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  Home: Tour of Latium, Tuscany and Umbria Borderlands

A Quick Tour of the Latium, Tuscany and Umbria Border Lands.

(Artwork by Giovanni)

These areas are typified by a cattle and Olive farming culture . The Olive oil from Canino is without equals. The food and wine are genuine and typically Italian in flavour and flare.

A cross-roads between Rome to the south and Florence and Pisa to the north set in the midst of remains from the Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque epochs. An area map showing  sites of antiquity is particularly thick in detail and points of interest. In the following pages we will visit a mere handful of these.

Should you be artistically oriented you might visit our Art Holiday page.

  • Castelnuovo di Porto: a medieval village in the Roman countryside.
  • Sutri: Medieval town with Etruscan  tombs, Roman temple/church and amphitheatre hewn out of rock
  • Tuscania: Drammatic churches in the Romanic style..
  • Montalto di Castro: Fantastic sea views and weather/light effects
  • Vulci: Medieval castle in drammatic settings. Important Etruscan city ruins. Impressive (and small)  Etruscan museum. Incredible number of Greek remains found on site.
  • Norchia: Etruscan burial site hidden in a valley face. Reminiscent of ancient Egypt.
  • General Landscape - General setting of it all. The sea, rivers and volcanic lakes give the rolling hills an amazing technicolor effect.
  • Tarquinia: Medieval town with extremely impressive Etruscan museum.
  • Cerveteri: Etruscan city of the dead - literally.
  • Viterbo: city of Popes.
  • Orvieto: Complete example of Renaissance influence. Fantastic Duomo and frescoes (not to mention the wine)
  • Rent Villa Tuscany: TuscanyAccomodations.org takes great care to personally select the most beautiful Villas, Farmhouses and luxury Apartments located in Florence and throughout the hills and valleys of Tuscany.

Map of central Italy showing points of interest and accommodation

Click to load map of central Italy around the year 100BC.

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A sketch of a bather at Montalto Marina.

A bather at Montalto Marina

 

What follows is essentially an extract of my own travel diaries. The sequence of images and notes follows an imaginary road trip from Rome north towards lake Bolsena and beyond.....

A sketch taken from my travel diary of Siena's belltower

View onto 

Siena belltower


Castelnuovo di Porto

Rome countryside. Much detail regarding this beautiful hill-top town is directly linked with ancient Rome. I have decided to omit Rome from this account in the sake of brevity. There are many local sites of interest of course and the countryside is beautiful. I have therefore included the watercolour to the right for the sake of "mood".

My bedroom window

(This paining is shown with the kind permission of Annabelle Williams).

View of Rome's countryside

View of Rome's countryside

 

An enlarged version of the paintings to the left or above can be seen with a "click".


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Sutri

Situated on the ancient via Cassia (Roman road which leads all the way to France) you could almost drive past without distinguishing it from other, similar, hilltop villages. But the vigilant eye will spot a number of unnusual details....

Sutri not only sports the fantastic amphitheatre shown in the picture to the right but also an extremely long series of Etruscan tombs of varying size and shape dug out of the rock along the road, some with patterned fronts (it should be noted that this road is very much tarmac laid over the old Roman road).

A section of the amphitheatre at Sutri. It was dug out of the local volcanic rock over 2000 years ago.

The amphitheatre at Sutri was hewn out of volcanic rock. It is amazing to walk into the middle of it. You may also walk into the tunnels and up onto a balcony half way up, which is where I took the series of photographs pasted together here. What's most surprising is how similar it is to a modern stadium, access tunnels and all!

 

Another point of interest is the church: hewn out of the same rock face as the Etruscan tombs and the amphitheatre. The guards at the entrance to the amphitheatre will take you there if you ask. Entrance is free (or at least was when I last went) but the guardsmen will generally accept a bob or two. The interesting point about the church is that it is in fact a pre-Christian temple to the god Mithras (I seem to remember). It has some interesting early Christian paintings on the columns but what is equally interesting is the channel dug out along the "nave". Apparently, the purpose of the channel was to conduct pig's blood along the temple after the pig had been sacrificed in a cell above what was later converted to an altar. A hole in the floor would allow the blood to flow onto the official conducting the ceremony to the god Mithras.

 

The village of Sutri is worth visiting. Very picturesque and you can just breathe the ages it has seen and lived. There are a few interesting antique shops there too but prices have been pushed up in some cases by the "Romani" visitors.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuscania

As you drive along the via Cassia it is not difficult to spot that you have reached Tuscania: the first thing you see is more or less what I have sketched and shown to the right.

A first view of Tuscania when arriving from Rome: Romanic churches dating back to the middle ages.
A watercolour sketch of the entrance to the church of St. Peter at Tuscania

My little watercolour sketch  of the entrance to this beautiful Romanic style basilica does little to render the idea of the bright colour of the mosaic around the door in stark contrast with the bare walls of the basilica. But my memory of it is still vivid and I suppose that is what the point of the sketch is!

The rose above the church of St Peter door. It once fell to the ground during an earthquake.

Fabulous door in marble and coloured mosaic.

Click on the images above and to the right to see an enlarged version.

Full view of the "basilica". Contrast the stark walls with the plush door.

Central aisle (nave) of St. Peter's at Tuscania. Very suggestive crypts below and Etruscan sarcophagi along the sides.

What is not shown in this picture is the row of Etruscan sarcophagi lined up against the walls with representations of their owners sculpted on top of the lid.

The crypts underneath with their forest of different columns is certainly reminiscent of ages gone by. One can sense what the middle ages must have meant: knowledge and beauty hidden away from the wildness of the world around....

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Vulci

 This location will be unknown to many but certainly not to Archaeologists. It boasts one of the most extensive finds of Ancient Greek pottery known in the world. It was once one of the richest Etruscan cities with very extensive trade. Of particular note is the black and shiny Bucchero clay which enabled a unlike any other known to the ancients. Much prized for its metallic finish and quality.

A drawing taken out of my sketchbook:Watercolour sketch of Vulci castle

Painting of Vulci castle and its ancient bridge. The castle acted as a toll point along the river.

The painting above is of the castle and bridge at Vulci as seen from the river Fiora which runs below. The bridge is extremely high of also of Etruscan origin. When walking along it it is possible to see the grooves along the walls dug out by centuries of carriage spokes knocking up against them. The bridge paving is Roman.

Roman acqueduct still standing in the middle of a corn fieldAn acqueduct used to run over the top of the bridge but has long since collapsed although parts of it can still be seen further along the way. What is interesting is that some stalagtites can still be seen hanging off part of the bridge - testimony of the centuries during which water dripped from the acqueduct onto the bridge below!

View of Vulci castle from the roadIt is not within the scope of these few pages to give details and pictures of the many wonderful treasures left behind by the Etruscans. Many of these may be seen in museums around the world. A few interesting pieces can be seen in the wonderful (and small) museum within the castle. Well worth a couple of hours visit.

View of Vulci castle from across the river (in the middle of a field).

And so we drive on to freshen up at lake Bolsena or on the coast...

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The Mediterranean Sea and Lake Bolsena

We have all been to the coast and we have all seen a lake before. However, I have included some notes, pictures and sketches to bring out some of the features which make this particular coast and this particular lake interesting to visit....Sketch of mother and child at lake Bolsena

Sketch of a bather at MontaltoLake Bolsena is enormous. So enormous that in fact many people go there for their summer holidays as if it were the sea. It is what remains of an old volcano and I have heard it said that it is the largest volcanic lake in Europe. It is also made particularly interesting by the island in the middle called "Isola Bizantina". You may visit it and see some very picturesque ancient remains. I also believe that the Farnese family tomb (they even had a few popes in their past) is on the island.

The villages around the lake are also well worth a visit. Very characteristic and picturesque. Recently much has been done to restore them to their old glory.

Old picture of lake Bolsena - so big you can barely see the other side!

Lake Bolsena

I include some pictures and sketches of the coast and the amazing atmospheric effects which may often be seen. The proximity of lake, rivers and sea as well as the local geography are such that the light effects in the area are often if not always stunning. I include but a couple which of course can never compete with the real thing!

 

 
The images below with a thin border can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The sea at Montalto. The colours are so changeable they are ideal for any abstract artist or watercolourist for quick inspiration.

A photo I took to record some painterly abstract qualities of colour and light in the sea...

The Fiora river mouth with the fishermen's boats and Saracen watch tower.

A view onto the river Fiora from the river mouth to the sea. This is the river which was to be controlled by way of the bridge and castle at Vulci.

A sunset at Montalto Marina

Another sunset at Montalto Marina

This one is particularly worth enlarging. (It has the strongest contrast)

Yet another fabulous sunset at Montalto Marina!

Study of a sunset at Montalto Marina

 

In this sketch, the sun's rays and the wave in the forefront were obtained by the effect of water dropped into partly dried colour.

A few highlights in the sea were achieved by scratching at dried colour.

Watercolour efforts at catching some colour and light effects.

 

Rainy night at Montalto

Here, I achieved the effect of distant lights on the sea at near-night time by masking out with wax.

Blustery day on the coast

The point here was to experiment with light and atmosphere. Some ballooning for a cloud in the top right and a little scrubbing of damp colour. I almost succeed but not quite in getting the effect I was looking for.

Perhaps the enlarged version works better.

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Exploring Norchia - Etruscan Valley of the Dead

I remember one of the my greatest sensations of discovery was when I stumbled onto the tombs at Norchia. The road signs leading to it are feable and you have to leave your car more or less in the middle of a field. You then follow a field-side foot path wondering where on earth "Norchia" might be.

Tomb entrance at Norchia - spookyAll of a sudden you notice the flat fields coming to an end and a steep "V" shaped valley looming up. I remember when I first went; there was more or less nothing to help or impede your descent but the rocks. More recently, the local authorities have done some work to help the visitor down, but not so much as to ruin the landscape. Good. A thin iron railing helps you find your way amongst what seem but boulders and rocks. You do however notice the odd step hewn out of the valley face or even the odd tomb entrance such as the one shown here.

Tombs hewn out of the valley face at NorchiaIt is when you get to the bottom of the valley that you get the full impact of what it is that is hidden here: the whole valey face is covered in what look like cubes of rock. Some of them have broken off and slid down onto the others below. Each cube seems to have an entrance and some seem to have a door carved out but no real way in.

Fake tomb entrances at Norchia Tomb entrance at Norchia

Etruscan sarcophagi inside a tomb at Norchia (400BC?)If you do have a look in you will notice that some still have the remains of the sarcophagi although the lids (and sculptures) which used to guard their contents have long since been ransacked by the "tombaroli" (local word for tomb thieves).

It is difficult to describe and even more difficult to paint due to the mere fact that the detail is so well hidden in the local countryside but I promise - no self esteeming explorer or artist can fail to get a buzz out of Norchia.

There are a number of things to see within this valley (ie the tombs you see at first are not the only thing worth looking for). For example you might try to cross the valley and walk up the other side (there is a path). From here you can afford a wonderful view onto the tombs. You can also see some other tombs and what are called "colombaie" - a chamber hewn out of the rock with many pigeon holes (literally) carved out of the walls.

Ancient church across the valley at NorchiaFurther along you can walk up to an ancient but long since collapsed church. You might even notice the entrance to subterranean tunnels along the way...I include a watercolour sketch of the church in the hope that you might get a feeling for the strong power of the scenery around here.

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Tarquinia and Cerveteri (and the amazing Etruscan remains)

Much more could be said, shown and written about Tarquinia than I could fit into these pages. I include a photograph of the town showing its medieval towers. What is perhaps more notable about Tarquinia though is its amazingly complete Etruscan museum and the frescoed tombs which are a MUST for anyone visiting the area. You may not be crazy about museums but you cannot but be moved by the intense colours of the paintings to be found within the tombs. The latter are obviously not within the town walls but rather on the approach road to the town (there are good road signs and many different guided tours of the area to be arranged at the museum).

View onto Tarquinia

Etruscan frescoed dolphins. Much much more to be seen at Tarquinia.... 

two dolphins painted on a wall over 2000 years ago...

Cerveteri is to be found on the motorway further south of Tarquinia. It is literally a village full of Etruscan tombs which were carved out as if they were the real dwellings. People have visited and mistakenly thought it was an "odd" abandoned village! Most famous is a particular "tumulus" which has all the house tools and utensils carved out of the walls.


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Landscapes

I thought it would be appropriate to include some images of the local countryside. Strangely enough I haven't any of the many Olive groves which abound in these areas.

A bit of landscape. Interesting saturated colours in winter Click on the framed images to see an enlargement. Landscape in winter

Rural landscape

Watercolour sketch of village belltower

Watercolour sketch of winter fields and clouds (I like the clouds)

 I have written far less about Viterbo and Orvieto (below) given their fame and the great deal of material which might be included, especially about Orvieto. I suggest you get a guide book about them or do some surfing on the web (I will in due course attempt to include some good links myself to save you the bother!)

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Viterbo

Viterbo municipal palace Commonly known as the "City of Popes" due to its function as Papal residence instead of Rome during the middle ages. Some also suggest it has some of the most telling examples of medieval architecture in Italy. Well worth a visit and definitely off the tourist trail.

The festival of Santa Rosa at the end of summer is worth seeing where the confraternity of the saint carries the "Torre" (the tower) along the streets of the city. The tower is notable for the fact that it is often higher than the buildings!

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Orvieto

Duomo at OrvietoIt is difficult to write about Orvieto and do it justice without writing a book. I think it should suffice to say that the frescoes in the beautiful duomo are by the Renaissance painter "Signorelli". Need I say more? Oh yes, Orvieto is famous for its wines. 

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