A small village in Lazio with stunning views and delicious food
by Virginia Merlini
Calcata is a small medieval village on the top of a mesa about thirty miles north of Rome. In the province of Viterbo in the Latium region, Calcata overlooks the valley of the Treja River. I picked up my friend Rebecca Pawlak from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on Thursday and we spent a night in Calcata.
The stay was my idea because I had read about the town and, captivated by the pictures I found of the walled castle town– a stay was intriguing. Ancient Calcata was condemned back in the 1930’s because the Italian government feared the volcanic rock on which the walled castle town was built would collapse. The towns people were moved to a new Calcata a short distance away. The town remained abandoned for three decades.
In the 1960’s hippies and artists began squatting in the old stone buildings. The artists eventually purchased their abodes and advocated with the government to have the town reevaluated for habitation. They succeeded. The town is no longer condemned and it has a thriving artist community and some very funky people!
Rebecca and I stayed in a converted cave with a view of the surrounding hills and valley. There are caves beneath the houses of the village. Getting to our ‘cave’ – Casa Sulla Rupe – House on a Cliff – was a trip and if you really did trip your ‘body’ would end up in the valley below! The walk to our cave was best done in full daylight! Our hostess Carla had thought of everything! We had food, drink, all the towels we could use and a fabulous 5-star shower.
An Italian film was being shot in the small courtyard and we got free lunch from the caterers! We had a great meal – marvelous conversations – a relaxing day and evening in our beautiful cave.
Fountains were not plentiful either. Perhaps this is because of the location – high atop an old volcano! Another thing that I noticed is that there were so many cats that roamed the village!
Cats are well loved creatures in Rome and around it. I have heard that the residents of Rome survived WWII by eating cats. Now they cherish them and strays are everywhere rejected by none and fed by all.
In case the artist community and the hill-top location with old – old buildings is not enough to intrigue you – Calcata is (or was) home to the foreskin of Jesus! Yes – the Holy Prepuce was housed since 1527 in the small local church there – the 14th century Chiesa di Santissimo Nome di Gesù – Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
The relic was stolen in the 1980’s and our guide – a local resident who spends his days making youtube videos, studying yoga, and working for a united, healthy, peaceful world was convinced that the relic was stolen by members of the Bohemian Grove’s Bohemian Club who wanted to use it less than ethical purposes. He made a convincing argument!
The church is dedicated to two saints – Saint Cornelius – a pope who died in 253 and Saint Cipriano. Cyprian of Carthage was an important writer of the early Catholic Church and is known as the African Pope. He died in 258. Their statues grace each side of the main altar.
The church is filled with images of angels. The Catholic Angelic Hierarchy is interesting with its nine types of angels that occupy three Orders or Choirs. In the Chiesa di Santissimo Nome di Gesù I could not identify angels from each of the three Orders. I found angels from two spheres or orders. There were Cherubim from the first sphere, and Archangels and Messenger Angels from the third sphere.
From the third or lowest sphere there is Michael the Archangel seen guarding the altar from above. Archangels protect the ecclesia – the mother church. The Archangel is aided by Cherubim of the first or highest sphere.
We drank too much champagne and wine, and had a really nice time in the lovely village. Rebecca and I recommend the borgo vecchio and the Casa Sulla Rupe with hostess Carla for a one or two day stay. And make sure you talk to the locals which must be done to appreciate the flavor of the town.
It was not easy finding out the meaning of La Mattra! I failed! My fabulous cousin Valentina was the one who succeeded in identifying the meaning. La Mattra is a piece of furniture that was found in most homes when bread baking was done at home. A La Mattra is a sort of ‘bread cave’ (to keep with the imagery and euphemisms of Calcata). It was a table with a cupboard below it. It served multiple functions. One kneaded the bread dough on the top, proofed the bread for baking inside, and then used the cupboard to store the baked bread. The name is fitting since this restaurant advertises a “forno” which is a wood or open-flame oven used to bake food – especially breads – and pizza is served here!
The look of Calcate is definitely bohemian – shabby – chic. The residents are creative but the appearance of the village is far from affluent and not as clean and pristine as the beautiful towns of Umbria that I visited or even the mountain villages of Lombardy. Calcata definitely looked its age but its uniqueness and the charm of the residents make it well worth a visit.