The Track

The Track

10 Oct 2022
ca. 20 minutes
Bernhard Schirg

The trailhead

It seemed as if an invisible hand had pulled the light green fields aside, just enough to expose the narrow strip of dusty ground.

The dirt road drifted off in a soft decline between banks of broom. The air above the sand was shimmering, with black spots shuttling above. Occasionally, a breeze rustled through the bushes, cicadas chirring from the yellow blossoms.

A few ruins appeared on a hillside further on. Below was a cavernous shadow swallowing up the path as I drew closer. I stepped towards the all-embracing darkness. A whiff of cool air blew towards me, carrying a scent of wet stone.

Walking forward, my soles sank into the clayey ground, the dull echoes of my steps reverberating from the walls. Between curbs running along the walls to the left and right, a row of plates. With a muddy foot I moved one of them aside, revealing a drainage trench.

Bracing myself against the wall, I stepped up onto one of the curbs. Under my fingertips I felt the grainy texture of sprayed concrete. In the distance, the sightlines converged to a shimmer.

As my eyes accustomed, it dawned on me.

I had entered a railway tunnel.

View into a tunnel

Switch points

How did I end up here, in a derelict tunnel in the Italian countryside? The answer led far beyond the decision I had made a few days earlier to leave the city of Rome behind.

The peaks of the Monti Sabini were still snow-capped when I arrived in Rome a few months earlier. In the mornings, I made my way from my flat near the Pantheon to the ancient libraries where I spent most of my days. In the evenings, the soft light of the street lamps illuminated the crests of white blossoms brimming over the walls along the ruin-lined path. Bypassing the tourists flocking to dinner with a short-cut through Santa Maria sopra Minerva, I returned to an empty apartment.

In the past, Italy had been a refuge, the place where I returned to reset and find inspiration. Wherever I turned my gaze or my footsteps, there was something to sate the hunger of a jumpy mind. This time, however, felt different. The days in the libraries fed a feeling of futility, a reluctance to turn the next page. On the way home, I passed the ruins and galleries with indifference to the stories that waited behind their walls.

That year, Rome was only one station in a row of short-term scholarships. I had lined them up the year before, in hopes of creating some sort of continuity after finishing my PhD.

Now, questions loomed.

Is this really my path?

Some of these evenings my path took me through the Via dei Fori Imperiali, towards the Colosseum and to dear friend’s apartment. It was at his dinner table where the doubts that were rising to the surface began to take shape into a pool of frustration and uncertainty.

The long days at a desk running together in a blur. The weight of footnotes and commentaries. My sense of agency dulled by a lack of clarity. Major life choices made dependent on the outcome of long applications with minimal chances of success.

“Dig a way out of academia if you still can,” I remember his words as he topped up my glass of wine.

The outline

Sometimes, the best reaction to a dawning sensation of “anything, just not this” is flight. Choosing the fog over the familiar, however, is the hardest part.

Stepping away, letting go, going sideways may seem to run opposite to our quest for continuity. And yet, it is only in hindsight that the dots connect to the actual story.

Easter visitors were flocking to Rome those early days in spring. On my way into Termini I swam against their streams. Boarding a regional train, I struck out for the hills around Tolfa, seventy kilometers up the coast.

It was Easter morning when I climbed the spike of tuff that had been the center of the town in mediaeval times. A greensward widened behind the ruins of the castle that once crowned its top. Lichens grew on the rocks behind the stone walls, painting their patterns of light gray and mustard yellow.

View from the Castello di Rota of Tolfa.

Spikes of grass tickled my neck as I lay down on a soft patch in between them. The ringing of the bells for Easter mass wafted on the wind from the other side of town. As I ran my hand through the grass, my view wandered to the horizon.

The coast must lie somewhere over there, I thought.

What if I just go?

Car after car passed by the Church of Santa Maria della Sughera on the other side of town. Wives in passenger seats crossing themselves, their gazes rigidly fixed on the façade, as their husbands steered by.

After waiting about an hour, a two-door Panda stopped. A man in his forties leaned over from the driver’s seat. Hanging slightly crooked, the door creaked open.

“Further inland, into the fields,” I answered his question. At his quizzical look, I added: “Anywhere.”

He motioned me in while he grabbed a roll-your-own cig, lodged under grey hair behind his ear.

Tolfa lies in the sparsely populated region of northern Lazio. On forested roads, we passed through the hills behind the town. “You know the wolves are coming back to these lands,” said my driver, the wind from the open window peeling flakes of ashes from his cigarette.

Minutes later, the Panda shuddered to a stop. “Try this road,” he said with a raspy voice, raising a finger from the wheel.

I started my journey towards the coast from where he left me, taking the sun as a vague indicator. Beyond a curve a few kilometers on, the path led onto the sun-dried track with the soft decline.

It was only once I was inside the tunnel that I realized that I had come across an abandoned railway. When I came out on the other end, squinting in the sunlight, I could make out the cubic shapes of two buildings silhouetted further down the embankment.

Mole del Mignone station.

Brittle patches on the outer walls revealed the underlying brickwork. From the smaller building, green leaves reached up towards the sky. A tree had rooted in the chunks of tiles and white porcelain.

Over time, the band of letters that ran around the larger of the ruins had crumbled away. Some of the yellow tiles lay scattered in the grass below, as if shaken from a Scrabble board. Mole del Mignone, I pieced them together.

A chalky smell emanated from what once had been the station’s main entrance. Blotches of light shone through holes in the ceiling, illuminating the heap of rubble that had been the second floor.

I hesitated to enter.

The sun was already setting when I left the track behind. A few kilometers further down, the distant noise of cars had guided me to a nearby road. At the exit of a roundabout, I hitched a ride to Civitavecchia.

Passengers with cruise line logos on their shirts crossed my way back to the station, their trolleys chattering on their way to the harbor. A warm light poured through the windows as my train rolled towards Rome. Behind a line of tankers moored on the far horizon, the sun was sinking into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The golden light illuminated the pages of my notebook that I had filled, enthused by the serendipitous discovery. Sketches of hill panoramas along the railway line, the names of derelict stations orbiting along its projected path.

Waves crashing against a jetty in the sea
View from Civitavecchia on the sea.

Back on the main line

Rails lend stability to a course and dictate its destination. Yet the iron that makes them solid also affects the bearings of our compass.

I have always admired people who have cultivated the art of riding the wave of coincidence into a guiding principle. Some perceive deviations from their idea of life as a straight line as failure. And yet, it can be the sidetracks that lead us the furthest. In any case, they make the better stories.

It was a few months later that I disembarked from a train in an alpine valley. Innsbruck was the last station in the line-up of short-term scholarships I had put together the previous year.

Before I left for Austria, I had learned that my application for a long-term project had been successful. It was a perspective of certainty that, though many months away, put my mind at ease.

I didn’t know what to expect at Innsbruck. What I found in the Inn Valley was a city bursting with activity and outdoor life. A sense of community among my new colleagues.

Yet above all, there was something about the mountains rising on either side of the city that added to a sense of belonging. Their allure seemed to rest all across the city. It was a sight that engendered a desire to wander, to see what lay beyond, luring with open views and serenity.

The energy among the people around me was palpable – a form of physical drive, inspired by a curiosity of place. And there was a sense of freedom every time I geared up to join in. Something came to rest the moment I set out.

View south from the Nordkette.

I ended up staying in Innsbruck many months longer than I had planned. It was well into the new year that one of my new friends told me he was planning to drive to Rome to be with his family for the holidays.

He would pass through Orte on his way, I thought, recalling the line I had sketched out in my notebook the year before. The stretch I had followed down to Civitavecchia ended – or began – in that station in the Tiber Valley, an hour north of Rome.

In the early morning hours of Easter Saturday, I loaded my backpack into my friend’s trunk. I had a tent, food for five days, and a series of printed aerial shots rolled up in a plastic tube, tracing the railway line as it wound through the hills of northern Lazio down to the coast.

Map with marker on the region north-west of Rome
The region of northern Lazio north-west of Rome, with a pin marking the city of Orte. Contains information from OpenStreetMap which is made available under the Open Database License (ODbL).

Clouds pressed down on the Tiber Valley as my friend dropped me off at Orte later that afternoon. On the other side of the river rose the hills of Umbria. Somewhere up there lay the steel mills of Terni, protected in the heart of Italy.

In the late nineteenth century, the Italian state had built them there, close to a dozen dams where electric power abounded, and at a safe distance from both coasts. After World War One, a direct railway line to the western coast was built, connecting the industrial hub in Umbria with the port of Civitavecchia.

Ruin of a signal house
Canine company on a field path leading towards the line.

From the train station at Orte, I followed paths through the fields until I reached the hamlet of Castel Bagnolo di Orte. A dirt road led down from the village, crossing the railway line a little further below.

The crossing bells had fallen silent in the mid-nineties. Next to their post stood a dilapidated signal house. In black numbers on the crumbling masonry: 77.804. Meters to the coast.

On this section of the line, there were still rails on the track bed. The moment my feet touched the ties, there was that feeling.

I was back on track.

Ruin of a signal house
Signal house near Castel Bagnolo di Orte.

The drawing

Wet heat rose from the rusting rails in the morning sun. I had weathered the night’s rain a little further down the line at an abandoned station house.

The sound of chimes woke me up that Easter morning, far away from any church. Eventually, I spotted the sheep near the signal house further up the line. Bells ringing softly from their collars, the flock ebbed over the railway crossing.

In the early light I explored the ruin where I had pitched my tent. It was the same cubical design as the station ruins I had come across the year before. Ivy was growing where window frames had been, tapestries of dark green on walls of naked brick. The wooden station doors still hung in place, the brittle paint flaking off. Pericolo crolli, handwritten letters warned near the jamb: danger of collapse.

The abandoned station of Castel Bagnolo di Orte.

Beyond the doors, the damp walls retained the night’s cold. Scattered between the rubble on the ground lay manuals, schedule logs, ledgers, tables of distances and fares, pre-printed sick leave forms, the daily traffic summary. Records of an organism whose vital functions had faded out a quarter-century ago.

Rubble and old papers on a dusty floor
Remains of railway bureaucracy.

My feet sifted through broken glass and papers, stirring dust and brittle scraps in the remains of Italian bureaucracy. From the empty window frames, a breeze rustled in the paper forest. One of the tablets was headed Rallentamento (slowdown), telling train conductors where to decelerate the train.

I picked up the heavy tablet and thumbed through the damp pages. On form number 25, my fingers traced the deep furrows that a child’s hand had drawn into the soft paper with a ball-point pen. The outline of a woman, a lunch box in hand, so it seemed. Next to her, blurred stamps from the local station.

Children's drawing on a railway form
Children's drawing on an Italian railway form.

Who was the child who drew this image? I wondered.

The daughter of the station master, perhaps? Maybe he brought her to work one early morning, a few workers waiting on the platform, flipping the butt of the day’s first cigarette onto the track as the train rolled in? Perhaps the villagers who passed the counter that day had noticed her in a small corner behind the glass, playing with the pens and stamps and discarded forms that her father handed her from his desk.

Was it her mother that the girl had in mind when she drew the picture, the person for whom they waited, coming from the nearby village with a lunchpail just after the noon train had passed?

What had become of them? I wondered as grains of dust settled on the debris in rays of sun.

"This was my creation"

Back out on the platform edge, I stepped back down onto the track. Further on, brambles grew over the line in thick bushes. I stomped down the highest of the thorny twigs down with my foot. I hadn’t considered packing gardening gloves.

Railway disappearing in brambles
Rusty railways leading into berry shrubs.

On the track’s course towards the coast, bridges span the numerous ravines. Over millennia, the tributaries of the Tiber have gnawed deeply into the tuff plateau west of the river, furrowing the volcanic ground like veins on a grape leaf. It was a terrain that posed many challenges for railway engineers.

Metal ties supported the rails across the first of seven viaducts. Between them was a direct view to the whitewater below. A maintenance path with no railing ran alongside. With shaky knees, I crossed over rusty grid plates, trying to keep my eyes on the horizon.

Not much later, I spotted two figures walking in the distance. After a while, I caught up with the man and the boy, both carrying secateurs. “This used to be second highest bridge in Italy,” Maurizio explained as we approached another viaduct. Five arches of red brickwork spanned the river, pillars of overgrown travertine carrying their weight.

“It’s part of our local heritage. We spend a lot of our weekends taking care of it.” Emmanuele nodded his agreement. “Bushwhacking is better for him than the screens,” Maurizio added, patting his son’s head with a teasing glance.

I indicated the logo of a repair shop stitched on his blue fleece. “My workshop for agricultural machines,” Maurizio explained. In his spare time, he continued, he was working on a self-propelled clearing cart – a rail-bound buzz-saw which could free large parts of the bramble-infested track much more quickly than they could do it by hand.

“Maybe I’ll have it ready next year,” he said. There was a sparkle in his eyes. “Maybe we’ll have hikers on the track in a few years,” he smiled.

The eastern half of the line on which we were walking had remained in operation until the mid-nineties. The iron rails are still there, overgrown by trees and brambles. All attempts to reinstate the railroad have failed.

“No one knows if these structures are still safe,” Maurizio explained as we set foot on the viaduct. It was nine decades ago, on 1 November 1928, that the inaugural train had rolled across the river.

Half-way across, Maurizio pointed out a marble relief on the other side of the railing: an axe and fasces facing the water below. The ancient symbol of Roman power, usurped by the Fascists in 1922.

A railway viaduct seen from below
Under an arch of the train viaduct after Gallese.

The Civitavecchia-Orte line was officially opened on 28 October 1929 – the seventh anniversary of Mussolini’s March on Rome. With his finger, Maurizio drew a circle on the horizon. “When the Fascists had the viaducts built for the line, three noble families owned these lands,” he said, pointing to the fields around.

“The Count of Lapi planned and commissioned this structure,” he continued. “Lapi took out a mortgage on all the property you can see from here. But he misjudged the ground.” A shadow touched his voice. “The pillars sunk in. The correction works necessary meant Lapi’s financial ruin. The bank took over his property.”

Maurizio paused.

Questa era la mia creatura, sarà la mia morte, they say were his words.” (This was my creation – let it be my death).

Maurizio leaned a little further over the railing. “This where he jumped.”

Welcome to the Jungle

At the end of the viaduct, Maurizio took us down a narrow footpath to the raging waters below. On the way down, he pointed out the tasty stems of wild asparagus to his son, their crowns waving in the wind like branches of fir trees. Lianas spanned the space between the arches, their tendrils piercing into the masonry. Pieces of brick and travertine lay scattered on the slopes below.

With his hand tools, Maurizio began working at some of the arm-thick roots that veined the blocks. “We’ll have to come back with a chainsaw,” he concluded after a few chops.

“Planted by the birds,” he noted after spotting a small olive tree growing from cracks in the masonry. Carefully, Maurizio pulled up its roots from between the joints, wrapping a plastic bag around the sapling. “This will do nicely in our garden plot.”

A few minutes later, we returned to Maurizio’s car and rumbled up a dirt track from the viaduct into the nearby village. It was time for an espresso.

The crater of the Monti Cimini rose on the horizon. For millennia, the lands around the extinct volcano had been used for agriculture. At a time when the Romans were still just the people who lived in Rome, the ancient Falisci had turned the tuff plateau into fertile fields.

Maurizio pointed to the geometric rows that were passing by the car. “All hazelnuts.” The dry twigs were brushed with the first green. “You know,” he continued, “much of the biodiversity around here is endangered. Farming is extensive.”

Below the bushes, I noticed the tawny lines scorched into the April fields. “The stuff they spray is highly toxic,” Maurizio explained. “And it all ends up in our water.” He had been mayor some years ago, he mentioned on the way into town. His brow furrowed whenever we returned to local politics.

View from a viaduct over a hazelnut plantation
Hazelnut bushes growing from sprayed patches. To the right, the (active) metropolitan railway bending towards Rome. In the distance, Mount Soratte emerging near the Tiber Valley.

Over the last few years, he went on, he had been working on another machine; one that would mechanically remove the weeds in the root section of hazelnut fields. But then – lack of financing. A suffocating bureaucracy. The all-pervasive lethargy. And, not to be ignored, the corruption.

“Things have to change,” he said. “Grillo. Salvini. Just anyone who promises to clean this mess up.”

A little further down the dirt road, Maurizio nodded towards an area widening between the plantations. “The WWF now runs a nature reserve over there. It’s a paradise for plants in the midst of that monoculture of nuts.”

“We have some really old stuff around here too,” Maurizio later pointed out, stirring his coffee. “The Romans drove the Via Amerina straight through these lands after they conquered them from the Falisci. The Roman road crosses the old railway line not far away from the station building.”

“How much of it is left?” I wanted to know.

“A few stretches,“ Maurizio replied. “Nature has reclaimed most parts. And the farmers have done their part destroying what is left of the Roman heritage.

One of his eyebrows lifted.

“Makes hazelnut farming with machines easier, you know.”

Promised lands

It was early afternoon when we drove back to the abandoned railway, with a stopover at the family’s garden plot. Maurizio returned from the chicken coop with his hands full of warm eggs. Carefully, I wrapped them into a fleece.

Man with eggs.
Easter present.

“This is now the WWF headquarters,” Maurizio pointed out as he pulled the handbrake near the old station building. A few volunteers were around, and greeted him as one of their own.

With a last handshake and a cordial hug, he handed me the bag of wild asparagus he and Emmanuele had collected. “Take it all!” Maurizio said. “It’s still a long way to the coast.”

Quickly, my feet re-adapted to the rhythm of the ties, following the track as it passed between fenced-in plantations to the left and right. Branches snapped as I plodded through the heaps of clippings that farmers had dumped in the trench. In a streak of rusty brown, a startled fox darted up the slope.

Rising with a mild gradient, the line led towards an embankment. I took a seat on the sun-warmed rails and set up my stove.

Pot on a railway.
Easter dinner.

Over the meal, my view wandered over the rows of hazelnut bushes and the odd crumbling building in between.

A few centuries ago, the areas around Rome had been the place where artists and writers came to find a pastoral idyll. It was these landscapes filled with ruins and sheep that embodied their vision of Arcadia – that rural counter-world envisioned by ancient poets like Vergil as a respite from the complications of urban life and the political distress of the Roman Empire. A world where farmers lived in harmony with nature and the gods, where shepherds played their flutes in the shade of trees.

Little of such a vision still found purchase on the endless rows of hazelnuts that converged towards the horizon. And in reality, the pastoral idyll imagined by painters and poets was long since gone.

Around 1800, Charles Victor de Bonstetten, a reform-minded former official in rural Switzerland, travelled to Italy. He found the lands in the countryside thinly populated and impoverished. The forms of agriculture were non-sustainable, Bonstetten deplored. The forests lay scavenged and the fields mismanaged. In fact, the land around Rome was so poor that bread had to be brought in from the city.

Yet above all, the lover of ancient literature grieved the loss of the lands the Roman poets has once sung.

The sky, the sea, the mountains with their shining colours – in one word: everything which lies outside of man’s power – still speaks to us out of Vergil and the times that are no more. The present, however, has exhausted everything else; something that only barbarism is capable of achieving. CHARLES VICTOR DE BONSTETTEN, Voyage sur la scene des six derniers livres de l'Énéide (1805).

The fenced-in lands spoke of the agriculture of our age. And still, a glimpse of that ancient promise seemed to shine between them, from that narrow stretch that cut through the fields, towards the sea.

The abandoned line was a strip of no-man’s-land, oblivious to the profit imperative. A corridor of free movement and wildwuchs, a rare pocket of archetypal encounters, tangible in gestures of kindness such as the one that had given me my Easter feast.

A reminder of what may return when we step off the track on which humankind is rolling?

The end of the line

The distance to the sea had already shrunk to a day when the hazelnuts bushes yielded to olive trees, their leaden leaves catching the shades of an overcast sky. A lusher green covered the hills, and the rails had disappeared from the track. Wide crescents gaped in what was left of the bed. After decades of erosion, the man-made embankment was giving way.

Clouded landscape with dirt roads
View from the line towards the hills near Tolfa.

On the horizon, the rounded hills of Tolfa rose. I soon came upon another station building, the familiar yellow tiles on the familiar cubic design: Allumiere.

Allumiere means alum, the potassium-aluminum salt that has been used since antiquity as a dye-fixer for wool. It was the mineral that shaped these lands.

When the Ottomans seized Constantinople in 1453, vital imports of alum from the East were cut off. The intricate network of Renaissance economy, culture, and patronage that flourished under the aegis of the textile industry was in danger of collapse. As Europe feverishly sought to compensate, new deposits were discovered in the hills near Tolfa – lands that were in possession of the Papal States.

In the years around 1500, Agostini Chigi, scion of the illustrious Chigi family and banker to popes, built a trade monopoly on the alum deposits in the Tolfa hills. Thousands of workers dug and smelted the mineral in hellish pits, while others cut trees in the forests. Chigi created new settlements in the hills to house them. Allumiere was one of them.

Station building
The abandoned station of Allumiere.

When the railway line started operating in the late 1920s, alum mining around Tolfa was already in its final years. The steel industry up in Umbria had been the reason behind building the line through the hilly lands of Lazio. However, the route soon proved ineffective. The winding track allowed a maximum speed of only 60km/h. Freight trains with heavy loads required double traction to climb the slopes. When the use of automobiles increased after the war, even fewer passengers were willing to spend time waiting for the regional trains.

Yet the end of the line came differently.

Shortly after Allumiere station, I was back on the stretch I had come across the year before. On the horizon, the hill of Cencelle, crowned with the ruins of a mediaeval settlement. Beneath it, a shadow that swallowed the track. It was a darkness that felt familiar.

Heavy rainfalls in night of January 8th 1961 caused a mudslide to cascade from the slopes above the Cencelle tunnel. Just in time, the engineer on the 5:40 am train from Civitavecchia spotted the obstacle, stopping the train with the emergency brake. It would be the last to travel on this line.

In the 1980s, there were tentative plans to re-open the ‘dead branch’ of the Civitavecchia-Orte line. Making another push towards re-activation, the government decided to bypass the landslide at Cencelle by digging a parallel tunnel.

But no train ever passed through the structure. The project petered out, and the rails were eventually removed from the western stretch. Only a sun-parched track bed and the crumbling ruins along its side remain to remind us of the aspirations of a bygone era.

An existential hope

The yellow tiles in the distance had remained complete in their incompleteness over the past year: Mole d … ne. This time, I entered the station building.

Pressing my back against the cracked wall, I climbed the stubs that remained of the former staircase. I approached the windowless frames, navigating carefully around the gaping holes in the second floor.

Below, a light wind rustled in the tree growing from an outbuilding, its leafless branches rattling against each other. Like stilts, wooden poles climbed the hills behind, bearing the drooping wires of a power line over the track bed.

Ruin next to a dirt road, sheep in the background
View from the station of Mole del Mignone.

On the opposite side of the track, a flock of sheep was grazing on the hills. Resting my head on the window sill, I followed the white carpet as it gently floated over fields touched by the first canola blossoms.

There was something about the sheep, something that touches us more than ever. Despite all breeding efforts, they still roam outside the factory farms of industrialised livestock production. Perhaps it is their mere presence that hence instils an existential hope.

That humankind may not be tied to the tracks of progress like Musil’s Wanderer, who, driven along by some inexplicable wanderlust, could neither go back nor arrive anywhere.

Further down the line, the red-and-white chimney of the Torrevaldaglia power plant signalled the last stretch of the track towards the coast. Rain had washed away the soil that hid the wooden ties, laying bare the skeleton of the line like a fossil.

A stench of dung hovered over the track as I drew nearer to the coastal highway. Sheep flocked near a viaduct, in a makeshift enclosure of discarded metal bed frames. The moment their heads turned in my direction I stopped my stride. A rustling of last year’s leaves sank down from the crowns of brownish trees, mixing with the sound of a light rain and the distant noise of traffic from the highway.

They didn’t seem to care at all.

Sheep grazing near a viaduct
Sheep grazing on the line near Civitavecchia.

Quickly, the patter on my hood grew stronger, stopping only as I hastened into the rain shadow beneath the viaduct. Streams of water meandered down from cracks in its walls, leaving rusty stains on a few mattresses that lay discarded at their base. I laid back under the concrete canopy, waiting out the downpour. Above, trucks thumped over bumps in the tarmac. Headphones in my ears, I took a last rest, watching over the sheep that huddled along the track.

When I shouldered my backpack again, they had hardly moved. On the brittle ties, they lay between metal scrap and highway traffic, ruminating stoically.

It was with a sense of serenity that I took leave.

They will still be here when all this has gone.

Station ruin with flowers in the foreground
Abandoned station building of Blera.
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Further reading and references

All translations and photographs are my own unless noticed otherwise.

The initiative ArcheoInd (Archeologia Industriale nell'alto Lazio) gives an introduction to the history of the Civitavecchia-Orte railway, including historic photographs and articles.

The station buildings that all have the same (expandable) design have attracted directors of historic movies. The website Eisenbahn im Film provides a list of the movies shot along the line, including Roberto Benigni's 1997 La Vita è Bella ("Life is Beautiful"). The Archeoind-website (in Italian) provides a more recent list.

The WWF Oasis can be explored in this brief video, starting at the ex-station of Corchiano.

At the moment, politicians are discussing terminal storage sites on the lands along the line. See this article on Tusciaweb.

So far, I have not been able to find documentation for the story of Count Lapi that I heard that day on the viaduct.

^ The sky, the sea, the mountains with their shining colours: Charles Victor de Bonstetten, Voyage sur la scene des six derniers livres de l’Énéide, part 1 (Geneva, 1805), p. 4: “Le ciel, la mer, les montagnes avec leurs teintes brillantes, en un mot, tout ce qui est hors de la portée de l’homme, vous parlent encore de Virgile et des tems qui ne sont plus, tandis que tout ce qui peut être atteint par la barbarie n’est jamais épargné.”

^ something that touches us more than ever: This is what best-selling books such as James Rebanks’s description of life as a modern shepherd suggest (The shepherd’s life. A tale of the Lake District (London, 2016)). At the end of his book Schafe (Berlin, 2017), the German writer Eckhard Fuhr, too, fathoms the modern sensibilities towards the sheep.

^ humankind may not be tied to the tracks of progress like Musil’s Wanderer: Cf. Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (Berlin, 1957), p. 240: “Denn angenommen, daß es in der Geschichte kein freiwilliges Zurück gebe, so glich die Menschheit einem Mann, den ein unheimlicher Wandertrieb vorwärts führt, für den es keine Rückkehr gibt und kein Erreichen, und das war ein sehr bemerkenswerter Zustand.” My English paraphrase is modelled after the translation in The Man without Qualities, transl. by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (London, 2011), p. 252.

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