Discovering, or rediscovering, off-the-beaten-path destinations is a sure way to amazement. We saw it firsthand with Viterbo.
It does not certainly receive the same coverage as best-selling tourist destinations that every travel blog or website writes about. For someone, it is a fall-back choice compared the neighbouring Eternal City. Yet, Viterbo got to us, fair and square, with its discreet but sophisticated profile, conveying dignity and solemnity at the same time. The beauty of Viterbo refrains from bragging and hides in the traces of the city’s glorious past.
The medieval splendour
The reputation of Viterbo blossomed in the Middle Ages, also thanks to the role of the Papacy, and lasted for many decades. In the past, Viterbo was chosen as papal seat and remained so for over twenty years, which earned it the name of “City of Popes”. That glorious age has bequeathed to us the city’s oldest historical building: the Palazzo dei Papi (Papal Palace). The palace, whose construction began in the second half of the thirteenth century, includes the “Sala del Conclave” (Hall of the Conclave). The hall is famous for having hosted the longest conclave in recorded history, which lasted almost three years. The palace can be visited, just like the other monuments included in the Polo Monumentale Colle del Duomo, i.e. the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the Museo Colle del Duomo.
A way with words (or names)
When learning that the Papal Palace is very close to the “Valle di FAUL”, you will probably put on a puzzled face because of this strange-sounding, often-recurring word. You will find out that, in the prolific mind of the famous forger Annio da Viterbo, who made up a host of stories about his city, the word is actually an acronym. The four letters would be the initials of four ancient Etruscan citadels.
The legacy of Mannerism
A the beginning of the sixteenth century, the mannerist creativity informed some of the most impressive corners in the surroundings of Viterbo. Stop at Villa Lante, in the neighbouring village of Bagnaia, on the outskirts of Viterbo, and lose yourselves in its gardens. If you think that place rings a bell, it is because the Italian director Paolo Sorrentino has chosen it as the setting for some scenes of “The Young Pope”. But someone before him had noticed the extraordinary beauty of the villa’s virtuosities, for in 2011 the place was awarded the title of “Italy’s most beautiful garden”.
“Where you can find awful faces, elephants, lions, ogres and dragons…”
Your trip will not be over until you have visited the Parco dei Mostri (Monster Park) of Bomarzo, also known as Sacro Bosco (Sacred Wood) or Villa delle Meraviglie (Villa of wonders). Dating from the late sixteenth century, the park is a maze of sculptures with unreal traits and mythological figures.
The opening of the Museo Colle del Duomo, in 2000, marked the beginning of a series of initiatives aimed at revamping the appeal of Viterbo. The museum boasts a collection of artworks by illustrious local masters, archaeological findings and religious artifacts. If you are working your heads off about which sources of information you shall turn to, do not stress out. Viterbo has already embarked on a modernization process based on the wide use of smartphones. The Polo Monumentale Colle del Duomo can easily be explored thanks to a dedicated app, “Viterbo Smart City”, that will have you discover the most important pieces of the collection in augmented reality. Sounds like a good enough reason to make a short detour along the way, or a real change of plans…