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  • Writer's pictureRoma Experience

Viterbo & Castel d’Asso “From The City of The Popes to The Etruscan Necropolis”

Viterbo is located in the southern region of Tuscia and its foundation can be traced very remotely in time, in fact, its name means – vetus urbs – the old city. The city’s well-preserved medieval walls, that define the border of the historic centre have a pearly-grey colour because they were constructed out of volcanic rock called peperino. Also, the picturesque streets, the tiny towers, the sculpted arches and columns, imposing churches and scary-looking lions chiselled in the crest of the city, are made of the same material. The fertile volcanic soil and the hot springs located in the outskirts of the city drew here first the Etruscans, whose traces can still be found in the area for example at Colle di San Lorenzo (next to the cathedral) as well as in the outskirts (the Necropoli of Castel d’Asso). During the Roman domination, the city compacted as the population diminished and it was only after the fall of the Roman empire that the city started to regain its importance.

In fact, in the 11th century, Viterbo became the perfect hideout for many highly ranked members of the clergy that would travel here in order to escape both the heat as well as the violence of Rome. In this period the small fortified city transformed into a flourishing metropole with the rising of churches, palaces and towers. New neighbourhoods, each with its own specific function gave Viterbo its urban plan that by the way the city still maintains.

The city is called the city of the Popes because the pontiff Alexander IV in the year 1257 transferred here the papal seat and for the next 25 years the popes resided in Viterbo. It is in this period that the most important event in the city’s history took place, an event that earned Viterbo worldwide fame. In 1268, just after the passing of pope Clemens IV, the cardinals gathered in Viterbo to elect his follower.

The nearly 20 cardinals couldn’t agree on whom was to become the next pontiff, so they debated for a year without success and then for another year and when by 1270 still there was no agreement the people of Viterbo decided to accelerate the process by locking - with key (cum clavis) - the door of the room in which cardinals were gathered without allowing them to leave until they’d agreed on the new pope.

This is the reason why still today the election of the popes takes place behind closed doors and we refer to it as the conclave.

However, even after the forced closure of the door, the election proceeded slowly

and ended only in 1271 after 1001 days - it was the longest conclave in the history of the Catholic Church.

Shortly after the conclave, the Popes ceased to reside in Viterbo and even though the city lost its strategic position within the papal administration it continued to prosper due to the presence of the Via Francigena, a route that connected France with Rome.

Viterbo was the last big city on the way to Rome and many pilgrims and diplomats would stop here to eat, sleep, and gather forces and goods in order to face the final part of the journey to the Eternal City.

Just a few minutes from Viterbo you can visit the beautiful rock necropolis of Castel d'Asso, the largest in all of Etruria. Little known but spectacular in the views and in the endless prairies to reach it, even on horseback.

The Freddano valley allows you to admire, by cutting the stream, the imposing bulk of these tombs that recall the Etruscan civilization.

The dice tombs and those with false doors seem to lead the visitor to a near beyond, reviving the magic of these ancient people of which we have many vestiges but of which very little is still known, compared to the findings.

Immersing yourself in this splendid reality is also possible by visiting the Castelloscuro farm, owned by Noemi d’Aza, which has created a context that blends with the views of Viterbo's Tuscia. Where the expanses of his manor merge with the sunset that caresses them. The bees, queens of this place, give life to an excellent honey production, wisely used by Noemi for the preparation of natural products of the territory.

Unplug and immerse yourself in the territory of Tuscia. Spend one or more days discovering this beautiful region of Itay with a Roma Experience expert guide.


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