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Monday 7 August 2000

Well I answered all my phone messages, which led to zero (and that's fine); less fine, it proved completely impossible to reserve any hotels anywhere: they're all in the province of Pesaro, so no directories here (although Cantiano is maybe 15 miles from Fossato); 12 (the equivalent of 411 in the States) puts you on hold endlessly and you pay for the time on the phone — after three tries, that was enough of that. I brought this up with some people as an example of the inconvenience of life in Europe —

Saturday should have been the day to do the festa at the Madonna della Ghea, but the weather didn't coöperate; not outright raining, it hovered iffy most of the day, and people were staying away, or had gone at 6 A.M.

No matter: Mrs. Guerrieri showed up suddenly for lunch; I was making myself a rather nice lunch of salads, what with all the spare time on my hands, so invited her and Santino: but she'd brought her own; we combined them in a sort of pot luck at her house, very pleasant. Her pasta, then rabbit; my salads and wine, the remaining half bottle of Akronte. Just as we were wrapping up — they showed me a property of theirs they're (very, very slowly) redoing — and the weather looked to improve enough for me to do the Ghea after all: who but out of the blue Franco and his wife showed up, they were passing by and this was an opportunity to get my phone number again that he'd lost.

It turns out he was looking for the abbey of S. Emiliano in Congiuntoli. Not unreasonably, I asked oh where is it; Franco: "I don't know." Me, inevitably: "Can I tag along?"

We found it with disappointing ease: it's at the very edge of Umbria, about 50 m from the border of the Marche, a massive towered hulk squatting in its narrow valley, at the confluence (whence, purportedly, Congiuntoli) of the Rio Perticano and the Rio Freddo, in the comune of Scheggia somewhere on the road to Pascelupo. It was going to host a concert, of some alternative kind, at 9 P.M., and thus normally closed, would be open.

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Conventual buildings of the abbey of S. Emiliano in Congiuntoli.
(The church is not visible in this photo: it's behind the tower.)

It turns out that this performance wasn't necessary to see the abbey: it's private property, and the farmer who owns it is delighted to show people around, and is very knowledgeable, about his property for sure, but also good art history background; how nice it is that so many people here — this guy is a farmer, not some kind of type like me — know so much about their culture! Anyway, the church part of the abbey — is wonder­ful; the new section was restored not too long ago: 20‑meter ceiling, the most monumental yet austere building, and pretty much impossible to photograph — beauti­ful white squared stone — Cistercian quality to it; Franco calls it Benedictine, and someone else somewhere told me it was Camaldolese (but I doubt it very much, and I think that's a confusion with the present occupants of Fonte Avellana).

The rest of the buildings are a warren of many times reworked chapels, small rooms, half-destroyed walls, etc. The whole thing a surprise to all of us (even if Franco was hoping for frescoes and no dice).​a

Back to Fossato, and what a nice surprise the whole expedition was! To bed.

Yesterday another simple day; laundry and house-cleaning and stuff in the morning, followed by what was originally scheduled to be a "passeggiata ecologica" to the nearby pine woods, but because of the weather switched to the old communal oven under the former Palazzo Comunale: 67 of us in this very small room, and a sequence of pasta, meats, sausage, a sort of cake with a bright yellow boozy custard sauce, fruit: 22ML per person, including jug red (OK) and white (not). I then went and took a 2‑hour nap to fortify myself for dinner: Mrs. Burzacca put me on the guest list for the evening's event, a lecture on the Dea Cupra, with selected readings in Italian translation first, then in Umbrian, from the Iguvine Tables — all of this followed by a dinner supposed to be ancient Umbrian. . . The dinner was a bit haphazard, since about twice the expected number showed up, so half of us were eating out of our laps — but the lecture was very interesting: chaired by a professor of comparative linguistics who is an expert on Umbrian (and whose book I bought), most of it was a single talk by a young man with a doctorate in something abstruse, and I learned a lot.

After dinner, a lot of milling, which was the best opportunity to mix; a very varied group we were, from laypersons like myself to two or three experts, and in between a surprisingly large number of people who held the most peremptory views about various uncertain things! To say nothing of the idiot wife of one of these latter, who knew nothing at all but would butt in irrelevantly with unrelated topics covered by an intro phrase — she had this down to a science — as far as I could tell, just to draw attention to herself: very, very irritating, and disruptive too.

To bed quickly after this, especially since I thought I'd get up early this morning to insure proper packing, etc. (I didn't.)

In fact, I got up at 7:15, which (as far as I can tell up to now) was early enough; I don't seem to have forgotten anything, at least.

No tripod this trip, since I'm not expecting to need it at all; and a particularly light zainetto. Not enough dry socks and light shirts, but I made do; I did take my sweater, tho', since at 8 this morning at least, it looked (weather reports included) like it was going to rain; it hasn't yet: in fact it cleared up beauti­fully although cool, a nice combination.

Mr. Bensì remembered his 0845 appointment, and I was in Scheggia at a few minutes past nine, as the shops were opening. I didn't hang around, just buying water.

The road to Cantiano, called the Flaminia (SS 3), is innocent enough, starting with a slight climb to the Valico di Scheggia at 632 m, then immediately a sharper descent, with the landscape changing very suddenly from Umbria to Marche — although for another maybe 2‑3 kilometers it's still administratively Umbria: and in fact with Franco the other day I noticed, I think, that in the comune of Scheggia at least, administrative Umbria extends a bit into geographical Marche.

And suddenly things get fun: from a rather striking modern bridge (19c? 20c?) you can see about 700 m W, the main bridge of Pontericcioli (note: I'd been misplacing the accent; it's regular: Pontericcióli). By the time I saw it, it'd already become quite obvious that what I was walking is not the ancient Flaminia, in laces hugging the mountain; so it now felt natural that the Roman bridge should be W of me, whereas when I sat in Andrea's car a week ago, I really had no clear idea of anything, even though I saw the bridge: the advantage of walking a road rather than being carried around on it.

So down to the crossroads for the Roman bridge: a little asphalt one-laner heading right back up towards Scheggia, or at least prolly to a point W of it. In fact I cut thru before the cross-roads; within maybe a coupla hundred meters, the first little Roman bridge, two arches, classic. Nettles a coupla times but know now not to scratch, and it passed.

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Bridge #1, about 100 m from the intersection with today's main road. You are looking W.

I was expecting 2½ bridges at Pontericcioli: 2 fully excavated, 1 recently found and in course of excavation; of course this was all garbled, and I had some very nice surprises: within the frazione of Pontericcioli there are 4 bridges and a massive piece of retaining wall/substructure; and I found them all without too much difficulty.​b

The second one was the surprise, actually: a mostly modern bridge (that is, 17c??) on Roman foundations, with a work crew shoring it up; one of the men took the time to tell me of the US Army shoring it up [in World War II], including pouring concrete abutments (now buried, alas: that too is history and I would have liked to see them!): one of his co-workers, about 65 maybe, was an eyewitness to all this. (For the record: unfortunately he was busy so that it was not from him that I heard all this.)

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The second of the four Roman bridges, looking S.
In effect, the plank is the Via Flaminia.

The same man told me that beyond the big bridge, up the road a bit — now we're talking absolutely undoubted Flaminia — there was yet a fourth, and gave me directions.

Off to bridge 3, which isn't exactly a bridge, though from one side it looks like one: it's very near the source of the creek that later will require the huge modern bridge I crossed earlier, so that on the upstream side it includes an apselike structure with little drainage holes in it. I don't understand it too well, but of course I took all the pix.

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The third of the 4 Roman bridges, looking NW. (Another view)

Bridge 4, well I walked over it first, without so much as realizing it was a bridge; and only when I realized I'd prolly somehow missed it or gone past it, turned around and started poking around, did I find it. In fact only the foundations are Roman, but indubitably so: and the path back was with equal certainty the Flaminia, one of the very very few places I'm absolutely sure of having walked the actual Roman road.

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Returning northwards along the Via Flaminia, between the 4th and 3rd bridges of Pontericcioli.

Back via 3, 2 and 1 to my knapsack, and from there to the crossroads: where a nice big chunk of sustaining wall, similar to Le Spugne but longer. All in all, Pontericcioli couldn't be more satisfactorily Roman.

Later Notes:

a The frescoes were last seen in 1907. The impression I have is that they were already quite faded, and have since just faded into nothingness.

b I'm delighted to report that the four bridges at Pontericcioli have since been covered in much better detail by David Helm in his RomanRoads blog, with a wealth of photographs too.

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