All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in February 2011.
(detail of a fresco at S. Onofrio)
German historian Ferdinand Gregorovius spent the summer of 1856 at Genazzano; on September 23, accompanied by a local peasant, he rode to Anagni via Paliano; Gregorovius was interested in seeing Anagni for the events which occurred there during the Middle Ages because he was working at a history of Rome during that period, which he eventually published in 1872.
Anagni was a prosperous town in antiquity, but some stretches of supporting walls are the only evidence of that period; the Romans did not hesitate to build massive walls to prevent landslides, a real danger for Anagni which is located between two ravines.
Similar to Avignon and Viterbo, Anagni is called the town of the popes because four popes were born there and several others resided there; Pope Adrian IV, the only English pope (Nicholas Breakspeare), died at Anagni in 1159.
The medieval aspect of Anagni was damaged in 1556, when the Spanish troops of the Duke of Alba plundered the town during Guerra di Campagna, a veritable war between Pope Paul IV and the Colonna (who were supported by the King of Spain) for the control of the Roman Campagna, the region surrounding the city. The upper part of the town however retains several medieval buildings; Gregorovius liked very much Casa Gigli, a house which reminded him of Palermo, and he stopped to draw it (it was very common for travellers to carry a drawing book to sketch landscapes or buildings). Casa Gigli was eventually bought and (perhaps excessively) restored by Albert Barnekow, a Swedish painter.
Three of the four popes who were born in Anagni belonged to the same family, the Conti (Counts) di Segni, a small town to the west of Anagni. The first one was Pope Innocent III who together with his relatives and successors Pope Gregory IX and Pope Alexander IV greatly lessened the power of the German emperors in Italian affairs; Gregorovius, who wrote Aus der Campagna von Rom, his travel account for a German paper (you can read the English translation by Dorothea Roberts in Bill Thayer's Web Site), reminded his readers that both Emperor Frederick II and Manfredi, his illegitimate son, were excommunicated in the cathedral of Anagni.
Pope Boniface VIII was the fourth pope who was born in Anagni; he belonged to the Caetani, another important family of the region who controlled the access to Rome through a fortress at Cecilia Metella and a tower on Isola Tiberina; he became pope in 1294; Dante made many references to this pope in his Comedy, a journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven; although Boniface VIII was still alive at the time the poet set forth his account (the year 1300), he found a way to place him in Hell.
The person who speaks is Pope Nicholas III, whom Dante places among the simoniacs, those who sell pardons and indulgences for their own profit; Nicholas waits for Boniface VIII to join him in Hell; the beautiful Lady is the Church.
The popes who were born in Anagni and those who often resided there for their own security gave the town a cathedral and a series of adjoining buildings which were consistent with the needs of the papal court. The cathedral was built on the site of the ancient acropolis of the town and its orientation on an east-west axis could be reminiscent of an ancient temple; the construction began in the XIth century in Romanesque style, but Gothic elements were added in the XIIIth century.
The cathedral has three apses, a feature which indicates the influence of Byzantine architecture; the central apse was decorated with a gallery of ancient columns of granite and cipollino and it shows a rare feature in the sense that each column alternates with a sort of capital portraying an animal; the decorative effect of the gallery is increased by porphyry inlays.
The location and size of the bell tower indicate that it had a defensive purpose at the cost of reducing the space in front of the cathedral; most likely the people of Anagni gathered to receive the papal blessings in the square to the south of the cathedral and Pope Boniface VIII wanted his statue to be placed there; the statue was erected during his lifetime and he was reproached for this. In the bull Unam sanctam Pope Boniface VIII claimed that the pope was not only the spiritual leader of the believers, but that he held the highest power also in secular matters; this explains why he wanted to be portrayed as a king.
Dante criticized the pope's views yet he respected him as the Vicar of Christ; for this reason he regarded the attack on his person by Philip the Fair, King of France, and Sciarra Colonna as a crime.
Flower-de-luce is a reference to fleur-de-lis, the heraldic symbol of the kings of France; Alagna is an ancient name of Anagni.
Pope Boniface VIII tried to enlarge the possessions of his family to the detriment of the Colonna; his troops plundered Palestrina, one of the main fiefdoms of that family; the Colonna sought the help of France and in September 1303, Sciarra Colonna and Guillaume de Nogaret, an adviser to King Philip, managed to enter Anagni with some sixteen hundred men. They took the pope prisoner and according to tradition Sciarra slapped him in the face; in the following days the inhabitants of Anagni freed the pope, who however died a few weeks later in Rome.
You may wish to see the bell Pope Boniface VIII donated to the cathedral.
The cathedral provides very interesting evidence of the development of art in the XIIIth century; similar to many other medieval churches, the fašade was decorated with reliefs of prior buildings which were placed here and there on the wall; the decoration of the main portal however is an original work, probably by a member of one of the two families of sculptors and mosaicists who decorated the interior.
Cosmati and Vassalletto were two dynasties of mosaicists, sculptors and in some cases architects, whose works can be regarded as an innovative development of medieval patterns; the Cosmati are known in particular for their church floors; in their mosaics they employed coloured stones which decorated ancient Roman buildings, but the designs they created were entirely new.
With the death of Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 artistic developments in Rome and the surrounding region came to a halt; the popes resided in Avignon for seventy years and when they returned a schism lessened their power and not until the second half of the XVth century were they able to constantly reside in Rome; one can only wonder what could have been the contribution of Rome to Early Italian Renaissance if the seeds planted by Cosmati and Vassalletto could have flourished.
Gregorovius was favourably impressed by the aspect of Anagni, where poverty was not so evident as in Genazzano; this limited prosperity was due to the fact that the town was not the fiefdom of a family, but a direct possession of the Church; its bishop still directly reports to the Holy See; after the disastrous effects of Guerra di Campagna Pope Pius IV built new walls and gates which resemble Porta Pertusa.
Introductory page on Ferdinand Gregorovius
Previous pages of this walk: Colonna and Zagarolo, Palestrina, Cave, Genazzano, Olevano and Paliano
The Ernici Mountains: Ferentino and Alatri
The Volsci Mountains: Valmontone, Segni, Norma and Cori
On the Latin shores: Anzio and Nettuno and Torre Astura
Circe's Cape: Terracina and San Felice
The Orsini Castle in Bracciano
Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery
Latium was enlarged in the 1920s with territories from the neighbouring regions: the map on the left shows the current borders of Latium; the map on the right has links to pages covering towns of historical Latium: in order to see them you must hover and click on the dots.