Farmhouses by the road

Drive 50 kilometers out of Mumbai and turn off a highway, and the scene changes completely. The high-rises and crowded concrete ribbons of highways are a memory. Instead, you are probably driving down a two-lane road through countryside which is lush green in the monsoon, and dry grassland at other times of the year. The houses that you see have to deal with extreme rain, extreme heat, and, in places, fairly cold weather. I kept stopping to take photos of farm houses as we drove along. The house in the featured photo looked charming: cattle sheds faced the road, and the farm house was behind it. Trees shaded the structure, affording protection in all weathers.

Smaller houses were more common. Behind two small plots of paddy fields was a miniature version of the other house. Corrugated metal sheets covered a cattle shed, and the actual house stood behind it. In spite of its diminutive size, its placement looked charming: on a higher patch of ground surrounded by paddy fields. Of course, the fields are flooded at this time for several weeks, and mosquitoes can breed in that standing water. The lovely looking place may be very uncomfortable at night.

The land had been flat but rising away from the sea, but we were now reaching a line of hills. When I stopped to take this photo, I was actually interested in the many waterfalls you can see in those hills. But then I found an interesting composition with this tree and the three low houses behind. I still got a couple of the waterfalls in the frame though.

This was one of the few two-storeyed houses that I saw. Brick and mortar had been supplemented with steel and concrete, at least in the flat terraces. Was that a good idea in these parts? The roof would bake in heat. In the monsoon the water might pool in places instead of running off quickly. It is not at all clear that changing the local style of architecture in the Sahyadris to one derived from the inland planes is a good idea.

This was such a cheerful sight that my hands seemed to come up automatically for this shot. On a day which was mostly cloudy, the sun had broken through briefly to illuminated ripening grain. The cheerful yellow and the surrounding tender green centered on a little farmhouse. For the first time I saw a house in which the front doors faced the road. The doors themselves, if you pay attention, are sturdy jobs in wood. I love these tile roofs. A little cost-intensive to begin with, they afford easy care. This stretch of road charmed me thoroughly.

Basgo: Necessity and Invention

Nasir Khan was the best driver-guide we found in Ladakh. Our spirit guide through Ladakh, Mr. Wangchuk, told us that he had the longest career of all drivers in Leh, and we were lucky to get him. An ethnic Ladakhi, he was a fount of knowledge. We’d passed a large number of mud-brick structures before we passed the Basgo Gompa (featured photo). As I wondered aloud about the strength of unfired clay bricks, Nasir Khan asked me whether we wanted a closer look at some buildings. We were happy to.

He stopped in front of a lovely two-storeyed house made entirely of mud bricks. “More than a hundred years old”, he told us. I got out to take a photo. Wonderful location, I thought. The milestone in front of the house lets others find it if they want. The temperature around here varies between -10 Celcius in the worst of winter to 30 Celcius in high summer. Unfired mud brick is a wonderful insulator. Since the annual precipitation, counting both snow and rain, is less than 10 cms, unfired clay becomes a structurally sound building material.

Nasir Khan rolled slowly through the village which straggled along the Srinagar-Leh highway. A little further on I saw an unpainted house. It was built on a stone platform. Beaten earth on top of the stone retaining wall made a terrace. The house was built atop this. Was that a base of stone on which the mud bricks had been placed? The mild rain actually seals any cracks and holes which may develop in the walls. I could see long vertical cracks in the walls below the window slits. Filling them with mud cannot be very hard. I suppose repairs are common.

I’d been noticing the beautiful carved doors and windows in these houses. It is said that this is a Kashmiri influence. Certainly, elaborate wood carving is a traditional Kashmiri art. Ladakh is singularly devoid of trees, so it is possible that this artistry is an import. It must be fairly recent, perhaps starting after the Dogra invasion of the 19th century. The woodwork in the older Leh Palace was simpler.

Nasir Khan stopped to show us houses under construction. Unfired mud bricks continue to be the main structural material, along with a clay mortar. However, as you see in the photo on the left, a column between the windows is made of dressed stone. Both are locally available materials, and a perfect response to the weather. You can see the ironwork on top of the wall under construction. I think this is a concrete slab ready to be poured. This extra load is what the stone pillar is built to take. The flat roof on the completed building behind is also a good response to the very dry weather. When I commented on the smooth external wall on the building behind the one under construction, Nasir Khan showed me a building further on under construction. A thin cement plaster has been applied over the mud wall. I’m not sure this extra weather-proofing is needed, but it certainly seems to be the fashion in these newer houses. I’m quite intrigued by how the traditional and new are integrated in these houses in Ladakhi villages.

The old disappearing Leh

We stayed in an interesting neighbourhood in Leh. It was a fifteen minutes’ walk to the main market, so not terribly crowded. But some shops straggled down to the road we were on. The road had several hotels, and a couple of cafes. But the rest of the houses belonged to residents. Interestingly, several of the houses were about to be demolished. When I asked about them, the owner of our hotel said that several people here want to rebuild and create a hotel on their property. Tourism is booming in Leh, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.

In spite of all this, the neighbourhood still retains quite a bit of its charm. The lanes around us had old houses, and several of them had traditional mud stupas on their grounds. I’d read somewhere that the punishment for crimes once was that the guilty had to build a stupa by their own hands (building something holy was enough to rehabilitate them). This didn’t feel like a criminal neighbourhood though. It seems that stupas were also built in the memory of family members who died. That made more sense!

I took some photos. The old houses were mostly built of sun-dried mud blocks. In this place the annual rainfall is so small that unfired clay is a good building material. It is cool in summer, warm in winter, cheap, and light. Start with a sturdy wooden framework, fill it with these blocks, add wooden doors and windows, and you are done. The woodwork was pretty. I liked this house with three memorial stupas facing the road from an upper floor.

The new houses are not all concrete monstrosities. The hotel we were in replaced the mud blocks by dressed stone, so that it could be built higher. The beautifully carved wooden frames for doors and windows were retained. The blocky shape of the old style buildings would have seemed very oppressive in a tall structure. Instead there were terraces at various levels. The net effect was quite pleasant, and it still retained a feel of the old neighbourhood. I thought that was clever. Perhaps the renewal will not be all bad. But in a decade I suppose the town center will be much more crowded than it is now.

Leh Palace

One of the few dates that I found about the history of Leh is that the Leh Palace was constructed in three years during the reign of Sengge, of the Namgyal dynasty. So the palace must have been built between 1616 and 1642 CE, and definitely predates the beginning of the construction of the Potala palace of Lhasa. The architects who built it were clearly already accomplished. The level floors of the palace built on a slope, the inward tilt of the massive outer walls for stability, and the use of mixed materials, dressed stone, dried clay blocks, and several different kinds of wood, speak of previous experiments and practice. The palace was in continuous use till it was sacked and destroyed during the Dogra invasion of 1834. The restoration started in this century and has been proceeding fitfully.

The palace dominates the modern city of Leh, visible from most of the center. It seems to straddle a large part of a peak behind the town. I was glad to see an exhibition on the restoration project inside the palace, in particular the architectural drawings which showed the structure as a whole. Without this you are lost: the palace has nine floors (you enter at the third level) and each floor has multiple rooms. A look at these drawings gave me an overall feel of the structure. I decided to climb up to the terrace on the seventh floor and then walk back down. This was the second visit for The Family (she’s been here once when I was still battling altitude sickness) so she decided to be more relaxed.

You have to park your car a little distance away. The walk to the palace is lined with cheerful women knitting scarves, socks and ear muffs which they sell to tourists, even in the height of summer. I find that women are much more natural when The Family takes their photos. I would never have got these friendly smiles and eyes meeting the camera. Each person in this cheerful bunch had an umbrella. There’s no rain here, but the sun is pretty fierce. These are really parasols.

The main entrance in impressive with its four huge columns and the carved heads of lions decorating the lintel over the ceremonial door. This is the singe-sgo (Lion gate, singhadwar in Sanskrit-derived languages). I realized at this point that the king who ordered this palace to be built was also named lion. Maybe this was an appropriate name for a king who took on the Mughal empire; although he could not win Kashmir from them, he did protect the frontier.

On the fourth floor I looked out of a window at a great view of the town of Leh. I’m sure the window is a restoration, but it is done by local craftsmen who follow traditional practice. I wonder about the glass though; I am aware of traditional paper to cover windows. Did 17th century Ladakh make glass. The silk route would certainly have brought many craftsmen here for two and a half millennia, so I’ll reserve my judgement. I climbed half a floor to an internal terrace outside the memorial to the Namgyals. Photography was forbidden inside the memorial, but I was happy to take a photo of the very decorative door outside that led to the fifth floor. From there, I passed further terraces with clearer view of the modern city.

There are terraces and courtyards at every level. The dressed stone was really impressive, with the sharp edges still intact. The ceremonial courtyard where the Namgyals had state banquets was warm and protected from winds by surrounding walls. Further up the view was better but the wind was pretty strong. I listened to the clear and calm sound of azaan reaching up there from the wood and plaster mosque which I’d seen in the market below.

The result of the sacking of the palace and its long abandonment is that the murals which once decorated the walls are not in good shape. There are parts of many of these artworks still visible, and work to preserve them is on. The conservation of the palace and the old city below it has barely begun. It attracts many students of architecture who spend a semester surveying and documenting these buildings. I would have been completely unaware of this effort if Niece Mbili had not done a semester project here. But being sensitized to it now, I could see people at work. New papers are being written by engineers on the techniques used in Leh. Historians have been reasearching Ladakh a little more than they used to before. Perhaps in a couple of decades the palace will be restored to something closer to how it might have looked in the centuries when it was in use.

Leh market

After every museum and monastery closes for the evening, tourists descend on Leh’s main market. It’s not a small number of people, I even bumped into acquaintances from work at the market. The Family decided to go there a little before ravenous hordes descend on the cafes. Her first photo of the day shows an exotic market scene: a row of vegetable vendors against a backdrop of beautiful carpets, and a scattered few shoppers. Even the vegetables are laid out on lovely carpets. It is the best photo of the market I’ve seen, but it’s not the typical photo.

If you want the typical photo, that’s this. Crowds of tourists not sure what they want to do. Some sit on benches, others take selfies or photos of each other, the rest cruise in gangs up and down the drag, while the more clear-headed fill up the many cafes and bakeries which offer free wifi.

The market has one of the most cheerful post offices I’ve seen anywhere. It was closed, of course, by the time I spotted it. But there was always a gaggle of tourists around it, either taking selfies against the “I Love Ladakh” mural on one wall, or using it as a meeting point. The bright white building with red trim looked like it might be a place where locals meet and chat.

There were two beautiful mosques on the road, in two different styles. One was an exotic plaster and wood structure: all white and light wood stain. I had to look twice to see that it was a mosque. The architecture was adapted from the native Ladakhi style: the grand gate was in intricately carved wood. The other was a structure that was more immediately recognizable, the turrets and doors, the green and white colour scheme, similar to the mosques that you see around the world. About half of the native Ladakhis are Muslim, the other half Buddhist. This is an ancient history. Ladakh was on the old silk route, and cultures and religions traveled along it for much more than a thousand years.

I liked the view along the drag: with the Leh Palace perched on a hill visible along its axis. The afternoon had turned cloudy, but now, at sunset the clouds parted and we had this joyful golden light on the palace and the upper stories of the shops here. I left The Family to find old Ladakhi jewelery in jade and coral and climbed to a cafe on one of the upper floors with my copy of Gurnah’s “The Last Gift.”

A couple of days earlier The Family had discovered the wonderful Ladakhi apricots: small, juicy, and flavourful. She’d bought a kilo from this lady, and we ate them over a few days. We picked up the fruits again later, and they would be one of the best things we got back from Ladakh.

And the local jewelry? Glad you asked. They are jade and coral, set in silver. The silver-work was fascinating. I saw three pieces, one was antique, the second was a grand old silver piece with new jade and coral pieces added to it, and the third was an old coral set with new rings of silver added to it. In this last one, the silver will get a little patina as it ages.

First view of the Indus

Sindhu! The name is magic. When Alexander of Macedonia crossed the river, it was the first time that a historian from outside the Aryavarta had recorded this land. His geographers called the river the Indus. And from that, by the usual mutations of language, the land itself became known to others as Indies, or India. So, as soon as I could walk again after my oxygen crisis, we got into a little city van and drove to the nearby village of Spituk to cross the storied river.

It was a twenty minutes’ drive to the village. We drove through it to the small bridge that crosses it and got off. I took a photo looking down-river, and then turned to take the view up-river. From its sources further west, in this part of Ladakh the river flows north. After crossing the Line of Control, it turn sharply south and once, before the dams diverted the water to the wheat fields of Pakistani Punjab, irrigated the land of Sindh, before emptying into the Arabian Sea. In Ladakh, this thin air has little oxygen and even less moisture. As a result, you see greenery only in a narrow band around the river. I looked ahead at the road and took the featured photo. I looked back and took a photo of the small bridge that we’d just crossed.

There was a twittering of birds all around me but I could see only sparrows. At a better time of the day you would be sure to see a lot of songbirds. Chiffchaff, rose finches, buntings, redstarts, and whitethroats have been spotted here, but I was not so lucky. Later, walking through the village, I saw a hoopoe (Upupa epops) fly across the road in front of me, and a white wagtail (Motacilla alba) exploring the side of the path.

I’d been in bed for two days and felt like walking a little. The Family was concerned about whether I was up to it, but I thought that if I walked slowly I could make my way through the village. She took the car ahead to park near the highway, leaving me to my walk. The first house that I came to was made of bricks of unfired clay. I rubbed a finger on the wall, and a thin powder came away on my fingers. Later I realized that the whole village is made of Multani Mitti (Fuller’s earth). No wonder the villagers have glowing skin! An open door in the house led into a little shop. The lady there agreed to be photographed. In response to her gracious gesture, I bought a handful of candy. It would turn out to be useful.

A few steps on was a cross road, the only one in the village. Houses ran along both roads. The crossing is clearly important, beause a large prayer wheel, a row of small prayer wheels, and several stupas stood there. I know enough to turn prayer wheels clockwise. I tried to move the large one. It was finely balanced and turned immediately.

There were some large houses here, with big gardens. I liked some of the large decorative gates. But my favourite gate was made with an old advertisement. It was a very old testament scene: they beat their advertisements into something useful like a gate. You could see the monastery (Spituk monastery, of course) standing on a hill behind the village. As I came to our car I saw a hotel under construction behind a group of memorial stupas. I could examine the unfired clay bricks more closely here; definitely Multani Mitti. But sadly, all this in aid of more commercialization.

The only thing left was a visit to the monastery. There was a road up to the start of the buildings, but the monastery was built along the slope above the parking. I wasn’t up to climbing all the way up. I walked up two flights of stairs, took an ambush photo, and gave up. On the way back down I came face to face with a snow lion rampant. Definitely worth a photo. That was a morning well spent, I told The Family. She said, “Don’t collapse again.” I was determined to follow her advise.

Turtuk village

The day after we crossed Khardung La, we drove west as far as we could go and arrived at the lovely Balti (बल्ति) village of Turtuk. You get off the car, cross a bridge over a fast flowing mountain stream that empties into the Shyok river, and then climb up the side of a mountain. Nestled in the slope are the houses and agricultural fields of Turtuk.

Closest to the bridge is a cluster of restaurants aimed to draw in tourists. It had been sunny when we started, but clouds had gathered during the three hour drive which brought us to Turtuk just a little before lunch. We were nonplussed by the number of tourists who’d come here. Our driver Yasin was even more surprised, “Never seen so many cars here,” he exclaimed. Our luck, I suppose. We were not the only people trying to forget the lockdowns. The Family had her heart set on a restaurant called The Balti Kitchen, so we walked on up.

The recent political history of Baltistan (बल्तिस्तान, སྦལ་ཏི་སྟཱན) is easy to read from books. It was part of the Tibetan empire in the first millennium of the CE, then evolved into separate small kingdoms, became part of Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire in the 19th century, and descended to the kingdom of Kashmir in 1840 following the destruction of the Sikh empire by the British. After the complex events of the mid-20th century (in 1947 it came to India along with the kingdom of Kashmir, then was taken by Pakistan in the 1947 war, and parts were re-taken by India in the 1971 war) it is now divided into two by the Line of Control. But who the Balti people are is perhaps as complex. The Balti language is closely related to Tibetan. A local farmer and entrepreneur (photo above) gave us his belief: that the Balti have both Tibetan and Central Asian blood in them. In some way this could be true, but the story is complicated by the discovery that people have lived here for nearly 7000 years, thrice as long as the silk route existed. There could have been ancient migrations and mixtures which are forgotten.

There was a bit of a steep climb right at the beginning, but after that the slope became more gentle. There seemed to be a single path through the middle of the village, with houses and fields on both sides. Agriculture and construction require terracing the landscape, and a tremendous amount of work goes into that. Although it is not obvious in the featured photo, men were at work in the fields. A wonderful feature of the village is that a clear mountain stream runs through it. We saw people come out houses and dip cupped palms into it to drink the water. We found the restaurant, made a reservation, and then decided to walk up to the topmost point of the village.

It wasn’t very far, but between taking photos, gawking, and pausing to catch our breath every now and then, it took us a little more than half an hour to reach the Balti Museum at the top. We passed a lovely selection of doors on the way, as you can see. Houses are made with dressed blocks of the local gneiss, and, sometimes a timber framework filled in with stone rubble. Interesting, I thought, because that means that there are stone masons at work somewhere. We saw a house under construction using modern techniques of steel-reinforced concrete. But even here, curtain walls between concrete beams are filled with dressed stone. Going by the number of houses under construction, the village is probably doing well with the tourist trade.

When we reached the museum we realized that it was time for lunch. We’d told Yasin to wait for two hours, and it would be hard to keep to that schedule as well as walk through the crowded museum. We turned back towards lunch. Little did we suspect how interesting that would be.

Ladakhi food: Playback

When you travel in India you realize its enormous and pleasing diversity even in as little as its food. And you also rediscover the horrifying steam roller of cheap tourism trying to flatten it out. Traveling in Ladakh, I sought out authentic local food among the mushrooming dhabas and cheap restaurants promising dal and paneer. I loved the authenticity of dal and paneer when travelling in Punjab, the subtlety of its home grown food. Here I was searching for the subtlety that traditional cooking brings to the food that grows in this wind-swept high desert, where the roof of the world slopes down to the edges of Central Asia. There is enough on offer, and every person I met was happy to help us discover it. Just as the dal and paneer available to tourists across the country is a pale watery imitation of that in Punjab, the thukpas and mok-moks made with care in this region are far superior to the cheap imitations you find in marketplaces across the country.

Nassir Khan, our driver for the day was a proud Ladakhi. When we said that we had hardly eaten any local food, he directed us to a restaurant next to the Alchi monastery. The Alchi Kitchen, as this place is called, is a single large room on the upper floor of a traditional house in the center of Alchi village. A pleasant blue-tinged light filtered in through glass covered skylights. Two balconies with tables stood behind other doors that were open to let in the bright light of a clear day 3100 meters above sea level. Thick mud walls were interrupted by carved wooden doors and windows. Mud covered rush made the warm inner layer of the roof which lay across aged wooden timber beams.

Nilza Wangmo showed us to a table next to the open kitchen. A President’s award, and a Vogue Woman of the Year plaque, both for 2020, sit on a discreet shelf in one corner. All the workers in the restaurant are women; she says men don’t cook in Ladakh. While this may be true, the men who had driven us since we arrived at the airport had been happy to talk about the local food and ingredients. So we already knew of khambir and chutagi, and the different roles of wheat and buckwheat in the kitchen. I looked at the bustle in the kitchen. Traditional cookware and flasks shared space with gas stoves and microwaves, coffee percolators and hand blenders. Traditional never has to mean primitive; modern does not mean mono-culture.

The job of cooking and serving was shared by all the women. By and large Nilza looked after the orders and payments, but she took her turn at the burners when one of the others had sallied out with plates and bowls of food. Then someone else would take over the accounts. We’d come in at the busiest time, when the monastery was closed for lunch. I had time to walk about and admire the place. I’d met the traditional cast iron oven of the heights. I’ve sat in houses warmed by its fire as soup and tea bubbles, and roti is baked on it. At night the fire is banked and warm the house. The copper pipe leads the gases away. I remember that the first time I slept in a house warmed by such an oven, I was worried about carbon monoxide. I survived. The kitchen utensils stacked on shelves behind the oven were ceremonial copper and bronze. But the kitchen used the more ordinary steel and cast iron vessels.

We’d been sipping glasses of the local apricot juice. This seems to be made by pulsing a bunch of the small local apricots in a blender before removing the unbroken kernel. The thick juice has become a great hit with locals and tourists. The kernels are dried and cracked open to get the nut. This house served a tea made from the nuts, but we were too full later to taste it. The first thing that arrived at our table was the stuffed khambir. This distinctly central Asian paratha, is traditionally made in a tandoor. Here we saw it being made on a tawa. The two halves are rolled separately and fired slightly before filling. Then the sides are pinched together and finished. Another adaptation was the addition of some yogurt before it was served. Food and language are history, and eating here brings to life the dry histories that connect China, India and South-east Asia, Central and West Asia, to Europe, and through the maritime routes of the Indian Ocean to Ethiopia and East Africa.

A segment of the silk route had passed over this plateau, and over it many varieties of cultural innovations had traveled between China and West Asia. Steamed food, noodles, gunpowder and paper had traveled west. Oven-baked food, alphabetic writing, and Abrahamic religions had traveled east. Our next dish was the most sensational thukpa I’d eaten (featured photo). Made with hand pulled noodles, julienned carrots and peppers (the extremely spicy local variety) in a deeply flavourful broth, some coriander leaves had been sprinkled on it just before serving.

In Raymond Chandler’s book, Playback, Philip Marlowe keeps returning to situations and people, and every time he does so, something has changed. The Family had objected to my order of the mok-mok (momo elsewhere); she’d held out for the chutagi (which had become ravioli by the time it reached Italy). But then she let Nilza convince her that the vegetarian mok-mok was worth trying out. It was subtly different from what we’d eaten before. In this land where half the people are Gelugpa Buddhist and the other half Islamic, the traditional steamed dumpling is filled with vegetables. Our appetites were low in this low oxygen environment, and three dishes shared between three people was enough. My spirit was willing to order a plate of chocolate-filled mok-mok, but my stomach quailed at the thought. We still had to walk uphill to our car. Four days after flying in to Leh, I was still going to find it tough after a meal.

Five views of the Louvre at dusk

That summer evening I thought of taking photos of the pyramid at Louvre lit up from below. In summers the Louvre shuts down long before the light fades from the sky. When I reached the square I found that my imagined photos were every photographer’s dream. There were barriers set up halfway across the square, and a deep scrum of photographers had formed outside it. Many of them were much better equipped than me. I felt like a tourist out for snapshots in that crowd of people with robust tripods, light meters, and enormous lenses.

I skulked at the back. The air of expectancy was replaced by a buzz of activity as the lights came on. I walked around behind the crowd, and got in a few shots. I was fascinated by the dedicated photographers. I still hadn’t thought of ambush photography, taking photos of other photographers, but it would have been a wonderful opportunity if I’d started thinking beyond tourist mementos then. I guess these photos are just that, but I kind of like them. They are photos from the last days of a very pleasant summer in France.

This post appears on schedule while I travel.

San Leo

One morning, from our base in Marche, we drove to the village of San Leo. The spectacular hilltop village is said to date from Roman times. Almost a decade ago, it was not a very popular destination in the province of Rimini, not yet part of the list of Italy’s most beautiful borghi. The 690 m high rock on which the village stands is called Montefeltro, and gives its name to the region around it. There is a story that the village had a temple of Jupiter, over which the present parish church stands. I did not see any Roman remains in the village.

The place played a role in medieval history, as a fortress fought over by Byzantium, and the Goths, Franks, and Lombards. I didn’t find any inscription dating the origin of the spectacular clifftop fortress, but it could be early medieval in origin. In the 10th century it briefly became the capital of Berengar II. Later, it stood on the disputed border between Urbino and Rimini, until the mid-15th century CE when it finally became part of Urbino. Interestingly, after a referendum in 2006, it is not part of the district of Rimini.

I don’t have any photos of the parish church (which possibly is from the 5th century CE), and I don’t recall whether I went there at all. The photos that I have are of the Cathedral of St. Leo. It is said to have been built first in the 7th century CE, but was renovated entirely in the 12th century. I liked the sandstone structure built over the cliff. The only entrance was the side door, since the long side of the cross looked over the cliff. The tall tower which you see in the featured photo was a 12th century watch tower built near the cathedral. It now serves as the cathedral’s bell tower.

The long history of the village brought famous people to it now and then. A plaque on the cathedral commemorated a sermon by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. Another plaque near a little fountain at the center of the village reminded us that this was the model for Dante’s portrayal of Purgatory. The name of the village commemorates it connection with St. Leo, who is said to have built the parish church. A more obscure connection was with Cagliostro, who was first sentenced to death by the Inquisition, but later had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment in a cell in this fortress.

It was a very pleasant village. The summer was not very warm, and it was nice to walk around it and stop in a cafe for lunch. The day was cool enough that the heavy local food did not seem overwhelming. Afterwards we climbed up to the fortress. From its walls you could look down into the valley at the landscapes that are said to have inspired the paintings of Piero della Francesca. From one point on the wall I could see right across Italy into the independent republic of San Marino. This town, which you can see in the photo above, is a twin town of San Leo.

This post appears on schedule while I travel.