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Bill Thayer

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Civita Castellana (Viterbo province)

A town of northwestern Lazio: 42°17.5N, 12°25E. Altitude: 145 m. Population in 2003: 15,400.

[image ALT: The façade of a church, consisting of a monumental archway about 5 meters tall, flanked on either side by the symmetrical wings of a porch supported on slender columns with Ionic capitals. The porch leads into the church by way of a single arched door. Behind this façade part of a tall square belfry with arched windows can be seen. It is a view of the cathedral of Civita Castellana, in the Lazio (central Italy).]

The 12c façade of the cathedral. (Why the odd truncated view?)

Civita Castellana is a very ancient hilltown, predating the Romans. It lies in a scenic area of rolling farmland 55 km N of Rome just off the Via Flaminia, the Roman consular road to Otricoli and Narni, 39 km and 35 km N, respectively; and has been identified as an Etruscan city known to us only by its Roman name of Falerii Veteres (for details, see the Encyclopedia Britannica article Falerii).

The cathedral of S. Maria Maggiore (or, using the common Italian name for a cathedral church, the Duomo) is the undoubted star of the town: a splendid building exceptional in that the 18c remodeling did not destroy the 12c framework, rather showcasing it instead. The aesthetic unity of the church is partly achieved by the profusion, inside and out, of Cosmatesque work, the intricate patterns of which were created in the Middle Ages from thin slices cut from colored marble and porphyry columns left in the antique ruins: another indication of the importance of the city in Roman times.

If you walk the town with your eyes open, though, Roman stone turns up everywhere, from the belfry of S. Maria del Carmine to the main square, the Piazza Matteotti; and Civita Castellana proves to be an attractive and fascinating place.

[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 Falerii Veteres in George Dennis's Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. It's an atmospheric piece — mostly about the Etruscan tombs in the area, but the author fell in love with a modern viaduct too.

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Falerii is also represented onsite by Thomas Ashby's article in the 1911 Britannica, and my own photo of one of the many Etruscan tombs in the area.

A more detailed website will eventually appear here, since I've been to Civita Castellana, if briefly, taking a couple of rolls of film mostly of the Duomo. In the meanwhile, if you are planning a hotel stay in the area you will find it useful to read the brief entry of my diary for Sept. 13, 2000, which also has one more photo; for much more complete and detailed information, you should see the websites below, of course.

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Page updated: 6 Dec 17