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Wednesday 22 October 1997

(Still night; on an early train to Rimini; continuing)

Monday 20th, I got to Narni only fifteen minutes late, and off I went to Otricoli. Supposedly I was walking the Flaminia, but really all I did was take a convenient road south from Narni to the ruins of Ocriculum, then join up with my train to Orte then back to Spello: a careful exploration of the Flaminia, or any Roman road, would require much more preparation and time, and better logistics; and practically speaking, a car: to say nothing of detailed maps.

The beginning set the tone: it would have been nice to find the long road into Narni and see the (inscriptions or carvings) said to be somewhere along it;​a instead I walked up the hill by the same route I did with James a few weeks ago — navigating the upper town quite differently though and without pausing, and out the back towards Il Testaccio: after downtown Narni, the walk was essentially a gentle descent cut by an occasional gentle rise, thru pines first, then gradually more open country — in fact, a long southwards crest, the sun in my eyes almost all the way, and wide panoramic views on either side: those to my right rather un-Umbrian with the broad flat green plain of the Tiber, and to my left still Umbria but a bit characterless for want of torri, castelli, churches; although admittedly the haze, even past noon, may have obscured any. Perfect weather again: I can still feel my forehead tan after 36h.

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A look back towards Narni from the road S to Otricoli: roughly the Via Flaminia.

Below, modern road and railway (you see the tunnel) follow the Nera river towards the abbey of S. Cassiano, behind it Palombara, and in the far distance, Sangemini.

Ponte Sanguinaro said to evidence Roman traces, Flaminia; but since never identified on the road and I wasn't using IGM maps, I couldn't guess which of the several modern bridges on this modern Via Flaminia S.S.3, so saw nothing.​b The road itself at least is comfortable, with broad flat asphalted shoulders for the most part (except between Gualdo di Narni and Otricoli) and few sharp bends requiring caution for sudden onrushing cars. At a couple of points, mostly near Testaccio, there were outcrops or large stones that might have had something to do with the Roman road, but nothing conclusive.

Otricoli on the other hand announces itself right away as Roman: the little crucifix garden at the city limits seemed to have Roman stones for an edging; much in doubt about that, twenty yards later I came on a modern tower of a villa with embedded displayed Roman and medieval fragments, so backtracked, took my picture of the first (still doubtful, actually) and moved into Roman mode.

First, an "antique fair" — a community garage sale — along a block of the road; one guy had Roman coins, mixed and unreadable except, were I an expert, for one or two: he wanted 20,000L for any one of them.

The walled section of town starts out with the Municipio, on a whitewashed courtyard at the top of a staircase with a very relaxed cat on it, taking in the sun. Anyplace really Roman has its cats; on either side of where this one lay quietly, inscriptions in the walls. In the courtyard itself, a longish rather hard to read inscription with a column on it: I'd been walking nonstop since Narni, so enjoyed the opportunity to sit on the pavement and squint at it —

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Otricoli town grew gradually more and more Roman; the back gate and its parking lot are chock-a‑block full of occasional quite monumental fragments. In fact the town is very largely built of the spoils of the Roman city; my guess is something like 1500 blocks of Roman cut stone could be catalogued visible, to say nothing of what's in the structure and fabric of the place, quite invisible.

And down to Ocriculum — particularly attractive little chapel on the road out, with the obligatory blocks of Roman stone, some carved, as a threshold.

Ocriculum marked only at the very last minute by a very small sign onto the gravel road to it: no other sign anywhere else all day long. Still, I did find it.

To the left, large brownish cores that become quite invisible from almost everywhere else; the road leads to the baths — occupied by sheep, a flock of about eighty of them when I got there, three motorised shepherds, loosely tending them and chatting not too far from their cars.

Behind the baths, a "grande sostruzione" — the archaeologists being very prudent but hoping it to be a temple base like at Terracina — and a theatre, partly carved out of the hill. Ocriculum is clearly not fully excavated, but has been despoiled for 1500 years and currently there seems to be a half-hearted effort to arrest wear but no real excavations, at least if I read the site correctly. Not a scrap of marble or travertine left; only saw one dubious shard of sigillata.

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The "big substructure".

East of the sostruzione and baths, the core, with niche, of what is marked as one of the posts of a city gate: a taller version of the Porta Capena. Behind it, however, an excavated tract of Flaminia and three tombs. The Flaminia, if that's what it is, points due east? and appears to rest on unprepared soil, unless any roadbed has washed away from below somehow, or in fact we're dealing with a restoration.

A couple more tombs after that; but mindful of the time, sunset and a railway schedule requiring me to meet the 1846 in Staz. di Civita Castellana, I figured I had 'til 1615 to poke around: and I hadn't found the amphitheatre yet.

The darndest most elusive amphitheatre​d I've ever met with. How you can lose a fairly well preserved building the size of a football field, who knows? but I did — twice. Admittedly the second time I got some help, from a horse: from a distance I thought I'd found my white cow (I've been looking for them especially around Bevagna) —

So I rushed around the amphitheatre, when I finally found it, snapping pictures. . . Still I have a good idea of it; including, or so it seems, that it's a good deal "flatter" — more lens-shaped than oval to round — than they usually are, and the major axis not centered: compressed on the hill side.

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The vanishing amphitheatre of Ocriculum.

(The theatre, by the way, faces south; as does, if I remember well!?, the theatre at Ad Mercurii — Zilis, I guess — which they said couldn't be there because the sun would be in the spectators' eyes: but performances would have been in the late afternoon? or there would have been a velarium? More ignorance on my part, but the theatre at Ocriculum faces due south.)

And from Otricoli/Ocriculum the usual mad dash to the train station, about 10 km away after some very dull road: a long causeway ending with a bridge over the Tiber and the ruins of Borghetto and the turnoff to the station, only a couple hundred yards away — where I arrived at 1755! apparently having walked at just over 7 km/h. Magliano Sabina at the start of the causeway, from which some fairly good views up to its perch on the hill, is of considerable interest: next time maybe.

Anyhow, sat at the bar across from the station,​e had ⅓ l of orange fizz then ⅔ l of 4.6% beer, also a white chocolate bar: that was dinner; train to Orte, train to Terni, train to Foligno, Spello, up the Pusterula in the dark, flopt into bed, setting the alarm for 4:30 to catch the 0525 then off to Rimini. Cow didn't hurt, instead my quads, but not too bad; for the first time in my life, a blister though on the sole of my foot — resorbing, fortunately.

Well yesterday Tuesday 21st I did wake up at 0430, pondered things, and rolled over — too tired. Woke up, went got milk and bananas, and had a quiet breakfast; took the 1002 to Foligno and since my train to Trevi wasn't 'til 1041, walked into town and peered at the Palazzo Comunale shorn of its cupola — not as bad as I thought, I bet they'll replace it — and the 1041 was in fact fifteen minutes late anyway.

Trevi under complete overcast, threatening rain but other than 5 drops at lunchtime, not delivering until evening, nor much then. Walked up the hill in my usual roundabout way — S. Vincenzo and S. Croce and lots of medieval wall — to the Piazza Mazzini where a huge van was evacuating the top floor of the Palazzo Comunale: viewed by at least one local as pure politics, nothing being damaged, but an attempt to convince the pursestring authorities in Rome that there's a need for funds. . . .

The TCI Umbria, now 20 years old, is no longer right about the Museum being in the Palazzo Comunale: it's attached to the church of S. Francesco; which, in view of midday closing at 1 P.M. and some Roman inscriptions said to be there, I went to immediately.

And was disappointed: five Roman stones, an emptyish museum;​f if a nice 17c cloister with some nice touches in the cycle of lunette frescoes on the life of St. Francis (17‑18c). Tanked up on books, though; and left, thinking for S. Martino up further — but a few drops fell while I was standing in front of a restaurant back in the piazza Mazzini: a fatal combination; I sat down and ate.

Having seen "sedano nero" as a local specialty — a sign in a store — I had a pranzo al sedano, as I put it: hors d'oeuvre and secondo piatto both. In fact, it was just plain celery, not black at all; but in the fall they dig it up from a cover of dirt — blanching it — and make a fuss over it: altho' yes it was good celery. Antipasto: al pinzimonio (Trevi is particularly proud of its olive oil, and it was quite good). Next: ripieno (with ground veal/pork) slightly overdone on the nutmeg, with tomato sauce; Trevi apparently is tomato, unlike most of Umbria. Well I was still hungry so I had a pagliata (spelled 'pajata' on the menu) — also good. Pagliata, I was told, really should be eaten with a strong dry white, but I was already on red (Villa dei Francesi, Sassata Ponente, an Orvieto v.d.t.) —

Dessert, a torta al farro e alla marmelata di mora; and an excellent torta alla ricotta, gently flavored with rum just enough to taste something without being doused in rum and alcohol. Grappa di Sagrantino Antonelli, coffee; and a longish chat with a vacationing Swedish couple just arrived Monday: in English except with her at times in French — she sings barbershop, of all things, and their group, the Rönninge Show Chorus, took silver in the worlds last year: she said they'd be going for the gold in Nashville in early 1998 (Tina Säfvenfeldt and her husband were later joined by their Swedish friend and host, an Umbrian resident — a bit more chat, then we left our separate ways.)

So I did go up the hill — in fact, not at all far — to S. Martino (a coupla nice paintings); accompanying partway a couple of old men who always go for a post-prandial walk somewhere around Trevi: almost all olive trees, of course.

And then the little trek to the Tempietto, to which I'd still never got any instructions, all my maps being unclear, to boot: thus, counting on stumbling across it; which I did, past sunset (it's a bit farther from Trevi than I thought) but not without a pit stop in front of the Romanesque door of the church of Bovara: nice.

[image ALT: missingALT.] The Tempietto, on the other hand, is particularly wonder­ful, uniting great elegance with a strong sense of numen, much to my surprise. Well, neither can I tell whether it's 5c or 8c; the plan is peculiar — the custodian fed me a story about aspersion of bull blood and "Giove" — sounds very mithraic instead, of course; but couldn't see how it would have been set up, since the lower storey is very solidly vaulted, and too low to have a pit inserted.

Anyway, spent a good half hour there, although it's tiny — the footprint of a large living-room — and left at 7:05 in complete darkness: it'd been lit with orange light thruout, really most attractive.

Then the mad rush in the dark to catch a 1946 train in a station I didn't know where it was, about 3 km away; very light drizzle. Made it — home and flopt into bed, setting the alarm again for 4:30 A.M.

Except this time, today, I really did get up and out of the house by 5; the 0525 train was late, but I had a few minutes to spare in Foligno, so it was fine. Out of Foligno at 0600 and chugged our way up the Flaminia in the dark then across the Marche, eventually taking on a crew of high-schoolers at each of the later stops: that certainly put some life into the train. Spent almost the whole trip writing this diary (which in fact was one of the reasons for scheduling it for today), arriving ten minutes late in Falconara, but that was fine because the Rimini train was late too. . . and got to Rimini under leaden skies, suddenly looking up and goodness I have to jump out here!

Later Notes:

a Wrong road. The very ancient carvings, possibly even pre-Roman, are not on one of the two roads up to Narni from the valley, but precisely on the road to Otricoli that I then proceeded to walk. Because I didn't have my eyes open, I didn't see them. Three years later, I did: see Aug. 26, 2000.

b I finally did see it: see Nov. 15, 1998 (which will have a further link to any future webpage on the bridge.)

c Gualdo di Narni is a tiny hamlet — that once had a webpage, however — almost certainly deriving its name from a Germanic word meaning forest (modern German, Wald): there are many places by this name in Italy, having acquired it during the period of German domination in the high Middle Ages.

If you're looking for Gualdo in Umbria, though, it's probably not this one, but one of the two towns by that name large enough to be among the region's 92 comuni:

d The amphitheater is basically deserted almost all the time; but every year, in early May, a pageant is held in it to commemorate the martyrdom of the patron saints of Otricoli, SS. Victor and Fulgentius. I have not checked the Acts of these saints to see whether in fact there are grounds for believing they were martyred in the arena — often such stories appear to be mere legends — but if you are a tourist in the area in late spring, this might be a wonder­ful experience.

e The reader new to Italy must not imagine I am anywhere near the actual city of Civita Castellana. Train stations are not infrequently out in the middle of nowhere, yet bear the name of some town several miles away, that the traveler might like to visit: if you are planning a trip, always check the situation.

In the case at hand, the Stazione di Civita Castellana is near the Tiber and not too far from the village of Borghetto; it is 10 km NE of the hilltop city of Civita Castellana: a long walk if you have a suitcase. I did not visit the town until nearly five years later.

f The Museo S. Francesco of Trevi is emptyish no longer. Although there are only a few Roman remains, the museum is now fully set up, and has a fine collection of paintings. See Apr. 11, 2004.

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