Umbria Blog | Prehistory and the Abbey of Farneta

On a beautiful sunny day in April I participated in a guided walk in the area of the Abbey of Farneta. Farneta is a small hamlet in the valley next to the Trasimeno lake in Umbria, the Val di Chiana. Coming from the A1 or from Siena, driving towards Lake Trasimeno and Perugia many times I just drove by and never bothered to take the exit for “Abbazia di Farneta”. But now I did …

In a landscape of gentle hills, typical of the Val di Chiana, stands an old Romanesk Church. Once it was a Benedictine Abbey of which one can still see some remaining walls. For 65 years, from 1937 to 2002, the church belonging to the abbey has had the same pastor. Don Sante Felici was a very unique man who not only led his parish with much verve. He was also very interested in ancient times and made sure that the Abbey of Farneta was preserved from downfall.

The Etruscans left many remnants in this area and the pastor made sure that the cellars underneath the church were dug out. And he was right: nowadays one can visit the crypt underneath the altar dating back to pre-roman times. Legend goes that when digging they found enormous amounts of human skeletons and living snakes; an image of Dante’s inferno.

Our walk continued from the Abbey to the former school building of Farneta where to my surprise a small paleontology museum is made with … yes … prehistoric fossils, all found near Farneta! Who would have thought: a million years ago the Val di Chiana valley was a savannah where elephants, hyenas and rhinoceros lived. Even longer ago, the whole environment was a sea. In the museum you can see many fossil shells, but also bones of prehistoric elephants, fossilized feces of hyenas and more.

But why in Farneta? That certainly involves the pastor – through the stories of our guide I imagine a kind of Don Camillo. In the 1950s and 1960s the construction of the A1 took place for which a lot of sand was needed. In later years the same happened again with the construction of the highway Siena-Perugia. In the area one excavated a lot of ground for the construction of these new roads.

Don Sante made arrangements with the workmen: they had to warn him if they found bones or other valuable relics. In this way, even two whole skeletons of prehistoric elephants were found, which are now in the paleontological museum of Florence. To this day farmers in the area or workmen during new construction projects find prehistoric bones or Etruscan remains.

It is thanks to the erudite priest Don Sante that many relics found around Farneta can be seen today. His heritage is now managed by a voluntary organization.

Our guide was Laura Gremoli. If you would like more information about the Etruscans and the history around the Val di Chiana, then let yourself be guided by Laura. She has an incredible knowledge and is a passionate story teller. I already experienced this at a guided tour about Etruscans at the Maec museum of Cortona. She is an inexhaustible source of information. You can call her on + 39 3494949604, or email info@cortonatouristguide.com. She speaks English.

Umbria Blog | photo exhibition Si Billino!

As most of you know the earthquake on October 30, 2016 caused a lot of damages in Norcia and many surrounding villages in the Sibillini mountains. One of these is Castelluccio di Norcia, a small mountain village at an altitude of 1400m at the foot of the Vettore mountain. At this moment Castelluccio cannot be reached anymore, one hopes to restore the infrastructure before summer.

Many people from this area are now living in temporary shelters, tents, hotels at the Adriatic coast and accommodations along the Trasimeno Lake in Umbria. The Prime Minister has promised that all homes will be restored. But how long will that take?

There is an enormous sense of solidarity among Italians who over the centuries have learned to live with earthquakes. The Italian government has promised millions to rebuild the affected areas.

One of the many initiatives to support the people of the Sibillini area was started by Umbria Lab and is called Si Billino!. Umbria Lab is a cultural association founded by Marco Angeletti and fellow artists and entrepreneurs. They organize initiatives to promote the Umbria region, but they also join events for fund raising. At this moment they raise money for the earthquake victims in collaboration with Ri-Fiorita.

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Si Billino! is a photo exhibition about Castelluccio di Norcia and the Sibillini Mountains. All pictures are taken by Italian photographers and show the wonderful nature of the Sibillini mountains, Castelluccio di Norcia, the Piano Grande and the Pilato Lake, all are impressive landscapes. The photos can be seen until February 3 in the cultural center of Terni, CAOS. Thereafter, the exhibition will be moved to Foligno.

We visited the exhibition in Terni where we also purchased lottery tickets for the project where Si Billino! and Ri-Fiorita stand for: the construction of a clubhouse in San Pellegrino di Norcia where residents can meet and organize all kinds of initiatives for the local population. San Pellegrino di Norcia is a small village 4 km from Norcia.

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Ri-Fiorita is a cooperative set up by Umbria Lab together with four other associations whilst Si Billino! is a project invented by Umbria Lab. “Fiorita” means literally “blooming” referring to the impressive flower fields of Castelluccio di Norcia in the months of June-July. Ri-fiorita means “re-blooming”: the cooperative stimulates all kinds of initiatives to support the communities in the area most hit by the earthquake.

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Si Billino! is a wonderful exhibition, and an honorable initiative at the same time.

Visit the website Sensazioni d’Arte for more information about this project Si Billino! (In Italian).

MAEC Museum in Cortona, Tuscany

Last week my son was invited for a birthday party at the MAEC Museum in Cortona, Tuscany. In this museum two Egyptian mummies are kept. At school they have just had history lessons about Egypt, farao’s, pyramids and mummification, so this was terribly interesting for them. For me it was a good occasion to join them since I had never been in this museum. I was pleasantly surprised!

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