Thursday, 6 December 2012

SABINA TRAVELOGUE PART 7 - March 26 - Catino and Poggio Catino with Giorgio Clementi

Catino courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
March 26
Oggi? Andiamo a Catino e Poggio Catino per fare un giro, per vedere la torre antica Langobarda, e soppratutto, per incontrare l'ambassadore fotografico della Sabina, il signore Giorgio Clementi.

Today we plan to go visit Catino and Poggio Catino, two little hilltowns to the south of Roccantica. Catino has a 1200 year-old pentagonal tower built by the Lombards, a German tribe that invaded and ruled this part of the country for more than 200 yearse. Most importantly though, we are going to meet Giorgio Clementi the intrepid photographic ambassador of the Sabina, as well as other parts of Italy. Because of Giorgio's photos, we had a much better idea about what this region has to offer and our stay here is richer because of it. A presto, Giorgio. : )

Torre pentagonale di Catino courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
  Abbiamo toccato la torre! 
Our day in Catino and Poggio Catino with Giorgio Clementi.

Richard and I touching the base of Catino's Pentagonal Tower courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Every day we have spent so far in Sabina has been a special day, but this one was truly special. I think many of you who know us in Canada know how Facebook, and the connections we have made with people in the Sabina and Lazio in general through Facebook, has influenced just how we are spending and planning to spend our time here. Italy is a beautiful country, basta e punto, but it takes a skilled photographer with an artist's eye and a true passion for the country he sees, like Giorgio Clementi, to truly show it off to its best advantage. 

We have been a fan of Giorgio Clementi's photos for some months now. His breathtaking and intimate photos of the Sabina on Facebook and on the Internet opened up a whole new wonderful world "just around the corner" or "over the next hill" that we would never have known it existed.

Perhaps the most powerfully evocative photos Giorgio posted on Facebook was of a mist-shrouded hill-top town called Catino. Out of the mist looms a tall stark stone pentagonal tower, like something out of The Lord of the Rings. I immediately googled the name of the town, and found it was only about a 20 minute drive south from Casperia. Well, let's add that one to our list, I thought... And things proceeded from there. 

Poppy field near the Tiber and Catino's pentagonal tower in the distance, courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
The content and focus of our trip this time to the Sabina has been largely influenced by the photos of Giorgio Clementi and  Alessandra Finiti. Because of the love and passion that these two people have for this region, because of the amazing photos they have posted on Facebook of the towns and villages and the breathtaking countryside of this little-known area, we have decided to focus our month-long stay here in Italy on exploring the hill towns of the Sabina.

Catino in all its glory, courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
On the top of my list of places to explore during our stay was Catino with its 1200 year-old tower and today we got to cross this off our list in the company of the photographer who first drew it to our attention.

Giorgio Clementi by Marialives Zoratto
Giorgio lives and works in Roma, but for a while has been working on restoring a small house in the town of Catino. We have been trying to connect for a while since our stay. We just missed him in Roccantica yesterday... he arrived just as we left... but today we were able to make a firm date and meet in Catino. Take a moment to look at this video of Giorgio's photos. The first photo you will see in the video is of Catino and its medieval tower.

We set off early to drive to Catino. Road work on the road from Casperia to Poggio Catino has cut off our most direct route. Armed with my trusty map of Sabina and my bright yellow baseball hat from the Sagra del Fritello at Roccantica, we set out on the more roundabout route via Poggio Mirteto. In the back of my mind I knew that there still had to be shorter route, a detour, but not wanting to get too lost, we took a more roundabout route. I have to say, there could be some better signage along the road through Poggio Mirteto... But knowing the general direction where we had to go, we safely arrived in Catino shortly after 11:00. Just as we were pulling around the last hairpin curve into Catino, Giorgio gave us a call on the cell. Minutes later we met him and his friend from Poggio Mirteto, Paolo Lelli. Paolo, apparently, was one of the key people involved in the recent restoration work on the 1200 year old tower.

It is always a strange and wonderful experience to finally meet face to face someone you have gotten to know through Facebook, especially someone like Giorgio. Finally we were meeting the man whose passion for the Sabina had been such an amazing influence on the content of our stay here.

After introductions were made, Giorgio said, "Facciamo un giro alla torre?" We blurted out the Italian equivalent of "You betcha!" and off we went. Paolo and Giorgio took turns explaining the history of the town... How it started out as a small community built around the tower which was built in the 700s or early 800s. 
Catino atop the cliff above the collapsed karst formation
Contrary to my assumption, the tower itself was not a defensive structure, but was an observation tower for the inhabitants of Catino to let them know what was going on down on the Tiber. The hill Catino was built on is a natural fortress in and of itself. On one side of Catino is a cliff that falls about 100 feet down to a mountain river. On the other side is another cliff over a dolina or sinkhole caused by the collapse of a karst formation. Fu una Rocca inespugnabile! "Catino was an unconquerable fortress." Giorgio showed us the traces of underground tunnels that were used by Italian partisans during WWII to hide from the Germans.

Italy circa 1050
After the fall of the western Roman Empire, Italy was dominated by various Germanic invaders... the Ostrogoths and then the  Lombards who set up a number of kingdoms and duchys in the peninsula. The Eastern Romans, the Byzantines, tried and were partially successful in reconquering Italy, but eventually the peninsula became the patchwork of duchys, kingdoms, republics, and church-dominated states that in various forms continued until the Risorgimento of the late 19th century.

What many of you may not know is that Italy was ravaged by Moorish pirates from Africa and that Sicily for a time was ruled by the Saracens. Saracen fleets would sale up the Tiber and pillage the fertile Sabina to the point that the people abandoned their towns and villages in the valleys and took refuge on the tops of high points of defendable land which resulted in the hilltop towns we see today. This was the so called period of incastellamento.

But back to our walk... A few hundred paces outside the village of Catino stands the magnificent pentagonal tower. We took dozens of photos from a number of viewpoints as we approached.

Paolo and Giorgio explain the history of Catino

Here and there, Paolo or Giorgio would explain some fine point of local history or something about the particular flora of the area. In return we explained that the English equivalent of "Santa Merda" or "holy crap" as an expression of true appreciation for the awesome views we were being presented with.You had to be there... : )

Mentuccia from the Wikipedia website
As we walked we kept on smelling the sweet scent of a particular herb, and Giorgio explained that this was Mentuccia or Lesser Calamint, a herb typical of the Roman and Sabina countryside. Mentuccia is a key ingredient in a local dish called poor man's tomatoes, or  I pummidori coll'agghiu e la mentuccia in the local Sabine dialect.

I pummidori coll'agghiu e la mentuccia, also called pomodori alla poverella, or poor man's tomatoes with mentuccia
Tomatoes are sauteed with garlic in Sabina D.O.P. olive oil. The tomato stew is eaten with chunks of bread.

Finally we were at the base of the tower. I said to Giorgio, "I want to touch the tower". After all this time waiting to see it, and in spite of the numbers of photos I had already taken of the tower (Richard was taking some videos on his IPad) I just had to put my hand on it. 
Richard touching Catino's pentagonal tower courtey Giorgio Clementi
This was the final tangible proof that we were here, that it was not a dream. Giorgio then very kindly took a number of pictures of Richard and I touching the tower. : ) 

Richard and I touching the Pentagonal Tower courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
At the base of the tower is the ruin of a small church. 

The church ruins at the base of the tower. Can you see the Cat of Catino?
Paolo explained that when he was a child that you could still see frescoes on the interior walls of the church, and indeed as we peered at the walls we could see the faint remains of images of haloed saints.

We then travelled outside the ruins of the church to where there were the remains of dozens of stone chicken coops built along the crest of the hill. Giorgio explained that there was very little space in the old town of Catino for people to keep their livestock and that up until recently chickens had been kept here. 

Chicken Coops
Giorgio quipped that they would be perfect, if restored, as meditation cells for vacationers.... Just watch, Giorgio... You never know...

The Coop Retreat Centre?
Paolo then said goodbye and that we should "Friend" each other on Facebook, and we then went with Giorgio for a tour of the town of Catino, including the little house he is restoring.

A work in progress...
The house he is working on is small, but the view on a clear day from his front window is truly spectacular. He explained than on a clear day you could see the dome of St. Peter's from his front window. Giorgio is doing all the construction himself. Prior to becoming a policeman Giorgio worked in construction. The kitchen and bathroom are mostly finished but the bedroom is still "a work in progress". It will be beautiful when it is all done. A perfect refuge and base for a man whose passion is the Sabina countryside.

From his apartment in Catino we headed north to the newer town of Poggio Catino. 

The new settlement was established a stone's throw away from Catino after the population of the town grew and a new location had to be found outside the limits of the walled village to accommodate the expanded population. Enroute, we stopped at he took us down for gelato and coffee at Il Bar C’è owned by a friend of his who he introduced as the "big boss of Poggio Catino", Roberto. 

According to Giorgio, Bar C’è's gelato is known, even in Casperia, as the best in the Sabina. I had nutella and chocolate and I think Richard had stracciatella. What I had was truly delicious... There we're lots of other amazing looking desserts made in-house by Roberto's wife, often using a wood fired oven in the back of the house. Roberto presented us with a number of post cards of Catino and a calendar from the bar, pointing out the photos taken by Giorgio. One of the photos was the one showing Catino's tower emerging from the mist, and I explained to Roberto that the only reason we knew about Catino and Poggio Catino was from Giorgio's photos and this one in particular.

As I was explaining this Giorgio pointed to Roberto and said "See, see?" and we talked about the idea of having a set of Giorgio's photos used to make post cards that would promote the various and unique charms of the hilltowns of Sabina. 

I still can't believe why this idea is not being jumped on. To me it seems to be a "no brainer". Everywhere we have looked in the Sabina, including its most famous site, the Abbey of Farfa, the post cards being sold in no way do the beauty of the area justice. They are mediocre at best, which is a very great pity. Mi dispiace ma è vero.

View of Monte Soratte from guest room at Casa Vacanze Belvedere Soratte
Roberto then took us upstairs to see Casa VacanzeBelvedere Soratte, the guest house he runs above the bar. There are two main suites: Hibiscus, and Girasole (Sunflower) which we looked at. We loved the Hibiscus suite in particular. It had amazing views of Soratte and the Sabina hills and a very beautiful kitchen. Apparently the building, which dates from the early 1900s was bombed by the Americans during WWII because it was being used as the headquarters of  of the German commander of the area.

We continued our tour of Poggio Catino, taking pictures as we went. There is a horrific story of La Dama Bianca of Poggio Catino. Sometime in 1933, workers doing restoration work on the old Palazzo Olgiati in Poggio Catino found a small room behind a wall where a woman had been buried alive. 

No one knows the real story, but it seems her brutal murder took place sometime between 1484 and 1525 during a time when the area was being fought over by two powerful families, the Colonna and the Orsini.

Well, as I have said on my website and blogs over and over again, every house has a history, and it could not be more true than here in Italy.

The room where the lady's remains were found, and the bones of la Dama Bianca were removed intact and transfered to  the Museo Criminologico on Via Giulia in Rome where they can still be seen today.

La Rocca at Poggio Catino
We spent more than an hour traversing the picturesque crisscrossing streets and alleys of Poggio Catino taking pictures and videos at every turn. The recently restored main piazza of Poggio Catino is particularly beautiful. 


While we were there, it was mostly deserted. Four young kids played soccer in the piazza. The rest of the towns street's were mostly silent except for the odd cat. It was the hour of the siesta.

Giorgio had work to do and we had to get back to Casperia to have lunch, so we bid addio to Giorgio, thanking him for his precious time and for the wonderful tour, and with instructions from Giorgio to return by a back road route around the blocked road to Roccantica, we we're back in Casperia in a quarter of the time it took for us to get from there to Catino earlier.

Our healthy Sabine lunch. Note our favourite Italian text book behind the wine.
In Casperia we made a salad of arugula, ceci, tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes, croutons, Sabina DOP extra virgin olive oil and balsamic reduction and ate that with some extra bruschette with more Sabina DOP extra virgin olive oil and salt and a couple of glasses of white wine. This we had in the little garden just outside Il Sogno

We tried to study some Italian after this, but the sun and wine and all the walking got the better of us and we had a little nap in the garden before heading out to shop at the alimentari. 

Friends Caffè with the redbud tree in full bloom
On the way back up the hill we stopped in at Friends Caffè for a negroni and a chat with Stefano and Nicoleta. Stefano is an avid spelunker. 
The Wall of Fame at Friends Caffe'
There are photos of Stefano exploring subterranean aquaducts in Roma and here in Casperia. Apparently, there is an ancient aqueduct under the town. I got to talking with Stefano about this, and this turned into a converstation about the possibility of Richard and I joining Stefano and Nicoleta for a subterranean tour and BBQ on their day off... Maybe it's not a good idea to make tour plans after a couple of glasses of wine and a negroni... or perhaps, that is the best thing to do after all. We'll see.

Quattro pippistrelli nella Grotta Grande di Monteleone Sabino
This holiday is like no other trip we have made before. We have been truly blessed by the people we have met and the new friendships we have made on Facebook before and during our stay. Thank you again Giorgio for un giorno indimenticabile nella bella Sabina. Grazie di cuore!

No comments:

Post a Comment