Francigena Val di Susa Marathon, the tale of the day

"On the 17th June I walked in the second of four Francigena Marathons for this year.

I began in Avigliana near Turin, then ascended to the lofty heights of Sacra di San Michele, on to Certosa di Banda, and finally ending in Susa.

To say this was a strenuous marathon is putting it mildly! I was feeling very happy at the outset walking through the ancient Piazza Conte Rosso in Avigliana in the shadow of the ancient ruins of its castle. Then we walked around the Lakes of Avigliana, into a forest and through fields, near Bertassi, filled with bright red flowers rivalled in colour only by the brilliance of our red t-shirts.

Arriving at Sant’Ambrogio di Torina I began to notice that many people were looking skywards. Then I realized they were gazing at our first destination – Sacra di San Michele at the top of Mount Pirchiriano! Little did I realize that we were about to ascend almost 1000 m to this sacred destination. And so a very steep, almost perpendicular ascent began! I was amazed by the continuous stream of 2250 bright red pilgrims all stressing, straining and winding towards our first 10 km destination. 

I have to admit I stopped and sat on every rock that looked like a seat. In the midst of my suffering up this mountain, I was constantly aware of the presence of many large crucifixes. We were indeed walking the Stations of the Cross! And I was very pleased to see the 14th crucifix knowing our suffering might soon draw to a close. It was definitely a pleasure to arrive at Sacra di San Michele and sit down on a rock and enjoy a banana, cake and a fresh bottle of water. But, then we had to face the steep descent through streams and over the ancient Roman and medieval cobble stones. With great care I made my way down amidst streams of bright red t-shirts. And I was very grateful to arrive at the end in one piece.

The marathon continued through magnificent countryside, surrounded by snow clad Alps, brightly coloured spring flowers and gently flowing streams. We walked through another steep section before arriving at Certosa di Banda after 21 km of walking. To my surprise, at Villar Focchiardo there was the familiar glow of bright red t-shirts in an enormous room filled with pilgrims all resting, eating bowls of pasta, cakes, fruit, coffee and celebrating their achievement.

Feeling somewhat tired, I was very happy to take the bus rather than walk the extra 21 km to Susa. And here, in the middle of an ancient Roman Amphitheatre, I very proudly received my certificate for the marathon. This marathon was a peculiar mix of extreme fatigue and pleasure. I truly felt the exhilaration of the 2250 strong crowd united in purpose. And the feeling of making a sacred journey in the footsteps of countless pilgrims was always with me, especially with the Stations of the Cross. But, the history and culture experienced at each destination is totally awesome. I am filled with a desire to return to these places that I could only catch a glimpse of whilst walking!

A huge thank you to Maurizio Bottallo, Leonardo Zappalà and staff for keeping us safe and fed. And I look forward to arriving in Pietrasanta on 30th September for the third marathon. 

You can go to http://carolneville.com.au/photojournal/ for more pictures of the marathon or discover some of the history of this part of the via Francigena at  http://viafrancigenatours.com/category/sigeric/".

Carol Neville 

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