sabato 21 novembre 2009

Popes and Olive oil


History and good food sit comfortably together in the Tuscia, as the northern part of Lazio is known; at its centre the mediaeval walled town of Viterbo: the city of the popes. It was here, in 1270, that the term which we now use for papal elections derives, (conclave) meaning “with key” i.e. locked in. After two years and nine months of deliberation the assembled cardinals had still not managed to elect a new pope, and so to help them along the burgesses of the town locked them inside the papal palace and reduced their diet to bread and water, eventually removing the roof to force a decision. Adjoining the Papal Palace is the arched loggia, overlooking the town on one side and facing piazza San Lorenzo, with its 12th century cathedral of San Lorenzo and its green and white banded tower on the other.

The loggia at the Papal Palace

From this loggia Pope Clement IV excommunicated an entire army as it passed along the nearby Via Cassia, and by a cinematographic trick Orson Welles overlooked the Mediterranean sea in his film Othello.

Cobbled courtyards in the San Lorenzo district of Viterbo

The narrow cobbled alleyways in Viterbo’s mediaeval papal quarter of San Lorenzo echo the city’s heyday from the 12th to the 14th centuries, when successive popes abandoned the hard to govern and even hostile Rome for the safety of Viterbo, and the the Orsini and the Farnese families, who between them produced four popes, Celestine III, Nicolas III, Benedict XIII and Paul III, and countless cardinals, consolidated their families’ power through inter family marriages.

Winding alleyways and arches

The fertile farmland of the Tuscia, of vulcanic origin, makes it one of the most important areas in Italy for the production of olive oil. Olive groves abound all over the rolling hilly landscape. The watery late autumn sunlight picks out the soft green colour of the olive leaves, but other plantations of hazelnut and chestnut suffuse the whole scene with copper and gold.

In the town of Canino, twenty kilometres to the west of Viterbo, the olive harvest starts in November. Here they call olive oil “green gold,” a precious liquid that keeps the frantoi
(the olive oil refineries) working round the clock until almost Christmas. Here Italy’s largest (and Europe’s second largest) fratoio produces three hundred thousand kilos of extra virgin olive oil every twenty four hours in late November.

An olive grower unloading his harvest

Many other smaller specialist refineries produce D.O.P. oils (denomiazione di origine protetta) a certification guaranteeing the product’s origine and production methods. The olives are picked and turned into oil within twenty four hours, and stone grinding methods that date back to Etruscan times are still used to seperate the flesh from the stone and to squeeze it into oil, alongside more modern centrifugal and flaying processes.
Canino prides itself as much for its olive oil as it does for its illustrious citizen of the early 19th century, Lucien Buonapart, Napoleon’s younger, and most revolutionary brother whose support had helped him become First Consul. In keeping with his strong republican views and not wishing to become king of a conquered country like Napoleon’s other brothers, he exiled himself to Canino in 1808, leaving only once, to help his brother during the hundred days. After being captured by the Piedmont army following Waterloo, he returned to Canino, thanks largely to the intervention of Pope Pius VII, who made him Prince of Canino. A title which given his anti imperialist views he never felt comfortable with. His tomb is in the Buonapart chapel in the church of the Apostles Andrea and Giovanni.

The fountain in the central piazza in Canino.

At Soriano nel Cimino the pastel coloured houses clamber up the steep sides of the town to the feet to the "rocca" the castle Orsini, and its impressive rectangular keep, from where on a clear day the Sabine moiuntains are visible more than sixty miles away. All around the castle narrow lanes and alleyways wind and twist, sometimes opening onto a tiny unexpected piazza.

The "rocca" of Soriano nel Cimino

If the only time you ever buy chestnuts is from a man on the corner with a brazier then they might seem a pretty ordinary dish, but every October in Soriano they celebrate its importance to the local economy and cuisine. More than a village fete, though of course stalls serving chestnut based dishes aren’t in short supply (you have to try the chestnut and chick pea soup) this is a time for the four rione, or neighbourhoods, to get even old scores in medieaval jousting and archery tournaments, all carried out in full period costume.

Not far away the village of Bomarzo balances on a ridge of tufo stone dominated by the 16th century Palazzo Orsini; a later addition to the Orsini real estate, and indicative of the wealth and influence held by this leading Tuscia family.

Swirling autumn fog

In the late autumn afternoon fog streathily creeps over the low lying land leaving the town and nearby hills stranded like ships anchored off shore. Somewhere hidden in this fog is the Monster Park, or the Sacro Bosco, (Sacred Wood) the brain child of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, who had it built in the mid 16th century by the architect Pirro Logorio (who worked on Saint Peter’s after the death of Michelangelo.)

The park is inhabited by gigantic creatures carved from vulcanic rock, including an elephant grabbing a legionaire with its trunk, dragons, mythological gods, wrestling giants, an orc’s head whose gaping mouth you can walk into, and a house leaning over at a crazy angle. Later, after the death of his wife Giulia Farnese, the prince added a temple dedicated to her memory, which he likened to the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The park gave inspiration to Salvador Dali in his painting “The Temptation of Saint Anthony.”

The entrance to the underworld through the gaping mouth of the Ogre, in the Sacred Wood at Bomarzo.

Local restaurants serve dishes that not only reflect the traditions and rich agriculture of the Tuscia, but also mix Roman flavours, Tuscan aromas and Umbrian simplicity. In particular the starters: risotto with nettle leaves, unleavened crepes with sheep’s cheese, gnocchi and porcini mushrooms, black olives with wild fennel. And main courses to fully satisfy the hungriest, like agnello a Bujone: lamb cooked with garlic, chilli oil and rosemary, probably introduced by French zuave papal troops stationed in Valentano in the 19th century, or a main course soup of lamb, potatoes and artichokes. Not to mention rabbit, pork (porchetta,) and game.
Of course no region of Italy lacks its local wines, and among many fine wines from Tuscia perhaps the best known is the Est! Est!! Est!! from Montefiascone. Legend has it that in 1111 a bishop travelling to Rome in the entourage of Henry V of Germany sent his servant ahead to reconoitre the places with the best wine. He was to write “Est” (This is it) on the door of the inns selling good wine. Arriving in Montefiascone he so enjoyed the wine there, and not knowing any other way to express his appreciation, he simply wrote Est! Est!! Est!!!
I know, it's just so hard to find servants to send on ahead nowadays, so I can only suggest going anyway even without one.

Marzipan fish for the feast of Saint Andrew (30th November)


Nice To Meet You
E mail
Tel 0039 333 9522700 - 0039 333 7073786

I.A.T. (Ufficio Informazioni e di Accoglienza Turistica)
Piazza Verdi, 4/A - 01100 Viterbo
Tel.: 0039 – 0761 226666 FAX: 0039 0761 346029

Some restaurants well worth trying out:-

Ristorante Al Vecchio Orologio
Via Orologio Vecchio, 25
0761 305743
Serves typical local dishes, including aquacotta, a traditional soup, pasta with porcini mushrooms and risotto with nettles.
Meat dishes and freshwater fish caught from the two Tuschian lakes including perch and eel.

Locanda la Voltarella
Via Solferino, 25
0761 422197
Small family run village trattoria. Serves lamb alla bujone, pastas and polenta.

Ristorante Taverna dei Frati di Luciano Ferruzzi
Via Callarozzo, 10
Soriano Nel Cimino
0761 749083
Lively restaurant in Renaisance palace with terrace overlooking the surrounding countryside.
Starters include olives and wild fennel, orange salad, hams, cheeses, salami, sutrine (crepe with sheeps’ cheese)
Meat and fish main courses.

Caffe Schenardi
Corso Italia, 11/13
0761 354860
Historic cafe in Belle Epoque style.
Gathering place for liberal intellectuals during the Italian Risorgimento
Pasticceria and gelateria, cocktail and wine bar, coffee and tea rooms.

View Tuscia in a larger map

martedì 8 settembre 2009

Quayside in Capri

If you’re going to Capri there is only one was to get there: by ferry to the Marina Grande. Doesn’t matter if you’re the president of the Republic or someone under police protection like Roberto Saviano, you gotta take the boat.
And when you disembark you’ll notice some of these guys on the quay. They work for the luxury hotels on the island, the names are on the caps, and If you’re lucky enough to be staying in one they’ll take your luggage for you and see that it gets sent on its way.


They are there in all weathers, and all weathers on Capri means sun, sun, and more sun (except when it’s dark of course). I wouldn’t envy them staying out under the beating sun all day though, it’s boiling out there; and in the height of the season the ferries come in every ten minutes disgorging hundreds of passengers.


Many thanks to Massimo, from the Quisisana, and Pino of the Hotel Luna, (I didn’t get the last chap's name) for letting me take their photos. They couldn’t have been more co-operative when I asked. Hope to see them again next year when I’m back there to take photographs for “Le Conversazioni,” an extremely laid back lit fest which is held over the end of June to the beginning of July.

lunedì 24 agosto 2009

The “Machine” of Saint Rose of Viterbo.

The Facchini marching through town.

Asterix was right, these Romans are crazy! Well, they’re not really Romans. They’re from Viterbo, a city about 50 miles north of Rome. For on the 3rd of September, the eve of the festa of Saint Rose, the people of Viterbo are getting ready to follow the transportation of the”Machine.” La macchina as they call it, (i.e. “the Machine of St. Rose” ) is a massive 28 metre high tower, weighing over 5 metric tonnes, illuminated with 3000 tiny electric lights and 880 candles, and topped off with a statue of Viterbo’s patron saint, Saint Rose, and is carried for 1200 metres through the darkened streets of the old medieval town on the backs of around 100 volunteers called “facchini.”

The tradition goes all the way back to 4th September 1258 when the body of the saint was exhumed by Pope Alexander IV after a series of dreams which led him to her unmarked tomb, and found to be extremely well preserved, the body was transported to the monastery of Saint Damian. With a few exceptions the procession has been repeated each year since; but it wasn’t until 1664, following seven years of plague in the city, that a “machine” first appeared. In gratitude for having survived such a terrible pestilence the citizens voted to renew the veneration of their saint with a machine that would be bigger and and more beautiful every year. Succesive machines have also reflected architectural influences and tastes of the times with Baroque and Rococo, Byzantine, Gothic and even Arabic style constructions, and grown ever taller with each new version, eventually reaching the tops of the houses until the present macchina, built in 2003, towers a good two storeys above the houses and even pokes above the churches along the route, Nowadays a new machine is built every five years but cannot exceed the height and weight limit of 28 metres and 5,000 kilos.

The “facchini” are selected in June. Selection depends on being able to carry 150kgs over 80 metres. For twelve newcomers the transportation of 2007 (when these photos were taken) is their first time, but most of the facchini are veterans from many years, and ages range from 20 to over 60. The present longest serving veteran is Guido Politini with 44 years experience: literally, as they say in Italian, sulle spalle “on his shoulders.”

No, not Guido Politini, but no doubt with several
years experience of transporting the "machine."

At midday on the 3rd September the town is already buzzing in anticipation. Residents of the town centrre have reserved their places by leaving chairs at the end of sideroads and alleyways leading onto the machine’s route. At 3 pm the facchini, dressed all in white, including white bandanas on their heads, and red sashes round their waists, gather to march in procession through the town. Crowds are already gathered to applaud them as they march in ranks, shouting “Vivi i facchini” and the facchini replying with “Viva Santa Rosa!” Another chant is "E' viva Santa Rosa?" (Does Saint Rose live still?) to which the facchini reply "E' viva!" (She lives!) Led by the town band, who will be playing their hearts out to the same tune for about the next nine hours, and accompanied by the mayor and local dignitaries they stop off at the cathedral and six other churches along the way to render prayers and songs to Saint Rose.

After all this marching the facchini take a break to eat in the grounds of a local monastery, along with their families who bring along plenty of home made pasta dishes and bottles of wine. Fortified they get their final instructions from the chief (capo facchino) who rouses them with an eve of Agincourt type speech.

Receiving the last rites in the church of San Sisto
just before the transportation of the macchina begins.

Transportation of the machine starts at 9pm. At about a quarter to nine the facchini enter the church of Saint Sisto to recieve the last rites from the bishop of Viterbo, A reminder of the real danger that the task ahead holds. In fact past processions have not been without incident, the most tragic in 1801 when 22 spectators died in the panic caused when some of the crowd mistakenly thought the machine was toppling over. Sometimes it really has: in 1814 killing two facchini. Though no serious incidents have occured in modern times.

Last minute encouragement. A moment of solidarity and nerves.

The facchini are tense, limbering up and giving last minute encouragement to each other, many puffing away at a cigarette, ignoring the fact that they’re about to put their hearts into overdrive. Under instructions from the capo facchino and his four deputies, one hundred and nine facchini take their places under the machine, which has been assembled under a scaffolding tower, it hums, like a silver monster from the “War of the Worlds." It really is a machine, even if the motor is the muscles of the men who, with leather pouches on their heads or shoulders to spare their vertebrae and shoulder bones, lift the towering ensemble and march off in step down hill, still preceeded by the town’s band, to the first of five resting points. Three thousand eight hundred and eighty points of light flicker and dance as the machine wobbles on its way, the crowd are in ecstasy, cheering and screaming encouragement at the facchini.

Facchini rush to take their places under the macchina.
These are the ciuffi, there are 63 of them and they
carry the weight on both shoulders and
wear padded leather headgear called a ciuffo.
Others, called spallette, bear the weight on just one shoulder.

At the first stop in the piazza of the town hall other facchini rush to place giant trestles on which the facchini underneath gently bring the behemoth to rest. Its a tricky and dangerous operation and emotions are running high. A cameraman gets too close and the capo facchino gives him a verbal lashing to remember. Meanwhile, like an exotic bird showing off its plumage, with a whirring noise wing like arches open out on the side of the machine, from which the present incarnation takes its name; the Wings of Light (l’ali di luce.) This year, 2009, will see a new machine being transported.

Taking the strain.

A ten minute breather and the machine is taken up again. This time there are only about 90 facchini lifting it, as the street narrows considerably at this point, but we’re also going uphill here. With a lack of pavements on the street people crowd balconies and windows, shop doorways, sideroads and all over any handy fountain. Everything is pitch dark, until, towering over the houses, the machine hoves into view, a rocking, throbbing pillar of light illuminating everything on either side before passing on. The crowd fall in behind as if drawn by a magnet.

A delicate moment as the macchina is lowered onto trestles at one of the resting points.

Negotiating the narrow streets.

The streets are plunged into darkness.
The machine passes like a beacon in the night.

Slowly the machine makes its way through the streets. An hour or so later, after three more stops, it emerges into Piazza Verdi where the biggest crowds are. The facchini turn it around 360 degrees to to line it up ready for the last and most demanding leg. The end is in sight. The final destination is in front of the church of Santa Rosa, where the body of the saint now rests.

Arriving in Piazza Verdi.

The road to the church is only around 180 metres long, but rises considerably. To tackle this part extra facchini join in to help, making 149 all told, twenty pulling on ropes and others on levers at the back, the tallest to the rear and shortest to the front in order to keep everything as level as possible. After the capo facchino deems all is ready, the order is given, and they take it at at a trot. They reach their goal in a muscle bursting minute. Once the glittering tower is finally resting on its trestles the tension and the strain leaves the faces of the facchini: they have done it again this year. Now tears of joy and relief take over as they celebrate and hug each other and their families.

The city shares in their triumph. The machine will now remain on display for several days in front of the church while several thousand devotees visit and pay homage to their saint.

Saint Rose.
Saint Rose of Viterbo was born in 1233. Various miracles are attributed to her. Legend has it that the crumbs that fell from pieces of bread she gave to the poor turned into roses. When Frederick II, Holy Roman emperor, besieged the city of Viterbo in 1243, during the wars against the papacy, the 10 year old Rose was to be seen exhorting the citizens to hold out against the enemy and attending to the wounded. Vatican documents tell of a young girl who, while carrying a stone on her head to the defenders on the city walls, had her arm pierced by an arrow, and without removing the stone, “extracted the arrow with her teeth from the wound and delivered the stone to the nearest combatants.”
An examination of her body has revealed a wound to the arm which could have in fact been caused by an arrow.
She died at the age of 17 on 6th March 1251.

Viterbo (The city of the popes) was the site of the first papal conclave (1270) where after two years the 17 cardinals assembled in the Papal palace had still not elected a new pope. To encourage them to reach a decision the citizens sealed the palace, removed the roof and reduced their diet to bread and water. Quite soon they elected Gregory X as the new pope.

giovedì 16 luglio 2009

Spooky Churches

It’s hardly a secret that Rome has some great churches.

In fact, Ernest Bevan thought they had too many, and not enough hospitals, when he visited Rome in the fifties. Well maybe they have a few more hospitals now, but they certainly aren’t as photogenic as the churches.

I have my favourites which I like to pop into to fire off a few photographs.

Santa Maria Maddalena in the eponymous piazza is one of them. The only rococco church in Rome apparently, though it looks pretty baroque to me. Another is Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte, (Saint Mary of Prayer and Death) in Via Giulia, which is on one of my Photosleuth Tours’ routes. A pretty spooky church, and with a name like that it couldn't be otherwise.

The present baroque church was built in 1737 replacing an earlier XVl century one. It was run by a fraternity that collected the dead bodies of unknown people found in the countryside to give them a Christian burial. An essential requisite if you wanted to go to heaven!

Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte, Via Giulia.

Above and below: Saint Mary Magdelene, near the Pantheon.

Skulls and other symbols, such as hour glasses, a favourite way of reminding all God fearing folk that time marches inexorably forward and that we're all mortal, adorn the façade and the interior, and on either side of the main door two macabre engravings remind passers by of their mortality. The one on the right depicts death sitting comfortably on a bench with an hourglass in hand patiently waiting for a sick man to die.

Death waits patiently for some poor soul to breathe his last. Almost like gathering fallen apples! The inscription says “Alms for the poor dead that are found in the country.”

Rarely open except for Saturday evening and Sunday masses, so I was surprised to find it open one day in the week and nipped inside and took these photos. Inside it’s very dark so I used an ISO rating of 1600, and still had to shoot at 1/15 of a second.

Although there’s a lot of gold in the ornamentation the atmosphere is pretty sombre so I converted some of the images to black and white. I just love the way the balustrades curve around forming serried layers going right up to the dome.

The organ in Santa Maria de Morte
It seems like The Phantom of the Opera could appear at any moment.

The blood red cross of the Camillian Fathers, an order that cares for the sick, in the west window is projected onto the wall of one of the side altars by the afternoon sun in the church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

martedì 23 giugno 2009


The "Mediaeval" chandelier hanging under
the arch looking towards Piazza Mincio

When you are in Rome and soaking up some of its two thousand and more years of history it would be easy to arrive at the Baroque period and then heave an exhausted, “basta!.” Let's face it, sightseeing is hard work. However one of Rome’s most eccentric and quirkiest little corners is still not yet 100 years old but well worth a visit, especially if you find yourself along Viale Regina Margherita, not far from the zoo and the Borghese Gallery.

Palazzi degli Ambasciatori and arch.

Building started on the quartiere Coppedé when The First World War was drawing to a close and was finished in about 1927. Rome had been going through a housing boom. It was only forty years since it had become the capital of the new state of Italy and in thirty years (from 1870 to 1900) the population increased from 200,000 to one million.

This particular zone had been nominated “the most salubrious in Rome,” by all the fashionable magazines of the time. A co-operative society, “Edilizia Moderna,” set up by the Cerutti family; influential Genoese financiers who had bought 30,000 square metres in the area commisioned Gino Coppedé to be the architect to design the 18 palazzi and 27 villas destined for a medium middle class market.

Gino Coppedé had previously built a neo-mediaeval castle in Genoa for a Scottish Lloyds underwriter and Dante expert, Evan MacKenzie, that could have come straight out of Disneyland. He was also in demand as an interior designer of luxury yachts and ships.
The Ceruttis gave Gino Coppedé carte blanche in drawing up the plans for the development. Perhaps, with such a large area at his disposition, Gino intended to make this project his swansong, the sum of all his experiences and influcences; a kind of catalogue of his life’s work. Or a visual encyclopedia of architecture.

Corner tower of the Palazzi degli Ambasciatori

The best and usual way to enter the quartiere is through a triumphal archway (a tribute to imperial Rome perhaps) adjoining two palazzi, supported by two Michelangeloesque statues, and under which hangs a hefty wrought iron mock-mediaeval lamp.
The feeling is rather like having stepped through the looking glass. All of the buildings have been liberally decorated and adorned with grotesque figures, conucopia, lions, dragons, and a zoo full of animals including spiders and dozens of bees, possibly as a reference to the ancient and influencial Roman Barbarini family. There is a definite sense of having entered a secret place, and the noise of the city seems muffled on the other side of that looking glass. Go into Piazza Mincio where the frog fountain is gently gurgling. Dario Argento used the square for some of the scenes in his film “Inferno” and it is also a favourite location for shooting television commercials.

The Porch at N° 2 Piazza Mincio

The first building to be completed (on the left as you enter through the arch) soon aquired the name of the Ambassadors’ Palaces, (Palazzi degli Ambasciatori) after two ambassadors bought up apartments and moved in. The use of reinforced concrete, a relatively new material, meant that significant savings could be made, and these went towards ensuring that the apartments were the last word in modernity. All the apartments had electric interphones and underground garages were linked by lift to all floors.
(During the Second World War these garages were used as air raid shelters by the people in the surrounding area.) The bathrooms were equipped with everything that was thought necessary for the modern family’s hygienic needs whilst the kitchens were fitted with gas and coal burning ovens and cookers, copper boilers, marble sinks with every minutest detail finished to the highest quality. With the arrival of the ambassadors the Ceruttis raised their sights in attracting buyers from the highest levels of society, and for high ranking civil servants, diplomatic staff and others high up in government owning an apartment in the quarter became essential if you wanted to impress.

The Fountain of the Frogs

Piazza Mincio forms the nucleus and holds the most interesting buildings belonging to quartiere Coopedé. The “Fontana delle Rane” (Fountain of the Frogs) in the centre of the square is Coppedé’s tribute to the fountains of Rome and in particular Bernini’s “Turtle Fountain” in Piazza Mattei. The building at No 2 Piazza Mincio is characterised by medieaval loggias and balconies, with monstrous faces looking down onto the square; probably the last to be completed by Gino himself, who died in 1927. Its most beautiful feature however is the entrance, an arched porch decorated in monochromatic blue and white mosaic, apparently inspired by the 1913 film, Calibria.

The blue and white mosaic in the porch at N° 2.

The Spider weaving its web above the door.

Opposite stands the Palazzo del Ragno (Spider Palace) named after the mosaic of a giant spider above the door.

Palazzo del Ragno

Palazzo del Ragno

Villa delle Fate and the Palazzo del Ragno

The prize for the most ambitious and striking of all the villas and palazzi however goes without doubt to the so called Villa of the Fairies (Villa delle Fate.) A sort of Renaisance Swiss chalet which is in fact three seperate houses in one single unit. It boasts covered turrets, roofed external stairways, overhanging eaves, loggias with romanesque pillars and arches and is extensively covered in frescoes, depicting scenes of Renaisance Florence, medeaeval ships, Romulus and Remus and the she wolf. The whole is surrounded by an elaborate wrought iron fence bearing sea horse motifs. Once home to a famous opera tenor, Beniamino Gigli, it it has recently been magnificently restored by the present owners. On the inside too the walls are frescoed as is even the canopy over the fireplace in the (at the time extremely modern) kitchen.

Villa delle Fate

Villa delle Fate

Gino Coppedé’s style might be baffling to pin down. Is it Liberty? The later Italian version of Art Nouveau. No. Gino had no interest in following other trends. He was a non intellectual, not caught up in the architectural movements of the time, though he was one of a number of “eclectic style” architects at work in Italy at the end of the 19th century. He would though have been been aware of a number of current styles listed by Italian architectural magazines such as the neo-medieaval and neo-renaisance styles (think of British mock Tudor and Gothic styles of the same period.) Neo-hellenistic and neo-baroque, and these he seems to have mixed all together with influences from his native Florence. All in all he knew what he liked, and ascribed to the idea that an architect must be a dreamer of fantasies. A photo of him shows a dandyfied gent, straight out of a Manet painting, wearing a peaked yachting cap and a George V beard with pointed waxed moustaches. His naive and even provincial preferences which excluded him from jumping on the bandwagon of Liberty or in the exact opposite direction of Modernism has had its reward. He remains the only Italian architect to have his name given to a style, stile Coppedé.

Villa delle Fate

Piazza Mincio

Getting there; Metro line B, get off at station Policlinico and catch trams no 3 or no 19 in direction P.zza Thorvaldsen or P.zza Risorgimento. Get off at Piazza Buenos Aires. By bus from Termini Station. Buses nos 86 and 92, via Via Veneto to Piazza Buenos Aires. Bus no 53 from Piazza San Silvestro to Via Salaria. Passes the Borghese Gallery on Via Pinciano.

View Larger Map

giovedì 18 giugno 2009

A‘ Chiena. A Festival and a Water Fight.

The first trickle of water makes its way into town at about
2.30 pm.

When the river Tenza breaks its banks the citizens of the town of Campagna (in the province of Salerno, 70 miles south of Naples) have already shored up their houses with planks and sandbags, because it does so with surprising regularity; every Saturday and Sunday from the middle of July and into August at half past two in the afternoon. And its been doing so for the last twenty years.

On his way for a unscheduled dunking.

And then fished out again

The “Chiena” (meaning “full” as in “full to overflowing”) as it's called, is a revival of an antique method of cleaning the streets; when mule trains, passing through the town in the summer months carrying iron ore, clay and wood from the lofty forested Pincentini mountains would have left their mark on the cobble stones. And in the summer months their passing would have left a noticable puzza in the stifling air too.
Mule dung is no longer a big problem for the town council, so nowadays the Chiena is a good excuse for a party.

Watching the waters go by.

Above the waterfall just outside of the town a miniature canal was built in the mid nineteenth century to redirect some of the river water. Half goes through the town’s drainage system and the other half back into the river. The opening taking the water back to the river is blocked and the pressure of water gushes up through a grating and tumbles down past the post office into the piazza and on through the town.

Check to see the going's good.
The River Tenza running through
the town of Campagna

At midday a test run in which a small amount of water is diverted through the streets beguiles the numerous tourists with its relaxed mood. Locals set up tables and stalls along the route from which free drinks and snacks are offered, and families quietly stroll through the icy water. Enjoying the unusual and pleasant experience of paddling barefoot over cobblestoned streets.
It’s in the afternoon that the fun starts. The whole town is out to watch the spectacle, and the town’s young male population are all dressed in trainers and swimming costumes, the girls cover up slightly more, but not much. They know they aren’t going to stay dry for very long and want to make sure they will look enticing enough to the boys when wet through, without being too revealing.

Even since its original and functional application it has been an occasion to drench each other, and anyone else.

A disco rings the changes but the bucketsful are flying in every direction as in times past; although a plastic bag full of water makes as good a container as any. And as the waters rise so does the tempo, and inevitably the girls are singled out by the lads who carry them kicking, screaming, laughing and resigned to a soaking; either where the water piles up as it turns a sharp street corner, or no messing and straight in the fountain in the piazza.
Tourists and the older inhabitants look on from the margins, and if you decide to paddle your way to another vantage point a sort of truce is observed to keep at least your top half dry. But it’s sometimes difficult to avoid being in the line of fire. And who really minds too much anyway?

Though carrying a camera around can give you some worrying moments and it can be a good idea to have something to cover it with to keep any stray water off.
The last a’ Chiena of the summer takes place at midnight on either Ferragosta, August 15th, or on the following day.

Although a small town of only 15,000 inhabitants Campagna manages to organise a variety of events throughout the summer to accompany the Chiena. In July of last year the Band of the Royal Marines were among the attractions.

Campagna, August 2004. Updated June 2009.

Get there by car. A3 southbound from Naples and take the exit for Campagna. Follow the signposts for Campagna on the SP38.

Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa