Florence to Rome (via Autostrada)

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Florence to Rome (via Autostrada)

(COURIER: This trip will be relatively uneventful, since the modern Autostrada skirts the major cities. Apart from the scanty information given here, you should draw upon "general interest" Italy material included elsewhere in this Road Commentary Manual, as well as your own improvisations.)

Leaving Florence  This is Chianti wine country — you can spot the vineyards on either side of the road. Off to our right is the River Arno, which runs back north into Florence. The river originates high up in the Apennines at a point some 20 miles off to our left. Pretty soon we cross the Arno, which wanders off to our left and disappears into the hills.

Chianciano Terme (Signs appear on the highway for this town.)  This is an important and fashionable thermal spa, as indicated in the name. Sulphur and calcium springs are highly regarded as cures for liver, bile, and bowel disorders. It has modern equipment, and draws visitors from all over Italy. There are similar springs all over this area.

Chiusi (Just off to the east.)  This town is typical of many in this area: perched up on a "natural fortress" which made it easy to defend. Back in ancient times, it was one of twelve independent city-states defended by the Etruscans. A museum of Etruscan remains is its main feature, as well as Etruscan tombs, some of which go back to the 5th century B.C.

Orvieto (Looming up to the west.)  Of all the hilltop towns in Italy, this is the most spectacular. The town sits on a mass of volcanic rock. The cliffs form a natural fortress which first attracted the Etruscans to the site. They built the first settlement, then the Romans enlarged it, and during the Middle Ages, the popes used the town as a fortress against the Holy Roman Emperor. The oldest papal residence in existence is in Orvieto.

The buildings of the town are made of the same tufa rock as in the hill, so they blend into the cliffs.

Orvieto is famous for its white wines — some of the very best in Italy. Its pottery markets are equally famous.

A famous religious relic is preserved in the cathedral; the cathedral was built to house it. It is a cloth, known as the Corporal of Bolsena. A miracle occurred in Bolsena, a few miles away, in 1263. A Bohemian priest had doubts about the doctrine of Transubstantiation (i.e. that the wafer, once consecrated, actually becomes the body of Christ). Once when he was saying Mass, the consecrated wafer (known as the "Host") actually started to bleed, thus putting an end to his doubts. The bleeding Host was wrapped in a cloth, which was stained with the blood. This is the cloth that is kept in the cathedral. The Catholic feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ), which takes place every year in the spring, was inaugurated to commemorate this event.

The Apennines  The twisting and turning, and the mountain passes we're crossing are an apt reminder of Italy's most outstanding geographical phenomenon: the Apennine Mountains. This chain of mountains is the backbone of the Italian peninsula, starting north in the Alps and sweeping down the length of Italy to Sicily. The mountains were formed eons ago by a geological fault in the earth's crust: the two sides of the fault overlapped each other, pushing rocks and soil upward, which created the mountain peaks. Like most geological faults (e.g. the San Andreas fault in California), this chain once had dozens of volcanoes and was earthquake-prone; volcanic eruptions and earthquakes kept changing the face of the land. Today, however, only two volcanoes are active: Vesuvius and Etna (in Sicily). The highest peak of the Apennines is Gran Sasso (9,500 feet), located near L'Aquila, about 70 miles northeast of Rome.

Latium  We'll know we're not far from Rome when we see a sign pointing out the River Tiber (Italian: Tevere), which we cross several times. We're more or less following it into Rome. We've left the region of Umbria and are now in Latium, origin of the word "Latin." Latium is the cradle of Roman civilization, the heartland of the Roman Empire. The Italian tribe living in this area was the first to develop the organizational skills that enabled it to spread its influence and power, first over other Italian tribes, and then over far-flung peoples and nations in the then-known world. Latium's capital city has always been Rome.

Entering Rome  Notice the road signs announcing the different exits for Rome. The industrial suburbs come first, then the apartment buildings of workers, and, finally, as we near the center of the city, you'll see the older landmarks of ancient and Renaissance times. This illustrates the layout of European cities, which is the exact opposite of American cities. In the U.S., the center of a large city is usually its ugliest part: decaying old buildings, factories, stores, and only the poorest people live in it. Those who can afford it move out to the most spacious suburbs. In Europe, on the other hand, the center of the city is its most picturesque part, full of historic monuments, parks, and stately old mansions — all kept going out of civic pride. The wealthiest citizens live in the center. The surrounding suburbs, in contrast, are where the industrial plants are situated, and those who work in them live often in apartment buildings only a few blocks away.

(COURIER: Now start your introduction to Rome, following it with a brief rundown of the Rome schedule.)

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