Ancient treasures hidden in nature
The route of the Via Cassia – whose name derives from the consul who started its construction around the 2nd century B.C. to connect Rome to Etruria – coincided with the Via Flaminia up to the Milvian Bridge. At the bridge, the two consular roads forked and the Via Cassia proceeded in a North-West direction, entering a tuffaceous landscape that still today preserves traces of ancient civilizations. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Via Cassia remained for centuries a very important communication route, as it was used by pilgrims travelling to Rome. In the year 990, the Archbishop Sigeric, in his diary of the return journey from Rome to Canterbury after receiving the pallium from the hands of the Pope, describes part of the route that since then coincides with the Via Francigena.
The road passed through Monte Mario and La Storta to reach, with a small detour, the Etruscan city of Veio, hidden for millennia by expanses of wheat and intricate vegetation and brought to light with impressive excavation campaigns since the Sixties. The ancient Veio controlled a vast territory and became in the 5th century B.C. the historic rival of Rome. Conquered and destroyed by Marcus Furius Camillus in 396 B.C., the city conceals fascinating archaeological evidences: the Sodo bridge, a tunnel excavated by the Etruscans to allow the passage of a stream, the necropolis with rock tombs scattered here and there, such as the Tomb of the Ducks and the Campana Tomb, with two lions on the sides of the door and archaic frescoes inside, the sacred area and the ruins of the temple dedicated to Apollo, whose famous statue attributed to the sculptor Vulca can now be admired at the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. The villas built by rich Romans, such as the villa of Campetti and Lucius Verus, date back to Roman times. And still in the Middle Ages, towers and moles were built, as well as the sanctuary of the Madonna della Mola, surrounded by magnificent meadows. Near Veio there is the medieval village of Isola Farnese, which deserves a stop. Within noteworthy interest is the church of Saint Pancras, dating back to the 14th century, with 15th century frescoes, including the cycle of the apse, attributed to the school of Melozzo da Forlì.
In the area between Campagnano di Roma and Formello the landscape takes on a definitively wild aspect. The place, known as Valle del Sorbo, housed since the 10th century a castle to protect the adjacent town, on the ruins of which was built at the beginning of the 15th century the sanctuary of the Our Lady of Sorbo, located on a spur of rock immersed in a particularly evocative landscape.
The charming medieval village of Formello is made up of the municipal palace, the medieval Chigi Palace, housing the Agro Veientano Museum, the churches of Saint Lawrence and Saint Michael Archangel. From one Etruscan tomb comes one of the most important Etruscan vases: the Olpe Chigi, now in the Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome.
The Via Cassia proceeded with a mostly straight line up to Sutri, then through the Etruscan towns of Bolsena, Orvieto, Cortona, Arezzo up to Florence, after the Roman foundation in 59 B.C.