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In and About Viterbo Orte and Vasanello

Orte is a small town known by almost all Italians, although very few of them have ever been there. This because in the XIXth century the name of the town was given to the junction between the railway linking Florence with Rome and that linking Ancona and Perugia with Rome. Almost all trains stopped at this junction and travellers thought that the few buildings outside the station constituted the town of Orte. A popular joke on a motto by Garibaldi O Roma o morte! (either Rome or death!) added to the celebrity of the town: the motto was turned into O Roma o Orte! (either Rome or Orte!); a sign of the disenchantment so widespread in Italy towards bold and rhetorical statements.

Views of Orte and of the Tiber
Views of Orte and of the Tiber

Orte is located a few miles north of the railway junction on an isolated tufa rock overlooking the Tiber, near the point where it is joined by the River Nera. Water from a large section of the Central Appenines mountain range flows into the Nera. So in a way also in the past Orte was known for being at a junction and the Romans built a bridge on the Tiber to facilitate trade between Rome and Umbria.
While the Danube is blue, the Tiber is blond (il biondo Tevere) as it carries in suspension minute particles of earth: during the Middle Ages, when the drainage systems put in place by the Romans collapsed, the floods deposited these particles on the lowest areas of the city covering wholly or in part houses and temples.
The history of Orte starts with the Etruscans who dug the caves one can still see on the sides of the rock and used them as cemeteries.

Generic coat of arms of the popes; coat of arms of Orte; coat of arms of Clemens VII Medici
Orte - generic coat of arms of the popes; coat of arms of Orte; coat of arms of Clemens VII Medici

The symbol of Orte is the bridge built by the Romans (almost entirely collapsed in the XVIth century). The relief in the picture above shows it with the two towers which protected it. Orte was one of the first possessions of the pope: a gift of the Longobard kings in the VIIIth century when Rome was still a Byzantine duchy, but the popes were starting to build the Patrimonium Petri (St. Peter's patrimony) the initial name of the papal state.
In December 1527 Clemens VII escaped from Castel Sant'Angelo and sought refuge in Orvieto, a few miles north of Orte. The coat of arms of Clemens VII on the town hall of Orte is a recognition of its loyalty to the pope.

Roman aqueduct and S. Silvestro
Orte - Roman aqueduct and S. Silvestro

The imposing ruins of a Roman aqueduct are a sign of the importance of the town in ancient times: Orte remained important through the Middle Ages and it retains a very interesting medieval church with a slightly leaning bell tower.

Renaissance window and Renaissance portals of the Aberti palaces
Orte - Renaissance window and Renaissance portals of the Alberti palaces

Five Renaissance palaces of Orte show the same coat of arms. It belongs to a Florentine family of merchants and bankers, the Alberti: helped by Leo X and Clemens VII, both from Florence they opened a branch of their business in Orte and over time they built five residences, all showing a simple and neat design, typical of Florentine architecture.

Vasanello - S. Maria

Vasanello is a small town, five miles south of Orte, on the road leading to Vignanello and Soriano, with some interesting monuments of its past.
S. Maria has the appearance of a church on its right side and of a small fortress on its left side: a sort of attempt to kill two birds with one stone. The church, in addition to some Roman reliefs and inscriptions, has a fine Renaissance font, shaped as a small temple.

Orsini Castle and S. Silvestro
Vasanello - Orsini Castle and Chiesa del Salvatore

The defence of Vasanello could not be assured by the small fortication next to S. Maria, so the families who ruled over the town (Orsini, Della Rovere and Colonna) built a small fortress at its entrance. It dates back to the XIIth century, but it was largely modified in the XVIth century.
Vasanello was located along a Roman road (Via Amerina) leading through Orte to Umbria. It was with the white stones of that road that the inhabitants of Vasanello erected a very high bell tower which most likely served as watch tower, because Vasanello, unlike the other towns of the area, is not located on a high tufa rock.

Della Rovere coat of arms and Roman funerary relief
Vasanello - Della Rovere coat of arms above the portal of the castle; Roman funerary relief on the bell tower of Chiesa del Salvatore

In and about Viterbo - other pages:
S. Maria della Querce
S. Martino al Cimino

Walks with Ferdinand Gregorovius in the Roman countryside

some other walks:
A walk to Porta Furba
Via Appia Antica from Cecilia Metella to Torre in Selci
Via Appia Antica from Torre in Selci to Frattocchie

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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