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Tower of the Winds in the Morning, Athens

One of the problems with Athens is that there are almost too many historic and archaeological sites — the city is full of fascinating landmarks, and many of them are in guarded areas that are closed during the best hours of sunrise and sunsets.

Tower of the Winds and Roman Agora in the Morning, Athens, Greece
February 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 20mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 15 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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For ordinary tourists, this is no issue, since they simply want to explore the site. For photographers, who may want the backdrop provided by early morning or late afternoon sunlight, it’s a problem.

I had this problem with the Tower of the Winds. The site — which is one of the best-preserved in Athens — is closed at the times I would most like to shoot, and like many other archaeological sites, tripods are not allowed. But the site was too beautiful and too intriguing to be discouraged by these setbacks.

There is little that we know with certainty about the Tower of the Winds. It was built in the 1-st century BC by the Syrian astronomer Andronicus, and was meant to serve as a kind of timepiece. Designed in an octagonal shape, each side of the tower faces a point of the compass and each side is topped with a frieze depicting the Anemoi, or the eight winds of Greek mythology.

Sundials were placed beneath each frieze and inside the tower was a unique device known as a clepsydra, or water clock, which was powered by a stream of water flowing down from the Acropolis. Though it is lost now, the tower was originally topped with a weather vane, which may have also been used to predict the future as well as tell the direction of the wind.

Over the centuries, the tower had other purposes. Early Christians used it as a bell tower for a cathedral and later, when the area was under Ottoman rule, the tower was used by dervishes as a place of contemplation.

Nowadays, the restored tower is a tourist attraction, but it is the structure’s original purpose that intrigues me. In this city that gave so much to the world — from philosophy to democracy — I stand awestruck in front of what is essentially a two thousand-year-old weather station. I was determined to capture the significance of the site, using long exposure to emphasize the moving clouds behind the tower. It seemed appropriate to me to do this, given the tower’s importance to the Greeks as a timepiece and predictor of the future.

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Aerial View of Bologna from Asinelli Tower

After photographing the Two Towers, I was tempted to make the climb up Asinelli, the taller of the two. It’s a long, vertiginous climb, but I knew the views of Bologna would be magnificent, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Aerial View of Bologna from Asinelli Tower, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
December 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 35mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 1/15 second, ISO 64, tripod.

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Getting to the top of Asinelli wasn’t the easiest of tasks — it’s a steep, narrow staircase that wasn’t designed with modern photographers and their equipment in mind. But once I finally reached the top and set up my small tripod (specially purchased for such occasions), I looked out from the tower and was rewarded with a breathtaking view of Bologna’s tiled roofs.

Just to my right I could see the Piazza Maggiore, the orderly little square square surrounded by much of the city’s history. Take steps in any direction in the Piazza Maggiore and the medieval city comes to life — the Basilica of San Petronio, the Palazzo dei Banchi, and the Palazzo d’Accursio all occupy exalted spots on this historic square.

But what most interested me was the spot in the distance — the Bolognese Hill, which is home to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca. Technically, the hill sits on the outskirts of the city, on top of Karaulhaya Mountain. Inside the sanctuary rests the Madonna of San Luca, an icon of the Virgin Mary that is believed to have been painted by the apostle Luke. The icon was brought to Bologna from Constantinople in 1194 and placed on the hill, known as La Guardia.

As a framed the photograph, I found myself awestruck by the history of this place — before me, the tiled city and its towers, once a hub of medieval commerce, and beyond, the towering Bolognese Hill and its apostle-painted treasure.

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Piazza Santo Stefano in Bologna

Beyond the city’s towers, I entered Bologna’s winding medieval streets. Following one of these winding streets, I came to the Piazza Santo Stefano, an unusual little piazza that isn’t a piazza at all, merely a gradual widening of the street.

Piazza Santo Stefano in the Evening, Bologna, Emilia-Romanga, Italy
December 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 26mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 15 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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It’s an unusual and picturesque part of Bologna. The piazza is not, properly speaking, a square: the Via Santo Stefano gradually widens into an odd bit of geometry that is the piazza. The area has been known for centuries as ‘le Sette Chiese,’ or the Seven Churches, in honor of the imposing structures surrounding the piazza.

Nowadays, there aren’t seven churches; there are four: the Church of the Crucifix, the Holy Sepulchre, San Vitale and Agricola. The churches were built and remodeled at different times, and over the years, they came to be connected, almost as if they are growing out of one another. The result is a labyrinth that begins with the entrance to the Church of the Crucifix, the largest of the four. The faithful — or the merely curious — could spend hours wandering from one ecclesiastical wonder to the next.

I wanted to photograph the piazza, but because of its place as one of the most historic (and popular) places in the city, it was almost always full of visitors. I waited until evening, when I hoped to have it mostly to myself. As I set up my tripod on the piazza’s ancient cobblestones, my mind wandered to the generations of faithful who have walked those stones. I captured the historic piazza in the low light of evening, thinking of faith and its mysteries.

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Palazzo della Mercanzia, Bologna

A short walk from the Two Towers is the Palazzo della Mercanzia, a striking building noteworthy for its two Gothic arches. Built in the fourteenth century when Bologna was a wealthy commercial center, the Palazzo was constructed to be a base for those governing trade in the city. The building still houses the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Piazza della Mercanzia in the Morning, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
December 2016, panorama from 3 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 2 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

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It’s a building with an interesting history. The sides of the building are watched over by statues of four saints — the city’s protectors, as well as statues of St. Peter and St. Anthony of Padua. But under the watchful eyes of saints, the city’s business disputes were settled, and businessmen found to be unscrupulous were tied to a center pillar and publicly shamed.

In keeping with Bologna’s image as a city of epicurean delights, the Palazzo is now home to perhaps the most valuable of the city’s treasures: Bologna’s prized “official” recipes for Bolognese ragu, tortellini, and mortadella.
I made the short walk over from the Two Towers as early morning sunlight was breaking over the piazza. I had the area to myself and focused on the Palazzo, guarded by saints and repository of sacred recipes.

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The Two Towers, Bologna

I made my way toward the Dolomites but decided to stop for a couple of days in the medieval city of Bologna. It’s a difficult city to get a feel for — it’s at once the rarefied city of scribes and scholars and a thoroughly modern, technologically advanced metropolis. What drew me in, however, was the city’s medieval center, the winding, terra cotta heart of the city.

Two Towers and Chiesa di San Bartolomeo in the Morning, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
December 2016, panorama from 3 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 8 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

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Much of Bologna was destroyed during World War II, but the historic part of the city survived. This part of the city, built when Bologna was at the peak of its power and wealth, was once dotted with towers. In fact, one of Bologna’s many affectionate nicknames is “la turrita,” or the “city of many towers.” There were once hundreds of towers in the city; some were built for defensive purposes and many others built by powerful families, continually attempting to one-up each other.

Most of the towers long ago crumbled into history. But among the ones that still stand, perhaps the most well-known are Asinelli and Garisenda, the city’s “Two Towers.” They’re not as famous as their counterpart in Pisa, but perhaps more interesting: Asinelli is taller and Garisenda has more of a lean. Echoing their long history — they’re also older than the Leaning Tower of Pisa — is an inscription on one of Garisenda’s slopes from Dante’s Divine Comedy that mentions that exact tower.

The Two Towers are so tall and so intimately positioned with one another that it was difficult to capture them together in a shot. I used a panoramic technique to get them both in the frame as the sun rose over Bologna. They seem to me to be two old, time-tested friends: the sturdy and solid Asinelli and the whimsical, free-spirited Garisenda, eternally looking askance at the old city.

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Lightning Storm over Zaragoza

Though I had already spent some time in Zaragoza and had photographed the Basilica of our Lady of the Pillar, when I found myself in the area again, on the return trip from San Sebastian to Barcelona, I couldn’t resist stopping. Zaragoza is a beautiful, historic city, and the basilica never failed to enchant.

Lighting Storm over Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and Ebro River, Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain
July 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, additional exposures for lightings, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 2.5 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

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So once again, I set up my tripod on the banks of the Ebro River. It was early evening, and clouds were beginning to settle over the city; a storm was coming and I could smell rain in the air. I hoped that I’d be able to get a good shot before it started to rain.

As it happened, I was lucky. The weather began to change more quickly than I anticipated, with deep purple and indigo clouds settling in low over the basilica. As I rushed to get the shot, lightning began to illuminate the sky over Zaragoza, providing a dramatic backdrop for the basilica. It seemed that lightning flashed every few seconds, and it was hard to catch it in a shot — it’s more elusive than I would have imagined. I managed to catch a brilliant flash of lightning in just a couple of shots, but they were beautiful — a bit of nature’s drama in a violet sky over Zaragoza.

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Panorama of the Plaza del Pilar, Zaragoza

I awoke early one morning to photograph the Plaza del Pilar and Basilica of Our Lady of the Pilar.

Panorama of Plaza del Pilar and Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in the Morning, Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain
June 2016, panorama from 4 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 1.3 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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Setting up my tripod in modern-day Zaragoza, it was difficult, at first, to appreciate the basilica’s ancient origins and its importance to early Christianity. But in the quiet and cold of an early morning, with few people around, the site’s significance was easily apparent.

I’d visited the basilica before and was familiar with its story tied to St. James the Apostle and his quest to bring Christianity to Spain. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pilar isn’t only revered because of its ancient ties to Christianity. The faithful believe that miracles have occurred here. Perhaps the most famous of these involved a beggar named Miguel Juan Pellicer in the seventeenth century. Pellicer was unable to work because of an amputated leg, and often went to the basilica to pray. Because of his faithfulness, the Virgin restored Pellicer’s leg, making the basilica a pilgrimage site for the faithful.

Over the centuries, the basilica and the surrounding plaza have become integral parts of Zaragosa. Each year, religious people from around the world come here for the Offering of Flowers, a ceremony in which they offer flowers to the Virgin del Pilar. More recently, in the twentieth century, the site was significant to the founding of the Opus Dei movement.

This morning, however, the ceremonies and the religious pilgrims don’t seem to matter. In the quiet, I can picture the faithful beggar Pellicer coming to make his supplications. With the breeze coming in from the Ebro and with early morning light just breaking through the clouds, I frame the shot with the Basilica at its center. It is lovely, serene, and easy to see why so many are drawn to the site.

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Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, Zaragoza

On the way from Costa Brava to San Sebastian, I stopped late one afternoon in Zaragoza, a sacred space along the Ebro River. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the imposing structure, particularly with the pastel hues of sunset reflecting on its brightly colored tile domes.

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and Ebro River in the Evening, Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain
June 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 30 seconds, ND 5-stop filter, ISO 64, tripod.

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The basilica has an ancient history. The faithful believe that it was here, in 40 AD that St. James the Apostle sat along the Ebro River, contemplating his failure to bring Christianity to Spain. According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to him atop a pillar of jasper. She told him that his determination to bring Christianity to Spain would not be in vain and asked that he consecrate a church in her name. The result is the baroque Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, a fascinating work of architecture that is vaguely Byzantine in its sensibility.

Numerous churches have been built on the spot, each one larger and more ornate than the last. Begun in 1681, the structure was considerably modified in the following century. The sacred pillar — the one on which the Virgin appeared — is tucked away inside with only a small portion visible. Over the centuries, the faithful — popes and peasants alike — have lined up here to see the sacred stone, its surface polished smooth by years of supplication.

I was fortunate enough to arrive in Zaragoza at the end of the day as a brilliant pink sunset fell over the city. For the most beautiful view of the basilica, I set up my tripod on the Puente de Piedra bridge and framed the shot so that the striking building was the focal point. With the sunset falling over its brilliant tile domes, the basilica was awe-inspiring.

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Lloret de Mar in the Evening

Like most photographers, I’m drawn to the beautiful and scenic places when traveling. I love capturing a city’s landmarks, the places for which it is known and which shape its character. You can learn a lot about a place by the sites its people choose to celebrate and memorialize.

Lloret de Mar in the Evening, Catalonia, Spain
June 2016, panorama from 8 vertical images in 2 rows, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 13 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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During my time in Lloret de Mar, I photographed its iconic seafront and the beautiful — if often misidentified — castle at the eastern end of its promenade. But one of my favorite views of Lloret de Mar was the simple, unadorned view from my hotel balcony, which I found particularly charming by night. It’s not a famous or especially picturesque view, but I love it — it captures a lazy evening in a resort town on the coast, a lovely blue twilight by the sea.

On this particular night, the linden trees were in full bloom and the air was fragrant with their scent. On a still night by the sea, the faint light of early evening and the heady scent of linden made for a lovely end to my trip. I set up my tripod on the balcony and focused the shot on the curvature of the street below. I only wish that I could capture the scent of the trees in the photograph.

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Castle on the Beach, Lloret de Mar

The Costa Brava is famous for — among other things — its rocky cliffs topped with picturesque medieval castles. At the eastern end of the Lloret de Mar seafront is a particularly lovely example. Its stone facade and turrets are very likely what most people imagine when they picture a medieval castle.

Castle on Lloret De Mar Beach in the Evening, Catalonia, Spain
June 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 29mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 120 seconds, ND 5-stop filter, ISO 100, tripod.

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This postcard-worthy castle is not, in fact, what it appears to be: frequently misidentified as the Castle of San Joan, the castle which overlooks a small, rocky lagoon in Lloret de Mar is actually a modern private home designed and built to look the genuine article. The real Castle of San Joan was built in the 11th century. Its history has been so punctuated by warfare and disaster that little remains of the original structure; earthquakes in the 1400s and a British bombardment in 1805 have left little more than rubble to mark its existence.

So the lovely castle perched at the eastern end of Lloret de Mar is not a relic of the Middle Ages, although plenty of well-meaning tourists and photographers have misidentified it as such. It’s no less scenic for being modern. Its appearance and location make it one of the city’s landmarks and a great subject for a photograph. I went early the next evening, as dusk was settling over the seafront. I thought the deep blue sky and mist-like waves coming in from the sea made an especially evocative shot, and I could understand why so many tourists mistake it for the real Castle San Joan.

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