Lush nature, thermal springs, pristine waters, historic villages to photograph at every turn, necropolises, and archaeological sites galore. Tuscia, in and of itself, is a land waiting to be discovered, ideal for spending days upon days of relaxing vacations without ever getting bored.
Yet, this vast territory is also known for having given birth to some of the most fascinating legends in all of Italy, some of them even known worldwide. Exploring them is undoubtedly an intriguing excuse to enrich our journey through Tuscia, adding a fantastic motivation to deepen our knowledge of the places and villages that dot it.
A PEOPLE THAT CAME FROM THE SEA
So, let’s begin our journey by delving into the roots of this land. The first to populate it, as told by the numerous necropolises scattered throughout the region, such as the Madonna dell’Olivo near the beautiful Tuscania, were the Etruscans. This rich and captivating population is still shrouded in mystery, and the first legend we can uncover about them links them to the ancient and legendary city of Troy. The inhabitants of Tuscia, in fact, according to some recent DNA studies by the University of Turin, would indeed share many similarities with the mythical compatriots of Hector, Paris, Helen, and, of course, the refugee Aeneas. This theory is also supported by the evidence that portrays the Etruscans as a non-indigenous people, but rather originating from the sea, which is why they were also called “Tyrreni.”
Another origin, this time even more fanciful but no less interesting, is the one that connects Tuscia to the powerful god Hercules. As evidenced by the presence of the lion, the symbol of Viterbo, and various depictions of the same Greco-Roman deity within historical residences like Palazzo dei Priori in the capital, Hercules was certainly a beloved hero. The Etruscans themselves used to worship him, under the name Hercle, as evidenced by findings at Colle del Duomo in Viterbo. Furthermore, the god is said to have created Lake Vico itself by hurling his club to save the local inhabitants from a dragon. The weapon, stuck in the ground, was then extracted, causing water to gush out and form the magnificent lake that is now within a nature reserve. Another perfect reason to explore nearby places like the town of Ronciglione, famous for its historical carnival, and Capranica, situated on the Via Francigena and rich in history. Both cherished locations in Tuscia are also known for hosting the annual passage of the Mille Miglia, a famous historic car event throughout Italy.
BOLSENA, THE MAGICAL HEART OF ETRURIA
Speaking of lakes, Lake Bolsena also has its legends intertwined with the history of the place. Locations like the village of Capodimonte, which we can visit today to admire its beautiful green lakeside promenade or to discover local history, such as the tale related to the myth of Beauty and the Beast. The great Disney classic, in fact, is said to have originated right here, where around the 1500s a local nobleman named Pedro Gonzalez became “famous” for being afflicted with hypertrichosis, a condition that covered every inch of his body with dense hair. According to stories, the man was even enslaved and given as a wedding gift to Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of King Henry II of France, who then freed him and decided to have him married to continue his unique lineage. Later, Pedro Gonzalez was finally liberated and even granted nobility in the Capodimonte of that era.
Our journey could then continue to the beautiful village of Valentano, a veritable terrace overlooking Lake Bolsena, with historic buildings, archaeological museums, and serene hills covered in olive groves. From here, we can observe from above the Martana and Bisentina Islands. These are at the center of our next legend because they are believed to be the last two gateways to the fantastic realm of Agartha, now known thanks to numerous tales, films, and Japanese anime that have made it famous. The islands, particularly Bisentina, were even the focus of unlikely searches by Adolf Hitler’s entourage during World War II, as he believed that inside he would find the gateway to the imaginary world positioned at the Earth’s core.
Continuing our visit, we could then explore the lovely Gradoli, located right on the shores of the lake and known for hosting the “Pranzo del Purgatorio” (Lunch of Purgatory), an event that takes place every year on Ash Wednesday and allows participants to savor local delicacies like whitefish and “Fagioli del Purgatorio” (Beans of Purgatory). The entire surrounding area once belonged to the legendary territory called Velzna, blessed by Etruscan deities. According to the ancient people of Tuscia, the very lake we now observe, surrounded by nature and small villages famous for their folklore, was the magical heart of all Etruria, the land of the Etruscans that encompassed Upper Lazio, part of Umbria, and Tuscany.
SACRED AND DIVINE MEET IN TUSCIA
Tuscia is famously a place closely connected to the sacred, thanks in part to the Via Francigena, which allows one to traverse the entire region all the way to Rome, while visiting numerous villages rich in churches and other places dedicated to the divine.
Among these, one of the most well-known is undoubtedly the city of Acquapendente. Here, a legend reveals the origins of the “Concathedral” that characterizes the city. According to the myth, Queen Matilda, mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, set out on a journey to Rome with a caravan of mules laden with gold to support the construction of a place of prayer dedicated to the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in the Holy City. However, upon reaching Acquapendente, the mules stopped and refused to continue their journey. The queen, who also had a divine vision that night, interpreted this as a sign from the Lord and decided to use the money to build the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Acquapendente. The church even housed stones that would be touched by the blood of Christ.
Thanks to this partial reproduction of the burial place of Jesus, the city is still known today as the “Jerusalem of Europe,” attracting tourists from all over the world.
EVEN TODAY, THE LEGENDS CONTINUE
A final “legend,” more tangible and contemporary than the others, is that of Civita di Bagnoregio. The tiny village, perched on an improbable spur of rock, is now one of the most visited destinations in all of Italy. It’s an absolute must-see when visiting the area, and admiring it from an ideal position, such as that offered by the village of Lubriano, allows us to best appreciate this enchanting place, a candidate for UNESCO heritage status. From a distance, especially on misty mornings, the so-called “Dying City” transforms into a floating island in the sky. This captivating panorama, surrounded by the marvelous Valley of the Badlands, seems to have been the inspiration for some of the animated films by the great Japanese artist Hayao Miyazaki. His work “Castle in the Sky,” in particular, is said to be a true homage to Civita di Bagnoregio and its surrounding area.
These are just a few examples of the many legends that we can discover by visiting each of the magnificent villages of Tuscia. A journey in search of traditions and folk culture, in a place that sometimes seems to have stopped in time, known to all for its great hospitality, evident in the many accommodations and dining establishments, where we can, of course, savor the ancient flavors that characterize the typical cuisine of Viterbo.