Zip to the top of the Eiger

For Clint Eastwood in the movie the Eiger Sanction, the climb up the Eiger was a long, grueling – and deadly – process. Soon you may be able to zip to the top in about 30 minutes.

One of the most popular train rides in Europe is the Jungfraubahn, which passes through the Eiger on its way up to the Jungfraujoch – at 11,371 feet the highest train station in Europe. At one point the train stops so that everybody can get out and enjoy the views from a window cut into the face of the Eiger. Over a million people made this trip last year. It's a long train ride, requiring almost 90 minutes from either the village of Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen, and the same back down again.

A new project that will cut the travel time in half has just been given approval. The controversial V-Bahn project will see the construction of a new cable car route from Grindelwald to the Eiger Glacier station, where passengers will transfer to the Jungfraubahn for the rest of the journey through the Eiger and up to the Jungfraujoch station.

Much in the News: Italy

Tourists behaving badly is nothing new, but it’s still amazing how stupid people can be. A Frenchman was recently fined €200 and given a suspended four month prison sentence after he was caught trying to take home some ‘souvenirs’ from the ruins of Pompeii.

And speaking of Pompeii: only about two-thirds of the ancient city has been excavated, but some recent work to stabilize crumbling structures and investigate tunnels created by looters has produced some exciting new discoveries. These include a series of three buildings with intact balconies that still show signs of their colors. Many houses in Pompeii were two stories, but the upper story was usually not completely buried by the ash and is rarely preserved.

They also found a set of stables, complete with the remains of a horse, located just outside the city; the skeleton of a seven- or eight year-old child found in the city’s main bathhouse; and the skeleton of a man who was crushed by a 650 pound rock hurled through the air by the force of the Mount Vesuvius eruption. Near the body they found a leather purse containing 20 pieces of silver, and what they think may have been his house key.

People in Italy have been using olive oil for at least four thousand years, according to new evidence. Archaeologists uncovered a ceramic jar in Sicily that contained residue of the liquid gold.

In Rome, a statue of Saint Bibiana, created by the Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1626, gave workers the finger recently. The statue had been on loan to the Galleria Borghese for a special exhibit, and was being re-installed in the church for which it was created, when one of the fingers was broken off. Fortunately the break was clean, and the finger remained in one piece, so the damage has been repaired.

Archaeologists were surprised by a 4th century BC tomb they discovered in Rome – not by the tomb itself, but by the fact that it was completely intact, and contained the remains of four people, along with well-preserved metal and terra cotta grave goods.

A sink hole on the outskirts of Rome has brought to light problems with the stability of the ground underlying the city, which sits on a veritable Swiss cheese of tunnels, aqueducts, cellars, tombs, and other cavities that total more than 30 sq km.

Archaeologists working on the mainland near Venice have found the body of someone they think was crucified by the Romans. Although crucifixion is well documented in historical texts, it’s rare to find physical evidence. The nails were usually salvaged after the prisoners death, and the victim’s hands and feet were also sometimes chopped off in the process of removing the body. One of the most brutal forms of execution ever devised, crucifixion was designed to inflict maximum pain for a prolonged period of time. The position on the cross puts pressure on the chest cavity, making it difficult to breathe. In order to expand their lungs, the person must push with their legs, levering themselves up using the nail that is driven through the bones of their feet. After hours, and sometimes days of this, the victim would die from asphyxiation. Because of the brutality of it, crucifixtion was generally reserved for slaves and the most reviled prisoners. Live Science has more details on the discovery.

On a more light-hearted note, The Local reported that an artist in Torino is working on a life-sized marble sculpture of the classic Fiat 500.

An annual event at Florence's Duomo

On the longest day of the year (June 21), the sun shines through a hole in a small metal disc – called a gnomon – mounted more than 275 feet up in the dome of Florence's cathedral. The sunlight passing through the gnomon creates a cricle of light, which lands on a metal meridian embedded in the cathedral floor. First installed in 1475, the gnomon helped to calculate dates, including the correct date for Easter each year. It was also used by a Jesuit priest in the 18th century to calculate that the axis of the earth's rotation was shifting.

If you happen to be in Florence in June, you can get a guided introduction to the gnomon by reserving a spot through the cathedral's website. If you're not lucky enough to be in Florence at this time, check out the video below.

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