Sunday, March 25, 2012

Secrets of Soriano

The first thing one notices about Soriano nel Cimino is the Orsini Castle, built for  Pope Nicholas III  Orsini around 1287 as a summer getaway from the heat of Rome. 

Over the centuries it has been the  private domain  of cardinals and papal authorities and,  until 1989,  a maximum security prison.  For this reason it has not been fully studied and reserves surprises for future art historians.

Many plaques  adorn the fortress  walls reminding of happenings in its long history:  Santa Rosa of Viterbo was exiled here 750 years ago, the  English Stuarts were  guests of Cardinal Albani in 1717 and the Allies bombed the town in 1944.  

Palazzo Madruzzo Chigi-Albani in its present sorry state

Another stunning complex, now in ruins, is Palazzo Chigi-Albani,  Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo’s  pleasure villa  between 1562 and 1578. 

 Here visitors lucky enough to find the gates  open can  admire the gigantic sculpted figures of the Papacqua  fountain: a reclining goat-hoofed woman with three babies clinging to her breast. Other figures include  a devil, Pan, gargolyles, animals, Moses and the four seasons.

There are obvious similarities with the nearby Sacro Bosco (Monster Park)  of Bomarzo  for  Cardinal Madruzzo was an  intimate of Vicino Orsini and their continual correspondence shows they exchanged ideas and artists during the construction of their respective  country places.

The  altar sculpted in walnut 
Soriano  is a town for people with strong  legs, complicated  to park and best during the October  Chestnut Festival when its  four quartieri compete in colorful parades and flag-throwing contests. 

 Another secret of Soriano can be found just down the hillside  bordering the town cemetery - the  delightful little  church of Madonna del Poggio.

behind the curtain, a sacristy full of  surprises
young guides 

vestments for different seasons 
wax Madonna
wax  head of S. Eutizio

Madonna del Poggio, Soriano nel Cimino

Adjacent to its  pink peperino facade  is the entrance to the cloister  and the sadly abandoned  Franciscan convent .

The cloister with its frescoed walls telling  the story of San Francesco. 

chestnut trees and giant stones near S.Eutizio
About  6 kms. from the center of Soriano, another surprise: the Passionist  sanctuary dedicated to early Christian  martyr  Sant’Eutizio   in the hamlet  of the same name. 
tower of S.Eutizio  monastery 
local girls guided us through the catacombs

  Beneath the church  is a small catacombs  used in early Christian days.  Frescoes adorn the walls and water filters  down to fill an empty tomb.

 Most of the sarcophagi  were removed decades ago but a few bone-filled burials remain, adding a spooky  atmosphere to the underground site. 

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mysterious Underground Sites near Rome

Italian towns  hide some of the most mysterious sites 

 Hill towns in central Italian are like icebergs: beneath  the  bell towers,  rooftops and cobble stone streets there   are often  several other layers, including  subterranean passageways and sacred places  dating from Etruscan and Roman times.

Some are easy to visit, like the dark, underground crypt of San Francesco church  in Vetralla  where  an ancient rite, known as the sepolchri, takes place  every Easter time.  You can read more about it  here.

sepolchri  in the crypt of San Francesco,Vetralla

only a broken tower remains of the Castello DiVico

The gardens surrounding the remains of DiVico castle  on the southern  side of Vetralla   have not been touched since the bombings by Allied  forces in January 1944. 

abandoned  gateway to the  former  gardens

Older people of the town remember the  secret passageways that connected  the center of town to the countryside. During the bombings, families escaped through them to the safety of  grottos that can still be seen nearby.     

 mounds of earth  hide the scars of the war

Other towns in the Etruria/Tuscia area  have  recuperated  their ancient passageways and opened them to the public.

In Vignanello, volunteer speologists have opened  and cleaned a series of  ancient drainage passages, dating from Etruscan times,  located beneath  the  town's streets  and  the Duomo. During guided visits one can walk through these tunnels and see where the town nobility were buried .   Check out  the video of the connutti for a first hand look. 

Perugia recently opened  an underground tour which includes a  walk on Roman roads and a visit  to a WWII bomb shelter. 

  Underground Orvieto is a fascinating  tour for those who have already admired the majestic Duomo and historic center.

Read  more  on their website Orvieto  Underground

 The  city of Orte-the ancient Hortae-is perched on a tufa outcrop overlooking the Tiber valley.  Intimately connected to the town by underground passages is a spectacular nympheum and  many  grottos excavated in the tufa rock.  
Nympheum of Orte
Used throughout antique times and the Middle Ages as water cisterns, irrigation tunnels and passageways,  there was also a splendid moment during the Renaissance when a nearby monastery used these cisterns as a swimming pool and  spa for its  worldly resident nuns. 

 The arched rooms were used as bomb shelters during World War II  and,  during earlier centuries, as a place to breed pigeons.  

pigeon  breeding  room

 You will find more information  about  these and other mysterious sites  in central Italy in 
"Etruria-travel, history and itineraries in Central Italy"

 Cocciopesto  is the latest addition to the subterranean passageways   of  Orte and new itineraries are  discovered in Italy   each year.

 Do you have a favorite underground place to share with other readers?   

                                         Many thanks to Luca Riccardi of Orte  for his photos.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Voyage in Italy with artist Valerio Cugia

Like many other expatriate Italians  who live and work in other countries, the art of Valerio Cugia di Sant'Orsola  reflects   nostalgia for  the  mother land.

When the grey skies of  northern European cities  become overwhelming,  the artist  retreats into  the memory  of  warm  Mediterranean  afternoons. Using his  brushes  and colors  he recreates the  sensations that  we  who live in Italy take for granted.

The artist 's  personal  exhibit  is  now being held at  Galerie Albert Premier, one of the  top art galleries in  Brussels, until April lst.  Here are some photos of the gallery before the crowds arrived.

Valerio  and Petra Cugia

Mrs. Scheepers, gallery owner and  mascot Jojo

before the  opening

 The landscapes and still life paintings  are  a feast for the eyes  and  the hearts of nostalgic  Italian expats and all who love  Italy,  her colors and flavors.

Puglia, Rome and the artist's  ancestral  home- Sardinia - are often portrayed.

Cugia's art has been described  by numerous art critics and his love for  the colors of southern climes  is evident in all his work.

Check the artist's website  for biography, critical acclaim and a panorama of  his work.

Homage  to Rome, its historical cafes and  archeological sites are also favorite themes of Valerio's work.
Caffe Greco 

Roman Forum 

 Cugia has mastered  the affresco  technique   used  by Michelangelo.  
Here are some views of  the  fresco cycle  which visitors to Vetralla will recognize.

The Four Elements: water, air, fire, earth

Cugia at work on fresco ,  1994 

night in the tropical  forest 

                              The different giornate  of work are clearly visible  here.

The Rise of  Civilization,  inspired by  Saturnia



Friday, March 2, 2012

Mysterious Etruscan Itinerary with artist Monica Ferrando

painting by Monica Ferrando 

Among those who rediscovered the Etruscan sites in central Italy and publicized them with their books were  Scots  and  English including Lady Elizabeth Hamilton Gray  and George Dennis, accompanied by  artist S.J. Ainsley  whose drawings  show the tombs as they once were.
  Jules Martha’s  L’Arte Etrusque  published in Paris in 1889  has color plates depicting  the magnificent art, coins, jewellery, mirrors and bronzes of the Etruscan civilization that were coming to light.

 D.H. Lawrence lived for some time in Tarquinia and  his  Etruscan Places   published in 1929,  captures  some of the mystery of this  little  known civilization.

Norchia rock hewn tombs - photo by John Ferro Sims 
In order to recapture the emotions of those pioneer days, I suggest a visit to  Norchia or  Grotta Porcina near Vetralla or Castel d’Asso outside Viterbo.

 Early spring is the best time for  these Indiana Jones type of explorations, for the grass will not be high  and snakes will still be hibernating.

Vetralla panorma from the south
Take a walk in the countryside to visit  the  newly discovered site of Demetra’s  sanctuary known as  Bagno Sacro, sacred bath.

design of Demetra sanctuary 
the entrance to Demetra's sanctuary near Vetralla

riding along an Etruscan via cava 
Here a metre high terracotta statue of the goddess was recently found at the end of a track similar to other vie cave paths carved in the tufa stone  throughout the area.

statue of Demetra, now in storage at Museo Etrusco, Viterbo

In her delicate, dreamy pastels, local artist Monica Ferrando  perfectly interprets the Etruscan  love for nature and the story of Demetra.   More of Monica's work can be seen here and on her new website.
Monica Ferrando, photo by Corinna Cuniberto

 When not traveling between Venice and Rome or sketching at the Louvre, she pours out her love for the area  working in  her south-facing Vetralla studio set in a luxuriant garden. 

On March  8th   there is free entrance to the Necropolis and Museo Etrusco  in Tarquinia for  women, just another reminder that theirs was a matriarchial society and Etruscan women were more liberated than their Roman neighbors.