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Two weeks in the Lazio region, 2016

Avoiding news of Trump's nightmare "transition team" to the extent possible


You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

The plan is to luxuriate for twelve days in Viterbo, with enthusiastic sight-seeing in the region, and a few days tacked onto either side of that for getting there and back.

The Castello Orsini-Odescalchi in Bracciano

We've been idling away the morning at the Villa Farnese in Caprarola, just south of Viterbo in the Lazio region north of Rome, 29 November 2016, and now we're headed farther south to Bracciano.

Passing by Sutri, about 10km south of Caprarola, and on . . .

. . . to the Lago di Bracciano on a cold and windy day.

A stoical cold swan

Bracciano, presently a town of about 20,000 citizens, along the ancient Roman commercial road the Via Clodia about 30km northwest of Rome and overlooking the volcanic lake of the same name -- after a restorative sandwich at the Caffè Modì across the road, we're marching up to the Castello Orsini-Odescalchi.

There was a 10th century anti-Saracen tower here, but the Prefetti di Vico family expanded that into a defensive castle. In 1419 the Orsini family acquired effective control of the town and estates and brought relative prosperity to the town; from 1470 on Napoleone Orsini (d.1480), a condottiero or military commander working for the popes, expanded the castle and made it more residentially comfortable, a task that was completed in 1485 by his son Gentile Virginio, Lord of Bracciano, who'd risen to be head of the widespread clan of Orsinis during its wars against the rival Colonna family. This became perhaps the most important of the 126 castles and fortresses of the extended Orsini family from Tuscany to Apulia.

Cinetecnica equipment vans. We saw no other sightseers during our visit, but kept sharing the castle with sound and lighting engineers setting up for the filming of a movie, and tripping over their cables.

Virginio Orsini was a successful papal military commander in the 1480s but defected by joining up with the French King Charles VIII's invasion of Rome and Naples in 1494 -- he was merely pursuing his family's interests and his animus against the Colonnas and the Borgia Pope Alexander VI, who excommunicated the entire Orsini clan anyway. Virginio was captured at the Battle of Fornovo during the French retreat in 1495 and hauled back to Naples, where he was evidently poisoned in the Castel dell'Ovo in 1497. By which time Pope Alexander had begun confiscating Orsini estates all over the region.

Through the gate in the outer walls -- these were built in about 1485 to strengthen the place after the condottiero Prospero Colonna with a papal army sacked the town and castle to avenge Orsini attacks on Colonna estates.

Despite the Orsinis' excommunication, they remained in control of this stronghold, and armies led by two of the Pope's illegitimate sons, Giovanni di Candia and later Cesare Borgia, were sent to try to seize the castle but were turned away. During Cesare's siege of the castle in 1496-97, it was successfully defended by Virginio's sister Bartolomea Orsini, with her husband the condottiero Bartolomeo d'Alviano. (Giovanni di Candia had his throat slit in Rome in 1497 and it was blamed on the Orsinis, but it was probably done by one of this brothers Cesare or Gioffre for sordid personal reasons.)

The castle entrance, by a defensive walkway round the back, into the St James Tower. The film engineers are on a break.

The Orsini bear holding the family coat of arms

Our visit begins -- up to the piano nobile, the first floor.

We begin in a tower room called the Sala Papalina or Papal Room -- Pope Sixtus IV of the della Rovere family stayed here 1478-81 to wait out an epidemic of the plague in Rome.

Around the time of Pope Sixtus' visit, this room and others were decorated with frescoes by the brothers Taddeo and Federico Zuccari (who'd also contributed to the Villa Farnese we just left a hour ago).

The Sala Umberto, now with 17th century Venetian furniture. The Italian King Umberto I stayed here for two months while his son was stationed in the military barracks in Bracciano in the late 19th century.

The Sala del Trittico, or Triptych Room -- the side panels showing the Annunciation are said to be from the 14th century, and the Crucifixion in the centre is from the 16th or 17th.

The coffered ceilings in this and the other rooms date from 1491, some restored, some not.

A painting on wood of Mary Magdalene in the Triptych Room, with her jar of ointment for Jesus' feet (but I didn't notice any attribution or date)

In the "Pisanello Room" (because of an incorrect attribution of the frescoes), a series of pictures of Women's activities -- scenes of daily labors pastimes with no men present.

In the same room, this is thought to be a portrait of the Swedish Queen Christiana, heiress of Gustavus Adolphus, who abdicated in 1654 and converted to Roman Catholicism, living in Italy largely on papal largesse as a living symbol of the Counter Reformation. The likeness to other portraits is striking.

Lake Bracciano from the castle windows

The Hall of the Caesars, with twelve busts of Roman Emperors

A huge, recently restored fresco by Antoniazzo Romano, a leading painter of the papal court, who worked here in 1490. The colors are faded because it was originally outdoors for some reason.

In this part of the fresco, Virginio Orsini appears in his role as the Kingdom of Aragon's Captain of the Naples militia -- on the right side, Virginio is shown meeting with his near relation Piero de' Medici in 1487; amongst the intermingled branches of the Orsini family, Virginio's cousin Clarice Orsini, wife of Lorenzo de' Medici, "the Magnificent", was Piero's mum.

In the Room of the Lion, this is a picture of Nicola III Orsini, Count of Pitigliano (an Orsini property near Grosseto), another of the most successful Orsini condottieri of the 15th century.

This is the Sala di Isabella, named for the beautiful and well-educated Isabella de' Medici, whose father Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, married her off for strategic advantage in 1558, at the age of 16, to the unworthy Paolo Giordano Orsini, who succeeded as Duke of Bracciano in 1560. The sign in this room says "Behind this innocuous wooden door lies the legendary trap of a man-sized well of blades into which her 'one night stands' used to be thrown, cut to pieces by the blades they fell into quicklime".

This sounds like an Orsini tradition. In fact, Paolo left Florence the morning after the wedding and returned for visits seldom thereafter, living the life of the bon vivant bachelor in Rome and Bracchino and serving as an undistingushed soldier mostly with the Spanish at Lepanto in 1571 and as a Spanish general at Navarino in 1572. Isabella resided in the Medici households and succeeded her mother as the 'first lady of Florence' in social and cultural circles. Though she did produce an heir, Virginio, who succeeded his father as Duke of Bracciano, she seems to have visited this castle only once, in 1561 with a Medici entourage, and never to have returned.

As to her 'one night stands', she had one lover, Paolo's cousin Troilo Orsini, and in July 1576 she died in a Medici villa, widely believed, probably correctly, to have been murdered by her husband with her brother Francesco the 2nd Grand Duke's connivance; her best friend and sister-in-law Leonora di Toledo had been murdered a few days earlier, for infidelities, by her own husband, the nutty Don Pietro de' Medici, who was also forgiven by Francesco. [Caroline P. Murphy, Isabella de'Medici: The Glorious Life and Tragic End of a Renaissance Princess (2008)]

Paolo's story doesn't end there, however; back in Rome he began chasing after Vittoria Accoramboni of Gubbio, who was married to Francesco Peretti, a nephew of the future Pope Sixtus V. When Peretti was assassinated in 1581, Paolo and Vittoria tried to marry, but the authorities weren't having it and she spent some time imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo. In 1585, however, her first husband's uncle became the new Pope and the couple went on the run from the papal and Roman police, and they headed for northern Italy, eventually hiding out in Salò on the Lago di Garda, where they seem to have married again in April, and where he died in November. Heartbroken Vittoria fled to Padua but was then assassinated in December 1585 by hit men set on by Ludovico Orsini, a relation of Paolo's, apparently hired by the Grand Duke Francesco to get hold of the couple's movable property for the Medicis. Ludovico and the assassins were executed by the Venetian Republic.

The sad tale of "Vittoria Corombona" is the subject of a brilliant revenge tragedy, "The White Devil", written by John Webster and first performed in London in 1612, and scholars investigating Webster's sources have uncovered more than 100 published newsletter and other sensational accounts current in the generation following the events.

The Sala Gotica, with mostly 19th Neo-Gothic furniture. Speaking of Carolyn P. Murphy, her earlier book The Pope's Daughter (2004), about the fascinating Felice della Rovere who managed Bracciano castle after the death of her husband Gian Giordano Orsini in 1517, has a good description of the castle at the time (pp. 89-94) and an inventory of its household goods in 1518 (pp. 183-84).

What castle museum would be complete . . . ?

Errm, Kristin's bustled straight through this bit, I'll need to hurry.

Practicing up for the "Vertical Emotion"

The film crews taking another short break

The Odescalchi family is said to have descended from 13th century merchants of Como and 17th century bankers in Genoa. Benedetto Odescalchi, like other family members before him, rose through the church and was elected as Pope Innocent XI in 1676 when Louis XIV withdrew the French veto. He was an active diplomat and a vigorous anti-abortion campaigner [sorry, 'pro-life', :-)].

To rally support against the Turks, Pope Innocent named his nephew Livio Odescalchi Captain General of the Church and sent him off in charge of papal forces, and Livio made himself very useful in breaking the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, for which he was entitled an Imperial Prince and given various titles and lands in Hungary by the Emperor Leopold. When the Bracciano Orsini fortunes were declining and Duke Flavio had no heirs, Livio was able to buy the dukedom of Bracciano and the castle in 1696, and it remains today as one of the many Odescalchi properties in Italy, Croatia, and Hungary.

We've been told that it's all right to wander around up here as long as we don't knock over any of the lights, or get tangled up in the cables.

The Duomo di Santo Stefano in Bracciano, built by the Prefetti di Vico family in about 1200 and substantially renovated in the early 17th century. Seen from the castle battlements.

A very cold wind

Downtown Bracciano

It's time to go down.

The courtyard and two-story porticoes

The Orsini bear holding the family coat of arms, on the stairs

Big kitchens

Pleasing symmetries

A film crew taking a short break, out of the wind

Out into the wind again

Driving south around Lake Bracciano, this is the medieval town of Anguillara Sabazia (maybe famous for its eels?).

The coastal road up the eastern side of the lake

Northward from the lake on the SP12d

Back in Viterbo

Late afternoon in Viterbo: the Ristorante Lo Scorfano (where if all goes well, we'll be dining happily in two hours' time)

On the Via San Pellegrino, the Palazzo degli Alessandri

The Piazza San Pellegrino

Back to the flat . . .

. . . and back out to the restaurant

The Ristorante Lo Scarfano

Tomorrow: More Viterbo, and moving to a new flat


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 28 January 2017.


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