Viterbo Tourist Attractions
SituationThe provincial capital of Viterbo is situated at the foot of the Monti Cimini, some 80km/50mi northwest of Rome. Noted in the past as the "city of beautiful women and beautiful fountains", it still preserves its old Lombard walls, fine historic buildings and picturesque old-world nooks and crannies. It suffered much damage during the last war, but this has now been repaired.HistoryThe town was presented to the Pope by Pepin the Short in the eighth century. At the end of the 11th century it became a free city, but in 1396 was again incorporated in the States of the Church.
The central feature of Viterbo is the Piazza del Plebiscito, on the west side of which stands the Palazzo dei Priori (begun 1247; porch 15th century), now the Town Hall. In the courtyard, from which there is an attractive view of the western part of the town, is an elegant 17th century fountain.
Piazza della Morte
From the Piazza del Plebiscito Via di San Lorenzo runs south to the little Piazza del Gesù, with the church of San Silvestro, and the Piazza della Morte, which has another charming fountain, the Fontana a Fuso.
In Viterbo, past the 15th century Palazzo Farnese (on right), we come to the Piazza San Lorenzo, with the fine Cathedral of San Lorenzo, a Romanesque basilica with a Gothic campanile; the facade was renewed in 1570.
Palazzo dei Papi
To the right of the cathedralin Viterbo stands the Palazzo dei Papi (1266), with a Gothic loggia, which has been the Bishop's Palace since the 15th century. In its huge hall various conclaves met for the election of a pope in the 13th century.
Piazza Fontana Grande
From the Piazza del Plesbiscito the busy Via Cavour runs southeast to the Piazza Fontana Grande, with the town's largest and most beautiful fountain, the Fontana Grande, completed in 1279.
From the square Via Garibaldi continues east to the Porta Romana (1653). To the left of the gate is the church of San Sisto, a Lombard building of the ninth century with a fine apse which was increased in height in the 12th century.
Santa Maria della Verità
Going north from the Porta Romana outside the town walls of Viterbo, we come to the former monastic church of Santa Maria della Verità (12th century; restored after 1945), with a beautiful cloister. The Cappella Mazzatosta is decorated with fine frescoes by Lorenzo da Viterbo.
In the northeast of Viterbo, inside the town walls, is the church of Santa Rosa (rebuilt from 1840 onwards), with the mummified body of St Rosa (d. 1261). Every year on September third, the eve of her feast-day, the saint's statue is borne on a 30m/100ft high tower from the Porta Romana to the church - a ceremony first introduced in 1664.
Northwest of Santa Rosa, in the Piazza San Francesco, the Gothic church of San Francesco contains the tombs of Pope Clement IV (d. 1268) in the north aisle (on the right) and of Pope Hadrian V (d. 1276) in the south aisle (on the left).
Adjoining the Piazza San Francesco on the west is the Piazza della Rocca, with a fountain which is ascribed to Vignola and the remains of the Rocca (1457), which suffered severe destruction during the Second World War. It now houses the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Still farther west, outside the Porta Fiorentina (1768), lies the beautiful Giardino Pubblico.
Southeast of the Piazza della Morte lies the picturesque San Pellegrino quarter, which has preserved many medieval houses, particularly in the Piazza San Pellegrino, with the Case degli Alessandri.
3km/2mi northeast of Viterbo, in the suburb of La Quercia, is the pilgrimage church of the Madonna della Quercia (1470-1525), a fine Renaissance building with an interesting interior. In the adjoining Dominican monastery are two beautiful cloisters with fountains of 1508 and 1633.
North of Viterbo is Ferento, originally an Etruscan settlement, the inhabitants of which formed an alliance with the Romans in the third century B.C. (Ferentum). Here can be seen the restored remains of a Roman theater (A.D. first century), now used for theatrical performances.
Bagni di Viterbo
West of Viterbo is the little spa establishment of Bagni di Viterbo (258m/851ft). 1km/0.75mi northeast of Bagni di Viterbo, on a flat-topped hill of travertine with a fine view of Viterbo and the Monti Cimini, is the sulfur spring known as the Bullicame (298m/983ft), a pool of clear blue water surrounded by a low wall, constantly effervescing with bubbles of gas. The water of the spring, which is mentioned by Dante ("Inferno", XIV, 79), is still used for medicinal bathing.
One trip which will appeal to children as well as to adults is to the little town of Bomarzo (263m/868ft), picturesquely situated on a high crag above the Tiber valley northeast of Viterbo. In the town is a palace of the Orsini family (16th century), now the Town Hall. From the terrace in front of the church there is a superb view of the Tiber valley.
In Caprarola the visitor will be impressed by the Villa Farnese (1570), a pentagonal building with a round inner courtyard. The elegant spiral staircase inside, designed by Vignola, is decorated with open-air scenes by Antonio Tempesta. Some rooms are decorated in typical Italian Late Renaissance style.