Viterbo is the capital of the province of the same name in the Lazio region. The city is located around 100 kms north of Rome, in an area that is also known under the name Tuscia. Viterbo‘s nickname is “City of the Popes” (Città dei Papi). Several of its main tourist attractions are related to the former presence there of these religious leaders.
Viterbo City Guide
The city has two tourist offices. The first one is near the Porta Romana Railway Station and the second one in the historical center. The address is Via Ascenzi, 4 – 01100 Viterbo (Tel. +39 0761325992). Opening hours: 10.00 till 13.00 and 15.00 till one hour before sunset. Closed: Mondays, 1 January, 25 December.
By car/public transport
From Rome it is easiest to reach Viterbo by following the Via Cassia (SS2) in northern direction. The Via Cassia is one of the ancient Roman so-called consular roads and is extremely picturesque.
Viterbo can also easily be reached by train. The departure station is not Roma Termini, however, but either Ostiense (line B metro stop Piramide) or Tiburtina (line B metro stop Tiburtina). Viterbo’s Porta Romana train station is just outside the city walls.
There are also buses to Viterbo. The company is called Cotral and the departure station is the Saxa Rubra stop on the Flaminio–Prima Porta train line.
A brief history of Viterbo
Several ruins of Etruscan necropolises point to the existence of an Etruscan settlement, which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 310 BC. There are also ruins of a Roman village called Ferento on the territory outside Viterbo.
In the 8th century the Lombard king Desiderio built the defensive walls in order to protect the area against Pope Hadrian I. This was the beginning of a long period of Lombard domination.
In the 12th century Frederick I Barbarossa gave Viterbo the title of city. After his death Pope Celestine III took over and the new city became a bishop’s seat.
In the beginning of the 13th century Viterbo several influential families rebelled against the church and asked Frederick II for protection. The church got the upper hand and toward the middle part of the 13th century the city practically became a permanent residence for a succession of Popes. No fewer than 5 conclaves were held here between 1261 and 1281. It is in this period that Viterbo acquired the nickname Città dei Papi.
The Farnese included Viterbo in the duchy of Castro. In 1649, however, the city returned to the Papal State.
From the 16th century onward Viterbo became gradually less important.
In 1798 the city was conquered by Napoleon‘s troops.
Tourist attractions Viterbo
The extended presence of a number of popes cannot but have had an influence on the number of prestigious palaces in the centre. The most important ones are the Palazzo Papale (or Palazzo dei Papi) with its gorgeous loggia and the buildings that were united into the present city hall. Especially the Palazzo dei Priori, with its beautiful portico, is impressive. The Fountain of the Lions in the Piazza delle Erbe is considered a symbol of the city.
Another impressive fountain is the Fontana Grande, in the square of the same name.
The main church is the cathedral. It was built between the 12th and 13th century and reconstructed two centuries later. The Santa Maria Nuova Church can boast a Lombard cloister and the Santa Maria della Verità Church a number of frescoes by Lorenzo da Viterbo. The Santa Maria della Rosa Church contains the mortal remains of the patron saint of the city. The San Sisto Church and the San Giovanni in Zoccoli Church are built in a Romanesque style.
The Rocca Albernoz is located just inside the Porta Fiorentina city gate. The square in front of this castle (which is the seat of the Etruscan Museum of Viterbo) is called Piazza della Rocca and is decorated with a Fountain designed by Vignola. The city’s main park, Prato Giardino, is just outside the Porta Fiorentina city gate.
What is now the Via Cavour was constructed in the 16th century and connects the Piazza del Comune to the Fontana Grande. Its construction had become necessary when the city center moved from the Piazza del Duomo to the new town halls. It is now a shopping street.
Main streets of the medieval Pellegrino district are the Via dei Pellegrini and the Via di San Pellegrino. This is the most pictureque part of the city, with winding, and sometimes rather steep narrow streets meandering randomly in all directions.
The Via Ascenzi runs from the Piazza dei Caduti to the Piazza del Plebiscito. The street was constructed in the 1930s as part of a new city layout. The main landmark is the Palazzo delle Poste.
The Torre Campanaria is a, slightly leaning, tower in the Via Roma.
The Museo Civico is housed in the former convent of the Santa Maria della Verità Church.
The main public park is called Prato Giardino. It is located near the Porta Fiorentina city gate.
Attractions outside Viterbo
Some of Viterbo‘s major attractions are located in its suburbs. The best example is the Villa Lante, in the borough of Bagnaia. In San Martino al Cimino you can visit the Abbazia Cistercense and the Palazzo di Donna Olimpia.
Another reason Viterbo is popular is because of the hot springs that can be found on its territory. The most famous ones are the Terme dei Papi and the baths of Bulicame and Bagnaccio. Near the Terme dei Papi there a number of Etruscan tombs as well as the ruins of the Castel d’Asso.
The origins of the name Viterbo are not certain. It is most likely a contraction of the Latin for “old city” (Vetus Urbs).
The most important festival of the year in Viterbo is the Trasporto della Macchina di Santa Rosa. During this parade, which takes place annually on September 3rd, a 30m tall contraption is carried through the streets of the city.