War I began in August 1914, the Australian and New Zealand governments requisitioned cargo and passenger ships that were converted into troop carriers. Forty ships, including four naval ships to provide protection from German warships, met at Albany, Western Australia in October 1914.

At dawn on 1 November, after restocking with supplies, the ships, carrying 30,000 troops and 7,500 horses, began to move out of Albany harbour in two long columns, followed by a plume of black smoke from the coal-fired steam engines. The poet and horseman, Banjo Paterson, who was on one of the ships as a volunteer vet, wrote that, “It was the most wonderful sight that an Australian ever saw”.

Many of the troops were members of Light Horse regiments, which went on to fight without their horses at Gallipoli, and then in Palestine and Syria. We have recently read The Australian Light Horse by Ronald Perry, which is an easy to read account of World War I battles fought by cavalry in the deserts of the Middle East.

The Princess Royal Fort at Albany devotes one room of its museum to the Light Horse.

Australian Light Horse Albany

Sydney – William Shakespeare

The great English dramatist and poet, William Shakespeare died 399 years ago today. In Sydney, Australia there is an impressive monument to the Bard, which was erected in 1926. The sculpture was commissioned by a private citizen, Henry Gullett, who was a newspaper editor.

Figures from Shakespeare’s plays, such as Juliet and Falstaff, plus a quote from the Tempest make this a very interesting memorial. It’s location on a traffic island near the State Library make it a little inaccessible, but it is well worth seeking out.

Shakespeare Memorial Sydney



Fremantle – Alice in Wonderland

Fremantle, the port city of Perth, Western Australia, is famous for its well preserved 19th century streetscapes. In recent years the city has also become well-known for its outdoor art. Right now new wall murals have appeared on the sides of buildings around the town as part of PUBLIC2015, an outdoor arts festival.

We liked the Alice in Wonderland wall painted by Paul DeeJ.

Alice wall mura Fremantle


Ravenna – Dante

In 1319, Dante moved to the Adriatic seaside town of Ravenna, where he completed Paradiso, the final volume of the Divine Comedy.

In 1321, Dante travelled to Venice on an ambassadorial mission and returned to Ravenna seriously ill, possibly of malaria. In September he died and was buried in the church of San Francesco. But he didn’t rest in peace because over the subsequent centuries, his remains were moved several times.

In the 16th century Pope Leo X decided to move Dante’s remains to Florence, but the Franciscan monks in Ravenna had different ideas and hid his remains. Then in the 18th century his body was moved to a neo-classical tomb near San Francesco. During the Second World War there were concerns that Dante’s tomb might be damaged by bombing, so he was moved again. After the war he was re-installed in the tomb, where he remains to this day.

Dante Tomb Ravenna

Padua – Dante

On one side of Padua’s grand piazza called Prato della Valle, there are statues of Giotto and Dante. Giotto is holding his painter’s palette and seems to be sizing up the task of painting the frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel. Dante is holding pen and paper, and looking decidedly grim. Perhaps he is thinking about some lines from the Divine Comedy.

These two contemporaries, Giotto and Dante were both Florentine’s, and tradition has it that in 1306, Dante came to Padua as Giotto’s guest, while the artist was in that city painting his magnificent cycle of frescoes.

Dante put Padua’s Reginaldo degli Scrovegni, a notorious ursurer, in the Seventh Circle of Hell in his Inferno. Reginaldo’s son Enrico was also a money lender and built the Scrovegni Chapel as a penance, hoping to get his father, and himself, out of Hell.

Scrovegni Chapel Padova

Rome – Dante – 2

The bridge crossing the Tiber in front of the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Ponte Sant’Angelo, was also known as St Peter’s Bridge. Pilgrims crossed this bridge enroute to St Peter’s.

When Pope Boniface VIII called the first Jubilee or Holy Year in the year 1300, the number of pilgrims was extremely high so that some sort of crowd control measures had to be implemented on the bridge.

In The Divine Comedy in Canto XVIII of Inferno, Dante has the damned in the Eighth Circle of Hell follow this same crowd control system as they walk along their dismal paths.

Ponte Sant Angelo Rome 2

Rome – Dante – 1

When we think of Dante, we almost inevitably picture him in Florence where he was born, grew up and held public office. But in 1302, when Dante was 37 years old, he was exiled from Florence under penalty of death if he returned. During his 19 years of exile, he wrote his greatest work, The Divine Comedy.

In 1301, Dante was a member of a delegation sent from Florence to Rome to meet with the Pope. While he was in Rome, there was a major political change in Florence. The Black Guelfs seized power, brutally ousting the White Guelfs. Since Dante was a White Guelf, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to death if he returned to Florence. He spent the rest of his life in exile.

On a previous visit to Rome we saw  the building where Dante reportedly stayed while he was in Rome, in the via dei Soldati, a quiet street near the Tiber.

Via dei Soldati Rome