Day87 Acquapendente to Bolsena – Volcanoes and Silence

We left our pizzeria/lodging leisurely this morning since we had a short day planned. Actually there are no long days left in the itinerary anyway….so perhaps this is the new normal.

Morning Updates Part I and II

As we left Acquapendente we realized it was a larger village than we’d imagined. We spent several minutes at historical marker after historical marker soaking in the history.

Once out in the country I was surprised to see Radicofani still standing prominently in the background over our shoulders.

Radicofani looms

The entire rest of the day was strange in that we spent it mostly in silence. It’s good to walk that way sometimes but this wasn’t an intentional act but rather ….there just wasn’t a lot to say.

The silence was broken when we caught our first glimpses of Lake Bolsena. The lake, which will be our companion for today and tomorrow was formed from a huge collapsed magma vault The whole area is littered with evidence of past volcanic activity. The lake itself has black sands.

First view of lake Bolsena

Next we saw a flock of sheep being worked by four dogs as their master whistled instructions.

Working Dogs

Our approach to Bolsena was a nice wooded walk.

Finally we arrived at Bolsena. The castle dominates the approach and the steep streets leading to the Basilica were interesting.

Bolsena Castle

We wound around the streets, through arches and alleys to the Main Street of the village. The town seemed like a ghost town – ah yes, it is 1:30pm on a Monday. All of the stores were shuttered.

A steep entry into Bolsena

It took us a minute to find the convent across from the famous Basilica of Bolsena. We rang the bell and pressed the buzzer, but the place, like everything else seemed lifeless.

Just as we were about to turn around and consider our options a weak voice in Italian spoke through the speaker. I don’t know much Italian, but honestly even if I was fluent I’m not sure I’d have understood what came out of that speaker. However I did perceive the word “pelegrini”…so I said “Si”. Then the speaker went dead.

Lamp likely not lit in awhile

There is the odd moment when something happens and you’re not sure what to do. Do we wait? Did she give us some instructions. Are we even in the right place?

I played back the speaker sounds in my mind and I thought I might have possibly heard a word that resembled “aspette”. Aha! That means wait. So we did.

Our lodging.

Sure enough moments later we heard a key unlatching a distant door, some steps, and then a shadow appeared on the other side of the heavily frosted glass. When the door opened there stood a tiny nun who later introduced herself as Sister Rita.

The next several minutes we struggled with my 20-30 words of Italian. She rambled on at top speed despite knowing we weren’t taking in a word of it. Something was important about the stove. There were some instructions about coming and going and a mention of the Basilica.

Google translate was unhelpful because I’d ask my questions but she’d answer at full speed without taking a breath before I could get the transcription to English running. Simple questions like “Is there a key” were answered in 2min discussions. In short we were lost.

But Sister Rita was sweet and gentle. We just have no idea what she was telling us. For the 100th time this trip we decided to just politely nod and then wing it from there.

Later, after we were settled we decided to tour the Basilica. The basilica of Santa Christina is dedicated to a 12yr old Christian girl that was martyred during the reign of emperor Diocletian (beginning of the 4th century). The cemetery inside was in use by Christians for 100yrs prior.


Under the current cemetery is a series of catacombs that were discovered in the 1900s and date back to the Christian persecutions. These were burial crypts and not hiding places. The Roman authorities knew of them well and they were even protected by Roman law.

We paid the 10€ to tour the crypt and had an unusual surprise. It wasn’t lit. In fact, at first we were locked in behind a iron gate….in the dark!

Now let me pause here and mention that it was really windy at this point. There were dark clouds overhead as well, but no rain. But there in the dark, behind the iron gate, the wind literally moaned as it ran through the underground tunnels.

Threatening skies early continued all day

We turned and saw through some reflected light a small room and a stone sarcophagus. Nothing else was evident. No exit, not light switch, not instructions…nothing. Our first thought was (that was kind of a rip off). But we knew there must be more.

Spooky crypt writings

We walked around the crypt and there was a nice mosaic, a crack in the sarcophagus in which you could see inside (nothing there).

Nice mosaic

Then we saw it, I the corner, hiding in the shadows was a dark set of stone steps leading down. Hollywood horror movies couldn’t have written a better script. On came the cell-phone flashlight…and down we went.

Lit by my phone

The wind moaned again and the faint sound of another iron gate closing echoed on the stone walls.

Down the steps we were in history. Row upon row of human-sized niches were carved into the rock. The main corridor had multiple branches, each with more stacks of niches which once held the remains of the victims of the Christian persecutions.

Mystery around every corner

After our slow tour with the flashlight alternating between our next step and the walls, we made our way back up. By this time some other “victims” (a tour group) had joined us and we decided to linger until they left. We were the first in and the last to leave. As we did, the manager of the catacombs came in and uttered some words of disbelief. She walked over to a panel hidden in a corner and flicked a few switches. These had the effect of lighting the whole place up. Oddly, the moaning seemed to stop in concert with the lights. Spooky.

It looked so different with the lights on

We’d seen everything with my flashlight but we couldn’t resist taking a second look in the light. I’m glad we did. We’d missed a lot. Carved into or painted on the rock were writings or Christian symbols like the fish and the chi-rho.

It was a pretty cool way to end the evening.

We made a quick grocery run to get some breakfast supplies before coming back to the convent to warm up a pizza in the oven and then hit the sack.

Also in the convent tonight are a group of about 5 gentlemen that are on Day 1 of their West to East cross Italy walk – apparently that is a thing.

Published by

Mark Dowty

"An Intentional Life"

8 thoughts on “Day87 Acquapendente to Bolsena – Volcanoes and Silence”

  1. Quite a bit of variety included in today’s posting – wooded trails, city streets, and crypts!
    Did you have someone take the video as you walked along the wooded trail or did you use a timer to start and stop the video clip?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Allison and Mark,
    What a wonderful day. It was very rich and exciting. A travel in space and time in one day. I hope that it is warmer than in Besançon and I send all my energy to you for the last straight line.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yesterday I was subbing as an English teacher in a local high school. The focus of the day was on Edgar Allen Poe and one of the stories was “The Cask of Amontillado” ( If you don’t know the story, the protagonist is seeking revenge on a “friend” and leads him into the catacombs where he claims to have a cask of special wine. I was able to show the kids in the class your pictures of the catacombs because many had never seen any before. It was the one time in the period where they seemed to perk up – a testimony to your graphics and an illustration of my limits as an English teacher.
    Thanks for your help!

    Liked by 1 person

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