Montefiascone Via Francigena History and Culture
Montefiascone has played an important role in history of the Via Francigena pilgrimage. Today, walking the last 100 km from Montefiascone to Rome is a Testimonium requirement. There are many amazing places to see in Montefiascone. Also, there are fabulous views to enjoy from the hilltop town. Best of all, is the Est!Est!Est! wine.
The Via Francigena pilgrim route is based on a diary written in 990 CE by Sigeric the Serious when he became Archbishop of Canterbury. This meant he had to travel all the way to Rome to receive his Pallium from the Pope. On his return journey he recorded all the places where he stayed for the night. On the seventh day he rested at Sce Flaviane in ‘submansio’ VII (7). Montefiascone is its name today.
Montefiascone has a long history dating back to the Etruscans and the Falisci people (8th to 3rd century BCE). These people created beautiful ceramics still seen today in upper Lazio. After that came the Roman conquest and the building of enduring roads. In fact, the walk from Montefiascone begins by walking for about 5km along Via Cassia Antica built over 2000 years ago.
Then came the Christian persecutions and a great deal of martyrdom! The protector of Montefiascone is the martyred Roman Prefect, Flaviano. Originally, a small church dedicated to Santa Maria contained his relics. The church was once a pagan temple. Eventually, the small town, Sca Flaviane, grew around the church. In medieval times, Montefiascone was an important rest place for Via Francigena travellers and pilgrims. In 1031 CE the construction of the Romanesque Basilica of San Flaviano began. The church and a pilgrim hostel accommodated the physical and spiritual needs of pilgrims.
Montefiascone Via Francigena Sites
Via Cassia Antica
The ancient Via Cassia joined Rome to Florence passing through Bolsena and on to Montefiascone. Cassius Longinus (censor in 154 BC) or Cassius Longinus Ravilla (consul in Rome in 127 BC) is one of the engineers. Today, traffic still uses some sections. So, walk the Via Francigena from Montefiascone to Viterbo and enjoy this ancient paving!
Basilica of San Flaviano And
Outside the historic centre is the Basilica of San Flaviano. Originally the city grew up around the Basilica located along Via Cassia. The Basilica is Romanesque in style and still retains many original features. Exterior Romanesque features include the three pointed arches and covered gallery known as a loggia. The Cardinal who built the Basilica has his coat of arms proudly displayed. And on top there is a remarkable bell tower with interesting features.
Inside the Basilica is an upper and a lower level. The lower church dates to the 11th century and the upper church the 13th century. There is a staircase leading to the upper gallery. The Romanesque columns and capitals are less adorned. Also, there is an interesting little canopy throne and altar. It is in honour of Pope Urbano IV who consecrated the gallery in 1262. The upper church was the women’s gallery!
In the lower church there are Romanesque pillars and columns with a variety of intricately carved capitals with symbolic meanings. Also, numerous frescoes enrich the inner part of the lower church like “the Meeting of the three living ones with the three Dead” (Memento Mori). Behind a side altar is an image of San Flaviano as the ‘warrior’ saint in Remaissance armour and bearing the white banner with vermillion cross of the crusaders. Also, there is an interesting fresco showing the martyrdom of San Flaviano.
The Legend of Defuk
The legend of Defuk is steeped in legend, history and culture! It all began in 1111 when Henry V of Germany went to Rome to be crowned Emperor by the Pope. The legend has it that Johannes Deuc, better known as Defuk, was travelling with him. However, he was a great wine lover! So he ordered one of his servants to run ahead to find good wine. Then the servant had to write EST (here it is) on the gate of the city or Inn where he found good wine. It turned out that Montefiascone wine was so good it had a three EST! EST!!EST!!! rating. Defuk decided to stay in Montefiascone and keep drinking wine! But he drank so much wine, he died two years later. Then, his faithful servant had a tombstone made with the famous epitaph:
‘Because of much EST EST EST here dies my lord Johannes Deuc.’
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele
After visiting the Basilica of San Flaviano walk along Via San Flaviano to Via Cassia. Then, cross the road and enter Montefiascone through the city gate. Continue up the steep hill along Corso Cavour to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. In the Piazza there are restaurants and bars and a tourist information centre for a pilgrim stamp. More importantly there is a big reminder that you are 100 km from the tomb of St Peter in Rome. Continue underneath the sign walking up more steep stairs to arrive in the Garden of the Popes and the Rocca dei Papi.
Church of Saint Andrea
From the Piazza Vittorio follow the signs to the Cathedral of S. Margherita. Then turn left into Via S. Lucia Filippi. The Church of Saint Andrea is one of the oldest religious buildings in Montefiascone. In the 9th century Churches were connected to surrounding buildings. This means that to find the church look for a green door and a rose window and Gothic portal. Inside, it is simple pre-Romanesque style. And its 3 naves are also simple in decoration.
Cathedral of Santa Margerita
The Dome of the Cathedral of Santa Margerita is at eye level with the Giardina dei Papi. It is one of the biggest in Italy! But you must walk down to the Piazza della Santa Margherita to visit the Cathedral. It has an upper church and the Crypt in the lower church. The inside of the church has an octagonal plan with a series of chapels rich in artworks. Here you will find the relics of Santa Margherita, Patron Saint of Montefiascone. Also there is a beautiful marble bust of St Margherita is in one of the chapels. And don’t miss the ancient wooden Crucifix! In the lower Renaissance Crypt, there are relics of a founding bishop, and Santa Lucia Filippini who founded schools for poor girls.
Rocca dei Papi
At the highest point of Montefiascone there is a beautiful garden with panoramic views. In the Middle Ages Pope Innocent III chose it as a place of refuge for Papal Legates from Avignon. Although it was a safe haven in Medieval times, it is a very steep walk up to the garden and Fortress ruins. But the panoramic views of Lake Bolsena and surrounding countryside make it well worthwhile. Today, you can enjoy the garden, the panoramas, and the ruins of the ancient Fortress and the Pilgrim Tower. In addition, there is also a Fortress of the Popes Museum to visit.
Church of Santa Maria della Neve
Chiesa Santa Maria della Neve is at entrance to Parco della Rocca at the top of the stairs. The original name was Santa Maria in Castello because it is near the Castello della Rocca. Innocent III built the church in the 13th century. Inside there is a Madonna with Child statue, and a fresco of San Flaviano in a praying pose at the feet of the Madonna.
Food and Wine
Montefiascone is famous for its wine. Given the fate of Defuk who died from too much ‘EST!’ this is not surprising. In fact, EST!EST!!EST!!! is the name of the local white wine. The wine of this region is very much linked to its history and culture! The slopes of Lake Bolsena produce excellent wines. In fact, the province of Viterbo has seven wine growing districts! So, Montefiascone and the Via Francigena are a great opportunity to see if you agree with Defuk!
Hazelnuts grow especially well in the Cimini mountains near Viterbo. In fact, in June you have to dodge the hazelnuts when walking the Via Francigena! Needless to say, Montefiascone has famous hazelnut recipes. Tozzetti biscuits that taste wonderful dipped in the local Vino Santo are a must! So, don’t miss out on this special treat when visiting Montefiascone!
Follow the link to find out more about the last 100 km walk from Montefiascone to Rome.