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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Genzano: Bread, Flowers and War

Genzano is one of several delightful hill towns along the via Appia, on the western edge of the Alban Hills (Colli Albani).  On one side of the town, though not visible from its main streets, is the volcanic Lago di Nemi; on the other side, the strikingly flat Valle Ariccia.  We've long identified Genzano as the source--perhaps not today, but some time ago--of Pane Genzano, a bread with a crusty exterior and reasonably soft (morbido) interior that is for us the best of the unsatisfactory breads available in Rome's bakeries.  Based on Pino Levi Cavaglioni's memoir, Guerriglia nei Castelli Romani (Guerilla in the Alban Hills) [1971], we also know that the Genzano area was a hotbed of anti-German, partisan activity in 1943 and in early 1944, before the German army was forced out of its defensive fortifications on the Caesar line, which ran across the southern spine of the Colli Albani, only a few kilometers to the southeast of Genzano.  The partisans' standard action was to throw three or four-pointed nails on the two-lane roads, wait for German jeeps and trucks to blow their tires and stop, then shoot as many Germans as they could. 


Dianne, looking across Lago di Nemi, toward Monte Cavo
Early this summer we scootered up to Genzano, parked the Malaguti in a small triangle of land off the via Appia, asked directions from the accomodating and--as it happened--precise proprietress of a nearby retaurant, and headed up the hill to the lip of the volcano, where we found the trail that circles Lago di Nemi.  Although we managed to lose the trail when it entered a series of new logging roads on the lake's northeast corner, we eventually found our way through a wash of suburban-like housing down (down, down, down) to the town of Nemi.



From there we continued the circuit, passing by huge caves that had been hollowed out of the soft, volcanic rock.  Back in town, we had our usual beer under an umbrella in the piazza, then watched with fascination as the city's young people initiated the annual Genzano flower festival by decorating a long, sloping street with colorful petals (see our post on the Genzano kids from this past June).

What we didn't know when as we walked around the lake, or sat contentedly in the shade with our Moretti,
was how much the people of Genzano had suffered during the war--as much from American bombing as from the German military occupation (though the former would not have occurred without the latter).  And we didn't know what those Lake Nemi caves were for.  We found an explanation in James Holland's remarkable book, Italy's Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2008):

The Caesar Line, 1944
"In the small town of Genzano in the Alban Hills...the population had soon found themselves within range of the American guns and so gradually people had begun moving to the banks of the nearby Lake Nemi.  The Alban Hills were volcanic and the townspeople discovered that once the top layer of rock at the lake's edge was dug away there were softer layers of solidified lava beneath that could be quite easily excavated into caves--caves in which more and more people began to live a troglodyte existence.  One cave was destroyed when a large Allied bomb scored a direct hit.  Once the front passed and they were able to dig out the rubble, the townspeople discovered more than thirty bodies, many of whom had been trapped alive when rubble had blocked the entrance.


Nemi caves, carved out of the lava
 By the time the front line had finally passed, many of the people of Genzano had been living in those caves for almost six months.  'To live in little caverns dug by us,' says Leonardo Bocale, one of the Genzano cave-dwellers, 'without any facilities for hygiene, without a life, without knowing what our future could be, tossed like animals...we were abandoned: culturally, materially, spiritually." 

Bill

1 comment:

Eleonora said...

Great, now all I can think of is pane di Genzano. Thanks