The author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, while looking through a Latin atlas found a place in Italy called Narnia (the Latin name of the town of Narni used in Roman times) and used this name for his fictional Narnia. C.S. Lewis never actually visited Narni which I found surprising after spending just a short time there because Narni is a feast for the imagination! It’s an amazing medieval hilltop town full of small lanes, hidden doorways and even an 8th-century church hidden underground and forgotten until just 30 years ago.
For Narni, perched 240 meters high on a cliff, time seems to have stood still. With views over the Abbey of San Cassiano nested in the valley of where the river Nera runs through is virtually unchanged. Wandering the lanes walled with 14th century stone buildings allow you to picture what Narni might have been like 100’s of years ago.
If you are lucky enough to be in Narni during the medieval festival Corsa all’Anello (held the first two weeks of May with a huge party the last Sunday), it will be even easier to feel lost in time. The town’s people dress in medieval clothes perform displays of archery, dance, drum and trumpet processions and the main event, the Race of the Rings, all recreating the atmosphere of the 14th century.
Narni might be high on a hilltop with great views, but there is also Narni Sotterranea – an underground Narni something not to be missed. Narni Sotterranea is a great place to explore, only discovered recently (30 years ago) after being long forgotten hidden under convent and church of San Domenico. The evacuations continue with more being learned and uncovered.
The entrance looks surprisingly average just a door in a wall, but once through this door, you will find yourself in a series of rooms and passageways. The first is an 8th-century church with a vaulted roof which even after all theses years still has its colourful alfrescos painted so long ago. In the room next to the chapel there is a Roman cistern with a display showing tools of the trade used to build the Narnia of Roman times. This part of underground Narni is surprisingly spacious and dry, and though not cold, on a hot day would make for a nice break from the Italian sun. However, if claustrophobic, the next section is not the place for you.
This area is where those accused of heresy were held, and questioned/tortured during the Inquisition tribunals. A dedicated research team has found evidence from various archives (including the Vatican and Dublin’s Trinity Collage) confirming the connection to these rooms and the Inquisition. The first room you find yourself in is the area used for the tribunals. It’s hard to stop yourself from thinking of the horrors that went on in such a room, windowless with thick walls soundproofing the screams of pain.
The room has a small door on one wall. If you squeeze through this door you will be inside the compact cell where there are mysterious drawings of symbols and writing covering almost all of the walls. The research team learned that one of the prisoners was a Freemason solider, making this room all the more fascinating. The meaning of some the writing has been translated however there is still work to do to decode and uncover the meaning of the rest.
The town of Narni being just off the usual tourist trail is very welcoming and hospitable to visitors happy to show off their beautiful town. On my visit our group of about 200 travel bloggers and journalists had lunch cooked and served for us by the town, and what a delicious meal it was.
Narni, which is the geographical centre of Italy located in the region of Umbria, just one hour by train from Rome making it a great escape from the crowds and noise of Rome. It’s a magical place that will linger in your mind for years to come.