The Retirees return – to Cesi then Australia – the last four days

On arriving in Cesi, it was our priority was to do some washing but that could wait whilst we relaxed in the serene quietness of the village watching the bustle of life in the valley below. We had a further four days in Cesi to prepare for the trip home. My plan was read a book in the sun but instead we;

climbed a mountain.

Although Cesi is some 400+ metres above the valley floor, there is at least another 400 metres of granite extrusion above the village and Robert assured us that it was a gentle walk of 15 minutes to the top. Now Robert is not stupid but he does have a problem with measuring time and a propensity to minimize the difficulty of tasks. After climbing along the footpaths of Cesi to the end of the village then the road to the old church of St Erasmus, we veered off into the undergrowth on a rock strewn winding goat track (actually it looked like the path followed by the local vermin pigs) and after half an hour we stopped at the lookout half way up the mountain.

Kerry and I turned back leaving Robert to fossick for wild asparagus and flowers. The trip down was treacherous with the loose stones and rocks sliding under foot. Whilst in Cesi we had often heard helicopters delivering building materials and now we could see the result – a fence to prevent landslides onto the village. We sat and waited for Robert on the stub wall leading to the church which must have had bottoms parked on it for centuries.

Caught a bus.

We visited Narni  a village on the south eastern end of the valley and miles from Cesi. It involved catching two buses, one from Cesi to the terminus and the second from the terminus to Narni. This is a far more substantial village (don’t be fooled when catching the train – it stops at Narni but that is the new Narni miles from the old village where we were in the hills behind). The bus stopped in a parking station below the village and via a funicular and an elevator we traveled up to the “High” street of the village.

The streets are so narrow in parts that traffic lights govern the passage of single lanes of traffic. The village is aware of its past and many buildings have been restored to preserve their antiquity. We enjoyed a lunch in an establishment that called itself a hotel but the usual facilities of rooms reception bar etc were not obvious. Catching buses may have been inexpensive but the timetable meant often you had little time to explore and we always seemed to arrive when everyone was on siesta.

Caught another bus.

We planned a farewell Easter lunch in Portaria (apparently it means pig shit in Italian – go figure). We had been to the village previously but Robert had heard the restaurant in town did the wild boar and polenta in the true traditional way so Portaria it was. The other specialty of the house is BBQ’ed mixed grill. They have an open fire place and they BBQ your lunch on the coals. Very rustic! But I have burnt my sausage over coals camping before. This was followed by a stroll around the village as we waited for the bus.

Did the washing. That evening Easter Friday, the village paraded through the main street with a litter containing an effigy of Christ after being taken from the cross. This is a tradition that has been performed every Easter Friday for centuries and it was a privilege to observe the village people young and old participating.Our last four days with Robert came to an end and after packing  we are back on the train (two trains actually) to Fumucino Airport. It has been a busy month away from home; now we are going back to plan to do it all again somewhere else.

The Retirees return to Italy – Umbria – Portaria

Leaving behind the ruins of Carsulae, we waited at the road for the bus to take us on to Portaria. After a short wait we boarded the bus travelling along the lonely country road towards Acquasparta and after 5minutes the bus took an abrupt turn right into a track towards the hills. Portaria is a part of the town of Acquasparta. It is located along the ancient byway of the Via Flaminia , between Carsulae and Spoleto on the  Martani mountains, overlooking a great view of the Naia river valley. We arrived around 1.00 pm looking for a spot of lunch. Just inside the city gate we found this medieval looking tavern serving delightful country food. We could not help but overindulge.

According to data from Istat census in 2001, there are 126 inhabitants, while the municipal website says about 425 residents.

The town appeared to have castle like walls with two different eras of construction as there appeared to be a second building period with another wall around both sets of buildings. So I did some research.

A document of 1093 shows the town known as Porcaria (pastures for pigs were evidently abundant), where two monasteries in the area are donated to ‘ Abbey of Montecassino, by a descendant of Count Arnulf. In August 1499 Lucrezia Borgia, with her army, stopped at Porcaria castle and was greeted by four commissioners and two hundred Spoleto infantrymen before taking possession of the governorate of Spoleto.

Following her marital annulment from Count Sforza in 1498, Lucrezia was married to the Neapolitan Alfonso of Aragon, the half-brother of Sancha of Aragon who was the wife of Lucrezia’s brother Gioffre Borgia. The marriage was a short one. They were married in 1498; Lucrezia—not her husband—was appointed governor of Spoleto in 1499, Raids of troops from Ternane and Tuderti forced the inhabitants to submit to the protection of Spoleto: the captain Bartolomeo d’Alviano  established a commissioner and an infantry garrison at Porcaria.

In 1540 the town was traded, along with Acquasparta, with the castle of Alviano with Pier Luigi Farnese : the new lord, Giovan Giacomo Cesi, who exploited the marriage to Isabella d’Alviano. In 1550 it was bought for 6,000 crowns from the Apostolic Camera. During the Spoleto Duchy of Lucrezia Borgia , it is said that she lived in one of the houses overlooking the piazza Verdi today.

A separate municipality until November 1875 when it was merged with Cesi then part of the province of Terni in 1929.

Again the village appeared asleep (and they probably were) and we walked the streets alone.The main piazza is dominated by this tower and clock and inside the residences all appeared to be in good condition (apart from some doors showing their ancient heritage) and small garden plots abounded. There was one active church and below the fresco some of those funeral reliefs from the Carsulae ruins were apparent. There is a rear gate and the exterior wall of the village sits on another wall equally as high.

Returning to the entrance to the village we awaited our bus which duly came and transported us and a few other passengers to Acquasparta rail station, paused and then headed off on the return route to Cesi and Terni.


The Retirees return to Italy – Umbria – The ruins of Carsulae

Carsulae is an archaeological site in Umbria, central Italy, now one of the most impressive archaeological ruins in Italy. It is located c. 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of San Gemini, a small comune in the province of Terni. Nearby is the comune of Montecastrilli (Montes Carsulis). The bus stops at the car park for the ruins which is on the opposite side of the road and until we stumbled onto the guide map we thought the ruins had been lost. It was like the ruins a ghost town with only one lonely car in it. We walked across the car park under the road and 300 metres later encountered the gatehouse and entrance.

Most historians fix the town’s official founding to about 300 BC. Carsulae’s growth into a major town only took place, however, with the building of the ancient Roman road, the via Flaminia, in 220-219 BC.

When the via Flaminia was built, its western branch proceeded north from Narni, sparking the development not only of Carsulae, but also of Bevagna. This branch of the road courses through a gently rolling upland plain at the foot of the Martani mountain range, an area that had been heavily populated since the middle of the Bronze Age. The eastern branch proceeded from Narni to Terni, north to Spoleto, then past Trevi and finally to Foligno, where it merged with the western branch.

In due course, during the age of Emperor Augustus, Carsulae became a Roman municipium. During his reign a number of major works were initiated, eventually including the amphitheater, most of the forum, and the marble-clad Arch of Trajan (now called the Arco di San Damiano).

During its “golden age” Carsulae, supported by agricultural activity in the surrounding area, was prosperous and wealthy. Its bucolic setting, its large complex of mineralized thermal baths, theatres, temples and other public amenities, attracted wealthy and even middle class “tourists” from Rome.

However, while many of the other mentioned towns and cities on the two branches of the old Roman road continue to exist, nothing but ruins remains of Carsulae, which was abandoned, and once abandoned, never resettled. The only subsequent building that took place occurred in paleo-Christian times, about the 4th or 5th century, at the southerly entrance to Carsulae, where the church of San Damiano, still standing today, was built for a small community of nuns on the foundations of an earlier Roman building.

For centuries after it was deserted, Carsulae was used as a quarry for building materials transported to cities like Spoleto or Cesi, where Roman tombstones may be seen built into the church of S. Andrea (St Andrew), but otherwise, it was left alone. Consequently, archaeologists have been able to map the city with considerable detail.

No one knows the precise reasons why Carsulae was abandoned, but two that seem most plausible are first, that it was almost destroyed and the site made inhospitable by an earthquake, and second that it lost its importance and as a result became increasingly impoverished because most of the important north-south traffic used the faster east branch of the via Flaminia.

Haphazard excavations took place in the 16th century under the direction of Duke Federico Cesi, whose palazzi are in Cesi Acquasparta, and in the 17th century under the direction of Pope Pius VI, but not until 1951 were the ruins subjected to methodical archaeological exploration and documentation. Significant additional work was also done in 1972. There is a current excavation run through Valdosta State University of Georgia.

The modern entrance to the ruins is through a modern gatehouse museum and coffee shop. The museum displays some of the statuary, baths and sarcophagi from the ruins. Speaking of sarcophagi we discovered the ruins of a tomb and sarcophagus on the site.


The Retirees return to Italy – Marmore Waterfalls in Umbria

Once again, we bused down to Terni, this time getting out near the train station where we had arrived a few days earlier from Rome. We walked pasted the train station and a huge 12,000 ton press retired from service and positioned prominently to remind the residents of their industrial past.  Around the corner, we found ourselves in the bus terminus of Terni. We boarded the bus to Marmore Falls and the driver dropped us at the ticket office rather than the bus stop (the ticket office is in a non – descript industrial looking building 200 metres from the entrance to the Falls park). Fortunately, Roberto had been there before so we found our way easily.

The falls are fed by the waters from Piediluco della Largo and have been dammed to give control over the flow of the water for the purpose of the hydro power station in the valley below the falls. A wide and sealed path follows the rim of the valley into which the water falls empty and when we arrived the falls appeared a mere trickle.

We followed one of the paths (the longer path to the top of the falls was closed for construction) to the point where the lower falls merged and spilled into the valley below the walkway. Just as in the Michelangelo painting on the Cysteine Chapel, Roberto receives the phone from she who must be obeyed to take a photo.

When we returned to the valley floor we found a mossy and wet valley floor chill with the hanging moisture in the air.

All that was to change at 12.00 o’clock when the flood gates were opened and fortunately we were back on the path having lunch at a canteen with views of the falls. Even sitting 50 metres from the valley rim, we could feel the mist from the bloated falls (bloated with water released from the lake).

The weir was closed about 1.00 pm and the Falls slowly returned to their slumber until 12 noon tomorrow. We walked back to the ticket office to catch the bus finding the stop was opposite the entry to the Falls park. Then whilst waiting for the bus we were obscured from the oncoming bus by a parked car (Italians believe parking is a right and leave their cars wherever they choose) and but for my excited flagging of the bus driver we would still be there.

The Retirees return to Italy -Bus trip to Piediluco Umbria

After an hour or so in Terni, our bus arrived to take us to Piediluco passing Papigno located on a small hill, at the height of 227 m above sea level, and has a population of 449 inhabitants. Pardon the photo this bus driver was equally excited driving around the hairy turns on the road to Piediluco. We also had some great views of Terni  as we slid around corners.

After 20 minutes, we arrived at Piediluco. Crossing the bridge over one of the three rivers that empty into Lake Piediluco and driving through the town wedged between the hills and the lake’s edge, we dismounted at the furthest buildings of the village from where we could see another mountain top village backed by the peaks covered in snow (photo above). Our plan was to stroll along the lake’s edge taking in the village atmosphere.

Piediluco is part of the town of Terni. Located at 375 m above sea level, the village is inhabited by 523 residents. It stands directly on its namesakes lake that feeds the waters of the river Velino, and the Marmore Falls. Archaeological excavations in the area have found the remains of settlements dating back to the late Bronze Age. It was later conquered by the Sabines and, from the middle of the third century BC, it passed to the Romans.

We could see the ruins of Castello de Luco (from the Latin Lucus sacred grove on the top of Mount della Rocca, ). A document dated 1028 mentions Castello de Luco, as a possession of Lord Bernard D’Arrochar. La Rocca was characterized by a square tower of which only ruins now remain. The city of Piediluco was abolished in 1927 (merged by Royal Decree-Law with the municipality of Terni) but the Coat of arms of the city of Piediluco still remains on the face of the municipal building. See the featured image.

We had lunch at the Ristorante Eco on the lakes edge. Note the tree in the restaurant and its decapitation above. Not the most memorable meal but lovely atmosphere and out of the wind and cold. After lunch, we continued our walk and I noticed a steel garage door adapted to dispense cigarettes – novel!

About 3.00 pm we caught the bus back to Terni with Roberto promising the best pastry shop Carletti’s would be the next stop. Of course, this involved some walking but give him credit it was good pastry. Now quite full of food we walked back to the centre of Terni where I sought out some of the few remaining old buildings of Terni including the Porta d’Angeli (the gate of Angels) one of the few remnants of its past. Amongst the remnants, I found one of Italy’s similarities with China – the converted motor bike.

The Retirees return to Italy – Terni and its origins

This morning before I awoke and we decided we would visit  Piediluco on the Lake via Terni on the way. Its like that here. You wake the weather is fine nothing to do so……

We caught the bus and in true Italian tradition the bus driver drove like a bat out of hell down the hill into Terni. Note the faces of the excited passengers in the picture below. While waiting for the bus we could see from our vantage point overlooking the Terni valley, one of the local marble quarries and the nearby village of St Gemini which we decided we would visit shortly.

Twenty minutes later once the blood had returned to our knuckles, we left the bus and walked 50 metres to the main Piazza Tacito. It is largely paved for pedestrians but as usual you have to watch out for the cyclists and motor bikes. The hills surround the city and can be seen on all sides as you stroll down the mall. It is only the fact that many of the buildings appear of the modern era that remind you that on August 11, 1943, a massive allied bombardment devastated the city. It was the first of the 108 air strikes that destroyed 80% of Terni’s buildings. Despite this, Terni’s industrial environment increased quickly after the war. Some of the ancient city remains and some of those buildings have had a second life like the former church in the photo below.

Terni is a city in the southern portion of the Region of Umbria in central Italy. The city is the capital of the province of Terni, located in the plain of the Nera river. It is 104 kilometres (65 miles) northeast of Rome. It was founded as an Ancient Roman town.

During the 19th century, steel mills were introduced and led the city to have a role in the second industrial revolution in Italy. Because of its industrial importance, the city was heavily bombed during World War II by the Allies. It still remains an industrial hub, and has been nicknamed “The Steel City” and the “Italian Manchester”.

Terni also advertises itself as a “City of Lovers”, as its patron saint, Saint Valentine, was born and became a bishop here and his remains are preserved in the basilica. The city was founded around the 7th century BC by the Umbrians, in a territory inhabited (as testified by archaeological excavations of several necropolises) as early as the Bronze Age. In the 3rd century BC it was conquered by the Romans and soon became an important municipium lying on the Via Flaminia. The Roman name was Interamna, meaning “in between two rivers”. During the Roman Empire the city was enriched with several buildings, including aqueducts, walls, an amphitheater, a theater, temples and bridges.

After the Lombard conquest in 755 Terni lost prominence when it was reduced to a secondary town in the Duchy of Spoleto. In 1174 it was sacked by Frederick Barbarossa’s general, Archbishop Christian of Mainz. In the following century Terni was one of sites visited frequently by St. Francis to give sermons.

In the 14th century Terni issued its own constitution, and from 1353 the walls were enlarged, and new channels were opened. As with many of the Italian communes of the Late Middle Ages, it was beset by civil unrest between the partisans of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, and later between the Nobili and Banderari. Later it joined the Papal States. In 1580 an ironworks, the Ferriera, was introduced to work the iron ore mined in Monteleone di Spoleto, starting the traditional industrial connotation of the city. In the 17th century, however, the population of Terni declined further due to plagues and famines.

In the 19th century, Terni took advantage of the Industrial Revolution and of plentiful water sources in the area. New industries included a steelworks, a foundry, as well as weapons manufacture, jute and wool processing factories. In 1927 Terni became capital of the province. The presence of important industries made it a target for the Allied bombardments in World War II.


The Retirees return to Italy – Villa Contessa, Cesi

Roberto is extremely proud of his Villa and has every right to be so. He has taken a centuries old residence and breathed new life into it. To attest to its age one is greeted by a mural on the wall of the virgin painted in the 17th century and treasured by the village. After climbing the stairs in Via Carlo Stocchi, and entering on the ground floor, a semi circular staircase takes you to a three bedroom apartment with all the modern conveniences.

The Villa is on the western end of the village below the old convent and Church of St. Michael the Archangel, sharing a wall with the church. There are two neighbours below the Villa, one of whom shares the entrance to the Villa. The village has a small convenience store, a pharmacy that opens when the doctor visits (no one knows exactly when the doctor visits) and a bar on the outskirts of the village near the bypass road to Terni. The village is serviced by a bus which travels from Terni terminus to the village with some services going on to Portaria, the Roman ruins of Carsulae, and Acquasparta. The bus takes the circuitous route winding down through the olive groves whilst the general traffic comes up a narrow lane (the bus won’t fit) exiting beside the bar (you need a drink).

On the Sunday morning after we arrived, I took a walk around the village passing the entrance to the grotto, the present parish church of S’Onofrio through the town gate on its eastern end and ended up above the village and found among the brush the remnant of what appeared to be the city wall.

The village celebrates the Feast of St Joseph (St Guiseppi) this time each year at the former church of St Andrew. Of course we went to the feast. The former church is now a community hall but the former use is present in the frescoes on the wall. The fact that this was a religious feast was born out by a raffle for an icon of St Joseph and child (Jesus) displayed at the front of the hall. The burial cairns from Carsulae tombs are incorporated on the facade of the church beside a doorway. The purpose of doing this was explained to us in Italian by the local historian and of course we did not understand a word.

Inside the hall is a plaque in remembrance of a visit by the famous Italian baritone Titta Ruffo who sang in that hall in 1916. Titta was a contemporary of Caruso and one recording of a duet between them remains. The feast had been prepared by the local citizens and included an antipasto, followed by a dish of lasagna, followed by the first course then two desserts and all washed down with a local wine. Good value for 15 euros.

I was all set for a lazy afternoon when it was decided we would visit the ruins of St Eraszmus Church which are slowly being restored. The ruins are a 15 minute climb at the back of the village and provide astounding views across the Terni plain. Our walk took us past the track up the mountain which plays a part in a later episode (the signs point out all other directions but up the mountain which is the only track that was open – go figure?). When I said the renovation was proceeding slowly, I meant very very slowly.

The Retirees return to Italy – Umbria – San Gemini

San Gemini is a commune (municipality) of c. 4,500 inhabitants in the province of Terni in the Italian region Umbria, located about 60 km south of Perugia and about 13 km northwest of Terni. After catching our bus down the hill to Terni, we had time to do some shopping and buy our tickets, get a cup of coffee and still have time to spare. San Gemini is famous in the region for its spa water and its old town. It borders the municipalities of Montecastrilli, Narni and Terni and is a well-preserved medieval burgh with two lines of walls, built over the remains of a small Roman centre along the old Via Flaminia.

Our bus takes us up the hill and drops us at the old town gate. After entering through the gate and making a quick right turn we encounter San Gemini Cathedral or Duomo – a 12-century church dedicated to the commune’s patron, the locally venerated Saint Gemine, whose relics were recovered in 1775, which was rebuilt in 1817. Brother Gemine was a monk of Syrian origins who died in 815 AD. The burial urn and original stone are conserved in the sacristy; the saint has been reburied under the high altar.

We strolled along the main street Via Roma to Piazza San Francesco and the Franciscan church with 15th-century frescoes. The piazza also has an open aspect with views to Cesi and beside the church is a courtyard with the town well and an old press. We journey on through the next gate to San Nicolò a Romanesque architecture church in the Piazza Palacio Vecchio but it is under restoration. This piazza is much smaller but is the oldest piazza in the village.

We continue to follow Via Casventino to San Giovanni Battista an 11th century church which strangely was semi circular and Taberna del Torchio where we have lunch. Again, we can clearly see Cesi from the old town walls of San Gemini. Lunch is very enjoyable with Roberto rushing off while lunch is prepared to buy some cups he saw before the midday siesta.

With our hunger sated, we complete our walk of the old town returning along Via del Tribunale ending up back at Piazza San Francesco and thereafter we returned to the bus stop along Via Roma.

Our bus returns us to Terni where we do some grocery shopping and collect our parcels from the morning excursion. Roberto gets chatting with the owner and suddenly we have a free ride to Cesi coutesy of Umberto who used to reside in Cesi. He certainly knows his way around taking the short cut up the hill though the olive groves and then taking the back road to the western gate of Cesi and winding through its narrow streets until we are almost at Roberto’s front door. Walking to home Umberto points out the house where his parents lived and ran their hair dressing shop – under 100 metres from Roberto’s home. Umberto is invited in and given the grand tour by a very proud Roberto.

The Retirees in Umbria – return to Italy – Cesi and its origins

The probable origins of Cesi are testified by the remains of walls that lie just below the current position. Not far away, the remains of polygonal walls enclose what was probably the Roman city of Clusiolum. In the Middle Ages, Cesi was a fief of Arnolfi ( Arnulf the Lombard lord that arrived there before 1000 AD). The village name comes from the Latin Caesa , meaning a deforested place. The country is the birthplace of the eponymous dynasty Cesi, who acquired the title of Duke of Acquasparta. From this noble family descended five cardinals and Federico Cesi , founder of ‘ Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei .

Within Cesi there are said (by Roberto and the network of femmes that surround him) to be 15 churches. According to Wikipedia the relevant important historical structures are;

Church of St. Michael the Archangel ( 1080 ), early Christian style Romanesque , also used for conferences and concerts for music;

Contelori Palace, former seat of the ancient Municipality of Cesi (now defunct), restored in the XVII century;

St. Andrew’s Church, with burial cairns from Carsulae places on the facade.

Parish church of S. Maria Assunta (XVI- XVIII century ). Inside is an altarpiece of Cesi Master ;

Palazzo Cittadini-Cesi (XVI century);

Medieval wall, rising up to 790 m of the plateau of St. Erasmus, accompanied by a system of watchtowers;

Arce umbra (V-VI century BC), with polygonal walls;

Church of St. Erasmus ( XII century ), founded by the Benedictines and built in Romanesque style;

Palazzo Stocchi, from which you can enter the so-called Eolia grotto;

Palazzo Eustachi;

Church of Sant ‘Onofrio in sharp decline

Going up to the summit of Monte Torre Maggiore (1,121 m), you encounter the remains of a religious complex dating from the sixth century BC, which came to light with an excavation.

I have tried to capture the charm of this village in the following photos.


The Retirees in Umbria – return to Italy – Rome to Cesi

Terminii is a huge station with 28+ platforms. With the station, so close we were able to wait in our room until half an hour before departure but then we ended up standing for half an hour under the departures board scanning it for the platform number for our train. One of the few things we had been told when buying the tickets was that the platform number would be notified on the board 20 mins before the train’s departure. Waiting and watching the platform number finally appeared as “1 EST”. This was confusing as we could not see that platform listed anywhere until a kindly attendant directed us to the end of platform 1. Interestingly notice of the platform was late allowing about 18 minutes for us to get to the platform and as it is the furthest from the station it took probably 16 minutes to get there followed by other passengers running and out of breath.

We had made it. But we had a surprise to come. After passing through the first stop, the conductress asked for my ticket which I produce and she then told me in Italian that I had not validated the ticket at Termini and that incurred a €50.00 on the spot fine. Kerry came out to find out what the problem was (I was caring for the luggage in the vestibule of the train)  and she copped a fine as well. Of course, we made a protest and the conductress pointed out the notice in fine print on the back of ticket underneath notices in three other languages that you must validate your ticket. We were not the only ones – a young lady with a cold, an Italian accent and the ability to speak the language also coped the fine. So, unless you want to pay €57 for a €7 fare, you must validate your ticket before travel – something no one had thought to mention. As it turned out we probably had no time to do that due to the distance of the platform from the station. Knowledge is a wonderful thing. We were to catch this train several times and being the experienced train traveler we knew to go straight to 1 EST – the train never left from any other platform.

Finally, we arrived in Terni to be greeted by Roberto. We agreed to share a cab to Cesi as we had had quite enough of trains. In fact the train to Cesi stopped at the bottom of the hill another 400 metres vertically up the hill before you get to Cesi.

Cesi is a fraction of the town of Terni, in the region of Umbria. The small village lies at an altitude of 437 metres on the slopes of Mount Aeolus, one of the last foothills of the mountains Martani south. It is about 10 km from Terni , in the northern suburbs to Carsulae . Its position offers an ideal panorama of the entire Terni basin. According to Istat data of 2001 , 682 residents live there.