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MAIDENHEAD GROUP VISIT TO FRASCATI 2011

26th - 30th September 2011

This year it was the turn of our group to visit Frascati, over 40 years after the twinning of our two towns and not much less since our first exchange visits. As Italy celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Italian Unification, it was a good year for our visit.

On our arrival in Frascati (via Rome’s Fiumicino airport) our twelve members were met by our hosteses and taken to their homes. We were soon on our way to the Gala Dinner held at the Grand Hotel Villa Fiorio in the countryside of the Castelli Romani region surrounding Frascati. In her welcome speech, Vincenza Rufo, the Frascati president, spoke of her group’s focus this year on the historic unification of Italy and of the debt owed by Italy to Britain for involvement in the struggle for unity, for sheltering exiled Italian patriots and for Britain’s contribution to the political, cultural and artistic development not only of Italy but of all of Europe.

On the following day (Tuesday 27th Sept) we guests, hostesses and other Frascati members travelled by coach to Rome to visit Villa Farnesina, situated on the west bank of the river Tiber. It was created in the early 16th century as a summer palace for Agostino Chigi, a wealthy and socially ambitious Sienese banker. Built in the Renaissance style, its original 5-bay loggia overlooking huge gardens, the Tiber and beyond, Rome, its interior walls and ceilings had frescoes painted by Raphael and several of his followers, mainly on classical themes. This was truly a grand palace, in which its owner was pleased to entertain the Pope at lavish banquets.

Back in Frascati after a “light” lunch in Rome, we were treated to a concert by the local Tuscolano Choir, conducted by the husband of a group member, consisting of patriotic songs from the time of the French Revolution to the end of World War II, finishing with Verdi’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” which became a powerful symbol of freedom from the early 1840’s and which made Verdi a hero of the movement for unification. There were marching songs, soldiers’ love songs and songs of the Resistance in WWII, the choir giving a moving and thrilling performance.  The day ended with visits, each of us with our hostess, to the homes of Frascati members for private dinner parties.

On the middle day of our visit (Wed.28th) we were driven several miles to the east, still in the lovely hilly region of Lazio, south of Rome, to Certosa where we visited the Abbey of Tresulti. Founded in 1000 AD, the Abbey has been successively the home of Benedictine, Carthusian and now Cistercian monks. The church of the Abbey has fine frescoes and paintings and there is also an exquisitely decorated pharmacy, founded in 1500. (The monks still produce some medicines and also liquors). We next went to Anagni, a handsome and historically important hillside town in a place first occupied over 700,000 years ago. When the Romans conquered it they built powerful high boundary walls. Soon Anagni had a bishop, then a cathedral. In the Middle Ages it became a favourite home of the popes, being safer and healthier than Rome. We first visited the fine cathedral, built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style. The glorious crypt has its walls and ceilings entirely covered with medieval frescoes and its floor by original mosaics. Here also is an oratorio of St Thomas a Becket – his nemesis, Henry II, had clashed with the Pope.! We also visited the Bishop’s palace, scene of several dramatic events in medieval times when the struggle for dominance between the Popes and Emperors was at its height. This long but entirely rewarding day ended with late suppers at our hostesses’ homes.

We presented our new petit discours on “The National Trust” in Frascati’s town hall on the morning of our last full day (Thurs 29 Sept) to a very appreciative audience of Frascati  ladies. They were amazed to learn of the early origins of the N.T., its scale and the range of its activities and of its importance as a voluntary organisation in our national life: it was suggested that the Frascati group might organise a visit to an English region rich in N.T. gardens and houses!

Then followed a buffet lunch on the terrace of the town hall, leaving an hour or two to do a little shopping, to visit Frascati’s cathedral (whose most famous cardinal was the younger brother of the Stuart Young Pretender!) or a drive around the region. We were then on the way to the final grand gathering of our visit at the Relais Nadyne, set among its own vineyards, for the “Feast of Friendship” to which had been invited other non Italian ladies living in the local area. A quartet of musicians (guitars, key board and drums) entertained us with songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s while we talked, enjoyed a buffet meal and exchanged toasts, Vincenza having the final word on the supreme importance for our Circle of our exchange visits.

A lovely surprise awaited us on the day of our departure (Friday 30 Sept). We had first enjoyed a guided visit to nearby Grottaferrata, whose monastery and St Mary’s Basilica have always, uniquely, been under the Pope’s jurisdiction while the priests follow the Greek (Byzantine) rite. Back in Frascati our hostesses  had conjured up a lovely buffet lunch in the garden of Vincenza’s apartment home.  In the shade of trees, with tiny cyclamen peeping through the falling leaves, we relished one more happy encounter before our return flight.

 

Jill Hume, September 2011

 


 


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