Giordano and Serena kindly gave Amna a ride to Bolsena because her knee was acting up. Serena remembered the town from childhood when her family stopped there on the way to Rome from Florence. She remembered learning to swim in the lake.
I walked from Acquapendente to Bolsena. The first half of the journey was through relatively level fields of wheat and potatoes and my first impression of more trees and much more fallow land in Lazio was formed here. This has subsequently been confirmed in our walks in Lazio. Coming into San Lorenzo Nuevo, you crest a hill and there lies the beautiful Lake of Bolsena within a vast bowl shaped depressor. With an area of 115 km2, it is a volcanic crater lake fringed on all sides by the collapsed crater and with a couple of islands which are probably stocks of congealed lava. Much of the walk was around the rim, about 100m above the lake. The south facing slope was covered in forest, farmland and some spectacular flower meadows with a richness of colour that was almost blinding and impossible to do justice to in a photograph.
Walking though a reserved forest, I came across a real oddity, a road side plaque celebrating the 500th anniversary in 2006 of the Swiss guards being invited to guard the Vatican. According to this, on the 21st of June 1505, Pope Julius the second asked the Confederation of German States to provide a guard for ‘our papal palaces’. On the afternoon of the 22nd January 1506, 150 Swiss guards under the command of Kasper von Silenen entered the Vatican and they and their successors have been guarding the Vatican ever since. Presumably those first guards passed through this remote spot and the plaque marks their passage, but the curious location and its connection with our ultimate destination was quite spooky.
Bolsena is a lakeside resort like many in Europe although of a nice, middle class character. It felt to us like a resort from the nineteen twenties with shuttered holiday homes of the rich and famous, our hotel, the Royal also had a genteel twenties feel to it (it helps that Amna is reading the Great Gatsby at the moment). Although normally busy at this time of year, it was quiet because of the late spring and cool weather this year. It has a very interesting medieval hillside town just above the modern. Narrow streets, a charming castellino and views of the lake make this part of the town really charming.
On our first evening there, we saw a major storm coming on over the lake. Amna captured a lovely image of the sun shining through the clouds on the lake.
The patron saint of Bolsena is Santa Cristina, reputedly an 11 year old daughter of a retired Roman governor, she was born in Tyre in Lebanon or in Persia. Committed by her father to become a pagan priestess, she saw a vision and converted to Christianity. Her incensed father tied a rock to her neck and had her thrown into the lake. Fortunately for her, the rock floated and she survived, although it is reputed that she was martyred soon thereafter although the nature of her martyrdom is not recorded. Of course some rocks, such as pumice, do float, and in this volcanic area it is not inconceivable that a kindly soul may have tied a piece of pumice to her neck. Her underground medieval chapel in the Basilica di Santa Cristina is quite affecting with a tiny sculpted figure atop the tomb.
At over 600m this is the highest point in Lazio. Amna (sneezing and sniffling) and I walked from Bolsena, 17km and a 400m climb. The walk is again half way up the edges of the crater, with great views of the lake throughout. The town is very prominent atop its hill, but even more so because of the dome of the cathedral of Santa Margherita. The third largest dome in Italy – although the octagonal church beneath it is little more than a support for the dome itself.
The town is a popular tourist resort for Romans due to its proximity to the lake of which it has commanding views, in fact it provides wonderful views of northern Lazio in all directions, including the valley of the Tiber which we will be following next. It is busiest in August for its wine festival. The area has the denomination Est! Est!! Est!!! Apparently a german bishop on his way to Rome in the 13th century sent his man ahead of him to taste the wines in various inns and to mark the ones with good wine Est meaning ‘it is’. When the man reached Montefiascone, he was so impressed with the wine that he wrote ‘Est! Est!! Est!!!’ on the door. As luck would have it, the good bishop fell in love with the wine and died of a surfeit of it. A sip of it at the wine shop and the opinion of knowledgeable critics would indicate that this is an apocryphal tale – this wine is certainly not to die for.
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