Wednesday 26 November 2014

CASPERIA'S CANTINAS - The Secret World Behind Those Beautiful Old Doors

Our cat Smokey checking an old cantina on Via Latini in Casperia 

In North America the word "Cantina" means a type of bar or tavern, one that usually has a Mexican or Spanish motif. Here in Italy, however, a cantina is a storage room, more often or not a wine cellar. 

During our first visit to the Sabina in 2009, we were struck by the rustic, often ruined beauty of the doors to these cantinas. We took dozens of pictures of these doors here in Casperia, and also in neighbouring Roccantica. I always thought that someone with a more practiced eye, a better camera than mine, and time to wait for the right lighting could make an excellent calendar of pictures of those doors. 

Photo of Casperia Cantina door courtesy of Richard Rooney. Note entry hole made for cats.
But it has only been in the past little while, during our current stay in the Sabina, that I have had the opportunity to see inside some of these cantine (the proper Italian plural for cantina) and learn about the mysteries that lay hidden behind those doors... and wonder what might lurk hidden underneath their floors... 

A beautiful cantina in Poggio Catino
We have a lovely new friend here in Casperia, Maria Piazza. Her parents were Italians who emigrated from Italy to the UK. Maria's father was from Sicily and her mother was from Frosinone in southern Lazio.  Maria was born in England, but moved to Italy in 1974 where she met and married her Tuscan-born art teacher husband Paolo. She has been living here in Casperia for the past four decades. 

Maria holds the large antique key that opens her cantina. 's key on Via Rivellini
Maria and Paolo have a lovely home on Casperia's Via Rivellini, the road that follows the old ramparts of the outer castle walls of the borgo. Rivellini in Italian actually means ramparts. You can see one of the old defensive towers behind Maria in the photo.

Maria and Paolo's house is a marvel. Maybe I have not seen enough houses in Casperia to realize that it may not be that unusual but to me the interior is absolutely magical. It reminds me a bit of Frodo's house at Bag End in Hobbiton in the movie The Lord of the Rings. The kitchen and dining room area is a dream. According to Maria, this part of the house was at one point stables. The animals lived in the lower floors and people lived above. The twisted, uneven, rustic beams in the ceiling attest to this section of the house's humble origins. 

The venerable, twisted beams in the ceiling of Maria's kitchen. This part of the house was once a stable.
The living area behind the kitchen is cut out of the living rock which still intrudes here and there. The bathroom and office are located in what once was a vicolo, or public alleyway. So much history and tantalizing hints of story packed into such a small charming place! 

A few days back I spent some time with Maria, taking a walk through the vie and vicoli of Casperia, listening to her talk about the way the castle town was built and the connection between the many cantinas (the proper Italian plural is cantine)... 

Cantine doors on the main vie that circle the hill almost always face toward the outer castle walls.
 ...and the houses nearby. 

The houses which are built above the stable and storage areas have doors that face away from the castle walls.
One thing I had not properly noted before Maria explained it to me is that when you walk along a Via or street in Casperia, you are usually walking parallel to the town walls on a road that curves around the hill that Casperia­­‑old Aspra‑was built on. Cantinas are usually on ground level and houses built above them. This means that usually the doors on one side of the Via, the side closer to the top of the hill, is all cantine while the doors on the side closer to the wall are doors to houses that have been built above the cantinas.

Visiting Maria's huge cantina was an eye opener. Previous to being invited in to see her cantina, and the neighbouring cantina of our friends Massimo and Giampiero, I had never imagined that the space behind those old wooden doors could be so huge. 

Our friend Massimetto Romani shows just how large a cantina can be.  

Cantine can often be two storeys high and can be more than a dozen metres deep. The back end of the cantina is almost always the bare living rock. 

The weight of the multi-storey stone house above is distributed and carried by round brick arches that create a classic Roman vault. 

Throughout their history cantine were not only used to store wood, wine and extra furniture, but were often used as workshops. Maria's cantina had a place cut out of the living rock where limestone was worked to create lime, possibly for whitewash. There was even a flume made of terra cotta roof tiles along one wall that brought in rain water or water from an elevated cistern into the work area. 

Terracotta roof tiles used to create a water flume along the wall inside Maria's cantina.

So much history was written in those walls and, in some, secrets lay buried under their floors. Maria and Paolo have two cantinas and in both of them are underground chambers that have been filled in and buried.

Buried under the wood is an ancient chamber... Who knows what secrets it holds

In the smaller of their two cantine I was shown the outlines of a buried chamber or tunnel under the woodpile. In the larger of the two cantinas there is a massive vaulted area that has been filled in. You can clearly see a brick archway forming the roof of the chamber buried beneath the floor. How big a space lays under that brick archway, what is was used for, what it might contain now and why it was buried is all a tantalizing mystery.

What secrets lay under this buried vaulted section of the cantina? Just old wine jugs? 
Visiting Maria's cantina gave me some inspiration and ideas for the murder mystery I am writing while I am here in the Sabina. 

Just a few of the interesting things you will find abandoned inside an old cantina 

With that in mind, today I decided to look for more inspiration and took another tour around Casperia taking pictures of cantina doors with the idea of finally getting down to writing this long overdue post on my Sabina blog.

Of course, all I could hope for today was to photograph the outside of the cantinas, but as luck would have it, I bumped into our friend Massimo Romani outside his house, which is right opposite their family cantina, one of the largest I have ever seen in the Sabina. Massimo very kindly allowed me in to take some pictures. 

This is the more rustic back half of the Romani family cantina 

Grazie infinite Massimo!

Wood for a couple of months in the Romani family cantina. See two other photos of the Romani family cantina above.
A side grotto in the Romani family cantina where wine is made and stored
I did a zigzag walk through Casperia photographing mostly along Via San Rocco, Via Massari and then Via Garibaldi. Here are some of my favourite cantina photos.

Some cantinas and their doors have been beautifully restored...
Some cantinas are in ruins. Note the steel beam supporting the arch holding up the floor of the house above.

I am not sure if the road was raised at one point and stairs had to be made to get from the raised road to the cantina below but this entrance is one of the more unusual I have seen in Casperia.

A better view of the steps down into the cantina.

This magnificent old cantina entrance is on Via San Rocco.
Cantina below a ruined house on Via Massari. The next photo shows the house above.
Here is the house above the ruin. I have been inside. It would make a wonderful little apartment,

Here you can see how the original door of the cantina has been reworked over the years, eventually made smaller. 

Two beautiful cantina doors on Via Massari.
I even found that some of the old castle towers had cantina carved out of them.

The tower over the bastion on Via Nardi-Bruschi. There is the house, but where is their cantina? 

Around the corner at the base of the tower.
Every so often you find some indication of how old the stonework is that you are looking at. Above this cantina just inside the Porta Romana can be seen a brick with a date written on it.

A cantina on the street leading up into the town from the Porta Romana.
The monogram above IHS are the first three letters in the Greek name of Jesus. And the date of the work is 1590.

After my walk photographing the cantinas I stopped by Vigna for a glass of wine with our friend Giampiero who is Massimetto's brother. 

Giampero and I cast shadows of the limestone wall of Vigna, formerly Friends Cafe.
We chatted for a while enjoying yet another spectacular Sabine sunset. I took some photos just as the sun was setting behind Monte Soratte. 

Check out the rays of sunlight or raggi di sole, over Monte Soratte

After I finished my wine, I took a number of photos showing the route to our house from outside the town main gate, the Porta Romana. I will put this in another post. Enroute I bumped into a young lad we have seen grow up over the years we have been visiting here in Casperia, our neighbour Francesco, and he asked me. "Did you see the tornado last night?" I asked "Tornado? When?" He said last night at 9:00. I knew it was a bad wind storm but I had no idea that there had been a trombo d'aria as it is called here. At home, I took some more photos of Monte Soratte from our window.

And so ended another wonderful day in the Sabina... a land of beauty... a land of mystery... a land of interesting and complex characters... and enough dark secrets, I hope, to propel me through the process of writing my first novel, a murder mystery. 

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful James. Great stories to share with friends and inspiration for your novel. Good luck with it.