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This year at Christmas-time we thought it would be good to take our friends, who were visiting us from Wales, to see an Italian “Presepio Vivo” – a “Live Nativity”.
The little medieval town of Maranola, near Formia, has become well known for this popular event, and this Christmas of 2011 was to be the town’s 37th edition, with presentations being held on several evenings: 26 December; the 1st and the 6th of January (the Epiphany).
This is a wonderful event where the locals work closely together as a community to put on a re-enactment of the Nativity story.
As “this is Italy” the event was a little late in getting underway, so as the queue of people waited patiently, some Ciociaria zampogna players (wearing their typical form of footware – le ciocie) began to pipe their traditional folk music and carols.
Finally as we began to make forward progress and at last we entered the old Medieval part of town though an ancient gateway.
It seemed as if we were taking a step back in time. Throughout the labyrinth of narrow winding streets and alleys of Maranola, scenes of typical village life of years gone by was being portrayed by the townspeople.
In old store-rooms and cellars along the way, costumed locals, both young and old, depicted characters carrying out their various trades, every day chores and typical handicrafts.
There were groups singing and dancing to traditional music.
There were also stalls handing out tasters of local produce to sample enroute.
As we meandered our way onwards and upwards through the old town there seemed to be something of interest around every corner.
As we neared the highest point of the town we came to the square by the old Caetani tower, which dates back to the 1300′s. Here there was a charming live tableau depicting the nativity scene, farm animals, a stable with Mary and Jesus and a real little baby lying in the manger.
The trail next lead us into the nearby church, the Chiesa di San Luca Evangelista, who is Maranola’s patron saint. The church has some ancient frescoes.
Next we entered the beautiful church dedicated to Santa Maria dei Martiri which is ornately decorated. Here there was a beautiful crib with hand-made terracotta figurines which are said to date back to the 16th century.
Thank you to the people of Maranola and the Associazione Culturale for their hard work in putting on such a wonderful Presepe Vivo. Well done to each and every one who took part.
For more information about the town of Maranola see my website: http://maranola.shapcott-family.com
Sadly this event was severely marred by some very inclement wet and windy weather, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures. It was such a shame as the villagers had worked so hard to organise this event.
I love their wooly hats – but it really was freezing cold !!!
I hope the villagers of Campodimele will try to hold this event again next year, if so we will be there for sure !!!
For more information about the town of Campodimele see my website: http://campodimele.shapcott-family.com
I made up my mind that we really needed to take our Australian friend Diana out and about to see some local sites. So I planned a route, heading towards Cassino, taking the scenic road via Campodimele and Pico.
However, in my moment of enthusiasm (or was it madness ?) I had forgotten to take into consideration, the tortuous ascending route, with numerous vertiginous hairpin bends, that leads up to the abbey of Montecassino.
This could be considered challenging even for some confident drivers, especially when you find a bus coming at you on the wrong side of the road !!!) I was somewhat relieved as we neared to top and the Abbey finally came into vision. After a huge sigh of relief I slowly managed to prize my white knuckled hands away from the steering wheel.
I was wearing a sundress, so I donned a cardigan, as to be allowed into the Abbey you must be respectful in wearing appropriate clothing, ie shoulders must be covered, and mini-skirts and “mini” shorts are definitely frowned upon.
As you enter the Abbey you first walk through a peaceful cloister and standing in the centre of the garden is a bronze statue depicting the death of St Benedict.
From the balcony on the lower section there is a stunning panoramic view of the Liri Valley and to the right, on a hillside, the Polish Cemetery.
A wide stone staircase steps lead up to a higher cloistered area and the facade of the grand Basilica.
The inside of the Basilica is incredibly ornate and lavishly decorated with beautiful examples of intricate inlaid marble, gilded plasterwork and frescoes.
A vaulted stairway leading down to the crypt is adorned with tiny blue and gold mosaic tiles, and the chapels are also opulently embellished with beautiful mosaics.
There is a museum which houses many of the abbey’s ancient treasures (please note that this is only open on Sundays during the winter months).
There are also two shops where you can purchase souvenirs and herbal remedies and preparations made by the monks.
Nowadays, it hard to believe that this beautiful tranquil location was once the site of a fierce battle that raged during 1944, resulting in the abbey being virtually destroyed.
For more information and photos of the Abbey and Montecassino please take a look at our website: http://cassino.shapcott-family.com
Changeover days are always busy days for us. On one such day, Paul came bounding down the outside staircase in his usual carefree manner, only to lose his footing off the very last step, landing awkwardly on the side of his foot – A truly “Oh Dear, Oh Bother” moment. !!! The discomfort was intense and forced Paul to sit on the ground in an effort to recover his composure. It was immediately apparent that he had made a “really good job” of this. Eventually he managed to hop over to the caravan to try and rest for a while, hoping that the pain would subside.
Meanwhile I began to run around like a mad thing in order to get the upstairs apartment ready for our next visitor, Diana, an old pen-friend and fellow Shapcott family researcher from Australia, who we expected to arrive around lunchtime. She was travelling down from Rome by train, and we were to meet her at the station on her arrival.
Feeling slightly better, Paul tried his best to help me but was finding it very hard to put any weight on his ankle. By lunchtime we finally managed to get everything ship shape for our guest’s arrival, and decided to nip down to Itri to buy some provisions for lunch.
However somehow in the chaos we realised that one of our mobile phones had been left downstairs in the old cisterna, and when we went down to retrieve it we discovered, to our dismay, there was a messages and a missed calls from Diana, indicating that she was due to arrive at 11.09 at Itri Station. In great haste we sped off to the station, which is situated a couple of kilometres out of Itri itself. A series of further messages arrived, saying that she had arrived at the station, and that she was still waiting at the station. We immediately tried to phone her only to find that her phone was switched off. Almost immediately one of our phones ran out of battery. On arriving at the station, it soon became clear that there was no sign of Diana, and we were left deliberating as to what we should do next.
Then, mercifully, we received a phone call from a friend in Itri, saying that there was an unfortunate foreign lady with a suitcase, waiting in the square in Itri, desperately hoping to find us. It seems that after waiting at the station for a couple of hours, feeling totally abandoned, poor Diana, who doesn’t speak any Italian, had managed to accost an obliging elderly local to hitch a lift into the centre of Itri. We headed back into Itri and there in the square was a destitute Diana, patiently waiting for us . The look of relief on her face was immediately evident. I don’t think Diana will forget the experience readily !!! Sorry Diana !!!
After profuse apologies on our part, we bundled into the car and returned to Tre Cancelle, where over a soothing cup of tea Diana recounted her misadventure. We then drove down to Sant’Agostino beach for a spot of lunch in an establishment overlooking the sea. Although we had only corresponded with Diana via the internet, we soon felt like true old friends, finding that we have so many things in common.
Meanwhile, having got Diana comfortably installed at “Tre Cancelle”, we thought it best to seek some medical advice from our local friendly pharmacist, who in turn strongly recommended that we went to the A & E in Formia’s hospital for an X-ray. Thankfully, despite a 3 hour wait, the X-ray showed that nothing was broken, however the doctor recommended a return visit the following morning to an orthopaedic clinic to allow the experts to asses any muscle or tendon damage. So early next morning Paul drove back to the hospital, and to his surprise soon found the damaged ankle held immovable by a plaster cast from knee to toe. This of course meant that Paul that Paul could not drive.
Paul on Mum’s old zimmer frame !!!
Up until this point I had not felt confident enough to drive much in Italy, however with Paul incapacitated, through necessity this was to be my baptism of fire !!! That evening we had arranged to meet up with friends in Gaeta for a pizza, so we decided to leave early and take Diana for a quick tour of the old town. To my dismay we found that the traffic was busier than I had expected, with cars and scooters weaving frantically around each other and double parked at the side of the road. However all went pretty well, I managed to park and we enjoyed supper. There was, however, one hairy moment when we were pulled over by the Carabinieri in Itri to be informed that one of our headlights was not working. Thankfully they soon waved us on and I managed to get us all back home safely, where I soon treated myself to a stiff drink.
One of the best things about what we do is meeting so many interesting people and making new friends from around the world. At the end of May we welcomed our first visitors from New Zealand – a couple of lovely ladies, Rosie and Susan from Christchurch.
They had planned their trip well before the tragic series of major earthquakes had struck and brought Christchurch to its knees. Both had been deeply affected by the quakes, but after taking stock, with careful consideration they courageously decided to go ahead with their holiday. These plucky ladies had organised, all by themselves, a three week whistle-stop tour of many European countries such as Holland, France, Switzerland, Greece, Italy and Malta.
Rosie contacted us as, after having read about the tiny little village of Campodimele. For several years she had had a burning desire to visit this location and see it for herself. As she and her travel companion were lacking their own transport we agreed to put them both up at “Tre Cancelle” and personally drive them to Campodimele which is not so far from Itri.
One afternoon we pootled off and ventured inland, navigating the sharp twists and turns of the road that snakes its way up into the Aurunci Mountains. First, en route, we headed up to the nearby Sanctuary of the Madonna della Civita to take a look at some of the splendid panoramic views from this point.
We then continued along the meandering mountain road which finally led us to Campodimele.
The picturesque, medieval village is perched high on a hilltop overlooking a sheltered fertile valley. It is encircled by formidable turreted walls, which were built many centuries ago to protect its citizens from attacks by marauding Saracen pirates.
A path, known by the locals as “Lover’s Lane”, winds itself around the town walls, from which there are stunning panoramic views of the surrounding verdant countryside.
In the village square stands an ancient elm tree which was planted in 1789 to commemorate the French Revolution.
As I mentioned earlier, back in New Zealand, Rosie had read of the village’s renown. This tiny little town has been awarded the European title of “The Village of Eternal Youth” as it is noted for the longevity of its citizens. It seems that they are a particularly hardy breed, who seldom have the need to visit a doctor, rarely die before the age of 85, and it is not uncommon for its citizens to attain the age of 100. The World Health Organization sent researchers to the village to try to discover its secret.
Some of the contributing factors must surely be: the clean salubrious mountain air, the locally grown fresh ingredients that make up the typical good wholesome diet, which of course includes the excellent local extra virgin olive oil. Also the fact that the elderly do not retire early, preferring to keep themselves busy and active as possible. Campodimele’s senior citizens are not left to grow old alone, they are well cared for and supported by their family and others in the close-knit community. Indeed, even here in Itri, our 89 year old neighbour seems to be living proof of this, as he is still fit enough every morning at 6 am to climb his ladder, with secateurs and pruning saw in hand, to lovingly tend his olive trees.
The locals of this area are indeed resilient people who have a strong connection with the land. The old folk have toiled relentlessly over the years and also had to overcome indescribable hardships during WW2. Thankfully they now can enjoy better stress-free times in their twilight days.
Leathery skinned, elderly residents can often be seen sitting in the town square under the shade of a tree, or on a chair outside their front door, where they watch the world go by, not that much does go by in tiny Campodimele !!!
However on the particular day of Rosie and Susan’s visit, which was a Sunday, there wasn’t even one aged inhabitant to be seen anywhere. Very strange we thought, had they all suddenly died off ???
Then we came across an announcement that had been posted on the village notice board. -
“This Sunday - A Special Coach Excursion For The town’s Senior Citizens To Visit Rome and See The Pope.”
That explained it all !!!
Find more information about Campodimele here at
Rosie and Susan, we continue to think of you all in Christchurch,
and of course all of those reeling from the earthquakes in Japan.
It was a pleasure to meet you. Keep safe girls.
We hope you will return to Campodimele and Bella Italia one day .
A recent article in the Telegraph Newspaper about Campodimele: