Beaches, abbeys and castles between Rome and Naples Part 1: from Rome to Amalfi (Salerno).

This is an excerpt from the book “Rome to Amalfi“.

The places we shall visit on this route are, too well known to need introduction Rome, Naples, the Amalfi coast and back to Rome, touching so much ancient and modern history as to go back to mythical times with! the cave of the witch Circe.

This whole area is remarkable for the variety of its natural beauties and those which are the work of man; a great number of the places, monuments and the beauty spots to be seen, the tourist will have heard of for the first time sitting at a school desk; at the same time, there will be ample opportunity for an open – air life – we never go more than a few miles away from the sea.

No attempt will be made to describe Rome in detail its monuments run into thousands and are scattered over a much wider area than those of Naples or Venice. It is only in modern times that Rome has reached once more the surface area of the Imperial city. In Imperial times it had about two million inhabitants; this fell in the early Middle Ages to as few as 60,000. We have made an attempt to do Rome in three days by using routes which are not those usually printed in guide-books. More detailed information about the galleries will be found in the chapter The Ten Capitals of Italian Painting.

But we would like to stress that the visitor to Rome must not limit himself to the city. There is a circle of surrounding hills with abbeys, monasteries and temples which all form part of the texture of ancient Rome and Latium, whose countryside blends little by little with that of Campania, as we go south, before reaching the famous bays of Naples and Salerno.

Piazza del Popolo – Photo © LucaP
Piazza del Popolo – Photo © LucaP

The itinerary:

A two days visit, or better, a four days visit should be planned for Rome, where our itinerary starts from. You don’t need a car while in Rome, as the traffic is horrendous and parking impossible.

On the morning of the next day we leave Rome for the Etruscan necropolis of CERVETERI from which, after 19 km. (11 3/4 mi.), we arrive at BRACCIANO.

BRACCIANO with its imposing castle (1480): going around the lake we pass Bagni di Vicarello, with remains of a Roman villa nearby and (12 km. -7 1/2 mi.) Trevignano Romano, where we leave the lake and make north for 13 km. (8 mi.) to SUTRI from here to Monterosi turning left for 9 km. NEPI. With its fine Borgia Castle, near which there is a waterfall which was a favorite subject for painters, especially foreign, in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Within sight of the 17th century Acqueduct, we drive towards Civitacastellana. After 3 km. (1 1/2 mi.) of fine hill scenery we come to the massively built 11th cent. Basilica of Castel Sant’Elia with 11th century Byzantine frescoes. From here we are soon at CIVITA CASTELLANA.

CIVITA CASTELLANA an ancient Etruscan city with a fine Romanesque Cathedral, whose porch is a masterpiece of Cosmati work; there is also an imposing Castle with a courtyard by Antonio do Sangallo (16th cent.).

One can lunch at Civita and then run 11 km. (7 mi.) through the imposing scenery of the Monte Soratte, beneath the sanctuaries of Madonna delle Grazie and San Silvestro to Torrita Tiberina in the Tiber Valley with a beautiful view over Sabinia, to pass through Montopoli and arrive at FARA SABINA, with fine Renaissance architecture and a splendid view from the parapet of the piazza and a natural viewpoint for the Alban Hills: near here (50 km. – 28 3/4 mi. from Civita) is the famous ABBEY OF FARFA, an important center of monastic culture in the Middle Ages, founded in the 5th century, often rebuilt and altered in succeeding centuries, full of works of art, bas-reliefs and sculpture.

We continue south to Palombara Sabina (25 km. – 15 3/4 mi. from Farfa), a picturesque town on a hilltop in the shadow of Monte Gennaro (fine Romanesque church of San Giovanni in Argentillo, 2 km. – 1 1/4 mi, from the town). At 42 km. (26 1/4 mi.) from Farfa we reach TIVOLI

TIVOLI, once upon a time a Roman holiday resort in a wonderful position on a limestone hillside overlooking the Campagna, with its waterfalls which have delighted painters for four centuries. Coming in from Palombara we go down into the Aniene valley and follow the Via delle Cascate, going round the city, which rises in front of us, to see the famous Cascades. Once in the city, which is an extraordinary mixture of styles and periods, see the Temple of the Sibyl, or of Vesta, overlooking the valley, with another rectangular temple beside it, in the Villa Gregoriana, among woods and streams. In the Cathedral (rebuilt 17th century) there is a Byzantine altar-piece and a splendid woodcarving of the 13th century – the Deposition. The church of San Silvestro has 12th century Roman-Byzantine frescoes in the apse.

From here we pass to the wonderful Villa d’Este, one of the most famous of 16th century gardens, built by Ligorio for Cardinal Ippolito d’Este (1549). Not far away is the Castle of Pope Pins 11 (1459). Five kilometers (3 mi.) out of Tivoli on the road to Rome is Hadrian’s Villa, one of the most important architectural complexes of Roman antiquity, built by Hadrian, who died before seeing it completed, and continued by his successors. It was robbed by Constantine of its marbles and devastated by the barbarians. Its reconstruction began in the 16th century. There is a Greek Temple, Baths, ruins of temples, a marvelous square, all in a setting of trees planted in the 18th century, when systematic reconstruction began.

From here we take road again passing over the LUCANO BRIDGE with the Plautian Tombs beside it (they were made into a fortress in the Middle Ages), we reach PALESTRINA at 21 km. (13 mi.) This city stands on a hillside and rose on the ruins of the ancient Sanctuary of Fortuna: the present Palazzo Barberini is built over part of this; it houses the famous Nile mosaic. Passing Cave, leaving the turning for Genazzano on the left(10 km. – 6 1/4 mi.) we pass through Olevano Romano to reach SUBIACO at 38 kin. (23 3/4 mi.) from Palestrina.

Subiaco – Photo Luciano

SUBIACO. A picturesque town, it is famous for its two ancient Benedictine monasteries of St. Benedict (or Sacro Specc) and Santa Scholastica, a great monumental complex (11th-12th cents.) with a magnificent Romanesque cloister. In each there are frescoes and paintings; those in the two superimposed churches of St Benedict are important.

Returning for a stretch along the same road, we return to the crossroads and turn left over the heights of Arcinazzo to FIUGGI at 26 kin. (16 1/4 mi.) from Subiaco. Here in this famous spa, we can spend the night. On the morning of the sixth day we leave Fiuggi, for the medieval city of ANAGNI (19 km. – 13 mi.) with a fine Romanesque Cathedral with a severe interior decorated with Byzantine frescoes and an important crypt, a Palazzo Comunale in Lombard style and fine medievale buildings.

We now go down on to the Casilma State Highway and after 10 km. (6 1/4 mi.) reach FERENTINO in a fine panoramic position, with massive megalithic walls, Romanesque Cathedral and the Cistercian Gothic church of Santa Maria Maggiore. We pass below FROSINONE without going into it, as it has no important antiquities, and reach ALATRI after 14 kin. (8 3/4 mi.).

This has an interesting medieval quarter, the beautiful church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Gothic with bell-tower, and San Francesco with 14th century frescoed façade.

There is a fine view from Alatri and turning left at the next junction (after 6 km. – 3 3/4 mi.) we arrive at the ABBEY OF CASAMARI an important Cistercian foundation of 1095, and added to in succeeding centuries. Isola del Liri is a picturesque town with a waterfall and an ancient Castle. From here we reach Arce (16 kin. – 10 mi.) and after another 6 km. (3 3/4 mi.) Ceprano to enter the Autostrada del Sole, which we take in the Naples direction. After 17 km. (101/2 mi.) we see AQUINO. birthplace of St Thomas Aquinas, on the left. Another 10 kin. 6 1/4 mi) and we see the mighty outline of the ABBEY OF MONTECASSINO

MONTECASSINO, illustrious center of civilisation in the Middle Ages, now rebuilt after its destruction by American and English bombing in World War II. We leave the autostrada after 77 km. (48 mi.) a little before CAPUA.

Santa Maria Capua a Vetere Photo © diego ilsole
Santa Maria Capua a Vetere Photo © diego ilsole

CAPUA, famous for its Campano Museum, a city of Lombard origin on a bend of the Volturno with medieval buildings. Of the Lombard period we have the churches of San Michele a Corte and San Salvatore, and the graceful Sant’Eligio, next to the 16th century Palazzo Municipale.

Near Capon is one of the most important monuments in Campania, the church of Sant’Angelo in Formis (1071) with portico in Arab style and the famous 11th century frescoes inside.

We shall spend the night at CASERTA. This was only a small town until the 18th century, when it developed and grew round the royal palace built by Vanvitelli for Carlo III Bourbon (1752): it is a huge rectangular building with a monumental staircase and a famous park with a series of fountains descending from Monte San Silvestro behind.

At 7 km, from Caserta (3 mi.) is CASERTA VECCHIA, of Longobard origin with a fine Cathedral of mixed Lombard and Norman-Sicilian style and a Romanesque campanile; there are tine medieval quarters.

Now take the Benevento road (50 km. – 28 1/2 mi. From Caserta): after 7 km. (4 1/4 mi.) comes MADDALONI with a 14th century Castle and Longobard tower. Eleven km. (7 mi.) farther on leave the turning for Arienzo and San Felice on our right and proceed for MONTESARCHIO (12 km. 7 mi.) on the slopes of a hill on top of which there is a stout Castle. After 20 km. (12 mi.) of varied hill country we descend into the valley of the River Calore at BENEVENTO.

BENEVENTO, an ancient city first Scripture, then Roman, then an important Longobard Duchy: the best architectural monuments of the city belong to Roman and Longobard times. On arrival, take the ring road, Via di Torre della Catena, to the left, passing along Via Porta Arsa to sec the imposing remains of the Roman Theatre, now restored and in which classical drama is performed. Continue as far as Porta Arsa past the railway station to Poole Leproso over the River Sabato, of Roman times Going back to Via Porta Arsa, one arrives at the River Calore, along the right bank of which runs Via Posillipo; to the left, the fine bridge rebuilt by Vanvitelli; now along Corso Vittorio to Piazza Orsini in which stands the wonderful Cathedral, Romanesque, with a strong campanile, and of balanced proportions. It has a bronze door which is the artistic masterpiece of the city, from the 13th century with richly carved frames. To the left, off Corso Garibaldi, is the street leading to Trajan’s Arch, one of the finest of Roman triumphal arches, built in 117 AD, with carved panels celebrating the Emperor’s exploit. Returning to Corso Garibaldi, follow it as far as Piazza Santa Sofia with the church of Santa Sofia in whose elegant Romanesque cloister the art collections of the city are housed. In the nearby Piazza Cinque vembre is the Fortress of the Rectors, an ancient Longobard fortress altered in the 14th century. Leaving Benevento by the Via del Sole, we go up the valley of the River Sabato towards the mountains of the Irpinia.

SALERNO at 34 km. (21 1/4 mi.) from Avellino, on its splendid bay. From Salerno we take the road that goes along the enchanting Amalfi coast, to spend the night at AMALFI.

For the return see Part 2: from Amalfi (Salerno)  to Rome
Recommended itineraries in Italy
Itinerary partly courtesy of ENIT