Capodimonte is an Italian town of 1.683 inhabitants in the province of Viterbo in Lazio; it is about 25 km from the capital Rome.
The town is located on a promontory of Lake Bolsena, formed over 300,000 years ago following the calderic collapse of some volcanoes belonging to the Volsini mountain chain, and occupied since the Bronze Age. The town is dominated by the Rocca Farnese.
A long volcanic sand beach, flanked by Italian gardens, is one of the most characteristic points of Capodimonte.
The large protohistoric and Etruscan center of Bisenzo and the Bisentina island are part of the Capodimonte area.
Capodimonte has long been a popular tourist destination for its timeless charm. The inhabited center is perched on a promontory overlooking Lake Bolsena, from which it offers a spectacular panorama.
Evidences of its Etruscan origins have unfortunately been lost, but those of the medieval period are alive and radiant, especially of the Byzantine period. It was under the lordship of the Farnese family that Capodimonte lived its brightest moment, and it is precisely in those years that the village completely changed, becoming the pearl of Bolsena that we know today.
There are numerous architectures that take us back to that time, so much so that the hands seem to have stopped, in this corner of paradise.
One of the most interesting points of the village is undoubtedly the splendid Rocca Farnese, dating back to the 11th century. It was originally a square-plan tower, but in the 16th century it was transformed into an octagonal noble palace: important historical figures such as Lucrezia Borgia and numerous Popes resided here.
It is therefore not surprising that the fortress itself is the beating heart of the ancient inhabited center of Capodimonte, from which dozens of small panoramic alleys unfold.
A short distance away, we find the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta, which houses valuable works of art, including stucco and paintings.
Let’s begin our tour in this beautiful medieval village!
Romantic Medieval Village in Lazio
Bisenzio, or rather Bisenzo, was the name of an ancient city on the shores of Lake Bolsena, which was definitively abandoned in 1816 due to malaria.
About 3 km from Capodimonte, on the southern shore of Lake Bolsena, there is a mountainous promontory on which the settlement of Bisenzo (Bisentium or Visentium) was located, inhabited since the final Bronze Age, but now uninhabited. The ancient city of Bisenzo gave its name to the nearby Bisentina island.
In the early Iron Age, the center occupied an area of about 100 hectares, taken over the valley floor took on a certain importance. In the Etruscan age Bisenzo was known for the artisanal production of footwear and ceramics, now preserved in museums around the world. In this period, he clashed hard with the city of Vulsinii (Orvieto) for the dominion of the lake, a clash won by the latter city which, in fact, imposed its name on the lake itself which, later, the Romans called Lacus Volsiniensis. The center was of some importance only until about 500 BC.
Destroyed by the Romans, it was rebuilt and remained a town hall in the orbit of the city of Vulci. The historian Gaio Plinio Cecilio Secondo included it in the list of major Etruscan cities. In the Christian age, Bisenzo was a bishopric. Destroyed and sacked by the Saracens and Lombards, the episcopal see was moved to Castro.
Following these events, many survivors took refuge in the centers of the district. In 1254 a castle was built there which extended its power in the area of the lake and clashed harshly with the municipalities of Orvieto and Viterbo. In 1269, at the behest of Pope Boniface VIII, it was forfeited in the Patrimony of San Pietro and, during the fifteenth century, it passed under the control of the Farnese family, entering in 1537 in the duchy of Castro. Due to malaria, Bisenzo was gradually abandoned and, in 1816, with an edict of Pope Pius VII, it was united with Capodimonte. Today only a few ruins remain, including the dovecote, carved into the rock overlooking the lake.
Numerous Etruscan artefacts and burials were found in the archaeological area of Bisenzo both from the Villanovan phase and from the subsequent Orientalizzante and Archaic ones. Many tombs have been looted and damaged by the action of the “tombaroli”.
Bisentina Island is one of the two islands of Lake Bolsena, the largest in area and belongs entirely to the municipal area of Capodimonte. Cited by Dante in the Divine Comedy, it is located near the western shore, a few kilometers away from the promontory where the ancient Etruscan-Roman city of Bisenzio once stood, from which it takes its name. Today uninhabited, since 2017 it belongs to the Rovati Foundation.
The island, triangular in shape, is dominated by the relief of Mount Tabor towards the north while the southern part declines in a flat shape. It preserves woods and numerous arboreal species of great value including secular trees.
The archaeological finds unearthed allow the Etruscan and Roman presence on the island to be affirmed with reasonable certainty, probably also in the form of small stable settlements dependent on nearby Visentum. In 1989, a pirogue was found not far from Punta Calcino, while the island preserves the remains of caves and tombs excavated in ancient times.
In the Middle Ages, it offered refuge to the inhabitants of the coastal countries destroyed by the Lombards and the Saracens and an autonomous municipality was established. Around the year 1000, a small village was built there which, according to the chronicles of the time, rebelled against the dominion of Orvieto. It then ended under the dominion of Guglielmo da Vico and in the thirteenth century it was conquered and destroyed, together with Bisenzio, by Pope Urban IV. Urban IV imposed his name on the island, so much so that for some time it was called Urban Island.
The now empty island became a prison for heretics sentenced to life imprisonment and a refuge for hermits who stopped at the church of San Giovanni Battista, the ancient parish of the village. At the end of the 14th century it became the property of the Farnese family.
In 1431, Pope Eugene IV authorized the construction of a Franciscan convent entrusted to the Observant Friars Minor. Ranuccio Farnese instead started the construction of the church of San Giacomo and Cristoforo which became the mausoleum of the family. In 1588 Cardinal Alessandro Farnese the Younger ordered its expansion, also having the lead dome built, visible also from the mainland, it is an original project by Vignola, later realized by one of his pupils.
The friars of the island were responsible for the construction of the seven churches scattered along the perimeter of the island, built on the inspiration of the seven main churches of Rome.
The island was visited by Pope Pius II (who remembered the visit in the Commentaries) after celebrating mass, he had lunch with his court in the shadow of a large poplar. In honor of the Pope, a stake of boats was held.
In June 1469 it hosted the general congregation of the Order of Observants.
Under Paul III, the Bisentina island entered the domains of the Duchy of Castro and then returned to the Church in 1649.
In 1599, due to isolation, the Friars Minor abandoned the convent and moved to the Church of Santa Maria del Giglio in Bolsena. They were replaced by the Capuchin Friars and later, definitively abandoned at the end of the 17th century.
In 1871 the Piedmontese businessman Alarico Patti became owner of the island. In 1912 it was sold by the heirs to the princess Beatrice Spada who made the island its country residence by creating an Italian garden and a small Liberty-style marina. It then passed by inheritance to Princess Ornella Ravaschieri Fieschi and the Del Drago family.
Between the seventies and nineties of the twentieth century the island was made open to the public with excursions and guided tours. The island also hosted classical music concerts.
In 2017, it was purchased by the Lombard family of the Rovati, pharmaceutical entrepreneurs. On March 25, 2018 it was reopened to the public after fifteen years of closure on the FAI Days.
Rocca Farnese rises in the heart of Tuscia which, amidst splendid unchanged landscapes, preserves the most important memories of the Etruscans and the Renaissance residences and gardens of Caprarola, Vasanello, Vignanello, Bomarzo, Villa Lante and Capodimonte on Lake Bolsena.
With its sixteenth-century bulk, built around the medieval tower, it characterizes the entire historic center.
It has been unfinished for centuries, with an appearance halfway between a fortress and a palace. The recent restoration of the facades completed by the new owner has brought back the ancient forms and reopened a Renaissance loggia walled for centuries.
The Palace, which stands in the center of Ischia di Castro, is the oldest Farnese residence still in existence.
The original fortress was built in the thirteenth century and was transformed into a palace in the sixteenth century, according to a project attributed to Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.
In I527 Pierluigi Farnese signed a letter written on behalf of Emperor Charles V, communicating that he was writing “from my Palazzo di Ischia”.
Ischia was part of the Duchy of Castro, sovereign state of the Farnese on the border between Tuscany and the Papal States. Since the end of the duchy, in 1649, the palace has passed to the Apostolic Chamber, then to the Capranica and later to the Piermartini.
The current owner is Stefano Aluffi Pentini.
Today, Palazzo Farnese is surrounded by a garden with monumental trees and by hedges and flower beds that with their “Italian” design create numerous corners of relaxation.
In the nineteenth century, the first exotic plants such as magnolia, palms and oleanders were introduced, which today constitute an important arboreal heritage.
A curiosity: in Capodimonte and its Rocca Farnese is linked the story of Giulia Farnese, sister of Pope Paolo III, which many scholars claim was born right in the rooms of this Palace.
Giulia was introduced to Rodrigo Borgia’s court. She was very close to the Borgia elected Pope in 1492 with the name of Alexander VI. Rodrigo’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, was the same age as Giulia and she too is among the characters who stayed in the Rocca.
About 400,000 years ago, following a long series of volcanic eruptions throughout the territory, a huge area of 270 sq km sank several hundred meters; this immense chasm that volcanologists call “caldera” slowly began to flood, thanks to the waters brought by the rains and springs. Thus was born the lake of Boi sena, the largest volcanic lake in Italy, which, 120,000 years ago was further enriched by two splendid islands, the Martana and the Bisenti-na, two craters that formed and exploded at the inland of the lake, marking the end of the volcanic complex Volsino, which still today shows its past power through the thermal springs of which the territory is rich.
Its waters are clear and transparent, the result of the lack of pollution, and fishing is the main economic activity, thanks to the variety of fish species; it is surrounded by hills partly luxuriant with agricultural crops (vines, olive trees, potatoes, legumes) and partly covered by woods. In 1959 the submerged remains of a Villanovan settlement from the Iron Age (IX – VIII century BC) were discovered in “Gran Carro” (km 108 of the S.S.Cassia). From this area, in the course of 23 years of research, many fragments of pottery, bronze, lithic, wooden and bone objects have been recovered, which have been collected in the Territorial Museum of Lake Bolsena, which is based in the lake town of the same name.
Around the Bolsena lake, large tracts of land still resist where the typical lake environment reigns made of reeds, willows and aquatic vegetation.
The lake adds a great variety of birds to the richness of the fish fauna, consisting not only of the whitefish, but also of eels, pikes, perches and lactans, which nest among the rushes and reeds. Bird watchers can find a true paradise here, populated by mallards, teals, blue herons, kingfishers, moorhens, cormorants, and other species.
The nature lover who visits the lake, in addition to the fauna and botanical presences, can also admire other emergencies, such as the “stones thrown” at the height of km 112 of the SS Cassia, near Bolsena.
It is a dense network of parallel fractures that furrows the rocky wall so as to isolate blocks of stone (leucitite) with a pentagonal or hexagonal base that seem to be embedded in the escarpment.
Museum of Inland Water Navigation
The Museum of Inland Water Navigation (MNAI) is an archaeological / anthropological museum owned by the Municipality of Capodimonte (VT).
The municipal museum of Capodimonte, in the province of Viterbo, was created to exhibit the monòssila pirogue of the Bronze Age, recovered in Lake Bolsena, on the Bisentina Island, in 1989. The pirogue, obtained from a single beech trunk, 6.16 m long, it is probably a rare example of a double pirogue, unique in Lazio, as suggested by the two appendages, originally perforated. The monòssila pirogue was dated between the end of the Middle Bronze Age and the final Bronze Age (1365-1020 BC).
Starting from the monòssila pirogue of the Bronze Age, the exhibition itinerary illustrates centuries of uses, traditions and technologies in the naval sector of inland waters. From the first rudimentary boats, in fact, first the raft and then, in part, the monòssila pirogue, derive the traditional Italian boats, including the “barkka” of Lake Bolsena, the typical fishing boat used in these areas at least since medieval times, considered, like the boat of Lake Trasimeno, probably derived from the raft, and the “naue” from the lake of Posta Fibreno, whose longitudinal structure and the absence of bearing structures of a certain importance, indicate the originated from single-axle boats.
In the two-year period 2017/18, the museum underwent major expansions of its display system thanks, on the one hand, to research carried out from the beginning of 2018 on the Lazio and Umbrian territory, which led to the identification of two interesting historic boats, later acquired by the MNAI: the first is not a work boat, but a pleasure boat, typical of Lake Bracciano. This is the sailing boat known as “Sabatina”, created in the 1930s by the brothers Eugenio and Giuseppe Cerocchi and by Federico Zunini, for local sailing competitions. The specimen now exhibited at the museum is Sabatina 22, made of marine plywood. Thanks to the information obtained from the heirs of the Cerocchi brothers, it was also possible to trace the name of the craftsman who made it, probably during the sixties, Roberto Scanu.
The second museum boat also comes from Lake Bracciano. This is the typical “pointed” fishing boat that belonged to a fisherman from Trevignano Romano, Sergio Gazzella, called Sese ‘, as reported on the bow of the boat. This boat, which is only one of the two types in use in Lake Bracciano (the other is the so-called “battana”, with the bow cut), is very similar in shape to the boat of Lake Bolsena, but is of more size small, between 4 and 5 meters in length (against the almost seven meters of the boat on Lake Bolsena).
Church of San Carlo
The church of San Carlo in Capodimonte is located in a corner of the square of the same name in the historic city center and runs alongside a street dedicated to the same saint. Oriented according to the axis that goes from south-east to north-west and part of the building fabric of the village, this single-room factory with two side chapels on each side and rectangular termination presents itself outside with a facade set on the hut model and is raised above the floor by means of a stone base, given the steep terrain of the terrain.
Consequently, to enter the liturgical hall it is necessary to climb a staircase. Specifically, this develops in two ramps parallel to the prospect and differently organized: on the left (east) four steps take shape while, on the right (west), there is a staircase of twelve steps. Devoid of other significant adjectives, this completely whitewashed view is therefore characterized only by the staircase and by the presence of an entrance with a triangular tympanum adorned with some decorations worked on the stone framing. In axis also takes place a rectangular window while, on the left (east), a tuff masonry left face-view indicates the service structures at the place of worship: a warehouse (with the sacristy behind it) and the square bell tower, solved this last in a single-level tower pierced according to the four fronts by simple single-lancet windows with no decorative elements. Inside, the hall is austere in its vestments and rhythmic along the perimeter walls by pavements of Tuscan pilasters ended in elevation by a slightly jutting cornice.
Four chapels enriched by altars with stuccos and variously decorated provide an example of local tastes and patronage, evident in the family crests hanging above. As for the presbytery area, it is obtained inside the nave, raised by a step and houses on the back wall only the main altar: a painted wooden artefact with the Holy Sacrament and a window (west). On the left (east), however, a door leads into the sacristy: a rectangular windowed space covered by a white plastered vaulted ceiling and in communication with a room with a flat ceiling used as a storage and equipped with an open door on Piazza San Carlo.
In counter-façade, a wooden compass filters the passage between inside and outside. Laterally (east), another door allows you to go up to the bell tower. Lighting is guaranteed by a series of rectangular windows: two pairs above the cornice on the sides of the classroom, one on the facade and one last on the wall to the right of the presbytery, located at a lower level than the others. The roof, of the trussed type with thunderbolts, rests directly on the load-bearing masonry and exhibits a frame with exposed beams and tiles. Currently, the church is open to the public and used during the winter for the celebration of mass.