The devastating August earthquakes in the provinces of Rieti and Ascoli Piceno, Italy, have been followed by further seismic activity in recent weeks; and on 30th October a powerful quake affected the town of Norcia – where we stay on our ‘Unknown Umbria’, ‘Umbria and Spoleto’ and ‘Flowers of Umbria’ tours.
The silver lining is that despite suffering Italy’s most powerful earthquake for 36 years there was no loss of life from the Norcia quake, and ‘state of the art’ earthquake proofing of houses and hotels proved very effective. The bad news is that seismic activity in the area is not expected to subside in the immediate future, and that some fine ecclesiastical buildings and frescoes have been badly damaged or destroyed.
14C Basilica of St Benedict in Norcia after 30th October earthquake
We are monitoring the situation very carefully. The area affected is limited to a relatively small area of Umbria. Other trips in Umbria, for example to Assisi and Orvieto have not been affected. We will continually review the status of trips that visit Norcia and vicinity.
ATG has been operating trips in this outstandingly beautiful area for 30 years and we have many friends there, and anticipate that the ATG Trust will help with restoration projects. In the meantime we received the following account from one of our long-serving Tour Leaders, Chiara Farneti, who lives in the region and knows the area very well:
The Monti Sibillini hills above Norcia (credit: Sarah Wellburn)
You probably have already heard about the two earthquakes we had last night in Umbria. This time luckily it hit us in the evening and not during the night so people had time to run out of their houses. I was lucky to have my camper van where to safely sleep last night with my family.
One of my great sorrows was to see how the facade of one of the most beautiful churches we visit along the Sant’Eutizio path has sadly crumbled with the earthquake’s shakes. My heart sank when I saw that among the first images shown in the news of the damages done by the earthquake: the destruction of the two-portal facade of San Salvatore, my favorite church of all in the area!
San Salvatore a Campi di Norcia, which houses many important frescoes, has not survived…
In 1999 I was the Footloose manager of the Unknown Umbria itinerary. It was the first year that Christopher [Managing Director of ATG] decided to open it to Footloose walkers and not without worries….I remember Christopher briefing me about the potential problems of the route for the individual clients: wolves, long, dark spooky tunnels, the sudden fog on the first day’s walk. He was so concerned that clients might have found themselves in trouble on foggy high mountains that I was even given an extra ATG mobile phone to hand over to clients for the first day’s walk….
The other thing I remember about that year was that ATG had just founded the ATG Trust and needed to run the first projects. I was the person out in the field to make things happen.
The very first one was the restoration of the Sant’ Eutizio’s path: an ancient path linking Norcia to the [5th century] Sant’Eutizio’ Abbey (most famous in the past for its advanced surgery school), which had fallen into disuse and at parts badly eroded by the passage of animals, flocks of sheep especially.
The 5C Abbey of Sant’Eutizio, and its rose window, now badly damaged.
The nature of the Sant’Eutizio project ( restoration of an earthy track) meant it was particularly difficult to raise interest among the local authorities, especially because in 1999 the area was still relatively unknown and certainly walking trails and tourism income based on walking holidays relatively minimum compared with other attractions of the area (ham and truffles…).
It was my first experience as such and after another briefing with Christopher telling me how the projects should have worked (co-operation with local authorities and associations to make sure that the project where we donated money was also considered valuable to the locals, to ensure they would keep looking after it once the project was accomplished) I started my work on the ground, contacting and talking to the local mayors, possible finance cooperators, various associations…. I will never forget the initial expressions of ‘suspicion’ typical of Italians thinking ‘dov’è la fregatura?’ [‘what’s the catch?’] when I was explaining that the English company I was working for was donating some money to preserve part of their invaluable treasures, simply because we wanted to give something back to that beautiful area we were visiting; and explained that ATG was a business based on sustainable tourism. ‘Sustainable tourism’ was a definition that needed explaining in 1999 even to the higher authorities.
All this to say that if ATG Trust is in need of new projects, this should be a priority. San Salvatore church is a unique church, always very appreciated by our clients when passing by to reach Sant’Eutizio.
More frescoes lost at San Salvatore in Campi
I’m aware that ATG Trust has already given attention to the Unknown Umbria itinerary: Sant’ Eutizio path, Gavelli frescoes, Spoleto’s frescoes, but I feel that if ATG Trust was born on the premises of conservation and restoration in the areas which most necessitate, and this is the area which mainly needs our attention…
The ‘Unknown Umbria’ is not so unknown any longer….After the opening of two long tunnels in 1999 linking the Valnerina to the sea on one side and to the plain of Foligno and Spoleto on the other side, tourism has started to move in the area. Besides visitors to Norcia, mainly attracted by the most famous cured meat and black truffles of Italy, an inceasing number of walkers and nature lovers has started to visit the area, using also our restored path of Sant’Eutizio, nowadays also well way marked by the local authorities. I feel secretly proud to have been part of the success of our first project with ATG Trust when I nowadays meet walkers enjoying the nearly forgotten Path of Sant’Eutizio.
Opening of a path restored by the ATG Trust linking Norcia with the Abbey of Sant’ Eutizio.
I’m sure there will be a huge echo based on the loss of San Salvatore’s facade and I hope there won’t be any necessity on our behalf to raise attention for a prompt restoration of the church. I also understand that there are more urgent priorities for the local authorities that need their attention, but once the emergency ‘noise’ has faded away, once the news stop talking about the latest earthquake in Umbria, I hope that ATG Trust, if necessary, knocks on the local authorities’ doors again and discreetly gives them a little encouragement to remind them one of the most beautiful churches they’ve had…