245 – My New Website about Atina and the Val di Comino.

I am really passionate about this little hidden gem of a town that has panoramic views over the valley of the Val di Comino – an area of outstanding natural beauty. My maternal grandparents originated from this beautiful mountain community, so it is part of my ancestral heritage and my roots.

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However, I used to find it somewhat frustrating that I couldn’t manage to find much information in English about this area, so I came up with the idea of creating a website in English all about Atina and the Val di Comino.  For over a year now I have been working on setting up a new site about the town of my Italian ancestral heritage – Atina.

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Atina is situated in the province of Frosinone in the region of Lazio Italy, conveniently situated approximately midway between Rome and Naples. It is also only a short drive from the Abbey of Montecassino and the beautiful coastline of South Lazio.

Over the centuries Atina has experienced such an interesting history.  It was an important town even back in the times of the Romans and Samnites and it has been destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt several times over the centuries.

 

Within the historic centre there are many places to explore such as the medieval fortified palace of the Cantelmo family, the beautiful cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the nearby Palazzo Prepositurale.

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Atina also has several other churches of interest,  archaeological sites to visit and local museums.

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During the summer months there are many popular events held in the area such as the Feast of Santa Maria Assunta, the Atina Jazz Festival, the International Folklore Festival and the CantinAtina wine festival to name but a few.

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photo © Mirko Macari

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There are many interesting local products to sample, notably the Cannellini beans of Atina and the local wine Atina Cabernet Doc and as well as other traditional gastronomic delights.

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It is also a great region for exploring the great outdoors and partaking in various sport activities such as treking, mountain biking, horse riding, climbing, canoeing and paragliding. Indeed this area has so much to offer.

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I am hoping to translate the website into Italian and French and to add a blog which could be a supply interesting articles and publicise local facilities, festivals and events. I hope that my website may encourage more people, with connections with Atina and the Val di Comino in Ciociaria to come and discover more about this wonderful area.  

My new Atina website:  Atina Italy

I have also created a Facebook Group named “We Love Atina”. It is a great meeting place for people who have family with origins from this town, and who share my interest and passion. If you have a connection with Atina please do feel welcome to come and join us.

Facebook Group We Love Atina

All photos except where stated by me © Louise Shapcott

 

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Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Holiday Apartments

Near Sperlonga’s Beaches and Historic Itri in South Lazio

 

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243 – The Lake of Posta Fibreno

During our grandson’s April visit to Italy we took time to explore the Lake of Posta Fibreno, which is located in the beautiful area of the Val di Comino in Italy. The village, of the same name, is perched on on a rocky ledge and has a splendid view of the valley and lake below.

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The lake is in the shape of an elongated curve. It is a protected Nature Reserve measuring about 400 hectares.

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The lake is fed by thawing snow and rainwater that has flowed down from the slopes of the mountains of the Abruzzi. As the rock is limestone much of the rainwater is channeled underground.  Where a pool of water collects the water becomes dispersed through springs into the lake.  Thus the water in the lake is icy cold and crystal clear, and remains at a constant temperature all year round.  Scuba divers enjoy exploring the lake due to crystal clearness of the water.

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The lake has a curious “floating island” known as “la Rota” which has developed over the course of thousands of years due to an accumulation of peat, rhizomes, tree roots, plants and algae.  The thick mat of vegetation is not rooted to the bottom of the lake, so it drifts according the undercurrents  and the strength of the wind.  

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Local fishermen use flat-bottomed boats, known as “nàue”, traditionally made of oak and propelled by the use of a pole or an oar.  It is thought that this type of boat was designed and first utilised thousands of years ago by the Samnite people. The lake contains an abundance of fish such as trout, carp, eels and freshwater crayfish. The lake is lined by weeping willow trees, by rushes and reeds and other aquatic plants.

It is a popular haunt of nature lovers and bird watchers.  Several nature trails have been created through the park and there is also restored watermill and a museum of local culture and tradition to visit. 

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On the shoreline there are several bars and restaurants set beside the lake. There are also lovely spots to have a family picnic. It is a favourite place to visit on a Sunday afternoon by the locals.

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We hired a pedal boat to further explore the lake. 

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We saw numerous birds such as coots, ducks and herons. There were also some eager beavers who were busily collecting sticks to build their dams. Together with its unique natural beauty and eco-system the lake provides an ideal environment for many species of flora and fauna. 

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All photos by me © Louise Shapcott

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Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Holiday Apartments

Near Sperlonga’s Beaches and Historic Itri

Discover South Lazio

71 – Atina – 2009 Gran Premio Dell’Arco Go Kart Race

Having enjoyed it so much last year, on the first Sunday of August we eagerly returned to Atina to watch the Gran Premio Dell’Arco, the Go Kart racing competition.  This year we took lots of photos of the event.

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Just like last year, the designs of the carts were many and varied, the common theme being all “wheels” are made from Ball Bearing Races kindly donated by the manufacturer SKF of nearby Cassino.

Whilst not fully up to pace with all the design regulations, its seems carts can have three or four bearings  and these can be either large or small, or indeed a combination of both.  For months in advance the carts are lovingly crafted and tinkered with in the cellars and garages around the town, it has to be said some a little more seriously than others.

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photo by ben woods

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There are three driver age groups, the youngest driver age band being the Teenagers, then the 18 to 50 year olds, and finally the Seniors or over 50’s. Time trials are carried out throughout the morning of the event.  Each driver gets a lone run which is meticulously timed and determines their actual starting position on the grid.  Then  in the afternoon, after a good plate of pasta of course, the main races follow !!!

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This year in addition to the normal fixed point cameras along the course, the events were recorded by an “eye in the sky” in the form of a helicopter camera man, and the event was recorded by a local radio station c.A.c. A c.a.S.

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The course runs for a length of approximately 2.5 kilometres, starting from the main archway at the entrance of the old Centro Storico in Atina Superiore, and winds its way down to Atina Inferiore / Ponte Melfa on the valley floor below. 

3 members of our family were to take part:  Cousin Mario and his two sons Giuseppe and Simone.

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Simone Massa

Each race began with the sound system playing a loud rousing fan-fare to fully set the scene.  The  commentator then began the final countdown, and soon the competitors went careering off down the hill, fronted by a squad of motor bikes noisily beeping their horns.  In the square a large TV screen had been set up for the spectators to watch the rest of the race on the long winding road down to the finishing line.

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Finally the ceremonial presentations of the trophies to the victors are held in the early evening. This year was more special for our family because we had a podium finish. Cousin Mario achieved second place in the over 50’s section, setting the standard for next year for his two sons to endeavour to supersede. 

Bravo Mario !!!

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Also this year was special because in the middle category there was a lady driver on the podium for the first time ever.

Click here to see more of NonnaLou’s photos of the 2009 Go Kart Race

 Click here to read about the 2008 Go Kart Race  

Click here to see a Video of the 2009 events

Click here to see my Atina, Val di Comino, Ciociaria website

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64 – Our Ancestors of Atina, Ciociaria

One day we drove with Ben and Keith up to Atina, to visit “la famiglia” where we were, as always warmly received. It was over 3 years since Ben’s last time in Atina.  

He enjoyed wandering through the cobbled streets, taking some photos here and there of the home town of his Italian great-grandparents, Benedetto and Maria Grazia.

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photos by ben woods

My Atina Website:  http://atinaitaly.com

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56 – Dad and Esmé’s Visit

We very much enjoyed Dad and Esmé’s stay, even though we were somewhat preoccupied with Deefer’s snake bite and final preparations as new guests that were to arrive shortly.  During his holiday with us, we belatedly celebrated Dad’s 80th Birthday by holding a little “Afternoon Tea Party” here at “Tre Cancelle”, inviting a number of our friends. 

That week we were all invited to visit my cousin’s in San Donato  for lunch.  Dad very much enjoyed meeting Antonella, after having read about her trials and tribulations regarding the Earthquake in L’ Aquila.

 

Cousin Elena, Dad and Antonella

Cousin Elena, Dad and Antonella

 

Peter was keen to explain to her that he had shared a similar experience.  During the war, as a lad, he had been evacuated out of London, to stay with family in Exeter.  However during this time the house they were living in was bombed during one of the German Baedeker raids.  Dad had taken refuge in the house’s Morrison Shelter,  and somehow managed to scramble out of the ruins and debris virtually unscathed.

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48 – Afternoon of Wednesday 8th April

At last we drove  into the historic centre of Atina, where my family live in the quaint narrow cobblestoned alley of Via Dolabella.  As always we were warmly welcomed.

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The cousins soon began to tell us of their experiences on the night of the dreadful earthquake.  Mario awoke to a feel the bed violently shaking, along with all the other furniture in the house. He roused Mara and hurriedly got dressed.  They said it seemed as if the shaking and rumbling was never ending, the quaking just seemed to  go on and on.  I could see the fear in their eyes.  They said they did not know what to do.  Many of the buildings in the historic centre of Atina date back many centuries, and are built of rock with no anti-seismic protection, their own house from around 1600.  They were afraid to go outside for fear of being hurt by falling masonry, and there are no large open spaces near to their home where they could escape to.  Finally, thank goodness, the shaking subsided.

However, the following day (Tuesday) there had been more violent after-shocks, some only slightly weaker than the main one, which were just as frightening. This time Mario, who is a Fireman, was more prepared.  He had  placed a heavy hammer near the front door, in case they needed to get out and the door should become jammed. They prepared a bag of essential belongings and medication in case they had to vacate their home quickly.  They decided to hope for the best and to stay put, nervously listening to the deep rumbling, violent shaking whilst observing the pendant light fittings vigorously oscillating. These ongoing aftershocks continued to traumatise people in this region, and hamper rescue teams in their work. Everyone is very on edge.

This is not our family’s first earthquake experience.  In May 1984 there was a strong earthquake in the Val di Comino, with the epicentre near to San Donato, which badly damaged the town and the surrounding towns such as Atina.  After this devastating event our family had to live in tents and caravans for several weeks before they could return home.  Prior to that there were earthquakes recorded in this immediate area in 1901 and  1915.  This area has been ravaged by such earthquakes from time immemorial, in fact Atina was totally destroyed during an quake in 1349.  My Atina Website:  http://atinaitaly.com

* photo by david davies

* photo by david davies

We said our goodbyes to Mario and Mara, and headed off across the Val di Comino to San Donato to visit Antonella with a basket of flowers to try and lift her spirits.  She had learned that morning that two of her close student friends were found in the ruins of the student accommodation block in L’Aquila, that collapsed like a pack of cards in the earthquake.  They were sisters, Genny and Giusy Antonini, aged 22 and 24, who were studying biotechnology and nursing. Antonella was very upset naturally and said that she wanted to return to L’Aquila for the mass funeral of 205 of then 287 victims to be held there on Good Friday, which had been announced as a national day of mourning for the dead.

Antonella had been in L’Aquila that fateful night as she was due to sit an exam the following morning.  She began to recount her experiences of that dreadful night, how everything was shaking and things were falling all around her.  Still dressed in her pyjamas she grabbed her phone and decided to try and get out, having to move a heavy wardrobe that had toppled to get out of the door.  She said it had been really horrendous, and she had found hundreds of  people wandering around L’Aquila in a daze.  The shaking had seemed never to stop. As a few hours passed, the early morning light revealed the extent of the devastation. Even now it’s an experience that she feels hasn’t really sunk in. It seems inconceivable.  It is unlikely that she will be able to continue her studies in L’Aquila, as yet no one knows what will happen.


Antonella wishes to thank everyone for thinking of her and for their messages of  love and support.
 
We asked Elena what an earthquake sounded it like.  She said it was a terrifying thunderous roaring reverberation from deep in the bowels of the earth, a sound quite unlike any other.  “It feels as if the mountains are going to crumple on top of you”, she said.  The region had experienced a large number of  tremors since last October, which seem to have been steadily increasing in strength.
 

The following day , Thursday 9th  April, yet again there were numerous sharp tremors, the most severe registering 5.2 magnitude.  

This had been Italy’s worst earthquake for 3 decades.  Large areas of L’Aquila now stand in ruins, especially much of the historic centre with edifices that dated  back to the 13th century.  Many buildings that were supposed to have been built to anti-seismic regulations have collapsed. Many villages surrounding this town also suffered severe damage, one community Onno was totally destroyed.

mourn1The death toll now stands at 293, with more than 1500 injured. 28,000  people have been made homeless and have lost everything. Some of the more fortunate have been sent to stay in hotels on the Adriatic coast, however there are 17,000 still living in the hastily erected temporary tent camps, where they have to wait in long queues to receive food and drink, and endure smelly toilets, cold showers, no electricity and icy night time temperatures, rain and hailstorms. In fact some prefer to sleep in cars and also coaches brought in by the local authorities. 

Berlusconi has been in the limelight this week, wishing to be seen visiting the disaster area. We have recently been reading some of Beppe Grillo’s satirical blog reports in which he writes about  the Italian President, referring to him as “the psychotic dwarf  with the tar-smeared hair”.  This week during an interview for German TV  Berlusconi insensitively remarked:  “[The victims] have everything they need. They have medical care, hot food … of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary, but they should see it like a weekend of camping.”  He is also reported to have told survivors of the Italian earthquake to lift their spirits by heading for the beach.  What a buffoon !!!

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There is now to be an investigation into possible criminal blame regarding shoddy building work of  San Salvatore, Aquila’s hospital built in 2000 which was supposed to have been a state-of-the art earthquake proof building,  and now lies in ruins.  It is alleged that sea sand had been used, instead of normal sand mixed with cement (to increase the construction company’s profits). Experts say that the steel reinforcing rods in the concrete structure can become corroded by the salt in the sand with potentially fatal consequences. The construction firm which specialises in building hospitals is Impregilo, which has a monopoly on all major public works in Italy. This company also builds Waste Incinerator Plants and is also implicated with the Camorra in the mismanagement of waste disposal in Naples, which caused last year’s waste crisis, and are in line to get the contract to build the Messina Bridge to link Sicily and Rome, and several new Nuclear Power Stations.  Scary or what !!! 

47 – Morning of Wednesday 8th April

On our way to Atina, we decided to first take  Mike and Mary to see the spectacular Abbey of Montecassino and then proceeded to drive on through Caira and up towards the village of Terelle.  Near here we halted for a tasty  little picnic, blessed with panoramic views of the snow-capped Abruzzi mountains and the wide expanse of the verdant Cassino valley that stretched below.

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Terelle

Terelle

We began to make our gradual descent, passing through Terelle’s magnificient chestnut woods which are said to be the most beautiful in all of Lazio. The largest chestnut tree has a circumference of 12 metres and the oldest is 800 years old. On the second Sunday of November a well-known Sagra delle Castagne or Chestnut Festival takes place in Terelle. Here there is the opportunity to eat the local roasted chestnuts and desserts and cakes made of them and sample other such delicacies such as wild boar, local hams, sausages, cheeses, bread, polenta, beans, mushrooms, and try a sip or two of the local Cesanese wine.

We continued our descent passing beautiful vistas of the picturesque village of Belmonte Castello which appears to cling to and wind its way around the rock spur on which it stands.

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Belmonte Castello

My Atina Website:   http://atinaitaly.com

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46 – The Week The Earth Shook

This will be a week that people will remember for many years to come, particularly those that have lived in the historic city of  L’Aquila and the surrounding area of the Abruzzi mountains, in the centre of Italy.

We have had Paul’s brother and sister-in-law staying here with us this week at “Tre Cancelle”.  The first we knew of the disaster was when we received a mobile phone call from Mike’s son in the UK on Monday morning, as he was ringing to check if we were all OK.  Immediately we switched on the TV and were horrified to see the news story that was unravelling  – a devastating earthquake in L’Aquila measuring 6.3 magnitude.  It seems that there had been another significant tremor around midnight, and another prior to this on 30th March.

We actually had not felt a thing, as we were probably fast asleep and there was no apparent damage here. (Later we learned that some people in Itri and Fondi had definitely felt the tremor, as had Rome and Naples.)

View From Atina of the Abruzzi Mountains

View From Atina of the Abruzzi Mountains

We were naturally concerned for our family in Atina and San Donato, which border the Abruzzi mountains, so we immediately telephoned to check up on them.  Mara was very upset, they had experienced a very harrowing, sleepless night, with violent tremors.  However, thank goodness there had been no serious damage in Atina or the Val di Comino area.

However cousin Elena’s daughter, Antonella, is a student in the university town of  L’Aquila studying Biotechnology.  We learned that, despite many students having already left for the Easter break, Antonella had been staying in L’Aquila that dreadful night, and that she had had to crawl out of the student’s lodgings in her pyjamas, in shock but thankfully physically unhurt. Our cousins were distressed as they were unable to drive to L’Aquila to fetch her as the roads had been blocked off by the Police and Civil Protection authorities, and there were reports that some major routes in the area had been damaged.  Eventually one of Antonella’s friends drove her home to be tearfully reunited with her family in San Donato.

We arranged to go and visit the cousins on Wednesday to give them some moral support.

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43 – Fuochi di San Giuseppe – 19th March

The 19th March is the feast of the Fuochi di San Giuseppe, in honour of St Joseph the patron saint of Carpenters, and is also celebrated as Father’s Day in Italy.

Originally this was a pagan festival, full of mystic symbolism of purification. It celebrates the end of winter and welcomes the long awaited arrival of Spring. Prayers are said to grant a good harvest for the year.

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This was our first opportunity to see how Itri celebrates this special evening.  Itri was thronged with people and the air was filled with the smell of wood smoke as large bonfires had been  lit around the town. Different neighbourhoods compete to build the largest bonfire.

Despite the slightly inclement weather there were long queues at the various stalls serving traditional dishes and zeppole, fritters made of sugar, eggs and honey.

In the main piazza by the Comune a band played folk music. 

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I was particularly interested in the zampogna player, as this instrument is typical of the Atina / Villa Latina /  Ciociaria area, from which my Italian grandparents originated.

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The zampogna is a type of rustic bagpipe that was traditionally played by local shepherds known as zampognari particularly at Christmas and other times of celebration. 

The evening came to a somewhat dramatic crescendo when a lively thunderstorm struck the town with a pelting of hailstones.  Thankfully it had held off so there were no disruptions to the San Giuseppe festivities.

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