Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail: Bill Thayer 
[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

Thursday 13 July 2000

Preci, hotel, breakfast: but this won't last long, since I'm going to trot around town, and off to the abbey of S. Eutizio, while the sun is out. . . .

After dinner then Tuesday evening, concert of course: at ten to nine, a few people milling around S. Benedetto, wondering why, with the concert in ten minutes, they'd just closed the doors and weren't letting anyone in; turns out the choir needed a last-minute brush-up.

A young couple I'd met over the end of dinner, English, I thought they were singers, both dressed very simply in black and the man reminded me of Rob from North Shore Chorale, soft-spoken; she full of energy and adventure and speaking pretty good Italian — they'd come on this their first trip to Umbria for a week, veterans of such places as Uzbekistan and Namibia, intending to do some mountains: but no sooner their tent up Monday night than a Monti Sibillini-style storm; at one A.M. they felt it might not be a bad idea to be ready to pack up; at four they were rewarded for having done so, so to speak: violent winds, crack! the tent poles, and they were sopping wet and minus one usable tent. They eventually had to slog down into Norcia and stay at a hotel like civilized people. . . Didn't know about the Vespers, and we wound up sharing a pew — Good performance, if muddied a bit by the acoustics of the church, but exact diction pretty much understandable thruout, and very convincingly Russian-sounding. Twenty-four, twelve and twelve: some very good bass sound but not given quite the play they should have got, at least somewhere, in the work. A gorgeous tenor soloist, really splendid voice.

Jeremy and Tessa falling all over themselves thanking me for mentioning the Vespers; must have been a very peculiar and contrasted day for them — which we closed en douceur with a grappa on the Corso a few minutes before midnite.

Yesterday morning I realized I'd have to carry those books with me (or leave them in Norcia and pick 'em up later, which I nixed); plastic bag and 18 km not the best combo, so I went back to the Libreria Ottaviani where I'd got 'em, just outside the Porta Ascolana, hoping they'd have one of those cloth shopping bags. No dice, but they gave me — insisted on it, no charge — a little plastic backpack, just perfect: and as it turns out, absolutely essential. (While I was at it, I spotted another book. . .) Second fairly long chat with the proprietor, Pierottavio Ottaviani, who it turns out tags along with an active group of people involved in paleoseismic investigations: as he explained to me, since Norcia is so frequently struck by earthquakes, it is a matter of some importance to study the historical occurrence of quakes in order to establish a pattern that might help predict them. He gave me his phone number and certainly does seem to be well in touch with all the local archaeological resources.

Off then to Preci at around ten with one more medicinal Coke under my belt. Up to the Forca d'Ancarano (1008 m), an excellent gradual road with widening views of the basin of Norcia, very pleasant, just warm. At the Forca — Iron Age remains, gambit declined (and I couldn't avoid thinking of Hyacinth Bucket); then down and cooler, a different kind of road, more winding, nicely shaded.

[image ALT: missingALT]

The basin of Norcia, from the road to Ancarano. We are looking S.

Ancarano itself — well, it's where the slower tourist took over. Just before the lower village, a sign for the church of the Madonna Bianca (also S. Maria Bianca) which I knew from the books to be worth seeing; and boy was it: a beauti­ful and rather large building with a portico and bits of sculpture and fresco even on the outside; a sign said to go to the nearby house for the visit of the interior, so I did. Failing to see anything that looked like a bell, I just walked into the courtyard of the farmhouse, to find myself surrounded by four very large German shepherds, some of which barking, but finally mostly standing around me half-nuzzling me: I'm glad I'm not afraid of dogs.

Back to the church following the old lady, who opened it, and sat in a pew without saying a word. Poor thing, I'm sure she was used to a more casual tourist: the family that comes in, says "Ah!" and leaves. . . But if I can bore someone (one way or the other), I'll do it. . . The church chock-a‑block full of frescoes, if mostly Mary, Rocco and Sebastian; some interesting Baroque altars, naive sculpture, etc. Dropped 3ML in the church box, but gave my custode 5ML, clearly unexpected: she said that would be for a gelato, I suggested it didn't have to be, could be a whiskey if she liked — this bit of flirting meeting with the amused slightly scandalized reaction old ladies often have.

[image ALT: missingALT]

The 14c church of the Madonna Bianca at Ancarano.

And around the lower town by the upper road to overlook it from the parrocchialeº S. Benedetto. Nothing much — bland 18c rectangle of a building under the trees — except for a Roman inscription "hidden" in plain sight! (Withal, my custode had referred to the main road as "la strada romana": before leaving it for the upper road I asked her if there was anything different about it; or any Roman stone — no.)

From there, and the back way almost to Campi, where I fell on the main road again, almost immediately to leave it following a sign for S. Andrea (church in the upper town of Campi Vecchio, mentioned in the guidebooks: and prominently visible for miles from its perch on the hill). Rather quickly this roadlet started going, as far as the eye could make out, away from Campi Vecchio: I cut thru some fields, then did a few staircases, and there I was. The portico is terrific — good Romanesque sculpture, a nice monumental Roman inscription, the portico itself and the wonder­ful view — but the rest of the church, although it has character, is nothing much really. And off I went, after I'd seen the church, but there was an open door across the piazza, I peeked in: no explanation, plaque, sign, nothing, but a whole 'nother church, or at least a one-room chapel with interesting frescoes, if both late and ruined. I've since read that this is S. Maria della Piazza; I asked an old man on the spot what the name of the church was, and he just said we call it "the church in the piazza". (Well, apparently they really do.)

[image ALT: missingALT]

The view from the portico of the church of S. Andrea
in Campi Vecchio.

A few drops of rain had started to fall; since the forecast had been for a spot of rain in the late afternoon, I got a move-on. Not quite fast enough, though: already by the time I got to the church of S. Salvatore by the cemetery in the lower town, it was real rain, although not heavy: I saw S. Salvatore (outside; inside closed: peered thru a keyhole — frescoes across what looked like a rood-screen, which isn't common around these parts) quickly and took quick pictures protecting the lens from the water.​a

Off towards S. Eutizio; drizzle to light rain, and by the time I got to Piedivalle had decided not to take the extra time to go see the abbey, especially since the light was by now not very good for photographs. At Piedivalle — not much of a place, but conveniently on the road — I got the idea to stop at the bar to have something warm to drink and wait the rain out, thinking it'd cross town and be gone in 15 minutes. It didn't; in fact, almost the instant I stepped inside — a very plain room not much bigger than a bedroom with a counter across the back and plastic chairs lined up along the walls — the rain really picked up: I wound up stuck there from about 4:50 to 5:30; two old men, a woman of about my age, locals of course. I had a caffé corretto (the bartendress​1 asked me with what, I said oh whatever people put in it here: mistra, an anis liquor, not great but not bad either) and a cornetto.

Finally, the rain appearing to have peaked, I just got up at 5:30 and walked out. That too was not great, but OK. The distance from Piedivalle to Preci is fortunately only 2.4 km: it rained pretty solidly and skin temperature was upper reaches of ice rink (really) and I arrived at the hotel sopping wet. (The pavement was still fairly warm though, so that steam was forming on it thruout my little walk: veils of white stuff rising about 2‑3 feet and dissipating.) Feet though only slightly damp, so not as bad as all that.

At the hotel (by good fortune the very first habitation as you come in on this road) I told the young woman, who turned out to be the innkeeper's wife, "può sembrare strano, ma Lei sa che vorrei? una doccia. . ." And here I really lucked out: excellent hot water and shower, better than my own bathroom at home in Chicago wherever that is. A grand luxury, really grand.

Rested a bit; the sun came out a bit, then set. I watched news and weather reports. Quite incapable of reading other than emergency, with the magnifying glass I bought in Norcia: in fact, as I write, I can't read what I've written. Headed downstairs like ravening lions in the Book of Proverbs,º see what there might be in the way of grub.

Instead wound up doing a sort of primer — not so completely sure I'm that totally qualified to do it, although I do have some experience — on designing websites, with specific application to attracting people to the website of a good hotel in an outlandishly out‑of-the‑way place. The hotel is excellent (swimming pool, too) if not the restaurant, and compared to the Grotta Azzurra in Norcia it's really very strange: if I were giving stars, here would get 3, there 2, definitely. But the owner — gentle soul named Alberto — explained to me that he'd have to have a night porter, plus a lot of his clientele wouldn't pay the prices he'd have to charge if he had three stars: of such nonsense bureaucracies are made. Anyway, like most Italians he looks at Internet with awe and feels a specialist is necessary: but at least, because Preci was very badly hit by the quakes (1997 just the latest in this quake-frequent zone) he gets a government-paid Internet set-up, so he doesn't have to pay for it anyway. (I explained the use of good keywords and the value of linking offsite, which certainly does seem paradoxal.)

Dinner: pasta, lamb in a spoletino-type sauce with a hint of hot pepper; I guessed they were not Preciani, and was right: his wife is from Spoleto, his mother is from Rome, he himself born in Rome is Spoletino.

And so to bed.

This morning, a decision: I had to see S. Eutizio, and in fact Preci itself; it's quite pointless going somewhere just to add a name to a list. Put that all together with 18 km to Cerreto Borgo where I have to be to catch my bus, and with the Triponzo inscription — and I decided to stay a second night here, and take my sightseeing seriously.

Awoke at 6 — slept again thru before 8 — then wandered around Preci. I hadn't realized just how bad the Terremoto'd hit here. S. Maria sotto ponteggio, ditto and worse S. Caterina, which never was anything much, but the belfry and its "little columns supported by lions" repeated from one guide to the next — gosh, the columns have been destroyed. I hope they manage to fix them: it's hard to see in all the scaffolding, but it must have been kinda neat.

Similarly the Municipio is gutted; it looks fine on the outside, as does the little piazza, but I took a peek — all wheelbarrows and concrete.

Back to the hotel, because Alberto last night had told me of a possibly Roman bridge near Ancarano that I'd missed, and had offered to take me there this morning around 10 or 11. And he did, after wrapping up, as it turns out, with his Web consultant: he drove me to this little bridge, which used to be on the main road until the '97 quake. They made a detour and for some reason decided to demolish the bridge, which had been damaged: but someone ("un Non-So‑Chi") put the kibosh on this, saying the bridge was Roman. I told Alberto I wasn't sure, but that it was medieval and besides a nice bridge. Photos first, then figure it out, but I really don't think the masonry is right. At any rate, I'd walked on the main road yesterday maybe 80 yards from it without noticing it: not so very good, Booby. Between the Forca d'Ancarano and the Madonna Bianca.

Alberto then brought me back to Preci (Borgo) and I hopped out at S. Maria della Pescheria: which has water — copious amounts of the stuff — flowing out the apse of it with no corresponding input anywhere I could see.

[image ALT: missingALT]
Abbey of S. Eutizio near Preci.
We're looking N, from the hill of Acquaro — like I say below.

A first walk to S. Eutizio yielded my pix of the outside, but in fact it too closes for lunch, opening 0930‑1130 and 1530‑1800 with instructions to ring bell and wait, even if the gate was open. Well it was 1245 and I had a number of choices — after clambering up enough of the hill of Acquaro (mentuccia underfoot) across from the abbey to get a sufficiently plunging view for the main photo — but the simple thing to do was turn right around and go back to the hotel; where I ate a snack-like lunch (melon and prosciutto, a bit of gratinéed veggies, a piece of crostata which in the States we would think of as a cookie — a jam bar — rather than a pie). Shower and back to S. Eutizio (I got to know the road pretty well, doing it 5 times in 24 hours!), where I did as told: clanged bell and sat. That had no effect, so I asked a boy of about 14 who was watering the abbey's plants; he may not have been Italian, but got it thru to me to just go in. I did; the inside of the church is a bit disappointing but the Renaissance shrine to Eutitius (thus the Latin spelling: I was expecting Eutychius) and Spes is attractive. Other than that, a number of modern copies, of varying quality, of Russian icons, including an enlarged version of the Rublev Trinity: nothing anywhere with so much as a tag or explanation, so the other visitors with me (an Italian couple) utterly mystified; but I too, puzzled; and assumed they kept Byzantine rite here like at Chèvetogne — about which I turned out quite wrong: the icons seems to have been the personal taste and work of a young priest who was here for a while, a Don Fabrizio who died young. Apparently now no monks; I'd been told there was a monastic guest-house here, but I saw no sign of it. Felt very creepy and unwelcome; never did see the 5c caves; failed to take a coupla pictures; bought a book at an empty offering table, and felt like I'd stolen it. . . .

And back to the hotel. Nice day, sunny but not hot; so I finally decided to see a bit more of the area, since it's silly to be here and just sit in a hotel, no matter how comfortable. Roccanolfi is a frazione of Preci about 4 km away: a striking, gaunt sort of place with two austere towers on a patch of hill, that surely must be deadly in the winter. As it turns out, the scaffolding can be seen from a mile away, and a huge sign at the foot of the hill says the work started 31 Dec 99, is authorized 2.680 billion lire (well over a million dollars), and is expected to be completed by September 20th, which I found hard to believe: the town, already a labyrinth of tiny footpaths and staircases, is now so scaffolded up that it's like walking into a mine. Took a couple of photos but very difficult to get a sense of the place: back to the hotel and ate — another bland sort of meal, although this time it included a deep-fried trout: might as well, we're in the Valnerina after all.

Not the most efficient day: 20 km on foot but much of that consumed in round trips.

Note in the Diary:

1 actually, the owner Annunziata — 1999 certificate, large and framed, on wall: "Madame Simpatia 1999" awarded by a committee of Piedivallesi.

Later Note:

a I will never get another chance to see S. Salvatore. On October 26, 2016 a serious earthquake hit the area and caused the partial collapse of the church; four days later an even worse quake demolished it almost entirely, only bits of a side wall and the lower part of the belfry remaining.

S. Salvatore di Campi was one of the great churches of Umbria. The interior, reduced to irrecoverable rubble and dust, was covered with medieval and Renaissance frescoes, some of them very good. My comment that there seemed to be a rood-screen, and that such screens are not common in Umbria, was on target: the frescoed rood-screen was in fact the only one in Umbria, and was the jewel of the church. An indication of what was lost can be seen in 34 photos at Luoghi del Silenzio.

The church of the Madonna Bianca at Ancarano was damaged in the same series of earthquakes; to what exact extent I've been unable to find out, but the building has been declared unusable and as of writing (2023) remains closed, undergoing restoration.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 21 Oct 23