[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Gunfire popped in the trees around us and the clamor of the dog pack was clearly drawing closer. Ordinarily under such circumstances (if there are any ordinary circumstances that involve being caught in a cross fire), the thought of a tomb would be considered grim, but for us, it was the closest thing to a foxhole going, and thus welcome shelter. I flashed Michelle my best “but you still love me smile, ” (because this was clearly My Fault), and was gratified at her forgiving chuckle. Then she told me my head was up over the ledge and I better duck lower if I didn’t want to get hit.
How did two mild mannered Seattleites end up taking cover from hunters in a two thousand year old Etruscan tomb in the hills of Umbria?
The problem was, we were bored of “medieval hilltop villages”. I know how it sounds, like we’re taking it for granted or we’re burnt on travel, and maybe they’re both a bit true, but seriously: you poke around the streets of thousand-plus year old villages perched on cliff-ringed hilltops, with their impossibly narrow, tiny, twisting stone streets, random arches, mysterious plaques, hidden courtyards, patchwork repairs, three-legged dogs, and one-eyed cats for a few days (or weeks), and pretty soon, they all start to look the same. Delightfully, charmingly the same.
So, you want something different.
The freezing rain was soaking through our hats and shoes as we tromped through the medieval hilltop town of Perugia. Cold, wet, frustrated, and, at the risk of repeating myself, cold, we ducked into the tourist office in the hopes of finding Something Different, or, at the very least, Something Dry. In addition to the usual propaganda extolling the town’s churches and museums, we got a little guide entitled “Archaeological Itineraries”.
It was filled with information about the various ancient sites within Perugia: the Hypogeum of the Volumni, the Roman Amphitheatre, and, tucked away on the last page, this little gem:
The Faggeto Tomb
Exiting the north part of the city and going through Elce, San Marco and Cenerente, we come to Colle Umberto…From here, after taking the provincial road for Umbertide and then an unmarked route up the slopes of Mount Tezio, it is a 30- or 40-minute walk to the summit of Cresta della Fornace…Just past a small clearing, there is a narrow trail. From here, it is an easy five minute walk to the Faggeto tomb, which is visible inside a small enclosure circled by young cypress tress. It was discovered by chance in 1920 on an estate that is private even today… A corridor flanked by two walls leads to the door, composed of a heavy rectangular slab of sandstone still set on hinges in the architrave and threshold…On the sides there are traces of a platform, where a travertine cinerary urn was discovered…The tomb is datable to the second half of the second century BC.
A 2,200 year old tomb, discovered by accident, tucked away in the hills down an unmarked trail? We’re in!
The problem was, you know, the “unmarked trail” part. There’s a reason that we usually go down marked trails. It’s the markings that let us find them. Without the markings, they’re just spots in a large, undifferentiated wood.
Woods that, in this case, were filled with men with guns.
We spent a bit of time with the man in the tourist office determining where, exactly, this “unmarked trail” was, but he clearly thought the whole enterprise was a Bad Idea (or at least that’s what I think his constant repeating of “very difficult” meant) and also, he didn’t exactly know where it was. Also, he spoke only a smattering of English.
Armed with the word “cemetery”, the phrase “two roads” and a photocopy of a topo map, we made our way the next morning out of Perugia north, down XXXX, YYY, and ZZZ. We overshot, doubled back, overshot in a new and different way and then returned to the last town we had passed through to ask at the only shop.
The shopkeeper, needless to say, spoke no English, nor based on the puzzled look on his face, had he ever heard of the tomb.
Still, we showed him the map and the instructions in Italian, and he pointed us towards the correct road (literally “pointed us”, in the sense that he walked out of his shop, out to the road and pointed).
Awesome, we’re on track! Nothing between us and that tomb but an unmarked trail![/vc_column_text][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” interval=”3″ images=”82,70,71,72,73,74,76,77,78,79,80,81,69″ onclick=”link_image” custom_links_target=”_self”][vc_column_text]About 2 or 3 kilometers up a winding, dirt road we found what we thought was the trailhead. Cars parked, a trail, we’re almost there!
About 300 m up the trail, we came across an empty field. Empty except for the guy with the gun in it.
Hunting, cool. He’s wearing an orange safety vest, and we’re wearing mostly green and black, thus rendering us mostly indistinguishable from the forest and his quarry (wild boar, it later turned out).
We slowly back down the path. Wrong turn, we’re pretty sure.
This is where we get brilliant.
Remember I said I had that pocket GPS? Well, it doesn’t have a screen, but I can hook it up to my laptop and download the log, and use LOCR to convert that to something Google Earth can lay out on a map. And I’ve set up Google Earth to cache maps so I can look at them when I’m not on-line. And (oh man, I am BRILLIANT) I took the precaution the previous night of scanning the whole area while on-line with Google Maps, so I’ve got a good cache ready.
Presto, next thing we know, we’re looking at a map of where we drove and walked (mostly totally wrong) right next to the photocopied topo map of where we’re supposed to be (not that far away).
A short, bumpy ride up some rough dirt roads and we’re…well, as far as we can drive.
At this point, it would have been optimistic to say that we had found an unmarked trail. Rather, I would have said that there was certainly no marked trail, so, in that sense, it was an unmarked trail.
Still, we were optimistic, so we tromped into the woods…right past the next guy with the gun. Actually, two of them, on either side of a field.
Michelle, who spent many a summer in upstate New York, felt that the wisest course of action would be to turn around, since walking through the woods in green clothing during hunting season is just plum foolish. She explained it clearly and forcefully.
Obviously, I’d have none of that.
We’d come this far. Twists, turns, language barriers, rocky roads, the brilliance, BRILLIANCE of the GPS, and then turn around? Pah!
I offered her the car keys and promised to be back shortly. When faced with the choice of having to find my bleeding body later in the woods, or being on hand to administer first aid, she chose to stand by her man, and we headed into a break in the trees, which could arguably be construed as an unmarked trail.
We found it.
I know, it sounds like a lot of build up and then we find the trail and then find the tomb, but believe me, it was a bit more harrowing. First, there was the constant sound of gunfire in the opposite hills. And the disappearing trail that later reappeared. And the hunter’s blinds.
Ultimately, though, just as we were about to give up and turn around, I spotted some cypress trees through the woods and we found a little sign and tomb.
Sooo cool. The door still swung on its stone hinge after sitting in the woods for over two millenia! Didn’t even need WD-40! We scampered about it and inspected it and tried to imagine who was here in the woods two thousand years ago making it and looking at the chip marks and imagining what it must have been like to discover it by accident in 1920…
When the gunfire started. Really close. All around. And the dogs yapping and barking and chasing…something.
Fortunately, as you can see in the pictures, the tomb provides a perfect foxhole-like setting to wait out gunfire. We could see at least one hunter through the woods, but felt that given the language barrier and our lack of orange clothing, jumping up and shouting “hey, please don’t shoot this way” probably wasn’t advisable.
Instead, we just decided to hunker down and wait it out.
And then it began to snow.
I flashed Michelle my best “but you still love me smile, ” (because this was clearly My Fault), and was gratified at her forgiving chuckle. Then she told me my head was up over the ledge and I better duck lower if I didn’t want to get hit.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]