for someone from new zealand, "old" buildings can be anything from about 50 years old. humans have inhabited new zealand/aotearoa for less than a thousand years, & the earliest peoples left very few traces. europeans have been there for barely 200 years, so our oldest buildings are from the mid-1800s and the suburb of newtown in wellington (where i live when i'm "at home") is about 100 years old. when i lived in edinburgh's old town (medieval) it amused me that the "new town" dated back to the 1700s. the novelty of old european stuff, therefore, takes a long time to wear off. andy is probably sick to death of hearing me say, "wow, it's so OLD!" after 4 days of wandering around medieval towns, ruined castles and the archeological museum in bozen. call me a naive antipodean, a tourist from the new world, whatever - old stuff still blows me away.
south tyrol is a good area for castles; every strategic hill is topped with one, ruined or perhaps still inhabited (other hilltops have either a church, just as ancient, or a massive electricty pylon - not so ancient). some ruins you can freely wander into, some have been carefully preserved, others transformed into galleries and event centres. one of the castles we visited, runklestein, contains incredibly well-preserved frescoes. at one time, the interior of the castle must have been so wildly and continuously painted it must have been the medieval version of hypermedia overload. the scenes that still exist include legendary figures and stories (the tale of tristan & isolde filling an entire room) as well as contemporary scenes - medieval gentry hunting, jousting, playing ball, dancing (pictured below). there is even a picture of the castle itself, painted at some time near the end of the 14th century, in one of the main rooms. some rooms have painted patterns like wallpaper while others have painted "curtains" hanging on the walls. in one room with a series of figures around the top of the walls, there is a man who has turned his back, apparently very unusual for the time.
also in castle runkelstein at the moment is an exhibition called "homo sedens" which is all about chairs. as well as displaying many beautifully carved & constructed chairs from former times, there are a number of modern examples, & several comodes.
the holiday wasn't just about castles & museums (i haven't even mentioned ötzi the iceman! he's pretty amazing ... ); we also visited a winery & drove past acres & acres of grapes that terrace the hills. we followed the "wein strasse" to the south of bozen, passing through several small towns with streets so narrow it seems crazy to drive through them, to solerno where we decided against the 45-minute climb to a castle perched precariously on a finger of rock, and neumarkt where we had lunch. we planned to have a swim in kalterer see, but so did about 1000 other holidaymakers so we gave up after a tour of the carpark. happily, our hotel had a lovely outdoor pool - cold but so refreshing when it's 35 degrees!
on our last day, we came home via another medieval town, brixen. it was a sunday so again everything was closed, we could hardly find anywhere open for lunch even though there were plenty of tourists wandering around. the sunday closing thing is great - such an antidote to the capitalist shopping-as-entertainment ideology. (i remember closed sundays in new zealand when i was young - but these days the traffic is worse than rush-hour all day on sunday, as all the families in their 4-wheel drives go shopping.) the highlight of brixen was the dom - its cloister is lined with rich frescoes, and the interior is also incredibly ornate, with paintings, gilded trim and delicate chandeliers.
as we drove home - alternating between the autostrada and the landstrasse - the gorgeous weather we'd enjoyed for 4 days faded away & almost exactly as we crossed the border back into germany it began to rain. at oberau we came out of the tunnel into a full-on torrential rainstorm, & that night in münchen we had thunder & lightning. well, i'm told it's practically snowing in wellington. today has been hot, & now i'm watching another interesting sunset from the balcony. all the plants are flourishing - the tomatoes & lettuces in particular - except the sunflower which is kind of stunted : (
i just heard that new zealand has been proclaimed the most peaceful country in the world, for the second year in a row. i wonder whether peacefulness relates to youthfulness - perhaps we just haven't had time to work up the kind of complex and horrific situations that other countries seem unable (or unwilling?) to extricate themselves from ...
When I lived in Innsbruck, Brixen was one of my favorite places to visit. Reading this, I'd like to go back again. But if you like old buildings, you should visit us in Linz so I can give you an extended tour of the 500-year-old building where my office and Peter's workshop are located. The building is from the same period as the original instruments that Peter makes copies of.