Germanicus, taken blindly through broken viewfinder!

Germanicus, taken blindly through broken viewfinder!

There was talk about Viterbo being the capital of ‘Tuscia’. I wasn’t quite sure which area it referred to. Today was the day we would venture out into this area, moving east to explore the hilltop towns of Lugnano and Amelia, better known to some as a girl’s name, now in fashion and often shortened to Minnie.

These towns all had medieval walls. Sarah introduced a new theme, appropriately linked to popes, seeing Viterbo had witnessed the election of many medieval popes and Rome had just been celebrating two new saints, both popes. Gwelfs and Ghibellines, the papal and imperial parties, the spiritual and the temporal in conflict throughout the Middle Ages. It all went back to the ‘Gift of Constantine’. Constantine was the first Christian Roman emperor, and in the Edict of Milan in 310 AD he decreed that Christians, together with other faiths, would have the freedom of worship throughout the Roman Empire.  Soon after his death, rumour had it that he had bequeathed the Roman Empire to the Church to thank Pope Sylvester I who had cured him of leprosy. After the fall of the Empire around the middle of the 5th century, invaders, such as the Lombards, formed states and towns fell under the rule of powerful families and bishops. A document declaring Constantine’s gift was found, and with Charlemagne – crowned by Pope Leo III in Rome in 800 AD – followed by his sons, the Holy Roman Empire was born. It was only in 1440 that a humanist, Lorenzo Valla, found that the document was an 8th-century forgery.

Our coach circled the 9th-century town walls of Lugnano, built to keep out invaders such as the feared Saracens, to park at the top of the hill near a superb 13th-century Romanesque church on the site of an even earlier one. It had mosaics remaining on the facade, a reminder of late Roman villa decoration carried on in Moorish buildings in Sicily. Perhaps the line of skilled craftsmen was unbroken. Documents show that throughout the Middle Ages they travelled to where they found work. Our next stop in the hilltop town with the beautiful name, Amelia, gave us more of the many layers of Italy: the carefully displayed museum with its local finds, notably the bronze statue of Germanicus; a tour of the impressive Roman series of ten huge underground cisterns to capture rainwater, still in use until post WWII and the delightful 18th-centure theatre with five tiers of boxes, with a capacity of 300, and rehearsals taking place for a school production. We were welcomed, the curtain lowered for us to admire, and I went away imagining the animation before and after the performance with the schoolchildren’s families waving to one another from all those boxes, just as in the 18th century!

Amelia is a quiet but sophisticated provincial town with fine palazzi. Palazzo Petrignani, now used by the Town Council, has superb frescoes on the ceiling and walls proclaiming the family that built it together with the history of the area going back to Roman times. It was painted by ‘the school of the brothers Federico and Taddeo Zuccari’ who were so active in the mid to late 1500s that one imagines them travelling the countryside north and east of Rome with a small army of assistants! A  bishop and a cardinal Farrattini built their palazzo in 1520 – 25 as a smaller echo of the magnificent one in Rome of their Farnese neighbours and by the same architect, Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane. Count Farrattini welcomed us and showed us round his frescoed home and garden where we admired a splendid sunset before being served dinner in the great entrance hall.

A day of many threads woven into the history of this quiet and unexplored part of the papal state. And before that, it was the land of Tuscia, or Etruria, the heartland of the Etruscans.