View of the "il Poggio" (hill), the western quarter of Tuscania: in the foreground covers of Etruscan sarcophagi
Tuscania was an Etruscan town of some importance and many tombs have been found in its environs. The rich were buried in sarcophagi covered by a statue where the dead were portrayed as if they were attending a banquet (which was part of the funerary ceremonies - see a page on this type of sarcophagi).
The Roman conquest of Tuscania in ca 285 BC did not cause a decline of the town; recently discovered tombs of two Etruscan families housed many sarcophagi of the period following the Roman conquest; they show the dead in the traditional Etruscan posture, but are decorated with scenes which show the influence of Hellenistic patterns.
Vatican Museums (Museo Gregoriano Etrusco): terracotta sarcophagus depicting the death of Adonis found near Tuscania in 1834
The very large number of similar sarcophagi found near Tuscania has led archaeologists to believe that making sarcophagi was an element of the local economy.
Fontana delle Sette Cannelle (Seven Spouts)
This fountain was built in 1309 on a previous one of the Etruscan-Roman period by using many of the original stones; its location together with those of ruins of temples and baths helps in assessing the size of the ancient town.
Towers of the medieval walls
Italy is also known as il Paese delle Cento CittÓ (Land of the Hundred Cities) with reference to the high number of Italian towns having a
historical and artistic interest. This is particularly true in central and northern Italy where in the XIth century
the lack of a centralized power favoured the growth of Comuni, city-states ruled by locally elected magistrates.
Although formally belonging to the Church, Tuscania developed forms of municipal rule and the town was fortified with walls and towers.
View of Tuscania from S. Pietro
In northern Latium the independence of the local Comuni came to an end in the XIVth century when Cardinal Gil Alvarez d'Albornoz subdued them and restored the authority of the pope (Tuscania was conquered in 1354); the effects of the conquest, coupled with those of the Black Death, a bubonic plague which almost halved the population of Europe in 1348-49, led to a reduction in the town's size. Civita (City), the ancient acropolis where S. Pietro, the cathedral, was located was excluded from the wall enclosure, which was redesigned with the construction of an imposing bastion.
Palace and tower of the Lavello family
In the chaotic situation of the Papal State caused by the Great Schism, in 1414 Angelo di Lavello il Tartaglia (the Stammerer), a leader of mercenary troops, was given authority over Tuscania by
Antipope John XXIII; he fortified his own residence by building a very tall tower; in 1421 however his short rule came to an end and he was beheaded by order of Pope Martin V.
Papal authority in Tuscania continued to be shaky until 1434 when Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi, who had had his military training with il Tartaglia, conquered the town. The Vitelleschi became a prominent family in the region around Viterbo (see their palace at Tarquinia, not far from Tuscania).
(left) S. Maria del Riposo; (right) detail of its portal
On Pentecost Day 1495 the troops of King Charles VIII of France sacked Tuscania while returning home after a vain attempt to conquer southern Italy;
according to chronicles 800 inhabitants were killed, parts of the town were set on fire and S. Maria dell Riposo was razed to the ground; the church was rebuilt in the following years and in 1522 it was embellished with a fine Renaissance portal.
The structure of the building was strengthened with additional walls because the region has a high seismic risk; in February 1971 a strong earthquake struck Tuscania and damaged many of its monuments.
S. Maria del Riposo: cloister
A large Franciscan monastery was built near the church and in the XVIIth century it was decorated with 48 frescoes depicting episodes of the life of St. Francis of Assisi; after the 1971 earthquake it was carefully restored and some of its premises now house a small, but well arranged archaeological museum.
S. Maria della Rosa
The horizontal design of the XIVth century fašade of S. Maria della Rosa is more typical of the architecture of the Abruzzi region, and it is relatively unusual in Latium. It can be seen also in some towns of Umbria such as Todi.
S. Silvestro and its massive bell tower
S. Silvestro was built at the same time as S. Maria della Rosa and its design is almost identical. Both churches were built making use of nenfro, a local variety of tufo, a volcanic rock having yellow and grey tones.
S. Marco: (left) portal; (right) XIVth century fresco portraying the Annunciation
The restoration of some churches after the 1971 earthquake has unearthed old frescoes such as this nicely decorated niche in S. Marco, probably the work of a painter from Siena.
(left) Medieval tower near Palazzetto Farnese; (centre) Palazzo Signori; (right) a view from the eastern hill of Tuscania
While most buildings date from after the 1495 sack of the town, Tuscania retains many medieval corners similar to those of Viterbo, including the presence of profferli, decorated external staircases.
(left) Palazzetto Farnese near a medieval tower; (right) coat of arms of a Farnese cardinal
Tuscania is located near Canino, the birthplace of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese Senior, who was for some time Papal Legate (governor) of Viterbo and its district, before becoming Pope Paul III; also his grandson Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese held that post in 1551. The Farnese established a small state (Duchy of Castro), immediately north of Tuscania, which at the time was called Toscanella (it was renamed Tuscania in 1911).
Cathedral and main fountain
In 1572 Cardinal Gian Francesco Gambara moved the Cathedral of Tuscania from S. Pietro to S. Giacomo, a church inside the walls; he then rebuilt
its fašade, which is very similar to that of S. Lorenzo, the Cathedral of Viterbo, which also was rebuilt by Cardinal Gambara
who is best known for his villa at Bagnaia.
The fountain is attributed to Domenico Castelli, a Roman architect of the first half of the XVIIth century.
(left) S. Agostino; (right) S. Giuseppe
The economic policies followed by the popes in the XVIIth and XVIIIth century did not encourage the development of advanced farming practices, as those implemented by the Grand Dukes did in Tuscany; the countryside of Tuscania became a pastureland and the town declined; the lack of decorations and statues in the churches which were built in that period is a clear indication of the state of the economy.
(left) Spedale della S. Croce; (right) S. Leonardo
In 1958 the development of modern Beijing was thought to be impaired by its historical city walls; President Mao Zedong stated that the past should not be an obstacle for the new and by 1970 almost all of the city walls had been demolished. In other countries economic factors or just greed have led to pulling down historical quarters; also in Italy from time to time politicians claim that regulations forbidding modifications of existing buildings are too strict, yet we owe to these regulations that in Tuscania the unusual portal of a former hospital or the fašade of a deconsecrated church continue to embellish the town.
(left) Porta del Poggio; (right) Porta S. Marco
Unlike Beijing, Tuscania retains most of its medieval walls and gates; only Porta del Poggio, the main one, was redesigned in the XVIIIth century.
XVIIth century fountains
Move to S. Pietro and S. Maria Maggiore