Trip to Subiaco

Subiaco the splendid city of sanctuaries

June 17, 2021 | By

Subiaco is an Italian town of 8.921 inhabitants in the metropolitan city of Roma Capitale in Lazio region.

The ancient history of the village of Subiaco still attracts tourists from all over the world. From the many frescoes in the National Library, to the activities on the Aniene River, many are the things to see in this corner of Lazio.


The splendid village of Subiaco – which almost earned the title of Borgo dei Borghi – owes its name to the position it boasts. The translation from Latin is in fact “under the lakes” and the reference is to the three artificial lakes that were generated by the barrier of the Aniene river.

A jump back until 55 A.D. is necessary to retrace the history of this village counted among the most beautiful villages in Italy, at the time when the emperor Nero used a series of dams to obtain artificial bodies of water for the majestic villa built on the right bank of the Aniene, of which today ruins remain.

The municipal territory develops both in the plains and in the mountains and is crossed by the Aniene and dominated by some peaks of the Simbruini Mountains: the peaks that rise are Monte Calvo (1,591 m) and Monte Livata (1,429 m), home of the homonymous ski resort which is the area closest to the city of Rome for winter sports (alpine skiing, telemark, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing).

A vast beech forest extends within the mountain area; its plateau extends over an area of ​​3000 hectares and is protected within the confines of the Simbruini Mountains Regional Natural Park.

In the fourteenth century, the famous poet Petrarca visited Subiaco, and he felt so moved by the beauty of this place to define it the “threshold of Paradise”.

Let’s start our journey through the wonders of this spiritual and out of time gem of Lazio!

The Splendid City

Sanctuary of Sacro Speco

Nestled like a gem in the rocky wall of Monte Taleo, near Subiaco, the Sanctuary of the Sacro Speco for almost a thousand years has housed one of the most significant places of Benedictine spirituality: the cave where, at the beginning of the 6th century, the very young San Benedetto da Norcia lived as a hermit, following the example of the anchor fathers.

Through the period of solitude spent in this harsh and wild place, San Benedetto was able to mature that charisma and that spirituality that in a few years led him to found the first monastic communities along the valley of the Aniene river: the embryo from which the entire western monasticism.

The Sacro Speco, together with the sanctuary of Santa Scolastica, is the only one of the twelve monasteries founded by San Benedetto that has not been destroyed. Evocative to admire and visit, both of which have now become a tourist destination for numerous visitors from all over the world.

The “Sacro Speco, true” swallow’s nest “as it appeared to Pius II in 1461, is built on a rocky wall of Monte Taleo which dominates the valley where the Aniene river flows. Leaning against the overhanging rock it has walls, vaults and stairs, perfectly integrated into the stone to which they rest, and which with their irregularity guarantee an authentic suggestion in those who come to visit it.

Composed of two overlapping churches and chapels and caves, entirely frescoed in different eras, it constitutes a unique monument, for beauty and spirituality. Left as natural as S. Benedetto found it, the cave from which the Benedictine Rule and Order originated, is the heart of the whole complex and where a marble statue is placed (work by Antonio Raggi 1657 Bernini’s disciple) depicting the Saint and the symbolic wicker basket where the shepherds put food.

The upper church is entirely covered with frescoes, works by painters of the Sienese school of the ‘300 and of the Umbrian Marchigiana school at the beginning of the fifteenth century representing the Kiss of Judah, the Flagellation, the escape of the Apostles, St. Francis depicted without a halo and stigmata and scenes from the life of numerous saints. In the lower church you can admire paintings with scenes from the life of St. Benedict; the meeting with San Romano and the retreat in the cave; a painting depicting Pope Innocent III holding a sign with the bubble on it where the rents were assigned to the Monastery of S. Benedetto.

Here, there is also the Scala Santa which used S. Benedetto to reach the cave. Going even further down you access what, until 1870, was the small cemetery of the monks of the Speco.

Adjacent to it is the Rose Garden of San Benedetto, the bush between whose thorns San Benedetto threw himself to overcome the temptation, and where San Francesco, during his visit to the Sacro Speco in 1224, grafted roses. The episode in which San Francesco is the protagonist is depicted on a wall by a 17th century fresco by Manenti. From the rose garden it is possible to admire the architectural complex of the sanctuary and the various structures that characterize it. The monastery as it is currently visible was built in the second half of the 13th century

Even today, although surrounded by extraordinary architectural and artistic masterpieces sedimented over the centuries, the cave retains the authentic sense of San Benedetto’s mundi escape, the foundation of every choice of monastic life.

Monastery of Santa Scolastica

The Monastery of Santa Scolastica rises slightly further down the Sacro Speco. Santa Scolastica was the sister of San Benedetto, and this building is part of the fourteen monasteries he founded along his preaching journey, the most important of which is certainly the abbey of Montecassino.

The monastery of Santa Scolastica is one of the monasteries founded in Subiaco by San Benedetto da Norcia; inside there is the cathedral of Santa Scolastica, seat of the ordinary abbot of the territorial abbey of Subiaco.

Santa Scolastica is one of the 12 monasteries founded in Subiaco by San Benedetto da Norcia, the closest to that of San Clemente, where Benedetto himself lived, and having been founded around the year 520, it is the oldest in Italy followed by that of Montecassino, and the oldest Benedictine monastery in the world. It was probably obtained from buildings belonging to the nearby villa of Nero.

Risen with the title of San Silvestro, he soon added to the primitive title that of San Benedetto and Santa Scolastica (in the Liber pontificalis of the pontificate of Pope Leo IV it is remembered under the invocation of these three saints), but after the fifteenth century it was called only Saint Scholastica.

Devastated by the Saracens in the 9th century, it was restored thanks to the support of Pope Gregory IV and Pope Leo IV. The Romanesque church was consecrated by Pope Benedict VII on 4 December 980, the bell tower was erected in 1052 and the Cosmatesque cloister was built by Abbot Lando.

Between the tenth and thirteenth centuries the monastery bought large assets thanks to the donations of sovereigns and clergymen, becoming one of the most powerful fiefdoms of the Papal States.

In 1276 the Holy See reserved the right to elect the abbots of Subiaco, but in 1456 Pope Callixtus III dropped it into the regime of the commenda: commendatory abbots were Juan de Torquemada, Rodrigo Borgia (who had the abbey fortress rebuilt), Antonio and Francesco Barberini, Giovan Angelo Braschi. The command was suppressed by Pope Pius X in 1915 (Coenobium sublacense bubble) and the abbey was brought back to the common law of the nullius abbeys.

After 1770, the abbey church was rebuilt in neoclassical forms on a project by Giacomo Quarenghi.

Belonging to the Cassinese congregation since 1514, in 1850 it was assigned to the abbot Pietro Francesco Casaretto who introduced its reform from which began the congregation which then took the name of Sublacense, today Sublacense Cassinese.

Bombed during the Second World War on May 23rd, 1944, the monastery was later restored.

Lake of San Benedetto

The small lake of San Benedetto is located at the foot of the San Benedetto Monastery, one of the most beautiful places in Italy and is closed by limestone rocks and protected by a lush nature. A small waterfall feeds this small emerald-colored body of water.

What makes this place special is not only its extreme beauty, but also the fact of being hidden. As simple as getting there is, walking through the woods and over precarious wooden bridges and suddenly finding yourself in this wonder gives the idea of a daydream. The San Benedetto lake is unspoiled and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places that crosses the Aniene river. A place where you can swim in extreme tranquillity.

The lake of San Benedetto, in which the Aniene river plunges with a picturesque waterfall, is one of the most beautiful and evocative places in the Simbruini Mountains, a classic destination in the summer for the Sublacensis looking for refreshment, but not only; a must see place.

The small body of water, enclosed by a high amphitheater of limestone rocks, is located downstream of the well-known Benedictine monastery from which it takes its name and despite being reached with a short and pleasant walk it has all the appearance of a real secret paradise away from everything and everyone.

The itinerary begins from the large square with an adjoining picnic area which can be reached quickly by taking the secondary asphalted road that descends to the right immediately beyond the ruins of the villa of Nero, proceeding from Subiaco in the direction of the Benedictine and Jenne monasteries.

Recently, thanks to the work of the Park staff, the short access path was restored which, following the adverse weather conditions of February 2012, was completely unusable and obstructed by the many trees ruined on the ground under the snow weight.

Monte Livata

Monte Livata is a medium altitude mountain (1,429 mt) belonging to the Simbruini mountain range, in Lazio, in the province of Rome, within the territory of the municipality of Subiaco, on the border with the territories of the municipalities of Camerata Nuova, Cervara of Rome, Jenne and Vallepietra. It houses a ski area, divided into several areas, among the most important in Lazio. The mountain is characterized by the presence of grazing animals, such as many buffaloes, cows, stairs and horses.

Located not far from the border with Abruzzo, just 15 kilometers from Subiaco, the Livatese area extends, in the form of a plateau, for about 3000 hectares, in the heart of the Simbruini Mountains Regional Natural Park, surrounded by the beech woods of the Monti Simbruini. Generally identified with the toponym of Monte Livata, or more simply Livata, it is divided into three districts or areas, all united by the karst nature of the soil, but differentiated from each other by altitude and vegetation level of the territory:

Livata, properly so called, located in the lower part of the plateau, extending from an altitude of 1,350 m up to about 1425 m a.s.l., including the areas of the Ring and Valletta. Equipped with shops and services of all kinds (restaurants, bars, residences, hotels, rental of sports and recreational equipment etc.), it offers various sports facilities, including a riding stable, tennis courts, a modern bike park / trial center and a recently built rail slide. It is also known for being the arrival of the Speata®, the famous running race that starts from Subiaco and arrives on the top of the splendid Livatense mountain. It can be reached by bus from Subiaco (piazza Falcone) (COTRAL transport service from Lazio), which is just 15 km away.

Campo dell’Osso, located in an intermediate position, at an altitude of about 1580 m, includes the area of ​​the Fossa dell’Acero; it is about 20 km from Subiaco and 5 km from Monte Livata. The area is crossed by the Viale dei Boschi, the road that connects Livata to the ski resorts of Monna dell’Orso. The urban structure consists mainly of private residences, as well as a hiking refuge, a residence, a hotel (temporarily closed), two restaurants, a bar, a pizzeria, a sports equipment rental and a church. After the boom of summer and winter tourism in Monte Livata in the sixties, the resort offers various sports facilities to be modernized, among them the football field of “I Miceti”, a tennis court and various ski resorts that are no longer in operation. In recent years, efforts have been made to use the slopes of Campo dell’Osso with the use of a moving walkway as a ski lift. In the 2012-2013 season, a cross-country ski track was opened, which with 10 km of track plunges into the splendid natural landscape of the Simbruini Mountains, which develops in the direction of Vallepietra where, in the summer season, the paths leading to to the Sanctuary of the Holy Trinity, a destination for pilgrimages especially on the Sunday after Pentecost. The paths continue to Abruzzo, in the direction of Camporotondo-Cappadocia-Tagliacozzo. [2] Campo dell’Osso is also the starting point for the snowshoe hike to the SAIFAR refuge.

Monna dell’Orso (so-called La Monna), located in the summit area of ​​the plateau, extending from 1618 m to 1758 m above sea level. It is located about 22 km from Subiaco, about 7 km from Livata and only about 2 km from Campo dell’Osso. In 2013, thanks to the joint work of the public and private sectors, the new Monna dell’Orso four-seater chairlift was inaugurated, capable of bringing skiers, hikers and excursionists from an altitude of 1618 m to an altitude of 1758 m.

The medieval bridge of San Francesco

The Medieval bridge of San Francesco is a medieval arch with a segmental arch above the Aniene river of Subiaco. Built in 1358, its single span measures 37 meters. It is a very characteristic bridge, one of the most interesting and most beautiful places in the town, located on the Aniene river, not far from the entrance to the cit.  It takes its name from the nearby convent of San Francesco.

The bridge was built entirely in blocks of a local stone called “Goldfinch” of ocher color, its structure is a single arch, “Donkey Back”, and has rather important measures, its length, in fact, is thirty-seven meters and its height is twenty meters.

The architecture of this medieval bridge is well balanced, the work has come down to us perfectly preserved. The main feature of the bridge is the sighting and control tower above it, which has a quadrangular base and is located at one end of the bridge itself and was close to where the Via Sublacense passed.

The bridge was built at the behest of Abbot Ademaro, in 1356, in this way he wanted to celebrate the victory that the sublacense abbey army had over the Tiburtini, in the battle of Campo d’Arco.

The battle also involved the capture of many prisoners, for their release the inhabitants of Tivoli had to pay a big ransom and it seems that with that money Ademaro had the majestic bridge of San Francesco built.

The bridge was restored in 1789, on this occasion Pius VI went to Subiaco to inaugurate the Arc de Triomphe erected in his honor by the Sublacensis and to consecrate the co-cathedral of Sant’Andrea.

During the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, the splendid Medieval Bridge of San Francesco was awarded the first prize in the international competition “Set of Culture”.

This competition was conceived to reward the best film locations, places of interest and natural sets for film shooting.

Convent of San Francesco

After passing the Aniene river, we find the convent of San Francesco from which, as has been said, the bridge takes its name. Although Subiaco is a Benedictine cradle, it houses a Franciscan convent full of artistic testimonies. The history of this convent is quite simple, San Francesco wanted to know the places where San Benedetto had lived and arrived on a pilgrimage to Subiaco. The abbot of Santa Scolastica, John VI, gave the saint a gift from the hermitage of San Pietro in Desertis, which later became the convent of San Francesco. It is precisely on this occasion that the portrait of the Saint was painted in the chapel of San Gregorio Magno in the Sacro Speco.

What can be seen today is a monumental convent immersed in the green of a chestnut grove, which was built in 1327, in which Romanesque Gothic elements are clearly recognizable. It was originally inhabited by the Conventual Minors, then in 1498 by the Observant Minors, in 1593, during the brief pontificate of Clement VIII, by the Reformed Minors and from 1907 again by the Observant Minors.

The church has a single nave with a vaulted ceiling, shows various renovations carried out over the centuries, on the main altar there is a wooden triptych, from 1467, by Antoniazzo Romano, in the center of which a Madonna and Child is depicted, on the sides San Francesco d’Assisi and Sant’Antonio da Padova.

To the left of the nave there are three chapels, the architecture of the central nave was modified in the sixteenth century just to build the three chapels, all three have wooden altars. The first chapel was dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie, the second was turned to the crucifixion, a work of 1665, made by the Franciscan friar Stefano from Piazza Armerina, the third was destined for the Nativity, the work was carried out by Pinturicchio or more likely, by a his pupil, in this chapel there are also frescoes attributed to Sodoma, the century Giovanni Antonio Bazzi.

Furthermore, you can observe: a magnificent painting by Giulio Romano, the Marriage of the Virgin; a beautiful San Francesco receiving the stigmata, work attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo. Behind the high altar there is a beautiful choir, entirely inlaid in walnut, a work created in 1504 by a Franciscan monk from Rieti.

At the center of the convent there is a beautiful square-shaped cloister, in Romanesque style, restored and renovated in 1893, which is composed of sixteen round arches, in the center it has a well and a column from Nero’s villa.

On the walls of the cloister, there are twenty-five lunettes with frescoes by the Roman painter Ludovico Grillotti, depicting the life and history of San Francesco and the Franciscan order. In the convent there is a small library, founded in the fourteenth century with liturgical and biblical texts. In this library there are texts ranging from 1500 to 1700 concerning various sacred topics, such as: oratory, Holy Scriptures, canon law, theology and morals; but, there are also volumes dealing with history, literature, philosophy, natural sciences, medicine and pharmacology.

The convent, after the unification of Italy, fell into abandonment and degradation, fortunately, in 1893 by the will of Monsignor Agostino Benedetto Spila, it was restored and restored to its former glory, it was always he who commissioned the frescoes from Ludovico Grillotti, the convent it was returned to the friars minor.

Other restorations were carried out in 1939, during these last works the eighteenth-century renovations were removed, the church thus returned to assume its original appearance.

Nero’s Villa

The archaeological importance of the charming town of Subiaco is closely linked to the large and probably majestic villa, which the Emperor Nero had built along the Aniene river, and whose remains testify how the area was already appreciated in Roman times.

His splendid residence presumably extended over an area of ​​about 75 hectares, 15 more than the excavated part of Villa Adriana in Tivoli.

The Imperial Villa was reached via the Via Sublacense, designed by Nero himself, who took refuge here in the hot periods of the year amid waterfalls, water games and caves. But despite the natural beauty and architectural magnificence of the structure, the Roman emperor, considering the fall of a lightning strike on the table where he was banking, disastrous, decided in 60 AD. to abandon it, so that only during the reign of Trajan the Villa was partially restored.

Today of the Imperial Villa of Nerone is possible to admire some remains visible on the sides of the Via Sublacense, between the locality of Sorricella and the monastery of Santa Scolastica.

The Villa was composed of several nuclei and extended for about seventy-five hectares, at least five of these sections have been identified, but it is believed that actually they were more. Three of these nuclei have been identified on the right of the river and two on the left. Nero chose these places with a wooded and somewhat wild landscape, because of the possibility that this allowed of building artificial lakes and waterfalls, water games and who knows what else. As Pliny the Elder recalls, the doctor prescribed the emperor to take cold baths, which could also have influenced Nero’s choices.

The names of the architects who designed the complex are unknown, some historians and archaeologists are inclined to believe that they were Severus and Celere, this hypothesis arises from the ingenious and brilliant alternation of dams, terraced pavilions, cuts in the rock. These two architects, who had the vision of architecture as a harmonious whole of themselves with urban elements and scenography inventions, were the same who designed and built the Domus Aurea

The remains of the Villa are divided into various sectors: in San Clemente we find those in the sector called delle Carceri which preserves a cistern and numerous rooms interpreted as bathrooms and made with bricks and netting.

In medieval times, one of the thirteen monasteries built by San Benedetto and dedicated to San Clemente was built on some areas of this sector of the Villa.

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