In Turin, Italy — Sarcophagi and Palazzi

In Turin, Italy — Sarcophagi and Palazzi

Who knew that the oldest major collection of Ancient Egyptian archeology and anthropology in the world was in Italy!

Statue of the craftsman Pendua and of his wife Nefertari. Limestone (New Kingdom)

The Musei Egizio (or Egyptian Museum) of Turin dates back to 1753, when an expedition funded by King Emanuelle III returned from Egypt with 300 artifacts from the Karnak temple complex. The collection grew with additional expeditions over the centuries. Today, with well over 30,000 artifacts, it is considered the second most important Egyptology collection in the world, after the Egyptian Museum of Cairo.

The pieces on display represent all periods and dynasties of Egyptian civilization from the Paleolithic and pre-dynastic periods to the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, and the Ptolemaic and Roman eras.

A Pantheon of Divinities

colossal hard stone statues line the soaring galleries.

The vast galleries are filled with treasures ranging from votive statuettes in gold, bronze and basalt to gigantic stone statues. They represent the numerous gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon such as Sekhmet, Ptah, Amen-Ra, Anubis, Horus and Bastet. Sculptures and stelae also memorialize the legendary Pharaohs such as Horemheb, the Ramesses, and Seti, and the powerful military and priestly elite class.

Smaller artifacts also offer moving glimpses of the everyday life of ordinary people in ancient Egypt. These include sandals, pottery shards decorated with erotic images, musical instruments, miniature funerary models, dresses, sewing needles, children’s toys, and even foods such as bread.

Millenia of Funerary Treasures

The New Kingdom tomb of royal architect Khan and his wife Merit revealed exquisite funerary treasures.

Thousands of years of diverse funerary rites practiced by ancient Egyptian civilizations are showcased here. Mummies include examples of the unbandaged dead of pre-dynastic Egypt (preserved as a result of the arid desert environment), as well as the iconic linen-bandaged mummies of the Old Kingdom, and the cartonnage masked mummies of the Middle and New Kingdom periods. Of exceptional note is the display of funerary and domestic items from the 1400 BC tomb of royal architect Kha and his wife Merit, including the exquisite gold-leaf and glass rendering of Merit’s portrait on her cartonnage sarcophagus.

The gold leaf portrait of Merit on her cartonnage sarcophagus..

Despite its longstanding history and its headquarters in the 17th century Palazzo delle Accademia delle Scienze, the museum offers the latest trends in scenography and immersive visitor experience. Remodeled in 2015 by Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti, the 9,000 square meter (97,000 square foot) exhibition space spreads over four levels, three above ground and one below, organized in chronological order from the top, along a 2.5 kilometer (1.5 mile) circuit.

Palazzo Madama

The rear area of the castle retains its Medieval appearance.

Officially the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica (or Municipal Museum of Ancient Arts) since 1934, but still best known by its centuries-old moniker of Palazzo Madama, this museum traces the history of Turin from its Roman beginnings to the19th century.

In the 1st century BC the Romans established the strategic castrum (military defense complex) of Augusta Taurinorum, the present day Turin. The site of what would become the palace was then occupied by the main gate in the Roman wall. Two of its towers still testify to this original nucleus. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the gate developed into a fortified stronghold during the Middle Ages. It ultimately became the residence of the Princes of Acaia (a side branch of the Savoy ruling family), who in the 15tn century transformed it into the palace we see today, with two polygonal towers mirroring those of the Roman era, and a third tower in the central courtyard.

The Touch of the Madama

The grand Baroque staircase by Filippo Juvarra.

The name of the building, however, refers the Madame Royale title of two women, Marie Christine of France and Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy-Nemours, who throughout the 17th century successively occupied the palace while serving as Regent for their respective minor sons (Charles Emmanuel II and Victor Amadeus II). They were the driving force behind an extensive modernization project that turned the old fortress into a baroque masterpiece, culminating in the construction of the grand staircase and the elegant facade by one of the most influential architects of the era, the Italian Filippo Juvarra.

Since 1934, the Palazzo has housed the city’s rich collection of Ancient Arts.

A Time-Travel Experience

The underground level of the Palazzo features rare ancient stoneworks, religious stoneworks.

The history of the palace is retraced along a four-floors itinerary starting with the Roman age foundations, the deepest ones now topped with a glass pathway that allows visitors to appreciate the massive construction beneath their feet. Important works exhibited in the underground rooms include sculptures, mosaics and finds from the early centuries of the Middle Ages: remarkable pieces of late Roman and Ostrogoth works in gold and silver; rare examples of Romanesque mosaic with black and white tiles and ancient stoneworks, such as four capitals originally from the cloister of Sant’Orso in Aosta.

Gilded spruce wood Antependium with Christ, the Virgin and Saints. Master of Courmayeur (early 12th century).

The ground floor is dedicated to the Gothic era, including important religious wooden furnishings from superb altar pieces and chancel furniture, to free-standing polychrome sculptures. There is also a comprehensive collection of illuminated manuscripts including a Bible of 13th century illuminated in Bologna, and a series of miniatures of great quality by the Master of the Book of Hours from Modena, an artist exceptionally versed in the international Gothic style of the late 14th century.



Stepping up to Baroque

The Baroque Royal Apartments.

Then it’s up the grand Juvarra staircase to the sumptuous Baroque world of the Madama. Here, lavishly decorated Royal Apartments display 17th and 18th century artworks, and  the wonderful ceiling frescoes of the period. Then the third floor reveals a major collection of decorative arts: ceramics, works in ivory and gold, textiles, gilded glass, and paintings. Finally, visitors reach the Observation Tower — now mercifully accessible via elevator — for a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside.


Good to Know

  • Getting there — Located in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, in the foothills of the Alps, Turin is easily accessible by train or road from all other Italian cities. Its local airport, 15 km (9.3 mi) north of the city, supports scheduled flights to most European capitals. It’s about an hour’s drive on good mountain roads to the French border to the north and slightly more to the Mediterranean sea and the southern French border.
  • Getting around — The center of the city is easily walkable. To explore farther afield, Turin also has an efficient, integrated system of buses, trams and metro.
  • Visiting —  The Egyptian Museum, Via Accademia delle Scienze 6, 10123 Torino, is open year-round, Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm and Monday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.  It also occasionally offers extended hours indicated on its website. The Palazzo Madama , Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, Piazza Castello, 10122 Torino, is also open year-round, Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.  Closed on Tuesday.

Location, location, location!


The Other Face of Provence — The Camargue Delta

The Other Face of Provence — The Camargue Delta

Just upstream of the historic Roman city of Arles, the Rhône River forks into two branches to form the largest river delta in Western Europe before reaching the Mediterranean shore.

In Arles, the gateway to the Camargue, the Roman Amphitheater still hosts traditional local bullfights.

This is the Camargue, a 1500 square kilometer (575 square mile), windswept, fan-shaped mosaic of grass-filled marshes, rice paddies, lagoons and sand beaches. Teaming with wildlife, it is the oldest and one of the largest nature reserves in mainland France, first classified as the National Camargue Reserve in 1927. Then in 1977, a vast expanse of its central wetland was designated by UNESCO as the Camargue Biosphere Reserve.




A Unique Nature Sanctuary

Within this exceptional environment, three vivid icons stand out: white horses, black bulls, and pink flamingos

Greater Flamingos are permanent residents of the lagoons.

The Birds — The Camargue is a bird-watcher’s paradise, with over 250 species of resident birds recorded here, including its most recognizable symbol: the Greater Flamingo. The delta is one of its main breeding and nesting grounds in Europe, and thousands can be seen here year-round. However, the best times to visit are the spring and fall, when the area becomes a spectacular gathering point for hundreds of thousands of varied migrating birds.

The Camargue horse is thought to be one of the oldest breeds in the world.

The Horses — The Camargue is also known for its ancient breed of small horses characterized by their striking white manes and molted grey-white coats.They have lived in the marches and saline wetlands for thousands of years, where they developed the stamina and agility for which they are known. They are the traditional mount of the gardians, the local cowboys who herd the area’s distinctive black bulls, giving the region a wild-west atmosphere.

The bulls are thought after for their combative tendencies,.

The Bulls — The Camargue bulls are stocky, never much higher than 1.5 meter (5 feet), with Lyra-shaped horns that point to the sky. They roam relatively free over great swaths of the delta, with the most combative among them selected for fighting in the many of arenas throughout the region. The remainder of the herd is raised for meat. 

But there is more to the delta than its unique variety of wetlands and their hoofed and winged denizens.



The medieval fortified city of Aigues-Mortes has retained its mighty defensive walls.

On the western edge of the Camargue, the walled city of Aigues-Mortes (from the latin Aquae Mortuae or “stagnant water”) rises largely intact from the edge of the marshes. An exceptional jewel of medieval military architecture, its construction was started the 1240’s by King of France Louis IX (later known as Saint Louis) as the staging area and departure point for the Seventh Crusade to the Holy Land in 1248, and the  Eighth — and last — Crusade in 1270.

Sea salt harvesting has been active since Roman times.

Located some five kilometers (three miles) inland, it was at the time linked by a natural channel to the Mediterranean. The city, which had been a center of sea salt production since Roman times, remained an active port until the 16th century. Then the channel gradually silted up, and Aigues-Mortes declined into oblivion until its tourism renaissance in the 20th century. 



Inside the fortified city, stairs provide access to the ramparts.

Within its high crenelated walls, flanked by ten fortified gates and twenty defensive towers, the small city (800 by 400 meters or 2600 by 1300 feet) has retained the checkerboard layout of the bastides (new towns) of the Middle Ages. While its narrow streets are now lined with shops selling typical souvenir items of the region, and an array of restaurants touting local dishes, it has held on to its most striking historic features.



The Tower of Constance

The Tower of Constance is the oldest structure of the city.

Built from 1240 to 1249, the Tower of Constance is a powerful circular keep, 22 meters (70 feet) in diameter, rises to a height of 33 meters (110 feet) at the edge of the ramparts. Access from a fortified courtyard leads to the ground-floor guard room with its soaring rib-vaulted ceiling. Then it’s a short ride up, by  the recently installed elevator, to the roof terrace. From the top, the infinite panoramic view of the region, including the famed salt flats and the sandy shores of the Mediterranean coast is a sight to behold. 

The upper knights’ room features a soaring rib-vaulted ceiling.

Then it’s 136 steps down the tight spiral staircase, first to the upper or knights’ room, also with an impressive rib-vaulted domed ceiling, then down to a mid-level defensive passageway overlooking the lower level guard room, then down again to ground level.





Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Today Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is best knows as a popular summer resort.

It’s an unhurried 30 minute drive east along a narrow road that meander around shimmering marshes and salt flats from Aigues-Mortes to the small coastal city of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (the Saintes Maries of the Sea). Best known today as a popular summer seaside resort, it takes its name from the early christian Provençal lore that three women closely linked to Jesus (in French Marie Madeleine, Marie-Cléophas and Marie-Salomé  — The Three Maries) came ashore and settled here after escaping persecution in Judaea around 40 CE. 

The Church

In the Middle Ages, the churches’ roof  served as watchtowrer.

The origins of the city itself seem to trace back to a village established on the site in the 4th century CE. Its early Romanesque fortified church was built in 9th century. Intended as a shelter for the villagers, in case of Vikings and later Saracen raids, as much as a place of worship, it featured — and still does — a fresh water well. The stone roof, which can be reached by a tight spiral staircase (53 steps) offers the sweeping view of the land and sea, clearly intended to alert the inhabitants of approaching foes.

The columns of the apse are topped with carved capitals..

Besides its foreboding fortress appearance and the Romanesque simplicity of its interior, l’Eglise des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is remarkable for its apse. Built in the shape of a semi-dome, it consists of seven arches  supported by eight marble columns topped with intricately carved capitals. Two of them, representing respectively the Incarnation of Christ and the Passion of Christ, are considered major masterpieces of the Romanesques architecture of Provence.

The Museum

The museum showcases interesting artefacts salvaged from ancient shipwrecks.

The seabed off Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is one of the richest shipwreck sites in the northern Mediterranean shores. With the development of underwater archeology over the past half century, dozens of ancient wrecks, from Etruscans, Greeks and Romans to Normans and  Saracens have been uncovered and excavated in the area. Recently inaugurated on the waterfront, the small Musee des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer traces the maritime past of the region. Displays of some of the most interesting finds shed light on the commercial exchanges among ancient Mediterranean cultures and their influence on the region.

The fortifications of Aigues-Mortes have stood guard over the marshes since medieval times.

Good to Know

  • Getting there — The Camargue can best be reached by car, starting in Arles, which is located 90 kilometers (55 miles) west from Marseille, or 80 kilometers (50 miles)  east of Montpellier, via Highway A54.  
  • Visiting —  Aigues-Mortes is a pedestrian town, whether you chose to walk its cobbled streets or circumvent it from the top of its 1,65 kilometer (1 mile) long ramparts. The ramparts and the Tower of Constance are open to visitors from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, September 1 to April 30, and  from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, May 2 to August 31. Closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25. Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer Museum, 6, avenue Theodore Aubanel, is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm,  June 1 to September 30, and  from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday,  October 1 to May 31 from. Closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25. The Church of the Saint Maries of the Sea, 19 Rue Jean Aicard, is open daily from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm. Closed to visitors during religious services.
  • Note — In a Camargue bullfight, known as Course Camarguaise, the bulls aren’t killed or injured. The goal of the raseteur (matador), is to pluck a ribbon from between the bull’s horns, a dangerous exercise for the men. A dozen or so raseteurs, all dressed in white, crisscross the arena, calling out to attract the beast. They constantly have to leap up into the bleachers to escape the charging bull.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!


Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

An Irish Roadtrip — From the Burren to the Dingle Peninsula

An Irish Roadtrip — From the Burren to the Dingle Peninsula

After a night in Galway City, we head south toward County Clare and the Burren. The road takes us by Dunguaire Castle, a small 16th century fortress rising from the shore of Galway Bay, and a fine exemple of the strongholds of Middle Ages’ chieftains. 

The medieval ruins of Dunguaire Castle tower over Galway Bay.

From there, with a passing glance at the quaint nearby seaport village of Kinvara, it’s a forty minute drive on back roads lined with low stone walls and disheveled hedges — and six thousand years back to Neolithic times.





Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone is the oldest megalithic monument in Ireland.

Sitting on one of the highest points of the barren limestone plateau of the Burren, the Poulnabrone Dolmen (Poll na Brón in Gaelic, literally ‘the hole of sorrows’) is a monumental portal tomb.The oldest and largest megalithic monument in Ireland, it consists of three standing portal stones, each approximately 2 meters (6.5 feet) high, supporting a massive rectangular capstone. A separate slab lies on the ground nearby. It is supposed to have been used to close the back part of the portal, but has since collapsed.

The colossal back part of the portal has now collapsed.

Poulnabrone was built by Neolithic farmers, who chose the location as a collective burial site and a territorial marker. Radiocarbon dating places its use around 3800 to 3200 BC. All that remains today is the stone structure of the original monument. At the time, it would have been covered with soil and capped by a cairn. The site, including chamber, portico and cairn, was excavated in the 1980’s. The remains of 16 adults and 6 children from the Neolithic era were found, along with various stone and bone objects that would have been placed with them at the time of interment. A newborn from the Bronze Age was also uncovered on the site. These findings are now at the Clare Museum, in the nearby town of Ennis.

A World of Limestone

Limestone pavements were polished by ancient glaciers.

There is far more to the Burren than Poulnabrone. The name itself, derived from the Gaelic Boireann (‘rocky land’), says it all. While we are here, we take a moment to wander  (with caution) around the adjoining polished limestone pavements. Scoured clean by moving ice sheets some 16 000 years ago, the pavements consist of two separate parts: clints and grykes. The clints are the massive blocks of limestone that form the paving, while the grykes are the crevices that isolate the individual clints and provide a moist shelter where a surprising variety of perennial herbs and dwarf ferns manage to thrive.

The folded layers of Mullaghmore are reflected in Loch Gealain.

From the Poulnabrone area, a 30-minute drive east takes us to a very different landscape, and a major landmark of the Burren: Mullaghmore (from the Gaelic Mullach Mór or ‘great summit’). Initially formed some 350 million years ago, the area was then a seabed of compressed sediments. As the only part the Burren to have been subjected to subsequent major tectonic pressures, the barren hill is unique for its smooth contours and distinctive folded layers of limestone in varied shades for pewter and silver. And its refection into the serene waters of the small, spring-fed Loch Gealain, imbues the entire scenery with a sense of otherworldly tranquility.

The Cliffs of Moher

O’Brien Tower is one of the best vantage points of the cliffs.

An hour west of Mullaghmore, we reach the southwestern edge of the Burren and one of the most famous coastal sites in Ireland: the Cliffs of Moher. 

Stretched along 12 kilometers (8 miles) of coastline, they are one of the premier tourist attractions in the country. The striated black cliffs soar vertically from the churning Atlantic Ocean to heights reaching over 210 meters (700 feet) at their highest point, just north of O’Brien Tower. The circular stone tower was built in 1835 near the midpoint of the cliffs. It remains part of the main viewing area and one of the best vantage points to take in the jaw-dropping vistas of the Wild Atlantic Way.

The main viewing area offers a panoramic view of  the edge of the cliffs.

From there, with the waves crashing below and the seabirds whirling about, we can spot cave entrances, take in the panoramic view of the cliffs’ edge receding toward the horizon, and feel the call of the clifftop walking trails. It is the best place to appreciate the true scale of the cliffs and view the vertical, 67 meters (220 feet) high Branaunmore sea stack, formed by relentless waves eroding the main cliff over millions of years.


A Land of Photo Opportunities

Thatched cottages dot the backroads of County Clare.

This is the last leg of our journey around the natural and archeological treasures of Ireland. As we make our way south toward the Dingle Peninsula, we enjoy stretches of Wild Atlantic Way vistas that are the stuff Celtic legends are made of. In the ever-changing light, the foreboding rocky coastline can fade into the fog in an instant, while a beam of pale light in the distance reveals an off-shore islet. Or, along the narrow country roads, we come across perfectly coiffed thatched cottages and sheds, artfully painted barns, and the occasional proud ruins of an ancient castle.

Conor Pass

The road to Conor Pass leads by gushing waterfalls.

Conor Pass is one of the highest mountain passes in Ireland. It is reputed for its dramatic views of the Dingle Peninsula and the Wild Atlantic Way (in good weather).  From the outskirts of the tiny seaside village of Cloghane on the north side of the peninsula, a winding one-lane road rises over 450 meters (1500 feet) to the pass. It become steeper and more treacherous as we get closer to the top, weaving its way around sheer cliff faces, past high corrie lakes and gushing waterfalls. And we are driving into a blanket of fog. No picture-perfect views of the Atlantic coast for us today, only a ghostly landscape of gleaming black rocks and the gray silhouettes of staggered hills fading into a gauzy, uncertain distance.  

A glacial valley opens below the road.

We soldier on, now on the downside of the 12-kilometer (8-mile) white-knuckle drive south toward Dingle City. As we reach a lower elevation, the clouds split open to let in a shaft of sunlight. A sweeping valley opens below us, brushed with the Irish autumn palette of golds and coppers. 

While our Conor Pass experience is a far cry from guide books’ promises, it is equally remarkable and a worthy metaphor for the many faces of Ireland under its ever changing weather.

Mullaghmore and the layered hills of the Burren

Good to Know

  • Getting there — The Burren: Follow route N6 from Galway to Kilcolgan, and then N67 to Poulnabrone, the R489 to Mullaghmore and the Cliffs of Moher.
  • Visiting — The Burren are parts of the natural landscape so, technically, there is no charge to see these site. This is definitely the case for Poulnabrone and Mullaghmore. However, at the Cliffs of Moher, the Visitors Centre and the main entrance to the cliffs are on the main road and there are no parking options in the vicinity other than the vast “official” parking lot located directly across the road. Parking fee was € 10 per adult (not per car) at the time of our visit. The fee includes admission to the Visitor Center, and contributes to the conservation of the area.
  • Note — The Burren and the Cliffs  of Moher are a UNESCO Global Geopark which supports sustainable tourism. Thanks to its high number of bird species, it was also made into a special protected area for birds and wildlife back in the late 1970s.

Location, location, location!


Ciffs of Moher

Conor Pass

An Irish Roadtrip — Connemara

An Irish Roadtrip — Connemara

After a morning spent exploring the epic basalt column formations of the Giant’s Causeway, we leave the Atlantic coast of Northern Ireland and head south toward the iconic lakes region of Connemara.

The ruins of medieval forts punctuate the landscape.

The 320 kilometers (200 miles) south-westerly drive takes us through a picturesque rural scenery of verdant hills and quaint villages. The occasional ruin of an abandoned medieval castle punctuates the skyline, a stark reminder of Ireland’s long and turbulent history. 



A Land of Austere Beauty

Rushing torrents and peat bogs are ever present in Connemara.

Some four hours into the drive, we enter a wild land of pewter-tinged granite mountains rising from rusty peat bogs and slate blue lakes. We have reached Connemara, the startlingly beautiful northern hinterland of County Galway, known through the ages for its stark living conditions. The lower hillsides are streaked with a network of ancient stone walls, often partially collapsed, that delineate small plots of farmland and pastures.

The mountainsides are covered in rust-colored heather.

We are traveling along an exceptionally scenic stretch of road, known as the Connemara Loop, to Leenane (a.k.a. Leenaun), a small village nestled between the Mwelrea, Devil’s Mother and Maamturk Mountains and overlooking Killary Harbour – Ireland’s only fjord. The weather changes at kaleidoscopic speed. One instant, the pale autumn sunshine brushes the heather-covered mountainsides in rust and ocher tones. At the next bend in the road, angry black clouds and rain squalls all but erase the scenery in blurry shades of grey. 

A Coaching Inn

The Leenane Hotel boasts spectacular views of the fjord.

The downpour has decreased to a misty drizzle by the time we reach the Leenane Hotel, our destination for the night. Established sometimes in the 1790’s the Leenane is Ireland’s oldest coaching inn – albeit one that has been refurbished to high contemporary standards. It also boasts spectacular views of the fjord from just about everywhere in the house, including our room and the cozy hotel bar with its open turf fire. The restaurant entices us with the best of local specialties, such as the superb Killary Bay Salmon and Rack of Connemara Mountain Lamb. It’s the ideal place for dining in on this gloomy November night.

A Love Story 

A bend in the road reveals Kylemore Abbey rising from Pollacappul Lake.

It’s a short 16 kilometer (10 mile) drive along a picture-perfect country road to Kylemore Abbey. Originally built as a Neo-Gothic castle in 1864-1871 alongside Pollacappul Lake, the Abbey’s history of love and tragedy is the stuff of Irish legends.

Kylemore Castle was built by Manchester tycoon Mitchell Henry as a present for his beloved wife Margaret. They both fell in love with the area on their honeymoon and he purchased the 15,000-acre estate as a gift for her. The Irish architect James Franklin Fuller, who was responsible for some of Ireland’s best-known buildings the time, was commissioned to design the 40,000-square foot Kylemore Castle, which boasted “all the innovations of the modern age”.

An exquisite diminutive Gothic cathedral was built on the grounds of Kylemore Castle in memory of Margaret Henry.

The love story turned tragic when the Henrys went on journey to Egypt in 1874, where Margaret caught dysentery and died shortly thereafter. The inconsolable Henry built a diminutive Gothic “cathedral” in her memory a short walk from the castle. This exquisite building has many of the hallmarks of its large Gothic counterparts, including a fan-vaulted ceiling, projecting corner buttresses, angelic gargoyles and pointed arches. The marble columns that support the vaulted ceiling are made of four Irish marbles: reddish-pink from Munster, black from Leinster, white from Ulster and green Connemara marble from Connacht.  He also built a small mausoleum in the woods near the church where Margaret was laid to rest, and her bereaved husband joined her upon his own death in 1910.

From Castle to Abbey

The Abbey has retained its romantic Neo-Gothic elegance.

The castle changed hands a few times after that, until it was purchased by Benedictine nuns looking for a new home after they had to flee their monastery in Flanders during World War I. The nuns converted the castle into Kylemore Abbey, which became the first Benedictine abbey in Ireland. They subsequently opened an international boarding school, and a day school for local girls, which ran up until 2010.

The public rooms have been restored to their Victorian opulence.

Today, a number of the public rooms of the castle have been restored to the Victorian opulence of the Henry family’s days, including the drawing rooms, dining room, ballroom and Mitchell Henry’s study. They are open for guided tours only, but visitors are free to wander around the grounds including the church and the vast Victorian Walled Gardens, which includes a formal flower garden, greenhouses and a kitchen garden. The remainder of the Abbey is used by the Benedictine nuns and is closed to visitors. 

Today, Kylemore is one of the most visited attractions in the west of Ireland, and an integral part of the Connemara experience.

Connemara vista.

Good to Know

  • Getting there — Connemara is a region on the Atlantic coast of western County Galway, in the west of Ireland. It is located some 75 kilometers (45 miles) from Galway City  and Galway airport. From there the best way to explore this exceptionally wild and scenic area of the country is by car. The N59 is the main road serving the area, following an inland route from Galway to Clifden.  Kylemore Abbey is located right on the edge of Connemara National Park, 77 kilometers (48 miles) north from the centre of Galway City and 17 kilometers (10 miles) west of Leenane via N59.
  • Visiting —  Kylemore Abbey opening days and times vary with the seasons. Consult the Abbey’s website for information and required advance booking for the guided visit of the Abbey .
  • Staying —  Leenane Hotel, Clifden Road, Leenane, Connemara, Ireland. Contact:  Tel: +353 095 42249, and e-mail.  .
  • What’s in a name?  A lot actually, when it comes to Connemara. The region is not just about landscapes, as breathtaking as they are.  It is also about the long and harsh history of an ancient people in a desolate land. The name derives from ‘Conmhaicne Mara’ (the tribe of Cormac by the sea). The Irish people  originally called it Conmaicnemara until, after centuries of British rule, it was It was shortened in the 18th century to Connemara — Which brings us to Gaeltacht. Although you may see this indication on the occasional road sign, don’t expect your GPS to find it. Gaeltacht (literally Gaelic language) identifies the few districts of Ireland where the Irish government recognizes that the Irish language (Gaeilge or Gaelic) is the predominant language of the home. Connemara is one of the last remaining strongholds and the largest Gaeltacht region in the country.

Location, location, location!

Kylemore Abbey


An Irish Roadtrip — Brú na Bóinne and the Giant’s Causeway

An Irish Roadtrip — Brú na Bóinne and the Giant’s Causeway

It’s a one-hour drive north from Dublin to Brú na Bóinne (Gaelic for Palace of the Boyne), and 5,000 years back in time.

 The River Boyne at  Brú na Bóinne.

Built around 3200 BC within a bend of the River Boyne, the Brú na Bóinne complex is the most prominent Neolithic site in Ireland, famous for the spectacular passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. These ceremonial structures, which pre-date the Egyptian pyramids by some six centuries, also hold the most important concentration of megalithic art in Western Europe.

Brú na Bóinne

The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Reception Center.

On the south bank of the River Boyne, the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Reception Center is the only access point to the Neolithic sites of Newgrange and Knowth, located north of the river. On the lower level of the Center, extensive exhibits include a life-size replica of the Newgrange Chamber, as well as a model of one of Knowth’s smallest tombs. Access to the actual sites begins with visitors crossing the river via a footbridge to reach the shuttle bus that takes them to the monuments for their pre-booked, time-allocated guided visit.


A narrow passage of stone slabs leads to the central chamber.

Newgrange is the best example of a Stone Age passage tomb in Ireland and one of the most remarkable prehistoric sites in Europe. The burial mound is some 80 meters (260 feet) in diameter and 13 meters (42 feet) high. The narrow passage leading to the central chamber and its three side niches is 19 meters (62 feet) long, walled and roofed with sturdy, carved slabs. Above the chamber, the roof slabs are arranged to an astonishing steeple-like peak. Human remains and funeral goods were originally found here.

The roofbox allows the rising sun to reach the inner chamber.

However, the most remarkable feature of Newgrange is its roofbox (open panel above the entrance). Every year, on the days around the winter solstice, the rising sun gleams through the opening and for 15 minutes illuminate the passage within, down to the innermost chamber, brushing the decorations with amber light. (Note: for visitors at any other time, the event is now re-created electrically).

The passage stones display elaborately carved motives.

Over 200,000 tonnes of earth and stone were used in the construction of Newgrange. The stones are believed to have been quarried and transported from Wicklow, 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the south as well as the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. Newgrange also plays a role in Irish Mythology, as the burial place of the lovers Dairmuid and Grainne, and as the place where the great warrior Cuchulainn was conceived.


The Knowth site consists of a one-hectare mound surrounded by smaller satellite mounds.

The Knowth site consists of one large mound and 18 smaller satellite mounds. The large mound covers one hectare (2.5 acres) and contains two passages, placed along an east-west line. The entire mound is encircled by 127 kerbstones, many of them decorated with megalithic art. Over 200 decorated stones were found during excavations. Most of the motifs here are typical: spirals, lozenges and concentric circles, as well as unusual crescent shapes.

The chamber contained basin stones used to hold creamated remains.

According to the virtual visit at the Visitor Center, the eastern passage of the large mound leads to a cruciform chamber, similar to that found at Newgrange. It contains three recesses and basin stones into which the cremated remains of the dead may have been placed. The interior of the actual mound is not open to visitors.


Although it is not part of the official visit, the main mound of the Dowth site compares in size with its famous neighbors at Newgrange and Knowth, and visitors are free to walk around the site. Its original roof collapsed long ago and was replaced, so that from the outside, the tomb seems preserved. There is no access to the interior of the structure.

The Land of Giants 

Walking the Giant’s Causeway is an exhilarating experience.

It’s a 220-kilometer (136-mile), three-hour drive north from Brú na Bóinne to the Giant’s Causeway, a dramatic promontory of massive basalt columns, stretching along 4 miles (6 kilometers) of the northern coast of Northern Ireland, on the edge of the Antrim Plateau. Here, more than 40 thousand perfectly stacked basalt columns create what looks like a giant set of interlocking bricks leading down to the ocean.

Massive step formations descend into the ocean.

This epic landscape was formed about 60 million years ago by a volcanic fissure eruption, when successive flows of lava cooled as they reached the water. Layers of basalt formed the columns, and the pressure between these columns sculpted them into polygonal shapes that vary from 38 to 51 centimeters (15 to 20 inches) in diameter and measure up to 25 meters (82 feet) in height. 



The hotel is a haven of timeless charm at the edge of the Causeway.

Since we plan to explore this storied coastal landscape at the first hour the following morning, we have opted to spend the night at the Causeway Hotel, itself an historic landmark, adjacent to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center and the head of the Causeway. The hotel was built in 1836 to create a place for travelers to stay when visiting the famous rock formations. Today, the cheerful white clapboard, 28-room property has retained its timeless charm, albeit with the addition of 21st century amenities.

Into the Myth

The basalt columns facade of the Center unobtrusively recedes into the horizon of the Antrim Plateau.

The next morning, after a gargantuan Irish breakfast, we head for the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center. Open in 2012, the Center is a remarkable creation of the Irish firm of Heneghan Peng Architects, designed to evoke the towering columns of the Causeway. Its facade, lines of irregular basalt column separated by vertical windows, unobtrusively recedes into the landscape and integrates itself into the top of the plateau. Inside, the space consists of multiple levels connected by ramps, staggered to accommodate the sloping site.

A first glimpse of the Causeway, seen from the Center..

Here, multiple interpretive spaces tell the story of the Causeway from different points of view. As is traditional, it features the mainstream geological view, which says the lava flows erupted some 60 million years ago. But it also features the local mythology, about the legendary Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) who built the Causeway as a bridge to Scotland to fight his Scottish arch nemesis, Benandonner. Then an immersive audio-visual experience places the viewer at the centre of the landscape’s dramatic geological formation. And at the far end of the building, the coffee shop also dishes out spectacular coastal views.

The Giant’s Organ Pipes.

From the Center it’s an easy 20-minute walk down a long scenic hill to the Causeway itself. Then the paved path leads all the way to the Amphitheater, along diverse surreal rock formations ranging from the Wishing Chair, the Giant’s Boot, Camel, Harp and Giant’s Organ Pipes. In case you can’t figure which is which, there is signage to give you a hint. And for the sure-footed, it’s ok to climb the rocks — at your own risk. 

I did not. But this walk along the wild Northern Atlantic shoreline and the awesome older-than-time wonders of the Giant’s territory remain an exhilarating highlight of my Irish road-trip.

Good to Know

  • Getting There — By Car to Brú na Bóinne: the  Visitor Centre is located approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Dublin via highway M1 to Drogheda. Take Exit 9 to Donore Village and follow Staleen Road to the Visitor Center. From Brú na Bóinne to The Giant’s Causeway: it’s approximately 220 kilometers (136 miles) north via highways M1 and M2 to Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway.  Note: About one hour into the drive, the bilingual (Gaelic and English) roadsigns used throughout the Republic of Ireland suddenly become English only. You have just crossed the open border into the British territory of Northern Ireland. From here on the speed indications change from kilometers to miles and the currency in use goes from Euro to British Pound. Also if you are planning to rent a car in Dublin for your roadtrip, you will need to purchase additional insurance for driving in Northern Ireland.
  • Visiting  Brú na Bóinne:  Access to the Brú na Bóinne archeological site is limited and advanced booking is required.  For opening hours and pre- booking your visit, consult the Brú na Bóinne website.  The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center, 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8SU. Opening hours and access availability vary broadly with the seasons. Consult the Center’s website for details and strongly recommended advanced bookings. Contact: Tel. +44 28 2073 1855 or email. . 
  • Staying —  The Causeway Hotel, 40 Causeway Road, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8SU. Contact: tel. +44 28 2073 1210, or  email.  Hotel guests receive complimentary on-site parking and entry to the adjacent Causeway Visitor Center.
  • Getting Around —To reach the Causeway, you can either walk 1.5 kilometer (1 mile) down the long scenic hill or take the Causeway Coaster minibus. A popular option with many visitors is to take the 20-minute walk downhill to the main causeway and catch the shuttle bus back up the hill (fare was 1 GBP each way, or 1.25 USD at the time of this writing). Note: While access to the Causeway itself is technically free, there is a 13.00 GBP (16 USD) per adult charge for parking at the site. Ticket price includes access to all the amenities of the Visitor Center, including guided tour, audio guide, immersive exhibitions and café. Visitors are encouraged to pre-book an entry time slot. Parking-only tickets are not available.

Location, location, location!

Giant's Causeway, Ireland

In Dublin – Two Unique Museums Tell The Story of Ireland

In Dublin – Two Unique Museums Tell The Story of Ireland

There are more than 40 museums spread across Dublin, offering visitors the chance to satisfy their interest for all things Irish, from archeology to whisky and leprechauns. Two  are “must-sees” to explore the historical and cultural heritage of the country.

The National Museum — Archeology

The Knowth flint macehead dates back to somewhere between 3300 BC and 2800 BC.

The Prehistoric Ireland exhibit at the National Museum contains artefacts from the earliest period of human habitation in Ireland: stone implements created by the first hunter-gatherers, beginning around 7000 BC. The tools, pottery and burial objects of Neolithic farmers follow, including the unique ceremonial macehead discovered at the tomb of Knowth (County Meath). 

The exhibit then covers the introduction of metallurgy into Ireland around 2500 BC, with early copper implements. Then from the later Bronze Age period there is an impressive array of bronze axes, daggers, swords, shields, cauldrons and cast bronze horns. Wooden objects include a large dugout longboat, wooden wheels and reed fishing equipment.


Bronze Age Irish Gold

Early Bronze Age sheet gold lunulae.

Late Bronze Age dress-fasteners.

By far the one of the most remarkable holdings of the museum is the stunning collection of prehistoric Irish goldwork  ranging in date between 2200 BC and 500 BC. Most are pieces of jewelry but the precise function of some is unclear.

During the Early Bronze Age the principal gold products were made from sheet gold, and include sundiscs and crescent-shaped gold collars called lunulae. Around 1200 BC, new gold working techniques were developed and a variety of torcs were produced by twisting bars or strips of gold. Styles evolved around 900 BC – the Late Bronze Age – to be be divided into two main types. Solid objects such as bracelets and dress-fasteners now contrast dramatically with large sheet gold collars and delicate ear-spools. 

The immense quantity of Bronze Age gold from Ireland suggests the availability of rich local ore sources. However, their location has never been identified.


Viking Age

A replica of a Viking fishing vessel marks the entrance of the exhibit.

Another fascinating exhibit focuses on Viking life in Ireland, through objects from Viking graves of the 9th and 10th centuries, and from settlement sites of the 10th to 12th centuries. The first recorded Viking raids on Ireland took place in 795, when islands off the north and west coasts were plundered. Later on, Viking fleets appearing on the major river systems and fortifying bases are mentioned around 840. Fast, manoeuvrable ships made for effecting raiding. A replica of a Viking fishing vessel used for these purposes marks the entrance of the exhibit. 

Typical Norse paired shoulder brooches of bronze from female burial sites.

Pagan Viking burial traditions included the personal possessions of the deceased. Warriors were buried with their weapons. Burial sites near Dublin, dated from the early 10th century on, also reveal the presence of weights, scales, purses, tongs and hammers, suggesting that some of the dead were merchants and craftsmen. Typically, Norse oval brooches, worn in pairs in women’s costume, as well as objects of domestic life such as a spindle whorls (for spinning wool) and bronze needle cases, indicate that women were also buried in these cemeteries.

Viking Silver Brooche (circa 10th century).

By the end of the 10th  century the Vikings in Ireland had adopted Christianity. With this fusion of cultures it is often difficult to distinguish between Norse and Irish artefacts from this time on. The final section of this exhibit displays church metalwork and other ecclesiastical objects of the 10th to 12th  centuries, which illustrate Christian art created by those Vikings who settled and converted, and how Norse features became absorbed into Irish culture and art styles.


Power, Work and Prayer

The medieval section of the museum is divided into  three galeries: Power, Work and Prayer, reflecting the three-fold division of medieval society — nobles, common people and clergy.

Detail of the Breac Maodhóg Shrine.

Power deals with the nobility, both Irish and Anglo-Irish, who ruled medieval society. Displays of jewelry and other personal adornments used by noble and affluent men and women highlight courtly life, as do treasures associated with important aristocratic families, such as the 11th century Breac Maodhóg Shrine associated with the O’Reilly lords of East Bréifne. There is also a fine display of late medieval swords and axes that highlights the unique characteristics of medieval Irish warfare.

The Medieval Work gallery showcases the tools and products of crafts and trades.

Work focuses on secular, non-noble society, with particular emphasis on economic and social life. Separate sections deal with the agricultural practices of the countryside and the life of towns, which became a widespread feature of the Irish landscape during this time. A large part of the gallery is devoted to the tools and products of medieval crafts and trades, both urban and rural. 



Detail of the crook – The Prosperous Crozier (circa late 9th or early 10th century)..

Prayer explores the dominant features of religious life during the Middle Ages. It focuses on the fundamental changes that took place in the organisation of the Church and the introduction of new monastic orders. Many practices of the older Church tradition survived, however, especially in areas outside English control. The exhibition also looks at religious practice and devotion as well as church furnishings, including a fine selection of late medieval reliquaries: book shrines, bell shrines and croziers.


EPIC is located in a restored 19th century warehouse,.

Located on the docklands of Dublin, in the vaults of a fully restored 19th century bonded customs warehouse, EPIC, The Irish Immigration Museum, is the antithesis of the National Museum – Archeology: it covers covers the history of the Irish diaspora. In the word of its Curator Jessica Trainer, “EPIC is not an acronym. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of the epic journeys of Irish emigrants.”

Interior design of the EPIC itinerary.

While there are recorded mentions of Irish migration throughout the Middle Ages, it can only be quantified starting in the early 18th century. Since then, between 9 and 10 million people born in Ireland have emigrated. That is more than the current population of the entire island, which today stand around 6.9 million (5 million in the Republic of Ireland and 1.9 million in Northern Ireland). The poorest of them went to Great Britain. Those who could afford it went further, including almost 5 million to the United States and 1.2 million to Canada.

Migration – Artwork representation.


Also, between the 1790s and 1920s, approximately 400,000 Irish settlers – both voluntary and forced – are thought to have arrived in Australia. They first came over as convicts, with around 50,000 transported between 1791 and 1867. Even larger numbers of free settlers came during the 19th  century due to famine, Overall, an estimated 80 million people worldwide now claim some Irish descent, including more than 36 million Americans claiming Irish as their primary ethnicity.

An Immersive Experience

Opened in 2016, the museum is made up of twenty galleries that create an immersive, fully digital, interactive environment for visitors to experience the history and various aspects of Irish emigration. The exhibits’ itinerary is arranged around four individual themes: 

Early emigrants voyage into the unknown.

Migration — This introduction to the itinerary deals with migration patterns from Ireland over the centuries. Motivation cover missionary work, the Irish famine, religious and social persecutions, criminal transportation, and the effects of Irish involvement in foreign conflicts. Especially powerful are the individual stories of six emigrants, played out on video. They explain their reasons for leaving, their hopes, the challenges they encountered and their outcome.

EPIC – Immigrants achievements.

Influence  and Diaspora Today — These two themes seamlessly blend into each other, covering notable Irish immigrants in the world of business, sports, sciences, political leaders and thinkers, music, dance and entertainment, art and fashion, writing and storytelling. A “Rogues Gallery” of infamous trouble makers with Irish heritage is also included. Then the itinerary ends with an uplifting glance at festivals and celebrations of Irish culture worldwide.



Good to Know

  • Getting There Dublin is easily reached by plane, via regularly scheduled flights from around the world into Dublin Airport. It can also be reached via ferries from England, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.  
  • Getting Around — Central Dublin is fairly compact and is best explored by a combination of walking and public transportation. The city has a good public transportation network which includes public buses, trams and rail services (for going outside the city center).
  • Visiting —The National Museum of Ireland – Archeology, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, is open year round Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday and Monday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. It is closed  on Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day and Good Friday. Admission to all permanent collections is free, EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum, CHQ, Custom House Quay, Dublin 1, is open year round, every day from 10:00 am – 6.:45 pm.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Saint Patrick's Cathedral