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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

p147 Viterbo

Viterbo, a city and episcopal see of the province of Rome, Italy, 54 m. by rail NNW of Rome, 1073 ft. above sea-level. Pop. (1901) 17,344 (town), 21,258 (commune).a It lies on the old high road between Florence and Rome, and besides the railway to Rome it has a branch line (25 m.) going NE to Attigliano, on the railway from Rome to Florence.b It is picturesquely surrounded by luxuriant gardens, and enclosed by walls and towers, which date partly from the Lombard period. The streets are paved with large lava blocks, of which the town is also built. It has many picturesque medieval towers and other edifices (the Palazzo degli Alessandri is perhaps the most interesting), for which indeed it is one of the best towns in central Italy, and some elegant fountains; among the latter may be mentioned the Gothic Fontana Grande (1279, restored in 1424) and Fontana della Rocca by Vignola (1566). The citadel (Rocca) itself, erected by Cardinal Albornoz in 1345, is now a barrack. The Palazzo Patrizi is a building of the early Renaissance in the Florentine style. The cathedral, a fine basilica, of the 12th (?) century, with columns and fantastic capitals of the period, originally flat-roofed and later vaulted, with 16th‑century restorations, contains the tomb of Pope John XXI, and has a Gothic campanile in black and white stone. It is more probable that it was S. Silvestro (now Chiesa del Gesù) and not the cathedral that, in 1271, was the scene of the murder, on the steps of the high altar, during public worship, of Henry, son of Richard of Cornwall, by Guy de Montfort (see Dante, Inf. XII.118). In front of the cathedral Pope Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakspear) compelled the emperor Frederick I to hold his stirrup as his vassal. The splendid episcopal palace with a double loggia built on to it (recently restored to its original form) is a Gothic building of the 13th century, in which numerous conclaves have been held. The church of S. Rosa exhibits the embalmed body of that saint, a native of Viterbo, who died in her eighteenth year, after working various miracles and having distinguished herself by her invectives against Frederick II (1251), some ruins of whose palace, destroyed after his death, exist. S. Francesco, a Gothic church (before 1256), contains the fine Gothic tombs of Popes Clement IV and Adrian V, and has an external pulpit of the 15th century. The town also contains a few small Romanesque churches (S. Maria Nuova, S. Andrea, S. Giovanni in Zoccoli, S. Sisto, &c.) and several other Gothic churches. S. Maria della Cella is noteworthy among the former as having one of the earliest campanili of any size in Italy (9th century). The town hall, with a medieval tower and a 15th‑century portico, contains some Etruscan sarcophagi from sites in the neighbourhood, and a few good paintings. At one corner of the picturesque square in front of it is a Roman sarcophagus with a representation of the hunt of Meleager, with an inscription in honour of the fair Galiana, to win whom, it is said, a Roman noble laid siege to Viterbo in 1135. Close-by is the elegant Gothic façade of S. Maria della Salute, in white and red marble with sculptures. The Gothic cloisters of S. Maria della Verità just outside the town are strikingly beautiful. The church contains frescoes by Lorenzo da Viterbo (1469) and a fine majolica pavement. A mile and a half to the north-east p148is the handsome early Renaissance pilgrimage church of the Madonna della Quercia; the façade is adorned with three lunettes by Andrea della Robbia. The fine wooden roof of the interior is by Antonio da Sangallo the younger (1519‑25). The adjoining monastery has a pleasing cloistered court. A mile and a quarter farther is the town of Bagnaia, with the Villa Lante, still belonging to the family of that name, with fine fountains and beautiful trees, ascribed to Vignola. The inhabitants of Viterbo are chiefly dependent on agriculture; hemp is a specialty of the district, and tobacco and various grains are largely grown, as well as the olive and the vine. There are in the vicinity numerous mineral springs; the warm sulphur spring of Bollicame, about 2 m. off, is alluded to by Dante (Inf. XIV.79).

Viterbo is by some identified with Surrina nova, which is only mentioned in inscriptions, while some place it at the sulphur springs, called the Bollicame, to the west of Viterbo on the line of the Via Cassia, where Roman remains exist. This might well be the site of the Roman town. Here the Via Cassia was joined by the Via Ciminia, passing east of the Lacus Ciminius, while a road branched off to Ferentum. See E. Bormann in Corp. Inscr. Lat. xi. (Berlin, 1888), p454; H. Nissen, Italische Landeskunde (Berlin, 1902), ii.343. The forgeries of the Dominican Annio da Viterbo (d. 1502)c were directed to prove that Viterbo was the site of the Fanum Voltumnae (see, however, Montefiascone). There are no archaeological remains in Viterbo itself, except a few courses of masonry under the bridge which connects the cathedral with the city, near the cathedral, possibly the pier of an older bridge. But the site is not unreasonably considered to be ancient, and the name to be derived from Vetus urbs; tombs, too, have been found in the neighbourhood, and it is not an unlikely assumption that here, as elsewhere, the medieval town occupies the Etruscan site. It was fortified by the Lombard king Desiderius (the decree ascribed to him, now in the municipal palace, has long been recognized as a forgery of Annio). It is the centre of the territory of the "patrimony of Peter," which the countess Matilda of Tuscany gave to the papal see in the 12th century; in the 13th century it became a favourite papal residence. Popes Urban IV (1261), Gregory X (1271), John XXI (1276), Nicholas III (1277) and Martin IV (1281) were elected here, and it was at Viterbo that Alexander IV (1261), Clement IV (1268), Adrian V (1276) and John XXI (1277) died.

[T. As.]

Thayer's Notes:

a province of Rome . . . 1901 population: Viterbo — which in 2000, according to the official census figures, had 60,200 inhabitants — is now the capital of its own province.

b Viterbo to Attigliano: Although the small Umbrian town of Attigliano is still served by the Rome-Florence rail line, the line from there to Viterbo, like many other small railroads in central Italy, is now suppressed; to connect to the rail system, the tourist will rely on one of several bus lines instead, the main one going to Orte.

c The forgeries of the Dominican Annio da Viterbo: For this intriguing character and a sampler of the mischief he caused antiquarians, see George Dennis; whose chapter on Viterbo also covers in greater detail some of the other topics treated in this Britannica article (Surrina, the Fanum Volturnae, the Galiana inscription).

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