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Monday 4 September 2000

Feet hurt but otherwise fine, nor tired, at my (still nameless) agriturismo​a half a kilometer from Scheggino. Pouring rain.

This morning I was out of Hotel Rossi just before 8, since I had a long day ahead; thru Fontechiaruccia (the crossroads place) and Monzano at the foot of Montefranco's hill, both in the comune of M'franco already, neither one anything much.

Once in Montefranco itself — pleasant but small and no outstanding sights — I got the idea to check the guides I lug around but don't so often consult; and the DeAgostini told me that "in località Case S. Pietro" there was a farmhouse with bits of Doric frieze and remains of a Roman tomb. Armed with this information, I went around asking for the Case S. Pietro, and all the old folks in town said ah yes, the chiesa S. Pietro (a very small modern church right in town, that I'd seen) and I'd say, well, no, etc. After doing this a few times I wound up at the offices of the comune, where a woman immediately ushered me into the presence of a man who was not the mayor, but close enough to ask a young employee to take me out in his car to a farmhouse that sounded like what I was looking for; and before I could resist, I was on my way to the Casa Serinaldi with Claudio, whose dream seemed to be to go to Canada, for the woods and wide open spaces. . . .

[image ALT: A stone farmhouse on a sloping piece of land. It is the Casa Serinaldi, near Montefranco, Umbria (central Italy), and its walls contain several pieces of Roman and high medieval stone.]

The Serinaldi house, roughly 3 km W of Montefranco.

This farmhouse didn't match my information, although there were at least six blocks of Roman travertine in its walls, and one piece of high medieval sculpture; Claudio and I actually did the rounds of the valley ("S. Pietro") but found no other even remote candidates, and came back to M'franco. At this point, almost by chance, he came across another young man named Fabrizio (who on the 5th of June had had a bad motorcycle accident and was walking with crutches, painfully I think and with difficulty, his left leg having been smashed to bits and now held in a set of metal vises with screws, a sort of walking hardware store; his morale seemed excellent — I dunno how, and told him so: I think I would have been very depressed (didn't tell him that) — and he's expected to make a full recovery); anyway Fabrizio knew where the stuff was: it'd been removed and slipped into the walls of one of the grander houses in town, that used to belong to a cardinal. Added bonus, a pre-Imperial inscription (SIBEI instead of SIBI). It turns out that Fabrizio was involved in recent excavations at M. Moro, where they found bronze votive statuettes that look Picene (I was given a booklet, but haven't read it yet). Back at the comune, talked with a young woman also involved in that dig: apparently the dig is not complete, suspended for lack of funds. This seems to me a very bad situation, an invitation to clandestine diggers: the site is remote, the work of locating it is done, there are small portable items to be found that are easy to sell and impossible to trace, and there is published material and photos to serve as a guide. If an archaeologist doesn't get over there fast, there won't be anything else; not that I care much for the retentive hoardings and duchies of archaeologists — the usual fate of stuff professionally found is to be locked in the basement of some museum, completely out of sight and even knowledge of the public, and defended by an impenetrable morass of permissions and procedures — but at least in theory (when publication ensues, which I'm learning is not at all always) the knowledge is not lost. Anyway, someone serious should finish the dig —

After all this, out of Montefranco at 11:35; and although I didn't take the same road back down to the intersection, I might as well have: the path/road girdled the same hill a bit lower, on the N side rather than the S, and put me 50 m from the intersection. From there to Ferentillo — a beauti­ful cool day but sunny with a few puffs of cloud — was an easy shot, and a dull one. In general the landscape in this famous Valnerina has been pleasant but no stars, and the road is a bit trafficky, you have to watch it.

Ferentillo was a disappointment. I don't know what I was expecting, but you see huge posters of the castle of Matterella in many train stations (as an incitement to take the train, which is odd, since there is no train station nor even a train line in these parts: the closest station is in fact Terni, then the 19 km of road I've just done) and the guides give a star to the church of S. Stefano in Precetto, but it is of no particular interest, the star going to the mummies in the lower church, the same mummies that the guides usually report with a sniff as being merely objects of notoriety etc.

Well, the churches were closed, and the mummies were closed for lunch as well (they opened at 2:30), and while I'd have gone and looked if open, I wasn't going to hang around for 'em; the streets of both little towns are OK: I poked around, and was rewarded by one tiny high Lombard sculpture but nice, in an unexpected place. Click-click and left, under gathering dark blue clouds and distant thunder.

And sure enough, 500 m out of town, light rain; I stopped for 15 minutes [. . .] then a very slight drizzle, back on the road. I thought the rain was over, at one point the sky even cleared a bit; but it came back harder: by a terrific stroke of luck this was 50 m before a covered gallery, and no sooner had I got under it than there was a good drench; I sat nice and dry, and waited it out maybe another 20 minutes here.

[image ALT: A compound of buildings in a wooded valley: you can identify a 5‑story square belfry and a cloister. It is the abbey of S. Pietro in Valle, near Ferentillo, Umbria (central Italy).]

The abbey of S. Pietro in Valle, seen from the NE.

S. Pietro in Valle — by now I'm running real late — is an attractive church, and was open, with a woman pottering around with a small broom; the glory of the place is the one thing I really couldn't photograph well, the (12c?) frescoes from the Old and New Testaments high up on the walls, right up there with S. Savin-sur‑Gartempe in quality: I took a token picture. Lots of old stone, most of it Lombard, but some Roman, including a curious inscription — very hard to photograph because it spreads around a conical stone — that seems to be the dedication of a votive statue in a thesaurus?

The attached cloister, however, is where the two most unusual items are: a very old medieval inscription with sketched symbols of Christ's Passion, and what at first sight looked like an old well, but is in fact a round altar the frieze of which has been totally chiselled out, but not quite enough as to be undistinguishable: a maenad chasing a satyr, only a bit of ribbon escaping this treatment. The whoop I let out on spotting this brought Mrs. Custode out of the church, to tell me — that it was a maenad and a satyr and had been chiselled off by the early monks so they could use it as good Christians.

[image ALT: A cylindrical stone about 1 meter high, almost all its decoration chiselled off: it is a Roman altar to Bacchus, defaced by Christian monks for reuse in the cloister of the abbey of S. Pietro in Valle, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: Detail of a Roman altar to Bacchus, defaced by Christian monks for reuse in the cloister of the abbey of S. Pietro in Valle, Umbria (central Italy).]
Damnatio maenadum satyrorumque.
To make the identification quite clear, see this undamaged relief of a maenad.

No such qualms about three Roman sarcophagi in the transept, the best of which has five arches with figures male and female mostly nude. The altar is a big Lombard piece; S. Pietro seems to have been the church of things hard to photograph: here the problem is that the stone is lightly and finely incised, and very white; I bet my pics won't turn out well, and Mrs. Custode confirmed that my side-flash doesn't work: from day one it's been a lemon, its only real use to me being as a high-power mounted flash for taking distance shots, and even here, I'm not sure of the results.

As I left S. Pietro, it started to drip again; I didn't have far to go to get back to the main road, leaving by the front entrance to S. Pietro, as it turns out I'd come in, typically, by a sort of side road: unmarked in any book I have, the (maybe 17c?) conventual buildings have been turned into a luxury hotel, in which I would certainly have stayed had I only known — anyway, a basically private road to the hotel after a mile or so becomes the top of the very old and dilapidated town of Macenano. Mrs. Custode (worth her weight in gold for the quality of her information about all kinds of things) had told me about a bus at the bar (closed today). It had started to rain a bit heavier, and Scheggino was a couple hours away: not so very happy about it, but I plumped for the bus. No point arriving exhausted, soaking wet in the dark just to maintain a continuous line on a map. This turned out to be a very good decision, as the rain continued to gather strength: an alimentari was open, and I had a ghastly pre-dinner — 2 little plastic vats of semi-artificial chocolate pudding and a small bottle of beer; as I sat half-sheltered in a doorstep nervously eying the stop and ingesting this snack, I realized that my gut knew what it was doing: quick sugar and chocolate to counter the depression from not doing the whole trip on foot. At the same time, at least it was a sensible decision, and the delays that forced it were all good delays, precisely what my stay in Umbria is all about: careful visits of interesting places rather than zooming thru à la touriste, getting to know a bit more than the bare bones of an area (even if I sacrificed Sambucheto and Ceselli,​b traversing them in a warm dry bus).

[image ALT: A cluster of stone houses with a small medieval tower. It is the village of Macenano, in the comune of Ferentillo, Umbria (central Italy).]

The lower town of Macenano.

Blurry photo taken under very dark skies: and I moved.

Later Notes:

a I stayed at the Azienda Scopelli, loc. Campone. (GoogleMaps is mistaken in calling it Campore.)

b There is at least one frescoed church in Ceselli, and in 1872 Guardabassi (p46) reported a medieval edicola, although by his time already in poor condition; I don't know if it has survived.

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