Fifty kilometres north-east of Rome, following the eastern bank of the Tiber River and the Sabine Hills, lies the territory of Sabina. It is a magical land of castles, little towns connected by winding country roads, elegant restaurants and family run taverne, and breath-taking scenery wherever you go. Europe’s oldest olive tree lives in the Sabina too (Canneto di Fara), at 2000 years old it still produces a heavy crop each year, not surprising as the Sabina is famous for it’s olive oil. Hard to believe it’s only an hour from Rome…
The ancient traditions of Sabina, entwined with religion and agriculture, can still be experienced during the many local fairs which are held frequently throughout the seasons. From early spring, to late autumn, medieval villages are filled with a festive atmosphere, culminating with beautiful fireworks. You can’t miss these events if you want to taste the local gastronomic specialities. These are country style dishes, made with the area’s first class agricultural products. Extra virgin olive oil from Sabina, with its DOP recognition, is the absolute ingredient in this cuisine; the olive tree has been a constant element of the Sabine landscape since the times of ancient Rome.
The Reatine Valley, with its Franciscan sanctuaries, Farfa Abbey, for centuries a witness to the power of the Roman Church, the Romanesque churches of Vescovio and Santa Vittoria, the archaeological sites and ancient Roman town of Trebula Mutuesca and Forum Novum as well as, the national parks, and the capital city Rieti are among the many attractions in Sabina. From here, along pleasant country roads, you can easily reach the lakes of Bracciano and Bolsena, and within one hour’s drive, some of the most important artistic sights of central Italy, such as Spoleto, Orvieto and Assisi.
Within a one hour radius one can reach Orvieto, Spoleto or Assisi, travelling if preferred, along the minor roads, through idyllic countryside. While the medieval city of Viterbo, with its thermal spa for the leisure seeker, is a well kept secret.
Most of our Sabina properties are only an hour’s drive from Rome (or for the faint hearted you can always take the train). The best way to see Rome is to WALK! Rome is a large city, but in between bus or tram rides, see as much as you can on foot. Rome is famous for its piazzas and fountains. The best way to see these is as a pedestrian. If you really don’t fancy walking you could a) opt for an inexpensive tour of Rome’s historical sites by taking the 2-hour trip on the number 110 bus from Termini station at 2:30 pm (Monday through Saturday). b) Ride the bus or tram. Rome offers a network of more than 200 bus and tram routes, including 27 night bus routes. c) Get an integrated “Metrebus” ticket, which will allow you access to all the major modes of public transport within central Rome, with the exception of the airport link. You can get daily, weekly or season tickets.
Rieti occupies the geographical centre of Italy with a marble plaque in Piazza di San Rufo to prove it. The town reflects the touch of Roman city planners, with its walls and the north-south axis on which all Roman cities and military camps were built. The city is surrounded by a circle of mighty medieval walls. The landscape is dominated by the Cathedral of Santa Maria (1109) and its Romanesque bell-tower (1252); Palazzo Vescovile (1283) and its Gothic arches; remains of medieval tower houses and elegant Renaissance palaces. In Via Roma stands the 17th century Palazzo Vecchiarelli by Carlo Maderno and in Via Cintia Palazzo Vicentini attributed to Antonio Sangallo the Younger. Industry and all forms of modern conveniences may be found in Rieti. It is the hub of the local transit network.
In the days of the Romans this was a key region, the so-called Umbilicus Italiae. You may visit the Duomo and the Palazzo Vescovile. In the surroundings lies Greccio, a small town with a Franciscan monastery; here St. Francis created the first ever Christmas crib; a real life nativity scene is re-enacted every year. Known in ancient times as Reate, the Roman Emperor Vespasian (the man who built the Coliseum) was born nearby and his sons Titus and Domitian also considered this area the family home. Today’s Thermal Baths of Cotilia are close to the ruins of Vespasian’s. There is a restaurant in Rieti whose walls reveal the foundations of an ancient temple, and it is possible to visit the archeological remains under today’s Via Roma, the Via Roma of 2000 years ago, which the ancient Romans walked, and which lead to the bridge which crosses the River Velino; the original Roman bridge’s remains still visible below the modern bridge.
The Farfa Abbey
The Farfa Abbey profoundly influenced the history of the whole of the Sabina area, having controlled, during it’s “golden age”, nearly all the nearby towns and villages. But it wasn’t only important on a local level, in fact it was one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in Europe and played a major role in the power struggles between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, opposing the power of the Papacy for centuries. The role of the Abbey in conserving knowledge and culture and in spreading new technologies during a period of instability, invasions and depopulation caused by plague should not be underestimated. Farfa Abbey played a vital role not only in the religious and political life of the area but also in it’s economic development. This is demonstrated by the importance of the Farfa Fair, which already existed in 882 AD Thanks to generous concessions from the Caroline Empire Farfa became a focal point for trade with an important weekly market.
Being a center of temporal and spiritual power, the Abbey was powerful since the VI century. During the Carolingian period the importance of the abbey grew rapidly and it was central to the European renaissance at the end of the first millennium under the protection of the emperors. Charlemagne visited the monastery on November 800 and granted the abbey the privilege of autonomy from all civil and religious power. Henry IV, when struggling with the Pope, gave the abbey the title of Imperial Abbey. Farfa played a fundamental role in the history of the central Italy during the following centuries. The Abbey belonged to the Benedictine order, a powerful organization covering much of Europe and with it’s own political and economic interests, which often contrasted with those of the Pope. It was also a centre of great cultural splendour and throughout the Middle Ages its library of precious manuscripts was one of the most famous in Europe. The Worms Concordat (1122) decreed the abbey’s decline and it returned under Papal jurisdiction.
- Visit the Church of Santa Maria, its crypt and cloisters. Inside the church, on the interior wall of the façade, see the Last Judgement, an oil fresco dating back to 1571 by the Flemish Pinter Henrik van der Broek. See as well other interesting frescos by Orazio Gentileschi and Zuccari school, fine grotesque decorations and the mosaic floor.
- Important art works, archeological pieces, 45.000 antique volumes and engravings are gathered at the monumental abbey complex.
- The workshops of the village fair around the Abbey, very famous during the Renaissance, have been brought back to life by artisans and merchants, giving the town its characteristic atmosphere.
The Franciscan Sanctuaries
St. Francis of Assisi was attracted by the Sabina above all other parts of Italy. The Sabina hills saw the first Franciscan preaching and the religious prayer that Francis addressed to God from the wildest and most inaccessible natural surroundings. Following in the footsteps of St. Francis through the “Valle Santa” (Sacred Valley), visitors will be amazed by nature and mysticism. The area still preserves four sanctuaries which are a widespread evidence of the presence of the Saint during the early part of his life. Francis, during his long stay in Sabina left important traces which legend has tended to amplify.
- Greccio: a convent complex (the first monk’s dormitory, kitchen, refectory and the cell where Francis slept on bare rock) immersed in a forest of ilex trees on the site of a mountain. On Christmas 1223, Francis set up here the first Christmas creche using human figures and live animals.
- Fonte Colombo: a convent complex consisting in the church of Sts. Francis and Bernardine, the church of St. Francis’ hermitage and the “Sacro Speco” (Holy Cave) a natural cave where Francis had the vision of Christ that confirmed the strict Rule of the Franciscan Order (1223).
- Poggio Bustone: a convent complex consisting in the convent of St. Giacomo (cloister, refectory with frescos, the Speco (cave) inhabited by Francis) at 818 m. asl and the hermitage on the site of a mountain at 1075 m. asl, Francis’ favourite dwelling place had his eyes treated.
- La Foresta: a convent complex consisting in the church of St. Fabiano with frescos of the 15 century, the church of S. Maria, the cloister, the convent with the refectory in which Francis is said to have performed the miracle of the wine and the cave where the Saint stayed in solitude and composed the “Canticle of Creation”, a song of love for creation (1225).
The Roman town of “Forum Novum” was almost certainly founded in the 2nd century B.C, on a plain and at the crossroad of two important consular roads, the via Salaria and the Via Flaminia. Owing to this strategic position, a flourishing market developed, the remains of which can still be seen today. According to tradition, the apostle Saint Peter stopped there founding a Christian Community.
The archaeological site, which today is called Vescovìo, preserves the remains of Roman houses near ground surface, while remains of huge funerary monuments can be seen all around. Apart from the market itself, occasional survey digs, have brought to light, the location of the forum, the basilica and a temple.
Numerous epigraphs found in the area show that the city had reached the status of “Municipium”, ruled by a “Duoviri” as opposed to the usual “quadrumviratum”, allowing a more authoritative and immediate intervening of the authorities. In fact, there were frequent disorders in a market of this size. A large aqueduct, remains of which can still be seen, served the baths and the fountains of the city. Fragments of a stone plaque, which commemorates the benefactor who financed the construction of the aqueduct, can be seen in the facade of Villa Camuccini in Torri, and in the church of Santa Maria della Lode at Vescovìo.
Other inscriptions found in Forum Novum, document the political life, the administrative organization and the cult of numerous divinities: Venus ( to whom a temple was certainly dedicated), Ceres, Serapis, Mercury, Fortune and the domestic divinities Lares and Penates.
Recent studies carried out by the British Institute, have determined the area where the amphitheatre is located. This has not yet been excavated.
The Romanesque Churches
Vescovio: The Church of S. Maria, located in Vescovio (the Episcopal Cathedral in XII century), is one of the most celebrated monuments of the Sabina. It was built using materials taken from the ancient Roman town of Forum Novum.
Visit the courtyard filled with remains of Roman sculpture and a beautifully decorated sarcophagus. Inside the Church are 11th century frescos by Roman artist Pietro Cavallini, who took themes from both Byzantine traditions and Tuscan painting. Also of note are a 9th century pulpit and frescos, a beautiful crypt and a 14th century wood crucifix. Across the road are the ruins of an ancient Roman market, where St. Peter is said to have stopped for refreshment.
Santa Vittoria: The church of Santa Vittoria, located in Monteleone Sabino, was built using materials from buildings from the ancient Roman town of Trebula Mutuesca. The church houses the tomb of the martyr St. Vittoria. The church is built over the structure of a pagan temple, dedicated to Juno Feronia.
Other important churches which were built or renovated in Romanesque style can be found in Fianello, Magliano Sabina, Montebuono, Poggio Mirteto and in Tarano.
Medieval Castles and villages
Sabina, due to its history and morphology, is rich of medieval towns still intact, built on top of the hills and dominated by fortresses and castles.
The imposing Castle of Roccasinibalda is the most significant example of military architecture in (Upper) Sabina, for its dimensions and for its good conditions. The whole village is still shaped as a fortified hamlet by the typical medieval system. The fascination of this place encouraged throughout the centuries the belief in strange voices and mysterious apparitions.
Another magnificent castle, recently restored to its ancient beauty, is located in Collalto Sabino. In the XVII century when owned by the noble Roman family Barberini, the castle has been enriched with precious marbles, mosaics, paintings and stems representing golden bees, symbol of the family. All this was destroyed throughout the centuries.
The Castle of Rocchettine (XIII century) was abandoned by its inhabitants fifty years ago and represents one of the most characteristic sights in (Lower) Sabina. The castle is surrounded by a green landscape and is separated from the village of Rocchette by a gorge shaped by the “l’Aia” stream.
A pentagonal tower, over twenty meters high, dominates the ruins of the Castle of Catino (X century), built by a rocky slope.
Within easy reach from the Sabina territory is Orvieto, a small city of great antiquity, so ancient that its early history is uncertain. It occupies a slowly crumbling butte of volcanic tufa, riddled with hundreds of caves, wells and tunnels of every period from Etruscan to medieval to 17c and later; slowly crumbling away as are many such hills in the area (the most famous of which is nearby CÌvita di Bagnoregio) and constantly maintained and shored up by massive engineering works. The city is known worldwide for one principal monument, the Duomo, the great glory of Orvieto and a masterpiece of Italian Gothic art. The basic building is quite sober, constructed of bands of black and white stone; but a most extraordinary facade has been applied to it: bronze dragons, gables with mosaics resplendent in gold, and a marvelous shirt-front of marble bas-reliefs by Lorenzo Maitani. Similarly the interior is very sober except for one large chapel entirely covered in dramatic frescoes by Luca Signorelli: famous in their own right, but also the chief inspiration for Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel…
The Marmore Falls and Naturalistic Itineraries
The Marmore falls, the highest in Europe, are located at the border with Umbria, and the pretty lake Piediluco with the charming Castle of Labro.
The territory of Sabina has much to offer to guests who love nature, since it is so rich in protected areas, luxuriant hills, woods and forests, springs, lakes, rivers, majestic mountains, naturalistically interesting paths and hill fauna of every kind.
Lakes of Turano, Ripa Sottille, Lago Lungo, the natural reserves of Tevere- Farfa and Monti Lucretili.
The Sabina region has a rich culinary heritage, and has been famous since the ancient Roman times for the quality of its olive oil.
Genuine Sabine dishes, which are exalted by the extra virgin olive oil, meet the most demanding tastes. This is where the world famous “spaghetti all’amatriciana” (bacon, onion, olive oil, tomatoes, salt, bucatini pasta, pecorino cheese) were born. The tradition proposes “bruschetta” (grilled bread, olive oil, salt, garlic), the “spaghetti alla carbonara” (bacon, eggs, olive oil, spaghetti, pecorino cheese), the “stracciatelle in brodo” (eggs, parmesan, breadcrumbs, olive oil, chicken broth) , the “abbacchio in guazzetto”, trouts and shrimps from the many streams and lakes in the area. Desserts like the “Nociata” (honey, chopped walnuts) served with Bay leaves.
Amongst the most typical products, pecorino cheese, salami, roasted pork (“porchetta“), “mortadella di Amatrice“, the white and black truffles make the local cuisine a tasty one.
All the recipes are of typical dishes which were prepared during the harvest season and were served to the labourers in the fields. Being part of a living tradition, local recipes are kept alive and passed on to subsequent generations.
There are several family typical restaurants in Sabina, serving those genuine traditional local dishes.