Our historical and spa excursion in the territory of the old Centumcellae, Tolfa and Allumiere starts at Civitavecchia, on the path to discovering this area of unspoilt nature and ancient local traditions. The itinerary has been designed for people in Rome who want to have a trip “out of the city”, for tourists returning to Rome who want to get to know more of the surrounding areas as well as for the thousands of people on cruises disembarking at the port of Civitavecchia. It aims to present this area’s history, traditions and nature as well as offering a chance for relaxation and rejuvenation in the local thermal baths. CIVITAVECCHIA
By car or train, Civitavecchia (the ancient city of Centumcellae) is almost an hour away from Rome. This seaside city and port was first founded between 106 and 110 AD after Emperor Trajan had the idea that this bay was a perfect location for the port of Rome. Today, Civitavecchia is a major urban centre in the Tuscia Romana area of the Province of Rome, with an important maritime port used by cruise ships and ferries from all over the Mediterranean. In order to closely follow the construction work on the port, Emperor Trajan had a villa built in the area and you can still see its imposing ruins a few kilometres from the city itself, in the archaeological area called Terme Taurine, next to the exit for Civitavecchia Nord on the A12 motorway. It is a well preserved, impressive thermal bath complex, dating from the Republican and the Imperial ages. Close to the archaeological area is the Ficoncella spa, nestling in the hills of the Lazio countryside. This sulphurous spring produces water ranging from 35° to 53°C, and the facility contains five thermal pools, which are very popular for health cures, continuing a tradition already well known in Etruscan times. Evidence of Roman civilisation in Civitavecchia sits alongside the fortifications dating from the Renaissance period. Unfortunately the only imposing structure still intact is the Michelangelo Fort, since the other buildings were largely destroyed during Second World War bombing raids. The Fort, used as the city’s symbol, is located at the end of Viale Garibaldi.
The Fort is one of the “wonders” in the Province of Rome, an historical and cultural heritage to promote and exploit. It was built in the 16th century on the wishes of Pope Julius II Della Rovere to defend the coast from pirate attacks. Work was started under the leadership of Bramante, but he did not live to see the work completed. And in fact Julius II also died before the Fort was ready and it was Pope Paul III who saw the completion of the magnificent fortified complex, with its slits and openings for arquebus long guns and canons. There was one upper part of the Keep that needed to be finished off and the work was entrusted into the hands of the great Michelangelo. Michelangelo Fort is one of the largest ever to be built at the time. It is a four-sided building with four towers at each corner and an octagonal Keep. The walls are clad in travertino stone and the whole building was surrounded by a moat, which no longer exists. The four turrets were named San Colombano, Santa Ferma, San Sebastiano and San Giovanni. San Sebastiano’s tower also contained an underground corridor, used as a secret exit from the Fort. It is presumed to emerge somewhere within the city’s walls. Inside the Santa Ferma bastion, which was once in direct contact with the sea, there is a small original chapel honouring the city’s patron saint, Santa Fermina, whose remains are held in the city Church of Santa Maria. Once inside the Fort you’ll see an imposing rectangular courtyard with arched arcades supported by rows of pillars. Recent archaeological excavations have brought to light important findings including a Roman villa from the Trajan era. In fact, the Fort is believed to be built on the original site of a huge Roman building from the Imperial Age.
Also worth seeing:
- Civitavecchia Archaeological Museum
- Vanvitelli Fountain
- The Old Port
- The Fort (Rocca)
- The Pirgo
- Piazza Leandra
- The Marina
- Viale Garibaldi
- Livorno Gate
- Municipal Palace
- The Market
he ancient spa complex in Civitavecchia is certainly one of the most interesting examples of its kind in the whole Etruscan territory and comprises three distinct springs. The first, which is furthest out of the city, is located on a hill and is called Sferracavalli; the other two lie to the North East of the city, no more than 5 KM away. One spring is inside the ruins of the Taurine Spa and the other is at Ficoncella, the only spring still used today, named after a wild fig tree (fico) growing next to a rock near the spring. The old Trajan’s Thermal Baths (or Taurine Spa) can be reached either by taking the Via delle Terme Taurine road through Civitavecchia in the direction of Tolfa, or, for people coming from the South, by taking the Civitavecchia Nord exit on the motorway and travelling along the local road for about a kilometre. The first archaeological surveys were conducted here in the middle of the 1700s, undertaken by the Pontifical government. At the start of the 1900s the Italian state paid for the first methodical investigations to be done, leading to the discovery of the Republican Baths, which no one knew had existed until then. The digs continued for years and have revealed a large part of the thermal bath complex, enabling various sectors to be identified. People stopped using the baths during the war between the Goths and the Byzantines but the prodigious flow of water continued to spill out in the abandoned building lying in ruins. In the middle of the 20th century, there were studies to see if the baths could be re-opened by restoring the ancient building, but then the idea was shelved. However, you can still visit the ruins: the best place to start is in the area of the Republican Baths (Terme Repubblicane) next to the attendant’s offices.
In the vicinity of the archaeological site is the Finconcella spa facility, lying in the middle of the Lazio hills. The baths have retained their ancient structure, with five open air stone baths from which you can enjoy the panorama of the valley below, the sea on one side and the Tolfa Mountains on the other. The Ficoncella waters are alkaline calcium-rich sulphate with temperatures ranging from 35° to 53°C and are particularly useful to relieve joint problems (arthropathy), dermatitis and allergies. TOLFA AND ALLUMIERE
The towns of Tolfa and Allumiere lie in the heart of the mountains, in a land where the Etruscans and Romans left behind plenty of memories, like the many necropolis at Tolfa and the rustic Roman villa on Mount Tolfaccia.
Dominated by the Fort, Tolfa maintains its medieval feel alongside harmonious Renaissance squares and remarkable buildings. Apart from Frangipane Fort, other places worth visiting here include the Palace with the Tabernacle, the Regional Palace, the old Municipal Palace and the Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio), the ancient Fountain in Piazza Vecchia, the Buttaoni, Celli and Panetti Palaces as well as the Churches of S. Egidio, the Cappuccini and the Madonna della Sughera. One distinguishing feature of Tolfa is its artisans’ workshops specialised in leather work and ceramics, which can be found along Via Roma and the nearby lanes. Testimony that the both the Etruscans and the Romans settled here can be found in the necropolis situated next to three tuffaceous upland plateaux: Pian dei Santi, Pian della Conserva and Pian Cisterna. Many of the objects and materials found in the necropolis are now kept in the Tolfa Public Archaeology Museum.
Allumiere is the highest town in the Tolfa Mountains. It was developed after the discovery of alum and the subsequent mines to quarry the mineral, still present in the area. The sanctuaries built on behalf of the Apostolic Camera are particularly important. One of the most noteworthy is the Church of the Farnesiana, located in a characteristic 16th century village. Nearby, again in a pretty isolated position, is the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Cibona, a name taken from the small beech wood that surrounds the small chapel, commissioned by one of the richest bankers living in Rome at the end of the 1400s, Agostino Chigi. Following a miracle performed by the image of the Madonna, work was started on a monumental complex in 1637, comprising the monastery and the Church. In 1799 French troops pillaged the monastery and this was the start of a slow decline. Today major restoration work is being carried out on the baroque buildings. Allumiere is also known for the archaeological finds made in the area of La Pozza.
Tolfa and Allumiere offer the chance to visit two remarkable medieval and Renaissance villages with a history going back to the Romans and Etruscans. But they also offer a chance to discover wild, unspoilt countryside. The Tolfa Mountains should have been the base for a large regional park, and the plans have been ready for many years but the project has never got off the ground, for reasons that remain unclear. To explore the area you can use some ancient paths leading from the mountains to the sea. Another interesting route is the Quartaccio wood (Bosco del Quartaccio) circular trail running through pastures and woods, where you can admire the delicate seasonal blossom typical of this kind of location. Your visit would not really be complete without a trip on horseback, certainly the best way to explore this place. There are many riding centres in the whole area, offering expert guides and tailored training courses.
There is also the Bagnarello spa at Tolfa to visit, a place very few people know about. From the road to Tolfa, coming from Civitavecchia, reach the gates of the town and turn right onto a road going downhill with a number of bends. After a few kilometres on the left is a dirt track with fenced in vegetable gardens where animals are also kept. From here proceed on foot until you reach a set of stairs. Go down the steps and you’ll come to two small pools containing very hot water of about 42°C.
If you are in this area in August, you should not miss the Palio delle Contrade race at Allumiere and the Cowboy Tournament (Torneo dei Butteri) at Tolfa.
Palio delle Contrade race at Allumiere
Tradition has it that this event originated at the start of the 1500s, when Agostino Chigi, who was the contractor of the alum mines at the time, wanted to reproduce the typical folklore event of his birthplace of Siena (the world famous Palio horse race), and organised donkey races in the square next to the alum factory. The modern version of the Palio delle Contrade started on September 11, 1965 as part of the celebrations in honour of Madonna delle Grazie, but the year after, the date was definitively set as the first Sunday after August 15, the date when the town’s patron saint, the Madonna Assunta in Cielo, is celebrated.
The Saturday before the competition on the Sunday there is a “rehearsal” (provaccia) in the town square, when the donkeys try out the “track” they will be competing on the next day in the Palio race. Meanwhile, each of the six local districts, or contrade (called Burò, Ghetto, La Bianca, Nona, Polveriera and S. Antonio), organises a party in their territory with free wine, biscuits and cakes and typical produce on offer, accompanied by music with hundreds of people singing and dancing in the streets. The run up to the Palio itself starts on Sunday morning after Mass, when the donkeys and their “punzonatura” are blessed. Once the blessing is over, the presidents and key officials from each of the six districts meet the leading figures of the local authority in the council chamber of the Municipal Palace where there is a draw when each district is assigned its departure point from one of the six starting gates. Then at 17:00 there is the historical parade in 16th century costumes, headed by the winning district from the previous year’s race (the others follow in the order in which they finished that year) and rounded off by the “carroccio” carriage pulled by bullocks, which carries the longed for “Cencio”, hand painted on rags by local artists that can cover any kind of theme, from world hunger or flying to the moon, or to celebrate an anniversary or celebrating an historical or religious figure. Each year the “painting” is the result of its own specific competition. Another suggestive moment during the Palio delle Contrade parade is the exhibition of the flag throwers. For the youngsters it is an honour to be flag bearers wearing their district’s colours, and to win the desired prize the youngsters go through a hard training programme, practising the synchronised flag movements and exercises in secret so their performance is seen for the first time in front of the jury. But the most powerful moment is the bare-back donkey race. The winner is judged on the results of three circuits (with a different donkey each time) around the oval-shaped Piazza di Allumiere square. At the end of the three circuits, the district that has won most points is judged the winner. During the circuits the square becomes an arena, where each district erects its own stage. This is the most important moment for the locals and the visiting tourists. In the evening, the winning district hosts the celebrations and in the streets there are food stalls, music and fireworks continuing late into the night.
Cowboy Tournament at Tolfa
The tournament takes place over ten days in August when various events are held, with exhibitions and competitions between the cowboys from various Italian regions. The most involving moments are the competition to capture a calf and the “merca”, namely branding the animals. The party starts on Saturday afternoon with an historic parade of the six districts of Tolfa going from Via Roma to Piazza Vittorio Veneto, which usually recalls key moments of rural life. The final of the tournament is held on the following Sunday.