The Italian Almanac

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the realm of Narnia

The Real Narnia

An Umbrian hill-town is celebrating after finally receiving `proof` that it provided Irish author C. S. Lewis with the inspiration for his classic children`s fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. The town of Narni, 50 miles north of Rome, was known as Narnia in Roman times and it had long been rumoured that Lewis, a widely read Oxford professor, named his fictitious kingdom after the ancient Roman town he read about while studying Latin authors.

But Lewis`s former personal secretary and biographer, Walter Hooper, has now given local author Giuseppe Fortunati a copy of a Latin atlas of Italy that belonged to Lewis in which he had underlined Narnia. ``Lewis was passionate about Roman history and in the atlas he traced the routes of the armies, highlighting the Flaminia (Roman road) and Narnia in particular,`` said Fortunati, who has written a book exploring the connections between real-life Narni and the mythical realm of Narnia. Fortunati said the atlas also included several pages written in Lewis`s handwriting that still needed to be examined.

Narni, which now has a population of 20,000, dates back to at least 299 BC. The town is mentioned in the writings of Tacitus, Livy and Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Younger sent a letter to his mother-in-law saying how nice the baths in her Narnia villa were. As far as anyone knows, Lewis never actually went to Narni so the connection probably stops with the name. But despite having little in common with Narnia, a land inhabited by dwarfs, speaking animals and a witch, Narni has made the most of its link with the magical land described in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

In 2006, when the Disney film based on the 1950s children`s book was released, the mayor`s office busied itself working out `Narnia` guided tours and shop windows in the town were full of displays inspired by the film. Local carpenters also reportedly began making wardrobes in the hope of selling them to the C. S. Lewis fans on pilgrimages.