A Trip to Castellaneta - by Jean Walker

A few years ago it was my pleasure to publish a quarterly newsletter dedicated to Rudolph Valentino. It was gratifying to have several excellent contributions by some of the subscribers. One of which was from a lovely lady from the U.K. by the name of Jean Walker - she made a trip to Valentino's birthplace of Castellaneta. Her piece has remained with me since I first read it, having yet to have the pleasure of a visit to Castellaneta (or Italy) myself. I emailed Jean in the hope she'd allow me to republish her piece here. Happily for us all she did. What follows is a delightful piece describing her visit to Valentino's birthplace, Castellaneta, Italy. The photos illustrating the piece were taken by Jean's son Michael. I apologize for the not quite optimal quality of the images. I searched in vain on my external hard drive for the original scans and could not find them. These were extracted from the newsletter file.

A Trip to Castellaneta by Jean Walker

Following a recent statement that my ambition is to visit all the places I know of associated with Rudolph Valentino and since I am turned eighty, I decided that immediately is a good time to begin and what better place to start than Rudy's birthplace, Castellaneta in Italy? Before I go any further, I should like to say how very much I am indebted to W. H. whose article in the Spring 2005 Newsletter helped me so very much since it contains lots of valuable information and advice for my visit, which took place in March of this year.

The Blue Sheik, Catellaneta, Italy

My son, Michael accompanied me on this voyage of discovery. We flew from London to Rome and then to Bari where we had already engaged rooms at the Hotel Victor in the city centre. This was a modern and most comfortable hotel which I would recommend to anyone who might be contemplating the journey.

The very next morning we rose early and took a train for Castellaneta. A pleasant and comfortable journey of approximately one hours duration and just as Wayne had said, a small local bus was waiting to take us to the town centre for a modest fee.
We explored the town on foot taking a great many photographs as we went along starting with the life size ceramic sculpture of Rudy in the lower part of Via Roma. Regrettably, this is not very well executed in my opinion, nevertheless it is gratifying that such a fine man is honoured and remembered in the place of his birth.
116 Via Roma, birthplace of Rudolph Valentino

Continuing further along Via Roma, on the right hand side, we come to No. 116, the building in which Rudy was born and where he lived until the age of nine at which time the family moved to Taranto.

The rear view of 116 Via Roma

This edifice, which I believe is of 19th century construction, is quite imposing and very pleasing to the eye though it does have about it a slight air of neglect, in need of a minor facelift to restore it to its former splendour. Even so it was with a thrill of excitement that at last I was able to gaze at length on the house where it all began on 6 May, 1895. We were able to examine both the front and the back of the property at leisure. On the wall at the front of the building is an elaborate bronze plaque of pleasing design, bearing in Italian the words "Rodolfo Valentino nome che in terra lontano significo Arte e Belleza Italica".

Commemorative plaque at 116 Via Roma

After continuing a little further along the Via Roma, a right hand turn took us into Corso Umberto, a quiet road with on the left hand side a small park where we rested for a while enjoying the peace and serenity of the sunny afternoon before continuing our stroll. Reaching the top of the street one first comes upon the imposing Church of San Michele, this church is on the edge of the old town and almost immediately next to it is the frontage of an ancient building which was undergoing extensive renovation. We were told that this was part of an old palace with spacious grounds behind it.
Corso Umberto
Church of St. Michele
We did wonder if this could possibly be a part of the old palace where Rudy's mother was companion to the Marchesa Giovanazzi, however, we could elicit no further information on this score so continuing onwards and upwards we came to the very old and in my opinion most beautiful part of Castellaneta. Here one has the sensation of having gone back in time to an earlier and more leisurely period. Everything was a pleasure to behold, smaller streets and passages branch off this thoroughfare. Many of these offshoots are named Vico, which is I believe a colloquial version of what we in England call wynds or alleys that still exist in our older towns. If only there had been time to explore individually some of these tempting diversions instead of a mere cursory glance, however, our meanderings eventually brought us to the Museo Valentino which was the highlight of the visit. The museum was closed but this we had expected and planned to return later in the day when, we were given to understand that it might be open, so for the moment we contented ourselves by taking pictures of the art nouveau plaque outside and the huge head and shoulders picture of Rudy opposite the entrance.

St. Domenico Cathedral (undergoing restoration)

Continuing onwards we eventually arrived at the piazza where stands the Cathedral of San Domenico, a magnificent building begun in the 15th century, this building was also undergoing renovation work, and was closed to the public, so we contented ourselves with taking photographs of the exterior, eventually, strolling on past the cathedral to a vantage point from where we could see the rear of the cathedral, and what a surprise! We found we were standing almost at the edge of an appalling gorge, the deepest and most horrifying gorge that I have ever seen, but with the most wonderful panoramic views across the Puglian countryside. This was obviously the ravine, forbidden territory to the young Rudy, where despite his father's orders to stay away from there, he frequently carried out his boyish imaginary adventures and deeds of derring do.

At this point we decided to retrace our footsteps back to the starting point in the Via Roma taking in en route, the fine Municipal Square, which contains a poignant First World War memorial commemorating the many men of Castellaneta who had lost their lives in the 1914-18 conflict, after which we made for the old railway station, long closed but with the sign saying Castellaneta Citta still in position. This would have been the station used by Rudy and his family on journeys to Taranto, Bari and elsewhere.

By this time we were famished and decided that the next step must be 'Osteria Rodolfo Valentino' as recommended by W. H., and what a wise choice this was to prove. I can only echo W's description that the service and the food were impeccable, the food was amongst the, best that I have ever tasted and believe me, I have eaten great deal of Italian food over the years.

The place was immaculate, with pictures of Rudy in some of his roles adorning the walls and everything spotlessly clean and tastefully arranged. The owner, Vito, was most attentive and courteous, as also were the waiters. Vito talked to us at some length, eventually insisting on presenting me with a souvenir of the occasion in the shape of a ceramic pot made locally. It was indeed a happy occasion for all, soon however to be slightly spoiled for when we returned to the Museo Valentino at the time suggested and though we waited patiently for what seemed like hours, it did not open at all that day, and so we returned in time to catch the last train back to Bari in a mood of mixed elation and dejection. Well, perhaps another time, who knows!

The street leading to Museo Valentino

It is only fair to say at this point that everywhere we went in Puglia we were treated with the utmost kindness, courtesy and gentle interest We were sorry when this wonderful vacation came to an end. I shall always remember the people of Puglia, especially those of Bari and Castellaneta with great affection.
Jean Walker at Osteria Rodolfo Valentino

Again, I'd like to express my gratitude to Jean Walker for her permission to reproduce her original article.

For some further reading and sight seeing of Valentino's birthplace, you can start with the wikipedia entry. While this site is currently not functioning, it will be a place to check back to. Here is another link to Castellaneta (thanks Joan).
I'm not sure of the current status of the Museo Valentino, it was closed a few years back, but I believe it is still operational.
Museo Rodolfo Valentino
Via Municipio, 19 Castellaneta, Taranto 74011 - Italy
Phone: +39 (0)99 8497236


Tinky said…
This is charming; Jean sounds like a joy, and her trip sounds like one, too. We don't get to read the words "derring do" nearly often enough....
Joan said…
I remember (with great pleasure) this article from the newsletter, I'm so glad Jean Walker approved your republishing it. What a lovely trip.
rudyfan1926 said…
Yes a lovely trip and one I do hope to make one of these years. If the Euro ever goes down....of course, Pordenone is also on my must do list. So if I can make it to Pordenone, then a nice train trip down will be great to see Rudy's hometown in person at long last. All that scenary in between, as well.
Rebeccake said…
I too, would like to get to Italy someday. Thanks for sharing the article!
Mary said…
The euro is at its lowest rate in years right now, 1.27 to the dollar, much better than the 1.65 last year. Of course, everything else, like airfare, is expensive.
Tennis Girl said…
Thanks RudyFan for coming over and visiting. Thanks for the correct date of the picture I posted on my blog of Rudy and Natacha. I have stood by the Falcon Lair wall several times. Always enchanting :)
Anonymous said…
hello fans! I'm an artist from Castellaneta, I'm actually working to the next re-opening of the museo, we have nice stuff to exhibit, etc.. please ask for the Fondazione Rodolfo Valentino, we're available alltime! glad to write to you. licona@libero.it
Viagra Online said…
Beautiful pictures, somehow reminded me of the old west, maybe for the colors.

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