Halfway between Viterbo and Rome, Civita Castellana and its landscapes enchanted even Goethe who, on his way to the eternal city, stopped in the village in 1786: "Beautiful is the view of the castle: Mount Soratte [...] stands solitary and picturesque. The volcanic zones are much lower than the Apennines, and only the watercourses, rushing impetuously through them, have incised them, creating reliefs and cliffs in stupendously plastic forms, precipitous rocks and a landscape all discontinuities and fractures." Since then, nothing (or almost nothing) has changed. Are you ready?
The bridge over the gorge
The force of water therefore forged the landscape. Imagine Goethe crossing the gorge on the long Ponte Clementino slender bridge toward the village and stopping in the middle to look out and gaze with a sense of vertigo toward the Rio Maggiore, which, dozens of meters below, has carved out the tender tuffaceous rock in its rush toward the Treja.
Among the streets of the village
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, the religious heart of the town, appears to us from afar, as it appeared to Goethe and Grand Tour travelers, resting on a steep tuffaceous wall. It is a masterpiece of the 1200s, with a facade embellished by a very dramatic white portico and magnificent marble floors inside. Did you know that even Mozart played the organ in this church? It was a Sunday in July 1770 but, as he had his father write, it was so cold at night that he had to put on his fur coat! From the cathedral, we make our way through the narrow, atmospheric streets to arrive at Matteotti Square, which, as in all villages in Italy, is the hub of the village's social life. Let's have a coffee in front of the 16th-century Fountain of Dragons and the elegant town hall.
The entire community of Civita participates with great passion in the feast of its patron saints, Saints Marcianus and John, celebrated from the crack of dawn on Sept. 16. The relics of the saints are kept in the Cathedral and are carried in solemn procession on the evening of the 16th. The traditional dish - not to be missed! - are "frittelloni," a carnival classic: they are somewhat similar to crepes, but very thin, seasoned with pecorino cheese and pepper and rolled tightly. The ingredients are poor - flour, water and eggs(few eggs) - but the taste is amazing. And the art that has been handed down for centuries is artistic ceramics: be sure to visit the many artisan workshops and meet the master potters.
Massive and soaring, Forte Sangallo is "the castle" that caught Goethe's eye as much as ours. It is named for the architect, Antonio Sangallo the Elder, who designed it in the late 15th century to defend the northern borders of the Papal States. It was also a prison and the residence of popes and today houses the Archaeological Museum of the Agro Falisco, which opens a glimmer of light on our most ancient history. Civita Castellana, in fact, in the distant past was called Falerii and was the capital of the lands of the Falisci, an ancient Latian people who were wiped out by the Roman conquest in 241 BC.
What became of the Falisci after 241 B.C.? To find out, we strap on our bikes and push on from Civita Castellana to the archaeological area of Falerii Novi, about 6 km away. "Novi" because it was built after 241 B.C. when Falerii Veteras was destroyed by the Romans. And here, in Falerii Novi, the wonder begins again: mighty defensive walls, two large gates (of Jupiter and of Bove), and inside, among the vegetation, layers of history from the Roman Empire all the way to the barbarian invasions, when the inhabitants of Falerii Novi abandoned the city and returned to perch in the old town. We will be able to walk with the ancient Romans along the Via Amerina that led from Rome to Umbria; we will be able to recognize the original urban layout recovered from archaeological excavations; and we will be amazed at the Romanesque church of Santa Maria di Falerii (12th century).
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