Today we’ll bring you to an unusual place, outside the mass tourism routes: Carsulae, archaeological park in Umbria, where you’ll be able to have a picnic among roman ruins, attend to folk festivals, paint the beautiful scenery and enjoy the nature. 

Sunny days and warm air always make me think about day trips around Terni, the town where I grew up.
When I was a kid, during the Sundays of late Springtime, inhabitants of Terni were used to go up to the hills around the town to have picnics. Easter was the starter of the season on the “grasslands” (where grassland was any meadow and pasture outside town): we would leave home with a camping table, camping chairs, a few plaids and a cooler full of delicious food and we would spend the holiday day immersed in the greenery. Children would play ball, run, play tennis, while adults would bathe in the sun, chatting or napping.
After a grew up, when picnics with the family were out of the question, the tradition would go on anyway. On Sunday afternoons I and friends would go to the “grasslands” to chill, meet new people, check out if the crush of the moment was there as well, maybe speak to him.
One of those destinations for “a day on the grass” was Carsulae. Have you ever heard of “Carsulae“? No? Such a pity.

Carsulae was a roman city of which only ruins are left. Since a few years, these ruins are part an archaeological park rarely attended by tourists.  And here my lament rises: why, oh why, people don’t know about Carsulae??? The beautiful Umbria has so many unexplored corners and Carsulae is one of them. For this reason, I want to bring you with me to a day trip to Carsulae, this way next time you go to Umbria you’ll be sure to check it out.

Until up when I was a young adult, Carsulae wasn’t a park yet, but it was open to everyone. It was possible to park the car not far from the ruins, to sit on the fallen walls. We would play hide-and-seek in the burial cairn, we would walk up and down the old road, trying not to trip on the well-consumed stones, we would play ball on the grass among the fallen boulders that once were buildings.
That’s the reason why Carsulae, for most of my life, was for granted. It wasn’t anything special, just a place like many others to go and have a picnic during the sunny days of springtime or late summer.
Once I grew up, I went to live away, I did travel a bit and, once back, I was able to see it with the eyes of a stranger: a unique place, underrated and unknown to most of the tourists the come to visit the region.
At last, between the late nineties and early two thousands, Carsulae became an archaeological park. Hallelujah, I’d say! Now you can access it by paying a ticket (5€), it is possible to book guided tours and it is curated and protected. Archaeologists excavate the site periodically because the ruins we see now are just a part of what’s left of the city, which is mostly underground, below the grass where I did play as a kid.
Foundations and organisations arrive from all over the world to go on with the archaeological excavations. The latest so far were carried on by the “Australian Carsulae Archaeological Project” from Macquarie University. Each year this Australian university brings a group of its students on the site. They excavate excavate excavate and bring to the surface small things of any kind, from vase fragments to plates and coins, each and every one of them one more piece to complete the puzzle of the knowledge we have about the story and life of the city.

Some time ago, I decided to show Carsulae to a friend of mine, Caridad, who’s an American painter. I was sure she would like to paint one of the beautiful sceneries! We left Terni on a September Saturday and in a half an hour we reached the park. From the parking lot, we walked a trail in the greenery to reach the ticket office, where we bought the ticket and been given a brochure with the events of the season. Oh yes,  things happen in Carsulae! It is not just a park but also a location for events such as concerts, folk festivals and so on. I wouldn’t have guessed!

A part of the amphitheatre, a kind of small Coliseum only partially brought to the surface.

From the ticket office, we then entered the park by a road that descended the hill and brought us to the ruins. The theatre and amphitheatre are the first buildings you can see; and then the basilica and the forum, nearby of which we found a nice spot under a tree where to set up our picnic.
Caridad chose the frame for her painting, not an easy task since there’s so much to appreciate: the mountain, the ruins, the trees… and indeed, soon after we noticed we were not the only ones with an artistic purpose there. A group of women were walking and talking, sketching or painting the ruins, the trees, the buildings.

Inside the church of Saint Cosma and Damiano (XI AD) where we found an Australian painter working.

We went to talk to them and we discovered they were a group of Australian tourists that every year go to Umbria to attend painting seminars with an Australian artist living in Orvieto. While the women walked around, I did notice we were quite alone in the park: the peace was almost absolute. The wind, the birds, the warm sun…. I would have liked to stay there forever.

During the early afternoon, we started to hear some weird sound: pronto pronto prova. Pronto! Prova! There was someone speaking on a microphone. What was that? We went to check, getting the chance to explore another part of the park. The old tree-lined Flaminia road always made me thing, as a child as well as now, about how many people walked that path during the ages. I walk on those consumed stones and I think of the feet and hooves that consumed the rock, to go who knows where. There’s no memory of all those people living in Carsulae, only theories. Will we end up like that as well?

The old Flaminia road, which has more than 2000 years, and was the route to go from Rome to Rimini. This part of the road was dismissed once Carsulae was abandoned, probably after heartquakes and landslides.

Philosophising and trying to not trip on the deep furrows on the Flaminia road (quite a hard task), we did arrive at the Saint Damian arc to discover that on the meadow nearby there was a folk festival. It takes place in Terni and Carsulae and every year at the end of August or beginning of September folk groups from all over Italy and Europe meet up here to share and spread ancient music and dance traditions. That’s so bad nobody knows about it! That time it was just us and the families of the groups. I think foreigners would highly appreciate that, it’s a nice show, with the marvellous setting and all.

Folking Carsulae: a classic dance around the maypole.

The day for us ended soon after that; we went back home with the blue of the sky and the green of grass and woods in our eyes, promising ourselves to go back very soon to this special place.

For you, my dear reader, my invitation is that to have a trip to Carsulae. Choose a sunny day, in Springtime or late Summer, get your picnic gear and go and discover the roman city forgotten among the Umbrian hills.

Recommended to:

  • Nature lovers (with family or not)
  • Artists looking for unique sceneries to paint
  • Sunday explorers who fancy picnics
  • Archeology nerds

Information:

  • Website with all the info you need;
  • Ticket cost: 5€;
  • Map to arrive there;
  • Carsulae is about 30 minutes by car from Terni, 90 minutes from Rome, 55 minutes from Perugia;
  • It is possible to get there by car, unfortunately, there isn’t any public transport to reach the park;
  • The roads are for everyone, children, adults and elder people without mobility problems.