As much as I love seeing gorgeous old buildings and ambling down narrow cobbled alleyways in Italian cities, one of my favorite ways to get to know a place is to go hiking.
When I visited my friend Maddalena in Italy this fall, she took me on a gorgeous hike just as the sun was setting over the russet hills outside Bologna. We entered the gates of the park in time to see locals gathered around a bright red tractor to pick up some last minute produce for their dinners.
It was such a peaceful time of day to go for a walk. Mothers pushed prams and chattered happily with their friends, and old men parked themselves on benches to watch the goings on of their neighbors.
Our first stop was at the ruins of a once splendid villa rising golden and majestic in the late afternoon sun.
Once a stunning place of colonnades, soaring ceilings and a flourishing orangerie, the villa managed to survive all of World War II until it was bombed on the very last day of the war.
Maddalena and I were just discussing how we wished some rich personage would come along to restore it when she spotted a sign saying that restoration was actually beginning. Hooray!
Old black and white pictures showed us what the villa used to look like. Isn’t it beautiful and grand? Like something out of an old Hollywood movie. 🙂
I can’t wait to visit in a few years to see the villa as it ought to be: tall, stately, with native Italian plants thriving once again.
We continued on our way, Maddalena telling me what it was like in Italy during the war years. As in the rest of Europe, times were very difficult for the local population.
Unlike the rest of Europe, Italy had the dubious position of being a former ally of Germany. For several years the Nazi’s had lived peaceably in Italy, using the country as a base of operations, but overnight they went from being friends to enemies.
The results were horrifying for the Italians. Murder, starvation, and fear were daily struggles, and many lost their lives in the years that followed.
It was amazing to walk these paths, feeling completely safe and peaceful, knowing that just a few years ago Resistance fighters and Nazi’s fought a constant game of cat and mouse.
It feels so peaceful now.
So warm, quiet, and safe.
But there are still reminders of those days in the crumbling, bombed out villas scattered throughout the park.
I’m glad people are investing the time and money in restoring them, but I’m also glad I got to see them as they are. Vivid reminders of the preciousness of peace and freedom.
Soon our trail left the woods and wended up into the hills, heavenly sunshine warming us after the cool shade of the forest.
Tomorrow I’ll show you glorious views worth every step of our uphill trek.
What is a meaningful historical site you’ve visited?