The Walled CityWe had wanted to spend the day with Jane and Juri, but a sudden change of plans left Antonello and me without anything to do two Sundays ago. This is actually an ideal situation for us--normally there’s too much to do, with caving and housework always filling up our weekends. So, those days when we can loll around and watch movies, or look longingly at the Italia map and pick a place like a roll of the dice are sometimes our favorite days. We chose the latter--finding a tiny city in Le Marche that I had read about in passing months ago--and we were off toward the coast.
Corinaldo is a hill town northwest of Ancona, and Antonello and I had attempted to go there last October on the Sunday before Halloween. We had chosen the wrong date: Corinaldo's most famous celebration is Halloween, a tradition that brings hundreds of parents with their costumed children to this tiny town, ready to wander the spooky nighttime streets and ask locals for "scherzetti o dolcetti." We decided to by-pass the town that October day: either that or take a bus ride up to the center, sardined in between laughing children, the two of us without any candy or costumes.
This time, instead, the sky had been grey with rain, but by the time we drove past Monte Conero, sunshine was peeking through the clouds. We arrived in Corinaldo around 2 pm, knowing we'd find the streets quiet, and ours.
I love the places we find when we don't expect to. It always seems that when we are searching too hard for something we never find it, but when we aren’t even looking, the horizon is filled with possibilities. Corinaldo was like this. We found out quickly that it was a walled city, and that its walls were stunning--all of them still standing, and most of the guard towers still intact. Following the walls around the city, we ducked into guard towers to get better views of the town, and we followed the medieval gates into the cobblestoned streets. Along parts of the wall were stations where guards had once stood watch, something I had never seen before in Le Marche towns. It was the closest I could come to imagining what it must've once been like--had there been military shifts, soldiers hiding in these stations, searching far across the countryside for any possible threats? It seemed more likely that the threats had been few, since Corinaldo must owe part of its complete set of walls to a period of peace in the area.
The sky began to grow cloudy again before too long, but we didn't leave before checking out one of the town's other points of interest--the scalette, or the town's main set of stairs that runs from one of the main city gates up to the Comune. This was the image I had seen thumbing through a book about Le Marche months before, first coming across the name Corinaldo. It had been this staircase that, in the photograph, climbed straight up the hill, flower-pot windows and charming houses around it, and a large well squat in the middle. It was just as charming now, and Antonello and I watched a group of school children playing at the top of the stairs, the only signs of life in sleepy Corinaldo.
We left as drops of rain began to fall, just lightly though, and we turned the radio on to familiar music. When we reached the main road, I looked back at Corinaldo on the hill. I wondered if there were more places like this: hidden, beautiful places that I had yet to discover in Le Marche, and the idea felt like a revelation. As we drove, the sky was beginning to darken, and around us on the hills, towns that we hadn't noticed before were illuminating slowly with streetlights. The countryside glowed like a field of fireflies. And, for just a moment when I looked, it was hard to tell the difference between the hilltowns' light and the low-laying stars shining brightly in the early evening.