Viterbo, the largest city in northern Lazio, is simply a must. Take a break from the city of Rome and soak yourself in a revitalising thermal bath in the middle of nowhere. Explore some of the world’s most significant ancient history. Travel through time to a medieval world – all without the crowds!
Viterbo in a Nutshell
Generally, tourists often overlook Viterbo. Unjustly so, as besides its green landscape and enchanting medieval looks, it is also a much-loved spa town! At the heart of an ancient Etruscan region, and brimming with remnants of the Middle Ages, Viterbo offers all the history of a major city, but without the masses of visitors. It’s also only an hour and a half from Rome, and is on the way to Florence. So, there’s really no excuse not to explore it!
Must-Do’s in Viterbo
The city is known for its well-preserved medieval monuments. Head straight to the Piazza di San Lorenzo, where you’ll find two of Viterbo’s major attractions. The 12th-century, Romanesque Duomo di Viterbo (or Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) is the first. This impressive church stands on the site of an Etruscan temple of Hercules.
Attached to the cathedral is the second – the Palazzo dei Papi (Papal Palace). Viterbo was once the seat of Italy’s popes, to which the palace is a testament. Over 24 years in the mid-13th century the Palazzo dei Papi saw the election of 5 popes in the Sala del Conclave. As a matter of fact, the longest ever election of a pope took place here, lasting 3 years! Don’t miss the 15th-century fountain within the palace’s loggia, which is made from various materials from various eras.
Viterbo once had nearly 100 fountains! Be sure to explore the winding medieval alleys and hidden corners of the city to see how many you can find!
Viterbo’s Thermal Springs
Viterbo is also a popular spa town! Around the Arcione River to the west, you’ll find several private and wild thermal springs. When it comes to medicinal mud and relaxing hot mineral baths, the Etruscans and Romans sure knew what they were doing! Especially in this area. For a more ooh-la-la experience, visit the Terme dei Papi. It’s only ten minutes away from the city, and features a few Roman ruins near the parking lot.
Then there are the more off-the-beaten track options. If you’re more of wild child, and aren’t afraid to get lost, there are several options for you a bit further out. Certainly, our favourite is Il Bagnaccio, which recently received a makeover and now features five pools. Here’s exactly how to reach it.
Another must-see sight are the ancient Necropoles of Monterozzi (in Tarquinia) and Banditaccia (in Cerveteri). Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Etruscans built the earliest known civilisation in the Mediterranean. The thousands of tombs, sarcophagi and paintings found at these sites provide scarce evidence of how the Etruscans lived (and died). They also offer the only known clue to Etruscan residential architecture. Not only is a trip to one of these necropoles an essential taste of Italy’s ancient heritage, they’re both only around an hour away from Viterbo to the southwest!
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