How would you like to live in Italy for 3 months, for free??

I know I would dearly love to. I found out about this incredible opportunity and unfortunately I can’t take advantage of it. It happens across the time I have my Glam Italia Tours, and on top of that my son starts college in the fall, so I have to be here.

But can you imagine yourself sipping your cappuccino every morning in an ancient piazza, living in a centuries old home, cooking with the locals and spending balmy summer evenings with a glass of wine under the shade of a 500 year old tree and a view to die for?? Not only can it happen, but it can happen FOR FREE!!

ancient buildings in the southern Italian town of Grottole in Basilicata
Grottole, Basilicata

Italy’s Shrinking Villages

Italy has a problem. Up and down the country its magical, beautiful little villages are becoming ghost towns. With not enough local work to support the young folk, they are having to move either to the big cities or to other countries in order to make a living. As the older generations head heavenward these picture postcard, gorgeous little towns and villages are being left close to empty.

More than half of Italy’s small towns are likely to be deserted in the next few decades. Approximately 2430 of them are considered to be at risk.

Airbnb Has A Plan

Airbnb has come up with a brilliant plan to stop these idyllic villages from falling into ruin, starting with the revitalization of one darling little town.

They announced this week that they are going to sponsor four people to have an unique opportunity to live in the little town of Grottole for 3 months, experiencing real, authentic Italian life. I die. Can you even imagine???

The village of Grotole in Basilicata, Italy. Win the opportunity to live here for 3 months for free
The village of Grottole in Basilicata, Italy

“Selected candidates will become temporary citizens of the village and will volunteer for a local non-profit organisation called “Wonder Grottole” whose aim is to revitalise the town’s historical centre,” it said in its call for applications.

The Italian Sabbatical – Your New Country Life In Grottole

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and become a temporary citizen of a village in the south of Italy. Immerse yourself in the local culture and discover how to speak, act and cook the Italian way. You will also get to support the local community by hosting an Airbnb Experience. Your goal? To help the local community revitalize the small village of Grottole.

Candidates must be over 18, be available to move to Grottole for 3 months, from June to August 2019, and have a good knowledge of English.

Ancient ruins in the southern Italian town of Grottole in Basilicata. Win a 3 month sabbatical in Grottole - live in Italy for free for 3 months!
Ancient ruins in the southern Italian town of Grottole in Basilicata

The village’s four newest residents will be announced on March 29, 2019.It says the small village, which is near Matera, the 2019 Capital of Culture, has only 300 inhabitants and more than 600 houses standing empty.

Airbnb paints an idyllic picture of life in the village, promising days beginning with cappuccino and a language lesson before meeting a cast of bee-keeping, olive-oil producing residents.

But while it sounds like a holiday, Airbnb expects the four new “residents” to complete training to become Airbnb Experience Hosts who’ll go on to work for Wonder Grottole.

The chosen four will be expected to completely immerse themselves in the local culture, studying Italian, working in the community garden, and learning to cook traditional recipes, before then passing on their newfound knowledge to the influx of visitors Airbnb Italy is hoping will then descend on the village.

Grottole Basilicata castle on the hill.
Grottole’s castle

We have to create a system, or the many Grottoles across Italy will continue to remain hidden gems,” said Matteo Frigerio, Country Manager of Airbnb Italy. 

This system, it’s hoped, will breathe new life into the village which is currently heading for extinction.

Where Is Grottole?

map of southern Italy showing Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Campagna. Map shows Naples, Matera and Bari

This is super exciting. Grottole is in Basilicata, the region that makes up the instep of Italy’s boot. The village is only an hour drive from Matera, one of my favorite towns in the world! (see related posts about Matera here, here and here ). The village is an hour’s drive from the beautiful beaches that make up Basilicata’s Ionian coast. If you love beaches you are also close to another of my favorite parts of Italy, the neighboring region of Puglia, and its magnificent coastlines. (see related post about Puglia). The Amalfi Coast is only a little over 2 1/2 hours drive away, with the town of Salerno giving you fast train access to all of Italy.

“In ten years we’d like to see the village full of people of different cultures perfectly integrated with the local community” said Silvio Donadio, founder of Wonder Grottole.

You can apply to win a 3 month sabbatical here: APPLY HERE

Pompeii man hunched over in death. The most famous and iconic of the 2000 bodies excavated from the ruins in Pompeii
Of the 2000 bodies excavated in Pompeii, this is the most famous.

Imagine if what we thought we knew about Pompeii was wrong? An astonishing new discovery just dramatically changed what we know about the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in A.D 79.

Last year while excavations were being done on two villas that had been partially excavated in the 19th century, some interesting things surfaced.

First There Was Pliny The Younger

Up until this point the thinking was that Mt Vesuvius erupted on August 24th 79 A.D. This was based on the writings of 18 year old Pliny the Younger. He had been in Misenum at the home of his uncle, the writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder, when Vesuvius erupted. From the safety of the home he was able to watch everything happening across the Gulf of Naples.

While the Elder raced off in warships to rescue people (and ultimately to his own death) the Younger stayed at home to work on his studies. His written accounts of that day and the days to follow have given us much of the knowledge we have about what happened at Pompeii.

Related Post: 18 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pompeii

Interestingly up until that point there had been no word for volcano. No one had ever seen one before. Mt Vesuvius was a mountain covered in vineyards and farms. It had never blown before, so had no crater – the top was just the same as any other mountain.

17 years before, on February 5th 62 A.D there was a massive earthquake in Pompeii. Thought to be a 7.5 the earthquake felled buildings and caused much destruction. Seneca the Younger wrote:

This tremor was on 5 February in the consulship of Regulus and Verginius and it inflicted great devastation on Campania… sheep died and statues split. Some people have lost their minds and wander about in their madness.

By 79 A.D much of the restoration had been completed. More earthquakes had occurred, causing damage to buildings, and it is this subsequent repair work that has led to the new discovery.

Newly discovered frescoes in two villas being excavated in Pompeii
The two villas have beautiful frescoes, all of which are being carefully excavated and preserved by archaeologists

An Astonishing New Discovery

Archaeologists have discovered charcoal writing on the wall of one of the two villas mentioned above, thought to have been done by a builder or architect working on the home. It reads: XVI K NOV . This means the 16th day before the 1st day of November, or October 17th.

Newly discovered writing on the wall of a villa being excavated in Pompeii changes evrything we know about when Mt Vesuvius erupted
Archaeologists have discovered writing on the wall of a villa being excavated in Pompeii. It changes everything we know about the date of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius

This could have been done in the days before the eruption, possibly as a recording of the work he had completed. Italian authorities say this new discovery rewrites history, changing the belief that the eruption happened on the 24th of August.

Related Post: 8 Things You Must Do In Naples

The inscription and date was found with other bits of writing/graffiti on the walls of the atrium and corridor of the villa, much of it being quite raunchy, some even obscene. Which was pretty common in Pompeii.

A Question Of Pomegranates

Some scholars have believed for a long time that the date of the eruption was incorrect. In the past calcified remains of fresh pomegranates have been found at Pompeii. This suggests an autumn eruption, as pomegranate trees don’t mature by August instead having a season from October until January or February.

Other Treasures Found In The Villas

2000 year old mosaics discovered in Pompeii while 2 villas are excavated
2000 year old mosaics of crocodiles discovered during the excavation of the two villas

Other archaeological finds in the villas include frescoes of the gods Venus, Adonis, Paris and Eros, and mosaics depicting wild animals such as snakes, deer, lions and crocodiles. In one of the villas archaeologists found the skeletal remains of 5 people who had no doubt been hiding from the pumice and ash raining down from the volcano.

New discoveries in Pompeii. Archaeologists  just discovered 2000 year old mosaics in 2 villas being excavated
2000 year old mosaics survived earthquakes, the eruption of Mt Vesuvius and being buried for centuries.

Related Post: 10 Things You Absolutely Must Do In Ravello

How To Get There

Pompeii is a suburb of Naples, easily reached by taking the circumsuviana train from Naples train station to the Pompeii Scavi stop. It is an easy day trip from Rome (only 1 hour and 20 minutes on the high speed train) and is a quick trip by train from Sorrento.

If you take the time to visit Pompeii (highly recommended) after visiting the ruins take the circumsuviana train three stops towards Naples to the Ercolano stop and walk to the ruins at Herculaneum. They are quite different to those in Pompeii, and complete the picture of what life looked like back then and what the homes in Pompeii would have looked like were they still standing. It’s quite incredible.

There are so many amazing things to see and do in Rome.

Today I want to tell you about a fantastic place that you may want to fit into your Rome itinerary. It is located along the Appian Way at the 3 mile marker, so is near the catacombs of San Callisto and San Sebastiano.

The Tomb of Caecilia Metella

The tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way in Rome
The tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way in Rome

This ancient Roman mausoleum dominates the view along this particular stretch of the Appian Way, with its huge tower and castle-like fortifications. One of the best preserved and most visited monuments along the Appian Way, it is intriguing and fascinating, and like everything in Rome, has a great back story.

Related Post: Unusual Things To Do In Rome: The Pyramid of Cestius

Who Was Caecilia Metella?

This particular Caecila Metella (there were several) was born into one of the wealthiest families in ancient Rome. The Metella family wealth and power dated back to the 3rd century B.C and lasted until the end of the Republic. The family held both political power and important military seats.

In that time female names were often taken from the father’s family tree, so the Caecilius Metellus clan had multiple Caecilia Mettelas. Every daughter in the family had the same name, as if they had no importance at all, and were just human chattels. The males were given first names – her father was Quinicus Caecilius Metellus. This Caecilia was born around 100 B.C and was married to a powerful Roman general and politician who was actually instrumental in the conversion of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. His name was Marcus Licinius Crassus

Positioned as it was on the highest and most prominent point on the Appian Way, this glorious structure could be seen for miles. You could be forgiven for thinking it was built as a testament to a husband’s inconsolable grief at the loss of his wife, but it wasn’t. We don’t know the reason for her death or even exactly when she died. We don’t actually know anything much about her, and her mausoleum gives us no clues either. Which is a little odd. Well, actually it tells us two things in an inscription on the wall.

But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Related Post: 10 Things You Absolutely MUST Do In Rome

The Mausoleum

The Tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way in Rome

The tomb or mausoleum is made up of a rotunda sitting atop a square podium, with the Caetani Castle attached to the back. The podium is 8.3 meters tall and the cylindrical drum rotunda standing on it is another 12 meters tall. The diameter of the drum is 29.5 meters or 100 Roman feet. Caecilia’s sarcophagus originally sat in a funerary sill inside wall of the massive tower, facing the Appian Way, but now calls the Palazzo Farnese home.

Although as a side note, there is some dispute over whether this is in fact Caecilia’s sarcophagus. At the time of her death cremation was the norm, so her ashes would have been placed in a funerary urn. Also a study that was done on the sarcophagus suggests it dates to 180 A.D. But who knows?

The exterior of the mausoleum was made of travertine. The upper level of the tower was decorated with a marble frieze depicting wreaths and the skulls of oxen, both of which were a reference to sacrifices made to the Roman gods. Quite a masculine motif – not what we would expect for a tomb dedicated to a woman. The relief in the center is also very masculine, depicting a helmet, shields and a prisoner. The only nod to Caecilia is on the inscription:

inscription on the Tomb of Caecilia Metella in Rome

CAECILIAE Q.CRETICI.F METELLAE.CRASSI

Which translated reads Caecilia, daughter of Quinicus Metellus Creticus and wife of Crassus. (The Creticus part refers to her father having conquered Crete.)

Not beloved wife and daughter, not any descriptors of her. Just an indication that she was the daughter of one man and wife of the next, like a possession passed around.

The Fortress

The Cetani castle at the Tomb of Caecilia Metella in Rome

In the middle ages the fortress was built, eventually becoming the Cetani Castle. The earth covered, rounded roof of the mausoleum had battlements built onto it and it became an important fortress, guarding the Appian Way and the southern entrance into Rome. The castle houses a museum and has ancient statues throughout the courtyards

Why Build the Mausoleum?

Tomb of Caecilia Matella on the Appian Way in Rome

So why build this huge, spectacular mausoleum for a woman not important enough to have her own name? It is thought to have been built towards the end of the 1st century B.C, sometime after Caecilia’s death, but in all likelihood not to celebrate her. Her death probably coincided time wise with the opportunity to show off the wealth and power and greatness of this eminent family, and celebrate the glory of the men named on the inscription.

Related Post: Gift Ideas For People Who Love Italy

A single ticket is valid for 7 days and gets you into the Baths of Caracalla, the Villa of the Quintilii and the Tomb of Caecilia Metella. A great way to enjoy the Appian Way is by bicycle, and the area surrounding the Tomb of Caecilia Metella and the Cetani Castle is fabulous both for taking photos and for having picnics!

Bonus Content

Would you like to go wine tasting in Rome but don’t know where to go?

I have three favorite places to go wine tasting in the Eternal City. Each is quite different from the next and each offers a very different experience. I have made a downloadable PDF with all the information for you, as well as some tips for Walking Wine Tours. (If you are subscribed to my newsletter this will already be in your inbox) Get your Wine Tasting In Rome PDF Here