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My afternoon tour, with Giancarlo Flavi, on the second last day of the year, had us heading into the Simbruini mountains and the Regional Park, up from the Cesanese vineyards of Piglio, through the high plains of Arcinazzo to hear Scottish Bagpipes in Trevi nel Lazio, a Ciociarian town sitting at 820 metres in the high Aniene Valley on the old Roman route to Abruzzo.

Arriving near dusk, the temperature had settled temporarily around zero and the sky ranged from a bright orange in the west to a deep grey-blue enveloping from the east. Our destination was Caetani Castle, the original fortress that took the name of Cardinal Francesco Caetani, nephew of Pope Bonifacio VIII, who acquired the fortress in 1297.

We arrived in unison with the Mayor (Sindaco), Silvio Grazioli, who greeted us warmly and led us up the stairs through the old town (Civita), sitting on the ancient acropolis. We were still too early to experience the atmosphere of the ‘Victorian’ street lamps, so typical of hillside towns in Ciociaria.

The square form of the castle with towers soaring into the evening sky, and the topmost castellations appeal as a powerful recollection of a strong military past.

The castle was repaired about 30 years ago and today we climbed the about 120 steps to the top-most level, stepping out from the final spiral staircase into the dusk that brought a small shiver but an awesome sight. The views scan from the mountain tops to the town and down to the plains. Occasionally we would hear the haunting sounds of mournful bagpipes, rising out of the womb of the castle.

I was drawn to remember wistfully my days at boarding school at Scots College in Sydney in my final year in 1964, when each morning the pipers from the 100-strong drum and pipe band would practice on the Oval or in the squares of the school. I remembered also when the wide main street past the school in Bellevue Hill would be blocked by ‘Sarge’ for the band to march down maybe six abreast, giving an inspirational feeling that still remains. I also recalled the drums Beating the Retreat and the pride of the hundreds of school cadets in Army, Air Force and Navy uniforms, mostly be-kilted cadets in blackwatch tartan, and for the few of us the pride of displaying the ceremonial sword on parade.

Now coming forward those 52 years to Caetani Castle and the Scottish bagpipes of Trevi nel Lazio, we joined the locals and a few tourists to listen to the two bagpipers of Rome intermittently bringing back the old standards such as Amazing Grace with more modern pieces and providing, surprisingly for an ear trained at school to decipher a Scottish burr, detailed explanations of the instrument and technique in high roman Italian.

The pipers wore their traditional highland dress, kilted with sporrans. I noted the unusual colouring of the tartan and sought more details. This is the official tartan of the City of Rome, which for a man of Scots descent, makes me proud that the Scots have such a position in the eternal city. The tartan’s background of black and navy blue are the colours of the Italian national football team. Yellow is for the gold of the Vatican and orange & maroon are the official colours of Rome.

The pleasure of the many tunes on the bagpipes was followed by learning some of the history of the town from the museum photos and artisanal displays, accompanied by ‘ciambelline’, tea and a glass of fine Cesanese del Piglio. I was rewarded to receive some wonderful booklets on the Simbruini that now sit patiently for my translation.

Then with an arrivederci to new found friends, we stepped into the deepening evening to find that the universe had stolen 5 degrees from us during this pleasant sojourn and that the locals in response had lit a large bonfire to soften the evening.

Let not the coming depth of winter interfere with a visit to Trevi nel Lazio and a tour of Civita and Caetani Castle. There is something hauntingly special about the impressive architecture and cold stone of the castle at these times.

(This article is published under licence from Energitismo Limited)

Gavin Tulloch

Scienziato e poeta. Ama la chimica, il vino, le donne e l’opera, ma non sappiamo in quale ordine