22 September 2018

Central Italy - Tuscia - The land that time forgot

Italian shadows







The car falters, and stops.  We are in the middle of Tuscia, the ancient land of the Etruscans, in central Italy.  Sometimes also called Etruria, this area covers much of northern Lazio and southern Tuscany, and is littered with broken down relics - tombs, temples, towns, and, as here, modes of transport.....

It is a wild and unkempt area, cut by deep wooded valleys, and undulating with unpopulated hills.





Villages, like Blera, rise up on spurs, growing out of the living rock, carved like cheese,






Towns like these are still sleepy places, with shaded narrow streets where groups of elderly inhabitants wait for the time to pass.





Symbolically, the local butcher advertises snails for sale at €9 a kilo....






Nearby, the town of Barbarano Romano is in costume.  





A friend of mine, who used to run a simple trattoria here, carries the banner of the Confraternita della Morte.....





While young women dress as noblewomen:





Young men proudly beat the drum:





And the town band plays on:





In these valleys, overgrown and neglected, lie the empty tombs of Etruscans, who ranged across this area two thousand years ago, or more.  Typically they carved tombs out of the volcanic tufo (tuff) in necropolises across life-giving rivers from the towns of the living,






Though sometimes they constructed elaborate tombs from blocks and then mounded earth over them,






The vast majority of these were looted ages ago, or spoiled by being opened and trashed, though some, such as those at Tarquinia, at least kept their painted walls intact, and others revealed their secrets to archaeologists rather than grave-robbers.  The city of Vulci, with its walls and gates, remains an evocative place to visit, though much of what you see now dates from Roman times after the empire imposed defeat in 280 BC,






But what remains is preserved by grazing aurochs....




Today Vulci is a well-cured park with its own natural swimming pool, the Laghetto del Pellicone, surrounded by cliffs in the valley of the river Fiora....





But for centuries malaria crippled this area, and early visitors, such as George Dennis in the 1840s, chronicled the desolation: the wide, wide moor, a drear and melancholy waste, stretches around you, no human being seen on its expanse.... The Fiora frets in its rocky bed far beneath your feet, and its murmurs conveyed to you by the tall cliffs you stand on, are the sole disturbers of the solemn stillness.....

D H Lawrence, some eighty years later, also found the place dispiriting: the country was all empty and abandoned-seeming, yet with that peculiar, almost ominous, poignancy of places where life has once been intense.....

We make our way over the empty landscape, eventually to Tuscania, whose walls and churches indicate a rich past.  The magnificent Lombard-Romanesque church of San Pietro stands aloof outside the town, flanked by two imposing medieval military towers.  





Inside the church, beyond a line of Etruscan sarcophagi, steps rise up to the apse, or down to the crypt.  It is solemn, quiet, and bare.  Centuries could pass in moments here....





We move on, beyond Viterbo, to Bomarzo which  George Dennis described as, a village of considerable size situated on a wooded cliff-bound platform, with an old castle at the verge of the precipice.  It commands a glorious view of the vale of the Tiber, and the long chain of Umbrian and Sabine Apennines to the east; of the vast Etruscan plain to the north, with Monte Fiascone like a watch-tower in the midst, and the giant masses of Monte Cetona and Monte Amiata in the far horizon..... All is not so wonderful, however.  He goes on, like most villages in the Papal State, Bomarzo is squalid in the extreme.....






But we are not here to seek accommodation.  Bomarzo has an unusual claim to fame.  Below the town, in the Bosco Sacro, is the Parco dei Mostri, which was created in the second half of the sixteenth century by the slightly bonkers local nobleman, Vicino Orsini.....  Vast figures, grotesque masks, a temple, a most disconcerting sloping house, and giant sculpted creatures have been created out of the natural rocks, and surprise you amongst the woods....





Across the Tiber valley we spend a night at the Abbazia di Farfa, once one of the most powerful Benedictine Abbeys in Italy, with over five hundred monks and an adjoining village to support it.  Now, though it still houses an important library, it is served by five monks....






But we are well looked after by the Suore di Santa Brigida, aka the Hot Cross Nuns (due to the crosses on their headdresses).  There is something medieval about the experience, though maybe that's due to the wine?






In the morning we backtrack to Torrita Tiberina to pay our respects to another shade of the Italian past, Aldo Moro.




Though this distinguished politician was originally from Puglia, he and his family loved to spend time here in their villa.




After his kidnapping and murder in 1978, his private funeral (he left strict instructions that no politicians nor dignitaries should attend the service) was carried out here and he lies at rest in a simple tomb overlooking the river valley and the hills of central Italy.




Rolling back across Tuscia, we come across a strange, possibly sinister, coincidence.  In the village of Canale Monterano, my attention is caught by an ancient Fiat Cinquecento, the number plate of which bears a close resemblance to that  of the Red Renault 4 in which the cadaver of Aldo Moro had been left in 1978.....




The Renault that was left in Via Caetani in the capital was (falsely) plated Roma N5 7686 in a very similar configuration.....  Traces of sand and soil on the tyres of the car, and on Moro's shoes, were found to match the volcanic ground in neighbouring Manziana, where another Fiat, belonging to Mario Moretti, the head of the Brigate Rosse who kidnapped Moro, had been seen at a villa earlier in 1978.

But that's another story....


On the way, we pass through Vejano, dominated by a grim castle, also property of the Orsini family.  There is an imposing town hall, which bears the motto, Labor Omnia Vincit Improbus (1959), which was once a popular injunction, adapted from Virgil, and meaning Hard Work Overcomes Everything.....

Well, perhaps not everything, as a bas relief on a nearby wall witnesses, calling up other shades of this part of Italy:  In Memory of the Killling of Mariano and Orsio Nobili, Victims of Nazi Ferocity, 7 June 1944....




We return to Lake Bracciano, Lacus Sabatinus, and visit the Odescalchi (originally Orsini, again) castle that overlooks the lake, gazing back at Trevignano Romano, where we used to live, amongst the remains of Etruscan tombs and medieval towers....






And in the woods, after all the rain this year, the cyclamen are flourishing, nourished by all that history.....







While monsters relax in the shades of Tuscia.....










With fond memories of many great times at La Pacchiona, Barberano Romano....








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