This short, two-day tour of the Roman countryside takes us first along the trail of the ancient Romans and their life in the countryside, and then to Anagni, known as the city of the Popes, to view the breathtaking frescoed crypt inside the main cathedral.
It’s easier than you think to organize an out of town excursion to escape from the chaos and the city smog, but above all to relax. The landscape is enchanting especially if you admire it during a tour of the Roman countryside.
A Tour to Discover the Roman Countryside
Thus combining a thirst for knowledge and a desire to have fun, one can venture into the hilly areas surrounding the Eternal City. In the Middle Ages, for example, when talking about the territory outside Rome, the area was limited to the land between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the hills of the Tolfa Mountains, the Colli Albani and the Sabatini, Cornicolani, Tiburtini and Prenestini mountains.
Starting from one of the most important and most ancient roads of the city, the Appian Way, you can leave the city center and either stop to visit the catacombs of San Callisto and San Sebastiano, or go straight toward the flavors, colors and scents in the hills of Frascati. Those who love wine know that in addition to admiring the landscape you can stop at local producers and taste excellent local products. The passage is short from the aqueducts of Rome to the Castelli Romaniarea. History has its charm and the pleasure of discovery is priceless.
Palestrina and Anagni
If you have at least a couple of days or more, to visit the Roman Countryside, you can head to the southeast towards Palestrina and Anagni.
This cultural excursion allows for intervals of fun, especially if you stop by the town of Zagarolo, to do a little ‘VIP watching’ and see if you can catch a glance of famous actors such as the handsome Gabriel Garko. Or taste fantastic wines and local products in a winery. Here you will not only have the pleasure of tasting, but also that of learning how to taste wines and recognize their organoleptic characteristics, as you learn to therefore fully appreciate each wine for its original flavor and ‘personality’.
What to See in Palestrina
We move on to the town of Palestrina… What is there to see and do in Palestrina? Located roughly 40 kilometers from Rome, we have a real jewel where we can admire and various stages of history. Going in chronological order we can start the tour from the Hellenistic age at the pagan sanctuary dedicated to the Goddess Fortuna Primigenia built in the second century BC. Above this sanctuary, and partly covering it, the Barberini Palace was built during the Renaissance period. Palazzo Barberini is the location of the National Archaeological Museum of Palestrina, inside which the history of Rome is told on three floors, and boasts a collection of busts, statues, jewels, artefacts, tombstones, sarcophagi and the very famous mosaic of the Nile River. Near the museum stands the Cathedral of St. Agapito, its façade showing evidence of different architectural styles belonging to different eras and how it has changed over time. To complete the archaeological visit of this town, make your way to the Forum of Palestrina, which was used in Republican and Imperial times and represented an important commercial and strategic junction.
Walking around town can work up quite an appetite. Day time or evening, the center of town offers a wide array of local eateries with traditional Italian food such as pasta with cheese sauce and black pepper, home-made country style fettuccini pasta, lamb, chicken with peppers and delicious Roman meat dishes.
For music lovers, take advantage of visit to the home and museum of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a Renaissance composer who revolutionized polyphonic music and wrote famous pieces for the Sistine Chapel.
What to See in Anagni
A tour through Rome’s countryside must include a visit to Anagni. In the City of Popes, among antique palaces and medieval streets, pass by the Porta Cererewhere you can find verses written by Dante from his Divina Commedia regarding the famous Outrage of Anagni: “Perché men paia il mal futuro e ‘l fatto, veggio in Alagna intrar lo fiordaliso, e nel vicario suo Cristo esser catto”.
You won’t want to miss the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria (also known as Duomo di Anagni) to view its particular mosaic floor, and to visit the Crypt of San Magno. In particular, the crypt presents a cycle of medieval frescoes so marvelous that they merit the nickname of the ‘Sistine Chapel of the twelfth century’.
Visitors who prefer to take a tour of the other marvelous churches can proceed to the Church of Santa Chiara and then to the Church of Sant’Andrea, followed by the Church of the Madonna delle Grazie. However, those wishing to skip the places of worship can go directly from Porta Cerere to Palazzo Boniface VIII and visit the adjacent Civic Museum.
What else is there to see in Anagni? Barnekow House, or the house bought and completely transformed by the Hussar-Swedish painter, Alberto Barnekow. It is one of the most curious attractions in town. It was originally called Casa Gigli and, according to some legends, even Dante Alighieri stayed there.
The architecture of Anagni has an irresistible charm thanks to its many peculiarities of artistic inspiration. However, Casa Barnekow remains a real mystery also due to the strange tombstones and the enigmatic frescoes that are found both inside and outside the house. All the works of the artist, made during disturbing hallucinations and focused on esoteric and mystical themes, contribute to the proliferation of the legends of his extravagant lifestyle.