Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Maxxi Museum, Rome

The MAXXI museum designed by Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid is the latest and most ambitious project to try to refresh the Italian capital's image of a decadent city bent on its glorious past. MAXXI, officially called the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts, houses not only important works by Anish Kapoor, Sol Lewitt and Andy Warhol but also an auditorium, libraries, workshops and spaces for live events and commercial activities.

The euro150 million ($223 million) MAXXI is made of white curving cement walls, intricate black stairways that connect halls and pathways, and floor-to-ceiling windows that give the museum natural light and visitors a look out onto the neighborhood. From the outside, the museum looks like a wide structure that expands horizontally rather than vertically. Built on the grounds of a former military barracks — of which a facade is still recognizable — MAXXI is located in a residential neighbourhood outside the city's historic center.

Officials unveiling the opening exhibit stressed the link between old and new, their belief that a city and nation that have been on the avant-garde of art and architecture for centuries should be promoting contemporary arts.

For Hadid, who became the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, the challenge was to work with the "layers" of Rome's artistic past and bring a new space for art in the city. She recalled visiting Rome in the 1960s and posing in front of the Trevi Fountain, a masterpiece of Baroque art. "Rome has fantastic light," Hadid said. "The idea of this project is about layering and bringing in light to the space so that you have a naturally lit space — and to give the curators tremendous freedom in the way they can organize exhibits."

Rome is visited by some 12 million people each year, mostly attracted to the artistic glories of its past — the ancient ruins, the Colosseum, the fountains designed by Bernini or Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. In recent years, officials have tried to expand Rome's culture offerings with some cutting-edge works, but these efforts have met mixed responses. Romans have been hostile to some new buildings, apparently not convinced that a modern structure can successfully stand beside the marvels of the past. As for the MAXXI, the jury is still out.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Place of the Month: Edinburgh

With streets steeped in history and a thriving cultural scene, Edinburgh offers the perfect balance between all things traditional and contemporary. The UNESCO World Heritage Site at the heart of the city combines the medieval Old Town, the Georgian New Town and award winning modern architecture. You’ll see views that make for perfect picture postcards, mysterious winding streets, elegant terraces and an abundance of shops, bars and restaurants.

A stroll through the city's streets show Edinburgh's timeless elegance, steeped in fascinating history. From the dominating castle at the heart of the city to the new Scottish Parliament building, inspiration, creativity and vibrancy are in the air everywhere in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh's world-ranking museums and galleries tell the story of a fascinating past mixed with contemporary exhibitions. Choose from national collections and international blockbusters to more intimate spaces and exhibits. Home to Scotland's five National Galleries and Scotland's National Museum, there's a number of events and exhibitions to choose from year round.

In terms of shopping, Edinburgh has something for everyone. From the High Street favourites of Princes Street, funky boutiques of the West End and designer chic of the New Town, you'll be spoilt for choice. Edinburgh is home to Scotland's only Harvey Nichols store which sits next to Edinburgh's designer boulevard, Multrees Walk. From Louis Vuitton and Armani to G-Star Raw and Replay, the choice is yours. If unique one-offs are your thing, why not check out local legend WM Armstrongs & Son in the Grassmarket, packed with vintage gowns and retro gems.

Edinburgh has an array of great traditional food. Rooftop restaurants and basement bars make eating and drinking in style an essential part of anyone's visit. Take your pick from contemporary style bars and restaurants to more traditional, cosy eateries. Edinburgh is said to have more restaurants per head of population than anywhere else in the UK.

Naples National Archaeological Museum

The Naples National Archaeological Museum located in Naples, Southern Italy, contains a large collection of Roman artefacts from a host of archaeological sites located in and around the region of Campania, notably Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. Though Pompeii has its charms, to see its real gems – including wonderful sculptures and frescoes – you must visit the National Archaeological Museum. The items on display give a privileged insight into the everyday life of the many local ancient cities.

For those of you who are particularly fond of more ancient artefacts, the museum also holds the third largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in Italy, after the Vatican Museum and the Museo Egizio in Turin. The works are primarily made up of two private collections, assembled by Cardinal Borgia and Picchianti in the late 18th/ early 19th century, and they provide an important record of Egyptian civilization from the Old Kingdom up to the Ptolemaic-Roman era.The museum is open from 9.00 to 20.00, Wednesday to Sunday.