Viterbo visit, Popes city

"City of the Popes" is the epithet with which Viterbo is known, due to the period in which it was the papal seat instead of Rome (between 1257 and 1281), transferred by Alexander IV to move away from the hostile climate of persecutions and riots.
There are many signs of this important presence that can still be seen today. My visit lasted two full days, a minimum period of time that I recommend to enjoy and admire what is present in this city that preserves a wide boundary wall that delimits the historical center with a varied number of doors (view city map)
As a starting point for the sight route I focused on what is called the St. Pellegrino historic village, a beautiful set of alleys, houses and buildings of medieval origin in excellent condition. Here we see how the inhabitants are directly involved in wanting to preserve a historical identity of the village. I do not hide the pleasure of walking in these narrow alleys with paved pavement, with houses and courtyards in exposed stone with lots of flowers and plants on the windows and outside the doors, all surrounded by a great silence due to the absence of cars, beautiful sensation.

Whatever route you take, for better or worse, you reach the heart of the village which is nothing more than a small square, a show of architecture made up of facades of houses, articulated buildings, atriums, small colonnades and narrow passages. Here is the small church dedicated to St. Pellegrino and the Alessandri Palace, a palace of an ancient noble Viterbo family that underwent important structural interventions to bring it back to its former glory. Near the square is the small museum "Sodalizio dei Facchini di Santa Rosa". Inside are the models of the "Machine of St. Rosa" a large richly worked canopy that the "Facchini" carry on the occasion of the Feast of the Saint (see "curiosities" on this page). From the heart of the village of St. Pellegrino it is easy to continue along the main alley that leads to the most important historical areas of the city, here cross other small squares, other palaces, delicious restaurants along the alleys and small bars, all with the same setting and tranquility.
After a few hundred meters we leave the village and enter the city center, the environment is changing, more spaces, buildings with a recent architecture, more fashionable premises begin to appear even if a certain continuity is maintained especially in the minor alleys or in the shops historical. The first square we meet has a sinister name "Death Square", a name due to the company of the "Good Death" which had its headquarters in the church in front of the square, which took care of the dying and provided for the burial of the dead of campaigns. In the square there is one of the oldest fountains in the city, the fountain of St. Thomas with a characteristic spindle in the center. In the square there is access to the underground city of Viterbo, a network of tunnels that extend beneath the historic center that lead beyond the walls. The visit is limited to a stretch of about 180 meters on two levels but these underground caves excavated in the tuff, whose origin is not certain even if it seems it can be attributed to the Etruscans, were used in the Middle Ages as a communication network of strategic and strategic structures of Viterbo. The tunnels also led to all the main exits of the city and ensured the escape route for the inhabitants of Viterbo in case of danger or siege.
From the Death Square the main road continues towards the Monumental Pole Colle del Duomo, the historic heart of the city, a large square overlooked by the Popes Palace and the St. Lorenz Chathedral with its particular bell tower made of bricks in the lower part and with two-color material in the upper section. The cathedral, which according to tradition was built on the ruins of a pagan temple dedicated to Hercules, has an imposing Renaissance façade while the interior has three naves in Romanesque style with splendid capitals of peperino and rich in many large and valuable frescoes . The church was hit by a bombing during the second world war, strangely the reconstruction of the central apse created a double apse with the baroque part hidden behind the central one. The latter is visible only on request to the diocesan museum located on the side of the cathedral, a museum that deserves to be visited.

The Popes Palace is accessed only by guided tour, the imposing staircase that starts from the square and leads to the internal garden allows a wide view of a part of the city. The palace still appears in all its medieval austerity and looking at it from the underlying Faul Valley it looks like a real fortress. The entrance to the building immediately leads to the "Council Hall", where the longest election of a pope in history took place, for a total of 1006 days between 1268 and 1271, where the word "conclave" was born, a curious story that saw the citizenship of Viterbo segregated the college of cardinals inside the palace until an agreement was found, coming to uncover the roof to deliver the supplies to the cardinals. The room today appears simple and bare, can be visited the visit is limited only to a few rooms subsequent to the Council Hall room which have more recent furnishings and of little historical interest.
From the large square you can go back up to Death Square and then divert towards the most recent city center. The area is full of alleys, shops, restaurants and pizzerias, you pass next to the beautiful Jesus Square with its small church (closed), its beautiful fountain and what remains of Borgognone Tower one of the towers present both in the historic center than in the St. Pellegrino district. Continuing on St. Lorenz street, you reach the large Plebiscito Square where the town hall with the high civic tower is located and, on the side, the Priors Palace which looks uninteresting on the outside but its value is enhanced by seeing it inside.
The palace dates back to the second half of the XIII century, currently it is from the municipality of the city of Viterbo, it is accessed from the side entrance of the municipality. The part that can be visited is the one on the first floor where a series of rooms develop one behind the other with large windows overlooking the square. Each room has a specific name and each room is rich in frescos related to characters, scenes of life and mythology such as the great Regia Room, used as a boardroom by the municipality, in which there is a splendid finely painted coffered ceiling. decorated. The Council Room, completely in wood, is still used for the council's sessions, on these occasions the possibility of visiting is limited. Access to the building is free and the assistance of a guide can be requested upon reservation.
From the Plebiscito Sqaure you can head to other areas of the city where there are interesting churches and historic buildings such as the St. Francis Basilica, near Rocca Square and dating back to 1237, which preserves the sepulchral monuments of Clement IV and Adrian V , with valuable marble works from the 13th century. Very important for the city is the church of St. Rosa with an adjoining convent, a saint much venerated by the Viterbo people so much to dedicate a very special procession that takes place on the occasion of her party in September in which she parades what is called “St. Rosa Machine" (see curiosities). In the vicinity of the church it is also possible to visit the birthplace of St. Rosa, a simple place with an adjoining garden where a sacred and recollection atmosphere is captured.
Another place to visit, open only on weekdays as the seat of the University of Tuscia, is the St. Mary Complex, just outside Romana Door, a former convent with two extraordinary cloisters, one medieval and one Renaissance.
 
The list of buildings, churches and places of this extraordinary city could continue for a long time but the visit would take more time but in the two days available it is possible to admire the best of Viterbo.

Viterbo curiosities

On the occasion of the feast dedicated to St. Rosa which takes place in the month of September, tradition has it that the most engaging popular moment is a procession inside the city where the "St. Rosa Machine" is shown, a triumphal canopy all worked very hard high and narrow, suitable for passing through the narrow alleys of the historic center. The machine is transported by the Facchini of St. Rosa, an association that takes care of everything concerning the "machine" such as the selection of porters, maintenance of the machine, the construction of new machines, etc. Near the church of St. Pellegrino, in the heart of the village of the same name, there is a small museum where the faithful miniatures of the machines that have followed each other over the years, training tools and test instruments for the selection of the Porters are displayed. photographs of the party, photographs of the most choreographic moment, that is the last stretch (uphill in front of the church of the Saint) that the Facchini run along.

During a visit to the city of Viterbo, I recommend a trip to the Schenardi cafe, the oldest and most well-known in the city, a café famous for its specialties tasted by many great names in history such as Garibaldi, Mussolini, Pope Gregory XVI, Guglielmo Marconi and many others. This large room, located in the heart of the historic center along Corso Italia, has a central colonnade and vaulted ceilings with classic finishes, many large mirrors and several niches with statues.

Viterbo considerations

Viterbo is a city to visit absolutely, its historic center and the St. Pellegrino village represent a piece of Italian history. Valuable attention to the conservation of these beauties both by the administration but also by the citizens. A clean, quiet and livable city, respectful of its history and traditions. In two days you can see and appreciate the best that Viterbo has to offer, maybe one more day would not hurt and give time to in-depth analysis but that's okay.

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