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

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