Less than an hour drive north of the Italian capital lies a beautiful city of Viterbo that can be visited during custom tours of Rome. Remarkably preserved medieval walls enclose the old part of the town with its historic landmarks.
Exploring the town’s magnificent churches scattered here and there make for a fascinating trip to the past of this unjustly underrated corner of the Lazio region.
Wondering around the old center of Viterbo on foot you will see the main sites that are concentrated around two squares: Piazza del Plebiscito and Piazza San Lorenzo. The striking Papal Palace (Palazzo dei Papi) reminds of the town’s past glory when Viterbo flourished in the Middle Ages as a country residence of the popes. Built in the 13th century for the popes seeking refuge in Viterbo, it has an elegant loggia with seven arches. Peek at the pretty fountain in the small courtyard behind the arches and the views of the city walls. Unfortunately, the palace is not open to public and only one hall can be viewed by special appointment.
Pop in to the San Lorenzo Cathedral to see its beautiful tiled floor, fading 15th century frescoes and the Gothic belfry.
Another site that is worth a visit is Rocca Albornoz, a mighty fortress built in the 14th century for the Spanish Cardinal Albornoz. In 1475 the famous architect Bramante created an elegant courtyard with a fountain at the fortress. Today it houses the National Etruscan Museum (Museo Nazionale Etrusco), one of the most important Etruscan museums in Italy, which has a good collection of artifacts from Etruscan tombs found in the Viterbo province (don’t miss the very well preserved two-wheeled chariot) and reconstructed Etruscan buildings.
Viterbo is famous for pottery and marble crafts which you will find in small artisan shops locate along the narrow cobbled streets. Since medieval times the city is also known for its natural hot springs, beloved by popes and ordinary mortals.
Photos by: Paolo Alfieri, Renato Acquaviva, Davide Oricchio.