1 September 2012

Trevignano Romano

Bar Ermete Dal 1931 - Piazza Vittorio Emanuele 8, Trevignano Romano

No one knows precisely how many people live in Trevignano Romano.  When we lived there in the eighties and nineties the received wisdom was that around 2,500 people lived there in the winter and that that figure might rise to as many as twenty thousand at times in the summer.  The most recent (2008) census figure was 5,819 but many of those will not be permanently resident.  Since we left, about fifteen years ago, there has been continual building, but sites have closed, with unfinished villas scarring the landscape, property sales have flat lined for many months now, and affitasi (to let) signs flutter like flags on many balconies.

The sun going down from La Casina Bianca

Trevignano Romano is a picturesque village about fifty kilometres north of Rome.  It sits on the shore of Lake Bracciano, a bottomless (some 170 metres deep, but even Jacques Cousteau failed to find the deepest point) lake which fills a 30 kilometre round volcanic caldera.  The village is dominated by the remains of an Orsini castle (destroyed in 1496 by one of the Borgia family) and a forested volcanic cone, known as the Rocca Romana, to commemorate the shrine the Romans created on its top.  Volcanic activity is still very much present in the area, with a derelict hot-spring spa at Vicarello (about three kilometres from the village) awaiting multinational corporation agreement on its redevelopment.

The wonderful traditional trattoria at Vicarello

Until the second world war Trevignano was little more than a fishing village, and metalled roads did not reach it.  Then, in the fifties, market gardening flourished and the villagers prospered by getting up early and trucking their produce into the Rome central markets in the early hours of the morning.  The fertile volcanic soil was perfect for tomatoes and salad crops, beans and leaf vegetables.  For a while, until the coastal strips to the north and south of Rome caught up, there was a boom. 

La Chiesa dell'Assunta - with 16th century frescos from the School of Raphael

When, inevitably, that faded, the village was on the map, Gianni Agnelli’s Fiats were everywhere, the roads had been tarred, and Trevignano became a desirable place for holiday outings, then second homes, and then even commuters.  Instead of being a tight jumble of close-knit dwellings around the church, with the occasional villa along the shoreline, cement began to pour, and the march of apartment blocks away from the medieval centre began.

A Carnival Parade in Trevignano - Italia da vero!

It is still lovely, much lovelier and much less sprawling and overcrowded than Anguillara and Bracciano, the two other lakeside towns (both served incidentally by a railway line into Rome) and we remain very much attached to it.

Celebrating a centenary

We have come back for a few days to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of its favourite citizens.  Although American by birth, Truman Peebles has lived there since his retirement from Rome’s Food and Agricultural Organisation forty years ago.  His long white hair and flowing beard make him stand out from the crowd, and when our children were little his resemblance to Father Christmas was too good not to exploit.

Truman Peebles - 100 years young

In those years, we used to meet him on his daily jog along the shore, or see him swimming in the morning in the stillness of the lake.  Nowadays, although he still lives alone in a first floor flat in the heart of the centro storico (historic centre) he moves a little slower, and jogging has slowed to a gentle shuffle.

Hey, that's my wife!

Old friends greet us in the piazza, and in their shops.  My anglo-saxon reserve is surprised by the number of kisses I exchange, but it is all wonderfully friendly.  I have my hair expertly cut by Alberto; discuss photography with Loretta, property sales with Pietro and Mimmo, politics with journalist Paddy (whose wife Dympna has become involved with local campaigns) the flux of tourism with Nazzareno, the expectation of grandchildren with Sandro, and the passing of the older generation with the family at La Casina Bianca.  Amanda has a lengthy and involved conversation with her friend from the shoe-shop, which includes him telling us about how modern tomatoes don’t taste like they used to, how he and friends once feasted on an enormous capon with skin like leather, and concludes with him showing us a pair of boots his father made, specially adapted to the unpaved streets at the time.

My father's boots!

During our stay, on this occasion in a beautifully positioned Bed and Breakfast, (http://www.laterrazzasullago.com/), which really does have a splendid terrace overlooking the lake; we laze on the beach, swimming every so often to keep cool, climb to the castle remains, and through the hornbeam, turkey oak and chestnut woods to the ruined medieval chapel at the 612 metre high summit of the Rocca Romana(the village is at 173 metres above sea level).   From here you used to be able to see a panorama of the lake, including the castle at Bracciano and the aeronautical museum at Vigna di Valle (where flying boats on route to Egypt and India from London used to dock for Rome in the 1930s), but the trees have grown and it is only sparkling glimpses now.  Man’s best endeavours are only temporary; the world of nature reclaims its own. 

Hornbeam growing from a volcanic bomb

Next to the chapel is a great concrete slab, with four rusted iron sockets set into it.  Here it was once intended that a great cross would stand; I hear the words of Shelley in my head, “Look on my works….” But I do not despair.

The medieval chapel atop Rocca Romana, arising from a Roman shrine

We descend, and dine with Truman at La Grotta Azzurra, one of the oldest and best restaurants in the village. 

It is a perfect evening and with a full moon rising, a glass of local wine and a plate of royal perch nothing could be finer. Under these conditions, 100 years seems nothing.  It doesn’t really matter how many people live in Trevignano.  It matters how people live – and like this, you could live forever!

Tramonto over Lake Bracciano



Truman in 1991 (that's him on the left!)



  1. My name is Lyndl.I am so proud to say that is my NoNo(grandfather). He is and always be my favourite person in the world! I love him and wish that I could see him and introduce my 2 daughters to their great-grandpa.

    1. Hi Lyndl, Truman is my great uncle! Would love to chat with you! Take care, Steph

    2. Hi Stephanie, so lovely to hear from you. I would love to chat as well. My grandfather is the most amazingly wonderful person you'll be lucky enough to meet!I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

  2. My name is Lyndl.I am so proud to say that is my NoNo(grandfather). He is and always be my favourite person in the world! I love him and wish that I could see him and introduce my 2 daughters to their great-grandpa.

  3. Truman is my husband's Uncle. My husband's Mom was Ruth Peebles Tierney, Truman's sister. She and her husband, J. Carroll Tierney, lived in the Bronx (Parkchester) for many decades. Truman used to visit them to stay while visiting New York. My husband has been talking about Truman for a long time, and we've had no way of finding him. My husband, Jim Tierney, has a younger brother, Jerry Tierney, and a younger sister, Jeannie Tierney. If you could let Truman know that we think of him often, we would appreciate it. I'm on Facebook at Peggy Peterson Tierney. Thank you! We have a picture of Truman when his great niece, Suzanne Eisley, visited him in Italy.

  4. Three months to go and you'll cross the threshold at 109! Unbelievable, but having known you for over forty years I now fully realize what good genes, a high level of awareness and properly dosed exercise and last not least the fully dedicated attention of a devoted son can accomplish. Congratulations on being the fifth oldest man in Italy and . . . Avanti così!!