L'Italia vista dal cielo: Lazio I (Latium)


by Folco Quilici and Mario Praz

The movie begins by showing some of the most famous sites in Rome without traffic or people: Campidoglio (the Capitol Hill of ancient Rome) with the bronze equestrian statue of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius, Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps), Piazza Navona (once a Roman circus for chariot races), etc.

Quilici then shows us what Rome is really like: chaotic traffic and highways filled with commuters leaving the city to work in the industrial centers on the outskirts of town.

The countryside just outside of Rome, however, has remained the same in many places for almost three thousand years. Not far from lake Bracciano are the ruins of Veio, an Etruscan city destroyed by the Romans.

Contrary to D. H. Lawrence's belief that the Etruscans had created ephemeral masterpieces, the Etruscans were the ones who taught engineering to the Romans, and laid the foundations of the Roman empire. Their bridges are still used today, like the Blera bridge near Tarquinia.

At Barbarano Romano the medieval city walls were built over Etruscan tombs.

Cerveteri (Caere Vetus) was one of the most powerful cities in the Etruscan federation. It dates back to the 8th century B.C.

Ceri (Caere Novum) contains some of the nicest Etruscan tombs.

Tarquinia, like Cerveteri, was a very important Etruscan city.

Ferento: its theater was first Etruscan and then Roman.

Tivoli and its Renaissance fountains are not far from Hadrian's villa.

The early Romans considered the Latium countryside as agrestial, wild, and uncultivated. Painters and writers of the 17th and 18th centuries, however, thought of the Roman countryside as numinous. The villas and farms around Rome were home to many painters, each of whom depicted this countryside differently:

Annibale Caracci gave it a heroic quality.

Nicolas Poussin gave it a sense of eternity.

Lorenese made it sublime.

Josef Anton Coch made it realistic and crystalline: in the background of his paintings we can see the towns of Rocca Santo Stefano and San Vito Romano.

Cori: the Temple of Hercules.

San Gregorio da Sassuola: the Russian author Gogol lived in this castle and wrote about a prince who wandered among the ruins of this Roman theater on near-by Mount Tuscolo.

The aqueducts, considered by many as the greatest engineering feat of antiquity, brought water from the Apennines to many of the cities in Latium. Many of these aqueducts have now become cow paths.

If we go from the Apennine Mountains to the Island of Ponza off the Roman coast, it is hard to imagine Latium as being a single region.

Cities in northern Latium are very similar to Tuscan cities. The medieval quarter of Viterbo, known as Borgo Pellegrino, has remained intact since the 13th century and looks very much like the city of Siena in Tuscany.

Tuscia is the name of the plain which borders Tuscany and the Maremma (the marsh lands of northern Latium). Vulci and Tarquinia, instead, mark the region's southern border.

If we compare a typical medieval tower in Tarquinia with one in Gaeta, in southern Latium, we notice a great difference. The tower at Gaeta reminds us more of the minaret in Seville than of anything comparable in Latium. The influence of Moorish architecture is obvious.

This Franciscan abbey reminds us more of Umbria than of Latium.

These fields, once malaria ridden swamps, are the Bonifica da Macarese, but they look more like the plains of Reggio Emilia.

Ancient Latium may best be seen in the city of Palestrina which flourished in 1000 B.C. and maintained its importance in Roman times. It was known as Preneste, and was the center of an important Roman cult honoring the goddess Fortuna Primigenia. What remains of the goddess's temple is the lower half of its pyramid structure. The Barberini family built a palace on top of it in the Renaissance.

Sermoneta: Rocca dei Caetani (a medieval stronghold which belonged to the Caetani princes who ruled most of that region).

From the fortified towns on the mainland we move to the castles along the coast of Latium which were built to keep the Moors from invading the region:

Torre Astura, on the Via Severiana. Conrad of Swebia (son of the Holy Emperor Frederick II) was betrayed by his host in this castle, and turned over to King Charles of Angiou who then killed him.

Palo (the ancient port of Alsium) with its Odescalchi castle.

Santa Severa (the ancient port of Pyrgi): its castle was built in the year 1000 A.D. and later rebuilt in 1600.

Civitavecchia: its fortified walls were begun by Bramante in 1500 and later completed by Michelangelo and Sangallo.

Frosinone, a city which was bombed in World War II, is the capital of Ciociaria.

Latina was built in 1932 and is now the second biggest city in Latium, after Rome. The city was built on land reclaimed from swamps. The swamps which existed before the reclamation have disappeared, and so have many of the farms. The countryside has been abandoned, and most of the people have moved to Latina and Sabaudia.

Rieti is the capital of the Sabina region.

The Franciscan abbey of Fonte Colombo once belonged to the region of Umbria, and, like so many other places along the border with Abruzzi and Umbria, it too was annexed by Latium.

The delta of the Garigliano river is the site of Miturno, the ancient city of Miturnae. It was Rome's archenemy for a long time; and was totally destroyed when the Romans conquered it.

Terracina: the temple of Jove Anxur (Jove the child-god).

Circeo: Torre di Paola. The grottos are the site of prehistoric caves. In one of them, the oldest remains of Neanderthal cavemen were found. Circeo is also the place where the witch Circe is supposed to have changed Ulysses' men into swine.

Near-by, on a small stagnant lake is the fortified villa of Milfa.

From southern Latium, Quilici moves to northern Latium to the villas built by Roman princes and cardinals during the Renaissance. All these villas are located at the foot of the Cimini mountains:

Bassano Romano: Villa Odescalchi and its Italian garden.

Caprarola: Palazzo Farnese, a pentagonal palace designed by Vignola (1507-1573) on the foundations of a fort by Sangallo.

Soriano nel Cimino: Palazzo Chigi.

Vignanello: Villa Ruscoli.

Bagnaia: Villa Lante, commissioned by Cardinal Gambera in 1566, the fountain was done by Giambologna (Jean Boulogne, 1524-1608).

Bomarzo: Vicino Orsini, captain in the Papal army, designed the Garden of Monsters in the 1540's.

Lazio II (Latium)

(Folco Quilici and Mario Praz)

The second part of the documentary begins by showing the volcanic limestone ("tufa" or "tuff") on which many towns in Latium are built. The first city we see is Civita di Bagnoregio; it is slowly crumbling as a result of centuries of erosion.

The town of Anagni has city walls which date back to the 4th century B.C. and a beautiful Romanesque cathedral.

The Cistercian abbey of Santa Maria.

Fossanova, the abbey where Saint Thomas Aquinas died in 1274.

Montecassino, the most famous Benedictine abbey. It is the actual site where Saint Benedict founded his order in 529 A.D. Because of its strategic importance in World War II, it was occupied by the Germans and later destroyed by the Allied Forces. It was poorly rebuilt after the war.

Near Frosinone we can see the Abbazia di Casamari, another Benedictine abbey.

The Abbazia di Farfa has the only Carolingian church in Latium (early 9th century, when Charlemagne was Holy Roman Emperor).

Grottaferrata is a Greek orthodox abbey. The architecture of this abbey reveals its Greek influence.

Quilici shows us some Benedictine monks from one of the abbeys on Monte Subiaco. The monks give equal importance to both work and prayer ("ora et labora") as prescribed by Saint Benedict's rule ("regula").

Eremo, one of Saint Benedict's retreats.

The Aniene river in the Subiaco valley.

Castello Orsini belonged to the Orsini, one of the most powerful Roman families.

Quilici shows us the volcanic lakes in Latium: the Albani lakes, and the lakes of Bracciano, Vico, and Bolsena. Lake Bolsena is the largest lake in the region. The city of Capodimonte and the "Byzantine Island" are two attractions of this lake.

What Quilici now shows us looks like a lake, but was originally a sea port built by the Roman emperor Trajan. It is no longer connected to the sea due to silting.

The ancient Roman port of Ostia is also far from the sea because of the silting which has occurred over the centuries.

Lavinio is the coastal town where Aeneas was believed to have landed. Not too far from here are three ancient sacrificial altars which have recently been discovered. These muddy waters may have been the site of a pre-Roman oracle.

At this point in the film, Quilici brings us Rome. The oldest bridge on the Tiber River (the one in ruins) marks the intersection of two roads: one, which came from the sea and went to the foothills, is called the Via Salaria because it brought salt ("sale") from the sea to the people living in the mountains. The other road came from Naples (once a Greek colony) and went north. The city of Rome was born on this crossroad.

By using a model of ancient Rome, Quilici compares what Rome looks like today with what it looked like 2000 years ago:

The Colosseum was once decorated with marble.

The Temple of Venus was once one of the biggest temples in Rome.

The Palatine hill was the first of the seven hills to be inhabited by the early Romans (most of whom were shepherds).

The house of the emperor Augustus ("Domus Augustana").

The Ara Pacis Augustae (the altar of peace Augustus erected to celebrate the Pax Romana, the long period of peace following the civil war).

None of the great Romans we associate with Rome were actually born in Rome, except for Ceasar and Boethius. Seneca, Virgil, Ovid, Catullus, et al. all came from other parts of the Roman empire.

Villa Adriana (the villa the emperor Hadrian built in the 1st century A.D.)

Frascati: the Aldobrandini palace and the Doria-Pamphilj villa were built in the Renaissance by members of these two important Roman families.

Modern Rome has wiped out most of the beautiful gardens which were an integral part of these villas. Compare the villa near Santa Maria Maggiore in this painting with that same part of town today.

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme was also surrounded by gardens at one time.

The same was true for San Giovanni in Laterano.

Likewise for Santa Francesca Romana (compare the painting of this church with the same church today).

The Appian Way (Via Appia Antica) and the tomb of Cecilia Metella.

A public park was supposed to be built outside the Gate of Saint Sebastian (Porta San Sebastiano) and stretch along the Appian Way; instead, real estate speculation took over.

According to this map of 1748, three quarters of Rome consisted of parks and gardens. In the last 100 years all this has changed.

E.U.R. is a good example of how modern city planning can be integrated with ancient Rome. Later city planner, however, did not follow this model.

The Pantheon (first a pagan temple built by the emperor Hadrian, and later a Christian Church) has the largest free standing dome of the ancient world.

There are also beautiful Renaissance villas within Rome:

Palazzo Farnese

Villa Medici

Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo, has the ancient equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius at the center of the piazza.

Rome is also famous for its Baroque churches.

Roman ruins were used in the construction of many palaces: Palazzo Barberini (as the family motto says, "What the Barbarians could not do, the Barberini did.")

Rome is also a city of painters:

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Ceiling; and Raffael painted the Stanze at the Vatican.

It is a city of piazze:

Piazza del Popolo

Campo dei Fiori: Rome's best known market place.

Piazza Navona: once a Roman circus, it later became a public piazza.

And it is a city of fountains:

Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The Trevi Fountain and the Fountain of Turtles (Tartarughe).

The Vatican gardens.

The Island of the Tiber.

Castel Sant'Angelo, originally a Roman fortress built by the emperor Hadrian, it later became a Papal stronghold.

The Milvio Bridge, where the emperor Constantine defeated the emperor Maxentius at the beginning of the 4th century A.D. It is one of the oldest intact bridges in the world.

Torre delle Milizie.

Several famous Roman churches: San Lorenzo, San Paola, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Santa Maria Maggiore, Sant'Agnese, and Santa Cecilia with its catacombs.

The film concludes with a view of Piazza di Spagna ("The Spanish Steps") with the church of Trinità dei Monti on top.