Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fellini's Dolce Vita Castle

Giustiniani-Odescalchi castle, Bassano Romano 

entrance flanked with Roman busts

Fellini's La Dolce Vita is  one of the best known and loved films in the history of Italian cinema.
 We all recognize the iconic image of Anita Ekberg cooling off in the Fountain of Trevi,but how  many know that large sections of the film were shot in the Giustiniani-Odescalchi castle  of Bassano Romano, an unassuming  hamlet which until 1964 was known as Bassano di Sutri. 

church  adjacent to castle 
The Giustiniani family were originally from  Genoa and their wealth came from commerce, especially the importation of  alum from the Greek  island of Chios, at a time when alum was worth more than its weight in gold. 


  At the apex of his career  (around 1600-1610) Vincenzo Giustiniani invested this wealth in art and property.

St. Jerome by Caravaggio, once in the Giustiniani collection
 The family had palazzi and castles  in several towns besides  Bassano and  it seems that the vast art collection included more than a dozen works by Caravaggio. 

grotesques  or flower fairies? 
To decorate the Bassano castle numerous artists were employed    including  Bernardo Castello from Genoa, Tempesta and Squarzina who painted The Four Seasons fresco cycle.

Bassano became the summer hideaway where Giustiniani and later  the Odescalchi nobles escaped the heat and hassle  of Rome.

Vincenzo enjoyed  hunting in the extensive woods and  gardens  which are still connected to the castle by a bridge-like  passageway. 

Myth of Tetone, Galleria Albani  1609
In modern times, the  Giustiniani-Oldescalchi  castle has always been a mysterious place, rarely open to the public, and most people have seen the interiors  only in the  films shot there.

  It has eluded  me for  over  40 years, but finally one hot weekend in July the property was opened for guided tours during  the annual town festival. 

Dottoressa Rita Fabretti, our expert guide
Led by an enthusiastic expert who has studied the Giustiniani diaries, our  small group  was led up the staircase and  through the saloni of the piano nobile where the ceilings of every room  are embellished  with frescoes. 

interior courtyard,  with passageway leading to the gardens
notice headless statue

signing up for  the tour

  In Fellini's La Dolce Vita  actors carrying lighted candlebra romped  through the courtyard and along the garden paths. They were depicting  the decadence of  Roman nobility  and interestingly enough, some of these film extras were actually members of the very caste  they were deriding. 

 Generations of  neglect, irresponsible caretakers  and careless  film crews  have added to the problems of the huge property.   

missing fireplace

Over the last few decades anything of value that was not   attached  to the walls (or ceilings) was carried off and sold. Thus the gaping holes where fireplaces once stood and headless statues.   Only the frescoes  remain to  remind us of the property's glorious past. 

empty rooms 
When the castle  was  on the brink of complete ruin, the local university  contemplated purchasing it. The several hundred hectares of prime forest land and  the huge gardens would have made a perfect Forestry laboratory. 

Door to castle gardens-will they ever be open to the public? 

 Eventually the Italian state stepped in, purchasing it in 2003, and numerous restoration projects are now under way.   

chapel 's ceramic floor 

Diana of Epheseus fresco in former chapel 
The castle is a  unique calling card for  the town of Bassano  Romano and its environs. It is auspicable that future plans include accessibility to the building, gardens and woods for  the general public. 

street shrine  in Bassano Romano 

 In a recent interview, the former head of Lonely Planet  guidebooks  named  the Northern Lazio  region-between Orvieto and Viterbo-as one of the most  unique and interesting areas of Europe.
 Because it is still authentic and untamed, it is more precious.  Being  50 years behind the times  adds  to its attractiveness, especially for people from over-developed (strip malls,etc) countries.

The problem is that with such a concentration of  historic buildings, art works and sites of importance, it is difficult  to organize priorities: what to restore and what to ignore. 

an altar near the castle entrance

 Your ideas and   comments are very welcome. 
 Just click on the comment logo below. 
What future for  La Dolce Vita castle?  



Friday, August 3, 2012

Alternative tourism: from hikers and bikers to archeologists and art historians

watercolor by Alice Lejeune

Tourism statistics are nothing more than a dry collection of numbers. Living here and writing about this area gives me the privilege of meeting the real people behind these numbers: a collection of very interesting individuals.  
Archeologist Stephanie exaimes a plaque in Vetralla's city hall 

All of the people met over the past few months had a special, personal reason for coming  to this lesser known area of central Italy. Each had a special itinerary to follow  which ranged from literature, sport and history to archeology, music and dance. 

From the island of Crete, artist Tim spent a week walking in the footsteps of D.H. Lawrence, using  only public transport  and participating in the life of our circle of friends. 

lunch on the terrace with Teresa 
Teresa, from New Mexico, comes annually as she organizes workshops for writers and aspiring writers. Art historians and museum curators are other visitors who are always welcome.

Museum curators Annawies and John visited  from Boston

Author Mark  meets local actor, Christian
Marged (r.) joins local residents for  Wedding of the Trees festival
Marged and Mark both came to Viterbo to study Italian and cooking and stayed on for local festivities.

Jim, bandaged after a fall in London, 
Jim,  an eco builder from Scotland, arrived at night last week, weighed down by a huge backpack.  
He was following in the footsteps of his father, once  a POW  in Vetralla's Camp  68. Jim read about the camp  here and decided to come see for himself. 
Meeting the locals near the POW camp 

Checco Lallo's  pottery cave has not changed over the years 
We showed Jim a place that hadn't changed since his father was a prisoner here in 1943. 
This group of international lawyers who came in May,even  got a chance to try their hands  at the potter's wheel .
Trying out local crafts 

POW barracks in the background 
Jim meets Ivo who was a prisoner of the Germans

At least once a week a group of pilgrims on foot or cyclists  passes through town, stopping in the main  piazza for a break during their long ride from Siena or Viterbo to Rome.

Bikers from all parts of Italy (and Brazil)   take a break in the piazza
German scholars  and American trekkers often  stop  at our  local bookshop looking for maps of  ancient  Roman roads and books about the area
Last week a troupe of young Russian ballet dancers arrived  in Viterbo to present  Swan Lake during the Tuscia Opera Festival. They didn't see much of the city but gifted us with a magical evening. 
dancers applying makeup  in the piazza
The 13th century  Papal Palace was the backdrop for Tchiakovsky's  enchanting music and ballet. 
Ballet dancers from St. Petersburg, Russia 

warming up for  Swan Lake in Viterbo

 Another  international group, this time French archeologists, stayed for an entire month  as they uncovered an Etruscan tomb complex hidden in the woods near Tuscania. 

walking to the newly discovered tombs
Vincent  Jolivet  from CNRS, Paris leads  the group 

Edwige Lovergne  explains her discovery 
tools for the archeological dig

We anxiously await the published report on the French archeological team's discoveries. 

a sneak preview of the tomb complex

 Individual travelers like Tim and Jim who like to rough it, prove that you can get around  our area (with difficulty) using public transport, but it makes sense  to rent a car if two or more persons are traveling together.