The Roman Castles

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The Roman Castles, fortresses of art and nature

In the outskirts of Rome there’s an anthology of history and art. The Roman Castles are spread in the South-East area of the town, up and down the hills. A bit more than ten tiny villages, chosen by the Emperor Domiziano as his vacation destination because of their wonderful climate and afterwards the favourite destination of artists, the high-ranking clergy and travellers coming from all over the world - Castel Gandolfo is the Pope’s Summer residence, just to mention one of them.

A piece of history where you can find the “Ville Tuscolane”, surrounded by the beauty of their gardens: a very elegant piece of Renaissance and Baroque art to be discovered, nestled in a natural landscape – The Regional Park of the Castles is there too – it is featured by the alternation of forests and vineyards. Actually, one of the best known wine areas of the region is in the middle of that area where the town of Frascati stands out together with its aristocratic villa Aldobrandini, an amazing mix of architecture belonging to the late Renaissance period and its park full of statues and fountains and waterworks. It was built at the end of the XVIth century for the Bishop Pietro Aldobrandini and it is near Villa Torlonia where you can see the beautiful park with its Water Theatre, designed by Maderno. The doors of Villa Lancellotti are open as well – it doesn’t have any noble or aristocratic origins – and Villa Falconieri, the oldest in Frascati. Grottaferrata is not far from there, overlooked by the Abbey of S.Nilo, founded in the year 1000 and enclosed into a fortification belonging to the XVth century. In the Middle Ages Grottaferrata was famous for its “Scriptorium”, a lab for the amanuensis that left a number of precious codes to the Abbey’s library as a heritage among which the “Cademosto”, the oldest travels collection in history. The same type of landscape will welcome you in Marino, on the Northern side of the crater where Lake Albano is located now.

The “fontana dei Mori” is a landmark of the village and it becomes a peculiar attraction when the precious wine pours instead of water. On the Western side of the lake Castel Gandolfo stretches along, it is a late medieval village surrounded by the walls and amazing views on the waters: it has been the Summer residence of Popes since the XVIth century. Albano Laziale can be considered an archaeological stave with its remains from the Settimio Severo’s military camps among which the Cisternone, a huge underground tank excavated in the rock. If you cross the vineyards you’ll arrive to Genzano of Rome and its castle built in 1235, afterwards turned into the Sforza-Cesarini palace. On the occasion of Corpus Domini, they have orgaized the “Infiorata”, in June, for more than two centuries: it is an event characterized by the flowers whose petals are thrown on the main street and are used to “draw” the sacred images. If you go towards the South, you’ll reach Lanuvio where you can see the remains of the sanctuary of Gianone Lanuvina. The complex of S. Maria Maggiore – dating back to the XIIIth century – deserves to be visited too, it is featured by its peculiar Clock with a pointed pinnacle. Ariccia is near there, the favourite place of all scholars in every age. Its historical centre is overlooked by the dome of the Baroque church of Santa Maria dell’Assunzione – with a round plan and finished by Bernini – and the Chigi palace, surrounded by a forest of ancient ashes that Stendhal described as the “The most beautiful forest in the world”.

Not far from Ariccia there is Nemi, surrounded by a green landscape and the lake where the remains of a temple dedicated to Diana – the goddess of hunting - are still visible. Don’t miss the Museum of Roman Ships that keeps the models of the two ships belonging to Caligola. Rocca di Papa is undoubtedly charming, with its houses grabbed to the Calvo mountain’s slope and the tiny village surrounded by the fortress’ remains while Rocca Priora is the highest, 768 metres above the sea level: a natural view featured by a number of tracks that enable to admire the crater’s sides while the centre of the village is overlooked by its crenellated towers, the symbol of this place.

The village of Montecòmpatri, developed around a conical hill was the fortress of the Annibaldi in the past but only a tower is visible now while in Monte Porzio Catone the Mondragone and the Parisi villas must not be missed. The tiniest village among the Roman Castles is Colonna, rich in history and the home of the Aristocratic Roman family that took its name while Velletri will end this amazing route after showing its town hall, the Archaeological and the Diocesan Museum and the Trivio tower dating back to the XIVth century.

Luciana Francesca Rebonato

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