Dwight Peck's personal website

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.

Lago di Bolsena and the Rocca Monaldeschi

Leaving Viterbo in the morning, 2 December 2016: pausing in the Piazza San Pellegrino . . .

. . . with a hasty look into the church. One of the earliest extant buildings in town, the church of San Pellegrini was mentioned in a deed of 1045 as belonging to the monks of the powerful Abbey of Farfa. It was evidently "refashioned" in the 13th century . . .

. . . and convincingly tinkered with in the 19th century.

Following the heavy Allied bombing of 1944, it required serious repairs and has lost a lot of its medieval charm.

The Piazza San Pellegrino with folks just getting started with the festive decorations

Since the Palazzo degli Alessandri will be the place where the kiddies (and parents) will line up to visit Babbo Natale (Santa Claus, Father Christmas), it's going to need to have a polar bear.

Northward around the east side of Viterbo's city walls, we'll be following this Strada Regionale SR2 road, the Roman road the Via Cassia all the way, through Montefiascone, to Bolsena on the lake of the same name.

Passing through the old hilltop town of Montefiascone, we'd better stop to have a look at this.

It's the Romanesque Basilica of San Flaviano, dating from 1032 (on top of a Mary church from about 850) with a façade from about 1260 with three arches of different sizes. Montefiascone lies at the intersection of four Roman roads, and thus sits astride the long-range pilgrims' route of the Via Francigena, which in this part of it follows the Via Cassia.

Three naves, with some small side chapels. The church is described as a 'double church' with upper and lower parts to it, having been enlarged in the late 14th century in a Gothic style.

A side chapel from the 15th century. This St Flavian is sometimes identified as the Archbishop of Constantinople from 446 to 449 and/or as the husband of St Dafrosa, mother of St Bibiana, all of whom were martyred by the Emperor Julian the Apostate in 363.

The altar in the apse. Since most of the saint's remains are here in this church, and the rest are uptown in the Cathedral of St Margaret, the most likely version has Flavian as the focus of a local cult whose sainthood has apparently never been accepted by the official church.

The apse

There are 14th to 16th century frescoes everywhere

Apparently an Annunciation

Most with a Franciscan theme, apparently

Some pretty nasty martyrdoms, like St Catherine in the lower centre


We've left the car at the top of Bolsena town and are ambling down to visit the Rocca Monaldeschi.

The Rocca Monaldeschi della Cervara was first built by Pope Adrian IV (the English Pope) in 1156 as one of his fortifications along the Roman consular road the Via Cassia to impede the progress of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa towards Rome.

Across the street from the castle is the Chiesa del SS. Salvatore, apparently from the 15th century but badly damaged in a fire in 1914 and restored.

The interior of the Church of San Salvatore; unfortunately for us, just 50m farther up the street on which we parked the car lies a tiny 14th or 15th century rural church called the Chiesa della Madonna del Cacciatore, or Our Lady of the Hunters, which (judging from pictures on the Internet) looks much more interesting and with many intriguing frescoes . . .

. . . like this apparently 15th or 16th century Last Supper (Wikicommons, photo by Saiko, 2013)

The Monaldeschi family claimed descent from a 9th century Lombard who held land in fief from Charlemagne, and by 1157 they were established as a prominent Guelph family in Orvieto, where from 1212 onward they vied brutally in the streets with the Ghibelline Filippeschis for preeminence in that city.

The Piazza della Rocca outside the castle gatehouse

Following the death in 1337 of Ermanno di Corrado of the Monaldeschis, who had been the supreme Signore of Orvieto, the irascible family broke up into four antagonistic branches, identified as those of the hind or doe, the dog, the vipers, and the eagle, whose members continued to battle one another in the streets as bloodily as they had with the Filippeschis.

In 1295, Orvieto reasserted its dominance over Bolsena, and not long afterward the Monaldeschi della Cervara (the doe branch) added three towers and other defensive improvements to the existing main tower and made it what it is today, a strong three-story trapezoidal stronghold. The more residential Monaldeschi Palace is just down the medieval street.

Since 1991 the Monaldeschi Castle has housed the small but interesting Museo Territoriale del Lago di Bolsena, specializing in Etruscan and Roman artifacts from the town (called Volsinii by the Romans, who conquered it from the Etruscans in the 260s BC) and from the lakeside neighborhood.

A 3rd century AD Roman sarcophagus in the entrance hall, depicting the kind of crazy bacchanalian parties its occupant will no longer be enjoying

The other side of the same sarcophagus

The subtle stuff of nightmares

The network of museums around Lake Bolsena in the Lazio region in the province of Viterbo (not far from the Umbrian line), a volcano crater lake that formed 370,000 years ago, with two islands in the middle and a handful of small towns roundabout. Civita di Bagnoregio, which we visited the other day, is only about 8km to the east.

On the battlements. The lake is between 11 and 13km across and fed mainly by rainfall and runoff, with an outlet at Marta on the southern shore. The Roman consular road the Via Cassia runs along the eastern shore and was also used by medieval travelers along the Via Francigena pilgrims route to Rome.

The Monaldeschis' 14th century battlements. The castle is said to have been deliberately badly damaged in 1815 to prevent its falling into the hands of Lucien Bonaparte, then Prince of Canino on the far side of the lake, when his brother Napoleon returned from his exile in Elba.

The Lago di Bolsena with sightseers. The wide end of the trapezoidal castle.

The little port of modern Bolsena below. With sightseers.

The narrow end of the trapezoid, looking up at the hills about 300m higher to the east

Looking down from the parapet, that is the Palazzo Monaldeschi in the medieval quarter of the town.

Old rooftops below the castle (photo by Juan Carlos)

The medieval quarter is clustered near the Rocca uphill from the Via Antonio Gramsci (aka the Via Cassia and the SR2), with more modern buildings extending out along the present shoreline, for a current population of a bit more than 4,000.

Two towers and the Chiesa del SS. Salvatore

Machicolations or "murder holes" atop the battlements, for pouring bad things down upon attackers without getting hurt doing it

Machicolations. These clever medieval sorts of defensive embellishments were becoming obsolete by the beginning of the 16th century, when a new generation of artillery was making labor-intensive human assaults upon old castles less necessary.

The gateway and fore-courtyard in front of the ticket office

In the Piazza della Rocca we are parting ways, some choosing to wander down through the old town, some choosing not to.

The Via degli Adami, contouring off eastward from the Piazza Rocca

The Palazzo Monaldeschi, now apparently converted to other uses. In the 1590s the Monaldeschis began to decline in prominence, when the head of the family was condemned by the Pope for consorting with brigands and rebels against the papacy, with huge territorial confiscations. By the mid-17th century, the family was no longer politically important in the region, though the Marchese Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi, who was the lover of Queen Christina of Sweden, was evidently assassinated on her orders in 1657 at the Fontainebleau Palace in France when she was informed that he'd been secretly betraying her scheme to lead a French army to become the Queen of Naples.

Juan Carlos setting apertures and light balances, &c.

Additional photographers (photo by Juan Carlos)

The Piazza della Rocca

The passageway just below the castle (photo by Juan Carlos)

Down to the lakeside

The Piazza San Rocco along the main street downtown

From the high street through town, the Via Gramsci along the Roman Via Cassia, this is looking back up at the Rocca Mondaldeschi, on a sunless day.

The same

And the same again

In the Piazza Giacomo Matteotti (named for the anti-fascist politician who was assassinated in 1924), leading into the 'Borgo medievale' along the Corso Cavour, because . . .

. . . it's time for lunch.

Scrutinizing the menu at length

Along the Bolsena shoreline

The Rocca Monaldeschi

Juan Carlos and Kristin on the chilly breakwater

Time to leave Bolsena and journey south again. We've missed a lot in Bolsena, including the Basilica, or Collegiata, of St Christina of Bolsena, consecrated in 1077 and with a façade commissioned by Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici (later Pope Leo X), completed in 1494. St Christina of Bolsena (or perhaps of Tyre in Phoenicia) was a 3rd century Christian virgin martyr who was thrown into the lake tied to a huge stone, which instead of sinking her, floated her; her cult was important in Bolsena from the 4th century and she's the patron saint of Bolsena now, and an altar in a grotto beneath the basilica houses her tomb and the original stone bearing her footprints (though it appears that a church in Cleveland, Ohio, also claims to have her skeleton). And alongside the Basilica, there is the Cappella del Miracolo, completed much later, which celebrates the Bolsena "Eucharist Miracle" of 1263 (the subject of Raphael's 'Mass at Bolsena' in the Vatican), in which a host bled upon the "corporal" or eucharist napkin; the corporal is now in the Cathedral of Orvieto.

Three turns through Montefiascone, we're trying to find the way back down to the lake again.

We're in the small village of Marta on the southern shore, pausing for a photograph for Juan Carlos' niece (Marta).

Marta is an unprepossessing village of 3,500 citizens, the source of the Marta river out of Lake Bolsena, which empties in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Tarquinia. It has an interesting medieval quarter, though, and was essentially a Farnese property from the 15th century onward.

This, at the top of the hill in the old quarter, is an octagonal clock tower built atop the remains of a fortress from 1260.

Offshore, the island of Martana -- On the death of Theodoric the Great in AD 526, his youngest daughter the erudite Amalasuntha took over Ostrogothic rule in Italy as regent for her son Athalaric and then as Queen; after mismanaging some of the politics amongst the military Gothic nobles, her male helper got her exiled and imprisoned here on Martana, where she was assassinated in 535. Her murder provided the Byzantine Emperor Justinian with the casus belli he needed to invade Italy and set off the "Gothic Wars" that carried on for another two decades.

Street scene

Another street scene (photo by Juan Carlos)

Departing from Marta

and returning to Viterbo

Just in time for the festivities in the Piazza San Pellegrino

This is the kickoff for Viterbo's elaborate Christmas season festivities, with a brilliant flagwaving demonstration (photo by Juan Carlos)

The fife and drum corps on the steps of the San Pellegrino church (photo by Juan Carlos)

(photo by Juan Carlos)

(photo by Juan Carlos)

(photo by Juan Carlos)

(photo by Juan Carlos)

(photo by Juan Carlos)

The A Team awaiting their turn (photo by Juan Carlos)

The solemn march overtown towards the cathedral

An appreciative onlooker (photo by Juan Carlos)

-- (What time is dinner?)

Through the Piazza San Pellegrino on the way to the nearest pizzeria

-- I'll have two, please.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 10 February 2017.

Viterbo trip,
Nov-Dec. 2016