Posted in Around the World

|TRAVEL| Tashirojima Cat-Island

Tashirojima (田代島) is a small, rural island off the coast of central Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture.
Informally known as “Cat Island”, It’s just over three kilometers long and It is the paradise of a large colony of felines, which are cared for and worshiped by the island’s human residents.
It is part of a group of about a dozen “islands of cats” in Japan, small places where there are more feline residents than humans.
More than a hundred cats roam the island (about 120), and they are owners of abandoned houses, and also of the quiet fishing village.
The cats were originally brought over to help with pest control around the island’s silkworm farms, but also to hunt mice that infested fishermen’s boats. In the past, the islanders raised silkworms for silk, and cats were kept in order to keep the mouse population down (because mice are a natural predator of silkworms). Fishing has long been an important industry on Tashirojima.
For ages the fishermen who worked on the island cared for and protected the semi-wild cats because they believed that the cats would bring them good luck. Over time, this cat population left un-neutered began to grow immensely while the human population dwindled down to fewer than 80 residents.
Since then their numbers have increased to the point that they now outnumber the island’s human population six to one!

Cat lovers from all around Japan, but not only, come to visit Tashirojima, which requires taking a one hour long ferry ride from Ishinomaki port.
The boats stop at both of the island’s settled areas: a tiny village around Odomari Port in the north and a larger, more developed village around Nitoda Port in the south.
Several narrow roads and walking trails crisscross the forested island’s interior between the two villages.
In Japanese culture, cats are considered to bring good luck, said to bring money and good fortune to all who cross their path. Some even claim that it was the cats who kept the majority of the island from being destroyed during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which partially flooded both villages and destroyed several buildings around the port towns which were close to the coast. After all, for a few days people all over the world (even in Japan) thought that the whole island was gone (washed away by the tsunami)!
Luckily the island’s location behind a peninsula helped protect it from more severe damage, and the majority of the debris was cleared within a year.

Following the fishing tradition, people built a small Cat Shrine known as Neko-jinja (猫神社), at the center of the island in memory of a cat that was accidentally killed.
Fixed-net fishing was popular on the island after the Edo Period (江戸時代, 1603-1868) and fishermen from other areas would come and stay on the island overnight. The cats would go to the inns where the fishermen were staying and beg for scraps. Over time, the fishermen developed a fondness for the cats and would observe the cats closely, interpreting their actions as predictions of the weather and fish patterns. One day, when the fishermen were collecting rocks to use with the fixed-nets, a stray rock fell and killed one of the cats. The fishermen, feeling sorry for the loss of the cat, buried it and enshrined it at this location on the island, praying that never ever something similar would happen again.
The shrine is located along the road about halfway between Odomari and Nitoda villages. It’s a fairly small shrine, but there are tons of cat related tiny items like those Maneki Neko statues.

The cats on Tashirojima are mostly found around Nitoda Port on the southeastern side of the island. They freely roam the streets and enjoy the attention that they get from the tourists who play with them. The cats sometimes gather around the steps of the island’s lone store, Kamabutsu Shoten, located in the northwestern part of Nitoda village.
Tashirojima does not have many tourist facilities. There are no restaurants, and very few shops or public toilets available on the island. Only a drink vending machine and a public toilet are located along the Nitoda waterfront, but this is a really nice travel destination for all cat-lovers!

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Posted in Around the World

|TRAVEL|Crecchio, July 2018

The castle, of Norman-Swabian origin, was built around a watchtower around the 11th-12th centuries. The original tower, called “normanna” and “dell’ulivo”, part of a territorial defensive system, was visually connected with other towers in the surround, like the Mucchia tower (on the coast) and with the city of Lanciano and Guardiagrele inside. To it are linked many legends related to the cruelty of one of its owners who, ruling these places with terror, beheaded its opponents on the highest tower, that of sighting. The tower became a symbol of terror and repression until the De Riseis, some feudal lords of Crecchio (seventeenth century), planted an olive tree on its summit, as a sign of peace with the population, hence the name “Torre dell’Ulivo” (tower of the olive tree).
On the map of Crecchio drawn in 1768 the Castle appears as an austere castellated fortress, but in 1789 it will lose this feature ,when Barone Camillo De Riseis transformed this residence into a leisure and holiday resort for important people and European nobility such as: Letizia Bonaparte, Gabriele D’Annunzio, the Prince Umberto II of Savoy and his wife Maria Josè.
The castle, through a series of vicissitudes and various owners, in 1789 became the residence of the De Rieis, dukes of Bovino, Taormina and barons of Crecchio, and in a short time this manor was one of the most sought after by the nobility of the era for the its garden, with rare plants and its gushing fountains, richly decorated with marble statues and naturally for the luxurious and sumptuous feasts that were held both in summer and in winter.
Unfortunately, a cold morning in September 1943, the enchantment and carefree life of the court was broken by the arrival of King Vittorio Emanuele III, his wife and the General Staff, who were fleeing Rome and before embarking from the port of Ortona, they were guests of the castle for one night. These were chased by the Germans, as Crecchio was crossed by the “Gustav Line”, as soon as the king managed to escape to Ortona and despite the attempts of Gaetana De Riseis to have Vittorio Emanuele III deflect from his serious decision to leave Italy, the Germans bombed the castle from its foundations, reducing it to a pile of smoking rubble. During the following winter the drawing of the Gustav line across the nearby hills transformed it into a German strategic stronghold. In the 70s the castle was restored.
Some argue that the ghost of a De Riseis and his beautiful lover dwelt in the halls of the manor. It is whispered that suddenly there are loud noises on the upper floor followed by a metallic clink. Others say that sometimes you can see a beautiful lady passing through the castle rooms quickly and quietly as if she were suspended in midair!
It is whispered that climbing the fifty-five steps leading to the ancient watchtower, also known as the “tower of the olive tree”, it’s possible hear sounds like lamentations coming from the walls and some feel strange presences right at the foot of that building…
Considered one of the most precious pearls of the province of Chieti, the castle of Crecchio, also called castle “De Riseis-D’Aragona” (from the names of the noble families who inhabited it), is now home to the Museum of Byzantine and High Medieval. The Archeological Museum hosts a series of objects from Pre-Roman and Frentanian tombs. Under the Roman rule this area possibly became a municipium and the landscape was divided among large villae rusticae (farms) for the cultivation of olive trees, vines and cereals. After the devastating Greco-Gotic War (AD 535 – AD 553) the Byzantines re-fortified the main settlement and put garrisons in the countryside, protecting the villae from the Lombard raids of the 7th Lombard Duke of Benevento. The Ducal Castle remained in possession of the De Riseis family until the end of World War II.

Every year, in Crecchio, there is a three-day long event, hosting thousands of visitors yearly: “At dinner with the Byzantines”, from the evening to the night, a travel into the memory of this land, through cultural events, guided tours into the museum, reconstructions of the Byzantine society and (excellent!) eno-gastronomic stands among the borgo alleyways. At the twilight torches are lighted up and ancient soldiers, matrons, courtiers and eunuchs roam the streets. The perfumes exalt the senses in the historical center which echoes with the rolling drums and the war cries of the soldiers. The sound of the trumpet announces the triumphant procession celebrating the deeds of the comes Vitalianus, conqueror of Aternum (Pescara) and scourge of the Lombards.
As guests of the “Vassilissa”, the patrician matron in the retinue of the Byzantine troops, you can taste ancient delicacies, served on red slip plates, and wine mixed with honey, spice and rose petals in the gastronomic points on the borgo’s alleyways.

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Posted in Abandoned Places

|URBEX|Villa Mocenigo-Mainardi

This is one of the most luxurious and important villas of Abano Terme, which hosted various famous personalities such as the playwright and writer Carlo Goldoni (who wrote “I Bagni d’Abano” here), the poet, philosopher and writer Giacomo Leopardi and the writer, adventurer and poet Giacomo Casanova. The zone was very popular among illustrious personages, and also Ugo Foscolo stayed in these parts, precisely in Villa Renier.
The Moceningo-Mainardi villa is located on the outskirts of Abano, in the “Guazzi” district and dates back to the early 18th century. It was built by the Mocenigo family, Venetian patricians who chose Abano as one of their favorite places. The villa hosted illustrious guests including and the residence gate is in wrought iron and is embellished by two Bonazza’s sculptures. With the collapse of the Serenissima Republic of Venice (treaty of Campoformio-1797), Villa Mocenigo became the property of the Trieste family, of Jewish origin, while the historical owners left Abano definitively. In 1938, the family Sacerdoti (new owners and Jews too) sold all their possessions, including villa, after having created a remarkable collection center for drying tobacco in the years when its cultivation was very popular in the Paduan countryside.
The Villa’s decline started with the Second World War when the Fascists penetrated the villa, destroying, among other things, the library that contained documents, reports, prints, rental contracts and sale, also related to the Mocenigo and, of consequence, to the history of Abano Terme. The coup de grace, then, was given in 1945 by the bombing of a train loaded with ammunition, which stopped nearby and whose explosion caused considerable damage for a radius of several kilometers. A patrimony of such high historical value seemed irreparably lost, and instead in 1968 the commissioner Leonildo Mainardi bought the villa and the attached factories starting a carefully reconstruction and modernization works. Despite this, at present, Villa Mocenigo-Mainardi is reduced to a state of almost ruin.

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Posted in Abandoned Places

|URBEX| Albergo Cervandone

“If it doesn’t burn a little
then what’s the point of playing with fire?”

The hotel, which have the name of the homonymous peak of over three thousand meters, always a destination for mineral seekers, was the symbol, at the beginning of the twentieth century, of the Belle Epoque. It was meeting place for alpinists and families from the cities who loved the Ossola mountains, where good food and rivers of sparkling wine rewarded the audacious climbers while the orchestras played waltzes and mazurkes until the early hours. In those years, was dedicated a song by the local singer Cavalier Giovanni Leoni (1846-1920) who used the pseudonym of “Pastizza“. He was also the founder of the “Pro Devero Company”, in 1910, to promote the development of the tourism in this enchanting paradise: “paradis di nost montagn, che in nissun sit igh n’han un alt compagn”.
He wasn’t a climber, or an alpinist, but a food lover, and wanted above all to emphasize in his verses an aspect of Devero that he loved: the good cuisine of the Cervandone hotel, in this years at the height of its splendor. This is the original version:

In Antighori i ghan ul Scervandon,
quel pizz ch’u gha la forma d’un crocant;
par nagh ugh vol un alpinista bon,
ma tornand ju glorios e trionfant
in Dévar, a l’albergo u trovarà
la tavla pronta e ‘l lecc par riposà.

This verses are write in one italian dialect, and translation is impossible for me, but Leoni was certainly a character. When he was 24 years, lived in Paraguay whit his brother Costantino, in Montevideo, where created the “Leoni Hermanos”, a profitable commercial activity. He bought a ship with fifteen crewmen and sailed the cold waters of Patagonia carrying all sorts of goods, until 1886 when he finally liquidated the company and returned to Italy where he lived until his death. In winter he lived in Domodossola, Bologna and Turin, while spended the summer in Mozzio, place that became, at the end, his home. For over twenty years he wrote original and satirical poems in dialect, published with the title “Rime Ossolane”.
Since 1972 the Cervandone Hotel is sadly closed and until 2003 it was owned by Enel, which had also made it accommodation for the families of who worked in hydroelectric plants. Subsequently some of its rooms and the hall were used for various events, until the end, when a century of history was destroyed by the flames and the symbolic hotel of the Alp Devero was the victim of an accident in december 2015. The owner of a B&B not far away, saw the flames in the night and gave the alarm at 5.30 in the morning, but now the hotel is still burned and haven’t the roof.

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