Sunday, August 30, 2015

Latest Discoveries: Etruscan tombs and Renaissance Frescoes

The area of Northern Lazio  continues to  surprise with the  recovery  of  treasures lost for  hundreds  and even  thousands  of years. Thanks to the determination, generosity  and professionalism  of local art historians, archeologists and  private groups who  give financial  and technical support,  many ancient sites and lost works of art have been  recently recuperated adding to  Italy's wealth of  art. 

entrance  dromos  Etruscan tomb Norchia

excavating  Norchia
   This week   Norchia (Vetralla)  and Soriano nel Cimino  are in  the spotlight. 
At the ancient Etruscan  necropolis of Norchia, in Vetralla,  an  equipe  of archeologists    and volunteers with financial support from Trust Sostratos   of  Lorenzo  Benini  completed a second  campaign of  excavations  bringing  to light  about   11 pieces  of funerary art including  painted vases and bucchero ware  datable from  the 4th to the 3rd centuries BC. 

one of the vases found in Norchia
That these treasures have escaped the pick axes  of tomb robbers  for two thousand years  is incredible in itself. The  area on which the necropolis of Norchia  sits  is privately owned (a certain Signor Stelliferi) and  will probably   become a future archeological park similar  to the nearby  privately owned Sacro Bosco of Bomarzo.    

These ceramic treasures are now being  cleaned and   restored  before   being  presented   to the public  on September  13th in the Sala Regia of Viterbo’s  Palazzo dei Priori.
Simona Sterpa  at the Soriano presentation

Simona Sterpa  is one of the  archeologists   coordinating   the  group  of  volunteers, including Luciano Proietti, Rudolfo Neri  and Mario Sanna of  Archeotuscia   who were on site  digging  by  6 a.m.  before the August sun and heat  made work impossible.

Francesca Ceci and Emanuele Ioppolo
 In Soriano nel Cimino’s historic  center   another equipe of local  art historians and  restorers  have brought back  to light part of a 16th century fresco  which had  been hidden under layers  of  white paint  in the tiny  Misericordia  church  located  in  the shadow of the imposing  Orsini Castle. A word of warning for Soriano: arrival and parking  are   difficult  due to  numerous narrow one-way streets  and hidden parking lots.   
 explaining  the newly found fresco
unveiling the fresco
crammed in to the tiny chapel

fresco fragment  of Last Judgement

sitting on the  altar

The presentation  took place yesterday in  a nearby church, then  the crowd moved over to the tiny Misericordia  chapel to watch the unveiling of the  long lost fresco.
spindle fountain where tyrant DiVico was decapitated

16th century organ still needs repair

view from Soriano over the Tiber valley

peeking inside  the Misericordia chapel

The fresco is  a represtation of the Last Judgement
 Noisy fireworks   announced the unveiling  and causing a  bit of panic (one woman  threw herself on the ground) but the rest of late afternoon  went on seamlessly with a delicious   buffet offered  to  guests  in a series of ancient  rooms with   low  beams  reminiscent of  a Venetian sottoportego
rich buffet

low ceiling with  ancient beams


For more information  about  Northern Lazio and its pleasures and happenings check out my award winning website.
 Copies  of my books about the area are available  in most museums and bookshops in the area. I mail out signed copies worldwide  every week.
Check the books page on the website  for  reviews .

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Coming up:
In September - series of Enrichment lectures for  passengers  sailing on Silverseas luxury cruise  from Venice to Dubronik and return
Visits in  USA- Buffalo, NY  and Boston areas

In October-  "I nostri castelli-veri gioelli"  illustrated presentation about the castles of N. Lazio  for Archeotuscia in Viterbo's Prefecture.
Date to be announced.   Copies  of my books will be available  at all these  happenings.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Italy's August Food Festivals and Concerts

Posters announce local food festivals in August
Sagra  in the piazza, Monte Romano
Italy, the land of great food and great music,  really earns this  reputation  during August. For the entire month  small towns and large  put on  food festivals / sagre  where trestle tables  are set up  in the main piazza and everyone enjoys  traditional food under the stars. 

The triangle   where   N. Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria   meet  is  one of the best areas  to pass  the month of August ; each town has a rich calendar of sagre  dedicated to local  dishes  and neighboring towns vie with one another to  attract tourists and  locals.
The Sagre are favored by vacationing city dwellers who delight at  the  quality/price ratio. Abundant  and genuine food  is offered at a fraction of what  it would cost to eat out in  a  big city like Rome.

Posters announcing  each town’s  sagra  are visible  on bulletin boards and walls towards the end of June, throughout July and reach the peak  for  the mid August Ferragosto holiday . 
 Check Move magazine for  complete  and up to date listings.

When you have had your fill of   grilled sausages and pasta with truffles   then you can enjoy one of the  numerous  concerts  held  in churches and castles  throughout  the  summer.  

At  the magnificent Roman amphitheatres  of  Ferento (Viterbo) and Vulci (near Montalto di Castro ) one can  sit on the original stone steps (cushions are available )  that have been in use for 2,000 years and enjoy  a concert or theatre performance.   
fresco, S.Maria Nuova, Viterbo
Ensemble Ottaviano Alberti

Evangelina Mascardi directing 
Concerts and cultural  happenings  are also held in  medieval churches and Renaissance castles which abound in  Northern Lazio.  We recently attended a magnificent concert "L'Idillio amoroso " love songs and music from the 15-16th century  in S. Maria Nuova  Church which  dates  from the year 1008!
The  castles of Vignanello, Vasanello and  Proceno  are  just a few privately owned castles where one can enjoy  candle lit concerts throughout the summer . 
The magnificent  Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola is another venue for music and concerts year round.
Use the search bar above to find more articles on these  historic  palazzi and castles. 
hosts at  Castello di Campogiordano
After a lengthy restoration the  Castello di Campogiordano  in Vetralla has now joined the list of "castello di musica"    where cultural events are held.
pre-theatre aperitivo

readings  by candlelight in the castle courtyard

Do you have a favorite sagra  or concert venue in Italy ?  Tell us about it in the comments. Feel free to share with friends by clicking on the  icons below.
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Check out  my newest project: Vintage and Books , an online shop window  hosted by ETSY.  Here you can find and choose a little piece of Italy.



Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mysterious Museum Graffiti

Museum courtyard. the  graffiti are located on the upper loggia 
During a recent visit to the newly reopened  Civic Museum in Viterbo a series of  graffiti  caught my attention:  they include  designs and phrases scratched into the plaster  by a prisoner, one Nicolo, son of Francesco Bartoli, from the  town of Barchi, near  Fano in  the Marche.   
Etruscan heads welcome visitors to the Museo Civico 

 When the outside wall enclosing the  cloister’s upper level  was removed and the roof level raised sometime in the past  200 years, these graffiti were re-discovered but the area was closed off to the public until the most recent update a few months ago. 

See the photos of my recent presentation at the Museum. 

Etruscan sarcophaghi and bucchero ware 
The convent and adjoining church S. Maria della Verità have undergone many changes over the centuries: they were damaged  during the bombings of  World War II, and only a  short time ago, the Museum was closed down for  several years when a section of the ancient walls collapsed on to the street. 

Finding  graffiti in old Italian prisons is common,  for  the incarcerated had nothing  to do to  pass the  time and used the walls of their cells as a  canvas or diary.  Visitors to  the Doge’s Palace in Venice and  Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome can visit  graffiti filled cells and even my small city of  Vetralla counts  scores of graffiti  in abandoned churches, historic sites and the building used as a prison, many of which have been  studied by local paleographer, Carlo Tedeschi.

Viterbo’s  Museo Civico  graffiti are particularly interesting for the astronomical scenes depicting the  planets:  the moon is in the center and  Mars, Mercury and Saturn in outer circles. There are  Biblical scenes of  David with  his sling,  sheep and holding Goliath’s head in a bag. There are other probable  religious scenes  too:  an Annunciation with  a bird (Holy Spirit)  hovering over the  Madonna.  

the Museum's explanation of the graffiti 

Davidd (sic)  holding head of Goliath ? 
While awaiting further research on the graffiti, we can only wonder what crime the  young  Nicolo committed to  be imprisoned in Viterbo and why he created this fanciful  world  full of strange characters  such as the  enthroned  figure in baggy bloomers  (King/Pope?) flanked by angels.

Your clues, transcriptions and suggestions are welcome. Please share with friends who  work in this sector. 
a smaller piece of plaster  contains further designs and text

part of text
Visit  the Museum's website  here.

More stories and  information about
  central Italy on  my website  
For books about the  area and its history.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Italy's Summer Festival Delimma

 Pisa San Ranieri festival  illumination draws  crowds  
 If you are planning a summer stay in one of Italy’s beautiful mid-size towns be sure to  check the dates of the local summer festival before booking your flight and accommodations.   Many historic Italian towns celebrate summer with  festivals that  draw large crowds such as  Pisa’s  Luminara di San Ranieri and Gioco del Ponte which have been celebrated  in mid June for hundreds of years.
the tower of Pisa  by night 

Other towns like  Montefiascone and Vignanello have  invented festivals or sagre  celebrating  local wine  and local food stars at the Cene in Cantina in my hometown, Vetralla. 

Along with providing entertainment,  these festivals produce  a great  amount of  confusion  annihilating the usual lifestyle of historic towns.   
The  younger crowd  looking for  lots of action may enjoy  the added buzz of  a  summer festival, but if  you prefer more traditional, slower paced living and genuine Italian lifestyle, organize your holiday  stay  before or after the festival or book a place distant  from the festival venue in order to enjoy the festivities and also get a good night’s sleep.

Italian towns cannot  compete with the night life of  Ibiza or Mykonos yet  Vetralla’s  Cene in Cantina festival boasted  4 nights of  rock music  blasted by  powerful speakers  and a strange, sweet "perfume" wafted through the air  from 11 p.m. until well after 2 a.m. 
In Viterbo  the pseudo-cultural Caffeina Festival’s  ten evenings of happenings boasted many food stands cooking up fried foods and selling  alcoholic drinks in medieval piazzas where local restaurants regularly  close down.
circus or cultural festival? 
contrasting  with the medieval architecture 
 As tourists walked  through Europe’s best preserved medieval quarter San Pellegrino, they wondered:  What do energy drinks  and mojito have to do with medieval Italy?

The lower prices and commercial (junk) food served  at the 10-day festival  creates a lot of competition with  permanent restaurants offering quality local fare.. and what about the health safeguards?  During a  street-side show  cooking, a chef was coughing directly  onto the  food  being prepared.  

This year the organizers of the Viterbo festival, perhaps sensing their future demise, decided to milk the city’s major volunteer and cultural associations.

Archeotuscia presents in Cortile dell'Abate 

on the far right, Caffeina staff take "donations" 

 Archeotuscia with its 500+ members was given time and space on the festival  calendar to publicize  their association, but in order to enter  the piazza where the presentation was being held  everyone, including members, was  asked to “donate”  3.50 euro to Caffeina’s organizers. 

A mammoth book stall set up in the  main piazza seemed to be a sign of culture: but after scouring the tables loaded with books  and interviewing a volunteer (one of  250 who receive only a free meal and T shirt) I realized there was a complete  absence of books, authors and publications from and about  the Viterbo/Tuscia area 

book tent at Caffeina
There are a smattering of local authors presenting their latest books during the quiet dinner hours, and hopefully the audience will not mind paying a ticket to attend.
 It was a surprise  to see  an entire stand dedicated to Gabriele D’Annunzio’s  Vittoriale located on Lake Garda in northern Italy. This was done to  thank  a commercial writer  whose books have been presented numerous times at the Festival. 

The city's older residents,  families  and sleep deprived working people become prisoners of these summer festivals for they have little access to their neighborhoods and can be seen schlepping  their groceries from distant parking areas.

Local tourism operators, restaurants,  B&Bs and  artisans who keep the  historic center (especially San Pellegrino ) alive all through the year are not happy with the filth, broken bottles, hooligans and extra garbage produced.
San Pellegrino,  8:30 a.m. 

 Inhabitants and administrators are beginning to realize that concentrating large doses of festival/culture/action may not be worth the problems created.  This year the discussions concerning  these noisy  summer festivals  have been rife  and  the idea of  sustainable tourism is now  being considered.

historic fountain and portapotty
A set of guidelines and  rules of behavior are needed to protect the  rights of citizens living in the areas where the festivals are held.  Safeguarding  fragile medieval and Renaissance buildings, fountains and  piazzas  is another priority.
historic fountains masqueraded as plant holders

massive speakers for a tiny piazza 
 The architectural  monuments that make our towns and cities so special should not be masked by garish  carnival rides and  plastic flowers.  

A summer festival that involves high decibel  music should  have a proper  container: a stadium, a large outdoor space or  theatre  not  a tiny, flower filled piazza which serves as an outdoor living room to its inhabitants.
 Read  more about this on my previous blog  article.  
Your comments and shares are appreciated. What are summer festivals like in your area?