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back to the self guided excursions in ItalyBack to Excursions list/ Viterbo / Tarquinia / Caprarola / Tuscania / Tuscia / Farfa Abbey / Other, Welknown / Tuscia wine

self guided visit to


Pope's palace
the Papal Palace

Viterbo is a very intact medieval town. In the 13th century, Viterbo already was a hopping metropolis. The old part of town is small enough to enjoy a day wandering through the piazzas, churches, and meandering streets. Viterbo, off the usual tourist routes, is the perfect day trip from Rome.
The city has certain architectural aspects of Farnesian origin such as the fifteenth century Palazzo Farnese,famous for having accommodated Pier Luigi’s family, father of the future pope, Paul III and Giulia Bella and the Farnesian Road, ordered by Cardinal Alessandro as the new thoroughfare into the city’s historic centre (today’s Via Cavour, rich in gentilizi buildings of the period : the Brugiotti Building hosts a private museum of medieval and Renaissance ceramics). Moreover, Viterbo is famous for its rare and well kept thirteenth century historic centre and for having been a papal seat (the famous Palazzo Papale,)Quartiere S. Pelligrino
Piazza San Lorenzo is on the site of the former Etruscan acropolis, has a 13th century house, a cathedral dating from 1192 with a fine Gothic campanile, and a 13th century Papal Palace which is one of the most interesting examples of medieval secular architecture in Italy.
The 11th century town wall is intact.
In addition there are archaeological museums, sacred art and churches of great artistic value. Not far from Viterbo is the Etruscan - Roman town of Ferento, with a well kept theatre used for open air performances. There are various Etruscan necropolis (Castel d’Asso, Norchia). There is the beautiful Villa Lante of Bagnaia, with prestigious Italian gardens.
Of particular interest are the thermal baths, just outside the walls of the ancient city, known since the time of Pope Gregory IX (1235) and mentioned in Dante's" Divine Comedy." The sulphurous waters springs from the Bulicame, whose curative effects were used by the Etruscans and Romans, offer first class natural and efficacious remedies for the cure and prevention of cronic infections of the respiratory tract, for osteo-articolare problems and for diseases of the skin or more simply as a pleasant and relaxing aesthetic treatment.

Among the special tourist attractions is the transportation of the Macchina di S. Rosa, an imposing luminous tower that is carried by 100 "facchini" (3rd September) and the Antiques Show (November).
From June to September theatrical Renaissance plays are held in Viterbo.At the beginning of the second millennium, a huge number of pilgrims began crossing through Europe in search of the lost “Celestial Land”, the “Patria Celeste.” The pilgrims travelled to three major destinations:
Rome, the city of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul, the founders of the Christian church;
The Holy Land, site of Calvary, where the pilgrims sought out the places of Christ’s Passion;
Santiago de Compostela, the furthest point of western Europe which the Holy Apostle James chose as his final resting place.

Thus Europe became a vast web of roads, paths and routes
all of which led towards these pilgrimage sites. The way to Rome was along what was probably the most important road of the times, the Via Francigena or Via Romea which led to the Eternal City from the Western Alps and the Rhineland and was used for seven centuries by sovereigns, emperors, plebeians and clergymen.
The Via Francigena led all the way from Canterbury to Rome and was one of the pathways of European history. It was a main thoroughfare along which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims passed on theirway to Rome. In those days, the journey was not just an adventure or a risk but an act of devotion in itself, and the pilgrims would stop off along the way at places deemed holy by the Church. We are able to reconstruct the itinerary thanks to a document left behind by Archbishop Sigericus of Canterbury who, upon his return from Rome to his dioceses in 994, wrote down the names of the places that had formed the stages of his journey home.
It is only natural that one thousand years later, on the eve of a new millennium, there should be a reawakening of interest in the old route and a desire to rediscover a road that once represented unity and communication between the different cultures and ideas of European nations which are once again opening their borders.The Via Francigena bears witness to how even then there was a desire for unity in Europe.
The Via Francigena cut through the Alps in the Valley of Aosta and proceeded southwards through Piedmont, Lombardy, the flatlands of the river Po (Padania) before going through the Apennines near Berceto to pass into Tuscany and Latium, and then Rome.
This route is an essential and formative phenomenon in the history of Europe. Fragments, signs and reminders of its existence are still to be found scattered throughout our area.If we look at the Etrurian section, we can identify the route and the posting stages. From Proceno, a resting station, the pilgrims moved on to Acquapendente which was a fundamental part of the journey as it contained a precious reliquary from the Holy Land, now kept in the Cathedral crypt. They then travelled down to Bolsena, an important town because of the Corpus Domini miracle, and on to Montefiascone, a mediaeval town even then known for its wine.The next stage was Viterbo which, indeed, developed and grew thanks to its strategic position on the Via Francigena. Viterbo thus became a cardinal destination on the itinerary and was well supplied with hospices and lodgings. The traces of this concentration of pilgrim activity are still very much to be seen today.After Viterbo, travellers faced the obstacle of the Cimini mountains which they traversed by going either to the right or to the left along the Vico Lake. The more popular choice varied from age to age. One way led to Ronciglione and the little church of Saint Eusebius. The other led through chestnut woods and we may still make out traces of an old path that passed by the Cistercian Abbey of St Martins in Cimino. The pilgrims would then make their way to Vetralla where a country road led them to the little church of Santa Maria in Forcassi, mentioned by Sigericus. After this, the road led to Capranica, Sutri, Monterosi and then the pilgrims left the Via Cassia for the Via Trionfale that led them into Rome at last.In the Tuscia region - the old name for the present administrative reality established by the province of Viterbo - "the Etruscan mystery", even if stirring in the atmosphere of abandoned cities and vast and silent necropli its true identity is revealed more so than in other Etruscan areas.
Long before the Etruscans became a part of history with the acquisition of writings, they were present in the numerous protovillanovian and villanovian necropoli (X-VIII cent. B.C.) where the bronze crested helmet and bowl that guarded the ashes already forecasted this first Italic civilization. It was then that other great cities (Tarquinia, Vulci, Velzna, Falerii), projected a new economic dimension, released different activities and new social turmoils; surrounded by the thousand by other centres strongly castled on tufaceous bastions, multiplied and used land wisely and rationally. In harmony with the cities of the living the cities of the dead descended into the bowels of mother earth to secure their roots, to guard and to hand down through time a smile full of hope for the Etruscans (VIII-I cent. B.C.) And the tomb became their immortal home using rock again as they did for their terrestrial home where they gathered a taste for beauty in jewels, ceramics, bronzes and furnishings. The face and the name and the family name of the man and the woman were handed down in the sarcophaguses where paintings encaptured the colour of the countryside and the sensual joy of life. Here in the Tuscia region, more than anywhere else, when well-known destiny decided on their decline, the Etruscan entrusted his breath of immortality in the rocky monumenta necropoli by giving his rock friend and suggestive picture of the Fake Door the distressing mystery of life and death(IV-I cent. B.C.) Long bands unfold along the tufaceous slopes, in places that are still protected by an eternal mystery, where the bright green vegetation contrasts and enhances the dark red tuff. And on this very same portion of happy Etruscan land there are temples, chapels, aediculas, votive deposits belonging to a population considered the most religious in antiquity. Where incense no longer burns but in the splendid sun, where the haruspex no longer reads the internal organs except within the breeze, where sacrifices are no more except that of an entire people. And on the shores of the blue seas, where they gave its name, ports emerge from the waters and the earth where commerce brought culture and technology, taste and art.This is the Tuscia, a land to discover in the name of culture, the first and greatest popoulation in Italy, aware in millenial paths, to warn the knowledge of life in deserted homes and the numerous necropoli, and in all areas that a deep human experience has made sacred
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