Viterbo, the City of Popes
A medieval citadel in the shadow of Rome.
Viterbo is a beautiful medieval city 80 km from Rome. Surrounded by nature, at the feet of the Cimini Mountains, the city is still limited in its beautiful and intact medieval walls. Walking through the medieval quarter of San Pellegrino is like stepping back in time, with the streets of perfectly placed little stones.
One of the most beautiful buildings of Viterbo is undoubtedly the Papal Palace with its beautiful loggia (also called Benediction loggia), from which the pope would come out of at the end of the conclave. The loggia is composed of small arches supported by thin columns, giving an originally mystical aura to the facade of the building.
In addition to being an important papal city, Viterbo is also famous for its thermal baths. There are many equipped spas, as well as natural pools where in the summer; I spent many nights looking at the stars, dipped in hot water. Legends have it that Dante Alighieri was inspired to write the Inferno after having visited the hot springs at night, where in winter, to warm up, robbers, homeless, thieves and prostitutes would gather.
Today the scenario is definitely different and one can find groups of friends, loving couples and if you’re particularly lucky, no one.
Another peculiarity of Viterbo is its devotion to the patron saint, Santa Rosa. On September 4, they celebrate the anniversary, but it is the night of the 3rd of September when the real show is on. A hundred men, “facchini di Santa Rosa” carry the so-called “macchina”, a 30 meter high tower, all lit up, through the streets of the city, which at times are really narrow. So much so that the maximum width of the tower is 4.3 meters. The macchina is renewed every five years, there’s real competition to win the honor to create it. The tower, in addition to the restriction of the width, must weigh no more than 5 tons; otherwise the porters would not be able to carry it. Seeing it move through the streets, above the roofs, is really an amazing sight, especially if you think it’s 30 meters high.
Viterbo not only has a medieval feel, it also has an interesting Etruscan necropolis, Castel d’Asso, where you can find several tombs inscribed with letters of the Etruscan alphabet, which is virtually identical to the symbols of the Celtic runes. I find this very intriguing and it is a fascinating topic that deserves further research. Castel d’Asso is not easy to find but for those who feel a bit like ‘Indiana Jones, it’s definitely a fun place to visit.
Often this area is shadowed by Rome, but it is full of charm, history and nature.