Monday, 5 September 2011

It's all uphill!

The castles tend to be on hillocks for safety, control and good views. This is a problem when you are visiting culturally interesting places with a toddler who is happy to walk in the pedestrian areas on flat land but gets easily tired and dispirited when faced with a steep slope. Dragging a stroller uphill is very dispiriting for a parent and when a ‘lazy’ toddler decides even not to try the parent who is in duty to push the pushchair is under strain.

The Lunigiana area in the boundary of the northern Tuscany is interesting since its local geography has formed how its dispersed settlements were governed through centuries. The foothill areas of the Apennines north of the famous Carrara are filled with small castles that were outposts in a sparsely occupied wooded area. This area remained hostile to Roman dominance for a long time and seems to have stayed relatively pagan during the time when Christianity was the dominant religion across Italy.

Although most of the castles remain in private ownership some of them are museums. When we headed to Potremoli to see the famous stone stelae I was hoping that the museum would be somewhere in the outskirts of the local municipality but secretly expecting in fear that it may be in the local castle. After we had parked the car the reality hit; we saw the posters – and yes, the museum was in the castle on the hill. As we archaeologists say, Il castello del Piagnaro has a dominant position. But for a parent – an uphill struggle.

I was the unlucky parent doing the pushing since it was my photo call in the museum. Even if most of the stelae are from the Bronze Age, some of them are Iron Age and probably part of the same traditions that resulted with the Etruscan stelae in places like Fiesole and Volterra. In addition, the stelae are a phenomenon widespread in the Alpine area and together with idols an art form that was shared across large areas of prehistoric Europe. Thus, I was able to read the information boards and make notes in peace while the Romanist Archaeologist Hubby was tending Number One Son. Our son really needed some tending since the stelae were erected into gravel in the museum displays. Number One Son took a shine to the gravel – grabbing it in a room with an elaborate alarm system.

This castle was deemed ‘grim’ in one travel guide. In reality, it was quite cute, though functional small castle. It was under renovation and a bit in a flux. I found it interesting and Number One Son will probably find it a lovely place to roam in a couple of years’ time when the knight and cowboy phase kicks in. However, now he was far too young to get excited next to a several metres’ drop to the cobbled courtyard level. Thus, together with the start of Italian lunchtime this was the reason to usher the toddler downhill in his orange stroller.

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