The Medieval city of Viterbo is located 80 km north of Rome and it is surrounded by the Monti Cimini and Monti Volsini.
The walls built during the Middle Ages to protect the city are still perfect; to enter the town center is necessary to pass through one of the ancient gates.
Due to its strategic position the city was the site of many battles.
When the Lombards tried to conquer Rome in 773 they started to fortify Viterbo where they were staying.
Until 1095 the town was a free “comune”. Then it became part of the Papal States.
In 1275 Pope Alexander IV moved the Papal Curia from Rome to Viterbo. Five Popes were elected here included John XXI who died when the ceiling of his library collapsed.
When the King of Naples was able to influence the election of a new Pope and a French One was elected the populations arose. They arrested two cardinals and attacked the city’s cathedral. The Pope left and excommunicated the town. The city passed under the control of the Di Vico family until 1431 when the Pope conquered Viterbo back.
Viterbo started to lose power and became a secondary city.
In 1871 it was annexed to the Reign of Italy.
Viterbo is also famous for the springs located on its west side in the Arcione River’s valley. This large thermal area attract every years many tourists.
The springs are in use since the Etruscan time. It is still possible to admire the impressive remains of a massive Roman bath.
The most famous springs are called “Bullicame” (bubbling place); these baths were always open air.
Not far from the Bullicame the Bagno del Papa (Bath of the Pope) is today a modern luxury spa hotel. However the first bath palace was commissioned by Pope Nicholas V during the 15th century. In 1944 the retreating Nazi Army destroyed the building. Only the corner towers and some vaulted chambers survived.
Things to see
The historic centre of Viterbo is a perfect example of a medieval one. Despite the troubled history of the city the old town is still considered one of the best preserved of central Italy.
The most important buildings were constructed on top of ancient ones.
The beautiful Palazzo dei Papi housed the Roman Curia for a quarter of a century. Every time that the Popes weren’t feeling safe in Rome they refuge here.
Where once was standing the temple of Hercules, the mythological founder of Viterbo, it was built the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. Designed in Romanesque style the Cathedral was heavily modified during the Renaissance period. In 1944 it was seriously damaged by Allied bombs.
The central Piazza del Plebiscito is surrounded by three gorgeous civic buildings: Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo della Prefettura and Plazzo del Podesta’.