Casa Capena in the media

Casa Capena has received some very favourable mentions in the press and on various websites and blogs.

You may like to take a look at an article on the website Later Life, as well as the lengthy series of blog posts written by Casa Marconi guest Kerstin Brown, which are reproduced here on the Casa Capena website.

Carpe Capena

“Pot planted and balconied … ”

Marc Mordey was inspired to write Italy is – or, Carpe (enjoy) Capena – a poem reflecting his holiday with his wife, the writer Helen Carey, when they stayed at Casa Marconi in spring 2013.

Here’s one delightful verse:

It’s life, vigour, the weight of history
For this one week
It’s the street where we live
Carpe Capena
Pot planted and balconied,
Lamplit and almond blossomed,
Monastic, mosaiced and modern.

You can read the poem in full on his blog, The Marcist Agenda.

In 2008 Casa Capena owner Juliet wrote an article about the village for the magazine The Roman Forum. The article is reproduced below:

I first visited Capena, a village near Rome, some 30 years ago in the company of my friend Christina and her mangy dog named Grappa. Little did I know then what a big part it would come to play in my future.

Christina was an American art student who, like me, eked a living by teaching English and lived a bohemian and slightly seedy life in Rome with an out of work Italian actor. She took me and, of course, Grappa, on a 45-​​minute bus trip out of Rome past Prima Porta, along the Via Tiberina past prostitutes teetering atop gates in front of flower-​​strewn meadows before turning off for the last 5 kilometres or so up the hill to Capena.

As we walked down into the old village, I was entranced by the sleepy charm of the crumbling medieval and Renaissance buildings in the old town centre. It was like walking onto the set of a Pasolini film.

My friend spoke fluent Italian but I did not and I remember spending my first day in the village being trailed from one tiny, quirkily-​​decorated old house to another as she chattered away to the various artists she knew there, who lived virtually rent-​​free in the crumbling old monastery and citadel perched on the rocky defensive spur known as the Rocca. That day, we ate at Orlandino’s osteria, still remembered to this day for its succulent home-​​reared pork chops cooked over hot coals, home-​​grown salads, home-​​made wine and more.

I was hooked by the charm of that rural existence so close to the capital. More day trips followed, turning in to weekends and renting a small apartment in the village. Soon I was living in Capena full time and commuting to Rome.

My memories of that time are of long, sunny days with a welcome breeze blowing up from the valley floor in the evenings and slightly grubby glasses of home-​​produced wine proffered by colourful characters from every cantina door. Donkeys and mules were common sights. Break­fasting at the bar, I would share the counter with weather-​​beaten men who had been working on the land since dawn and were already downing grappas with their coffee. Even then, in the early 1980s, some women still did their washing at the communal washhouse and walked around with great bowls of laundry on their heads. Long summer days gave way to crisp autumn and winter days flavoured by the smell of woodsmoke.

Various festivals punctuated the year, announced by deafening firecrackers and a gloriously out of tune village band. Festas organised by political parties of various persuasions were also frequent, when the main street would be taken over in the evening by middle-​​aged couples in their Sunday best dancing as though on invisible castors to deliciously cheesy bands. The wine festival was the high spot of the year and involved the whole village being improbably turned into a 200cc go-​​kart track somewhat ineffec­tually marked out by hay bales and an endless supply of free wine pouring from the lion’s head in the village centre (shown in the photo below, sans wine). The result was inevitable: a health and safety nightmare with tipsy villagers dawdling over the track, but nobody seemed to mind — or even get hurt for that matter.

I was adopted by my neighbours and we spent long, relaxing summer evenings sitting outside our houses under the soft light of the sodium lamps, chatting about nothing in particular over succulent watermelon slices with a backdrop of bats and shooting stars.

After a year or two of this idyllic life, I reluctantly left Rome and Capena for Turin and then back to England where I took up a more responsible existence but came back to the village one summer day with my two small boys some twelve years later. That evening, to my surprise and delight, a long trestle table complete with gingham table cloth was set up in the square in our honour and all my old neighbours bought food and wine. I was back home.

After that, we returned every summer and it was not long before I wanted a place of my own. A word in the year of a builder friend resulted in a twilight visit to a ruin on the west side of the Rocca. As we picked our way gingerly through the rubble, a ray from the setting sun struck a niche that must once have held a votive offering on the far wall and a bat flew away in alarm. I was entranced. A year later I owned the end result, my own apartment on the Rocca, complete with metre-​​thick walls and caves carved out of the soft tufa stone of the Rocca by its original Etruscan residents.

Capena has changed a lot over the years but still retains its charm and warmth, partic­ularly in the medieval and Renaissance area around Piazza del Popolo in the old town. It can still be reached along the Via Tiberina, but also lies just 10 minutes from the Roma Nord motorway exit.

The wine cooperative is long gone, though many villagers still make wine and olive oil for their own use. The old communal washing place has not been used for years and has now been restored as a site of local history.

Some of the artists whom I met on my first visit to Capena have disap­peared, but at least one has stayed and become a well-​​known name: Rosina Wachtmeister’s pictures of Capena and its cats are now famous throughout the world. The legacy of this creative past gives the old town centre its relaxed, bohemian feel, and a few artists are still in residence along with a couple of small workshops producing paintings and pottery.

One of the chief pleasures of a stay in the village these days is still its wonderful restaurants. Though they no longer serve the brimming carafes of cloudy, slightly vinegary local wine I remember from years ago, the food is excellent wherever you go and the service is all the better, in my opinion, for a general lack of written menus.

Capena is full of history, stretching back to Etruscan times, when it was part of the territory dominated by the Capenate tribe. The archae­ological site of Lucus Feroniae lies just outside the village near the turn-​​off (or bivio) on the Via Tiberina. The Rocca itself is also an important historical site, having been in turn an Etruscan burial site, a medieval stronghold and a Renaissance monastery. If you look carefully at the Renaissance buildings in Piazza de Popolo, you can see pieces of Roman marble that the builders must have taken from much earlier buildings. Further examples of archi­tectural canni­balism include the lion’s head fountain (from which wine pours at the wine festival), now located far from its original site on the Rocca, and a very old church font perched incon­gruously on a much later fountain, that incid­entally featured in a film starring Totò, the legendary Italian comic actor who was famous in the 1960s.

Capena contains a dispro­por­tionate number of churches for its size, but the real gem among them is the tiny Byzantine church of San Leone hidden away in the old cemetery, which dates back to the 8–9th century AD. It contains what may be the only icono­stasis (an altar screen with bas relief sculpture) to be seen intact in its original site anywhere in the world. It also houses frescos dating back to the first millennium AD.

More recently, Capena’s name was briefly changed to Leprignano during Mussolini’s dictat­orship. During the war it is also rumoured that the Partisans used to hide in the Etruscan tunnels that run beneath the old part of the village like a honeycomb.

Capena still celebrates the same festivals. These include the contro­versial festival of San Antonio on 17 January, when all its citizens, including children, are invited to smoke cigarettes lit from a fire outside the church. This practice has caused such an outcry since the smoking ban that the townspeople have gone back to smoking rosemary in clay pipes as they used to do in ancient times. Easter is celebrated by a costumed procession through the streets on Good Friday. The oddly sinister hooded parti­cipants carry silver platters bearing symbols of the Passion. On 13–15 August – Santa Maria Assunta or ferragosto – Capena’s most exciting festival culminates in two teams of statue bearers racing toward one another at – literally – breakneck speed, followed by a spectacular firework display.

At the wine festival, still held on the first Sunday in October, Capena is adorned with grapes and olive branches and, yes, wine still flows from the mouth of the famous lion’s head. Stalls are set up through the old streets and the Rocca and picturesque processions take place with donkey races and more — but sadly the village no longer echoes to the angry buzz of go-​​kart engines.

Short stories

In the early 1980s Juliet wrote two (very) short stories based on her observations of life in Capena, and these were broadcast on BBC World Service. Please click the links below if you’d like to read them.

La Veneziana
Photograph Wedding (1984)