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Bike touring and the castle of Itri

This is an excerpt from the draft of a book I’m writing about a bike tour of the Appian Way from Rome, Italy to Brindisi. The full book should be available for download in late 2012. If you’d like a copy, leave a comment with your email and I’ll let you know when it is ready. (Your email will not be published and I will never share it with other parties)

After I ride my bike into the hills for a few more miles, I see a huge fortress up ahead to my right. It’s just past sunset, and I know that if I want to explore I’ll have to stay in this area.

Roman milestone along Appian Way outside Itri, Italy

Where the road passes to the right of the castle, there’s a small town on my left. It only takes a few minutes to find a decently-priced hotel, and after some questioning I find out there’s good pizza nearby.

The decision is made. The hotel owner barely leaves off the conversation with her friends (all are sitting around a table covered with bread, coffee, and cigarettes) to get me registered, stash my bike in a back room, and welcome me to the town of Itri.

After a hot shower and pizza, some of the locals inform me that this town, Itri, got its name from the Hydra of Greek mythology, which Hercules fought in the swamps nearby. Hydra is often pronounced “Idra” or “Itra” in Greek and Italian, leading to the name.

Alessandra, who served me my pizza, told me that the castle was built up over a much older Roman edifice. There were a lot of battles over this spot, because of its strategic position on a mountain pass between two sea ports. She said the name of the town comes from the Latin word “Iter,” which means the route or the way, because of Itri’s placement on the via Appia. When I ask her about the word “Idra” she laughs and says, “That’s just mythology.”

When I’m done eating I wander around the castle in the dark. Much of the palace was demolished by allied bombing during World War II, but it’s still a vast labyrinth inhabited by scores of wild cats. Every friendly “Meow” sounds something like an Italian greeting of “Ciao.”

But the dark passageways and deep shadows are creepy, and I wish I had some company besides the cats.

Travel tip: Visit Itri on the festival “Day of Corpus Domini” (usually in June). The Itrani decorate the main street of the town with colorful mosaics made from flower petals. Almost better is the Olive Festival on the first Sunday in August. It’s a great day to taste olives, olive oil, olive bread, bruschetta, and of course there’s plenty of wine to wash it all down.

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4 Responses to “Bike touring and the castle of Itri”

  1. Maggie Porcelli says:

    Ciao! Reading with interest your commentaries and adventures. I am a weekend warrior road biker from Rockland county. Will be visiting family in Tivoli Next week. Looking for ideas on whee to rent bike and routes near by Tivoli also a good bike store with authentic Italian jerseys to bring back to cycling amici! Would be grateful for your thoughts/ recommendations.

  2. Michael Delving says:

    Itri rocks! Is that really Cicero’s tomb or did I miss something? Why don’t you post something new about your bike rides in Italy?

  3. Jacobbear says:

    Hi Michael–that’s not Cicero’s tomb, it’s a Roman milestone. It’s near the structure that’s known as Cicero’s tomb (I think I put a photo of it somewhere on this blog) but that structure isn’t really Cicero’s tomb, it’s just close to where Cicero lived and died.
    Maggie, I hope you had a good trip. I love Tivoli, and there are a lot of great back roads nearby. Sorry I didn’t reply. I haven’t put anything new up here in years. That should change soon…

  4. E. de Regt says:

    I would like to use one of your photos in a scolarly book on Roman traffic.
    Are there conditions? You have my email address.
    Evelyn de Regt

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