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In Maremma Corneto (Tarquinia)


Dante's Divina Commedia is not only the founding poem of the Italian language, but also a sort of XIVth century world encyclopaedia. In general people and towns quoted in this poem did not come out well, because Dante was more a lasher than a flatterer. Let's read a passage where he describes the wood into which the souls of the violents against themselves (the suicides) are turned.

Non fronda verde, ma di color fosco;
non rami schietti, ma nodosi e 'nvolti;
non pomi v'eran, ma stecchi con tsco.

Non han s aspri sterpi n s folti
quelle fiere selvagge che 'n odio hanno
tra Cecina e Corneto i luoghi colti.

Dante, Inferno XIII
The leaves here were not green, but of the darkest
Color; the branches not smooth, but twisted around
And rough; there was no fruit, but only the hardest,

Most poisonous thorns. Not even the beasts who abound
In the wilds between Cecina and Corneto, and hate
Tilled land, would call this their kind of ground.

Dante, Hell XIII (transl. Seth Zimmerman)

Dante gave a description of Maremma, the maritime land between Cecina (south of Leghorn) and Corneto (today Tarquinia, north of Civitavecchia), which remained true for centuries. The marshes along the coast nurtured the Anopheles mosquitoes which spread malaria and made human life unhealthy. The wild woods were the kingdom of the boar and the boar became the symbol of Maremma (in the icon at the top of the page a Renaissance fresco showing Meleager hunting the boar).

Dante quotes Corneto also in a long list of violents against the others:

a Rinier da Corneto, a Rinier Pazzo,
che fecero a le strade tanta guerra.

Dante, Inferno XIII

From Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo, highwaymen
Who plagued the roads with such violent acts.

Dante, Hell XIII (transl. Seth Zimmerman)

Rinier da (from) Corneto was a brigand known for robbing and ransoming the pilgrims in their way to Rome. There were brigands in this part of Maremma until the end of the XIXth century.

Map of the itinerary
Towns covered by the itinerary (red dots)

The major part of Maremma lies in Tuscany and it was part of the Republic of Siena and later on of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. A minor part, south of the Chiarone, a small stream, lies in Latium and it became part of the Papal State towards the end of the XVth century. Paulus III Farnese (1534-50), who was born in the village of Canino, included the Papal Maremma in his Duchy of Castro which lasted for a century.


Corneto is located on a hill overlooking the river Marta a couple of miles from its mouth. In 1922 the town was given the name of Tarquinia in memory of the nearby Etruscan town which played a great role in the early days of Ancient Rome. Tarquinia was pulled down by the Saracens in the IXth century and the site was abandoned. Corneto flourished in the XIIth and XIIIth centuries as an independent town and had close relationships with Pisa and Genoa, because at the time the river Marta was navigable and Corneto was an important trading post in the maritime route between northern and southern Italy.

Towers of Corneto
Towers of Corneto: tower of S. Maria di Castello; tower in Via delle Torri; bell tower of S. Pancrazio

Corneto still retains most of its medieval appearance because the development of the town was minimal after it was annexed to the Papal State in the XVth century. The most important families lived in house-fortresses, protected by tall towers, several of which still characterize the old town.

Gate and Tower of the Castle
Gate and Tower of the Castle

The walls overlooking the river were strengthened by a little castle which according to the tradition hosted for some time Countess Matilde di Canossa, who in the XIIth century ruled over a large part of central Italy and who supported Pope Gregorius VII in his fight against the German emperor Henri IV.

Medieval churches
Medieval churches: S. Francesco and S. Giovanni Battista dei Gerosolimitani

The majority of the churches of Corneto go back to the XIIIth century: their number and their size are sign of the wealth of the town.

Details of churches
Details of churches: top left: S. Giovanni; lower left: S. Salvatore; right: S. Maria di Castello

The churches had elaborate rose-windows (in the background of this page you can see the rose-window of SS. Annunziata) and were decorated in various ways: a portal in S. Giovanni shows an ancient Roman sarcophagus; the apse of S. Salvatore has an elegant relief made with half-columns and small arches (XIth century); S. Maria al Castello has one of the earliest (1143) examples of cosmatesque decorations.

Palazzo Vitelleschi
Palazzo Vitelleschi

Palazzo Vitelleschi was erected by Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi in 1436-39. It makes use of previous buildings, including a stretch of the medieval walls. It shows the transition from Gothic to Early Renaissance. The coat of arms next to the window belongs to Leo X Medici (1513-21). The palace hosts today the Etruscan National Museum.

Palazzo Comunale and main fountain
Palazzo Comunale and main fountain

The decline of Corneto under the papal government is evident in the few Baroque monuments which are mainly concentrated in the main square. The medieval Palazzo Comunale was modified in the XVIIth century by adding a central clock tower. During the pontificate of Innocentius XIII Conti (1721-24) a fountain designed by Filippo Barigioni was built in his honour. The eagles which decorate it are a reference to the coat of arms of the pope.

In Maremma - other pages:
Montalto di Castro and Canino

some other walks:
Walks with Ferdinand Gregorovius in the Roman countryside
In and about Viterbo
A Pilgrims' Way
On the Edge of the Marsh
Around Monte Cimino
From Civitavecchia to Civita Castellana
From Bracciano to Viterbo
Anticoli Corrado where the painters found their models
A walk to Porta Furba
Via Appia Antica from Cecilia Metella to Torre in Selci
Via Appia Antica from Torre in Selci to Frattocchie
Branching off Via Cassia: S. Maria di Galeria, Isola Farnese and Formello
A Walk to Malborghetto

See my Home Page on Baroque Rome or my Home Page on Rome in the footsteps of an XVIIIth century traveller

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