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The 3.8 km long stretch of massive medieval town walls built during the 11th and 12th centuries that still enclose Viterbo today bear mute witness to the town’s historical and political importance during the Middle Ages. They are studded with towers for defensive purposes and other towers are scattered around the town centre, where they were once both home and stronghold to the local nobility. Today access to the city centre is still through gates set in the walls, barring two brief stretches where the walls were opened at a later date, some of them (e.g. Porta S. Pietro and Porta del Carmine) untouched from medieval times. Another detail that visitors strolling round the historic city centre notice are the large number of more or less decorative fountains in every square and corner of the town.
The whole of Viterbo, the walls, the towers, the fountains and the historic palazzos, is built in “peperino”, the typical local volcanic stone whose shades of grey contribute to the town’s picturesque air of antiquity.
The town centre has a large number of Romanesque churches (particularly good examples are S. Sisto, S. Giovanni in Zoccoli and S. Maria Nuova) and elegant palazzos built in various centuries (Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo del Podestà, the traditional seat of local government; Palazzo degli Alessandri, in the characteristic medieval district of San Pellegrino with its “profferli”, the typical Viterbese external staircases and its “richiastri”, or inner courtyards; Palazzo Brugiotti, Palazzo Mazzatosta, etc.). But pride of place goes to the Cathedral and the Papal Palace on their hill, reminders of the numerous popes who fled Rome to take refuge behind Viterbo’s stout, and peaceful, walls.
The first pope to do so was Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261), whose mortal remains were never found and are believed to be buried somewhere in the cathedral. Alexander was succeeded by two French popes, Urban IV (1261-1264) and Clement IV (1265-1268), the first popes to live in the sumptuous palazzo built for them by the people of Viterbo under the guidance of the popular leader Raniero Gatti. The death of Clement IV ushered in the longest period of a vacant papal see in the history of the Church. In the end the exasperated citizens of Viterbo locked the cardinals up in the palazzo cum clave, under key, the origin of the word conclave. After 2 years and 10 months the cardinals elected the Piacentine Gregory X (1271-1276) pope, and he issued a series of decrees to regulate future papal elections. The next pope was Adrian V (1276), whose tomb in the transept of the Basilica of S. Francesco alla Rocca is believed to be the first work by Arnolfo di Cambio. The same Basilica also houses Pope Clement IV’s tomb by Pietro di Oderisio. Adrian was succeeded by the Portuguese John XXI (1276-1277), the only pope Dante Alighieri places in Paradise (sic!), he died a mere 10 months after his election when the ceiling of his room collapsed. Other popes who stayed in Viterbo were Nicholas III (1277-1280) and Martin IV (1281-1285), who Dante places with the gluttons “to purge Bolsena eels and vernaccia” (Purgatorio, canto XXIV, vv. 23-24).

In 1282 the papal court returned to Rome before moving to Avignon in France (“the Avignon captivity”), where it stayed until 1377. With the waning of the Middle Ages and the two powers who had dominated the whole period, the pope and the emperor, the strategic importance of Viterbo also declined, and during the years leading up to the Rennaissance the town was torn by faction fights among the local nobility in their struggles to emerge as the dominating power. Viterbo maintained its antique glories intact, while successive popes and cardinals turned their attention to the countryside around the town or other towns and villages in the area, where they built lasting monuments to commemorate their power, wealth and good taste. One example is Villa Lante at Bagnaia (4 km from Viterbo), the splendid country residence of a cardinal built during the late Rennaissance period. Villa Lante is actually an 18 hectare park with 2 twin hunting lodges designed by Vignola set in one of the most beautiful Italian gardens in the country, lavishly adorned with fountains and ornamental streams.

Just 3 kms from the town walls are the main hot springs that make Viterbo such a well-known spa, the most famous is the Bullicame, or Bulicame, a 6-8 m diameter pool mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy (The Inferno, XIV canto, vv. 79-81).
The spa waters in the area were much appreciated by both the Etruscans and the Romans, the latter building imposing baths whose ruins lie just 11 km outside Viterbo along the Via Cassia on the way to Rome. The baths were abandoned during later waves of barbarian invasion. They came back into fashion towards the end of the 13th century, when the local authorities of Viterbo built a small spa that heralded the beginning of the period of papal popularity, when the spa was named Terme dei Papi, or The Popes’ Spa, thanks to the number of popes and cardinals who used it assiduously. Pope Nicholas V was so enthralled by the curative powers of the hot spring water that he built a magnificent palazzo, known as Bagno del Papa (The Pope’s Baths), there in 1450, subsequently destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. 1462 saw Pope Pius II in Viterbo seeking relief for his gout in the “hot sulphur baths of Bullicame”, as he wrote in his Commentaries.
In a seesaw of popularity and neglect over the centuries the Terme dei Papi has maintained its heritage intact, and steadily grew in popularity from the beginning of the 19th century onwards, facilities were gradually enlarged and modernised until it became one of the best-equipped, most efficient spas in Europe.

The highlight of the year in Viterbo is undoubtedly the celebrations surrounding the procession that carries the “Macchina di Santa Rosa” through the town centre every 3rd September. The “macchina” is a 30 metre tall decorative candlelit tower weighing 5 tons, that is carried 1.5 kms through the narrow medieval streets of the town centre thronged with a cheering crowd of over 60,000 people by 100 (extremely) strong “facchini”, or porters, in honour of St Rosa. St Rosa, a native of Viterbo, lived midway through the 13th century, when Emperor Frederick II, whom she opposed, was beseiging the town in the war between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Rosa died when she was only 17 and was immediately made saint by popular acclaim. In 1258, 7 years after her death, her perfectly preserved body was exhumed by Pope Alexander IV and laid to rest in the Basilica, where it is still venerated today. From 1600 onwards, the procession of the “macchina” commemorates the trnslation of the saint’s body to the Basilica, where it is solemnly displayed for a few days at the foot of the church steps to the admiration of the saint’s many devotees.

La Tuscia Viterbese

La Tuscia is the historical name for the area rich in art and history which currently falls within the territory of the Province of Viterbo, it comprises 3,612 km2 of meadows, woods and lakes nestling on the cusp between Rome, Tuscany, Umbria and the Mediterranean. One of the most interesting corners of Italy, concentrating a wide variety of scenery in a compact area, it spans the sandy Mediterranean coast with its typical Mediterranean scrub to the west, backed by the Maremma Viterbese flood plain, and on to the hilly woodlands of Monte Rufeno and the Monti Volsini, Cimini and Sabatini, with their dense oak and chestnut woods and volcanic lakes of Bolsena, Mezzano, Vico and Monterosi, the hot springs around Viterbo, then stretches eastward to the Tiber valley with its deep cut river valleys and proud spurs of Tufa rock surmounted by ancient villages and strongholds.

Although there are numerous traces of human occupation dating back to prehistoric times, the first to leave their mark on the Tuscia were undoubtedly the Etruscans. The first findings were made at Castel D’Asso, near Viterbo, in 1817, where a series of cliffs riddled with carved tombs set in rows two or three storeys high were discovered. The site at Ferento on St Francesco’s hill, or Acquarossa, was excavated in 1966 by the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome and made an overwhelming contribution to our understanding of early Etruscan civic and domestic architecture and their daily lives. Other discoveries include Norchia, the most important and spectacular cliff tomb site in the whole of Etruria and Italy, with dado or imitation-dado tombs, dating back from the 4th to the 1st century BC, arranged in terraces along the steep slopes just outside the town centre, and Vulci (Montalto di Castro), famous for its François Tomb, decorated with an awesome series of historical frescoes. But the most important Etruscan centre was undoubtedly Tarquinia, a great political power from the 8th to the 7th century BC, holding sway over a vast territory that extended from the sea inland to the Cimina Hills and Lake Bolsena. During the 6th century BC trade between Tarquinia, Greece and the East flourished, and the town’s wealth and power steadily increased, as witnessed by the Ara della Regina temple, the largest in the whole of Etruria, which once housed the famous winged terracotta horses, now on display in the Renaissance Palazzo Vitelleschi, a national museum with a huge collection of vases, Greek and Etruscan ceramics, sarcophagi, bronzes, jewels, sculptures and ex voto offerings. But Tarquinia is world famous for its Etruscan tombs, mostly at Monterozzi, where many precious exhibits displayed in the museum come from. Many of the these remains are paintings, and form a fascinating art gallery representing ancient Mediterranean and Italian art: the tomba delle Pantere (the tomb of the panthers), dei Tori (bulls), della Caccia (hunting) and della Pesca (fishing), degli Auguri (greetings), delle Leonesse (lionesses), del Barone (baron), dei Giocolieri (jugglers), del Cacciatore (hunter), della Fustigazione (whipping), dei Leopardi (leopards), della Scrofa Nera (black sow), degli Scudi (shields), dell’Orco (orcs) etc., date from the 6th to the 1st century BC.
Later Roman domination saw the construction of spas and baths (ruins around the Viterbo area), towns, country villas, amphitheatres (especially those at Ferento and Sutri), bridges (a particularly daring example spans the river Fiora at Abbadia di Vulci) and acqueducts, mainly along the Via Cassia, the main road that connects Rome to Florence (nowadays superceded by the Autostrada del Sole). The Via Cassia was almost certainly built when the Romans first established relations with the Etruscans, together with the Via Aurelia and the Via Clodia, it guaranteed links between Rome and Etruria.
The fall of the Roman empire, the barbarian invasions, the uncertain rule of Byzantium and increasing pressure from the Lombards led people to gradually abandon the towns and villages along the main roads and seek refuge in fortified villages built on the hill tops: the domuscultae were villages under the governance of the See of Rome, they formed the core of what were to become vast ecclesiastical possessions, while the castra were villages built on high defensive positions huddled around a baronial castle, they were the nucleus of various feudal fiefs.
The gradual formation of the Papal States began in the 8th century AD with the donation of Sutri to Pope Gregory II by the Lombard king, Liutbrand. Other territories were slowly added over the centuries until the process was essentially complete in the 15th century. It was accompanied by the building of castle-palazzos, often on the foundations of medieval strongholds belonging to the local nobility and princes of the church, such as the Orsinis (Soriano nel Cimino, Vasanello, etc.), the Marescotti-Ruspolis (Vignanello), the Monaldeschis (Bolsena, etc.), the Farneses (Caprarola, Gradoli, Valentano, etc.), the Borgias (Civitacastellana, Nepi), the Odescalchis (Bassano Romano), the Albornoz (Viterbo), the Santacroce-Altieris (Oriolo Romano), etc., historical town centres (Viterbo, Vitorchiano, Calcata, Bassano in Teverina, Orte, etc.); beautiful villas and gardens (Villa Lante at Bagnaia, Palazzo Farnese at Caprarola, Parco dei Mostri (The Monster Park) at Bomarzo); and numerous churches (fine examples are the Romanesque churches of S. Maria in Castello at Tarquinia, S. Pietro e S. Maria Maggiore at Tuscania, Civita Castellana’s cathedral, or duomo, with its splendid cosmatesque portico, the Cistercian abbey at S. Martino al Cimino, and the exquisite Renaissance Madonna della Quercia sanctuary, etc.).

Art and Landscape
The abundance and variety of history, art and scenery that characterise the area around Viterbo can most conveniently be described by grouping them under headings: The Great Families, The Calanchi Valleys, The Brigands’ Way, The Via Francigena and Lake Bolsena.
The Great Families
The Monaldeschi family once owned the strongholds of Bagnoregio and Castiglione in Teverina, Civitella D’Agliano’s tower, Bolsena’s castle, now the Bolsena Lake Territorial Museum, the imposing castle, also known as Palazzo Madama, at Onano (later owned by the Sforza family), and the lovely Palazzo at Lubriano.
But the family that left the greatest mark on the area was undoubtedly the Farnese family, from the Farnese Pope Paul III onwards they undertook the centuries of building and patronage of the arts that so enriched Rome, Parma and Piacenza.
Pope Paul III was elected in 1534, he was the grandfather of the Cardinal Alessandro Farnese who commissioned the architect Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane to build the sumptuous palazzo at Caprarola, at the height of the Farnese family’s power. By 1559 the original stark fortress had been completely transformed into a late-Renaissance jewel under the guidance of the architect from Emilia Jacopo Barozzi, known as “il Vignola”, with its splendid state apartments covered in frescoes by the best-known artists of time.
The Farnese family also supervised substantial changes to the layout of the village of Caprarola and increased the amount of agricultural land available around Vico Lake. Vico is the third largest lake in the Latium region, known to the Romans as Ciminius Lacus, and today part of the territory of Caprarola and the lake itself is a nature reserve. 16th century engineers dug an underground drainage channel from the lake to the Rio Vicano stream, a tributary of the Treia, itself a tributary of the Tiber, this lowered the level of the lake and reduced its surface area, remodelling it to its present day horse-shoe shape and leaving newly-drained land around Monte Venere, now part marsh and part hazelnut orchards.
Although Palazzo Farnese at Caprarola and the dramatic destiny of Castro, razed to the ground in 1649 by order of the Pamphili pope, Innocent X, are well-known tourist attractions, many of the sites linked to the Farnese family in Tuscia are now more or less forgotten. The Farnese castles at Capodimonte, Farnese and Cellere, the Farnese Rocca (stronghold) at Valentano, Palazzo Farnese at Gradoli, the Palazzi Ducali at Latera and Ischia di Castro, all bear mute witness to the erstwhile power and prestige of this famous family, who from Ranuccio III il Vecchio, captain of the pontificial militia, onwards gave the area around Lake Bolsena a golden age of peace and prosperity. The Bisentina island (Capodimonte) is considered the jewel in the Farnese dukedom’s crown, it was also chosen as the site of the family tombs.
Another famous local family was the Orsini family, who held sway over Soriano nel Cimino (whose imposing castle is one of the best-preserved in the Latium region), Vasanello, Celleno, and Bomarzo, where they built the impressive Palazzo Orsini and Vicino Orsini created his Sacro Bosco in 1520. This late Renaissance park is unique, with its winding paths and terraces dotted with the huge sculptures Vicino commissioned in local peperino stone, made famous in modern times both thanks to the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalì, who was inspired by the park and also made an immensely popular short film of it, and to the Argentine writer Manuel Muijca Laìnez, who published his famous novel “Bomarzo” in 1962, later made into an opera by the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera.

The “Calanchi” valleys
This is a large area to the north-east of the Tuscia, it includes the parishes of Bagnoregio, Castiglione in Teverina, Celleno, Civitella D’Agliano, Graffignano and Lubriano.
It is also known as the “Forre della Teverina”, the Tiber Valley Gorges, because of the broad bands of white clay, the calanchi, whose deep cut gorges make this area unique.
Erosion, especially by rainfall, prevents growth on the crests of the calanchi, which appear bare and arid, giving the resulting downs a rather moonlike air. Despite this, some hardier shrubs and trees do manage to cling to the hillsides, such as broom, witch-elm, dog roses, brambles and hawthorn. In the stretches of flat land, chestnut and turkey oak woods shelter foxes, wild boar and several species of owl.
Each of the villages mentioned above boast interesting histories, works of art, unspoilt countryside and fine wine and food, but the village of Civita di Bagnoregio, birthplace to St Bonaventura and the writer Bonaventura Tecchi, always takes visitors’ breath away when they first see it perched on a 70 m tall isolated plug of tufa rock. The rock is being undermined by erosion, to such an extent that Tecchi called it “the dying town”, but far from dying, it is one of the liveliest, most fascinating places to visit in the whole of the Tuscia.

The Brigands’ Way
This 100 km pathway wends its way through the countryside, linking the Monte Rufeno Nature Reserve with Vulci, in the heart of the Maremma. It starts where the borders of Tuscany, Latium and Umbria converge and makes its way down towards Lake Bolsena, the Lamone Selva (or wilderness), the ruins of once-proud Castro, until it reaches the sea. This was the route taken by the brigands who infested the area towards the end of the 19th century, when the government of the nobility and the church had left the people groaning under the burden of extreme poverty and malaria was widespread. This is where the famous brigands Domenico Tiburzi, the “King of Lamone”, Fortunato Ansuini, Mariano Menichetti and Luciano Fioravanti held sway.
The Brigands’ way often runs through wild countryside as it links the villages and places where the outlaws ranged and hid. An excursion on foot, mountain bike or horseback along part or the whole of the Brigands’ way (the Monte Rufeno regional nature reserve, Proceno, Acquapendente, Onano, Grotte di Castro, Lake Bolsena, Gradoli, San Lorenzo Nuovo, Latera, the Selva del Lamone, Lake Mezzano, Valentano, Farnese, Ischia di Castro, Castro and Cellere) makes a great day out or an unusual mini-break.

The Via Francigena
The Via "Francigena" or "Romea", was probably the most important road in medieval Europe, linking Rome to Charlemagne’s France, Germany and northern Europe and on to Canterbury. It is interesting to note how different it was when compared to the great Roman consular roads like the Appian way, built to transport armies and goods as swiftly as possible. The Francigena was a highway for kings, emperors, clerics and ordinary people on their pilgrammages to the holy places of Christendom. The route of the Francigena through the Tuscia today offers a fascinating glimpse of the past through the history of the towns and villages it runs through: Proceno and Acquapendente, where pilgrims halted to worship a precious relic from the Holy Land enshrined in the Basilica del Santo Sepolcro; San Lorenzo Nuovo; Bolsena, with its memories of St Cristina and the miracle of the transubstantiation that took place in 1263 and gave rise to the feast of Corpus Domini; Montefiascone, visible from miles away along the Cassia road thanks to the imposing Baroque dome of the Cathedral of Santa Margherita and the remains of a papal stronghold and famous for its white Est!Est!!Est!!! DOC wine. Then on to Viterbo, which partly owed its growth to the Via Francigena, when it became one of the main halts before Rome, rich in hospices, inns and history; San Martino al Cimino (where the Cistercian abbey of the same name and the Doria Pamphili Palazzo provided a splendid backdrop for the village designed by Marcantonio De Rossi in 1600), Ronciglione, Vetralla, Capranica, Sutri and Monterosi, where pilgrims left the Via Cassia to follow the Via Trionfale into Rome.

Lake Bolsena
The historic Volsiniensis Lacus, as it was known to Plinius, Vitruvius and Columella, is the fifth biggest lake in Italy and the largest volcanic lake in Europe. Surrounded by the Monti Volsini, it has two islands, the Bisentina and the Martana, two erstwhile cones in the Volsino volcanic complex.
The Isola Bisentina (360 m at its highest point) is an extremely interesting natural habitat for wildlife and vegetation and also boasts some interesting architectural gems going back to the Farnese period on its 17 hectare site. These include the Renaissance church of SS. Giacomo e Cristoforo with its Franciscan monastery and various oratories perched on the cliffs above the lake.
The 10 hectare volcanic half-moon of the Isola Martana (375 m at its highest point), is covered in a thick tangle of unusual vegetation with clusters of holm oak and wild olives that shield a country house built in a vaguely Liberty style, the ruins of a convent and the medieval castle where Amalasunta, queen of the Goths, was imprisoned and then murdered by order of her cousin Teodato.
There are three villages built around the lake; the previously-mentioned Bolsena, Capodimonte, dominated by the imposing bulk of the Farnese Castle, designed by the family architect Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane between 1510 and 1516, and Marta, a picturesque fishing village that has preserved its farming and fishing traditions intact. These are celebrated by the “Barabbata”, a religious procession steeped in folklore that takes place each year on 14th May.
There are various villages on the hills surrounding the lake. San Lorenzo Nuovo, designed between 1774 and 1779 by the architect Francesco Navone who was inspired by the Amalienborg Square in Copenaghen: straight roads laid out in a grid shape run into an octagonal central square. In the middle of August each year the square is transformed into a vast open-air restaurant for the “Sagra degli gnocchi”, the potato dumpling festival that celebrates the virtues of the main local product, a floury, yellow-fleshed potato ideal for dumplings. Grotte di Castro, with its scattered Etruscan necropoli, the most noteworthy being the site in the Pianezze Archeaological Park and Gradoli, best known for its “Pranzo del Purgatorio” (purgatory lunch), a folkloristic celebration that takes place every Ash Wednesday and traces its roots back to the 17th century. Every year the members of the Purgatory Confraternity prepare a meal based on so-called “purgatory beans” seasoned with olive oil and salted cod supplemented by freshly-caught fish from the lake, all washed down with delicious local wines. Latera is one of the smallest villages in the province of Viterbo, and every year in October it celebrates the “Sagra del marrone”, the chestnut festival, in honour of the top quality organic chestnuts the area produces. The village of Valentano is dominated by its imposing medieval castle, extensively renovated by the Farnese family, which now houses the Museo della Preistoria della Tuscia e della Rocca Farnese, the Tuscia prehistorical and Farnese castle museum with interesting finds from prehistoric and protohistoric sites in the area and a precious collection of ceramics from the Farnese period excavated from the local “butti” (domestic rubbish pits). The last town around Lake Bolsena is Montefiascone, which has some interesting historical buildings (the Basilica di San Flaviano, the Rocca dei Papi, and the Cathedral of S. Margherita) but mainly owes its fame to its superb white DOC wine EST!EST!!EST!!!, so enthusiastically endorsed by the medieval German baron Johannes Defuk. The last half century has seen the growing importance of the local wine festival held during the first half of August every year.

The Tuscia Economy
The province of Viterbo plays an important role in regional agriculture, especially in the large scale production of cereals and hazelnuts. Agriculture is deeply rooted in the local history and culture of Tuscia’s towns and villages and this tradition has flowered into one of Italy’s (and Europe’s) most prestigious Faculties of Agriculture at Università degli Studi della Tuscia (Tuscia University).
Tuscia is in 7th place in Italy for the importance of agriculture in its local economy thanks to its cereal and hazelnut production, but also due to market garden produce (tomatoes and melons), animal husbandry (sheep, goats and cattle), chestnuts, wine, oil and potatoes.
Tuscia’s other vital resource is the place itself: its virtually uncontaminated natural scenery with its lakes, mountains and nature reserves, the ideal place for a day out or a relaxing holiday; its spas centred around the Bulicame spring cited by Dante, some still “en plein air” and some transformed into modern wellness centres; its archeaology from Etruscan and Roman times, with the local volcanic grey peperino stone carved into fascinating Etruscan necropoli and sarcophagi and the Roman Theatre at Ferento, also shaping later gems, such as the Monster Park at Bomarzo and the fountains at Villa Lante di Bagnaia, right up until the present day, with numerous quarries still producing this valuable ornamental building stone.