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The National Museum : 19th Century Ideas on Tactile Display

In Allgemein by Francesca / 12. März 2014 / 0 Comments

The museum experience has a bad rep with the modern traveler: between crowds of onlookers obstructing the view of popular works of art, staff with an unpleasant air of bureaucratic authority and transient feelings of being overwhelmed at the sheer numbers of unfamiliar objects to be inspected in seemingly never-ending successions of glass cases within oppressively large buildings, many art and culture lovers nowadays may well prefer the controllable intimacy of a small exhibition or historic house visit, or turn to the digital collections and virtual displays that many museums provide instead of visiting the dusty and musty museum. It’s not only that digital displays give people from faraway locations a chance to see important works of art they could now otherwise see. It is also that those who are near enough a museum to visit it, often choose not to. One of the reasons, I’m sure, is the ability to look for works of art in a more goal-oriented manner than the typical museum is designed to encourage, which is rather more for browsing than searching. This is only a small tip of the iceberg that is the remove between us today as a culture consumer, and the audience of our forbears for whom these shows were really put on.
The classic „National Museum“ that graces many a European capital with a large, impressive stately building somewhere in a prominent location of the city centre—think British Museum, think Berlin Museum Island, think Paris, Budapest, Prague—is a testament to the 19th century forma mentis that likes to classify and catalogue, to collect and archive, and most of all, to own culture.
Museums appeared all around Europe during the 18th, 19th and part of the 20th century to store and display cultural treasures such as ancient Graeco-Roman or Renaissance sculpture, pottery, or paintings acquired abroad under mostly controversial conditions and by infamously famous archaeologists such as Lord Elgin or Heinrich Schliemann. Back home in the all-new, all-industrial megalopolis of the new colonial empires, modern gentlemen with electric lights in their homes and the ability to telephone, could then wander up the grand new boulevards, step into the tall museum through a marvelous gilded fence, and, perambulating underneath the archways and colonnades of the house’s neoclassical architecture, instruct themselves in the art and thought of ancient Greece and Rome. Archaeological museums were not all: science museums, natural history museums, museums of modern art, soon a plethora of museums rose to success, simultaneously as the educational system slowly began to broaden its social reach and to diversify itself in academic disciplines.
This somewhat caricatured impression does, if nothing else, allow us to see by contrast how different we are today, how traditional national museums are not an easy fit for the global citizen. Dubbed „a museum of a museum“ or referred to as „the last colonial museum in Europe“ for its brazen distortion of historical fact and misrepresentation of Africa, Belgium’s Congo Museum perhaps is the most clear-cut emblem of our own times’ estrangement from the past. Or take the Museum Island in Berlin, which was badly damaged during the Second World War, and was considered unworthy of much repair in the 1950s already, and left more or less abandoned. It eventually re-opened its doors properly in the 2000s, raising more questions than it answers.
The old museum buildings are positively huge, infinitely intricate in their design, difficult to maintain, and difficult to change. In many cases, they were purpose-built for the presentation of their particular content, so that changing anything around inside the galleries might be out of the question. This in part explains why, instead of overhauling these gigantic museums (or even museum complexes), arts councils in many European cities rather gave the go-ahead to brand new arts and culture centers, which mushroomed all over Europe, throughout the early 2000s, to provide space for the arts and performances of our own age—some were absorbed into the city’s culture and instantly became irreplaceable, others, like an arts center called „the Public“, located in the UK Midlands, attracted vitriolic news coverage after not succeeding in its mission as expected and/but leaving behind a trail of arts funding drainage. Certain museums have thoroughly restructured and reinvented themselves and manage to transcend the sclerotic anachronism pressing upon them. The British Museum, for instance, has undergone several dramatic changes in order to keep up with the flow of time and change, as has London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, to name but two examples, and the world of museum enthusiasts awaits with curiosity what exactly the Belgian Congo Museum will do to update its look and stance—a decision is imminent. Nowadays in museums, we can sample the artifacts offered, and also, we can contemplate the medium, in all its gigantic layout, its classificatory obsession, its highlights, its distortions, its omissions. In the time that museums have begun to seem less exciting to the mainstream of culture lovers, they also have inadvertently become a difficult-to-erase, tactile and interactive display of the history of ideas in Europe.

The Chaotic History of Venice Carnival Masks and Costumes

In Allgemein by Francesca / 5. März 2014 / 0 Comments

Much of Venice was sprinkled with confetti this week-end, as the Carnival celebrations began to get into their full (and silent) swing, and vaguely lost romantic couples were greeted here and there by fully costumed figures nodding gently with veiled and masked heads. The magnetic, mysteriously melancholic and somewhat outdated Venetian masks that are usually banished behind shop windows seemed to come to life for a short spell of three days only, and the doctor masks and jesters, the grim reapers, Harlequins and Columbines suddenly all were gleefully floating through old-fashioned cafés and town squares in elaborate period costumes, appearing as musketeers and courtesans, as fantasy clowns and fairies. That on Mardi Gras, the centrepiece of the festival, it turned out to be acqua alta and Saint Mark’s Square was covered knee-deep in water seemed to disturb no-one. Photographers, dressed-up revelers and visitors alike slipped on impromptu plastic bag Wellingtons or simply went barefoot. In fact, the water added extra scenic effects to the dramatic appearances of costumes that often boasted gilded masks and robes, tall wigs, wide capes, high shoes, voluminous tulle collars, lace cuffs, dark-and-light feathers and gems all around the head and all manner of jewelry, walking canes and strange and magical, old-worldly accessories to match.

As such, the Venetian Carnival is a modern invention born from the desire to revive some of Venice’s old and forgotten traditions and quirky customs. It would seem that records of the city can recall carnival celebrations being held as far back as the 12th century – as an outburst of joy and dance that the Venetian Republic had been freed from domination. The wearing of masks during the festivities and for all kinds of other occasions seems to have become de rigueur very soon, and laws regulating the use of masks followed suit. A history of mask and masked ball prohibitions in Venice (to prevent individuals from using masks to conceal their identity when engaging in illegal activities or acts of dubious morals, for instance) led to the carnival festival becoming more and more mythologized and cultivated with special care, in private and in secret.
There are a few recurrent costumes and masks which lend the Venetian Carnival its distinctive and recognizable charm, such as the “Jolly Joker”, “Dottore” and “Bautta”; however, the history of each mask is different and historically, these masks would never have been seen together at the same time.
Inextricably tied up with Venice’s history as a Republic and as an independent city-state is the Bautta mask, which had to be worn by men during certain political gatherings as an anonymizing measure to help the functioning of Venice’s direct, secret democracy.
The Doctor mask, with its long and beak-like nose, on the other hand, has a completely different history. It is said to have been first invented in France during the time of the bubonic plague, by Charles de l’Orme, a doctor who hoped that wearing a mask covering his nose and mouth would protect him from contaminating himself with the Black Death. The round openings for the eyes were sealed with thin glass, for protection against infection, simultaneously creating an erudite and bespectacled effect. The final touch to this doctor’s pre-modern set of precautions was to wear a coat of waxed garments, and leather leggings and gloves during times of contact with plague patients. This outfit caught on and gained wide use amongst pest doctors of the time, and was further developed in a variety of ways – for instance, the mask’s long beak was to be filled with scented herbs and perfumes, so that the doctor would not smell the foul smells of disease, as these were believed to be the cause of contamination, at the time.
It comes as not too great a surprise, perhaps, that this doctor’s outfit struck some people as bizarre and even buffoonish, and found itself to be amalgamated with the comedy masks and costumes of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. This was a culture of traveling comedy actors, who would improvise farcial and satirical performances outdoors, based on a number of stock characters, one of which came to be the Pompous Doctor.
Probably best remembered today through his later adaptation by the French playwright Molière in Le Malade Imaginaire, the Commedia Doctor was characteristically boastful of his vast knowledge of obscure and useless things as well as babbling in dead languages, and the character would be recognizable to the audience by the distinctive mask and costume. Today, in Venice, the mask appears again, in new incarnations: a part buffoon, as the self-assured doctor who most of all loves the sound of his own voice and appears in an ever so slightly indulgent and decadent costume with white collars and cuffs; and a part sinister, as the bird-like messenger of death, wearing a long hooded cloak like the grim reaper, a long staff in his hand.
Another popular mask in the Venice Carnival, the “Jolly” as it is called, takes its origins in 19th century USA. A mixture of the classic Pierrot with his pale and melancholic face, and the Joker as we know him from playing cards (believed to have been introduced to a pack of cards for the first time in 1860s USA), this mask is a modern fantasy persona that is part German court jester, part Joker card come to life, and a little bit Pierrot. In Venice, one can see him bouncing around brandishing mirrors and bells like the old German court jesters, or indeed a pack of cards or dice, as he is broadly thought to impersonate the different facets of chance, games, craziness, the inverted world, the unpredictability and all the bitter-sweet ephemera of life.
And on this ephemeral note, the Carnival magic seems to have vanished like a dream, now that it is Ash Wednesday and the Lent begins.

Dalí’s Elephants and the Monsters of Bomarzo

In Allgemein by Francesca / 26. Februar 2014 / 0 Comments

Fondly known as “monster park”, the sculpture garden of Bomarzo’s Villa Orsini is as viscerally appealing as it is arcane and mystifying. “To astonish rather than to please” is its declared aim, as visitors will be able to read on enigmatic inscriptions in old Italian which, far from explaining anything about the sculptures, repeatedly encourage visitors to relish in their wonder, disbelief and bewilderment, not to analyze overmuch in an effort to detect the method in a madness that, really, is impervious to reason.

Even so, researchers have sought to explain the scenes and characters that populate this garden, and found that—in keeping, I’m sure, with the Italian Renaissance’s love of literature—a plethora of Greco-Roman and Etruscan myths, medieval chivalrous poetry, and Italian vernacular epics, all had a place in the learned artistic imagination which brought forth this park of monsters.

Leaning on the grotesque, not shying away from representing violent strife and the distorted faces of hybrid creatures with toothless grins or uncanny bodily excrescences, these sculptures appeal to “us” today, and yet, since their erection in the 16th century, they have enjoyed only mixed popularity. Full of unclear paths and mysterious forks in the way that lead to unexpected spaces with surprise fountains, or dragons, or nymphs, this grove was unusual already for its own time, when the fashion for garden design was rather to have geometric patterns with straight paths and neat patches. During the late 18th, throughout the 19th, and into the early 20th century, the grove was entirely deserted by its erstwhile admirers and entered a process of slow decay, overgrown by the local vegetation, withering away in its dark and strangely hallucinatory charm.

In 1938, Salvador Dalí paid the park a visit. The metamorphic shapes and faces here, with their intense and yet arcane symbolism, the oneiric topography and the derelict state in which he found them, strongly appealed to the surrealist. Just so, the park appeals to the surrealist in ourselves. A wander around this park—provided that one will, like the inscriptions admonish, suspend disbelief—feels like roaming around the dream of another, like a hands-on experience of Freud’s theory that the unconscious mind is like an archaeological field, where half-forgotten stories and mythologies are aggregated together in their half-decomposed state, only indistinctly recognizable, and shuffled out of order. There is something mad, something personal, about this park. Much as it features traditional patrimony, it is also a memorial to Orsini’s late wife, and the philosophical journey through topics such as love, death, memory and truth which it offers, does smack of darkness at its core.

It is said, although it probably can never be fully proven, that the inspiration for Dalí’s famous painting “The Temptation of St Anthony” came from the monster park. The war-elephant, with a castle on its back, recalls the story of Hannibal and appears in the Bible as well, and was a fairly popular image subject of medieval art. In the 1946 painting “The Temptation of St. Anthony” and a handful of further works by Dalí after that, the iconography of elephant and castle suddenly returns to life and it seems plausible that the visit to Bomarzo had something to do with it.

Dalí once said about his elephants, whom he gave stilt-like, staggeringly high legs with supple joints so that they appear almost spider-like, that they represented the fragility of stability and of balance. Visualizing how a body as big and weighty as that of an elephant stands and moves on such long and thin legs, even balancing castles and pyramids on their backs, can symbolize focus and restraint, but also, as I think, the anxiety of making mistakes and the fear of moving on forward. And that, somehow, takes us back to the monster park and the timeless world of symbolic journeys through dreams and memory, strife and fear, reconnecting the interrupted line of surreal and symbolic iconography, from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and to us today.

 

References/ Further reading:

Blog on literary sources : http://renaissanceutterances.blogspot.it/2012/06/bomarzo-and-ariosto-moon-madness-and.html

Courtauld Institute slideshow and talk : http://www.artandarchitecture.org.uk/stories/stonard_bomarzo.html

A Real Disney Cinderella Castle in Germany?

In Allgemein by Francesca / 16. Februar 2014 / 0 Comments

At the center of Disneyworld, the tall Cinderella Castle dazzles and enchants, as visitors make bee lines for it over the perfectly recreated „Main Street USA“ to see its staggering illusionist heights, fairy-tale turrets and recluse windows from up close.

A lifelike match of the cartoon castle of Disney’s 1950 Cinderella picture, the Walt Disney studio’s first big hit since its pre-war Snow White production (1937), the castle’s appearance and design go back a long way into Europe’s traditions and folklore.

The Disney cartoonists took inspiration for the Cinderella castle from a whole selection of European castles, including Versailles and Chambord, as they themselves were keen to acknowledge. Most recognizably of all, the forms and aura of the Bavarian Neuschwanstein castle emerge beneath the Disney building.

And perhaps this shouldn’t come as too great a surprise, seeing as the Neuschwanstein castle itself was deliberately planned and designed with German folklore in mind. At the orders of Bavaria’s Ludwig II, a recluse and perhaps insane king, construction began in 1869 and continued through 1892, ultimately remaining unfinished. As an immoderate Wagner-enthusiast and dubbed „The Dream King“, Ludwig II had set out to have a castle built that would pay homage to the German legends of Lohengrin, the Swan Knight – hence the castle’s name, which translates as „New Swan Stone“.

Who might this Swan Knight have been, one may ask. Wagner’s Lohengrin opera is the testimony most present to our minds today, but Wagner himself went back to the Arthurian epic Parzival, composed in the 13th century by the German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, who, himself, derived the story from the medieval tale of the Swan Knight, a mysterious knight without a name who comes to the rescue of a damsel in a swan-drawn boat and remains anonymous throughout.

This tale existed not only in the German, but also medieval French folklore and is also recorded in the Dolopathos, a Latin version of the Seven Sages of Rome from the 12th century.

19th century man king Ludwig II’s profound love for traditional folklore and fairy tales was particularly pronounced and earned him a variety of names („Dream King“ being only one besides „Fairy-tale king“ and more), although on a broader scale this man’s mindset falls within the general framework of aristocratic attitudes during that epoch. For, during the time of rapid industrialization and the rise to money of many middle class entrepreneurs, members of the aristocracy were eager to remind themselves of their feudal roots and the beauty of age-old chivalrous traditions and lore. Thus the Neuschwanstein castle doesn’t stand alone in its romanesque, historicist yearning for a return to the past and its copious allusions to absolutism, the middle ages and its old sagas. King Ludwig II of Bavaria went down in history as a profoundly wagnerian king always wavering in his mind between dream and reality, truth and fancy.

And Cinderella? What better place for a magical tale like hers to end in a castle that no-one quite knows it if was real, or only a dream. The Disney animators fully embraced the spirit of imaginary wish fulfillment that aligns them with the mad fairy-tale king, who was actually real, and do so not only in terms of graphic design, but also in terms of sharing a piece of the fantasy that if you believe, dreams will come true.

Rome’s Etruscan Heritage II

In travel reports by Francesca / 17. Juli 2013 / 0 Comments

Francesca Spiegel
forum romanum IIBy the time we reached Rome, it was a Friday mid-afternoon, and we prepared for a weekend at the Villa Borghese Sofitel and to continue following the trail of Rome’s Etruscan heritage. It began with a detailed explanation of the Mausoleum of Augustus, that imposing, round cylinder structure reminiscent of a giant tumulus. Werner talked about Augustus‘ special wish with this design of grave to appear through and through Italic as a leader, as a ruler who was close to the people rather than finding himself tempted by exotic luxuries like some of his contenders. We had a walk through the forum Romanum, just for good measure, looking out in particular for the Cloaca Maxima,
Rome’s first great sewage system, the building and engineering of which can be attributed to Etruscan engineers and the Etruscan king Tarquin, one of the legendary kings of Rome in the 6th century B.C..

RomeIn the evenings we enjoyed some handpicked restaurants, dining one time between larger-than-life sculpture casts on golden plates and with golden cutlery at the scenic Canova Tadolini, a restaurant set up in the former sculpting studio of Tadolini himself, and spent the next evening in a far more sober setting, delighting in the impeccably high standard, lovingly prepared and original cuisine at Il Desiderio preso per la coda. The Sofitel’s 1950s style roof terrace bar with its spectacular view of Rome rounded off the evening. We were extremely well looked after at the hotel, which has a pleasantly old-fashioned, old-worldly air about it, boasting red and gold, tassel rope window curtains and lightly striped and silky, not overly starchy bedding, and at the same time offers all the modern comforts one expects from a five star hotel.

AntinousStudious as we are, we opted out of the more-than-lavish breakfast buffet

 

there and went instead for sidewalk brioche and cappuccinos, then spent our next day in the Capitoline Museums on a trail of early Roman pieces, although it’s fair to say we soon found ourselves dazzled by the amount of thing to see and each drawn into a separate direction.

sarcophagus, Musei Capitolini

We ate lunch on the chic roof terrace cafeteria and even caught the last rays of a real Roman wedding, drama, tears and white dress included. Talking about white stuff, a further Roman highlight of our trip was visiting the Ara Pacis (altar of Peace), which Anke and Werner explained to the rest of us in detail, and we were able to admire from inside and out.

Ara Pacis, I
Ara Pacis II

 

 

 

 

 

 


The trip ended with an impressive, though not specifically Etruscan-related, visit to Ostia, the ancient harbor city, now on dry land, which is still standing tall despite its time-ravaged state and has many Roman mosaic floors, sculptures, and interior murals to show off. With its remnants of baths, restaurants and general city living fixtures it gave us a nicely palpable feel for living, and not only dying, in the ancient world.


Ostia

Rome’s Etruscan Heritage I

In Allgemein by Francesca / 17. Juli 2013 / 0 Comments

Francesca Spiegel

 

Cervéteri, ItalyIt was an unseasonably cold April weather I left behind to travel with via antiqua to Latium, Tuscany, and Rome in search of Rome’s Etruscan heritage, a program designed and curated by Anke. Already on the way from the da Vinci airport one seemed to enter a dreamy zone as the trip began with a leisurely walk through the Etruscan necropolis at Cerveteri. Amongst high grass and quiet bluebells rose a majestic ancient city of round tombs chiseled out of the region’s natural landscape of tuff rocks. Round, cylindrical houses with roofs the shape of funeral mounds, overgrown with grass and even after millennia boasting intricately fashioned facades to give the illusion of doors and frames, and then, steps descending into the sepulchral chambers themselves. We entered into several, all the while Werner, our expert guide, explained the burial chamber, Cervéteripurpose of the chambers‘ fixtures, which were, in their turn, chiseled out of the volcanic tuff rock to give the semblance of beds and furniture, wooden roof beams and even, at times, cushions and bedding. We heard about Etruscan families and their customs as well as the architectural types of tomb, the variations and development of design, and viewed one particularly luxurious sepulchral chamber where not only were there likenesses of beds and cushions chiseled out of the rock, but also wall reliefs of domestic goods and decorations, giving the tomb the all-round look of a new home for the deceased.

 

 

Our hosts were the very lovely organic farmers Chiara and Marco of Pulicaro, who served home-cooked meals of regional specialties like eggplant pie, duck ragout egg pasta, wild boar stew and hearty desert cakes, all made from fresh and often home-grown ingredients, accompanied with quality Tuscan wine and the mandatory after-dinner espresso and digestives. The farm, an “agriturismo” model mixes the comfort and elegance of country house guest rooms with the rustic, healthful atmosphere of a family farm, traditional cooking expertise with organic, high-quality local meat, poultry and vegetables. We enjoyed our breakfast too, an exotic take on the American breakfast, of deeply yellow, Italian-style scrambled eggs, fine cheese platters and fine meat cuts for bacon.

 

Sovana, ItalyThe next cultural destination was the Etruscan necropolis at Sovana, a winding mountain drive away. Here, we were able to marvel at large houses for the dead, this time not round but in the shape of half-cubes emerging out of the rocks. Stairs and columns, parts of roofs, and even a coffered ceiling had been chiseled out of the tuff here. On our way, we had stopped briefly to inspect some man-made caverns in the rock with pigeon-hole like cavities in them, and learned that they were urn spaces; at the archaeological treasure trove of Sovana, we also saw large remains of what seemed to have been a triangular roof-frieze

Etruscan siren at Sovana

showing a winged siren with long and snake-like, curling tail.
Werner explained the figure and her significance to Etruscan mythology, which is different from both the Greek and the Roman. That siren, I saw again several times: not least, she was haunting the monster park of Count Orsini we visited not long after. This large hillside park, designed in mid-renaissance for the bemusement of the whimsical count, lover of the grotesque, presents like an aggrandized cabinet of horrors, where the unsuspecting flaneur is greeted, time and again, by the contorted and voracious faces of mysterious, half-fantastic creatures with big gaping mouths sown around disconcerting landscapes with eerie decorations and led upon an erratic route marked out by entering Orcusenigmatic inscription in Renaissance Italian. My function here was to read and translate the inscriptions for the others, yet all remained mystified by their often oracular meanings and as we walked out of the fairy-tale like park gate all were scratching their heads and pondering whether it wasn’t all just one gigantic siren in Parco dei Mostrijoke (pun intended!).

 

 

On a similarly otherworldly note, driving home we passed some hot and sulphur-rich springs and thermal baths. Vapours were rising from the earth and hot water bubbling into rock basins and along a low, hot-water mini-aqueduct from which people were able to fill their bottles with the volcanic waters, which are said to have particular healing properties, as Anke explained. Some few people were soaking in the hot water pool, keeping very still and smiling at one another; others were wandering around slowly in loin cloths and bath robes, glancing through the fog of steam.

 

Tomba Francois dromosWe returned to deepest underworlds and Etruscan graves the next morning as we went to visit the Francois tomb by the archaeological excavation park at Vulci. The murals in this large and prominent tomb are particularly well preserved and at the same time, the tomb is accessible to walk in rather than being sealed off behind glass, so Werner got out the torch and let the colorful murals shine. He pointed out a further recurring pattern of t-shaped door frame designs chiseled in rock, that we found also here, adorning the opening between grave chambers. Our especially hired guide gave us detailed interpretations of the mural allegories, which in fact showed pairs of mythological and historical scenes in a fascinating complementarity. As I acted as an interpreter to the guide who was giving the tour in Italian, Anke and Werner soon began to question the scholarly soundness of the guide’s explanations and all entered into a topical discussion on the development of art, myth and thought among the Etruscans. Inside the Francois tomb we also saw, again, the siren’s snake-like tail, this time in the guise of a lovely geometric and multicolor, snake-skin-like frieze pattern painted upon an illusory skirting plank (given that the tomb is actually chiseled out of the rock) running around the ceiling.

 

TarquiniaThere was ample occasion to be awed by bright colors and scenic motifs at Tarquinia, where, although there was not much visible by way of grave mounds (let alone tumulus-like, or round, or half-cube structures), mural paintings in several dozen tombs were almost perfectly preserved and we could marvel at artistic motifs ranging from tigers and leopards, to florals, musical entertainment, and—but unfortunately that’s shut—sex scenes, to gods and myths, all to be found by descending the ancient stairs into the graves and shining light on the rich darkness. With these joyous scenes and Werner’s explanations on the Etruscan customs of grave parties and other funeral rites, a rather joyful picture of the Etruscan approach to death and funerals began to emerge.

 

Norchia, ItalyWe traveled to Norchia, a faraway Etruscan necropolis on the steep and lonely, wild cliffs behind unploughed fields that were, in this season, opulent with wild poppies and daisies. We ventured over dubious abysses, thorny weeds and disappearing stone stairs into the middle row of the old necropolis, in search of elusive inscriptions and sculptural details. The sun was beating down on lizards sunbathing on rock cliffs that had been polished flat and into rows of semi-cubic grave houses with sculptural details of pretend-door entrances and mighty steep stairs down into the graves, which we chiefly focused on not accidentally tripping over into, although we also entered some, torch in hand, and found various shapes of grave chamber, some graves and grave lids, even. It has to be said that not everyone shared the unabated enthusiasm of archaeological adventure and spurts of rock-climbing, as some parties of the trip found themselves at the exit much earlier than others, rather sitting in the flowers instead.

 

BagnoregioWith that behind us, we drove off again, some miles through more mountainous roads and idyllic small towns, passing ancient bridges and aqueducts, for a trek up the steep ramp to Civita di Bagnoregio, a small polity on the top of a tall cliff—originally founded by the Etruscans, now all but abandoned, as, though picturesque, the location perhaps never was all that practical—we looked down on a most sharp and spiky scape of rocks and rising hills and enjoyed an aperitif in a quiet little bar, then took a walk around and enjoyed the peaceful silence there.

 

SutriWe drove to Sutri to see the archaeological site. The ancient amphitheater, cut into the volcanic tuff rather than built from stones, was impressive to behold so it was a real shame we could not see much more of the archaeological park owing to a recent flood. Just by that site, however, was the Mithraeum, an ancient Etruscan family crypt knocked into tuff cliffs, which had been turned into a Mithra-cult cave come the mystic era, and even later was consecrated as a Christian crypt, and remains a Christian church until now. Its interior is adorned with multiple layers of mural paintings that retell the story, in a nutshell, of how Etruscan graves and other pagan worship sites became appropriated by other faith systems over time, transformed or decomposed into their elements and later recomposed, or gradually integrated and transformed. Not least had we also visited a very old, almost ancient church by Tuscania, searching, indeed finding, not only Etruscan motifs but whole architectural parts such as columns and corner stones, recycled into the more recent buildings to suit the purposes of other times and faiths, most notably of course the Roman Catholic church.

 Klick here for part II