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While travelling throught Italy, a few kilometers before reaching Rome, Goethe passed by the small village of Civita Castellana, and wrote: […] the volcanic terrain [...] is carved (by water) into extremely picturesque rocky shapes, overhanging cliffs and other accidental features …” 

When one reads the impressed diaries of this extraordinary traveller, the mind inevitably flies to the rather diversfified and evocative landscape that frames the small town: huge reddish volcanic tufa boulders, high cliffs hanging over brisk-flowing streams and rivers that run through the territory carving it into valleys... a privileged high ground from where one can enjoy the undulating panorama as far as the eye can see. The Castellaccio (old medieval tower) is just that: a privileged high place, north of the residential town center, located on a huge wedge-shaped strip of rock that protrudes between two waterways, Rio Purgatorio and Rio Maggiore – the latter being a small tributary of the river Tiber – and offers an exclusive vista of the small town and the surrounding natural scenery; the strip of rock is an unusually tapered tufa spur on which charming Nature coexists with unique archaeological traces of millennial-old civilizations dating back to the Faliscan period and the Middle Ages.

 

These uncommonly well preserved archeological vestiges have sparked the interest of unnumbered experts who have been researching the territory of the ancient settlement of Falerii Veteres since the end of the 19th century. Such renowned archaeologists as Cozza, Pasqui, Gamurrini and Mengarelli chose this very area, known as Ager Faliscus, as the starting point for the creation of the Archaeological Map of Italy: the detailed written literature and graphic documents based on their surveys are still nowadays recognized as an undisputed contribution to the knowledge of the local historical and archaeological heritage. For centuries archaeologists as well as writers or painters looking for inspiring and charming views for their works of art, and just curious travellers used to reach the Castellaccio by crossing the ancient stone bridge of Terrano, which still exists to this day.

 The present-day bridge follows the original Etruscan structure which, still nowadays, can be  easily recognized in a portion of the left parapet, and is a clear indication of the construction technique used back then, known as the emplekton technique: two rows of square tufa blocks – simply laid one next the other without any mortar – on either side of the bridge served as side walls and the core between them filled with less fine materials such as rubble, soil, and clay; emplekton was then used in treaties as a general term for “mixed masonry” widely used both in ancient Greece and the Italic Peninsula. The Terrano bridge has only one fornix: one end rested on the tufa embankment, while the opposite one lay on a rock spur It served as a crossing over the relatively wide Rio Maggiore and was also part of the road system serving the region, the main road of which was the Via Falerina, a fundamental route for travels and trade in the area of Mounts Cimini.

A fork of the Via Falerina headed off from its main track towards Falerii Veteres, but was interrupted at the point where the two rivers Rio Maggiore and Rio Purgatorio almost converge into a gorge down a steep cliff; the Terrano bridge was the solution to “bridge” the gap, as explained in the Archaegological Map of Italy.

The Faliscan civilization is witnessed by a huge number of interesting chamber tombs making up the necropolis of Terrano, the best preserved burial site of the whole Falerii Veteres area. This set of tombs was carved in the tufa plateau delimited by the two waterways; this isolated position prevented them from being affected and inevitably  destroyed by the later growth of the urban area, which unfortunately happened to other burial grounds located closer to the city walls that ended up being literally obliterated by the modern changes in the urban fabric. The Terrano necropolis was located north-west of the Faliscan inhabited area, closer to it than the necropolis of Valsiarosa, and thus can be considered as a kind of appendage of the town itself. Its topographic continuity is also validated by chronological considerations: whilst the “peak period” for the necropolis of Valsiarosa was the VI century, it was only in the V century that the Faliscans started to exploit the Terrano high ground with funerary purposes; moreover the characteristics of the chamber tombs lead experts to believe that the chamber tombs were not constructed at an early stage.

Further north, in addition to buildings dating back to later periods, there is group of hypogeum tombs in an amazing state of preservation. Here again the most common features of the Faliscan funerary architecture can be easily recognized: the dromos, a corridor dug in tufa providing access to the quadrangular chamber; the stone slabs that traditionally closed the access to the tomb chamber; the rock pillar located in the centre of the chamber that gives the room a peculiar u-shape; burial recesses cut into the walls, their openings usually closed with shingles, succumbed to time and plundering. The considerable number of recesses in the walls as well as the fairly large size of the chamber are clear signs of a mature funerary architecture; furthermore archaeologists do believe that the tomb recesses were re-used several times.

One more peculiar feature of the Terrano necropolis is an antechamber leading into the main room thus allowing for a less compact organization of space. 

No less important than these archaeological traces that witness the extensive use of the territory by the Faliscan people are the medieval vestiges erected right over the necropolis, most probably for military or defensive purposes. As soon as you approach the Castellaccio, the first medieval structure stands out before your eyes: a stand-alone square-shaped tower, the dominant position of which suggests it was quite certainly a watchtower; the discontinuous plaster patches and some now walled-up windows suggest later refurbishing. The tower has a general rather bare appearance with the exception of its upper portion where ornamental motifs are clearly visible such as the peculiar slightly jutty crenellation, the small rose window on its western façade and, last but not least, the sloping roof.

At a short walking distance from the tower, following a tufa-walled path, you can reach the remains of a military outpost, a mighty wall with several openings behind which soldiers used to watch for movements along the road. The brick pattern of the wall – rough at the base and more elaborate at the upper side – is also an indication of a series of later refurbishments.

Very likely the wall was not the only structure existing in the area, maybe some other constructions made of more perishable materials such as wood just did not preserve to our day. Anyway judging by the presence of the wall and its position with respect to the surrounding area, the complex supposedly served both as a defensive military position and as a point of lookout and control on the underlying roads.

Further on from these ruins, the path first leads into a small oak grove and then into some sparse low vegetation of mainly broom and heather, right on the far end of this tufa spur before it dives into a deep river valley: from the tip you can enjoy an extraordinary and charming view of the Clemetino bridge which is so reminding of the paintings by such XIX century artists as Camille Corot, Edward Lear and Francis Towne who captured the most beguiling panoramas of Civita Castellana.

We now put an end to our evocative account by wishing you an uplifting and inspiring stay at Castellaccio...

 

Estate "Il Castellaccio" -  Via Terrano 4a - Civita Castellana (VT) 

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