A magical mystery tour in Umbria
Day breaks with a thick mist and the raucous yelling of hunters. The veil of mist lifts to reveal a cloudless sky and the hunters fire episodically and then go quiet. It’s a perfect afternoon for hunting archaeological sites.
Sergio has invited me to visit the archaeological sites he has been recording in our liminal comune of Giove, western Umbria. The first is beside a bend in the Tiber. Amazingly this long Roman wall with its strange angled stonework, punctuated by tile-lined windows, has not been registered as a site. The land-owner gathering wood is happy to chatter about it. His wife, Franca, knows more and eagerly joins us. Apparently the enigmatic wall is the terrace edge of elevated land which is full of tile and pottery. To make the point, Franca, takes us to the farm and shows us a large mortarium, bases of amphorae, sigillata and tesserae from mosaic floors she has collected from the fields revetted by the wall. Sergio has learnt that the early medieval church of S. Valentino, property of the abbey of Farfa, stood hereabouts until the railway engineers demolished it.
S. Valentino, Giove, port wall
Even more impressive are the remains around the deserted fattoria of Malvicino. We are now on a high terrace overlooking Attigliano, the Tiber and to our west, Monte Cimino. Below the fattoria’s 19th-century tower is a square base of immense proportions, perhaps for a Roman tower, or conceivably a mausoleum. Even more impressive is the northern block of the fattoria. Early medieval construction mixed with Roman spolia suggest that this is a 11th- or 12th-century tower. Around it the fields are littered with tile and ceramics mixed in with pozzolana. Beyond is an outcrop with deep caves, remains, in my view of medieval to early modern dwellings. Once known as Civita Vecchia, this was clearly a Roman centre of some importance that had a more limited medieval afterlife.
Malvicino fattoria with medieval origins
On we drive, passing throngs of orange suited hunters. Sergio points out a Roman columbarium, perhaps for doves rather than funerary vases. We pause at an Etruscan wall and he draws my attention to points where antiquarians report Etruscan tombs.
The mud is thick under foot, but the potsherds show up like lights in the sodden earth. These archaeological truffles are all the more amazing because here, in the Tiber valley, an hour out of Rome, the great revolution in archaeological mapping never arrived. To this end Sergio is diligently performing his civic duty, with the support of Giove’s mayor, hopeful that in time this patrimony is made safe. In every sense it is a magical tour of authentic, undocumented archaeology on a breathtakingly beautiful November afternoon. As darkness falls the hunters fire off their final shots.
Sergio and Franca admire Roman finds from S. Valentino