As the autumn approaches I am reflecting on this Summer’s main holiday, a gallop around the Italian Riviera, a short sojourn in Florence and a microstop in Rome. Two weeks.
I was determined to live La Dolce Vita, scooter around a la Hepburn on her Roman Holiday, shake-shake-shake-senora and of course do plenty of livin’ la vida loca. I blame pop-culture.
It all started in Portofino. In the province of Genoa, Portofino is a former fishing village turned glossy upmarket resort. The harbour fizzes and glitters. It is crowded with lithe tanned bodies, statement handbags and bare backs. I discern the occasional American accent, although it’s owner is not your typical fanny-pack tourist. It’s all Ralph Lauren catalogue families twisting lobster linguini around forks received by Amorone stained lips. Music flits through the air from the jaded mouths of moustachioed restaurant singers. We bid them goodbye and sail away from Portofino to the small hamlet of San Fruttuoso.
The Abbey of San Fruttuoso of Capodimonte is nestled in a small sheltered bay. According to legend, Bishop Fruttoso came to five monks in a dream. He told them to seek the place of the dragon, a cave and a spring, where they should bury his remains. Together with an angel, the monks defeated the dragon and discovered the invisible Capodimonte bay. The tower stands overlooking the turquoise Ligurian waters. The Abbey can only be reached by a two hour hike from the main harbour or by sea, so it bears little wonder that it has stood here since the 10th century. The inside of the abbey is quiet, with its crypt and cool cloisters betraying no breath of the hot August afternoon beyond them.
The boat leaves the bay and heads East, the olive groves against the red sky dissolving into a soft pimento blur.
It’s always somehow poignant discovering such ancient religious monuments, still standing through the tribulations of the centuries.
Remains of some of the earliest Christian churches in the Caucasus can still be seen, beautifully preserved, deep in the Azeri countryside. Today Azerbaijan is a variegated mesh of cultural and religious influence. Whilst it is a secular country, Islam is the dominant affiliation. However, Christianity is also represented and the country has one of the world’s largest communities of Mountain Jews originating from Ancient Persia of the 5th century.
Historians believe that Christianity has been present in Azerbaijan since the 1st century AD. It was the Roman legions crossing modern-day Azerbaijan who are attributed with the early and notable Christian influence.
As the tower disappears from view I cannot help contemplating the fate of these ancient and precious buildings. I imagine a girl like me, leaning against the railings watching as the cloisters and cornices are lost to the horizon, still breathtaking, centuries from now.