Ferdinand Gregorovius, a German historian best known for his studies on medieval Rome, spent the summer of 1860 at Genazzano with his friend Johannes Muller, a painter; the two decided to go on a ride across the Volsci Mountains to see the Pontine Marshes. The journey was described in an account (Aus den Bergen der Volsker) written by Gregorovius for a German paper (you can read the English translation by Dorothea Roberts in Bill Thayer's Web Site). Muller was a watercolourist who later on opened a studio in Piazza Barberini.
Valmontone seen from Montefortino
Genazzano is located on a hill of the Ernici Mountains which stand opposite the Volsci (or Lepini) Mountains; the two ranges are divided by the valley of the River Sacco;
Gregorovius and his friend crossed the river near Valmontone, a small town easily identifiable from a great distance owing to an imposing palace with an adjoining church.
On his way to Valmontone Gregorovius met many shepherds and he noted their footwear (ciocie) which had straps of goat skins covering the entire leg; today the valley of the River Sacco is known as Ciociaria (the land of those who wear ciocie), while at Gregorovius' time it was considered part of Campagna di Roma (Roman Countryside); you may wish to see brigands wearing ciocie in engravings by Bartolomeo Pinelli.
In the XVth century at the time of Pope Martin V who belonged to the Colonna family almost all of the valley belonged to his family; in the early XVIIth century however the Colonna sold some of their fiefdoms to the Borghese and the Barberini, the families of Pope Paul V and Pope Urban VIII respectively.
Valmontone however, although being at the centre of the valley, was not a Colonna fiefdom, but it belonged to the Conti di Segni, a family who acquired great power in 1198 when Lotario dei Conti di Segni became Pope Innocent III; in 1634 Valmontone was sold to the Barberini who in turn sold it to Camillo Pamphilj, nephew of the reigning pope (Innocent X) in 1651.
Gregorovius was a historian and so he was keen on providing his readers with detailed information about the history of the locations he described; J. W. Goethe, had he made this same journey, would have spent many paragraphs describing the nature of the rocks and of the vegetation of the Volsci Mountains as he was fond of mineralogy and botany.
(left) Palazzo Doria Pamphilj; (right) courtyard showing a section of the building yet to be restored
Camillo Pamphilj decided to build a very large palace at Valmontone, perhaps because its location made it very visible, thus adding prestige to the Pamphilj, who did not have previous ties with this region and were perceived as nuoveau riche by the Roman aristocracy.
The palace was designed in 1664 by Mattia De Rossi, then a young architect whose father Marcantonio redesigned S. Martino al Cimino, another fiefdom of the Pamphilj, a few years earlier.
In 1944 the building was so damaged by bombs that for a long time it was abandoned and on the verge of being pulled down because of fear it might completely collapse. It is now almost entirely restored, but some sections in the courtyard show its previous state.
Collegiata dell'Assunta (the image used as background for this page shows its central door)
The church adjoining the palace was designed by De Rossi some twenty years later at the initiative of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphilj, son of Camillo; De Rossi was a scholar of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but in this work he did not follow one of the key rules his master taught him, i.e. to design a building taking into account the available space in front of it; Collegiata dell'Assunta is too large to be properly seen at close range, because the terrace upon which it was built is pretty narrow.
Collegiata dell'Assunta: (left) St. Francis by Andrea Pozzo; (right) Madonna del Rosario by Giacinto Brandi
Cardinal Benedetto Pamphilj, was a protector of the arts, but more of music than of architecture; he is best known for having written librettos for works of Alessandro Scarlatti and George Frederick Handel (The Triumph of Time and Truth); the interior of Collegiata dell'Assunta is too bare for being a church of the late XVIIth century; the cardinal however commissioned some paintings to the best artists of the period: Andrea Pozzo acquired fame with his illusionistic ceilings at S. Ignazio; in 1668 Giacinto Brandi was appointed Principe dell'Accademia di S. Luca, the leader of the Roman artists' guild (you can see another painting by him in S. Carlo al Corso).
(left) Porta Napoletana; (right) a modern building near Collegiata dell'Assunta; (inset) ancient relief on the said building
Valmontone is located along Via Casilina and Gregorovius observed the passage of carriages and coaches on the road which linked Rome to Naples (this road was preferred to Via Appia, because the latter crossed the unhealthy Pontine Marshes).
The importance of Valmontone as a key communication point was increased by the construction of the Rome-Naples railway; on May 21, 1944 the Allied bombed the town to interrupt supplies to the German troops who were blocking their advance.
For this reason Valmontone retains very little evidence of its old walls, gates and buildings, although a lot of effort has been made to restore some of them.
(left) Fontana del Colle; (right) reconstructed portal of Santuario del Gonfalone
On his way to Segni, his first overnight stay, Gregorovius crossed a countryside which he described as being among the most evocative ones he had seen in Italy; he saw to his right the dark houses of Montefortino, which were perched on a hill and were grouped around a large church.
(left) Porta Borghese; (right) small terrace above the gate
Montefortino was a fiefdom of the Colonna which in 1614 was sold to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V; at that time it was almost a ruin because in 1557 the troops of Pope Paul IV, who waged war on the Colonna, plundered the town and destroyed all the houses. The Colonna did not have the financial means to effectively rebuild Montefortino.
Cardinal Borghese started a plan to improve the condition of its new fiefdom by opening a new road which reached the main square of the town. To celebrate this achievement Cardinal Borghese built a grand gate, similar to a triumphal arch; it was designed by Giovanni Vasanzio or Martino Longhi, two architects who worked for the cardinal at many other locations (e.g. Palazzo Borghese and Villa Borghese).
Porta Borghese: inscription "Scipio Card. Burghesius" and heraldic symbols of the Borghese
Today the name Montefortino does not ring a bell with many of its inhabitants, especially with the migrants who live in the houses at the top of the hill; in 1873 the town was renamed Artena on the (wrong) assumption that some ruins which stand on the mountain behind the town belonged to Artena, an ancient town mentioned by Livy as being a fortress of the Volsci.
Palazzo Borghese: (left) from the terrace above the gate; (right) courtyard behind the main entrance
Giovanni Vasanzio redesigned two existing buildings of the Colonna in order to turn them into a palace which was suitable for a man having the status of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who was in charge of all state affairs; the nature of the ground however placed significant limits on the ingenuity of the architect; a major part of the palace still belongs to the Borghese family.
The Borghese built a series of cordonate (flights of low steps allowing the transit of horses and donkeys) which from the main square near Palazzo Borghese reached the top of the hill; they have not been replaced by modern roads and Montefortino is one of the very few locations near Rome where donkeys and small horses still earn their living carrying construction materials and commodities.
(left) S. Stefano; (right) Parrocchiale (Parish church)
Marcantonio II Borghese, heir of Cardinal Scipione, restored the church of S. Stefano which retained a Romanesque bell tower (damaged in 1944); Camilla Orsini, Marcantonio's wife, belonged to one of the most ancient Roman families; she was a very pious woman and after the death of her husband she retired to live at Monastero della SS. Annunziata which she had helped to found through her monetary contributions; she also financed the construction of SS. Giuseppe e Orsola.
In 1661 Giovan Battista Borghese, grandson of Marcantonio II, started the construction of a new large parish church on the site of an old medieval building; he wanted the church to be visible from far away; he was the stepson of Camillo Pamphilj, who married his mother Olimpia Aldobrandini after the death of Paolo Borghese, her first husband; Olimpia was the last of her family (that of Pope Clement VIII) and at her death the Pamphilj inherited her possessions to the detriment of the Borghese; it is possible that the construction of large churches at Valmontone and Montefortino originated from this family quarrel (which eventually was settled in 1767).
Details: (left) coat of arms of Marcantonio II Borghese and his wife Claretta Orsini at S. Stefano; (centre) a column on the bell
tower of S. Stefano; (right) Palazzo del Governatore (the representative of the Borghese) and its weathervane with the Borghese heraldic symbols
Introductory page on Ferdinand Gregorovius
Next pages in this walk: Segni, Carpineto, Norma and Cori
The Roman Campagna: Colonna and Zagarolo, Palestrina, Cave, Genazzano, Olevano, Paliano and Anagni
The Ernici Mountains: Ferentino, Alatri, Fiuggi (Anticoli di Campagna), Piglio and Acuto
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
Small towns near Subiaco: Cervara, Rocca Canterano, Trevi and Filettino.