Last year we arrived in Rome just 2 days before Easter, specially to celebrate with Davide's family. When I heard that we were going to visit a traditional Italian village, Calcata, in the second day of Easter, I was imagining old people staying in front of their houses in a rocking chair with a fat cat purring in their lap, waiting for their neighbors to greet them and start a conversation, or maybe young women shopping fresh vegetable in open markets, while church bells are spreading their monotonous sound over the village. Well...
Today is Pasquetta, the Monday Easter (second day of celebration) and the modern romans are jumping in their cars, taking their friends and go visit one or two “castelli” (picturesque villages around Rome) for the day. Our trip is about to start: we will be heading 50 km North of Rome, and in less than 1 hour we will be in Calcata Vecchia (The Old Calcata).
The road is saturated with buzzing cars, and all I can think of is “what a beautiful sunny day to be wasted visiting sites with 5 tourists per square meter”...
All of a sudden I see this medieval Italian village carved on top of a 150m high vertical volcanic rock surrounded by dense forest as far as the eye can see, and I'm asking myself if my mind is playing tricks with some childhood cartoon brought to life or we accidentally travel back in time. I'm holding my breath under shock eager to go out of the car in the next second, but a minimum “30 minutes finding a place to park the car” in the neighboring village Calcata Nuova is inevitable and “normal”.
Finally we are on our way up to the old traditional village of Calcata Vecchia and luckily, cars are not allowed inside.
Reading the history in a magic globe
There are some odd but yet interesting historical aspects to this village that shaped its special atmosphere and fame throughout the centuries.
The story of Calcata dates back in ancient times, when some pre-roman italic tribe, called “Falisci” attributed a mystical energy to the place and begun organizing magic rituals. In the mid 16th century a soldier previously captured in the village was found to be carrying in his cell a very special Christian relic: The Holy Prepuce of Jesus. After this discovery, Calcata transformed overnight in a popular pilgrimage site valued by the Vatican with a ten years “indulgence” or sin redemption for whoever came to worship it. In the second part of the 20th century the relic disappeared, and villagers speculated that might have been the Vatican to take it, in its efforts to end the debates on the subject and mass attention. In the 1930's the Italian government feared that the cliffs on which Calcata is build are not stable and there is a major risk of collapse in case of an earthquake, so the residents were moved 800 meters up on the road, to a safer land and new homes that became the “The New Calcata” (Calcata Nuova). But this wasn't the end. The story goes in a circle and just like in the fairy tales, after death comes a rebirth: in the 1960's and early '70s, hippie artists from all over the world started to squat The Old Calcata drawn by the beauty, freedom and its mysterious ancient energy. They renovated old houses, transformed caves in homes, opened art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants and gave a new face and atmosphere to what was considered until then an old traditional Italian village. At one point, after buying the properties from their rightful owners, the hippies convinced the government to withdraw their previous statement for what was starting to be known as “the village of freaks”.
Calcata: the Village of freaks
In January 2007 The New York Times described The Old Calcata as probably "the grooviest village in Italy, home to a wacky community of about 100 artists, bohemians, aging hippies and New Age types." Nowadays there are about 900 residents in Calcata Vecchia spreading their creative vibes and bohemian soul in all hidden corners, narrow streets, caves or attics. Esotericism is still an important aspect of this community, and every summer solstice and 31th of October they celebrate “The night of the Witches”, dancing and glorifying nature as in ancient pagan rites. There are puppet-masters, choreographers, actors and painters, all living in harmony in The Old Calcata, restoring its hypnotic voice just like a skilled mermaid would do by singing a magic song.
Living in a fairy tale
We arrived in Calcata, we are finally inside the village in the main square and although there are tourists wandering around in what's probably the busiest day of the year for this Italian village, everything else looks still, silent, just like a cinemagraph. Soon we discover to our own delight that we can enter in every “apartment” to see what's inside, although nobody seems to be at home to tell us which is private and which is open to the public. I find a cloths store, more like a costume deposit in a wooden attic next to a small door offering theater classes which I'm too shy to open suspecting someone is still sleeping inside. Across the street there are small antique shops which transform in unsuspected long galleries after you're inside. We find artisans in their work studios speaking with some visitors for half an hour like with an old friend, and not bothering if everyone else inside is planning to buy or steal their creations.
We enter in some free art galleries, and the same here: the mastermind of the exhibition is busy drinking some wine, entertaining his friends in a corner, next to a stair that brings to his small library or open bedroom(?!) and doesn't seem to care if the visitors are “breaking” inside.We wander along the narrow streets and arrive in a minuscules sunny square with a lovely cat relaxing in a flowerpot. In front of us, a breathtaking view of the valley. No movement, just a majestic birdhovering in circles the horizon. The cat is having her poster on a door “asking” the visitors to “please don't let your dog companion enter inside this store, since it's my home”. Inside the store, the cat's owner or “roommate” was selling beautiful lamp shades done with plastic flowers from recycled bottles. Going through carved stone passages we end up in another terrace, someone's narrow backyard, with no one around us, just the wind whispering in our ears in front of a stunning panorama. It's incredible how much serenity and peace you can find in this place.
There are few moments when I felt so helplessly soaked in contemplation, so happy for everything around me. Calcata Vecchia is just like living in a fairy-tale. That's why this Italian village has a special place in my hearth and I've been treasuring its memory ever since.