In the collective imagination, a holiday in Lazio means spending a few days visiting Rome, the largest open-air museum in the world. As a result, the surrounding area, the Roman countryside, has always been in the shade from the point of view of tourist arrivals. But there are also a few chosen ones, the so-called hardened travellers, who, burned by the continuous desire to know new places, have pushed themselves and continue to push themselves to the discovery of the small villages that rise around the capital.
For these people and for the benefit of anyone who wants to try to follow lesser-known tourist paths, we suggest a small travel diary through the villages of the countryside of Rome.
As a strategic base we recommend to arrive and take accommodation in a B & B in Valmontone, a country central to the routes that we propose. Let’s start the journey…
Palestrina is the gateway to the countryside of Rome, the country that boasts the most historical evidence of the past of these lands and place where, even today, are found archaeological finds dating back to the Republican and Imperial Rome. The first stop must be the National Archaeological Museum, housed in the Renaissance “Palazzo Barberini”, on top of the town.
Here, the large frescoed rooms house historical finds of ancient Rome: statues, cippus, objects, jewelry, busts and much more. The highlights of the museum are the large statue of the goddess Fortuna Primigenia and the gigantic mosaic of the Nile, a rare and precious Hellenistic work. After the museum you can go down to visit the well-preserved remains of the pagan temple of the “Goddess Fortuna Primigenia” and then “the cave of fate”. The latter is also interesting for the history of its use in the distant past. At the time, nobles came to Palestrina to ask the priests about their future events. The priests then dropped a young man into the cave of fate and finally, when he was pulled up again, he brought with him tablets on which was written the answer to the question asked. Needless to say, under the cavern, there were other priests who wrote on the tablets the most congenial answer according to the character who was asking them.
Castel San Pietro Romano
After this archaeological excursion, we suggest to climb above Palestrina, until you reach Castel San Pietro Romano on Monte Ginestro. Several films were shot here in the 50’s and 60’s, among which Pane Amore e Fantasia (Bread, Love and Fantasy) stands out. The “set” of the film, or rather the houses where it was shot, are still as they were then. In Castel San Pietro Romano, as well as enjoying the fresh air and good air, should not miss a stop at the “Forno Fiasco”, where you can taste the flagship of this small town: the lily of Palestrina. The lily is a dry dessert that has become part of the Slow Food garrison, made only with ingredients produced in this area. If you ask for Erminia or laura, they will be happy to tell you the story of the lily and make you appreciate it in an exceptional way.
The next stop is Genazzano, a small village perched on a hill of tuff, dominated by the majestic Castle “Colonna”, named after the princes who ruled in this area. After visiting the castle, take advantage of the opportunity to take a walk in the historic center. Here you will find those flavours and aromas of the past. There are several ovens that produce excellent bread, the Genoese donuts (delicious aniseed donuts) and, for lovers of sweets, the “barrachìe”, a cake made with short pastry and plum jam characteristic of this country. Cross the whole village (it takes little) and let yourself be pointed out by the exquisite people of the place, the Nymphaeum Bramante, unfinished work remained hidden for many years.
The third and final stage of this mini tour in the province of Rome must be in Anagni. This extraordinary and beautiful town is located between Via Casilina and the SS155 Fiuggina. Its fame is due to the fact that it was the birthplace of 4 popes, Innocent III, Alexander IV, Gregory IX and Boniface VIII. It is in fact called “The City of the Popes” and has long been elected as a papal residence.
The center of Anagni is of exquisite medieval workmanship, well maintained, clean and rich in Romanesque churches, bell towers and loggias. Among the monuments to visit are the “palace of Boniface VIII”, the “Barnekov house”, the Cathedral and the civic palace. In the crypt of the cathedral there are numerous well-preserved frescoes belonging to thirteenth-century painting.
Anagni was at the head of a federation of cities, including Ferentino, Alatri, Veroli, which, in alliance with other neighboring populations, the Volsci and Equi, tried to stem, without success (306 BC), the expansionism of the emerging power of Rome. Its fortunate geographical position determined, over the centuries, its rebirth as a cultural, religious and political centre. Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Caracalla, Lucius Septimius Severus, the greats of ancient Rome, chose it as their residence.
Papal bulls were issued in Anagni, decisive alliances were forged for the fate of the power of the Church, tremendous excommunications were launched against the powerful of the time, as Frederick Barbarossa.
Historically, Anagni is remembered for the episode of the “Slap of Anagni”. It refers to an event that happened in 1303, when the King of France, Philip IV called “The Beautiful” sent his counselor and James Colonna (belonging to one of the most powerful families in the area) by Pope Boniface VIII, at the head of a small army, to order him to withdraw the papal bull Super Petri Solio with which the Pope excommunicated the French King. The soldiers, at night, entered quietly in the fortified town (probably thanks to the collaboration of the local citizen “Podestà”, and occupied it. The Pope was forced to remain in his imprisoned palace and remained there for two days. During those days, the king’s emissaries tried, without success, to convince the Pope to withdraw the bull and abdicate. After these two days, the citizens of Anagni freed the pope who, however, died of mysterious causes one month after this event. At that point the French took control of the papacy and transferred the papal seat to Avignon in France.
Let’s leave Anagni now and head towards Segni. It is one of the most characteristic villages of the area, with a noble history behind it and a medieval historical centre. From the beginning, Segni was a small city-state. The ancient Romans at the time of Tarquinio Il Superbo, chose it as a strategic point to control the access roads to Rome. During this period, it was elected as a Town Hall and the town could bear the initials SPQS (Senatus populusque Signinus). The city was flourishing and silver coins were minted within its walls.
During the whole period of the Roman domination, in Segni were built the forum (dedicated to the emperor Caracalla), two temples dedicated to Hercules and Juno and were raised numerous monuments.
After the Roman domination, Segni became to all intents and purposes a territory of the State of the Church. In that period, it hosted popes and nobles and a papal palace was built, which has now become a bishop’s seminary.
Walking through the beautiful village you can breathe the air of the ancient State of the Church. With its monuments and its views, everything reminds us of those past times.
There are several things to have at Segni. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta: Built in the seventeenth century on the ruins of a previous church dating back to 900 AD. In fact, the bell tower that dominates it dates back to the eleventh century. On the facade there are two ancient stone sundials. Inside are kept the relics of St. Bruno, patron saint of the city.
The Cyclopean Walls from which Segni is surrounded. Along the walls there are numerous gates, one more beautiful than the other.
Among the gates stands out the Saracen Gate, which according to experts is one of the most beautiful monuments of all time, mentioned in archaeological treatises around the world. Porta Saracena is in the style of the “Porta dei Leoni” of Mycenae, a town with which Segni is twinned.
If you come to Segni at the right time you can attend the “Joust of the Pig”. The event is held in August and is based on an episode that took place in 600, a period in which there was a dispute over a pasture for pigs between the people of Segni and Count Sforza. History tells us that the tax to graze pigs had to be collected by the marks and instead the count wanted it for himself. Waiting for the sentence that probably would have been in favour of the powerful count, the markers beat the pigs out of the woods. Thanks to this action the people obtained the sentence in favor. To celebrate this victory, the marker invented the carousel of the piglet, which consisted of leaving free a piglet which must be searched for by 5 teams of 2 blindfolded people. During the search, men often clash with each other instead of taking the piglet, arousing laughter and hilarity.
The routes suggested so far, are only a part of what you can visit in the territory around Rome. Other countries hide very welcome surprises and offer tourists a culinary tradition to “savor” in the true sense of the word. Olevano Romano with its Cesanese wine and “ventricina”, Paliano with its Passerina wine, Cave with its chestnuts, exported in past times to France as a favorite fruit for the production of Marron Glacé, Zagarolo with its “Tordo matto”, a roll of appetizing and appetizing horse meat. There is also no shortage of opportunities to enjoy a holiday in the open air along the many paths of the Prenestini Mountains or to have fun with the whole family, spending a wonderful day at the playground Rainbow Magicland in Valmontone.
The only flaw is the difficulty in moving with public buses, a service slightly lacking but not impossible to use if you plan well the movements in the area. In any case, we strongly recommend the use of the car to move freely.