It was a big day today. I woke up at 7:30am and set out to the school where I was meeting Dr. Soren and his wife for our first day of location scouting. The rain had finally dispersed and the sun was peeking out intermittently from an overcast sky. I arrived at Piazza Duomo about 15 minutes early and was able to see the Duomo with absolutely no tourists. I surprised myself by thinking how strange it was to see such a massive structure with no one around. Maybe the relationship between the Duomo and tourists was more symbiotic than I had thought.
Dr. Soren and his wife Noelle arrived and we set off into the Umbrian landscape. Our destination is Archeologia Sperimentale, a large rural complex roughly 100km north of Rome where reconstructions of ancient objects took place. We were aware of his reconstruction efforts prior to leaving the States but we were completely blown away by the sheer scale of the complex. But more on that later; I want to “shift gears” for a minute (pun intended).
Italian driving and road infrastructure is something that’s incomprehensible to American drivers who have not experienced it first-hand. Other than speed limit, the rules of the road are up to each individual driver. If a scooter wants to pass you on a winding road butting against a cliff face, more power to him! If a car wants to blow a stop sign and cut you off mere inches from impact, go for it! And if you want to slam on your brakes in the middle of the road so that you can talk to a friend who is crossing the street, well…that’s your prerogative, friend!
However, one positive thing about Italian roadways is that they have absolutely gorgeous views (at least here in the Umbrian countryside). At every turn there is a view straight out of a National Geographic magazine. As we sped south towards Rome, I was afforded my first stunning view of Orvieto and the surrounding countryside. The pictures I took do not give it justice. The morning fog was clinging to the city like a child to a mother, the distant coos from the clock tower seemed to reassure the mist that it would not be burned off by the intensifying sunlight.
Soon Orvieto slowly disappeared behind us and we drove into what Dr. Soren called the “true Umbrian agricultural center.” We passed farm after farm separated by beautiful forests of dense woodland. I thought about what a nightmare it would have been to move an ancient army through this kind of forest. The trees were separated from each other by only a few inches and I could appreciate why the Romans built their roads and moved their armies exclusively on them whenever possible.
As is customary by Americans driving in Italy, we got lost quite a bit and had to ask for directions from locals. This took us through some beautiful old cities and was worth the extra journey. We finally found a sign for the Archeologia Sperimentale, which is located outside of the dilapidating city of Civitella Cesi,which Dr. Soren commented to look as if it was “about to fall off of the cliff” it was resting on. We began to follow the signs through dense, cell phone coverage-less woods. We stopped for a moment to get our bearings when a car pulled up beside us.
"Dah-veed Soren?" asked the woman inside.
"Yes!" we replied, and followed her the rest of the way.
As we approached the complex, there was an ancient-looking wooden fortification surrounding reconstructed Etruscan huts which were poking their tipi-like tops over the top. We pulled into a parking lot clogged with three tour buses. The buses belonged to local primary schools taking the children to see the enormous interactive museum.
This complex is the brainchild of Angelo Bartoli, a stocky, bald Roman who walked up and shook our hands with a customary “Ciao!”. Angelo could only speak Italian so I was only able to understand broken sentences and what Dr. Soren translated for me during our 4-hour visit. Angelo came up with the concept of Archeologia Sperimentale while working in the antique business in Rome. He wanted to create a center for those interested in history, ranging from neolithic to Roman, to come and experiment with building and crafting techniques used in those time periods. He began to build the complex in 1987 and construction continues bit-by-bit to this day. He is 69 years old and has had (or still has, the translation was difficult) 4 wives. He has sired two children, one when he was 16 and the other when he was 61. The first child is now 53 years old and his second child is 8.
Angelo personally gave us a tour of the entire facility (which took 3 hours). His complex includes: reconstructed cave paintings from the neolithic, Etruscan homes and temples, Roman clothes, ancient perfumes and pigments, over 10 furnaces for production of bronze, gold, and silver, an Etruscan chariot, reconstructed archaeological sites for instruction, dining halls, a full kitchen, gardens of herbs and vegetables, pottery studios, a dozen ducks, 4 horses, 3 pigs, 2 deer and a dog. I know I am forgetting more because it was overwhelming to see so much. His pottery reconstructions, especially, were incredibly accurate and could pass as authentic to an untrained eye. He was especially proud of his reconstructed pornographic Etruscan red ware. He insisted I take it down off of the shelf and photograph it.
After the tour he invited us inside his reconstructed Etruscan dining hall and served us a delicious lunch of water and wine, lasagna, chicken, vegetables and potatoes, and desert of fruit and pastries. It was served by the kitchen staff in blue uniforms. It was absolutely surreal. After lunch, we discussed the day in which we would return to actually film the sequences needed (June 1st) and then headed back to Orvieto (after getting lost again).
I got back to town and promptly collapsed in my bed, dreaming of chicken and wine.
research / travel / musings
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