The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – the real Narnia

By Alexandra Redisch in Narni, Italy

Narni

Civitas Narniae was what the Romans called it, so I suppose that means I can tell people I’ve been to Narnia. Although nowadays the town goes by the name of Narni. Located about an hour and a half’s drive from Rome, Narni is a place I’d really like to return to. C. S. Lewis loved the name so much he used it for his imaginary world, thus putting Narni on the map, so to speak. This, then, is the real Narnia.

Thing is, the real Narni is just as magical as C. S. Lewis’ version. Granted, there are no talking beavers, no fauns, no witches and certainly no lions, but there are symbolical mysteries that give Dan Brown’s books a run for their money, especially in Narni Sotterranea (Narni underground).

Narni Sotterranea.

In the 1970s, three young men from Narni started thinking about the old tales they had heard, about the old St. Dominic monastery having been used for hundreds of years before being closed. Rumours abounded of terrible things having happened there, but the elder locals refused to talk about it. So one night, during a medieval festival, the three men began digging through the walls of the old monastery. Under cover of the loud music, they managed to make a hole in the cellar and press through. They must surely have been stunned by their discovery.

Today, the same men still run the excavations. They take us through a small 12th century church, through the remains of a Roman house, to a room that hosted the Tribunal of the Inquisition, used as a torture chamber and prison cell. The church still has intact frescoes depicting the city as it was in the 1100s, and there are even a few half-hidden skeletons poking out of walls.

Narni Sotterranea

The torture chamber sports wrist chains hanging from the walls and a rather spooky looking chair. However, the prison cell is the most interesting. One of its most famous inhabitants, Giuseppe Andrea Lombardini, was an inqusitor-turned-freemason (as well as a bigamist), so the walls are peppered with masonic symbols and other strange markings yet to be decoded, naturally awakening the conspiracy theorist in me.

Narni Sotterranea

The real Narnia today

Back in the present, we alight to the blinking sunlight to watch rehearsals for the next day’s festival celebrations. Italy’s national day is almost upon us, and Narni is celebrating with a medieval festival, much like the one that saw the birth of Narni Sotterranea more than 30 years ago. There are horsemen, archers, musicians and dancers, and we are treated to a fabulous show.

Narni

Narni

Narni

Narni

All too soon the day ends, and the spell is broken. Suddenly I find myself on a bus with no air condition, with a coke in my hand and my Dan Brown book in the other, trying to capture what is left of the symbolical mysteries of Narni.

Disclosure: In Narni and in Umbria, I was a guest of Umbria Regional Tourism Board. However, as always, all opinions and conspiracy theories are mine.

I loved the Narnia books when I was little. How about you?

About Alexandra Redisch

One of the kids in ‘travel with kids’, avid traveller, mystery writer, chocoholic, currently working on a WWII biography.

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74 Responses to “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – the real Narnia”

  1. Nancie 7 June 2012 0151 #

    What a fun place to spend the day. I love the costumes!
    Nancie recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday — June 7th, 2012 — Traveling Taste Buds

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0907 #

      Cool, aren’t they?

  2. Annie - FootTracker 7 June 2012 0202 #

    I love medieval festivals! I always wonder what really happened back in the past that people passed down all these stories, secrets and hidden chambers.

    (I guess the modern version of our fairy tales now are science fiction XD)
    Annie – FootTracker recently posted..OmuRice Fiesta In Japan!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0908 #

      The past, the future; both intriguing.

  3. Natasha von Geldern 7 June 2012 0231 #

    I certainly love the Narnia books, although I was half expecting your post to be about New Zealand where the recent films were shot ;) This is far more fascinating, and gruesome!
    Natasha von Geldern recently posted..Australia’s Top End: Things to do in Darwin

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0909 #

      Would love to see the New Zealand locations.

  4. Lisa 7 June 2012 0244 #

    What a fascinating place – and I love the connection to the Chronicles of Narnia! The medieval festival looks like it would be a great deal of fun!
    Lisa recently posted..National Arts Centre – Oscar Peterson Sculpture

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0910 #

      :)

  5. Leigh 7 June 2012 0502 #

    A Dan Brown book sounds very a propos for that place. I had no idea where Narnia came from – and rather some gruesome discoveries. What is it with humans and torture – so barbaric.
    Leigh recently posted..Photos from Hiking the Kerry Way in Ireland

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0910 #

      Deep down, I suppose we’re still quite primitive.

  6. Jessica 7 June 2012 0544 #

    I loved the Narnia books as a kid (still do), but I had no idea it was a real place. Thanks for helping me learn something new today.
    Jessica recently posted..Pimp My Oil Pump

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0911 #

      I love them, too.

  7. jade 7 June 2012 0558 #

    My friend acted in these types of things when we lived in St. Augustine- too funny! Whenever I see things like this I always remember my friend. Sounds like a fun tour.
    jade recently posted..Summer Traditions Nashville: Arrington Vineyards Wine

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0913 #

      St Augustine, one of the oldest towns in the USA, isn’t it? I imagine they must have their fair share of medieval celebrations.

  8. With the exception of the torture chambers, Narni looks like a fun place to visit. I didn’t realize Narnia was based on an actual place!
    Andi at The Particular Traveler recently posted..Travel Tip: Take the City Tour!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0915 #

      Torture chambers: definitely not fun, but interesting nonetheless. And thought-provoking.

  9. This place looks great! Would love to go to the Narnia underground!
    The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) recently posted..Brewery of the Month: Berkshire Brewing Company

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0916 #

      Even though Narni isn’t that well known, it’s quite close to Rome, so not too difficult to visit :)

  10. ItalianNotes 7 June 2012 0905 #

    What a fascinating story. Love that prison cell.
    ItalianNotes recently posted..Signals from heaven

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0917 #

      It is a great story, isn’t it…

  11. What a great place to visit! I too loved the CS Lewis books but didn’t know about Narni. The walls with masonic symbols look so interesting and those costumes are great.
    Mary @ The World Is A Book recently posted..Touring Torcello Island, Italy

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0918 #

      I find symbols and codes so intriguing.

  12. Meg 7 June 2012 1305 #

    This is just like the cave in Prince Caspian where everyone hides while fighting the king! In the books, they say that the altar upon which Aslan was slain had a cave built up around it, with complex halls weaving through it, covered with strange and ancient writings. It is “present day” Narnia’s stronghold, forgotten by the invader’s legend, although the talking animals remember where it is from. It’s a site of strong magic, and some dark magicians try to resurrect the White Witch there.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0919 #

      Cool! Thanks for that, Meg!

  13. Irene 7 June 2012 1459 #

    The walls with masonic look so interesting and those costume are great. Thanks for letting me stopped by.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0920 #

      Thank you!

  14. Ahh, love this. having read anything about Narnia per se but I still want to visit! =D
    Nomadic Translator @latinAbroad recently posted..Travel bucket list ideas: Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, New Zealand

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0937 #

      Thanks for coming over :)

  15. Ana (Ana Travels) 7 June 2012 1849 #

    How interesting! I’ve never heard of the real Narnia. I guess you learn something new every day :)
    Ana (Ana Travels) recently posted..Children’s Games From Around the World (free) e-book

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0921 #

      Isn’t that the truth…

  16. Cathy Sweeney 7 June 2012 2110 #

    Narni sounds fascinating — the prison, especially. What fun the medieval festival would be. I know that feeling after you’ve just experienced some very cool place and head back to normal.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Capital Ideas for a Washington D.C. Visit

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0922 #

      Yeah, me too. Sad to be back to normality, at least to begin with.

  17. Great find! I love the story behind it all and the costumes were amazing. Plus you can’t go wrong with a good conspiracy or a Dan Brown novel!
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..The World of Violins in Mittenwald

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0923 #

      Such fun, conspiracies :)

  18. Muza-chan 7 June 2012 2307 #

    Great article :)
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: Chatmonchy – Koko Dake no Hanashi

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0923 #

      Thanks for stopping by, Muza-chan.

  19. InsideJourneys 8 June 2012 0002 #

    Dan Brown and CS Lewis – now that’s a combination!
    InsideJourneys recently posted..#TPThursday: Falling for YS Falls

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0924 #

      Yes, that would be an interesting book.

  20. Dick Jordan 8 June 2012 0208 #

    Ah, another place in Italy I never knew existed!
    Dick Jordan recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday: “Peopling”Your Trip Photos

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0925 #

      Italy is full of secret little jewels.

  21. Lisa 8 June 2012 0440 #

    Wow, this sounds like an amazing place. Though the negativity of the use of two of those rooms freaks me out. I would love to see those symbols on the wall.
    Lisa recently posted..Family Travel: Travel with a Senior

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0927 #

      At least the negative/barbarous reminders make one think.

  22. Christina (Jandal Road) 8 June 2012 1154 #

    I was totally in love with the Narnia books and the BBC TV series as a child – it was even dubbed in German. Very cool that you visited that place during the medieval festival, what an experience!
    Christina (Jandal Road) recently posted..The Old Blandy Wine Lodge: Madeira wine tasting

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0926 #

      Love the books. And the BBC series was quite good, too.

  23. Gail 8 June 2012 1652 #

    Wow, I did not know that Narnia really existed I read the book and seen the movie (are fond of fantasy stories), is very exciting to know that those places about which I fantasized really exist, thanks for putting me aware of what.
    Gail recently posted..Top Reasons to Visit Japan

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0928 #

      Thanks for reading :)

  24. Megan 9 June 2012 0219 #

    Not quite the snow-covered wood I was expecting, but still looks worth a visit!
    Megan recently posted..Roamancing Egyptian Satellite TV in Marsa Alam

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0928 #

      Would be interesting to visit during winter, actually.

  25. Jackie Smith 9 June 2012 0355 #

    You captured the imagination with this one! Great photos and story. . .certainly makes me want to go there (and read Dan Brown – again!)
    Jackie Smith recently posted..TPThursday: A Sonoran Spring

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0929 #

      I’m a bit ambivalent about Dan Brown. He is entertaining, though :)

  26. I loved and still love the Narnia series. I’ve read them to my children several times and we enjoyed a traveling exhibit that led us ‘into the wardrobe’ and loved it but now that I read your post, I think your experience certainly had more “awe” factor! I had no idea a Narni existed and what an intriguing tale…
    Tonya @ The Traveling Praters recently posted..Off the Coast of Cozumel: Friday Daydreamin’

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0932 #

      Wouldn’t it be great to go into the real wardrobe…

  27. Jenna 9 June 2012 0803 #

    Another great story, as always! I loved these books when I was young, too. I remember reading them over and over. I had no idea this place existed near Rome!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0932 #

      Me too. Over and over.

  28. Keane 9 June 2012 0817 #

    Lovely post! I had know about Narni but didn’t realize it was so close to Rome. Glad you got out without being trapped by any evil snow witches!
    Keane recently posted..The amazing view from Brisighella’s Torre dell’Orologio

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0933 #

      A white witch would be an interesting addition to the festival :)

  29. Becca@R We There Yet Mom? 9 June 2012 2330 #

    Oh my goodness! I love the history!! Such a cool place to visit and tell us about!

    Thank you for linking up this week!
    Becca@R We There Yet Mom? recently posted..Friday Daydreamin: Summer Water Fun!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0934 #

      As always, happy to, Becca :)

  30. Adina 10 June 2012 2333 #

    Wow! I haven’t know that there is a really Narnia as well. By the way, the movie is my all-time favorite!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0935 #

      Isn’t Tilda Swinton excellent as the White Witch?

  31. Umbria on the Blog 11 June 2012 1111 #

    Narnia has totally captured my heart recently…so glad you were captivated, as well!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0936 #

      I’m a bit envious that Alex got to see this :)

  32. Sonia 13 June 2012 1252 #

    Wow thanks a lot for introducing us to Narni! I had no idea that this place really exists. I love Narnia books. I’ve head of a bar in East London that is stylized as Narnia, where you enter the main room through a wardrobe. Both places, I have to go there! I read Narnia books when I was a young adult and I still love them very much :)
    Sonia recently posted..Why GetLunched is an awesome idea

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 13 June 2012 1550 #

      I so want to see that bar. Just googled it – looks like it called Callooh Callay and is in Shoreditch. (This way, I’ll find it later :) )

  33. Elisa Picchiotti 13 June 2012 1506 #

    Ciao! I live in Todi, 50 km from Narni. I love the Narnia novels and now I’m reading the book to my 8 and 4 year olds! Last february I realised this photostream about Narnia in Todi: please check it out and tell me if you like it! Thank you!
    http://pinterest.com/VisitUmbria/narnia-or-todi-with-the-snow-12/

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 13 June 2012 1529 #

      Just had a look. Very cool and wintery collection – and like Narnia. How fun that it’s so close to Narni!

  34. Jeanette 16 June 2012 0150 #

    Wow, it must’ve seem like you’re in the Narnia movie while solving those symbolic mysteries from Dan Brown’s books! I’d love to see a medieval festival!
    Jeanette recently posted..a nikon d60 review

  35. Angela 16 June 2012 1101 #

    What a wonderful place to get lost in, packed with history and myths around every corner!
    Angela recently posted..Descending Su Gorroppu, Sardinia’s spectacular canyon

  36. Andrea 17 June 2012 1643 #

    I never read them but am interested to learn that this is a real place…
    Andrea recently posted..Travel Memories: Fiji

  37. Ayngelina 18 June 2012 1841 #

    Narnia is one of my favourite books, I would love to go here.
    Ayngelina recently posted..My newest chef crush

  38. Christian 6 April 2013 0955 #

    What a fairy-tale place. I loved the Narnia books when I was growing up.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 8 April 2013 1052 #

      They were among my favourites as well.

  39. Alex 3 June 2013 0741 #

    One of the greatest place on earth!

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