Friday, February 16, 2018

Tomb raiding and sunbathing

On the way out of Perugia, we stopped at the Tomb of the Volumni in the city's suburbs. It is an Etruscan tomb complex, dating back to the 2nd century BC, which was rediscovered by chance on 5 February 1840 (the day before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed!) You go in to find a staircase surrounded by gravestones, where you descend to the tomb of the Velimna (Volumni) family. This consists of a number of small chambers carved out of the rock, and still holds the family's tombs in their original positions.

The Etruscans seem particularly mysterious and shadowy to me, almost as if their history has been erased by the Roman dominance, so it was very interesting to see some of their ancient sites on this trip. The artefacts in this tomb seem pretty similar to what you think of as Roman style, but I don't know which way the influence ran. A quick look at Wikipedia shows that there was a period of Etruscan dominance over Rome, particularly in religious matters, although there is some debate about the extent of the influence, and both the Etruscans and the Romans were heavily influenced by the Greeks.

Funerary stele in the entrance hall
In front of the family tombs

The tomb of Aurente Volumio, the patriarch of the family
After seeing the Volumni tomb, the largest in the complex, you go outside, where there are around 200 more tombs, a few of which are open to visit. Beware, I got absolutely savaged by mosquitoes at this stage. The largest of these was the Bella tomb, which I don't think had much in it, but afforded me the opportunity to do my best impression of a creature of the undead.

In the underground chamber of the Bella tomb
Finally, there is a small museum which holds more funerary stele, with translations and explanations of their carvings, and a few other artefacts. It was fun to see the Etruscan language, which uses an alphabet derived from Greek and which is still not entirely understood.

From there, we drove to the Riviera del Conero on the Adriatic coast, to Portonovo, near Ancona, for a bit of beach time. It was already October by this time, so it was a bit of gamble, but it mostly paid off. There was a big storm one afternoon, which howled particularly around our hotel as it was built on a sort of stepped design so that every room had a corner balcony. But other than that, and a bit of overcast weather on our last day there, it was pretty good.

We went first to Portonovo Beach, but out of season it seems we turned up a bit early and none of the beach loungers were out. Since it was a bit rocky, we didn't fancy lying on the beach there, so just walked around a bit and then headed to Sirolo.

Portonovo Bay

We stopped just next to the road after Sirolo, where it seemed nice, and settled down for a swim and sunbathe. After I'd been in the water for a bit, I realised that it was absolutely PACKED with tiny jellyfish. I found an article from last year that said these were "teeming nurseries of self-cloning moon jellyfish", which some researchers claimed is linked to the increase in gas platforms in the sea, which give the baby jellyfish a nice flat surface to stick on to while they clone. It was a bit terrifying when I first looked down and saw them all over the place, but by that stage I figured I'd already been in the water for quite a while and there were so many of them that if they were going to sting me, they would probably have done it already. I still yelped every time I touched them though.

View of the coast from our hotel
We also went to a delicious tiny restaurant, the Osteria del Poggio. On our food tour in Perugia, the guide told us about the fantastic reputation of deli meats from Norcia. In this part of Italy, delicatessens are often known as "Norcerias". Basically, in the north the meats from around Bologna and Parma are famed, and in the Umbria and Marche regions, this honour is given to the Norcia meats. Only one of them seems to have broken through on to the international stage, but I can confirm that Norcia deli meats are just as good. Anyway, our meal at the Osteria started with a superlative meat and cheese platter followed by rabbit gnocchi with local red wine. Definitely a culinary highlight of the trip, especially those melt in the mouth hams.

It was nice to have a bit of time to relax, read and recharge our batteries, as although we were having a lot of fun, it was also getting pretty tiring moving around all the time!

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