Towards Tusculum, Frascati and the Abbey of Grottaferrata
The Via Latina follows an ancient route that followed a natural path through the Sacco and Liri valleys, crossing the Lepini, Ausoni and Aurunci Mounts.
The road started from the gate of the Servian walls, at Porta Capena, then leaving the Aurelian walls at the homonymous Latin gate and heading towards Southern Lazio. The street corresponds roughly to the current via Tuscolana that, during the Middle Ages, traced the route up to the city of Tuscolo.
This ancient Latin city, conquered by the Romans in 338 B.C., became a favorite place of the most illustrious personages of the city: Cato, Lucullus, Cicero and many emperors chose it as the seat of their villas in the hills. After the vicissitudes of the Early Middle Ages, from the 10th century, Tusculum was owned by the Counts of Tusculum who governed it for 300 years, often in contrast with Rome, until the final destruction of 1119. The surviving inhabitants took refuge at the foot of the hill, giving rise at today’s Frascati. Among the most interesting remains of the abandoned city are those of the Roman theatre (2nd century BC), while from the nearby acropolis it is possible to admire a beautiful view embracing the Roman Castles, Rome and, on clear days, the sea.
Between the 16th and 17th centuries, the surrounding hills attracted the interest of papal families and Roman noblemen, documented by the famous Tuscolan Villas, including the scenic Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati, luxurious residences that still constitute the monumental jewel of this territory.
Famous for their gardens, where ideal paths wind their way to cheer the idleness of the nobles, offering elegant views where nymphaeums, fountains and water games are the protagonists.
Places of idleness, besides Frascati, were also Grottaferrata, Monte Porzio Catone and Rocca di Papa.
In recognition of the link between the Roman Castles and the wine culture, in Monte Porzio Catone there is a Wine Museum located in several points of the town. Thanks to this initiative, it is possible to rediscover the places of wine production, to visit sections dedicated to modern and ancient wine processing, and to learn about the local peasant culture through educational spaces, multimedia installations and photographic exhibitions.
The history of the Roman Castles is also intertwined with that of the hermits and saints who found shelter there. One of the most popular ones was Saint Nilus the Younger, from Rossano Calabro, who, at ninety years of age on his way to Rome, stopped in the Tuscan hills and founded the abbey of Grottaferrata. After his death, on 26th September 1004, his followers, Catholics of the Greek rite, thanks to the economic and political support of the powerful counts of Tusculum, built a magnificent abbey that in the Renaissance, at the behest of Giuliano della Rovere, later Pope Julius II, was equipped with crenellated walls. The monastic complex is built around two courtyards, one with the abbey, the typography and the village, while on the other, embellished by the magnificent Renaissance portico of Sangallo, overlooks the Romanesque church of Our Lady with its bell tower.
In the 18th century, the interior suffered heavy interventions that altered its original structure. However, it preserves the remains of the ancient Cosmatesque floor and the precious baptismal font dated between the 11th and 12th centuries, as well as the mosaic above the entrance door to the church, the Pentecost mosaic on the triumphal arch of the central nave and a cycle frescoed with stories from the bible attributed to Pietro Cavallini (13th century). In the museum of the Abbey are preserved archaeological remains found in the territory of the monastery and the 13th century frescoes that originally decorated the nave of the church. In the Middle Ages, the Abbey, an important scriptorium, is the site for the restoration of manuscripts and incunabula. In the library, one of the oldest in Italy, are preserved autographs of Saint Nilus and over 2,000 manuscripts including a nucleus of precious Greek codexes.
The route of the Via Latina, from the Roman Castles, continues along the plain up to Artena, a country of prelates and brigands. Founded in the 12th century as Castrum Montefortini, the village was long contested and repeatedly attacked until, in the 17th century, Cardinal Scipione Borghese decided to give an urban plan to what remained a picturesque tangle of alleys, almost deprived of a city centre.
At the foot of Monte Lupone, Segni was the ancient Volscian town of Signia. The most impressive monuments belong to the pre-Roman era, such as the imposing walls and large gates that recall the Greek megalithic fortresses. Since the 12th-13th century it was the summer residence of the Popes, with the episcopal seminary and the beautiful cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, a sumptuous baroque temple.