Wednesday, December 21, 2016

12/20 -- Narni Underground and the Trip to Ostia

As we got on our way, we made a stop just below Trevi to see possibly the oldest olive tree in Italy. It is documented to be at least 1700 years old. We know of its continous existance because St. Emilio was beheaded here and there are mentions of the tree at that time in the 300s and for many centuries after. Although it looks like multiple trees, that is because of how olives of great age survive -- sucker trees grow up around the main stem, which opens and twists with age.

A peek at our room in the palazzo
The palazzo exterior

The 1700 year old olive tree.
Our final destination today was Ostia, a seaside suburb of Rome close to the airport. Because we were only a couple hours from Ostia and there is really not much to do around our hotel (which IS on the beach), AND because it was rainy, we made a stop in Narni (C.S. Lewis used this place as the inspiration for Narnia) to see an underground museum of ruins under the city.

We stopped first at a coffee shop and Jim and I split something Lodo called a 'bombe', which was a chocolate-cream filled donut. Totally sinful. Then we started our walk through the city and past the Roman walls to the location of the underground museum.
The side of a church from the square where we stopped.

This fountain in the square is one of two still sources
by the Roman aquaduct.
Approaching the Roman gate

The Roman gate.
Remnant of the original pillars near the gate.

Remnant of the original Umbrian walls.

Above and below: decorations on the
old buildings

The other fountain fed by the aquaduct. The
terra cotta figures are a nativity display.
This section of the fountain limestone has a clear impression
of a nautilus.
Remnants of a tower near where the
underground area was discovered.
In 1979, several teenagers were practicing roping down walls and ended up impacting the garden of a feisty old  man. He told them if they wanted to use ropes, he knew of a treasure below that he would tell them about if they would share it.  This sounded like a great deal, but what the boys found was not a financial treasure but a church, inquisition room, prison cell and other spaces that had been hidden below the city.
View from the terrace of the entrance to the discovery.

Seen in the distance in the photo above, this was a convent
built for Syrian refugees hundreds of years ago.

Fog creeping up the hills
Unfortunately, photos were not allowed, though I did take one before I saw the sign. The little chapel still has frescoes on the wall, and had a nicely arched ceiling. Some walls sort of in the middle that were partially removed were built by Napoleon when he decided to use the space as a wine cellar.
The chapel
The next room was the torture chamber, which was directly underneath a larger church. Our guide claimed they timed some of the worst actions to have the screams drowned out by the choir above. In additon to the well-known Spanish Inquistion designed to root out remaining Moors and Jews, there was also an Italian Inquistion that  lasted until 1860. Next to this chamber was a short door, which led to a small prison cell. It had held a man for over a year and he covered the walls with text and drawings proclaiming his innocence and documenting his time there.Much of what he did was highly symbolic and the overall impression it gives is a man descending into insanity. He was imprisoned in 1759 and 60 and was so upset with the Domincans who held him that he replaced the letter D with T in any word that should have had a D. The last chamber held the bones of a woman and child.

Back on the bus, we stopped for lunch which was one of the best we have had in a trip filled with good meals. Tonight is our farewell dinner, which is normally a highlight, but Lodo alerted us that the lunch was going to be much tastier than the buffet at the hotel (he was right) and we tucked into an amazing variety of foods -- there were eight hot or cold appetizers and three main courses, and of course, all the wine we could drink. The restaurant was very busy and we ate at 1:30, a more normal lunch time for Italians.

We ran into rush hour traffic outside of Rome and the 1.5 hour trip took more like 2.5, leading Lodo to a level of desperation to keep us entertained -- he even sang us a traditional Italian song (he has quite a good voice.) Our hotel is on the sea -- Jim could hear the waves crashing all night -- but there is little else to recommend it besides a modern look, cleanliness, and proximity to the airport. The highlight of our farewell dinner was the arrival of Selena, Lodo's longtime girlfriend, who just passed her oral exam for her PhD in architecture. She was a delightful presence at dinner.

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