Was This The Real Mona Lisa?

Mona Lisa
Wikimedia Commons

Scientists in Florence are examining the bones of a 16th century nun they think served as the model for the Mona Lisa.

Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo was the wife of a wealthy merchant and is rumored to have been the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait. She was a famed beauty in her time and lived across the street from the famous artist and inventor. When her husband died she became a nun at the convent of San Orsula in Florence, where she died and was buried in 1542.

A team of scientists went looking for her in a crypt under the convent. DNA in the bones they found is now being compared with samples taken from the Gherardini family tomb in hopes of finding a match. The next step will be facial reconstruction to see what the woman looked like in life. Perhaps they’ll find the mystery to her enigmatic smile.

Facial reconstruction and DNA analysis have already been done for the remains of King Richard III, found last year under an English parking lot. Researchers are also examining the possible remains of King Alfred the Great.

5 Places To See In 2013 Before They Disappear

If you’ve been thinking about where you might want to spend your vacation this year, don’t make any plans until you’ve read this list.

There are a lot of places and sights in the world that might not be around very much longer. Climate change, rising sea levels, human destruction and even shoddy artistry are to blame for the deterioration of some of the world’s treasures. Want to see them before they’re gone? Here are five places to see in 2013 before they disappear.

1. Jungfrau, Switzerland (above)

You’ve probably heard about the receding ice-cap on Tanzania‘s Mount Kilimanjaro, which grows smaller and smaller with each passing year. But climate change is affecting glaciers worldwide, including the Aletsch Glacier, which is the largest in the Swiss Alps. Over a period of 55 years, the glacier has shrunk in volume by 60 percent and continues to retreat at a pace of about 3 percent a year. Scientists believe there’s nothing they can do to stop this UNESCO World Heritage Site from melting away.If you want to visit the region before it changes forever, consider going to Jungfrau, which is one of the main summits in the area. Jungfrau is not just for mountain climbers – you can access parts of the mountain by train and visit the observatory, the Ice Palace (a museum made of ice that’s filled with ice sculptures) as well as other attractions.

If you go, you might want to download this iphone app that teaches you about the effects of climate change in the area. The app was designed by scientists at the University of Bern and includes maps and walking trails designed to improve your understanding of the melting glaciers.

2. “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci

“The Last Supper,” as you probably know, is a famous mural by artist Leonardo Da Vinci, painted during the 15th century. However, what you might not realize is that the artwork is slowly deteriorating and flaking away.

The mural, which is located on a church wall in Milan, Italy, began to fall apart less than 20 years after Da Vinci painted it. Part of the problem was the untested application method Da Vinci used to create his mural, but attempts to restore the artwork over the years have also contributed to the damage.

If you want to see “The Last Supper,” you’ll have to book well ahead (at least four weeks in advance is a good bet), as access to the mural is restricted to a small number of visitors at a time. After passing through a humidity-controlled environment, you’ll get 15 minutes to enjoy the masterpiece before being ushered out. You can reserve your ticket through this website.

3. The Maldives

The Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean that is slowly sinking into the sea. The country – which is made up of almost 1200 islands and atolls – is the lowest country in the world, with the islands averaging a height of just 4’11″ above sea level.

As climate change leads to rising sea levels, it threatens to swamp the islands. Water has already eroded 14 of the islands badly enough that they’ve had to be abandoned. Local authorities are so worried they’re even buying up land in neighboring countries so they’ll have somewhere to relocate their 300,000 citizens.

Tourism is the main source of income in the Maldives and a lot of that money is going towards the country’s relocation funds. So if you visit the Maldives, you could actually play a part in helping the inhabitants find a new home after theirs slips beneath the sea.

4. Madagascar

Madagascar is an island nation off the east coast of Africa famed for its biodiversity. Because the country split off from India more than 88 million years ago, the plants and wildlife on the island have been able to continue developing without interference. As a result, more than 80 percent of the flora and fauna is unique to the country and can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.

Unfortunately, the environment is under threat because of deforestation. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and many of its people are forced to slash and burn the forests in order to plant crops for food. A lot of the timber on the island is also highly valued and can sell for more than $2000 a ton, causing people to log even where it’s illegal. More than 80 percent of the country’s forests have already been destroyed and many species of wildlife have disappeared.

5. Polar bears near the Arctic

Polar bears were the first animals to end up on the endangered species list because of global warming. These animals can only live in areas where the ocean freezes, because they hunt the seals that live under the sheets of ice. Problem is, as global temperatures rise, arctic ice only stays frozen for short periods – which means polar bears don’t get enough time to hunt their prey. The situation gets worse and worse each year and a lot of bears die trying to swim long distances between the ice. Some even die as a result of cannibalism, since desperately hungry adult bears will eat the cubs.

There are only about 20,000-25,000 polar bears left in the wild. If you want to see them, your best bet is in Canada, which is home to about 65 percent of the world’s polar bear population.

[Photo credits: Flickr user Neville10; Flickr user vanz; Flickr user YXO; Flickr user Frank Vassen; Flickr user Travel Manitoba]

Mona Lisa mob marvels Miami

Mona LisaIt’s the most iconic painting ever made. The Mona Lisa, painted in the early 16th century by Leonardo Da Vinci, has inspired a whole genre of painting. Perhaps the first imitation was this one by Gian Giacomo Caprotti, Da Vinci’s favorite pupil.

Since then the Mona Lisa has been reproduced on countless coffee mugs, handbags, t-shirts, mousepads, even toothpaste.

Now the Freedom Tower at Miami Dade College is examining this artistic obsession with Mona Lisa Unveiled, an exhibition that traces the influence of Mona Lisa on subsequent artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Jean Margat, and Salvador Dalì.

The painting inspired thieves too. The exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. An Italian named Vincenzo Peruggia hid in a broom closet until the museum closed, and then made off with the painting. He later claimed he wanted it returned to its native Italy. He fled to Florence and kept it in his apartment for two years before trying to sell it to a local gallery. The art dealer did the right thing and called the cops. Peruggia was hailed as an Italian hero and only did a few months in prison.

Mona Lisa Unveiled runs through October 7.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Celebrate Italy’s 150th birthday in Torino

Italy's 150th birthday150 years ago, Italy became a country. Well, sort of. Venice and Rome didn’t join for another 9 years, so many Italians will be waiting until 2020 for the big celebration of the Risorgimento, as the unification is called in Italian. Nevertheless, as Italy’s first capital city in 1861, Torino (aka Turin, home of the famed Shroud) is celebrating all year, including the reopening today of the Risorgimento Museum, with free admission for the rest of March. This weekend also marks the reopening of the Automobile Museum, with a huge expansion and total concept overhaul, fitting for a country that gave birth to the Ferrari, the Lamborghini, the Alfa Romeo, and Torino’s own Fiat.

Beginning this summer, the history and evolution of Italian fashion will be celebrated just outside Turin at La Venaria Reale. La Venaria Reale will also host a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition starting in October 2011. Not to leave out food, visitors can attend “royal dinners” all spring through fall, sample traditional regional dishes, and learn about their history as part of the unification. Buon compleanno, Italia!

Learn more about Italy’s birthday events at eng.italia150.it and

www.dreamofitaly.com

The ten best castles in Europe

best castles in europe

Castles originated in Europe over a thousand years ago. These fortresses were one of the original defense systems, and erecting the structures on hills or just beyond moats was a functional choice. Castles were built to house rulers, impose power, and above all, spurn would be attackers. Conforming to these basic principles of utilitarian design, the strongholds now appear solitary, majestic, and frozen in time. The attackers are long gone, and now a steady stream of camera clutching invaders breach the castles daily, ready to inspect the epic grandeur of the past.

While Europe has hundreds of excellent castles, these ten all have design, character, and history that sets them apart. Some occupy the center of bustling cities, while others lurk in forgotten countrysides. Spanning eight countries across Europe, each of these castles has a story to tell.

Prague Castle (above)
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Nearest airport: Prague Airport
Year originally built: 870
Inhabitants: Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors, and presidents of the Czech Republic
Interesting fact: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Prague castle is the largest castle complex in the world.

best castles in Europe

Bran “Dracula’s” Castle
Location: Bran, Romania
Nearest airport: Henri Coandă International Airport in Otopeni, Romania near Bucharest
Year originally built: 1212
Inhabitants: Teutonic Knights, Mircea the Elder, Vlad III, and Romanian royalty
Interesting fact: In 2007, the castle was put up for sale for $78 million. It has since been taken off the market.

castles in europe

Neuschwanstein
Location: Schwangau, Germany
Nearest airport: Munich International Airport
Year originally built: construction began in 1869
Inhabitants: King Ludwig II
Interesting fact: This castle has been visited by over 60 million people and is the template for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.

best castles in europe

Leeds Castle
Location: Maidstone, Kent, England
Nearest airport: Kent International Airport
Year originally built: 1119
Inhabitants: King Edward I, Henry VIII, and other notable British royalty
Interesting fact: Leeds Castle hosts a large garden maze and a dog collar museum.

best castles in europe

Windsor Castle
Location:
Windsor, Berkshire, England
Nearest airport: Heathrow Airport
Year originally built: 11th century
Inhabitants: William the Conqueror, Henry I, Edward III, and many other British rulers
Interesting fact: Windsor Castle is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.

best castles in europe

Mont Saint-Michel
Location:
Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
Nearest airport: Rennes Britanny Airport
Year originally built: 10th century, though the earliest abbeys in the fort date to the 6th century
Inhabitants: Currently 41 people call the Mont Saint-Michel home, and the structure has been home to monks to over a thousand years.
Interesting fact: The tides around Mont Saint-Michel vary by almost 50 feet, and many people have drowned approaching across the sands.

best castles in europe

Château de Chambord
Location:
Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, France
Nearest airport: Paris Charles de Gaulle
Year originally built: 1526
Inhabitants: King François I, Louis XIV, and the Ducal family
Interesting fact: Though the original designer of the châteaux is widely disputed, some insist it was Leonardo Da Vinci.


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best castles in europe

Hohenwerfen
Location:
South of Salzburg, Austria
Nearest airport: Salzburg Airport
Year originally built: 1078
Inhabitants: Salzburg rulers and prisoners
Interesting fact: The misty castle served as a prison for hundreds of years.

best castles in europe

Buda Castle
Location:
Budapest, Hungary
Nearest airport: Budapest Airport
Year originally built: 1265
Inhabitants: Hungarian Kings
Interesting fact: You can visit a portion of the 6 mile subterranean labyrinth under Buda Castle.

best castles in europe

The Alhambra
Location:
Granada, Spain
Nearest airport: Federico García Lorca Granada-Jaén Airport
Year originally built: 14th century
Inhabitants: Muslim Emirs from the Nasrid Dynasty and Charles V
Interesting fact: It was in the Alhambra’s Hall of Ambassadors that Columbus made his pitch to sail to the orient by heading west from Spain.