Where Past Meets Present

A country without a memory is a country of madmen. ~George Santayana

This has come up before, but one of the things that continues to impress me about Italy is the way the historical context that it lives its daily life in is woven into the fabric of the present.  This point was driven home today during the day-trip that we went on.

Instead of having class this past Tuesday, we instead took a program trip to some of the sights surrounding Orvieto.  The day started with a drive to Civita, a little town about a half hour away from us.  Civita is near Bagnoregio, and driving through Bagnoregio, I couldn’t really figure out what was so special about this town—it looked like a different, less glamorous version of our very own Orvieto.  It wasn’t until we stopped at the beginning of a rather extensive pedestrian bridge that I discovered why this town was so awesome to go to.  On the other side of the bridge, on top of a hill that was pretty high up, and town very similar to Orvieto but much smaller was perched.  The town of Civita is supposedly mostly abandoned, except for a few people that live there and the odd restaurant or café that caters to tourists.  The main draw for these tourists is the way that this abandonment results in a more ruinous look to the town.  The town was an important center for the Etruscans, and later in the middle ages.  And yet, at the same time, some aspects of the town are very much alive (and this is beyond the cat infestation that lives there…).  The church, for example, still runs.  The theater class that I’m taking was able to perform a short skit-thing there.  The readings were from the middle ages, so it was cool to be able to act something that would have been written for a church setting centuries ago in a church that has also been standing for centuries.

After a few hours in Civita, we drove to Lake Bolsena.  There’s nothing that really struck me about Bolsena historically, other than the fact that Pope Martin is known in Dante’s Purgatorio for eating eels from Bolsena, but that wasn’t really relevant.  The sun was super hot.

After Bolsena we drove up to a neighboring hill to a vineyard, where we had a wine-tasting scheduled.  I’m not crazy about wine, but it was fascinating to hear Alessandro, our tour-guide, talking about the process of making wine, the different types of wine, and the countries that they export to—all over Europe, the United States, and now Japan and North Korea.  I was shocked when I learned just how old this vineyard was.  The Etruscans had been using it to make wine in the fifth and sixth centuries BC.  In the middle ages, the monks used the same caverns to store their wine.  Alessandro took us through a tour of the tunnels underneath the buildings, showing us the sections of it that had been carved out by the Etruscans, then those that had been carved out by the medieval monks.  Most of those portions now are just for show, but it was still very cool to see how these parts are still a major part of the vineyard and hold importance for them.  They’re not museumified, they just are.

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