Days 1317-22, 8-13 Jan '18, Lake Bracciano & Caldara
Been a busy week - though as always, busy is a relative term. We left our wonderful cleaning lady to it on Monday (afraid more than anything she'd either sweep us, polish us or put us in the bin... very efficient). Tootled into the village and started the day with more birthday celebrations - coffee & choccie croissants at what has since become our new favourite bar - actual cushions! and atmosphere! and the cleanest loo in the entire area. They even put up with my poor excuse for Italian. Was a lovely start to the morning and since it was a fine day we hived off to the ruins to see old Monterano in the daylight hours. All good. We also set ourselves a task to find a Hep A booster shot for me. How hard could it be... very helpful pharmacies around and about. Well damn hard actually and it wasn't because they were being difficult - having tried a couple of places I eventually emailed a private English speaking clinic in Rome - Italy is suffering from the global shortage and even the Vatican Pharmacy didn't have any in stock. Ah well. Gave it a go.
Wednesday turned out to be a cracking day weatherwise and we just can't waste blue sky and sunshine at this time of the year. We decided to drive around Lake Bracciano which is a short distance away. We fell somewhat at the first hurdle and spent an hour or so looking for bargains at the Bracciano's weekly market with a stunning view of the lake.
Finally we embarked on the lake drive itself and enjoyed it immensely. Hard to believe there used to be luxury villas lining the lake in ancient Roman times... right up until the lake rose around a metre and many were submerged. We even saw the foundation stone ruins of one villa. Apparently it wasn't an overnight disaster - so the marbles and mosaics were mostly moved to higher ground. (Phew!) We stopped a couple of times to look around the little towns and had a quick slice of mushroom pizza in Trevignano Romano before the thermos coffee & cookies came out. It was mid afternoon by the time we got home - definitely time to get the fire roaring - sunshine or no sunshine.
The fine weather had of course disappeared by Thursday morning, but there were enough stalls at our weekly market in Manziana for some fruit and veges and socks for James (travelling is very hard on the gears).
Saturday ended up being the highlight of the week. We did the grocery shopping and visited a volcanic crater. Not often you can say that in the same sentence. The Caldara di Manziana is about a 20 minute drive away and occupies a circular depression - probably a small crater and testimony to the ancient presence of the Sabatino volcano that occupied the entire tectonic pit between the Monti della Tolfa and Monte Soratte - 600,000 years ago.
The Etruscans were the main occupants of this area (remember there are a couple of tombs on our property) and the area was consecrated to the god of the underworld Manth (in Latin Mantus). From this it took the name Mantiana silva, a large wooded area that dominated the hills to the west of Lake Bracciano (of which the nearby Bosco Macchia Grande is the only sector that is still preserved - the big trees are on our list for another day of exploration). The association between the forest and Manth, the god of the underworld likely derived from the gloomy and impenetrable appearance of the forest and the widespread presence of sulphurous water pools (considered an emanation of the underworld). Which actually makes a lot of sense - the area REEKED of rotten eggs. Despite having a bath, our hair still held the odour by bedtime last night. Brrrrr...
We've done a bit of research since our 'field trip' and have discovered three distinctive natural environments are recognizable: the swamp of sulphurous waters; the birch grove and the bog. We were amazed that we could walk right up to the main bubbly pit (and there were lots of smaller areas burbling and stinking away). We had headed off on a loop walk, but I am a) adventurous and b) track-challenged, so at some point we mislaid the set path and ventured off. At this point I am happy to point out, we actually explored the birch grove. The area is mainly vegetated with Mediterranean scrub and deciduous oak woods. However, in the outer part of the edge of the crater on a clayey soil there is a grove of white birches. The presence of this species, typical of the northern territories with cold climate (and for that matter Christchurch, New Zealand where I grew up). They are however very unusual in these parts. There are at least two hypotheses on how they got there, firstly - the local conditions of the caldara created a micro-climate favourable to the survival of the birch and it is a residue of a post-glaciation period. The second theory is that the grove is of artificial origin, planted in the area in past centuries, and survived thanks to local climatic conditions.
Finally we come to the bog (actually it was finally... having explored the bubbling swamp, trekked through the birch grove... over trees, under trees, over streams, would we ever get out???...) The caldara apparently provides an ideal environment for the formation of peat. We never really got down and dirty in the bogs/peat of Ireland but have since made up for it. It's pretty techo (and very squelchy and sinky and well, boggy), but it works like this. The central basin collects rainwater that is retained due to the impermeable mud on the bottom. The vegetation that grows on the ground rots and accumulates on the ground while new vegetation continues to grow. The low water thickness and an oxygen-free environment inhibit the bacteria and favour chemical processes that cause a progressive enrichment of carbon in the buried plant material. All that adds up to peat. I say again - very sinky, squelchy stuff. Thankfully James is a lot bigger and braver than I and we eventually finished our circumnavigation of the entire caldara and it's three unique environments. Robinson Crusoe, eat your heart out.
(PS: There was only 1 other car when we originally parked at around 11.30 am; when we got back there were about 50. Certainly didn't see any of the people on the 'path' we took... Gee - they missed out big time)