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July 26th, 1843. We took our way across the fresh bright Campagna to Gallicano,
which is thought by some antiquaries to be the site of the ancient Pedum, though
by others that city is supposed to have been situated at Zagarolo. There is a most
beautiful view of the modern town about a mile and a half before you reach
it, rising on its long, narrow rock of tufa over the wide plain, and backed
by the high mountain range of Guadagnolo, the loftiest in the neighbourhood of
Rome. From this point the entrance is well seen to that remarkable cut by which the ancient Via Prenestina was carried through the rocks which guard the valley of Gallicano, and at this picturesque passage we soon arrived. It is now known by the name of Cavamonte, and is about sixteen miles from Rome. Throughout its extent the old pavement of the Via Prenestina is quite perfect; and a solemn feeling of antiquity impresses you as you pass along it, shaded by walls of rock more than seventy feet in height, half covered with luxuriant foliage. The ancient road is here twenty-seven feet in breadth; its usual width being but fourteen. A little chapel halfway
through the pass adds to the beauty of the scene. Lear
The cut through the rocks has not been enlarged, but the stones of the ancient road have been covered; they can still be seen along the section of the road between Gallicano and Palestrina.
As to Gallicano, be it Pedum or not, it stands finely on its ridge, to which
you look up as you pass from a quiet valley. Lear
The western approach to Gallicano is almost untouched by the modern expansion of the town along the eastern part of the ridge which is not as narrow as the western one.
It has no point of general interest, though its neighbourhood abounds with studies for a landscape painter: here, a peep down those ravines so choked with vegetation, appreciated only by lovers of Campagna scenery, opening out to lines of yellow plain or blue hill; there, a narrow path, a shrine, some overhanging rocks with long tresses of creepers and wild fig, and a morsel of the town, completing the picture. Lear
The Historical legends of Pedum are these: that it was one of the Latin cities leagued to restore Tarquin; was allied with the Romans, and captured by Coriolanus; united itself with the Tiburtines, and was destroyed by L. Furius Camillus. Thenceforward Pedum is heard of no more. Lear
Nor is there any known record of Gallicano till A.D. 992, when (and until the
thirteenth century) it belonged to the Conti: afterwards to the Colonna,
through whom it passed to the Pallavicini. Lear
In ca 1600 Marzio Colonna, Duke of Zagarolo was given the title of Prince of Gallicano, but he much preferred to enlarge and embellish Zagarolo. This was done in such a scale that in 1622 the Colonna were forced to sell Zagarolo and Gallicano to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, nephew of Pope Gregory XV. In 1668 his heirs sold the two fiefdoms to Cardinal Lazzaro Pallavicini who included them in the dowry of his niece Maria Camilla who in 1670 married Giovan Battista Rospigliosi, nephew of Pope Clement IX. A child of the couple, in order to comply with a condition set in his will by Cardinal Pallavicini in 1680, changed his surname to Pallavicini (more on this topic in a page about Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi in Rome).
Of the usual vicissitudes by siege and pillage, common to all the towns of the Roman Campagna during the middle ages, Gallicano was not without its share: at present it is little more than a village, and scarcely contains one thousand inhabitants. Lear
The Pallavicini promoted the construction of a new parish church in 1732-1734 which was designed by Ludovico Rusconi Sassi in the rich style of the time. Even though the population of Gallicano was very small, it had a very urban aspect.
The eastern end of Gallicano was protected by a castle which the Pallavicini turned into a small palace for themselves and their delegates. It was eventually used as the Town Hall until a new one was built in the modern part of Gallicano. The medieval gate of the castle is located to the right of Porta Maggiore at a lower level. The name of the town derives from Latin Gallicanus, most likely referring to people from Gaul, but the modern coat of arms calls to mind St. Peter's cock.
St. Roch was specially invoked against the plague and during the XVIIth century many chapels and small churches were dedicated to him or to St. Sebastian who had the same powers. The Pallavicini, similar to the Theodoli at S. Vito and the Pio di Savoia at S. Gregorio a Sassola, promoted the development of Gallicano by building new houses along the street leading to S. Rocco from Porta Maggiore.
The valley of Poli is very narrow and runs up about three miles into the mountains. It is formed by two principal streams and several smaller which pour down the sides of the hills (..) The town stands on a narrow ridge of dark rock between its two rivulets. The stone it is built of is so like the rock that it looks as if it had grown out of it and embosomed in thick woods and overtopped by mountains it shows like a mountain eagle's nest as one approaches it.
Lady Maria Callcott (Maria Graham) - Three Months Passed in the Mountains East of Rome: During the Year 1819.
Trotting away over the flat ground, or winding slowly down and up the steep sides of woody ravines, we were soon at Poli, placed at the foot of the mountain of Guadagnolo, whose sides we began to ascend, both as the shortest way of reaching Subiaco ere night, and because we wished to visit the picturesque Mentorella Chapel. Lear
Not many Romans would immediately answer the question: Where is Palazzo Conti in Rome? And yet they have seen it many times as does even the most cursory visitor to Rome, because Palazzo Conti (or Poli) provides the background to Fontana di Trevi. The Conti di Poli were a branch of the Conti di Segni, who acquired enormous power in 1198 when a member of the family became Pope Innocent III. Unlike other small towns which belonged to many families, Poli was a fiefdom of the Conti for more than six centuries until the death of Michelangelo Conti without heirs in 1808. The family palace at Poli is the result of a long series of additions and modifications to a medieval fortress which was located in the highest point of the town.
(left) Entrance to the town and to Palazzo Conti; (right) main entrance to Palazzo Conti
The Conti di Poli established family bonds with other important families, in particular the Farnese and the Orsini. Lotario Conti (1571-1635), Duke of Poli, was educated at the court of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese at Caprarola and he tried to give his small palace at Poli the appearance of a Farnese one.
In 1819 however the building was in very poor condition: The ground floor is now converted into a granary and storehouse and the coved ceilings painted, it should seem by the school of the Zuccheri (Zuccari), accord but ill with the filth and neglect every where visible. The fountains that adorned the court, the staircase and the balcony are all dry. Lady Maria Callcott
Palazzo Conti: (left) fountain in the courtyard preceding the palace and resembling those of Villa d'Este; (right) frescoes of the loggia
A chequered eagle is a recurring motif in the decoration of the palace. It was the heraldic symbol of the Conti, one of the first families to have a proper coat of arms. The image used as background for this page shows one of the two eagles of the fountain.
In 1721 Cardinal Michelangelo Conti, second child of Carlo II Conti, Duke of Poli, became Pope Innocent XIII and the ancient noble family acquired a new importance. The Pope however was sick and old. He died in 1724 and was buried in a stucco monument in S. Pietro. The monument was removed in the XIXth century and the body was placed in an ancient sarcophagus in the Vatican Grottoes.
Palazzo Conti: paintings on the ceiling (left) and in the main bedroom (right)
Today Palazzo Conti is the Town Hall. In 1983 a restoration unearthed some frescoes in the main bedroom which had been covered, perhaps because of their nudities. That portraying Cupid was inspired by a painting by Parmigianino now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna - it opens in another window.
The territory of Poli was populated at the time of the ancient Romans and the Dukes were able to gather a small collection of antiquities. According to a popular tradition Poli owes its name to Polustia, a town mentioned by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote a history of Rome from its foundation to the First Punic War. An inscription placed by the Dukes of Poli at the main gate supported this opinion, which today is regarded as wrong because the location of Polustia is believed to have been in the proximity of Anzio. The name most likely derives from Castrum Pauli, because in the XIth century Poli belonged to the monks of S. Paolo fuori le Mura.
S. Pietro: (left) fašade; (centre) coat of arms of Pope Innocent XIII and a relief showing the papal symbols; (right) 1608 bell tower
Lotario Conti provided his hometown with a new parish church with an adjoining very tall bell tower which is visible from a great distance. Its design is very unusual and it was probably motivated by the desire to place a very long inscription celebrating Lotario on its three cornices.
In the streets of Poli: (left) a palace in the first section of the main street; (centre) end of the main street;
(right-above) Roman relief on the wall of a house; (right-below) tablet on a building belonging to the Torlonia
The whole town only consists of one street and two small squares. For the little lanes leading out of the street to the low houses partly built and partly excavated in the rock, hardly deserve even that humble name. (..) The town and palace are now on sale and it is said that Madame Letitia Buonaparte is in treaty for it at the price of 90,000 crowns. Lady Maria Callcott.
The initial section of the street between Palazzo Conti and S. Pietro is straight and relatively wide with some fine buildings. In 1819 Napoleon's mother had just bought Palazzo d'Aste and she did not buy Poli. The Bonaparte were already members of the Roman aristocracy as Princes of Canino. Poli was eventually bought by the Torlonia, rich bankers who wanted to acquire fiefdoms granting noble titles.
In 1597 St. Joseph Calasanz founded the first public free school of Rome in two rooms of the sacristy of S. Dorotea in Trastevere. In the following years he founded other schools in Rome. The Dukes of Poli asked for his advice to provide their subjects with a school, which they eventually built in 1629. The Conti had close ties to the Farnese of Parma and the Sanvitale were a noble family from Fontanellato, near Parma.
(left) Cappella della PietÓ (XVIth century); (centre/right) holy images
The highest point of this last ridge is the rock of Guadagnola, two hours walk from Poli. There one company of the banditti stationed itself and thence made excursions to our very gates. Lady Maria Callcott. Her stay at Poli was shortened by the fear that brigands might storm the town.