You may wish to see a map of the region and a short introduction to this section first.
Viterbo, which the
old chroniclers called "the city of beautiful fountains and
beautiful women," is now rightly known as "the Nuremberg
of Italy." Every street is a study. Such wonderful old
houses, with sculptured cornices, Gothic windows, and
heavy outside staircases resting on huge corbels! Such a
wealth of sparkling water playing around the grand Gothic
fountains, and washing the carved lions and other monsters
which adorn them!
Augustus J. C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875
Medieval Viterbo could rely on an aqueduct built in 1268 to supply water to the Papal Palace which was located on one of the three hills of the town; from there a system of underground conduits distributed the water to the southern part of the town where the neighbourhood of Pianoscarano is located. The fountain at Pianoscarano was built in 1376 and it replaced a previous one; it is decorated with lions, the symbol of Viterbo.
A sort of spindle at the centre of the basin characterizes the medieval fountains of Viterbo of which that shown above is one of the earliest examples (1251).
Fountain in Piazza della Morte
The fountain in Piazza della Morte is very similar to the previous one and it was built in the same period; the upper part of the spindle of these early fountains was decorated with classical motifs (palmettes, acanthus leaves, fir cones).
Fontana Grande is perhaps the oldest fountain of Viterbo, as it was built in 1212; its design was modified in 1424 with the addition of the central column, a reference to the heraldic symbol of Oddone Colonna (Pope Martin V, the reigning pope).
(left) Fountain in Piazza Alighieri; (right) detail of fountain in Piazza Crocetta
Many fountains were built at the initiative of the
inhabitants of a neighbourhood which was identified with a parish church; the fountain in Piazza Alighieri was built by the
parishioners of S. Giovann degli Zoccoli in 1268.
In the fountain of Piazza della Crocetta the traditional decoration of the upper part of the spindle was replaced by a small sculpture portraying an event of the life of St. Rose of Viterbo who lived in the neighbourhood and who is the patron saint of the town.
Records say that this small medieval church existed already in 1080; it is known for an episode which occurred on March 13, 1271 and which is mentioned by Dante:
|Poco pi¨ oltre il centauro s'affisse
sovr'una gente che 'nfino a la gola
parea che di quel bulicame uscisse.
Mostrocci un'ombra da l'un canto sola,
dicendo: źColui fesse in grembo a Dio
lo cor che 'n su Tamisi ancor si cola╗.
(Dante, Inferno, Canto XII, vv. 115-120)
|A little farther on the Centaur stopped
Above a folk, who far down as the throat
Seemed from that boiling stream to issue forth.
A shade' he showed us on one side alone,
Saying: "He cleft asunder in God's bosom
The heart that still upon the Thames is honoured."
Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
King Charles I of Sicily (Charles of Anjou) was in Viterbo to manoeuvre the outcome of a conclave; his retinue included Henry of Almain, nephew of King Henry III of England; in the Baron's War Henry of Almain sided with the king against Simon de Montfort, of whom he was also a nephew; Guy de Montfort, son of Simon, escaped to Italy where he became King Charles' representative in Tuscany; he came to Viterbo with his younger brother and they killed Henry of Almain while he was attending mass in this church; they were seeking revenge for the brutal death of their father at the Battle of Evesham. Henry's body was buried at Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire, but his heart is buried in Westminster Abbey, by the shrine of the Confessor. Dante placed Guy de Montfort among the violent who are immersed in Phlegethon, a river of boiling blood and fire.
The murderer was leaving the church and boasting of his vengeance to his followers, when one of them reminded him that his father, Simon de Montfort, had been dragged in the dust, upon which, returning to the altar, and seizing the lifeless prince by the hair, he dragged him into the piazza. Hare
While the fašade of Chiesa del Ges¨ was decorated with two lions, S. Giovanni degli Zoccoli contributed to the medieval bestiary of Viterbo with two eagles, the symbol of St. John the Evangelist to whom the church was dedicated; the rose (XIIth century) was decorated with the symbols of all four Evangelists and with a thin mosaic frame.
In May 1944 Viterbo was heavily bombed and many of its monuments were damaged including the front part of S. Sisto, a church built in the XIth century; it has two bell towers, one of which is lodged in a huge tower of the walls which protected a gate which was closed when Porta Romana was opened.
of S. Francesco has an outside pulpit, whence S. Bernardino
of Siena used to address the people. It contains several beautiful thirteenth-century tombs. Hare
The 1944 bombing destroyed the Franciscan church on the north-eastern hill of Viterbo; it was built in the XIIIth century and the reconstruction is an attempt to show its original medieval appearance; it houses the gisants (funerary monuments) of Popes Clement IV and Adrian V.
S. Maria della Salute: (left) portal; (right) details of its decoration
Many churches of Assisi (e.g. S. Chiara) are decorated with a pink stone which is quarried in the mountain behind that town;
bearing this in mind Ugolino di Fardo, a member of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi, decided to decorate with that stone a small church which was part of a religious institution he founded for the care of the sick. The stone used at Viterbo for the construction of churches and palaces is a light peperino, so this XIVth century church stands out from the other medieval buildings (also for its elaborate decoration which depicts acts of mercy with a clear educational purpose).
The image in the background of this page is based on a detail of the church.
(left/centre) Palazzo Gatti; (right) a nearby fountain with the family's coat of arms
In the XIIIth century the Gatti were the most powerful family of Viterbo; Raniero Gatti promoted the construction of
the Papal Palace and of the adjoining loggia which was decorated with the Gatti coats of arms.
The original family palace was made up by six towers linked by smaller buildings; of these only one (shortened) tower remains.
The finest medieval houses of Viterbo are characterized by a profferlo, a decorated external staircase leading to the main door; it is a heritage of rural buildings where the ground floor was utilized for stables and people lived above. The quarter of S. Pellegrino in the southern part of the town retains several medieval houses with more, or less, elaborate profferli.
(left) Casa Poscia; (right) Via S. Pellegrino