The Abbey of Farfa was one of the most famous monastic centers of the Middle Ages, a real jewel set in the green of the Lazio Apennines, north of the Rome countryside.
The village of Farfa and the Abbey
Farfa is a small and characteristic village in the province of Rieti that has developed around the famous and homonymous abbey. The traditional houses are of equal height and arranged in rows: on the ground floor there were shops with a typical wooden lintel that were rented by the monks. At the beginning of the 20th century the village was restored and largely rebuilt by order of Count Volpi of Misurata, his last owner. You can reach the Farfa Abbey from the main road and this complex is one of the most beautiful of Central Italy.
The history of the Abbey of Farfa
The Abbey of Farfa was one of the most famous monastic centers of the Middle Ages, able to influence for a long time from the religious, cultural and political point of view on large areas of central Italy.
The church and the numerous buildings that make up the complex have undergone several changes over the centuries. The best time to visit this place is spring, but even the first few months of autumn guarantee good weather and quite cool temperatures. We visited the abbey in April and it was a trip that was really worth doing.
At the entrance the guide told us the story of the complex, so as to understand the reasons that have made it important for a long time.
Founded in 680 on the remains of an ancient basilica by order of Tommaso di Maurienne, the duke of Spoleto and Pope Giovanni VII, it was in a strategic position. Materials from the Roman era and classical works of art were used for the construction. Unfortunately we could not see the numerous finds from the Roman period because many of these have been transferred to different museums.
The period of greatest splendor of the abbey was under the Carolingians, especially during the first half of the ninth century. After resisting Saraceni’s attacks for years, the complex was abandoned and collapsed. Only in 967 was occupied by the monks of Cluny, who organized a famous scriptorium where they produced illuminated codes. After 1100 its political and economic importance decreased and often the abbey was given to the most important families of papal Rome, such as the Orsini, the Farnese, the Barberini and the Lante della Rovere. After suppressing the monastic community in 1841, the abbey and the village of Farfa became private property. Only in 1919 the monks come back.
Visit the Abbey of Farfa
The most important building of the abbey is the Church of Santa Maria di Farfa, which stands in the internal courtyard which is accessed through a late Romanesque portal of Anselmo da Perugia. The church is not the original one of the Carolingian period because it was rebuilt in 1492 by order of Cardinal Orsini. Dominated by the large and crenellated tower (nicknamed “Il Palazzaccio“), it has a very simple façade. The gothic entrance portal stands out, which incorporates a fresco depicting the Madonna col Bambino.
We were told that it is a work of the late fifteenth century, of the Umbrian school. In the façade, around the rose window and the tympanum, findings from the Roman era have been included, as parts of sarcophagi.
The interior is divided into three naves by granite columns and cipolin marble with Ionic and Doric capitals. These are also of Roman origin and have been recovered from abandoned buildings in the area. The most beautiful nave is the central one because it has a wooden coffered ceiling completely decorated in gold and blue and following it, leads to the presbytery where there are large gothic windows that give light to the whole building. All the walls are frescoed with marvelous paintings among which, what has aroused more amazement in us, is the great Last Judgment, created by a Flemish painter.
Even the inside of the bell tower is frescoed, but most of the paintings are unfortunately damaged.
Leaving the church you come to another large courtyard with a fountain in the center and from here you can enter the “Chiostrino“, nicknamed the “Longobardo Cloister” for its origin. Instead the great cloister was built in the seventeenth century and allows access to the crypt of the Carolingian period. Discovered during the excavations of 1938, it houses a Roman sarcophagus from the 2nd century. Also from the cloister one can access the library, where there are over 40,000 volumes, incunabula and codes, and the Civic Museum of Fara Sabina.
The visit to the Abbey of Farfa was a succession of pleasant emotions. We had heard about it but never would have imagined that it was so beautiful