Calcata, in north Lazio, is a bohemian haven whose residents hark back to a more beautiful era.Less than an hour north of Rome lies Calcata, a mediaeval village clinging to a volcanic cliff surging out of the mists of the densely-wooded Treja valley. With its rugged tufa walls and steep pathways, entering this mystical, car-free hamlet is like stepping back in time or falling into a dream where Woodstock meets Hansel and Gretel.
Stuff of fairytalesCalcata’s story is indeed the stuff of fairytales. Its history dates back almost 3,000 years and the presence of humans in the area can be traced to prehistoric times. However in the 1930s Calcata’s story very nearly came to a shuddering halt. The Fascist-era government condemned the craggy village due to fears that its foundations were subsiding, and by the 1960s the inhabitants had either relocated to the newly-built Calcata Nuova nearby or moved south to Rome.
Although only about 40 km from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Calcata feels light-years away. Those arriving by car will have to leave their vehicles outside the fortified gates of the 13thcentury Palazzo Baronale – the village’s only access to the outside world and once inside it is impossible to withdraw cash from a bank machine or even send a postcard, and forget about relying on mobile phones.
One of the village’s many artists is Caterina Satta, who has lived and worked in Calcata for three decades. She says the number of residents has gone up and down over the years but now “there are about 60 – one of whom is Belgian, one Spanish, one Dutch, and two English.
Many people come here from Rome on day trips or stay for the weekend, but on weekdays and during the summer the village is often empty.”
Calcata's artistsSome of Calcata’s best known longterm residents include Paolo Portoghesi – the distinguished architect who designed the mosque in the Parioli district of Rome and more recently oversaw the restyling of the capital’s Piazza S. Silvestro – and the painter and ceramicist Simona Weller, whose work has featured on a Wanted in Rome cover.
In recent years Portoghesi and Weller held a joint exhibition dedicated to Calcata in Palazzo Baronale, which acts as a visitor centre and whose recent restoration was supervised by Portoghesi. A gallery of Weller’s latest works is located in the middle of the village and is open to visitors.
The organisation’s founder is Marijcke van der Maden from Holland, who is celebrated for her marionette puppets. For more than 30 years van der Maden has presented the village with its own personalised nativity scene, displayed at Il Granarone each Christmas. “All the statues are handmade and represent the real people of Calcata. Every year I make a new person and I never tell who it will be,” she says.
Most visitors get their photographs taken in the main square, sitting in the three over-sized Etruscan-style thrones, the work of local sculptor Costantino Morosin. In 1996 Morosin and Anne Demijttenaere, a Belgian actress and painter, founded Opera Bosco, the Museum of Art in Nature.
Spread out over two acres in the forests below Calcata, this open-air museum is filled with organic sculptures and art installations and has a soundtrack of streams, birdsong and croaking frogs.
Meanwhile the rock ‘n’roll-themed bar Rockcaffè, just off the central piazza, has a glorious secret. Enquire about sitting outside and you’ll be directed to a tiny private balcony, with a table for four and a breath-taking view of the woods 150m below.
By Andy Devane
This article was originally published in the October 2013 edition of Wanted in Rome magazine.
Where to stay in Calcata:
I Sensi della Terra, Via S. Giovanni 1, tel. 0761587733, www.isensidellaterra.it, rooms and apartments forrent throughout village.
Gisa, apartments in historic centre, tel. 0761587989, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to eat in Calcata:
La Piazzetta, Via S. Giovanni 47, tel. 0761588078, honest-to-goodness fare including hand-made pasta, polenta and sausages. Booking advised.
Il Tugurio, Via Sinibaldi 7, tel. 0761587388, cosy restaurant serving local specialities, open Sat, Sun only.
How to get to Calcata:
The easiest way to reach Calcata is by car. From Rome, take the Cassia bis(SS2); exit at Settevene and follow the signs for Calcata.
Alternatively take a 20-minute journey on the light-rail train service from Via Flaminia in Rome to Saxa Rubra, then hop aboard one of the blue Cotral buses (www.cotralspa.it) to Calcata Vecchia. Buses leave regularly, and the trip takes a little over an hour.
Things to do in Calcata:
Simona Weller gallery, Via Garibaldi 4, generally open 11.00-13.00, 16.30-19.00. To visit after hours or to confirm the artist’s presence, tel. 0761587239.
Palazzo Baronale visitor centre Mon-Fri 09.00-17.00, Sat 15.00-19.00, Sun 11.00-19.00.
Bring suitable walking gear when visiting the stunning Monte Gelato waterfalls in Parco de Treja, a few km outside Calcata, near Mazzano Romano. Open all year round and particularly beautiful in autumn and spring.
Top ph: ValerioMei / Shutterstock.com
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