Monday, January 02, 2012

Agriturismo and the Road to Grumentum

In ancient times, she was Queen of Roads, the Appian Way, leading travelers south from Rome to Brundisium at the heel of Italy's boot on the Adriatic.

Though Ancient Rome built more than 50,000 miles of paved roads, on this day, my bride and I were checking out just a hundred yard stretch. It was in the grassy ruins of Grumentum, a Roman 'hub' city on a bluff overlooking the Agri river valley's rich farmland about 60 miles inland from the Gulf of Taranto.

We were there to explore the archaeological site and found out something that surprised us. There was lots more traffic back then than we would have guessed. Grumentum was an inland city of only moderate size, but check out the ruts in the roadbed made just before the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. You can tell the traffic went on for quite awhile after the maintenance had stopped.

In addition, we also got our fill of other ruins on the site. We love it when there are few visitors and long grass has grown up. But, that's not true for everyone. So, the site manager had a local guy's flock of sheep wandering around to 'mow' the lawn in a 'green' way. And, maybe—just, maybe—some fine mutton cuts wound up on the manager's dinner table in the time-honored Italian Way.

There was just one other couple exploring the site when we were there: friendly German folks who spoke no English. From time to time over the hours, we'd pass at hailing distance and grin cheerfully at each other.

Once, we were passing in an area the sheep had just left. They'd cropped the lawn as expected, but also left a sea of processed-grass lumps for us to gingerly cross. At our closest point of approach, the German guy raised the sole of his shoe, pointed at it, shook his head and observed "Agriturismo."

At that, my bride and I let out two long and appreciative belly laughs. 'Agriturismo' is the Italian word for the business of hosting city-dwellers who vacation on farms to get close to nature.

Who knew, we'd get free Agriturismo with our Grumentum admission ticket?