All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in July 2012.
As soon as one crosses the bridge (Ponte Felice) one is on volcanic terrain, either lava or an earlier metamorphic rock. (..) The high road to Civita Castellana is built of it and worn wonderfully smooth by the carriages. This town is built upon a volcanic tufa in which I thought I could recognize ashes, pumice stone and lava fragments. The view from the castle is magnificent. Soracte stands out by itself in picturesque solitude. (..) The volcanic areas lie much lower, and it is only the water tearing across them which has carved them into extremely picturesque shapes, overhanging cliffs and other accidental features.
Similar to Bagnoregio, Civita Castellana lies on the edge of a plateau of volcanic origin. Two ravines provided the town with a natural defence and a commanding position, thus making it an important centre for the Italic tribes who lived in the Tiber River valley.
Falerium, the ancient name of Civita Castellana, was the main centre of the Falisci, a small Italian tribe which occupied a territory between the Etruscans to the west and the Sabines to the east. In 396 BC the Falisci joined an alliance to check Roman expansion, but after a battle at Nepete (Nepi), where the Falisci were routed, and stripped of their camps (Livy - Book V), they had to accept Roman hegemony over their territories.
During the First Punic War, the Falisci tried to take advantage of Rome's difficulties and broke peace treaties. At the end of the war the Romans razed Falerium to the ground, massacred many inhabitants and deported the survivors to Falerii Novi, a new less defendable location. Archaeologists have found some ancient tombs of the Falisci in Rio Maggiore.
During the VIIIth century AD, during a period of great insecurity the inhabitants of Falerii Novi returned to their ancient town where they built a castle which gave its name to the new settlement. The oldest record about Civita Castellana is dated 994. In 1033 the seat of the bishop was moved from Falerii Novi to Civita Castellana.
Civita Castellana became an independent township during the controversies between the German Emperors and the Popes. The wealth of the town led its inhabitants to build a large cathedral which was completed by a great portal in 1210.
The portal is regarded as the masterpiece of the Cosma family of architects and mosaicists. Three generations (Lorenzo di Tebaldo, his son Jacopo di Lorenzo and his grandson Cosma di Jacopo) worked on the decoration of the church. Owing to the design of the portal they are regarded as forerunners of Renaissance architecture.
Other works of the Cosma can be seen at S. Scolastica and S. Benedetto at Subiaco and at S. Maria d'Aracoeli.
The medieval works of art of Civita Castellana were regarded as void of interest for many centuries. The 1883 Central Italy Baedeker bluntly stated: Civita Castellana possesses nothing to interest the traveller except its picturesque situation.
S. Maria del Carmine is believed to have been the first cathedral of Civita Castellana. Its elegant Romanesque bell tower (XIIth century) was placed above a previous construction made up of ancient stones and marbles. Following the return of the popes from Avignon, Civita Castellana lost its self-government and in 1377 it became a fiefdom of the Savelli.
The portal of S. Chiara was added in 1529 to a medieval church located at the entrance to the town from Ponte Felice.
The fortifications of the town were complemented by a series of small castles. The most important one was built near the Tiber in the XIIIth century. For a time it belonged to Spedale di S. Spirito in Sassia which had several properties in the area, including Castel Sant'Elia. In 1790 it was given to the Andosilla, a family of Spanish origin. In 1798 it was set on fire by French troops when they invaded the Papal State.
Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia was one of the most influential cardinals of the papal court in the second half of the XVth century and in 1492 he was elected Pope Alexander VI. His name is associated with the construction of several fortresses including Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. He was governor of Civita Castellana in 1482-92 and after he became pope he promoted the construction of a state-of-the-art fortress to replace the medieval castle. The fortress was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder. Other images can be seen in a page on the Fortresses of the Popes and a gate of the walls of the town which celebrates Cardinal Borgia can be seen in a page on the Gates of the Popes.
The fortress was completed by Pope Julius II and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. From the early XIXth century and until the 1960s it was used as a prison.
In 1574 Cardinal Filippo Boncompagni was appointed governor of Civita Castellana by his uncle Pope Gregory XIII. He built an aqueduct and a fountain in the main square of the town. Because the heraldic symbol of the Boncompagni was a dragon, the spouts had the shape of dragons. Similar fountains were built in Rome at Piazza Navona and at Piazza della Rotonda by Giacomo Della Porta and later on at Villa d'Este (Tivoli) and at Villa Mondragone (Frascati).
Via Flaminia was an ancient road linking Rome to Umbria and the Adriatic Sea. In 1606, following the opening of Ponte Felice, its route was slightly changed to make it cross Civita Castellana, thus helping the development of the town. The palaces built between the XVIth and the XVIIIth century indicate the presence of several wealthy families. The economy of Civita Castellana relied in part on faience-type pottery manufacturing, as the rocks around the town were rich in kaolin.
In 1740 a thorough renovation of the interior of the Cathedral was completed. It was promoted by Blessed Francesco Tenderini, Bishop of Civita Castellana, who wrote that the renovation was achieved through preces, pecunia, sudoribus (prayers, money and sweat) of all the inhabitants of the town. The new interior was designed by Gaetano Fabrizi.
Pope Pius VI increased the importance of Civita Castellana by opening a new road which shortened the route to Rome. The picturesque countryside surrounding the town attracted Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, a famous landscape French painter who visited Civita in 1825-27 (see his View of Monte Soratte - it opens in another window).
From Civitavecchia to Civita Castellana - other pages:
Civitavecchia, Allumiere and Tolfa
Oriolo Romano and Capranica
Bassano and Monterosi
Nepi and Castel Sant' Elia
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.
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