With Rome taking centre stage, it’s not surprising that the region of Lazio often gets overlooked by tourists. The drained areas of the Pontine Marshes are now mile after mile of agricultural land and industrial complexes, whilst the towns and cities dotting the plain are uninspiring compared to the nearby grandeur of the capital. The coastal region is popular with daytrippers from the city looking to enjoy the clean waters and golden sands of the Tyrrhenian Sea, but few venture further inland.
However, on Sunday 14th May, a group of University of Kent students collected at the eastern end of the Circus Maximus in Rome. The goal: to walk 87 miles of the Via Francigena Del Sud, from Rome to Terracina, straight through the rural heartland of southern Lazio. The Via Francigena Del Sud is a 434 mile pilgrimage from Rome to Brindisi, with Jerusalem the ultimate destination. It is the natural successor to its more famous cousin the Via Francigena, the pilgrim path from Canterbury to Rome. The section we were going to tackle from Rome to Terracina was only a small part of a much longer heritage route, steeped in history both ancient and modern. In Roman times, troops and civilians could have covered vast distances on the Via Appia, the strategic road connecting Rome on the west coast to Brindisi in the east. The Appian Way cut straight across the Pontine Marshes, the Romans being undeterred by stagnant waters or mosquitoes and confident in their complete domination of this flat, exposed stretch of land. By the medieval period, however, the region had broken up into small, often warring, factions and Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem may have diverted their route further inland, seeking shelter in the towns of the Lepini Mountains on their way to Terracina instead.
Nowadays, the Via Francigena Del Sud is an officially recognised, waymarked route – at least in theory. Whilst the first three days of our walk, from Rome to Cori, were fairly straightforward and clearly signposted, the further we trekked into the hills and mountains the less clear the path became. All too often the route itinerary directed us to walk alongside busy roads or hack through overgrown hedgerows with no sign of a path.
Unfortunately, these inconsistencies mean that the Via Francigena Del Sud is, in its present state, a limited tool for tourism development in the southern Lazio region. Greater attention needs to be given to waymarking (in both directions) whilst the suggested itinerary could be refined in order to better spread the distances covered and take advantage of staying longer in the more historic towns along the route and visiting local archaeological sites and museums.
However, with these small issues ironed out the Via Francigena Del Sud has great potential to attract new visitors to the area, particularly repeat visitors to Rome who may with to divide their city trip with a rural escape. The rich history of the area has to be seen to be believed, whilst the amazing hospitality of all our hosts, the friendliness of local people, the fresh produce and excellent wine are all added bonuses to what is still an unspoilt and beautiful region.
The 6 students walking the Via Francigena Del Sud were funded by the Kent Opportunity Fund, the European Centres and the School of English. See http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/linking-heritage/italy-walk/ for more information. Visit http://www.viefrancigenedelsud.it/en/ for more information on the official route.
“Elle Arscott is a candidate for the MA Heritage Management 2016-17, and has an undergraduate degree in History of Art & Music from the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in international arts and antiquities law, as well as heritage marketing and alternative approaches to heritage site management.”
As we departed Elefsina headed west, I could not help but think of my new classmates and what they were going to miss today. It was to be our first HERMA outing, and as usual, my poor planning showed, as only myself and my new friend Hadi rose early to catch the train at Magoula Station. We sat back in our comfortable seats in a cabin all to ourselves and watched as our new home passed beside us outside the train windows. The morning sun bounced rays of light off the serene surface of the Saronic Gulf. It seemed so perfect and peaceful! No wonder this part of the world has been inhabited by man as far back as we can document. As I closed my eyes and drifted off to the whirring sounds of the slow moving train, I could not help but think back to exactly one year before, when I left my home in Dallas, Texas on a trip here that would change my life forever.
I had planned my trip to Greece for many years and despite this, very few close friends thought me serious when I announced, in the summer of 2014, that I was leaving Dallas after 30 years for an unknown future in a land shrouded in myth and ancient history. They should, and indeed most, knew better that to doubt me. My living room and bedroom were lined with nearly every ancient history book printed about Greece and the ancient Mediterranean. I left my teaching job behind and my former business, now a shell of itself, did not require my daily attention anymore.
It was here last year that I came to realize what path lay before me, and all I had to do was seize the opportunity.
I was nudged awake by Hadi and realized the train was slowing and we had arrived at the train station in Corinth. As we bounded over the gap, grabbed our backpacks, and hit the gravel parking lot, I could see our destination on the western sky. One of the three fetters of Greece, it was said that whomever controlled these geologic fortresses controlled all of Greece. Our trip today was going to take us to one of these amazing fortresses known as Acrocorinth. From the train station it was to be a short cab ride up the back side of the mountain to the end of the pavement.
I had been to Corinth last year after a harrowing drive across the high Peloponnese mountains from Olympia. I remember driving east, past the high limestone cliffs, heading into Corinth that day. I had planned on making my way up the acropolis then, but on that rainy day I had endured enough wet mountain roads to shake even my steely nerves, so instead I spent my time in ancient Corinth, and imagined what it must be like to see the world from the mountaintop.
Today was my day to finally make my imagination a reality. Acrocorinth was once an island in an ancient geologic sea, and to see it today you can certainly understand why. It still remains an island unto itself, occupying the northwest edge of the Gulf of Corinth, and overlooking the Peloponnese to the southwest. When Hadi and I reached the summit, it was as if time stood still. No matter which direction I chose to look, the enormity of the world from here made me feel small. Small in stature for sure, but we also both knew we were standing in a place of history occupied by men who fought and died over the very place where now we stood.
Akrokorinthos, the most impressive acropolis of all of Greece was all around us. It had been occupied and fought over repeatedly since archaic times. Due to its geomorphology, the acropolis has always had a secure water supply and, indeed, even today, there is water in the springs at the top of the acropolis. Hadi and I were fortunate to be able to explore the springs, and we entered the ancient stairs that led us into a walled underground cistern with plenty of spring water. The acropolis was once home to many people as there are ruins of homes scattered about, but it is the fortified citadel that is prominent all around. It was heavily fortified during the Byzantine occupation, it later became a Frankish outpost, then the Venetians came and the Ottoman Turks.
Of course, my thoughts that day were of the heroes of ancient times. The Mycenaeans were here, of course. Agamemnon must have ventured here as his Mycenaean citadel lay only a bird’s flight away. Alexander from Macedon must have been here as well. The Romans laid claim here during those days of occupation while their armies carried much of Greece back home across the Ionian Sea. We sat on the high citadel walls, ate bread from a bakery back in Elefsina, and stared into the abyss that lay below us. As the hours passed and the warm Greek sun took its early departure behind the western mountains, we knew it was time to leave. Time is marked here by nature itself. The sun’s slow departure can be announced by a crisp mountain breeze that speaks loudly if you stay too long. As we exited the fortress and asked a stranger to take our picture, I felt a connection that I still feel to this day. As Hadi and I walked the entire road down the mountain to ancient Corinth and we talked about our experience here today, I was thankful.
Thankful to a place that treasures it heritage like no other place in the world. Thankful for the opportunity to experience my world from a perspective that gives me hope and a desire to make a difference. Most of all, thanks to a program like HERMA and the new friends that I carry with me on my new journey.
Photos by Hadi Ahmadi
Rae Rippy was Student Academic Officer for the HERMA class of 2015-16. With a background in business, journalism, and geology, he was interested in the preservation of heritage around the world, and the role of education as it pertains to that goal. Rae has been in the HMO family since 2015 and has contributed enormously to our cause. We regret of Rae’s premature passing and we commit to continue his work for the benefit of heritage internationally.
My interest in this topic started as a quite personal thing. As a tribute to my grandmother who passed away two years ago. I remember that I was impressed that my grandmother had a tattoo, and more over, that she gotten it when she was a young girl, about 9 years old. The story goes like this…
The Greek historian Strabo (1st century BC) mentions tattooing as a custom of inhabitants of the area corresponding to present day Bosnia and Herzegovina. He said, “they are poor, and they have tattoos as other Illyrian tribes.”
However, this phenomenon became widespread among the Roman Catholic population of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Ottoman rule of their lands (1463 – 1878), and lasted up until 20th century, more precisely until 1938. With the creation of communist Yugoslavia, which part Bosnia and Herzegovina became after World War II, this practice of tattooing was not as desirable and it faced a sharp decline. The last recorded example of a person who had the traditional tattoo done with a traditional method is from the 1984.
Bosnian Catholics would tattoo their children hoping that it would save them from Ottoman’s practice of taking young boys and sending them to Istanbul to become soldiers and convert them to Islam. This was done so even if that happened, their children would have a permanent reminder of who they were and where they came from. The practice was even more common among young girls. Their parents hoped that tattoos of a cross or other Christian symbols would prevent Turkish men from taking them as their wives.
Bosnian Catholic Croats used to tattoo their hands, chest, wrists or even forehead with the Christian symbols (like small cross), but also many other motifs are present. There were special days during the year when tattooing would take place (usually the time before Easter). They used natural materials to prepare a mixture, such as honey, carbon, and mother’s milk.
Even today in Bosnia and Herzegovina you can find a lot of women who have these tattoos, but they were all born around the 1930s and they are the last living generation to wear this impressive evidence of the fight that their ancestors undertook to protect their faith and origins. However, some great work on this subject has been done, like the book from the prominent archaeologist and historian Ćiro Truhelka, who did research on this subject in late 19th century. There were also some workshops for tattoo artists and also a work of young researcher Tea Turalija, who is trying to document as much as possible cases of women who are still alive, to record their stories and to take photos of their tattoos. You can follow her work on
In the end, the goal for us who see this tradition as something unique and beautiful, is to bring it to the UNESCO list of Intangible Heritage. Hope you will find it fascinating as I do.
Marija Kamber finished the MA in Heritage Management in 2013 and also has a Masters in Tourism Management. With 5 years experience in marketing, she tries to combine the knowledge of those Masters into her projects. Marija plans to start work on a PhD in September in the area of cultural heritage and human rights. Her interests involve painful heritage, dark tourism, the role of heritage in conflicts and multiethnic societies, as well as the connection between heritage and human rights.