Monday, July 04, 2005

Driving back to Perugia through the Valnerina

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Streets of Loreto

Leaving Sirolo and the Riviera del Cònero we stopped in the lovely hilltop town of Loreto where pilgrims have come for centuries to see the small stone house of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that angels carried this house over the sea to Loreto from Nazareth, although they do concede that perhaps it was actually carried out by human hands. A family by the name of De Angelis (hmmm) is mentioned in historic documents as having saved the Holy House of Nazareth from destruction some time in the 13th century and transported the stones to Loreto where it was rebuilt and stands today.

Not one to leave well enough alone, Pope Julius II, in the 1500s decided to add a marble exterior to it, so that the little house (9.5 x 4 meters) is now encased in what looks like a fancy tomb complete with marble statues and elaborate details. The interior however is simple brick and stone with remnants of fading frescoes (added later of course, because I doubt the Holy Family had the funds to commission such works - forgive my skepticism). However, according to the brochure we picked up, "studies of the building materials used in the Holy House and comparisons of these materials with the Nazareth Grotto have shown that both parts clearly coexisted at the same time. There is also various graffiti cut into the stones judged by experts to be of Jewish-Christian origin and similar to those at Nazareth."

Who am I to question such authority?

Inside the house-turned chapel is the famous Black Madonna, or one of them at any rate, because there is more than one in the world. They explain that the original Madonna had turned black from the smoke from candles and lamps that burned in the little chapel and that when it was destroyed in a fire in 1921 the artist Celani carved a new one giving her a black tint to try to capture the feel of the one lost.

The exterior of the Basilica is quite impressive, and very castle-like and we enjoyed photographing all the details, which I will include and not try to describe any further!

The city of Loreto is quite pretty, sitting as it does on a hill surrounded by a gentle rolling landscape that runs from the Adriatic to the Appennines, with lovely shops and medieval buildings.

Driving along the Adriatic Coast (sort of)

Leaving Loreto we headed south along the coast of Marche hoping to have a view of the sea and the little towns that dot the coast. We are sorry to tell you that we were really not very impressed with most of these towns, unfairly I am sure because we simply drove through them without stopping to explore any. Many have a post-war feeling and overall we only found a few that we would want to explore further. The road does not actually hug the coast, which is more visible from the train, which does. The drive exhausted Bob, as it was a lot of stop and go and with cars and motorbikes cutting in and driving rather recklessly at times so that he had to pay really close attention to the road and not to the scenery. We did, however, pass a truck carrying a camel, which we thought quite interesting until we saw the sign advertising a circus in town. At the next opportunity, we abandoned the "coast" road and headed inland back towards the Sibillini Mountains and Umbria.

Back through the Valnerina to Norcia

A few weeks ago our landlords took us on a tour of the area called The Valnerina, all the way up to a little town called Castellucio di Norcia where the flower fields are. The flowers were just beginning to open and we hoped we would see them fully in bloom. Not really sure how to get there, and following a map that did not show all the little roads, we stopped outside a tiny borgo in the mountains (a very small town with just a few houses) where a young man was out in front of his house, to ask directions. He in turn called his mother for help and she began trying to tell us how to get there. This got the attention of her husband who joined in on the discussion of what would be the best route, taking over from his wife, who went into their house in the mountains of Umbria and returned having made a photocopy of a page in their map book! It turned out they run an electrical business and so need to have some of these modern conveniences. We wondered if they could have done a Map Quest search on their computer even, although they did not offer this particular service! We are constantly reminded that the modern world has made itself known, even in the most remote places, coexisting with shepherds and sheep and medieval hilltop towns.

Even though the weather is quite warm throughout Italy and the rest of Europe, this area high in the mountains is still cool and the flower fields are not yet totally in bloom. The landscape is phenomenal anyway and we were delighted to watch a shepherd tending his flock and moving them across the hills, chomping on grass as they made their way across the mountain. The funniest thing was that as we were taking photos he called down to us "Che ora è?" (What time is it?) Which totally cracked us up! One would think time would not matter to a shepherd high in the hills of Umbria and we tried to imagine why he would need to know. It was the middle of the afternoon - would the field close? Did he have a date? Was he punching a clock and had to get the sheep somewhere by a certain time? Was he afraid of missing his favorite soap opera on satellite TV? It just struck as very funny and unexplainable!

Norcia and home to Perugia

Norcia and the area surrounding it are very famous for the cheeses made from sheep's milk and the pork products they produce here and for being the birthplace of St. Benedict (in the year 480) - a very famous monk who founded the Benedictine order and is revered throughout Umbria. The town is very quaint and charming with the main piazza surrounded by many small shops selling local products. The tourists pour off of their tour buses and make a beeline for these shops as if the world would end before they filled their bags with cheeses and salamis. We couldn't resist buying some as well although we are quite certain we can purchase these same things here in Perugia and possibly not spend as much! The best thing we bought was a loaf of the most scrumptious bread - a large loaf of twisty, crispy, doughy "Italian" bread with poppy seeds, which we ate with half of a roasted chicken, sitting on a park bench just outside the city walls before heading home to Perugia.

Stopping by our apartment to drop off our things, we brought back the rental car and then had to catch a bus back to Perugia, arriving home well after 9pm, exhausted but content with dreams of further beach adventures swimming in our heads.

Buon giorno!
Rosemary & Bob

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