Monday, November 06, 2006

Day 21: Frascati

Another bright, sunny morning as we set off to explore the the Colli Albani (Alban Hills). Our first stop is the old Roman city of Tusculum which is on the top of the hill/mountain over Frascati. This site doesn't have too many identifiable buildings other than a fairly well preserved theater and most of it is behind a fence because of ongoing excavations. The setting is wonderful however....beautiful sweeping views over the green hills.....and very peaceful. There is a good network of hiking trails that cross the site and we see two walkers (one with a dog) while we are there.

Theater at Tusculum

View from Tusculum

View up from Tusculum

We spend most of the day driving through the countryside and admiring the scenery. The towns all seem to be very attractive and prosperous looking and the hills are for the most part rolling and gentle, making for very enjoyable driving. We drive around the larger of the two volcanic lakes in the area--Lake Albano--and descend to the lake shore to take a walk.

View over Lake Albano

From the shore of Lake Albano

On this Monday morning, there is not much activity but it looks like they are quite busy in the summer and on weekends.....there are many restaurants and places to rent boats. The water is amazingly clear. The town that overlooks this lake is Castel Gandolfo, where the Pope has his summer residence. There are other large villas with views over the lake and a very nice "centro storico" with a very narrow main street that we drive through.

For lunch, we head for Ariccia, which is known as the "home of porchetta". It isn't hard to find places to sample the speciality....there is one neighborhood that is essentially a dozen restaurants that all feature porchetta. We sit outside in the warm sun with a plate of the local speciality, a basket of great bread and some local white wine....very, very pleasant.

Porchetta Alley - Arricia

After lunch, we drive through town--Bernini designed a couple of churches here--before heading to the other (smaller) volcanic lake--Lake Nemi. The road to Lake Nemi takes us through Genzano di Roma--a town known for its bread--but at this time, all the bakeries are closed so we can't stop for a sample. The road then drops down to the lake front but there is almost no commercial development evident...we pass one trattoria and a sign for a bed and breakfast...but it is very peaceful and tranquil. We drive as far as we can around the lake but have to turn around when the road turns into a dirt track.

Lake Nemi

In addition to being known for its strawberries, Lake Nemi in Roman times was a favorite place of the Emperor Caligula and he built two large ships to take his guest on cruises. In fact, the ships were sunk over 2,000 years ago and and were retrieved from the bottom of the lake in the early 20th century. Mussolini built a large museum on the lakeshore to display them but the Germans--when they were retreating--set fire to the museum and little of the ships remain.

However, the museum is still open and has displays and explanations about the ships and how they were recovered. The ships were very large (almost three football fields long) and decorated very elaborately. There are scale models of the ships, displays of some of the pieces that escaped the fire and pictures that show what the naval archaeologists think the ships actually looked like. The museum itself is very impressive and the exhibits are well mounted and interesting. We have the place entirely to ourselves.

Museum of Roman Ships

Artist's rendering of Caligula's ship

Reconstruction of rudder of one of the ships

Scale model (1/5 the size) of the ship

Nails and other fasteners recovered from the lake

Reconstruction of the keel of one of the ships

The other half of the museum houses some of the finds from area archaeological digs but the holdings aren't anywhere as interesting as the exhibits about Caligula's ships.

Back in Frascati, I go out to explore more of the town. I walk around the very nice public gardens that used to be the grounds of the Villa Torlonia.

and admire a very nice sunset.

In doing some research for dinner, in the Italian restaurant guide Gambero Rosso, I find a listing for a wine bar with good selections of salumi, cheeses and bruschetta. The wine bar is called Vie dei Canti, which is the Italian translation of the title of the Bruce Chatwin book "Songlines". It is a located just on the edge of the "centro storico" in an old palazzo. We are the only customers but Chet Baker is playing in the background and the young owner seems very enthusiastic so we decide to stay. We have a very pleasant evening.....we get a tour of the wine cellar, enjoy an excellent red wine from the Alto Adige and have a very delicious assortment of cured meats from all over Italy, some interesting cheeses and a selection of tasty bruschetta.

The walk back to the hotel is very peaceful. Tomorrow we are planning to go to the hill town of Palestrina.


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10:35 AM  

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