Saturday we had an Umbrian day: Lago Trasimeno, Roman/Carthaginian battle site, torta al testo, a Lombard tower, an Etruscan tomb, and home-made wood-fire pizza with friends as we watched the sun set against Perugia. June 21 was the 2231st anniversary of the Battle of Lake Trasimene (217 B.C.), an epic disaster for the Romans at the hands of the Carthaginians and not generally commemorated in Italy. Nevertheless, in the morning we set out for Tuoro, the Umbrian village above the battle site (which, diplomatically, now has Lamta, Hannibal’s home town, as a ‘sister city’). From here we followed part of the battle itinerary.
Basically, the Romans were trying to catch the Carthaginian army, which had come over the Alps (yes, with a few elephants) and then soundly defeated a Roman army at the Trebbia River. The next spring, Hannibal goaded the Roman army sent to track him, led by the new consul Gaius Flaminius, into following him into a narrow area between the hills and the north shore of Lake Trasimeno. A good part of Hannibal’s army was visible, but he had hidden light troops in the tree cover on the hills, and so when the Romans came through the pass to the small plain near that part of the lake, Hannibal closed the trap, encircling the Romans on three sides, while the muddy shores of the shallow lake served to trap and drown Roman soldiers who were trying to escape. Perhaps 15,000 of the 30,000-strong Roman army perished. It was one of the biggest debacles in Roman history.
We visited several of the informative displays arranged around the battlefield area (12 in all; maps and brochures can be obtained at the Information center at the heart of the town of Tuoro).
At one location, the boys reconstructed the Carthaginian ambush. Hannibal’s forces are in orange. The Romans are taller but unprepared for the sneaky Carthaginians.
The death of Gaius Flaminius, the rash and unfortunately incompetent Roman consul and commander:
Caught between the Carthagnians attacking from the hills and the edge of lake, many of the Romans drowned:
Today there is a sculpture park and beach at Tuoro sul Trasimeno:
By this time all of our forces needed nourishment. For months friends in Perugia have been telling us we must try the torta al testo dalla Maria in Montebuono di Magione. “Torta al testo” is an Umbrian flat bread that is traditionally cooked on a stone disc in a wood burning oven. Its production can be traced back to pre-Roman times. It is cut into triangular wedges and filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, pretty much anything you want. The torta al testo dalla Maria can be found at the Trattoria Faliero, a self-service type restaurant with lots of outdoor seating and views of the lake.
When you walk in, you take a ticket, and wait for your turn. There is sort of a menu posted on the wall, but it is not entirely complete. In addition to the torta, there are daily specials displayed in a case. You select what looks good:
We ended up with four torta al testo ‘sandwiches’ filled with various items, a lovely plate of baked lake fish, and some side dishes. Micah decided he now really likes fagiolini (green beans):
We lingered over lunch. The weather was beautiful and we had nowhere to be until later in the afternoon. So we got dessert. In fact, the best tiramisu we have ever had:
As we pulled out of the parking lot, we could not resist taking this shot:
Our next stop was unplanned. We had about half an hour to kill before we needed to be on the road to Perugia. The manager of Simon’s Don Bosco soccer team, Massimo Cecconi, had invited us for a pizza party at his house. The dinner was scheduled for 7:00 pm, but Massimo had asked us to come early so he could show us an Etruscan tomb under a neighbor’s house. We wanted to get him a guest-gift, perhaps some wine from a cantina on the lake. We took a detour into Magione in search of something interesting. As I was keeping my eyes peeled for open shops (it was the middle of the day and most stores had not reopened), Pedar spied a sign touting a “Torre dei Lambardi“. We decided to follow the road up…and up…and up. We were not expecting to find the tower open, much less an art exhibition on the inside. We were the only visitors.
The inside of the 13th-century tower had been heavily restored with steel beams and new floors on each level. The exhibition was an installation by the Umbrian artist Umberto Raponi:
And the push of a button lifted off a small pyramidal cap that revealed a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside:
After stocking up on some local books about Trasimeno (as we might come back to do some archaeological research and teaching in the area), we found a nice bottle of wine in Magione and we arrived at our friends’ house on the wooded slopes northeast of Perugia in time to see the tomb. The hills around Perugia are filled with Etruscan remains, many on private property, and it is not uncommon to see spolia built into walls, such as this piece at a corner of Massimo’s house:
One of his neighbors (not next door, but nearby), lives on the property of a former convent. The complex sits on top of a rise with views to the west, north, and east. The Etruscan tomb was discovered accidentally at the beginning of the 19th century when the roof collapsed. Although simple inside, with an undecorated sarcophagus, the tomb and the artifacts buried with its owner, a woman of some status, were intact, including a gold diadem now in the archaeological museum in Florence.
Our visit to the tomb was facilitated by a local expert/guide/enthusiast (who also seems to be the keeper of the keys). He has a collection of photographs relevant to the tomb. He demonstrated how the diadem was found still resting on the head of the deceased:
There is a lot of local knowledge in Umbria that deserves recognition and documentation.
There is also the ageless technology of the perfect wood-burning oven and the incomparable atmosphere of an outdoor kitchen. We headed back to the Cecconi’s for pizza expertly prepared by him and Simon’s coach, Nicola Titoli. For months we had been hearing about coach Titoli’s pizza prowess (when younger he had worked in a pizzaria). Here was our chance..
It aches to gaze upon the landscapes here. But it is a happy pain, one of the appreciation of beauty and the relationship between people and their environment. And the values of friendship and family, which tie everything together. We only have a few weeks left, but increasingly we are seeing these days not as finishing our experience in Umbria, but as the end of the beginning of our time here.
This was one day in Umbria: a full day, and a day of fullness. We are very fortunate, and can’t thank our new friends here enough.