For five days the city had wilted under a hard sky, sweltering in a temperature that stayed fixed in the middle nineties. Even at night there was no relief from the heat. Pyjamas and nighties stuck clammily to damp skin. Half-clad, self-pitying figures rose, exasperated by insomnia, to stumble through darkened rooms in search of a cooler plot than their bed, hoping that, all accidentally, they might waken any gross sleeper the house contained. Cold water ran hot from the taps, and the roads turned to tar.
― Elizabeth Harrower, Down in the City
Earlier this week, we spoke of the tumultuous history of the Italian city of Ninfa. You can read that post here. She began as an agricultural community crowned by a temple dedicated to water nymphs and grew into an influential city on an important trade route near Rome. Becoming rich off of tolls and trade, she found herself embroiled in Papal politics, was sacked and burned, strangled by war, then at last fell victim to the power of the very water that made her rise possible. Flooding and malaria had the final word, or so it seemed.
The Caetani family, stewards and power brokers of Ninfa since 1298, held onto the property, but disease and violence had left a stain that had ruined the town’s reputation. It was not until 1921 that Gelasio Caetani began to realize his ancestor’s dream of making a garden here. He restored some of the old buildings, creating a summer residence. His mother, Lady Constance Adela Bootle-Wilbraham, or Ada for short, was the daughter of the Fourth Earl of Clarendon, having married Onorato Caetani, the Duke of Sermoneta, one of the (comparatively) new towns that had sprung up near the ruins of Ninfa. She had already created an English style garden at nearby Lake Fogliani. Ada helped her son plan a new garden at Ninfa, which he filled with water loving plants from his travels abroad.
The extreme humidity of the region, where it rains almost every afternoon, supports a surprising number of foreign species, including American Walnuts, yuccas, cedars, cherry trees, Himalayan and Mexican Pines, magnolia, tulip trees and bamboo. There are a huge variety of roses, both climbing and bush varieties, as well as wisteria, hydrangea, clematis and many other flowering plants and trees.
The park and gardens provide a sharp and welcome contrast to the industrialized areas near Rome. The World Wildlife Fund has set aside a few acres of the garden as a wildlife sanctuary, since the river Ninfa and its many springs lie along a busy migration route for birds between Europe and Africa. Teals, mallards, herons and raptors add to the romance of the place. The river and lake also support a large number of trout.
Painter Lelia Caetani and her husband, Hubert Howard, were the last owners here. They created the Roffredo Caetani Foundation , dedicated to the memory of her father, a noted composer, to manage Il Giardino de Ninfa and other Caetani family sites in the area. Under the guidance of the Foundation, the garden is open for guided tours on a set schedule. Wandering without a guide is prohibited.
We wouldn’t want to offend the water nymphs, would we?
Remember the Fortress of Solitude from Superman comics and movies? In 2000, miners near Naica, Mexico stumbled upon something miraculous. Near 1,000 feet (over 300 meters) below the surface, where temperatures can reach upwards of 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) with %100 percent humidity, lay a chamber full of giant selenium (gypsum) crystals. The largest measured to date is around 39 feet long (almost 12 meters).
In 2010, a film crew descended to capture the scene for the BBC. Read photographer and camera man Paul Williams’ article about the spellbinding and dangerous experience here. You can also see a clip from the film made in the cave. He had an amazing journey.
Only a few hundred people have entered the Cueva de los Cristales, most with Sinusit respirators and Tolomea suits packed with ice, both made specifically for the cave environment. The heat and humidity are extremely deadly; even equipped properly it becomes unsafe after about 20 minutes, as moisture begins to condense in the lungs. Prolonged exposure leads to suffocation by drowning, followed by baking. Without equipment a person won’t last more than 10 minutes.