The hidden pleasure of Civita Castellana

Civita Castellana appears to be a Lazio town lost inside a web of new roads. Appearances can deceive. The old centre lies beyond an unexpected canyon and at first glance is rather run-down. Yet, this erstwhile Faliscan capital on the Via Amerina, has a host of fine churches and early modern buildings in need of a little love.

I was here after visiting its post-Faliscan successor, Falerii Novi, 6 kilometres outside the maze of the roads. No canyons here, in 240-41 BC the Romans moved the Faliscans to this new, planned town within a rectangular fortification rather as colonial powers have throughout history. The mighty walls are impressive as is the main gate leading into the town, today mostly fields. A fading plan made by the British School at Rome’s geophysical team around 2000 shows that the place was once packed with Roman civic buildings and dwellings. Now there are only sheep.

Falerii Novi

It is not the ancient remains that make this place but the monumental abbey of S. Maria of the Faliscans. This Cluny-esque complex has a fine 12th-century basilica, guest and palace quarters (a pseudo-tower) and then an immense cloister. The windows of the church are cut from spolia marble but the basilica otherwise boasts an elegant ashlar. Not so the cloister: all the stone has been quarried from the erstwhile Roman town.

A path leads to the one excavated area, the forum. Overgrown and in need of a little basic attention (following a makeover perhaps a decade ago), it is more than a little disappointing. Site maintenance is a Mediterranean cultural challenge…..

S. Maria of the Faliscans

After the archaeology, lunch: Civita Castellana now boasts the Sala di Comitissa (http://www.saladellacomitissa.it), a restaurant that once graced Baschi, further up the Tiber valley. Now occupying the Palazzo Fortuna in the Via Garibaldi, as ever it operates to dizzy standards with extraordinary wines and glorious dishes. In its new setting, the minimalist modernism of the experience, the attention to culinary detail, and the congeniality (dare I say) now make Civita Castellana and Falerii Novi places well worth visiting.

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