Viterbo and Tuscia Things to Do
The Cathedral of San Lorenzo - Viterbo
The existence of the Duomo of Viterbo dates back to 775 when it was constructed over the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to Hercules. However, the conversion of the building to Romanesque style began in 1192, and the Tuscan Gothic style bell tower was added in 1369. Over the years, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo has been reconstructed on numerous occasions. The most noteworthy is the refurbishing that occurred in the 17th century that removed the original structure of the church built in the Middle Ages. In addition, the Cathedral suffered damage from the bombings of World War II, an event that affected quite a few of the historic buildings in Viterbo. Once the war ended parts of the Duomo were once again rebuilt.
Inside the church there are three naves with distinct characteristics. The nave in the center features a Cosmatesque floor that is also found in many churches throughout Rome. The nave on the right features a baptismal font which dates to the 15th century as well as chapels dedicated to St. Catherine, St. Valentino, and St. Ilario. The nave on the left contains a memorial to John XXI and the headstones of two other popes, Alexander IV and Clement IV. Finally, there is the Chapel dedicated to St. Lucy where one can find Baroque frescoes and other artworks composed in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Rocca Albornoz - Viterbo
Alternatively known as Rocca del Papa, construction on this building was initiated by Cardinal Albornoz in 1354, but it was not completed until 1462. The interior is composed of an atrium with a fountain and a grand staircase. Today, the Rocca houses the Museo Nazionale Etrusco (National Etruscan Museum) which features an impressive permanent exhibition on both Etruscan and domestic architecture.
Museo della Ceramica della Tuscia
Viterbo’s pottery museum is located in the heart of the ancient center of the city in Palazzo Brugiotti, a building that dates back to the 17th century. The museum is divided into 5 exhibition zones each showcasing the evolution of pottery work in Viterbo and northern Lazio. Artifacts range from early monochromatic shapes, to glasswork, to polished artifacts, and finally ceramic dessert molds from the 19th century.
Museo Civico di Viterbo
This museum is located in an ex-convent from the 12th century. The exhibits are divided into two main categories based on time periods. On the ground floor one can find artifacts from the Early Middle Ages, while on the first floor one can find artifacts from the High Middle Ages and the Modern Age. On the ground floor there is also an archeological area where nenfro sarcophagi from the 4th to the 2nd century BC are on display. These artifacts were found in the various necropolises near Viterbo.
Lake Bolsena, measuring nearly 114 square kilometers, is the fifth largest lake in Italy and the largest in the region of Lazio. The lake has volcanic origins and is famous for pristine water and a rich environment that has fostered the growth of many different animals. In the middle of the lake there are two islands called Bisentina and Martana. Bisentina features dense woods filled with oak and gardens. Martana, the smaller of the two islands, is not open to visitors because it is privately owned. Martana Island is also known as the location of the murder of a queen of the Goths named Amalasuntha back in 535 AD.
Civita di Bagnoregio
Civita di Bagnoregio is a small city situated atop a tufa rock hill accessible solely via a footbridge. It is every bit as beautiful as other hill towns like Siena or Assisi, but it has been mainly left untouched by the modern age thanks to its unique entrance. Because of this, when one enters Civita di Bagnoregio, it is as if one has stepped into the Middle Ages.
The city dates back to the Etruscan period and has experienced many restorations since that time including during the Middle Ages and the 16th and 17th centuries. Civita’s main street flows from east to west and the city was designed around the Cathedral which was most likely constructed on top of the ruins of an ancient temple. Inside the Cathedral is a Flemish crucifix created in the 15th century that is paraded through town during the procession of Christ’s crucifixion, a local tradition.
The presence of few locals (roughly 100 in the summer and 12 in the winter) and minimal visitors results in a noticeable silence throughout the city. Unfortunately, this quiet town is also in danger. Over time the edges of the hill beneath the city have eroded, destroying buildings and leaving the entire city in danger of being demolished. Because of this, Civita is known as “il paese che muore” (meaning, “the town that is dying”). Recently in a positive turn of events for the town, there has been a revival in tourism. Should one not be intimidated by its reputation as a “dying city”, one may peacefully stroll through Civita to carefully explore every detail of its modest peasant homes and medieval palaces as well as vast canyons surrounding the charming city.
The Monster Park of Bomarzo
In the 16th century, Vinicio Orsini built an unusual park in memory of the passing of his wife. Architects Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Pirro Ligorio were instructed to create monsters and mythological beasts to fill the park. Inscriptions in the park were not written to guide visitors but rather to confound them. The inscriptions contain some symbols that are still undecipherable to scholars. The park is full of puzzles and other mysteries which over the years have inspired whimsical artists such as surrealist Salvador Dalí.
Tuscania, the pearl of Tuscia
Tuscania is another hill town situated in Tuscia, and it offers visitors spectacular views of the beautiful landscape below. Tuscania was likely first populated near the last period of the Bronze Age. The main river in the area, River Marta, drew many ancient settlements with its promise of fresh water and abundant resources. Tuscania’s resources continued to benefit the local people who were able to gain wealth through farming and breeding well into the 16th and 17th centuries.
Several important monuments can be found in Tuscania including the Church of San Pietro. The church was designed in the Lombard Romanesque style and it is considered to be one of the most stunning churches in Italy. Historians hold the church to be highly important because it marks the transition of styles in Italian architecture from Early Christian to Romanesque. The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, is worth a visit as well. It was built in the 700s and rebuilt several times in the centuries that came after. The church is full of detail and features a fresco depicting the Universal Judgement that dates back to the 14th century. Also of note is the Archaeological Museum that features artifacts found in the tombs of the Curunas and Vipinana families, two local ancient families. Other artifacts include the Sarcophagus of the Amazons found in the archaeological excavations near the town.
Tarquinia is a curious city notable because it was misnamed after an ancient Etruscan, and later Roman city, known as Taquinii. In reality, Tarquinia is located across the valley from the ancient city it is named after. Regardless, Tarquinia is an exquisite ancient town with a wonderful mixture of Etruscan influences, medieval monuments, and Renaissance monuments. Included among these monuments are Santa Maria in Castello, San Salvatore, San Martino, and San Giacomo. Most of these buildings are on the edges of cliffs and provide inspiring views of hills and the Marta River valley.
The Etruscan Necropolises just outside the city constitute one of the most important sites in Tarquinia. Inside are many tombs fashioned in the style of rooms complete with decorations such as Etruscan paintings. These paintings provide an interesting look into Etruscan art from 600 to 200 B.C. There are approximately 6,000 tombs and nearly 200 wall paintings in the area creating a quite rich collection of Etruscan artifacts of great historical importance. Tarquinia is truly an archeological wonder.
This small town located south of the Cimini Mountains is an exquisite model of 16th century urban planning. Caprarola’s main road traverses gorges that have been filled in and crossed with bridges to reach the city’s main square which is dominated by Palazzo Farnese. The Palazzo was the home of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and it was constructed during the late Renaissance period. It contains impressive rooms, in which academics, musicians, and noblemen met and has become a symbol of the city.
Caprarola is also one of the main areas of Tuscia’s rapidly expanding hazelnut production industry. To celebrate this, every year a hazelnut festival is held in Caprarola throughout the final week of August. Events of the festival include food samplings and the Palio delle Contrade.
Finally, near Caprarola is Lake Vico, one of Italy’s most highly elevated lakes which features an impressive beech tree forest.