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Above you see the town as we approached in an organised chaos. You can see some of the old-fashioned toilets sticking off the buildings - built outside like this to be more hygienic. And of course you can't have an Italian countryside town (or any Italian town) without the ubiquitous hanging laundry, which I love to see...and smell...as we walked through the old town there was scent of laundry soap in the air.
History of Grotte di Castro
Grotte di Castro was an Etruscan center of primary importance. It was originally located near the border between the territories of the Vulci and Volsinii and was inhabited since the second half of the 7th c. BC. It experienced a remarkable development during the next century, as the consistent expansion of the surrounding necropolis, with numerous tombs in the rooms, would seem to suggest. Then between the late 4th and early 3rd centuries B.C. damage by Roman expansionism of the Volsinii territory brought an almost complete abandonment of the land.
During the Middle Ages Lombard invasions of the 8th century A.D. forced the inhabitants to flee to the nearby and more secure cliff where the present town of Grotte di Castro stands. These exiles, with no goods or housing, were forced to use the caves as their homes - some already existing and partly dug out of the soft tufa rock – in fact this peculiarity gave the nickname of '"Castrum Criptarum" to the area.
The Duchy of Castro
After several centuries of wars, in the 16th century Grotte had become part of the Duchy of Castro. In the year 1537, Duke Pier Luigi Farnese, having acquired the whole of Frascati town and surrounding land, sold it to the Apostolic Chamber and received in return the town of Castro and the "'Castle of the Caves". In 1649, the city of Castro was invaded and destroyed by papal troops at the behest of Pope Innocent X. Grotte thus returned under direct rule of the Holy See and was freed only after unification, with the annexation of the provinces of Lazio to the Kingdom of Italy, in 1870.
Pictured: (above) Lake Bolsena in the distance, and (below) looking toward the oldest part of Grotte di Castro.
The first residential center of Grotte di Castro was built in the place where today you can admire the Basilica Santuario di Maria SS. del Suffragio, in the Baroque style (pictured below). It lies along the ancient medieval route that leads through the remains of the Renaissance town. The church we see today was built in 1625, on top of a previous structure of the 8th century, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, some parts of which remain embedded in the church and the underground. In the historical center, is a building, that once housed the mayor, but since 1993 has been home to the Museum of Archaeology & Popular Traditions with more than 160 Etruscan exhibits on display. The construction of the larger fountain, reminds inhabitants that it wasn't until 1886 that a proper water supply was installed in the town.
The Basilica is absolutely stunning. My photos haven't done it justice but there were these fantastic chandeliers in the main part - about 10 or more, then walking through to a smaller but sumptuous chapel with these amazing arched windows and looking more like a noble palace than a religious building. Really quite unexpected.
We were interested to find a local bakery using the ancient process of baking with 'Pasta Madre' (a type of sourdough) instead of brewer's yeast in their breads and pizzas. Pasta Madre is an ancient method for fermentation of dough used by the Etruscans, Greeks and Romans using only flour and water.