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Bill Thayer

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Bomarzo (Viterbo province)

A town of northwestern Lazio: 42°29N, 12°15E. Altitude: 263 m. Population in 2003: 1609.

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In the Parco dei Mostri, a figure said to be the god Neptune.

Bomarzo is a small hilltown overlooking the Tiber river 17 km NE of Viterbo; the nearest town is Attigliano in Umbria, roughly 9 km NE. Now few people ever go see Bomarzo although it is famous thruout Italy and to some extent beyond: since that must be very puzzling, and I did like everybody else, here is the required explanation.

In the late sixteenth century, Vicino Orsini, a local nobleman, took it into his head to use his boulder-strewn land just outside the village to create a sort of park of wonders, having the live rock carved into whatever fantastic shapes each outcrop suggested. The result, a surreal and at times positively spooky folly of Rohrschach blots in moss-greened peperino, elephants and demons with gaping mouths taller than a man, giant stone turtles and mythological cippi, sphinxes and darkly monitory inscriptions, is a sight unique in Italy and maybe the world. (For a more detailed and personal account of what it's like to visit the place, with a couple more photos, see my diary, July 21, 2000.)

Like I said, there's a small town a few hundred yards away, and it seems as attractive as any in the area, perched on its hill, but noone goes there. Nearby cliffs, also, are riddled with very old, apparently Etruscan rock tombs; on this one your excuse is better, they're essentially impossible to get to.

Frazioni

Like most of the comuni in the Lazio, Bomarzo includes in its territory some smaller towns and hamlets, of a few hundred inhabitants if that, with a certain administrative identity of their own: as elsewhere in Italy, these are referred to as the frazioni of the comune (singular: frazione, literally a "fraction"). In Bomarzo's case there is only one:

Mugnano in Teverina

As usual, a more nearly complete website will be forthcoming, by and by, especially since the carvings of Bomarzo are stupendous and I have excellent photos of almost all of them. Right now:


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If you are planning a trip to the area, you should find it interesting and maybe even useful to read the Jul. 21, 2000 entry of my diary, with 2 more pictures; for more complete and detailed general information on the town, you should see the websites in the navigation bar at the bottom of this page, of course.


[image ALT: A stylized representation of a metal hand-mirror, taken from the binding of a book. It is an Etruscan mirror motif representing that book, George Dennis's 'Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria'.]

The serious student with an interest in the Etruscans will not want to miss the chapter on Bomarzo in George Dennis's Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, in which he gives detailed descriptions of two Etruscan tombs (one of them painted), discusses the meaning of serpents in Etruscan monuments, and much more.


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Shaded dragon, elephant in the sun.


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Page updated: 7 Nov 14