Sunday, 2 August 2015

The roads to Volterra

Roman theatre from the Pinacoteca

This summer’s major trip to Italy was a week-long round trip from Rome to Volterra. This trip was financed from the grants from Västeuropastipendier and Enboms donationsfond from the Swedish Kungliga Vitterhetsakademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters). I got these grants and a third one from the Gihls fond in order to realign the Stockholm Volterra Project from an educational summer course with scientific content into a proper research project. This journey around Lazio and Tuscany was a preparatory visit in order to form and plan collaborations and discuss our fieldwork at a later stage during the academic year 2015/2016 with the authorities in Volterra.

Scaffolding stored in the BSR

Our small group consisted of three people: I who had organised all by booking the car and hotels and making all but one of the appointments, Professor Arja Karivieri from Classical Archaeology who is the main responsible for the Volterra research project and an ancient DNA expert Christos Economou from the Stockholm human DNA laboratory. We had five very pleasant days that also allowed me to assess the different routes to Volterra for further planning.

A site model in the Superintendency laboratory in Ponte di Nona

The fact that Director Kristian Göransson was on summer holiday in Sweden allowed me to swap a visit to the Swedish Institute in Rome to a courtesy visit to the British School at Rome. When stepping in, I was encountered a huge mountain of different parts of scaffolding stored into the entrance hall. This felt more a building site than a research institute. Half of the School is behind scaffolding and I could hear the voices of Italian workmen together with the sounds of advancing work. Apparently, there is a big green sustainability renovation project going on that will cut electricity and heating consumption by 25 %. The rooms will be warmer in the winter and the majority of the work will be concluded this summer; updates can be found in the BSR blog. The BSR also has a new cook. This brings in mind the time when I was finishing the excavations at Cisterna Grande in February 2008 and simultaneously managing the work of the Roman pottery and CBM expert Phil Mills in Civita Castellana for the Nepi Survey. He could not work on Fridays when the museum custodian was not working and arrived to the BSR for weekends. I joined him for a dinner every Friday he was in Italy and was faced with the fish suppers. Well, Fridays are Catholic fasting days and we had many pleasant evenings before I returned to the northern suburbs for Saturday mornings’ excavations.

From Frescati to Frascati - DNA experts Flavio and Christos

The following day we had meetings in the Superintendency compound in Ponte di Nona and the University of Rome Tor Vergata in order to discuss possibilities for future collaboration between anthropologists and the ancient DNA laboratories in Stockholm and Rome. We had a fruitful meeting at the Superintendency with the Head of Anthropology Paola Catalano and her team. Then an Italian ancient DNA expert Flavio De Angelis presented us the Tor Vergata laboratory facilities, parts of which are in Frascati. Since the Wallenberg laboratories where the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies is based is located in an area called Frescati and the new university buildings are raised in Albano, this seems a collaboration that is meant to be. Before heading to Volterra we also had a pleasure to meet briefly the Head of the Centre of Molecular Anthropology for ancient DNA studies Olga Rickards.

Porta Etrusca depicted in an ash urn

From Rome I drove us to Volterra. I learnt that I should not take the inland route in the evenings, since the sun almost blinded me when we turned towards Volterra. With pedestrians and other cars on the local roads, this is something to be avoided. However, it was sunny and lovely in Volterra and our visit got a pleasant start with a meal in the restaurant with an Etruscan well (actually Medieval). The following day we had a meeting with Intendent Elena Sorge from the Superintendency in order to pencil the future GPR surveys and another one with Director of the Pinacoteca Alessandro Furiesi.

Inside Tomb of the Caecinae

We also had time to introduce the main sites and museums to our new member Christos. We started with the Pinacoteca and continued later with the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum. Since we had a car, we could go to see sites that are slightly apart and difficult to cover in one day. Thus, we had an opportunity to visit the mounds at Il Portone and have one of my little adventures, this time concerning a car wheel and a rainwater channel that had opened to the widening of the road, meant for parking. Luckily, the other visitors and bypassers helped to sort this out in no time and we could marvel a multichamber tomb and the round tomb of the Caecina family, similar to the famous Tomba Inghirami, reconstructed in the Archaeological Museum in Florence. We could also visit Porta Docciola with its fountain and go and photograph the large collapse hole Le Balze from the north-eastern side of the town.

Le Balze with Badia (left) and the church of San Giusto (right)

After a brief but intensive stop in Pisa we took Arja to the Pisa airport and I and Christos returned to Rome using the coastal motorway. Thursday in Volterra had been hot and dry, but on Friday morning it was clear that there had been a scirocco rain during the early morning and everything was cooler. Rome at the start of the August holidays was sticky and humid. After finding a petrol station near Portus and making our surprising way back to the terminal, I was wondering how the flight would turn out to be. There had been a grass and pine forest fire in Fiumicino on Wednesday and power cut at the airport on Thursday and these delayed some flights. My flight was late, but we heard later that this was due to swapping the cabin crews and planes at Gatwick earlier. Nevertheless, first we lacked the personnel to load the luggage into the hold and then the worker to tug the plane from the terminal had wandered off, so I was at Gatwick very late indeed. Luckily, I have not lost anything from my Interrail skills after it became clear that the hourly bookable Yotel was full and I had to wait for four hours for my 5.50 am first bus to Leicester. An old pro sleeps anywhere! To the hilarity of my husband, I also slept until late Saturday afternoon at home – to more simulate the student years.

Sunset above Volterra

1 comment: