The Retirees visit Roberto in Cesi Italy

We flew to Rome landing at Ciampino Airport not Fumincino as we expected. This meant finding a way from an Airport we had never been to before to Terminii and our hotel. We located a bus which took paying passengers to Terminii – eventually. When we arrived the driver dropped us off at Terminii station. Now we have been here numerous times but the bus had dropped us on the opposite side to where we usually arrived. So we spent some time dragging the luggage up and down looking for the hotel Dreamstation B&B. After about an hour we located the hotel. A shower a change of clothes and a comfortable bed and it was dream time at the Dreamstation.

As planned after awaking we strolled across the road pushing our luggage and boarded the train to Terni Umbria. We were more relaxed than our first trip to Terni. We knew it was platform 1 and knew that it was a 20 minute walk dragging the luggage and that we had to validate the ticket. The trip takes over an hour but to compensate there is some interesting countryside once you leave Rome. The deeper into Umbria the more hilltop villages can be spotted. These villages are often 800 – 1,000 year old settlements and some of the inhabitants have had generations of ancestors making a living in the fields around the village.

On arrival nothing has changed form our last visit 2 years earlier. The fountain in the main square still had not been repaired. The heat of the day was intense. We moved to the taxi rank and as we were slow getting out of the train (the platform lift is still not repaired), all taxis (there is only one or two of them) were busy rushing their fare to a destination. I spotted a passing taxi and waved it down. “I thought all a passenger she had arrive, wheres ya wanta go? Said the moustached Italian driving the Skoda. “Cesi” we say. “Cesi?” said the cabbie eyeing us up and down. With a shrug of his shoulders “Cesi!” Off we go, and I asked about the route he was taking, and he says “roada works, we go thisa way”.

Our arrival at Cesi in the main square was quite deflating – no Robert to greet us and the driver was not interested in tackling the narrow streets to get closer to our destination. So with the sun turning up the heat we dragged the luggage up the hill to the town hall through the shadows of the crowded town houses (they gave some relief from the sun) and after two further hills we see a beaming Robert swanning out of the shadows of his villa complaining about the heat. F**k me what a welcome.

Aided with the luggage (Robert suggested I leave the heavy bags in the foyer downstairs) we were offered a refreshing libation (a cordial or something) and told he had booked a table at the restaurant at Portaria where he can purchase his favourite meal. S**t we felt wrung out and in need of a lie down but no onto the bus (we had to stand in the sun at the bus stop and the bloody rattletrap excuse of a bus (unairconditioned) finally decided to attempt the climb up the hill and across the range to Portaria. The season has changed since we were here last and outdoor dining is all the go – well outdoor in the sense that we sat under a crude lean to, against a stone rampart in an airless courtyard. The saving grace an icy beer with the hot lunch and a breeze hot enough to dry the sweat from my shirt. Finally, I could stand it no longer, so making some excuse I made a break for the eastern side of the village where there is deep shade of an afternoon and hopefully a breeze that does not feel it was produce by a fan forced oven.

The eastern gate opens onto the road that circles outside the town walls. Many of the residents park their cars out here and there is, as in many other places in the village, a little shrine with the Virgin seeking your prayers. The countryside is still green, but the heat has caused a haze adding to the feeling of oppression. Here are some photos of the gate, the Virgin, the road around the walls, the walls, the houses perched on top and the memorial to the lost youth of the village through fighting in both the first and second wars.

I walked up past the war memorial past the shuttered empty former restaurant in the town walls and spotted Kerry and Robert sitting in the shade of a (the only) cafe in the village which also serves as the bus stop. The return journey is not straight forward. We have to travel by the bus back out from the village onto the main hill road down to the town of Aquasparta to the bus terminus turn around and travel back to Cesi. This time the bus was air-conditioned and more modern. The sting of the sun was waning and we were feeling tiredness wrapping around us so the journey passed unnoticed. The final walk through the village to Robert’s Villa Contessa from the bus stop for the day saw us flake into the lounge and after showering off the dust of the road bed to sleep and dream.

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.