[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]

Wednesday 13 September 2000

Breakfast on the Via Flaminia, or at least its successor; at the Hotel Gran Sasso, km 29.7º of the road, the SS3, between Castelnuovo di Porto and Morlupo proper, although within the road sign for the latter already.

Getting to Prima Porta yesterday morning was a snap; I'd thought to take my usual Rome morning cab, but that was a bad idea this particular morning, with for some reason no cabs at the station and a very long line of people waiting, at which point it would be maybe as fast to walk: mindful of the road later though, I looked for a bus to Piazza del Popolo, only to be reminded that of course there is a metro station right there, dummy: with only the two lines I just discount the subway (especially after the bad experience at Metro Spagna a few years ago, so that I no longer necessarily believe that the station name tells me where I'm going to be when I get off). So, subway to Porta Flaminia — I knew where I'd get out on that one — then the neighboring Prima Porta/Viterbo station, almost constant trains: at 0952 I was moving out; at around 1030 I was at the Prima Porta station.​a

Where I found a regular mess of a place, roads crossing every which way with the usual poor signage, crowds of people waiting for different buses, a very crowded slip of a bar where I had cornetti and a cappuccino and tanked up on water for the road out, some Roman ruins (fenced in, inaccessible), a modern church that inside was much better than outside, a bridge under construction, and a very busy market, mostly clothes but some fruit and vegetables too.

In all this, my instinct was to cut thru the market, which I figured was the old Flaminia; but surely that couldn't be, else how could cars travel it blocked by this market? So I asked, and the result of this was that three different people misinformed me, Boobykins following all of which got very lost, and gut told me I was not going to get on the Flaminia this way. By this time I'd done 210° of a circle around the station, with bits of superhighway, etc. — very unpleasant walking — and I stopped again to ask information: with no decent road signs, and no detailed local map, what else could I do?

Thus at a Daewoo car dealer one irritated and disoriented Booby, and three employees: I kept on repeating I was on foot, they kept on telling me to drive here, then to take the train there, then to wait for a bus here, until it finally dawned on them that I was ON FOOT, MA'AM, ON FOOT — whereupon the two women employees in chorus (with basso continuo from the back room reminding them the guy's on foot, girls — the man was the first to tumble to it) gave me excellent directions, to wit, go back to the market and walk thru it, just as gut had told me first off: and not to ask anyone anything, I'd be OK! I told 'em I was giving them a big hug now, and hoped I wouldn't be swearing at them an hour from now. . . But they were right, and after 200 m of market I emerged onto a 2‑lane road going roughly north, marked SS3, direction Terni; at which point I called Bernard Anson to give him an ETA at Casale Malborghetto, of 12:45; in fact I was there at 12:43.

The road took me past the Cimiteroº Flaminio, at the entrance to which a big sign promised a Roman villa (not the Villa of Livia, now far behind me, which seemed non-existent: no signs anywhere, and none of the locals knew whether it might be visitable, nor of the entrance; just as well, since if visitable it would need more time than a quick pass thru on my way to Malborghetto); that villa too was unvisitable, at least according to a guard at the gate to the cemetery. Onwards, past a coupla hundred meters of flower stalls, and finally open road.

In fact, as expected, a rather trafficky road, but not as bad as I'd thought; a bit narrow, though. Good weather — A Roman tomb on private property, couldn't get a clear photo at all, except by great good fortune the people were leaving home for the day: they remote-controlled their gate open, thru which I had three seconds to get my photo —

Petra Pertusa, another bit of bad signage: "50 m" for the Roman tunnel; well this was 50 m to the turnoff for it, a gravel road down into the valley — the Flaminia is essentially on a rising ridge all the way from Prima Porta to where I am now — and after I did 300 m, I guessed it'd be 2 km off, looked at my phone, and told myself that if I had an appointment at 1245 this was no way to keep it, and turned back up onto the Flaminia.

Thus to the Casale and its pleasant archaeological parklet; office­ful of people in a little house, I went and inquired, thinking B.A. might be there, but not. No matter, a slow tour of the outsides of things and a chat at a shaded picnic table with a restorer, and he showed up: big tall fellow with a mustache, rather military in appearance, but all letters and humanities — Off in his car, retracing my steps, to a restaurant​1 a couple of miles away: a very slow and indifferent lunch under a very nice pergola, and the good people back at Malborghetto sticking around, I think, just for me: I abbreviated lunch as much as possible — While we waited for our food or the bill (B.A. picked up the tab, over my objections) we talked Web and managing to make a living off it while providing useful services; he is much more marketing-oriented than I but we're on very similar wavelengths as to what we have to offer, essentially an opening of horizons and a work of what he calls esoteric, what I think of as somewhat Jungian guidance —

[image ALT: missingALT]
The Casale (farmhouse) at Malborghetto is an early mediaeval construction
implausibly incorporating remains of a Roman triumphal arch.

Back to the Casale, where B.A. left me in the hands of the custode, a young man named Fausto who actually appears to live in the little house in the park; he toured me around the museum (an intentionally old-fashioned "antiquarian collection" concept, suited to the site, as my restorer pal had explained to me), which is in the crossing of the great arch, covered for at least a thousand years since a church — so that a bit of Flaminia actually passes inside the museum (another bit still visible about 30 m S of the arch, outdoors). Among the holdings — finds both from Malborghetto and other places within the 20th circoscrizione, of which this park is the headquarters, accounting for a 6‑man office way out here — a cross pendantº (which seems to me to have been cut out of a die), some children's toys from a grave (a little wild boar, and two miniature axes about four inches long including their presumably modern handles), and a beauti­fully machined Roman valve, which is of course what I found the most interesting piece: in view of the vast numbers of such valves, T's etc. required all over the Roman commonwealth, they must have had good methods and facilities for serial manufacture of rather precisely tooled metal pieces, just as we do today; and engineering specs to govern them. Yet almost none of this has yet been found; when it is, I hope I'll be around to hear of it —

Pit stop back at the office where I met Prof. Messineo (whose Flaminia in the Lazio book I used to plan this hike last year back in Chicago, but that I didn't bring with me in the interest of keeping my suitcase small on the way over!), and another member of the staff, who I believe is the architect of the team, named Matilde: we exchanged Web information, at least up to a point; even here I was disappointed: there is a Malborghetto site, but they themselves don't know the URL — just e‑mail addresses. . . Prof. Messineo gave me his book on Malborghetto, which I read most of last night in bed: as I told him, when I put up my paginetta on Malborghetto he'll recognize the source!

The team at Malborghetto has a happy feel to it, a handsome happy little family doing what they want to, relatively undisturbed by stray tourists; the atmosphere here reflects it — maybe what I liked most about the place.

Anyway, up the road — dull, traffic — and eventually to this hotel. Outside Lazio, impossible to get info about where I might sleep on the road; this hotel, I only found out about at a gas station/caffé yesterday, when I said I expected to stay at a hotel in Morlupo, and the girl at the counter said no I wouldn't, no hotel there, rather and she supplied me with name and location of what seems to be the only hotel in the area. But that gas station was within the comune of Rome, so no phonebook to cover here (outside the comune, in the rest of the province, separate phonebook); when I got to another bar outside the comune di Roma, the phonebook gave me a fax number: waste, as often before, of a call. Information is next to impossible to come by in Italy, and of course it costs them tons of money; equally of course, they're not aware of this —

Arrived at the hotel here, and sure enough, they were full up with a busload of Ukrainian dancers; I said I was on foot, what could they suggest? (My Plan B was to get to the not far off station — the Viterbo line pretty much tracks the Flaminia and my entire route up) and go to Rome or Viterbo, coming back this morning to continue.) Well I got the emergency room; no toilet in the room — in the hall — but a hot shower, pouring lots of water on the undrained floor of the bathroom, so this was more than fine. Didn't even step out of my room; read a bit, slept (background noise: traffic; can hardly complain, can I? I'm following a road, what do I expect?) although at one point I was half-wakened by female giggles in the hall, sounding not so much drunk as young: glad someone out there is enjoying life. . . .

So on that note of slithering towards death and up the Flaminia, having had my breakfast outdoors on the Flaminia, white plastic table, zooming traffic — although I notice the Ukrainian bus still firmly parked — two cornetti, two disappointing too sweet pieces of different torte, two cappuccini, a large fresh-squoze orange juice — it's now time the head back to my room, take my potassium and aspirin and vitamins, collect my passport, pay, and hit the road. The plan is only 8 km today, to Rignano. Maybe hotel, maybe side circular walk to the top of M. Soratte to try and get inside the mind of Horace, maybe on to Civita Castellana (if so, abbreviating this walk to 3 days: not a bad idea, since the walk itself looks to be dull all the way up and this would free up a day for something in Umbria); maybe on the other hand drop stuff off in Rignano and train into Rome for the afternoon and back — who knows?

Civita Castellana train station, 4:55 P.M. Two surprises: my feet and legs behaved very nicely, almost what I have been considering normal up to this trip; and no hotel in this large town: the simplest thing to do is go sleep in Rome.

Today I finally saw the Flaminia at Rignano, undoubtedly the longest stretch of it currently to be seen (I strongly suspect long stretches of it still exist, buried); and I satisfied myself about Mount Soracte without having to climb it.

I left my hotel at 9:20; the owner told me that all these Russians, as she called them, were carousing in the halls and whooping it up and banging doors 'til 1:30 A.M. until she came up and put a stop to it, didn't I hear it all? No (except as noted): I sleep very soundly. 50ML.

The road to Rignano is dull and trafficky; but my Flaminia started out before the town near a garbage dump: I followed this path rather than the road, and was rewarded by more Flaminia in a nicer environment, under pine trees before it continued under the modern road (which had curved to make the hill gentler). A bit of road, then a much longer stretch of pavement, not the full width, but serving as a frontage road for the SS3: they ran pretty much parallel for maybe 300+ meters. It felt good to actually walk the real Flaminia after all these approximations I've been doing for years; metaphorically, at least; since physically, it's still not asphalt or pine needles, although these particular stones were flatter than most of the Roman road stones I've walked on.

[image ALT: A 100‑meter-long stretch of straight road, surfaced with bumpy and irregularly square stones about 40 cm wide, by the side of a modern asphalted road. It is a section of the original Roman pavement of the Via Flaminia, a Roman road in central Italy, at Rignano Flaminio in the Lazio.]

The Via Flaminia at Rignano, along the modern successor road the SS3. Looking North.

The road to Rignano was generally on a slight downslope; this accelerated, although not unpleasantly, to Civita Castellana; or at least to the turnoff for the actual town, at km 52.5, which I reached at 2:25 P.M. The road after Rignano also gets less busy (possibly also because I did it at lunchtime), and the countryside becomes attractive, if in a late-summer burnt and brown and picked-over sort of way.

Soracte, I think, is no great mystery; it's not particularly attractive, but it's extremely visible — which was Horace's point:​b a large stegosaurean outcrop with seven summits, on nrs. 4, 5 and 7 of which respectively (from the North) there are now buildings: one of these austere fortified house compounds; a church and a repeater station; and what looks to me like a monastery. Because the surrounding land is low, the 691 m altitude looks like a lot. Sant' Oreste on the other hand sits on its own low platform to the south; I could have gone — plenty of time — but didn't trust my heels at the turnoff, although at that point they felt absolutely normal (about 11 km in: O frabjous day!) — At any rate, it was a very minor option; read: diminishing returns.

[image ALT: An isolated mountain ridge, seen along its length of several miles, emerging from a plain. It has seven fairly distinct summits; it is Mount Soratte in the northern Lazio, north of Rome.]

M. Soratte from the modern Via Flaminia, due W of it. Sant' Oreste is off-photo right.

The walk up to Civita Castellana, a large town where I expected to find not one but several small hotels, is short and not at all as foul as it looked. It's one of the tufa cities, and in fact towards the very end of the road into town, a curious at least half artificial cavelet with a clearly artificial pillar holding up the ceiling —​c

But niente hotel. The only hotel in the comune is the three-star place at Quartaccio 6 km NW, halfway to Fabrica diº Roma. The nuns at S. Maria del Carmine (old church on the way in, lots of old stone) have rooms "if they're not all taken with Giubileo". There are hotels of course in Viterbo and Rome. My options were: (a) call on the nuns; (b) call the hotel in Quartaccio and tell 'em they had a customer if they'd drive him out there today, and maybe back tomorrow; (c) go to Borghetto, take trains and go home; (d) go to Viterbo or Rome, sleep there and come back here early tomorrow, to do my final day; (e) go home, via Rome: abandoning the roughly 10 km to Gallese.​d

Right this minute, I've chosen (d, e) and am leaning to (e): I've seen Borghetto, and the only remaining item is what I understand are the very slight remains in the mucky bed of the Tiber somewhere (worried I might not find it in fact) of the bridge, the so‑called "Pile di Augusto". Here too diminishing returns set in, and I'd prolly even have to pay for it by walking to Orte Scalo, a rather long walk. It'll be interesting to see what I do when I get to Rome. ("If" may be more like it: there's a good deal of doubt about the schedule, the railmen not agreeing with either of the two — different — posted schedules; they're redoing track or something, parts of the line substituting shuttles, etc. . .)

Note in the Diary:

1 La Cucagna, approx. 16km5 of the Flaminia.

Later Notes:

a You may have noticed a bright red marker on the map, corresponding to nothing on my route. I'm not very interested in battles, so no, I didn't go there; actually I didn't realize it was there — but if I had thought of it, I still wouldn't have made the detour. If military history is your bag, however, the red marker is for you: it's the site of the battle of the Allia, a 4c B.C. encounter commemorated by the ancient Romans as a great disaster; see the page at Livius, with a military map, photos, and of course the history of it.

b There are some climatological indications that Roman times were colder and that the summits of Soracte were sometimes snow-capped. When you factor in the lower height of even the tallest buildings in Rome, Soracte may well have been rather striking just after a winter sunset, for example.

For a more detailed account of M. Soratte by a man far more familiar with the area than I, see this section in George Dennis's Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria.

c An Etruscan tomb, one of many in the immediate area. My photo of this one illustrates the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the important and very ancient town of Falerii.

d I was so concerned about where to sleep that the diary doesn't record my visit of the town, including well over an hour in the Duomo, a splendid example of mostly mediaeval architecture. Here at least is a sample of it; for more, see the page in the navigation bar below.

[image ALT: missingALT]

The hungrier of two lions on either side of the main door.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 7 Dec 20