Last Sunday we took a wonderful day-trip to Sutri, a village about 1 1/2 hrs outside of Rome (and still within the province of Lazio) where our friend Daniela partially grew up and where her parents now live.
I’d never heard of Sutri, a beautiful town with a Medieval centre, Estruscan tombs, a Roman amphitheater, and a Mitreo. What’s a Mitreo, you ask? (As I did.) Well, with the help of wikipedia, an email from Daniela, and a conversation with Daniela’s father, I will attempt to answer:
A mitreo was a pagan temple, usually carved into rock – sometimes they were originally Etruscan tombs. The Romans practiced Mithraism there, a religion with Persian origins revolving around the bull-god Mitra. Archaeologists believe that Roman soldiers would stop at the Sutri mitreo, which is just north of Rome, to sacrifice a bull and pray for victory on their way to northern battles. Centuries later, Sutri’s mitreo was converted into a church dedicated to the Madonna del Parto, or “Madonna of Partuition,” which, to simply go ahead and quote wikipedia, “is an iconic depiction of the Virgin Mary shown as pregnant, which was developed in Italy, mainly in Tuscany in the 14th century.”
So from an Estruscan tomb to a Roman-Persian place of worship to a church within which pregnant women would pray for safe passage. And now, a haunting ruin that was, unfortunately, closed when we got there. The midwife in me was especially disappointed. But here’s the thing:
- There is just so much to marvel at in this country. Sutri’s mitreo is special – there are very few like it, apparently. And Sutri is special: verdantly green, with soft hills and yellow light. But that’s Italy – to state the obvious, this country is bloated with beautiful places. We’ll never see it all, because it never seems to end. Pick up a guidebook – there are just so many cities, towns, villages with picture-book piazzas and narrow alleys you ache to explore. And then there’s the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, the Apennines, the Alps. Every corner of this country seems touched by beauty, which is both inspiring & overwhelming.
- The reason the Mitreo was closed when we arrived? We were late, because the children were having a wonderful swim in Daniela’s parents’ pool, and who could interrupt that? Which brings us to a lesson I find myself repeating over and over, having never before really travelled with children: it’s about the experience, not about how much we see. We’ve been in Rome 3 weeks, and we’ve seen shockingly little. Partly we’ve been biding our time until the crowds thin. But we’ve also been pacing ourselves and our children, focusing on local walks and playground outings and simply figuring out life here (I can’t wait to blog about groceries and laundry – really) rather than ticking off the “must-see” boxes. Which isn’t always easy for me to do- I’m a big fan of travel guides, and I love working my way through them- but is not just the right but also really the only choice.
But where was I? Right: the ruins. Here are some images, some of which feature Daniela’s adorable children Guglielmo and Margherita :
Entrance to the Mitreo:
And to go back to Daniela’s parents’ lovely home, which was surrounded by a lush garden brimming with vegetables – as well as turtles, chickens, and a cat:
And, my favourite photo of all, the table:
Confirming the classic stereotype of Italian mothers (that’d be the one where they feed you loads and loads of amazing, home-cooked food), this is what we were served for lunch by Daniela and her mother: a bowl of farfelle pasta with fresh tomato sauce, followed by stuffed tomatoes, stuffed red peppers, lightly fried eggplant with fresh mozzarella and basil, lightly fried fish, mixed green salad, couscous salad, and a side of buffalo mozzarella. Most of the vegetables (maybe all?) were from Daniela’s parents’ garden. And for dessert: orange-almond cake and a blueberry-apple tart. And wine on the side, of course, though I have become one of those middle-aged women who can’t drink wine with lunch if I want to do anything other than nap all afternoon.
In the early evening we visited the old village of Sutri, which was decked out for its annual Sagra. Daniela explained to us that Sagras are festivals linked to traditional harvest times. Sutri’s sagra celebrates borlotti beans, a local specialty. By the time we got up to the town my kids were starving, so we skipped the borlotti bean queue for nutella crepes and pizza. I know, I know, but remember point #2 above.
We are so thankful to Daniela and her family for such a great day. She introduced us to a special place we never would have found on our own, and gave us our first meal in Italy cooked by an Italian family. While writing this post I came across Petrarch’s description of Sutri:
“This spot was most dear for its woods, its waters, its deep caves covered with moss and flowers, and festooned with ivy, and for its deer and roebucks which coursed along its plains in herds. ”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Mind the roebucks.)