Make time to see this site which is definitely one of the most wonderful places to be found in the vicinities of Rome. The trip explores the town of Monterano and its Reserve, the volcanic phenomena of the caldera in Manziana and Lake Bracciano with its Medieval city center and its magnificent castle.
We will start enjoying a lovely walk among the beautiful natural scenery of Monterano Reserve, which is both a wildlife preserve, with a thriving ecosystem of owls, eagles, cows and wild boar, and an archaeology park, with a few Etruscans tombs and an abandoned Baroque-era city.
The loop is an easy hike, especially on a cool day. The trail starts near a brook, a tributary of the Mignone River. We’ll walk past grazing cattle, yellow wildflowers and red poppies, cows, sheeps, and pigs can be encountered along the way
We will then meet some of the Eturscan burial places carved in the rock and underground, as this Natural Reserve was once the heart of Southern Etruria, the Etruscan Kingdom: an intriguingly advanced ancient civilization that had widespread literacy - though their language is still largely undecoded - and admirable equality between the sexes.
We will continue our explorative walk following the path that was cut through the rocks by the them thousands of years ago to connect the valley to the top of the hill.
The only strenuous part is the walk up to the dead city of Monterano, a once thriving town that was abandoned in the 18th century, and beautiful evocative remains can still be seen immersed in the peaceful landscape and standing atop a hill overlooking a valley and the hills of Tolfa.
Until two hundreds years ago, life was going on in here.
Water was provided by an aqueduct, while three churches provided for the spiritual needs of the inhabitants. Meadows and land extended all around and down to the river valley where it is easy to imagine seeing then, as you can see today, the sheep and cows as well as the land cultivation of the inhabitants.
About two hundred years ago, an epidemic of malaria broke out killing part of the population. Later, in 1798, Napoleon's troops sacked and destroyed the village and forced the last survivors to move to the new town that we know today. These two tragic events marked the end of what had been a prosperous little fief of the Altieri Family.
We’ll visit the remains of the houses and churches stand in peaceful silence in the shade of the massive facade of Orsini-Altieri Castle or Palace which towers over the hill, with lovely staircases up to rooms that no longer exist.. A gentle slope will lead us to what was a wide square, now a beautiful green meadow with a fountain in the middle.
The most well-preserved building is the main church and the attached convent of San Bonaventura which stands on the large green. Bernini oversaw the design of the monastery. The roof has collapsed, and on the inside a fig tree has grown. The architecture of the church, the convent, and the Palace (all Baroc-Renaissance) and the many houses (medieval) can still be appreciated. The aqueduct is still there and so is a part of the beautiful bell tower of the curch of Santa Maria.
For a day, all the sounds and commotion of nearby Rome will be just a faded, distant memory.
Possibility of having a typical Italian pic-nic in the Reserve. It is wonderful to sit on the bench beneath the great tree on the slope to the Church for lunch. The sweet view from that spot, and the gentle breeze will create memories which will last forever.
Hiking in the Reserve will last four hours.
We will then drive to Manziana for an easy walk in order to discover an unusual atmosphere in a mysterious landscape where nature must cohabit with the last effusions of the great Sabatino Volcano: a caldera (a cauldron-like volcanic feature formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption). A complex ecosystem characterized by unic elements that we only find in this microclimate. We will be able to admire unusual phenomena for this latitude: geyser, birches, primordiali ashes, smells and colors to which we are not accustomed.
We will then proceed to the Medieval town of Bracciano that covers the green heights above the lake and is dominated by the impressive large, stately Castello Orsini Odescalchi, built by Napoleon Orsini in 1470, a typical example of military architecture built by the gentry. The Castle’s structure is pentagonal in shape, with large cylindrical towers, and is still in excellent condition today and which recently (Nov. 2006) a star-studded wedding celebrated inside it: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
We will walk around the medieval town to reach a terrace with a breath-taking view on Lake Bracciano and its gentle hills.
The lake is situated at the bottom of a basin linked to the activity of the ancient Sabatino volcano. The belt of hills surrounding its shores enriches the great variety of flora and fauna characterizing the Park. Grazing lands and cultivated fields draw a man-size countryside.
Please note that the order of the spots visited might be subject to changes according to the weather conditions, your walking pace and time & light available.