Viterbo is an ancient city and comune in the Lazio region of central Italy, the capital of the province of Viterbo. It is approximately 100 kilometers (60 mi) north of Rome on the Via Cassia, and it is surrounded by the Monti Cimini and Monti Volsini. The historic center of the city is surrounded by medieval walls, still intact, built during the 11th and 12th centuries. Entrance to the walled center of the city is through ancient gates.
Viterbo's historic center is one of the best preserved medieval towns of central Italy. Many of the older buildings (particularly churches) are built on top of ancient ruins, recognizable by their large stones, 50 centimeters to a side.
The main attraction of Viterbo is the Papal Palace (Palazzo dei Papi), that served as a country residence and a repair in time of trouble in Rome. The columns of the palace are spolia from a Roman temple.
The second most important monument of the city is the Cathedral of S. Lorenzo. It was erected in Romanesque style by Lombard architects over a temple of Hercules. It was variously rebuilt from the 16th century on, and was heavily damaged in 1944 by Allied bombs. The notable Gothic belfry is from the first half of the 14th century, and shows influence of Senese artists. The church houses the sarcophagus of Pope John XXI and the picture Christ Blessing by Gerolamo da Cremona (1472).
Other notable monuments are:
- The Palazzo Comunale (begun 1460), Palazzo del Podestà (1264) and Palazzo della Prefettura (rebuilt 1771) on the central square Piazza del Plebiscito. The Palazzo Comunale houses a series of 16th century and Baroque frescoes by Tarquinio Ligustri, Bartolomeo Cavarozzi and others.
- The small Gothic church of Santa Maria della Salute, which has a rich portal.
- The Romanesque Chiesa del Gesù (11th century). Here the sons of Simon de Montfort stabbed to death Henry of Almain, son of Richard of Cornwall.
- The Palazzo Farnese (14th-15th century), where Alessandro Farnese, the future Pope Paulus III, lived in his youth together with his beautiful sister, Giulia Farnese.
- The Rocca (castle).
- The Romanesque churches of Santa Maria Nuova (12th century), San Sisto (second half of the 9th century), and San Giovanni in Zoccoli (11th century).
- The Palazzo degli Alessandri in the old district, a typical patrician house of Middle Ages Viterbo.
- The Fontana Grande, began in 1206.
- The Gothic church of San Francesco, built over a pre-existing Lombard fortress. It has a single nave with Latin cross plan. It houses the sepulchre of Pope Adrian V, who died in Viterbo on August 17, 1276, considered the first monument by Arnolfo di Cambio.
The Museo Civico (City Museum) houses many archeological specimens from the pre-historical to Roman times, plus a Pinacoteca (gallery) with paintings of Sebastiano del Piombo, Antoniazzo Romano, Salvator Rosa, Antiveduto Grammatica and others. The Orto Botanico dell'Università della Tuscia is a botanical garden operated by the university.
The transport of the Macchina di S. Rosa takes place every year, on September 3, at 9 o'clock in the evening. The Macchina is an artistic illuminated bell-tower with an imposing height of 30 m. It weighs between 3.5 and 5 tonnes and is made of iron, wood and papier-mâché. At the top of the tower, the statue of the Patron Saint is enthusiastically acclaimed by the people in the streets of the town centre, where lights are turned off for the occasion. One hundred and thirty Viterbesi men (known as the Facchini) carry the Macchina from Porta Romana through the each of the major streets of Viterbo, concluding with a strenuous ascension up to the Piazza di Santa Rosa, its final resting place. Each Macchina has a life span of five years, after which a new one is built.
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