Dwight Peck's personal website

Two weeks in the Lazio region, 2016

Avoiding news of Trump's nightmare "transition team" to the extent possible

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

The plan is to luxuriate for twelve days in Viterbo, with enthusiastic sight-seeing in the region, and a few days tacked onto either side of that for getting there and back.

Settimo Vittone and Calci on the way south

We're leaving home in Ollon in very grim weather, 22 November 2016.

Over the Grand St-Bernard Pass (through the tunnel actually), even grimmer weather

St-Oyen on the Italian side

We can't wait for the bypass tunnel to be finished.

Squirrel relaxing contentedly in the familiar B+B L’Ospitalità del Castello up the hill in Settimo Vittone, our customary convenient first stop on the way into northern Italy, 2½ hours from home.

L’Ospitalità del Castello is inexpensive, pet-friendly, people-friendly too, and comfortable -- 10 minutes north of Ivrea, 20 minutes south of Aosta, and a working farm.

And an added attraction -- there is a 9th century pieve, or rural church with baptistery, on the B+B's grounds.

And a nice breakfast room into the bargain. We recommend it . . .

. . . even in the rain.

The pre-Romanesque church of San Lorenzo and baptistery San Giovanni Battista dates from the Carolingian ninth century, part of the original castle grounds overlooking the town, the river Dora Baltea, and the transport routes along it, as well as the Via Francigena medieval pilgrims' route. It's opened for the public from time to time, infrequently, but we'll hop the fence for a closer look when we return in two weeks' time.

The startling suspension bridge of the E25 autostrada over the Fiume Dora Baltea, just south of Ivrea.

Three hours later, successfully south from Alessandria past all the ravines and tunnels around Genoa and the Cinque Terre (on the afternoon between two days when the routes were closed due to flooding), and then turning up the Arno river from Pisa, we're arriving in little Calci.

At the B+B Il Molendino, renovated from an ancient mill -- luxurious, charming, friendly and pet-friendly, and not expensive. That's our room facing us up on the first floor.

Calci is located along the Arno just 10km east of Pisa, in the natural amphitheatre Val Grazioso anchored by Monte Pisano and Monte Serra, 12km south of Lucca.

A fantastic job of restoration and renovation (as so often in Italy)

Squirrel exploring the new territory

Settling in

The breakfast room, with a huge original kitchen fireplace and a very old stone sink

Round the front

Now for a walk up the lane behind the Molendino, through the olive groves, to the convent and church of "Sant'Agostino (Nicosia)" -- it was begun in 1263 on the orders of the Bishop Ugo di Fagiano of Nicosia, a local boy who after studying and working in Bologna, Pisa, Rome, Rouen, and Paris joined St Louis IX's disastrous Seventh Crusade to Egypt and fetched up as Bishop of Nicosia in Cyprus for a few years to 1263. Retiring to Pisa, he founded this Augustinian convent in 1266 and died a year or two later; this neighborhood of Calci is still called Nicosia.

After a complicated history of successive monastic regimes, the facilities fell into disuse, but are presently undergoing renovation by the parish.

So we'll have a look.

The church itself is already nicely restored . . .

. . . and the ladies of the parish are lovingly setting up the seasonal presepe or crèche of the nativity.

We're getting the brief history of the church from one of the proud ladies of the parish.

The cloister awaits its turn in the restoration schedule.

From the cemetery just above the Chiesa di Sant'Agostino, there's downtown Calci at dusk.

And the famous Certosa di Calci across the way.

The next day, we're investigating the Certosa di Calci, a.k.a. the Certosa di Pisa, the Charterhouse of Pisa, or the Carthusian monastery of Pisa, and it looks as if we're getting closer.

The Certosa di Pisa, not as grand as the Visconti Certosa di Pavia, but grand enough. St Bruno of Cologne founded the Carthusian order of enclosed monks and nuns in 1084, named for its first house in the Chartreuse mountains near Grenoble, and as the order of contemplatives spread, a new facility was established here in 1367.

The community's church

We're looking for the ticket office. The monks are long gone, but since 1981, this end of the certosa has housed the University of Pisa's natural history museum. It's highly thought of, but today we're focusing on medieval monastic life.

Besides, when you've seen one velociraptor you've seen them all.

We're getting the guided tour of the monastic premises.

A glance up the hill at the Augustinian "Nicosia" monastery and church

The monastic church -- despite its 14th century origins, the certosa got impressive Baroque face-lifts in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The monastic inmates lived singly in separate cells, tending their little gardens, except for Sunday meals and periodic masses in one of the chapels, and were not to speak to one another under any circumstances. That's a picture of St Bruno, the founder of the order, by Jacopo Vignali, 1630.

A chapel, one of several apparently

Historical background

The refectory or dining room - a common meal on Sundays, with somebody reading improving biblical texts for the monks to reflect upon over the next week.

Or they might wish to reflect instead upon Salome presenting John the Baptist's head to Herod . . .

Or on the 'feast prepared for the pious queen herself', presumably a generous benefactor.

Those frescos and others around the walls are from 1773, but this painting of the Last Supper is by the Florentine Mannerist Bernardino Poccetti, known as Barbatelli, in 1597. It's the only Last Supper we've seen in recent years where it seems there may be enough food to go around.

An octagonal fountain in the 17th century cloister, upon which open the monks' cells.

This is the door to one of the cells off the cloister, with a room service receptacle into which meals were delivered with no risk of vocal or visual contact between the waiter and the monk within. (According to our guide, the lay brothers who performed the menial tasks in the late middle ages were conversos, converted Jews, tucked away in monasteries with strict regimes to help them avoid lapsing back into the old religion.)

The dinner receptacle on the left; on the right, the rather spartan bedroom.

But despite the maddening Rule of Silence and enforced "contemplation", the medieval monks of this establishment were, our guide informed us, from higher social strata, and each monk's cell in fact has several rooms on two stories. Here on the ground floor would probably actually have been working and study rooms, with living quarters upstairs.

This is the present cell's private garden, where the monk could cultivate medicinal herbs and vegetables for the common soup pot, with stairs to the upper floor.

Some distance away from the cells around the cloister, this is a wing devoted to guest rooms for visits from benefactors, bishops, and other VIPs.

And this, at the end of the corridor, is a suite of rooms reserved for the aforementioned Queen, whom we've been unable to identify.

Schoolkids dodging raindrops for the Natural History Museum, which is famed for its dinosaurs and said to have one of the largest collections of cetaceans in Europe (not sure how many skeletal cetaceans we could enjoy viewing in a single visit, but they're all here).

Pious sculptures

The length of the huge courtyard


A beautiful loggia at the far end, now evidently containing workrooms of the museum administration

We're walking less than a kilometre into downtown Calci.

The House of the People (the local Communist Party headquarters)

The back end of the local church, the Pieve di San Giovanni ed Ermolao

The brilliant façade of the Romanesque Pieve of St John and Ermolao, founded in about 1089 and completed in 1111, restored and updated in 1617 and subsequently (like the extension to the left of the left side door).

A beautiful nave with two side aisles, and both matched and unmatched Corinthian columns.

The high altar

Saint Hermolaus, priest (or bishop) of Nicomedia near Nicea, the patron saint of Calci for reasons unknown to us, survived the "20,000 martyrs of Nicomedia" event in 302 and is best known for having converted St Pantaleon (one of the famous "Holy Unmercenaries" or "Fourteen Holy Helpers") -- St Pantaleon (whom we first met in the Ravello duomo) was martyred in 305 by Emperor Maximian but not before turning in Hermolaus, too, thinking he was doing him a fellow-martyrdom favor, apparently. That's evidently part of St Hermolaus in that case.

The raised presbytery

The fabulous baptismal font, with lifelike figures and (allegedly) a representation of the River Jordan as a human, is by associates of the local sculptor Biduinus in the 1190s.

It's photographically too bad that the sky is overcast today. The belltower is apparently of uncertain date, and there are those who believe that it might have been left over from a pre-existing defensive fortification, a view not generally accepted, it seems.

Calci walkabout

The mighty river Zambra down the centre of Calci

On our way back to the B+B past the Certosa

We need to spend a few moments packing up, and then an unsatisfactory dinner at the Trattoria da Cinotto in nearby Uliveto Terme on the Arno.

Squirrel's been waiting patiently for us. Tomorrow: Viterbo.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 16 December 2016.

Viterbo trip,
Nov-Dec. 2016