The fortress of the Popes rose from a summit of a hill in a position that has always been considered a strategic location because it holds the power to dominate the entire area. The various cultures that have alternated in dominance over the course of the centuries have left sufficient traces to confirm their presence. There are traces from the copper age until now. Because of the strategic location, this castle was chosen by the popes as the seat of the Rector of the Patrimony of the Catholic church, and chose this location as their summer residence.
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FORTRESS OF THE POPES
The fortress of the Popes rose from a summit of a hill in a position that has always been considered a strategic location because it holds the power to dominate the entire area. The various cultures that have alternated in dominance over the course of the centuries have left sufficient traces to confirm their presence. There are traces from the copper age until now. Because of the strategic location, this castle was chosen by the popes as the seat of the Rector of the Patrimony of the Catholic church, and chose this location as their summer residence. From the 13th century on, nearly all the popes that occupied the Rocca added extensions and fortifications to the structure. In 1207, Pope Innocenzo III placed Viterbo at the head of the region of the Patrimony of St. Peter in Tuscia. However, he chose Montefiascone as the seat of the Rector. In order to make this building the seat of the Rector of the Patrimony of St. Peter, Pope Innocenzo III ordered the homes between the palace and the castle to be destroyed and in their place, a large door was erected. This door became the main entrance into the fortress. Interventions are known to have been made by: Gregorio IX, Niccolò III, Urbano IV, Martino IV and Giovanni XXII During the period of the crisis of Avignon, the Fortress of Montefiascone constituted the center of political affairs for the entire Patrimony of St. Peter. The Rector, as the representative of the Pope absent, performed his duties here, including the issuing of papal currency and presided over the convocation of Parliaments, the assembly of nobles, bishops and representatives of the municipalities that allowed the communication of papal provisions. Other than the rectors that lived here, with their courts, ambassadors were sent here from the Avignon Papacy in order to reform the status of the province. The Cardinal Albornoz spent the 1353-54 winter there, in order to prepare for the reconquest of the Patrimony. Once Cardinal Albornoz restored papal authority, he erected fortresses in other cities, including Viterbo. He never abandoned Montefiascone because Urbano V required him to reside here as often as possible because of the strategic location that allowed centrality and accessibility to the rest of the Patrimony. The same Urbano V chose this location as a summer residence during his years in Italy (1367-1370). During his time, he ordered many renovations. Over the years, many others ordered transformations as well. In the late 15th century, Duke Cesare Borgia commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the elder to draw up a renovation project. In the early 16th century, Pope Giulio II, ordered continued restoration of the fortress. He commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Younger for this. In 1516, the last transformation, a loggia commissioned by Leone X, was completed by Sangallo. Some critics attribute the disrepair of the monument to Paolo III Farnese. Paolo III wanted Montefiascone to become the head of the Farnese family holdings, but the city refused, and this would have caused him to make un-strategic moves of some of his military holdings. Later, Montefiascone was deprived of the Rectory of the Patrimony of St. Peter in Tuscia, in favor of Viterbo, and this loss contributed to the abandonment of this building. At the end of the 17th century, the castle was sold to Cardinal Barbarigo who took materials from the building to construct the Seminary. In 1870, the building was confiscated by the Italian government, and was later sold to the City.
The current complex has a trapezoidal shape that originally had all four corners occupied by towers. Today, only the northwest tower is preserved. In the northeast corner is a bastion that was thought to have replaced a tower once in this location. Buildings of different sizes once connected the towers. Some of the connecting buildings remain on the northwest side of the complex, but all the remains on the south side are the façade of a once-present building. On the lower part of the façade, the remains are likely to have been partition walls, with some buffered windows. The part of the building that faces the city are strong quadrangular buttresses. The current building is divided into two floors and a basement. On the ground floor, the main room is found, and is characterized, on the upper parts of the walls, by lunettes on corbels. From these, a series of door lead to seven smaller rooms that are linked together. In these rooms, the Museum of the Architecture of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger has been set up. The upper floor is composed of two large rectangular rooms, which have gabled ceilings puncturated by large arches. The basement essentially consists a large room in the form of a rectangular barrel vault, which is accessed by an opening in the side of the Leone X’s loggia. The loggia, which originally contained a rectangular courtyard, has been attributed to Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. The surviving parts of it are three arches on the west arm. On the pillars that support the arches, there are two inscriptions that mention the date 1516 and the name Leone X. The east facing façade is home to a door inserted among the remains of a truncated wall in the center of a window with segmented arches. The west façade is home to numerous windows and contains parts of a room that used to overlook lake Bolsena. This has been completely destroyed. Today the restored and embellished castle is often used for cultural events. The lower halls of the fortress host the Museum of Architecture “Antonio da Sangallo the Younger” (1484-1546) which displays wooden sculptures by Sangallo relating to buildings of Rome and Northern Lazio. The present setting, renovated in the 1980’s thanks to regional contributions, displays a series of beautiful plastic models and a wide series of panels portraying the most significant works of the Renaissance artist. On leaving the museum, you can visit the Pilgrim Tower from where you can enjoy an outstanding view. It was opened on the 25th of September 2005 by some members of European Association of Via Francigena.
G. Breccola – M. Mari, Montefiascone, Grotte di Castro 1979.
C. Sensi, Montefiascone medievale. Gli edifici del centro storico, tesi di laurea, Università degli Studi della Tuscia di Viterbo, A.A. 1996-1997.
G. Breccola, Montefiascone. Guida alla scoperta, Montefiascone 2006.