It was late afternoon, I was a little tired and the smell of sulphur was hanging strong over my skin, I looked at the map, I wanted to find a place to stop for the night soon, but wanted to head towards the monte Sibbilini national park a little more first, we were drawn to the place because of its name, the mountains of the sybil (the oracle) I remembered reading at some point over the summer that there used to be a cave up one of the mountains where the oracle used to live.
Anyway the day was getting old, and much have happened It felt like if I can drive us of the main road in the direction of the national park, and we can simply find a resting place that would be best, I stopped relying on google navigation at some point because of all the closed roads, so whilst driving a quick look at the edge of our map showed me mount Sibbila, there seemed to actually be a road that went up the mountain, I guessed that it wouldn’t be drivable to cars, and anyway all roads seemed closed.
But heading towards that name place seemed the goal for the night, I thought we were leaving the earthquake centre, but even here on the small roads, there was a lot of damage, at times it seemed that there was even more, small villages nestled on the Ridgeline, very beautiful, but even here many houses were collapsed, and it seemed that any road but the one I was driving was closed, I was heading towards the village of montemoncao, I thought it being a little late we can park there for the night, maybe in the morning we can see if we can find the road up that mountain, and ask the locals if they heard about the cave too.
I almost got to the village, but the road was closed, it was funny because we also reached the end of the map (its Abruzzo and Molise map) I couldnt drive through the village and there was no where for our sizeable camper either, I drove back and took the first turning, it was a small road, I was tired, I remember saying out of exhaustion It seemed we arent meant to find that mountain, the road is closed, I came to another small turning, the road sign in brown said …. MONTE SIBBILA….!!! the road to the mountain wasnt closed after all, in fact, it was the only one I could have taken, that was getting a little strange….
I drove on, something seemed to have a mind of its own, and it wasnt mine, I got to the bottom of the mountain, there was a 4×4 parked, by a barrier, this was the small road I seen on the map, the road to the Oracle mountain, as it seemed something led us here, I just drove passed the barrier, it wasnt really blocking the road and it seemed too late to do anything else, It was a small gravel road, and we were in a 7.5 ton truck, it snaked up the mountain, with drops of 1000 meter at either side, the valleys in front of us and the surrounding peaks of the monte Sibbilini were something else, a cloud hung up above, and I was relieved when we drove into the fog, because I was scared someone would see us driving the big yellow monster, at one point there was a massive boulder in the middle of the road, the earthquakes must have lodged it free from the mountain, but here too I could pass through, I felt like the something really wanted us up that mountain.
The view going up the 4×4 road
We got to the rifugio Sibbila just before dark, I was relieved to see a couple of other cars, it seemed the Italians like me dont bother with barriers, I parked the truck at the edge, below us the whole land laid like a map, it was such a strong day, looking down on all that area, and knowing how shaken it was, having been working to promote sustainable tourism in the rural mountains of Abruzzo we know what it must have felt for the locals, it seemed fighting abandonment was so much more of an issue now, but it also seemed that there is ancient myth right under our feet, a sleeping entity who is awakening.
Before we went it to make dinner, I went to read the tourist map, I was somewhat shocked to find that the cave I was after was up that very mountain!, the sign said that in medieval times people used to come up the mountain because its mystery power, that it symbolised the earth mother, and that they came to dream here, it seems very auspicious to me.
This mountain range, Monte Sibillini is named after the sibyls, wise women, priestesses who could read the energy of things, see into the future. The sibyls are also known as oracles, the most famous being the Oracle of Delphi and the difference being that the oracles would speak the words of the Spirit, like the Oracle of Delphi speaking for Apollo: “He says…”, whereas the Sibyls would speak the words of the Spirit directly as themselves. The first story of the sibyl can be traced through Roman folklore to the 5th century BC in Greece. There were several sibyls, but this story is about the Apennine Sibyl, who lived in a cave in the heart of a mountain, which became known as Monte Sibilla. The cave could well have been the entrance to an underground labyrinth where the sibyl lived and worked on the mysterious side of things. Wandering knights of medieval times would come and seek counsel with the sibyl and people would come to the cave to dream. Supposedly people would come to seek her advice, of course we no longer know how the ancients view it all, the power of place for them was the first religion, the spirit of the mountain and its connection with the deep (through the cave) was why the oracle prophesied there.
An old map of the oracle cave
The Mountain is believed to be the centre of the earth, the Navel, there are other spots like that, like the above mentioned temple in Delphi, the same goes for Cusco in Peru, the tibetans too believed the earth was a goddess, and in order to achieve super natural abilities they would travel her body, in search of the mysterious waterfall that would transport them to other worlds, In India it is believed that meditation on certain spots can advance you spiritually as much as doing the same work for years in any other place.
Anyway we get the gist, its the power of place, and its affect on the spirit of Man (or in this case Woman).
The ring road of the mountain, and the cave at the top
The next morning we climbed up the mountain……there are two possible roads one can take, in fact its like a ring, and you can approach the mountain from both directions, we vouched for the way up Monte Zampa, this proved to be a good choice, because although the ascent to Monte Zampa is a little devoid of scenery, once you get there, to are confronted by a long dragon back of monte Sibbila, and the valley below was so breathtaking, I decided on the spot it was in my 5 top places ive ever visited, the view reminded me of how it felt looking down from Mt. Sinai, its pristine.
The secret valley below the mountains
There is a convent the other side of the valley. I thought that this must be the most amazing place in Europe, the half moon was right over the Sibbila mountain, and it seemed like we were walking in the footprints of a legend, like we were brought here for a reason even, our Abruzzan shepherd loved the hike even more than us, we decided it was time teach him to carry loads, so every km or so we tied another bit of clothing around his waist, hoping that one day he can carry our loads for us, or at least learn to carry loads as part of his work, he didn’t seem to mind the pile of woollen jumpers around his middle, he was in the mountains and he felt like home, we all did, especially now he was carrying more of our clothes.
The Shepard of Abruzzo carrying our clothes
After some steep ascents and some bits we had to almost carry the dog, we got to the top, the cave itself was closed obviously, There is rumoured to be a labyrinth under the entrance, with halls and magic, where the oracle used to live, the cave entrance was also blown in an attempt to try and open it, which actually made it even harder to enter, there is however a little opening that borrows down, for the brave of heart.
There are secret stories in the area rumours the locals spread, and how they believe it is best the cave is left alone, the witchcraft left untouched, maybe it was them taht blew the entrance to make sure the secret of the caves would never be explored, to dissuade people from stirring the earth again, but the strongest punch line of it all, is that once we climbed that mountain that seemed to call us, whilst we explored the area, we have come to realise that every one of the hundred or so earthquakes that occoured in Italy in the last months, seemed to be centred around the cave, some of the biggest shakes were not 15km away as the crow flies, so it seems that maybe the locals were right, or maybe they were wrong, because it seemed no one can keep the Oracle from returning, the mountain that held her for 1500 years is now shaking the area is all adrift, it seemed she has decided it is time to come out, it is time for her to find a new Woman, one that would heed the call and be the voice for the spirit.