Meteora. Photo: Pedro Ortega

When I was a child I remember the James Bond film For your eyes only, where happened adventures in a landscape I haven´t seen ever: a place located over a sandstone rock pillar. I was surprised when some years later I discover this place was located in Greece and was called Meteora.

Meteora. Photo: Pedro Ortega

Meteora means “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”. I understand perfectly this definition for this incredible natural place, that seems not to belong to the Earth.

Meteora. Photo: Pedro Ortega

But even more incredible than the miraculous nature are the monasteries built on the tops since fourteen century. I cannot imagine how the monks managed to built there so complex buildings. There are six monasteries one in each peak, that were created to serve monks and nuns following the teachings of the Greek Orthodox Church. So inside the monasteries we found also beautiful frescoes of Byzantine style, following the ones from Athos Mountain Monastery. From there came Athanasios who was the promoter of the first buildings in Meteora to escape from Turks and Albans.

Byzantine frescoe: Jesus, Mary and St. John. Photo: Pedro Ortega

Unfortunately, Second World War destroy some of these monasteries, a lost as many as sadly disappeared at that terrible war.

I illustrate this post with several pictures I took in my visit to Meteora in 2007. A place you must visit if you want to enjoy the wonders of Nature and Byzantine Art.

Meteora. Photo: Pedro Ortega

La Quinta da Regaleira

Palace. Photo: Clara Martín. All rights reserved.
Sintra city is, no doubt, a place to visit if you are near Lisbon (Portugal). It´s placed in a Nature Park, in a mountain that rises over the sea and there were built many romantic palaces since the 18th century. From Palacio da Pena, the first built, to ancient Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra is plenty of special places. By its special characteristics I want to talk today abour La Quinta da Regaleira.
Dionisos in Gods balcony. Photo: Clara Martín. All rights reserved.
This singular palace is located in a hill called Promontorio de la Luna, a telluric source or power center. By this special location we must talk about an architecture and gardens with hermetic connotations.
Fountain with gargoyles. Photo: Clara Martín. All rights reserved.
The story begins in 1892 when Dr. Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro buys the country estate. This man, son of Portuguese parents, was born in Brasil and inherited a big fortune. He was collector of antiquities and books and professed Christiansm in a Gnostic way. This fact is directly connected with the built of the Quinta. Scatologic Christianism, related with the end of times and linked with the salvation of the soul.
The initiation pit. Photo: Clara Martín. All rights reserved.
He entrusted the project to Luigi Manini, italian, architect and painter, close to him in the hermetic beliefs and aesthetic and philosophical taste. They tried to resurrect past ideals, proper to the Romantic revival of their times. So the aesthetic of the palace was the Neomanuelino style.
Gardens. Photo: Clara Martín. All rights reserved.
We must refer not only the palace but the gardens, which are plenty of symbolism in sculptures, water fountains, lakes, little buildings, caves and the amazing initiation pit, everything inside a tropical garden. This symbolism comes from alchemy, temple masonry and Portuguese mythology. We must mention the Gods balcony, with nine statues of pagan gods, number with symbolic connotations.
The pit is, no doubt, the most surprising place of the Quinta. It´s an initiation pit: whoever crosses it and manages to exit will be renewed. This pit has a singular architecture, it has spiral shape whit nine groups of fifteen steps (again number nine) inside a column structure, downwards the bottom where is a templar cross inside an eight points, the heraldic symbol of Carvalho Monteiro. Just in the bottom there is a labyrinth carved in the rocks, of which one way drives to exit where you must croos a lake to exit.

About the palace, as I mentioned, is built in Neomanuelino style, inspired in great Renaissance Portuguese buildings as Monasterio de los Jerónimos or Belem Tower. Inside the palace you can find rich mosaics, luxury woods, impressive stairs and symbolic decorative images wherever you look. I want to emphasize the hall of the three Virtues, with the allegories of Strength, Wisddom and Beuty as three young people.

Just a place dedicated mainly to spirit but also to arose the senses: Beauty, Philosophy and Religion united in a unique architectonic whole.

An sculpture of Bernhard Hoetger in Darmstadt

Bernhard Hoetger "Dyonisus riding a leopard" (1911-14). All rights reserved.

One of the places more impressive for me is the Matildenhöhe colony in Darmstadt (Germany). From 1899 to 1914 it was a place of cultural and artistic avantgarde, leading the Jugendstil movement (aka Art Nouveau). The colony was a place to combine living and Art, a place where beauty and design is continuously surrounding you. There, the german Jugendstil artists led by Joseph Maria Olbrich (who was brought from Vienna, member of the Wiener Secession) built this fantastic colony. They design everything: from the town planing to interiors, all the houses, gardens, towers, museums, galleries… Everything yo find in Darmstadt is a piece of Art.

I visited the Matildenhöhe several years ago and I still remember the so impressive artistic landscape. There are many many things to talk about the colony, so I have chosen for this post an sculpture from Bernhard Hoetger that stands in the entrance of the main garden.

Bernhard Hoetger (1874-1949) was a german sculptor from Hörde (Westfalia). He sympathised with stone masonry and from then on entered in a workshop for church furnishings and attended to sculpture classes in Düsseldorf. So he could start working as sculptor in Paris, Darmstadt, Berlin and Beatenburg. He stood in Darmstadt from 1911-1914, the last years of splendor of the colony. There he sculpted many statues, mainly in the colony main garden.

The present sculpture was made in bronze over an stone basement. The figures are a leopard and a child over it. Though many of the elements of the colony have christian roots (for example the russian-style church located in the garden) I think our sculpture belongs to the pagan tradition. The image of a child riding a leopard drives us to the greek god Dyonissus, associated with the ecstasy. This time Dyonissus appears as a child, resting over the leopard back. The composition isn´t classic at all, both are foreshortened figures, doing an strange composition, proper to the Jugendstil. The use of the god Dyonissus could drive us to Aby Warburg Art theory, where across the ages there are two forces: one is linked with Apollo (equilibrium, self control) and the other with Dyonisus (ecstasy, passion). Maybe Hoetger wanted to remark the Dyonisiac character of the Jugendstil in Darmstadt.

Also the basement is an interesting element to analyze, characteristic of Jugendstil: the typography. This element is proper of all Art Nouveau types. Everywhere the Art Nouveau grew, the artists created new typographies. Surely you remember the Paris Metro type and Alphonse Mucha letters, just to remark the most wellknown examples. This time Hoetger has designed a type characterised by the rectangular shape of all the letters, inside which he draws lines to differentiate between each one.

This is only one of the artistic treasures you can find in the Matildenhöhe in Darmstadt. I do recommend to visit this magic place. An experience of ecstasy for the senses.


“Künstlerkolonie Matildenhöhe Darmstadt (1899-1914). The Museum Book”. Institut Matildenhöhe Darmstadt 1999.