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Just a couple of hours North on a train ride from Rome one can explore the less discovered hills and towns of Tuscia. This is a quiet land and an ancient one too. It can be quite forgotten by tourists compared to the heavy traffic that envelops nearby Rome and Tuscany.
Signs of the Past
Viterbo is a medium sized walled city that has one of the most perfectly preserved Medieval old-towns in central Italy. A trip down its labyrinth of tiny streets will reveal awe-inspiring scenes and buildings which show layers of construction from Etruscan times down to our own. Many of the Etruscan stones upon which the original city was founded serve as foundations; the medieval stonework is often exhibited in ornately carved arches, flowery motifs and symbols that adorn mantels of windows and doors.
Churches and Squares
One will be amazed at the number of churches in such a small town, each has an often dark interior only enlivened by some of the frescos still present on the walls. One can enter the Medieval town directly from the train station by entering at Porta Romana. Once inside, follow the main street (via cavor) downhill towards the center. Along the way be sure to stop and browse the endless storefronts, which range in everything from the most current fashion to the bountiful produce of the local countryside. The street finally leads to a large square, which is the town hall and other municipal buildings. The city is full of fountains in every square and their various sizes and designs make them great works of art.
Cathedral and Papal Palace
From the main square simply head to the right and follow the signs that lead to the city’s most famous set of buildings, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the enchanting Palazzo dei Papi – the Popes’ palace. The designs of this complex are tangible evidence of the immensity of the Papal wealth of that period. The Popes for some time lived here instead of Rome and the palace and cathedral tour are quite worthwhile to get the entire history of the place. One may request a very inexpensive tour in the cathedral gift shop. The building just to the right of the Cathedral is famous for the beginning of the conclave, or process, which exists until today, by which the Pope is selected. The electors could not come to an agreement so the Viterbo populace locked them inside until they made a decision, this is the still the same process today wherein the Papal electors lock themselves in to take a vote.
Just adjacent to this neighborhood is the San Pellegrino quarter. This is perhaps the quietest and most perfectly preserved section of the city. The streets are so narrow there are no vehicles and everything is so well preserved one would think they are walking around on a movie set. The area is especially romantic at night as the streets are often lined with candles and isolated little restaurants emit smells of wonderful dishes. It should be mentioned that almost any restaurant in Viterbo will render an excellent menu for very agreeable prices. There is not a big tourism industry here, so the food and services are rendered to all as if you are a local.
Should you be looking to explore a bit further beyond the city, or looking to take advantage of the natural wonders in this area, there is a thermal bath nearby known as Le Terme dei Papi. This area of Tuscia is full of bubbling hot springs rich in mineral content. Le Terme dei Papi is a hotel and wellness center just 2km from the city. One can reach it by getting on the #2 bus which comes hourly to the main bus station or by taking a taxi. These baths have been around since before the Romans and are historically documented to have been used from those times up till the present day.