August 10th, tenth day of our holidays in Tuscia and last one of our bicycle trip. Leaving Viterbo gave us the perception of its importance for the region, but we shortly got to one of the many jewels of Tuscia: Bagnaia. To wonder about the old center is a jump in the Renaissance. The village is known especially for what is called “Villa Lante”. First, it’s not a villa in the sense we give today to that word that now refer to various types and sizes of residences. The original sense coming from the centuries before Christ when the Roman noble families had huge country proprieties where otium et negotium, leisure and trade, where the principle activities. In those areas the open air activities were the major ones and that explains the importance of gardens, hunting areas, woods, fields, orchards, groves etc.
In the Renaissance the spiritual connection with antiquity was searched to show off the long history of the family and also the refinement of the intellectual members. In the XVI to have beautiful luxuriant huge gardens that with weird shapes and strange species could surprise the important guests was a status symbol that just few people obtained. The Cardinal Gambara was one of those. Becoming one of the preeminent members of the inquisition dirtied his hand with the blood of many executions fighting against another Church wing that believed in reformation: the spirituals.
His power came from those actions and this propriety in the territories were the spirituals used to grow and proliferate was a symbol of his terrible victory. But the time changed and one of the preeminent figures of the counter-reformation, the Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, had only words of reproach for the incredible amount of money spent only for Gambara’s private property. He understood and moved away, but he asked to be buried in a church closed by. You can see the church, where he is buried, in the video as we exit Viterbo, it’s along the street with a simple light brown brick-facade with a big rose window in the middle and two thin columns standing in front of it.
The young nephew of Pope Sixtus V was the next owner and made a second house to match the first one finishing the original project signed by Jacopo Barozzi Vignola, a starchitect of his time. Sixtus V continue the bloody repression and an anonymous then wrote that he was burning Christians to get used to the hell flames. But the name Lante the Villa go it in XVII century, when the Pope Urban VIII, to build the new walls around Rome, confiscated a villa on the Janiculum hill from the family Lante and gave them instead this propriety in Bagnaia. In 1911 an American woman travelling throughout Italy was shocked by the Duke Lante keeping his cars in a painted hall. Today the propriety is a public park and its fame for its beauty shadowed the bloody past of the cardinal Gambara.
Vitorchiano was the next town we crossed, famous for its Peperino caves was erected on a Peperino broken bench. It has a long history dating back to Etruscan time and its name supposed to come from Vicus Orclanus that means hamlet of Norchia or Orcla, holy place to the Etruscan goddess Norzia. But it also has a proud history of independence in the Middle Ages until it submitted spontaneously to Rome that gave the town the special status of part of the eternal city and from that very day Rome chooses its own Capitoline guards here, the so-called “Fedeli di Vitorchiano” which costumes supposed to have been designed by Michelangelo. They have also the traditional duty to play the “clarines”, the Roman traditional trumpets at official events.
As you arrive in Bomarzo you can recognize a fortified village, the ones we used to called castles with the fortified residence of the Orsini Family, the lords of this land, in the middle. This Orsini palace is at the sharp summit of a cliff and the village is on the slopes around it; it gives a real medieval feeling and it surprises for its beautiful tower-village structure. Mostly the town tough is famous for what today is called the Park of Monsters which is just outside the village. The extensive parking space denounced that it’s a mass tourist attraction today, but since we are in problematic times we found more people that we ever met in our journey but still a ridiculous amount for the size of the welcoming structures. Originally it was one of this huge amazing gardens created by his owner to puzzle guests and travellers, the place was dedicated by the Duke of Bomarzo, Pier Francesco Orsini, to his wife that just died, Giulia Farnese niece of Giulia, la Bella, the official lover of the Pope Alexander VII Borgia. He was a condottiero and art patron and maybe it’s him portrayed as gentlemen in his study by Lorenzo Lotto.
Anyway, the garden was totally forgotten and in terrible shape until Salvador Dalí made a short movie and a painting about it in the 1950s. The family Bettini started a program of restoration of the statues still present and reset them along a walk to make it a leisure garden. The works lasted until the 70’s and the couple is buried inside the little temple in the actual park which is still private property. The different statues are mainly oversized, coming from mythology like Hercules or history like Hannibal elephant; there are sphinxes, dragons and gods, but especially these are accompanied by mysterious riddles that had puzzled intellectuals for centuries. As we left the park we ride through open spaces and above the Tiber. We arrived quickly in the pleasant city of Attigliano where is the train station to go back to Rome. Totally different architecture from what we saw before the town central square is made of large, clear, symmetrical spaces and it was pure light after dark, but what it will be the blessed daylight without the mysterious darkness of the night?