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Wednesday 23 September 1998

Well it was splendid walking weather, even if I didn't do as much walking as I thought I would. If days had names, there'd be several choices — including Three Bridges — but finally I'd have to settle for Indugio. One delay after another, all of my own making — and I never got to Gubbio at all.

[image ALT: A medieval stone church with a square belfry in a sort of sunken garden. It is the church of San Sebastiano in Fossato di Vico, Umbria (central Italy).]
The upper town clusters around the church of S. Sebastiano.

The problem was basically Fossato di Vico, although five other delays added to it later; but Fossato, which from various guidebooks I'd been expecting to be not much more than a railroad stop, is a well-kept secret: a beauti­ful little place with a number of interesting churches. I stayed there 'til well past noon. The churches — except for S. Sebastiano which was scaffolded up from last year's earthquake — are all open, or on the latch. I didn't see even most of the town nor its monuments, which in addition to churches, include at least two medieval towers and several medieval locales not churches — archways, bakers' ovens etc.

I didn't see a shred of anything Roman in the upper town, but my introduction, the very first thing I saw after the little walk from the station, was the 1915 church of S. Cristoforo, in the Borgo, with a few bits of column and a well-preserved sarcophagus lid hiding towards the back (outside). A large, detailed and well-sourced list of the 42 churches (plus 3 in addendum) known in Fossato, posted in S. Pietro, at one point refers to a 1960 book by "I. Galassi (my father)"; a conversation with a woman at her window in the v. Rocca — who can rent rooms in town, and seemed very pleasant (I kept her Ancona phone number just in case)​a — gave me Luigi Galassi's full name and his partial address, and a casual check of doorbells later netted me the rest: he is the "storico del paese" per everyone, a former school-teacher now retired who's written several small books on Fossato and set up a local museum.​b

[image ALT: A medieval stone church with three doors, under pine trees at the end of a gravel lane. It is the church of S. Benedetto, in Fossato di Vico, Umbria (central Italy).]
The church of S. Benedetto, about 100 m from the main gate of the upper town of Fossato.

By accident, after visiting S. Benedetto, a particularly attractive church (frescoes nicely restored, inscription on the door) nestled in the pines, I crossed the museum, went in, found Prof. Galassi, intro'd myself, and told him I'd be coming back — James should see this place — but for now was starting to be in a bit of a rush to get to Gubbio about 29 km away before dark; still, he gave me his main book on Fossato, printed by the Comune — they hand it out free to all who ask — handsome, well done, they really should charge — and we talked (mostly he) about Helvillum (Fossato Borgo, which fits) and the possibly mythical Suillum, the only locus for which is my own Pliny in his capsule of Regio VI, "Suillates": I in turn wondered about -s-/-h- equivalences (as in Asisium, [Hi]spellum, and various Gk-Lat. words although now of c. I can't remember any), and then Pliny "Mevanates, Mevanienses" — 2 different places, 2 different groups of people both inhabiting Mevania, etc.? and thus another half hour eaten up. Surprising though that more stuff hasn't been found near Fossato, considering Helvillum is mentioned in each of the main topographical texts (Vicarello, Peutinger, Antonine, Bordeaux) and the place rapidly became a backwater — thus all these Roman bridges still with us —

[image ALT: An old bridge with a single semi-cylindrical arch, of mixed brick and stone, over a small stream in some fairly dense cover.]
The bridge is a small one, right off the road to Ancona — or alternately, 100 m down the gravel road across from the cemetery. Probably because of that, it's essentially intact. The Riga, right now at least, is a little trickle: the simple way of getting close to the arch was to step into the stream and walk. Picking my stones, I never stepped more than 4″ deep (and these shoes are waterproof). Nettles.

From the cemetery to Scheggia, the road I followed, the S.S.3 "Flaminia", is one of the red ones on the maps; but this is hardly a high traffic zone: two-lane highway, an occasional car or truck. Cool to middling all day, warm enough though to refresh my tan: really perfect weather.

Very nice landscape, a smaller version of the Valle Umbra with to my left (W) a range of hills about 2‑3 km away with farmland in the foreground; to my right, directly, the low mountains that include the Monte Cucco park area — apparently of botanical interest, also a rather nice cave; Centro di Volo Libero — deltaplaning — near Sigillo. The modern Flaminia hews very close to the ancient: of the three Roman bridges I saw (I may have missed one somewhere N of Villa Col de' Canali, very diffuse instructions) the farthest from the SS3 was in fact Fossato's.

Sigillo is a very different beast from Fossato: a very convenient town on pretty much a grid plan despite land sloping off the eastern mountain; rather wide streets; not too old. The guidebooks attribute this to 16c destruction, but a local said it was due to "the earthquake" meaning one in the 18c. I checked, and there was one in fact in 1783 I think; and the general feel of the town is in fact early 19c — handsome Palazzo Comunale — plus "the" earthquake to refer to an 18c event has a definite ring of truth to it. Withal, despite crisscrossing it for nearly half an hour, not a trace of anything Roman, nor any great medieval wonder (excepting a thing in the piazza, that they seem to be proud of, and displayed on a special metal rack, which looks to me maybe like half of the rim of a very old well?) but Sigillo is pleasant; even if despite signage for 3 different restaurants, none was open: actually 1 was closed and the 2 others didn't seem to exist. The bar serves only ice cream and chocolate bars; I passed.

The little Roman bridge just out of town, about 500 m from the piazza, on the W side of the road, is very much like my baby at Pieve Fanonica, maybe more of a passage for a drainage culvert?

Continued beauti­ful scenery past Villa Scirca (just plain Scirca on maps); at about 1.5 km S of Costacciaro, big modern bridge: I absently looked over the edge, nothing, crossed the road, looked over the edge, huge Roman bridge. Arch missing: the proprietor of the neighboring house — permission to clamber about, yes but do be careful — said it was the Germans blew it up as they retreated, along with the modern bridge. The blocks of the arch are still there, in the bed of the river, completely overbriared.

Costacciaro a charming little place, even if the main official attraction, the church (13c I think?) of S. Francesco, is entirely scaffolded up the façade obscuring an attractive door and rose window. Having photographed the handsome medieval gate 50 m away, I was snapping the only thing I could of this façade — the bases of the door piers, which seem to show curious half-lions or disjunct paws attacking birds?? — when up walks an old gentleman, asking me where I'm from, how long I plan to be in town, have I ever been in Costacciaro before; then taking me to his house — a splendid probably 17c? Maria della Misericordia ceramic sculpture on the façade — to show me his copy of an interesting if somewhat hodgepodgean book he wrote on the town.

[image ALT: A niche, about 30 cm square, made by recessing thin bricks into a roughly stuccoed wall. The back wall of the niche is a majolica relief carving of a woman wearing a long mantle and holding it open for a number of smaller human figures who huddle under it. On the ledge in front of it, a small clay pot with a few fresh flowers. It is a wayside shrine of the Madonna della Misericordia in Costacciaro, Umbria (central Italy).]

Well by this time it was really getting late, and it was unreasonable to try to get to Gubbio today — I'd certainly be walking well past sunset thru unknown territory and what appeared to be a small winding road up and down hills — and the question thus became: stay at Costacciaro, where there was a little hotel right smack centro storico, or see if there would be a hotel in Scheggia?

Bird in hand, I went to the hotel, but the reception area was resolutely closed, locked; mystifying several locals since the hotel had been open the day before. Well within two minutes, Mr. Lupini (Ruggiero Lupini) had stopped a car and I was told to hop in, I'd sleep at an agriturismo a coupla km away: before this barrage of helpfulness, I was quite defenseless, even if I hadn't completely visited the town and I still really hadn't decided not to go on the 7 km to Scheggia. I slept at Costacciaro.

Later Note:

a I eventually did rent from Mrs. Guerrieri — an entire small house — staying in Fossato di Vico for three months in 2000.

b I eventually met Prof. Galassi, in June of 2000.

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