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Acquasparta and the Roman Ruins of Carsulae

Come with us and discover Roman ruins and ancient forests

from 65€ Per person
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Age-old villages between Todi and the Martani mountain range

A route through the Martani mountains, on the trail of hamlets and villages

from 70€ Per person
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Canyoning in Umbria, Valnerina

Hurl yourself onto sheets of glistening water or white-water torrents or climb down rock faces and dive into the river. Experience the canyoning in Umbria!

80€ Per person
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Etruscan Umbria – From Tenaglie to Orvieto

Discovering the Etruscans. The sixth stage of our itinerary on the trail of the secrets of Lucumonia Volsinii

from 65€ Per person
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Etruscan Umbria – Orvieto: Castel Viscardo and Porano

Discovering the Etruscans. The seventh stage on our itinerary in search of temples, tombs and necropolises

from 90€ Per person
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From Castel San Felice to the ‘Cascata delle Marmore’ waterfalls

A cycle ride in nature, from the village of Castel San Felice to the splendid Marmore waterfalls

from 80€ Per person
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From Piediluco to Labro, on the historic Via Francigena walking route

Following the Via Francigena, then taking a slight detour towards the village of Labro

from 75€ Per person
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In the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi

Following the paths taken by St Francis, admiring timeless villages and landscapes

from 90€ Per person
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In the Martani mountains and Spoleto

In the Monti Martani exploring rugged paths and ancient villages up to the magnificent town of Spoleto

from 90€ Per person
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Mountain crests with fossilized seashells

Among the highest peaks and the most ancient history. A trek to explore and admire the beauty of the Sibillini mountain range

from 90€ Per person
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Narni, Albornoz and the Roman remains of Ocricolum

Cycling round fortresses, woods and magnificent villages

from 70€ Per person
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Old Spoleto-Norcia Railway and ‘Cascata delle Marmore’ Waterfalls

Surrounded by nature, beauty and tradition, with the option of a special lunch break

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What to see and what to do in Terni

Where the pleasant Ternana basin lies today, a terrible monster once lived in the thick woods. A winged dragon – called Thyrus – with no front legs and a long barbed tail blew a deadly breath from his mouth. No one could approach his lair for miles around, and sometimes when he was hungry the dragon would go to the gates of the city terrorizing the inhabitants. No one had the courage to face it and anyone who tried was torn to pieces in the clutches of the beast. But one day a young man in shining armor, tired of living in fear, decided to fight the dragon. He went into the woods to the monster’s lair and the closer he got, the darker the sky grew, threatening a storm. The boy ignored the sky and went to the dragon’s lair to face the beast. But he realized that the stabs with his lance did little more than tickle the monster’s hard leathery skin. Just when it looked like the youth would succumb, the black clouds left a small opening in the sky, and the sun’s rays reflecting off the armor momentarily blinded the horrible dragon. Seizing the moment the boy thrust his lance straight into the dragon’s heart and he crumbled to the ground with a mighty roar. The dragon Thyrus with his disgustingly malodorous breath represents the putrid swamps near the Velino River that caused disease and death and infested the area around Terni before the Romans developed the land in the third century BC. The killing of the dragon symbolizes the birth and development of the town and it has become the symbol of Terni, reproduced on banners, crests and flags and is carved onto lintels over windows and doors.

The other personage that traditionally represents Terni had totally opposite behavior to the evil Thyrus – the town’s patron saint and one of the most well known in the world, whose emblem is love-  St Valentine. He was a bishop who lived during the time of the Roman Empire and who gave his life for two lovers, demonstrating that noble sentiments unite us and make us universally human and closer to God over and beyond the rigid doctrines of religious beliefs.

The contrast between Thyrus and St Valentine presents Terni as a town of dualisms, quite unique in the Umbrian region. Terni is both ancient and modern. Its historical center alternates with the lively modern suburbs, from the artificiality of its industries to the awesome beauty of its natural surroundings.

Everyone has their own opinions about the industries and the impact they’ve had on the town, and in fact, it is still a problem today.  Yet when you visit Terni you realize how this problem has been overcome and how the city has drawn advantages from it- by giving value and cultural worth to that which, in other places, would be hard to accept as part of our history.

Discover Terni

The most interesting sites from ancient history are mainly in the town center. But Terni also offers a wide variety of industrial archeological sites and splendid landscapes of countryside and natural wonders.

A stroll through the old center can only start in Corso del Popolo (a main street), in a futuristic scenario created by the sculpture Lancia di Luce (Spear of Light) designed by the artist Arnaldo Pomodoro to commemorate 100 years of Terni’s steel plant, to then proceed step by step into the past. At the end of the street (the corso) stands the 15th century Palazzo Spada, an imposing yet elegant building, where municipal offices are today and where the city council meets. Walking on a bit further, you’ll go further back in time when you see the 11th century San Salvatore church whose foundations are on the site of a domus (home) built in the 1st century.

The lanes open up behind the Palazzo Spada in a labyrinth with glimpses of churches and 18th century buildings; then they widen out again unexpectedly at the old city walls that border on the lovely public park where the local people stroll, ride their bikes, meet up with friends or even fall in love. Inside the park is the Anfiteatro Fausto, also called Terni’s colosseum (Colosseo di Terni), built in the first century and very well preserved. When the roofs leave a bit of room for view, you can see the bell towers (campanili) of the Chiesa di S. Francesco, a Romanesque building dedicated to Saint Francis, and the elegant Cattedrale di S. Maria Assunta (Cathedral of Saint Maria Assunta), the city’s main church. Going back towards Piazza della Repubblica, you can visit the Palazzo Comunale (ex-town hall) built in the 8th century, whose 40-meter-high steel bell tower that is the emblem of the combination of old and new for which the town is a proud ambassador. Going out of the walls you will come to Piazza Valnerina, the railway station, and the Colle di Pentina, where the most important industries in central Italy operated from the second half of the 1800s – the Fabbrica d’Armi (a small weapons factory)(1880), where you can visit the vast collection of the Raccolta tecnica di armi (collection of weapons); the Acciaieria (steel plant) (1884); the Jutificio Centurini (jute factory) (1886), of which only the villa Centurini survives today nestled in the pine wood that bears the same name. There are older structures nearby like the Lanificio Gruber (wool factory) (1846) and the Nerina Canal, which was the energy source for the early factories. All around are the factory worker neighborhoods Borgo Bovio and Sant’Agnese.

To the west of the town, built on the remains of a Roman-era Christian burial ground, is the Basilico di S. Valentino, destination of pilgrimages of lovers from all over the world who come to honor the saint and ask for his blessing.

The beautiful basin in which the town lies is naturally ready to welcome and awe-inspire people who love the outdoors, peaceful surroundings and mountains. Terni lies at the feet of the Monti Martani, with their prehistoric settlements, bordered by the Parco Fluviale del Nera (the Nera River Park) where you can stroll, or bike or ride horses along its entire length. You can’t leave the area without going to see the majestic Cascate delle Marmore (waterfalls), the highest and oldest manmade waterfalls, that couldn’t sum up any better way the uniqueness of this territory, where history, nature and technology meet but never clash, they rub but never screech, in a delicate balance that has been formed over centuries.

“Horribly beautiful! but on the verge,

   From side to side, beneath the glittering morn,

   An Iris sits, amidst the infernal surge,

   Like Hope upon a deathbed, and, unworn

   Its steady dyes, while all around is torn

   By the distracted waters, bears serene

   Its brilliant hues with all their beams unshorn:

   Resembling, mid the torture of the scene,

Love watching Madness with unalterable mien.”

This was written by one of Britain’s most famous poets, Lord Byron, in the 19th century, in his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, inspired by the breathtaking Umbrian waterfalls that have awed people for centuries who stand at the spot where the Velino River gushes into the larger Nera River. It is so beautiful it’s almost frightening. The Cascate delle Marmore  can be considered record making waterfalls. They are 165 m high (500 feet), the highest in Europe and they also hold the record for the highest artificial fall of water. In fact, what at first sight seems a natural wonder conceals centuries of technological genius and study.

The waterfalls were actually ‘created’ by the Romans in the 3rd century BC; they dug a canal ordered by the consul Curio Dentato- called Cava Curiana, after him – to drain a swamp, having the water flow in direction of the natural Marmore falls. This name most likely came from the kind and shape of the calcareous rocks there, very similar to white marble, that outcrop abundantly from the woods that surround the falls. The Cava Curiana  canal and the river system it connects to was for centuries a bone of contention between the towns of Terni and Rieti because of the frequent flooding by the Nera River, that at times would swell and overflow its banks. Modification works were done over time in favor of one town or the other, but the problem was never definitively resolved. The disputes often turned to battles and the Terni population decided to build a fortress on the mount, the Rocca S Angelo (St Angelo’s Fortress), where they could see if anybody from Rieti came to alter the canal. The fortress, which still overlooks the falls (visible and open for visits) was the scene of many battles over the years in an attempt to conquer the dominating position.

The river capacity continued to grow unchecked forming a powerful waterfall much mightier than the one we see today. Meanwhile, attempts were made to keep it under control; even Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, one of the architects that worked on St. Peter’s Basilica, tried various solutions while he was staying in Terni supervising the works on the Palazzo Spada. Several canals were dug to carry water away and the Cava Curiana canal was deepened. But nothing worked to stop the enormous surge of water that crashed into the Nera River basin. Two thousand years after the first falls were created passed before the problem was eventually solved. In 1787 the architect Andrea Vici, through the construction of lateral ‘barriers’, changed the angle of the fall of the last drop-off thereby eliminating the overflow of the gush that had mainly been the cause of the difficult management of the river when at capacity. Nevertheless, the power of the falls was still quite impressive – enough to fascinate Lord Byron – who visited the falls twenty years later. He described its might and compared it to love that dominates madness.

In the following years with the advent of industrialization, the power of the falls was again put under better control when a hydroelectric plant was built to provide energy to many factories that already in the mid-1800s were operating in the territory. Today the two rivers are totally under control and target hydraulic works make sure the river will never dangerously overflow again, but the awe one experiences when viewing the falls has remained unchanged. Stendhal, too, another famous literary figure who came to admire the waterfall, also left a witness account, narrating that it was one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

From the lower platform the view is completely blocked by the foamy falling water and spray. The experience will affect all your senses: besides the beautiful view, the impetuous roar and the scent of the surrounding woods and wet vegetation, the force and speed with which the water crashes onto the rocks breaking it up into miniscule particles flying through the air that come to light on your skin. If you visit the falls at night, you will see it magnificently illuminated, offering a remarkable scene.

The site is open to tourists; opening hours vary according to the season. There are many trails that vary in length and difficulty that connect the various scenic outlook spots; for example, the historical Observatory with a balcony in a safe, strategic position built in 1871 for those lucky enough to pass by there. Some of the trails lead up past all four levels of the falls to the upper platform and to the so-called Campacci– large meadows with chestnut trees provided with picnic tables and camping areas from which one can admire the spectacular view. Through Exploring Umbria you can book nature tours – on foot or by bike – with expert guides, or book an adventure to go ‘canyoning’ or rafting on the Nera River. Because of the presence of the falls, the environment has a unique ecosystem with rare plants and animals that one is not likely to see in other parts of the surrounding area. The water, rich in calcium carbonate, has sculpted and eroded the porous rock of the cliffs forming caves in and near the waterfalls, some of which can be visited. If you hike up the falls to the upper platform, you can see the ruins of old hydraulic plants and some canals built over the centuries in an attempt to harness the power of a waterfall whose history mingles nature with history, unresolvedly entangled. Today we can still hardly believe that it came, in part, from our own hands.

On any random day in the latter half of the 1400s, the square in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta must have been quite crowded and busy. The country people walked back and forth bent under the weight of their carts loaded with grains and red beets. The merchants shouted to draw the attention of the rich citizens coming out of an arringo – a city council meeting of those times – from one noble building or other situated around the church. Some of them crossed over the dusty square dodging pigs or kicking chickens out of the way, others were chatting in groups, discussing in low voices the new regulations imposed by the pope to bring back morality that had gone slack. The good conditions and wealth that had developed in town in recent times had led the inhabitants, mostly the noble class and the clergy, to form lecherous habits, which obligated the legislator to intervene in 1444 with laws concerning prostitution, gambling, offensive  language and loan-sharking.

The square was probably quite crowded but, as usual, there were very few women about, hardly any at all after the new law was passed.  If lustful men spent enormous amounts on prostitution, naturally it was the women’s fault for being too provocative; so it was now forbidden for them to wear ‘coquettish’ clothes. They could not be made of expensive material, but the sleeves could be lined with silk and their muffs could be of velvet; their jewelry and hairdos could not cost or be worth more than three ducats; their tiaras could not be of gold or silver, not even for a wedding. Everything had to be toned down. More than ten guests were not allowed at a wedding banquet. Women could not take part in public funerals; and actually, the less they showed their faces in public, the better it was. There were also laws that regulated how low necklines could be and how high the heels of shoes could be – which couldn’t be higher than four fingers.

This is probably the context in which we should imagine one of the most curious things about the cathedral. Approaching the church and standing under the elegant 17th century portico with a balustrade surmounted by a statue of St. Valentine and other seven bishop saints, you can see on a slab of stone over the lozenge-shaped window to the left of the main door, an etching of a shoe print. There have been many strange interpretations of this finding, discovered during renovations carried out in the 1900s. The most reasonable one – albeit not historically confirmed – is that it concerns those laws passed in 1444 to limit low moral behavior. The engraving shows the measure of the permitted height of women’s heels, represented by an 8 cm line (3 in), which corresponds to the four fingers set by the regulation; a penalty fine was half a gold ducat.

This shoe print, of course, is not the only interesting thing about the cathedral, part of which dates back to the 6th century, when the saint Anastasio was the bishop of Terni. His tomb is in the crypt, and it was likely his death that led to a thousand years of life in this place; this can be confirmed by the nearby ancient Amphitheater Fausto of the first century. The structure of the crypt and the presence of an apse and windows leads us to believe that it was not underground in the 11th century, but was a functioning church. It was greatly enlarged during the 15th and 16th centuries, but what we admire today is from the 17th century. The oriental bell tower was added a century later.

Hardly anything remains of the 1600s furnishings, which disappeared during Napoleon’s devastations and under WWII bombings. Both these events brought to light ruins of an ancient Romanesque structure – for example, part of the inner façade with a rose window and two double-arched windows. The third chapel on the left aisle is called the Chapel of Mercy because there is a painting attributed to Carlo Maratta of Our Lady of Mercy (Madonna della Misericordia); Maratta was one of the most important representatives of Roman classicism in the 1600s. The organ, whose pipes are bridled in a series of gilded branches, is another exquisite work of art in the church. It was built by Luca Neri in 1647, and documents found in the city archives attribute the design to none other than the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Some claim that because of the close friendship between Bernini and the Cardinal Rapaccioli who commissioned the reconstruction works of the cathedral, the entire project was given to the Neapolitan architect and sculptor Bernini.

There are many enigmas surrounding the Cathedral dedicated to St Maria Assunta from the mysterious etching on the door to the hand that designed the cathedral’s appearance. What remains certain is its elegance, its long history and the impression it makes on visitors who stroll out of the narrow streets into the square and suddenly find it right in front of them.

On the south side of Piazza Europa stands an imposing building, unadorned and severe, built in the 16th century as the residence of the Spada family, counts of Collescipoli, one of the most influential Roman families in Terni.

In 1546, Antonio Cordini, better known as Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, was supervising the construction of the building, when, weakened by a temperature, he fainted dead away and never  came to. No one has ever ascertained the exact cause of death of this great architect, who had numerous important jobs to his credit. In fact, besides the Rocca Paolina fortress, he supervised the work site of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican for over 25 years, having the unpleasant task of defending his position against his predecessor Raffaello Sanzio. Over the centuries there have been various versions to explain Sangallo’s death, like the more captivating idea of his being poisoned by someone, which has never been proven. The fact remains that he was in a difficult situation in Terni, having been sent there by Pope Paul III with instructions to build a system to regulate the Cascate delle Marmore waterfalls. For centuries there had been problems when the Nera River overflowed and flooded the area around Rieti. This created a bloody rivalry between the towns but it did not put a stop to the works because the people claimed it was an order from their papal government that no one was happy with. Tradition claims that however suspicious the people were of the historical officialism of the  order, Sangallo the Younger found himself in the midst of this rivalry because he was the executor of the works and representative of the hated pope and therefore could not escape from the people’s revenge.

Palazzo Spada was completed in 1555 and the family kept possession of it until the end of the 1700s when the Massarucci family bought it first, then the nuns of the Order of Bambino Gesù later. In the second half of the 1900s it was given to the city of Terni, which made very wise modifications and installed the municipal offices and city council meeting room in the old residence. The Council Room, known as the Sala di Fetonte, is one of the masterpieces of the building. The vaulted ceilings are painted with splendid decorations with grotesque figures and scenes of the Battle of Lepanto and of the Notte di S. Bartolomeo (night of St Bartholomew) and the massacre of the Huguenots, painted by the 16th century Flemish artist  Karel van Mander.

The façade, like the rest of the building, is bare and the plaster that once covered the outside walls is no longer there. This attributes to its appearing austere and powerful. The palazzo that Sangallo the Younger designed was quite different from what you see today because the original design was of two separate wings. In the 1700s the two parts were joined by another building creating the typical courtyard style arrangement. The main entrance was moved from Via Roma to where it is today in Corso del Popolo.

The palazzo can be visited during opening hours of the municipal offices in Terni. If the city council is not in session, you can ask to be taken to see the room where they meet and adjacent rooms; these rooms are quite impressive because of the decorations done by Sebastiano Fiori, a pupil of Vasari.

Some mosaics from the floor of an ancient Roman house (domus) were found near the palazzo, confirming how long and how important this place was that held power in the territory.

Outside the town on a road branching off from the Via Flaminia road to Rome, a narrow tree-lined cobbled street leads up to the elegant Basilica of St Valentino. On this site, which was once a paleo-Christian cemetery, the most well-known saint, celebrated also in non-Christian countries, was buried in the 3rd century. St Valentine’s Day is the most romantic holiday in the world, and the story of the martyred saint is, in its tragedy, just as romantic.

Valentino, the bishop of Terni known for his superb character, was once called to Rome by the father of a rich family because his seriously ill son was near death. The bishop miraculously cured the young man, who converted to Christianity in gratitude. Word of the miracle healing soon spread along with the bishop’s fame, who in his evangelical mission was also able to convert some young scholars. Their names were Procolo, Efebio, Apollonio, and Abondio, and they soon became faithful disciples of Bishop Valentino, following him until his death. He met a cruel death, which was not uncommon for Christians in those times, especially those who dedicated their lives to spreading Christianity in the pagan empire. So Furius Placidus, the chief magistrate in Rome, ordered Valentino to be beheaded. On his return to Terni, Valentino was captured by some Roman centurions, and there was no escape. But why is Valentino the patron saint of lovers? It is said that before Valentino was arrested, he had officiated at a particular ceremony – the marriage between a Christian and a pagan, which was strongly forbidden by law and by the Church. But the bride Serapia was gravely ill. The young groom Sabino begged the bishop to intercede with Christ so he would to be joined to his bride even after death. Sabino converted and Valentino, impressed by such overwhelming love, blessed the couple’s union. Serapia died a few mintes later, overcome by her disease, but their love had been blessed for eternity.

The church was built over the oratory that was probably built in Valentino’s memory; but since it was on a frequently used communication route and beyond the protection of the city walls, it was destroyed and rebuilt many times. The church you see today is from the 1600s and was erected when Pope Paul V ordered to look for and exhume the saint’s remains.

Plaster statues of Valentino and his four disciples stand in niches on the façade, watching us and inviting us to enter. Inside, the church has a single aisle with lateral chapels containing exquisite paintings by Luca de la Haye and a splendid depiction of the archangel saint Michael by Cavalier D’Arpino, born Giuseppe Cesari, Caravaggio’s teacher. St Valentine’s remains are in an urn kept under the altar. You can visit the crypt by using the stairs to the left of the altar, where the remains of the Terni bishop’s faithful disciples are kept. Next to the crypt is a small museum with several items found during excavations carried out for the construction of the basilica.

A rather unusual tomb was found during archeological digs in an area nearby called the necropolis delle acciaierie (an early cemetery). Contrary to custom, a double tomb was found – it contained two skeletons; among the items in the tomb were two entwined bracelets. Popular imagination holds that the bodies were those of Serapia and Sabino, the bracelets symbolizing their love. Recently, that hypothesis has been proved wrong by studies done by archeologists and anthropologists, who identified the bodies as those of two children –probably two little girls – who lived 800 years before Valentino. The tomb is displayed today in the archeological section of the CAOS museum (a museum and cultural center set up in the abandoned SIRI chemical factory) and it is evocative and absolutely worth your time to visit it.

Arriving from Corso Vecchio, in the heart of the historic centre of Terni, and turning towards Vico San Lorenzo, you find yourself face-to-face with a broad Romanesque facade, shaped by a gable roof at the top and built of light-coloured bricks with two portals – one dating back to the 16th century – and two small triple-lancet windows. But the unitary ‘facade’ of the Chiesa di S. Lorenzo conceals a dual identity. Internally, in fact, the building is divided into two naves dating back to different eras and with different histories. The left aisle is very old and seems to have originated in the 13th century on the ruins of a domus or a Roman temple. This is actually the original layout of the church, as evidenced from information held in the Rationes decimarum of the time, that is, the parish register in which the taxes collected by the ecclesiastical bodies were noted. This part of the church came to light and was restored in the early 20th century, during excavations for restructuring work after a lengthy period of neglect. The pavement bears traces of mosaics, probably from the Roman age, and the area that today stands below the apse was probably a central part of the old 14th-century church, which was flanked by two small naves. With a little imagination, we can mentally reconstruct the original appearance of this church, taking inspiration from the ancient columns and their basements. Above one of these, remains of an altar are still visible, where depictions of pagan divinities were placed.

The right nave is clearly more recent. Having been added in the 17th century, it is placed at a higher level than the one on the left and is completely plastered. As with many of Terni’s churches, bombings during WWII  did not spare the Church of S. Lorenzo, which, by a twist of fate, capitulated under enemy fire on the morning of 11th August 1943. Parts of the church collapsed including the roof, the right side and the upper part of the apse. Reconstruction, led by the bishop in charge, aimed to restore its pre-bomb-damaged appearance, without introducing further changes.

Noteworthy works in this church include a 17th-century painting located on the first altar to the left depicting the Martyrdom of St. Biagio, tentatively attributed to the Rieti painter Vincenzo Manenti, and an 18th century statue of the Virgin dressed in precious fabrics.

The Chiesa di S. Francesco is one of the most important Franciscan sites in Terni. The Oratorio di S. Cassiano that once stood here was gifted by the Bishop of Terni Rainerio to St Francis to give him shelter during his stays in the city. The church was built in the second half of the 13th century and, in its original form, consisted of a single nave. The two side aisles were added in the 15th century, when the Franciscans obtained permission from the municipality to use the building materials left over from the demolition of the Arco del Fondanello, a nearby structure. The stone ‘sponga’ (lithoid travertine), used to build much of the church and two new naves, is a particular type of travertine typical of Terni and is very suitable for construction because of its lightness, strength and adaptability. It is highly malleable on extraction and solidifies on contact with the air. The stone is referred to as ‘sponga’ due to its ‘spongy’ appearance.

Looking at the facade, it is evident that the two side aisles were part of a later intervention. It consists of three blocks: a central one with a Gothic portal surmounted by two rose windows, and the two mirror-image side blocks with smaller portals arranged under elegant mullioned windows. Due to its strong similarity with the Franciscan churches of Assisi, tradition has attributed the design of the church to Filippo da Campello, the same architect who worked on the Basilica di S. Francesco e di S. Chiara. The bell tower, erected in the same period, can be accessed from inside the church through the Cappella del Cristo Morto near the altar.

Over the years the church has suffered considerable damage, and during the WWI it was hit by a bomb, irreparably destroying one of the chapels, dedicated to S. Bernardino. Many works of art were removed from the church because it was considered unsafe. One of these was the altarpiece painted for the high altar by Piermatteo D’Amelia, commissioned in the late 15th century. The painter had earned a great deal of respect from the patrons of central Italy after frescoing the great starry sky of the Sistine Chapel, which Michelangelo – it is said – was so sorry to paint over. Today the work, called the ‘Pala dei Francescani’, is exhibited in the city’s Pinacoteca Civica (art gallery) set up inside the renovated cultural centre CAOS – Centro per le Arti Opificio Siri.

Numerous decorative elements have remained inside the Church and one of them alone is worth the visit. It is a work by Bartolomeo di Tommaso for the Cappella Paradisi, located to the right of the main altar. Awe-struck by the passionate and colourful preaching of the Franciscan S. Giacomo della Marca and perhaps by the works of Dante, some members of the Paradisi family, who were city priors at the time, wanted to commemorate one of their relatives by commissioning an inspiring universal judgment. On the central wall of the Paradisi chapel there is Redeemer in judgement, surrounded by angels, saints and, a little further down, the patrons. Purgatory is depicted on the left wall, with the penitents placed in different caves and circles, and depicted above is the Descent of Christ in Limbo. On the right wall is Hell, with Lucifer dominating the damned, some of whom are placed in holes, others in caves. Higher up, angels throw sinners from the caves.

The Valnerina (Nerina Valley), one of the most appealing and less known parts of Umbria, takes its name from the river that flows through the valley and deep canyons- the Nera. The river springs from the heart of the Umbrian-Marche Apennine mountains and falls into the Tiber River 116 kilometers away, uncommonly impetuous and powerful. It’s not only by chance that it is considered the seventh river in Italy for its medium-river capacity. It is precisely due to its particular impetuosity that over thousands of years it has cut through the countryside sculpting and shaping a characteristic landscape that, despite the dense presence of humans, at times still seems wild and uninhabited. The skylines of the Valnerina are harsh and jagged and the deep valleys here and there reveal their calcareous origins; these valleys lie mostly in the shade of the mountains during the day and in summer. It’s a totally different scenario from the sunny rolling hills of Umbria for which the region is more commonly known. The Valnerina Valley is rather wide and runs through the entire southeast part of the region from the town of Preci down to the Terni area to the south and Norcia and Cascia to the east.

The Nera River Park is in the valley and covers the halfway to lower part of the river from the town of Ferentillo all the way to Terni, where the river joins the Velino River. The Velino literally gushes into the Nera at a difference of altitude of 165 meters, creating one of the most beautiful hydrological phenomena in Italy –the Cascate delle Marmore waterfalls. Along the river inside the park are the small towns of Arrone and Montefranco, then the park turns east and away from the river passing the tiny village of Polino – population 230. The park includes Lago di Piediluco, second largest regional lake in a beautiful landscape.

A landscape so charming and particular that at first might seem uninhabited, has, however, been settled by humans since ancient times. There was everything man could need in
Valnerina – water, wood and a high altitude from which he could dominate the valley. Throughout the area you can find fortresses, castles, monasteries and watch towers that testify to the economic wealth this territory experienced that one wouldn’t expect from its geographically isolated position. Although it was a crossroad, the Valnerina Valley, because of its physical aspects, has always been difficult to reach for commercial purposes and in more modern times. This explains why traditions and the local culture have been passed down unchanged for generations, more so than in other parts of the region. The CeSCaV, Centro Studi delle Campane in Valnerina (Valnerina Bell Study Center) is in the park in Arrone, where one of the most important traditions –bell ringing – is studied and carried on. The Umbrian method, quite impressive for the eyes, not only for the ears, means the bells are rung from the top of the bell tower, where tunes are rung out directly by moving the bells with their hands. Strolling through the small villages within the park on spring or summer days, you could easily hear music from a squeezebox, tambourine and triangle playing the Saltarello, a folk tune once the main attraction at Umbrian and Marche village fetes. Today it barely resists as folklore in very few places in the region.

Besides offering a historical and educational experience, the park’s nature is worth exploring and ‘living.’ There are many paths and itineraries to follow on foot or on bike, accessible to all. The tourist itineraries are the easiest – they are short and adapted to everyone. There is a quick 45 min hike up to Mount Arrone to enjoy the splendid view of the towns below; a two-and-a-half hour trek will take you from Ferentillo to the charming hamlet of Nicciano; other uphill hikes wind through the park to the Marmore Waterfalls. There are also paths for more expert excursionists looking for adventure; for example, l’Anello del Monte Pennarossa (the Mt Pennarossa Ring), 7 km long that can be covered in four hours; or the 7.4 km hike up 430 meters from Polino to Colle Bertone (Bertone Hill). The park is a must for cyclists because it is included in the ‘Greenway del Nera’, a long ring route of 180 km that criss-crosses the Valnerina from Preci to the Prati di Stroncone (Stroncone meadows). It’s not to be missed for bike and nature lovers. Then there are water sports on the main attraction- the Nera River: kayaking, white water rafting, hydrospeed boats. There is an adventure park and a part of the river where ‘no kill’ fishing is allowed. These activities are in the ‘water park.’ You‘ll leave with nostalgia for this countryside that, despite its severe and rash impression, has welcomed and protected humans for centuries.

Not far from the town of Terni is Valserra, an area that takes its name from the Serra River that flows through it. This valley has been a place of passage for centuries, when, in addition to the Valley of Tessino crossed by the Via Flaminia, it was the natural communication route between the Terni basin and the town of Spoleto. The importance that this communication route had in the far past is still evident today by the many small towns or borghi found in the valley and foothills. These hamlets did not develop as fortified towns like most of the other towns in the territory. The more important settlements did not arise along the path, but higher up on the mounts in defensive positions with a wide view. The villages that one sees within fortified towns and those around religious complexes like monasteries or productive centers are quite different from the small towns one encounters along the valley floor. It is obvious that they developed around tall observatory towers from where one could keep an eye on the ‘traffic’ through the valley. Acquapalombo, Battiferro, and Poggio Lavarino were small villages around lookout towers, and were part of a vaster system of castles and fortresses that allowed the people to control and defend a large territory.

The valley was of great importance around the year 1000 when there was political tension between the Papal State and the dukedom of Spoleto. Enrico II, saint, king of Italy and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, to confirm his loyalty to Pope Benedict VIII, gave to the pope all the lands known as the Terre di Arnolfo (Lands of Arnolfo), which included the Valserra valley and its settlements, thereby creating a ‘cushion’ area for the tensions of the two states. It didn’t change life much for the inhabitants because the Arnolfi counts, who had owned the land for centuries, continued as always to manage the area, but now as vassals or servants of the pope rather than of the emperor. Things carried on this way for the next six hundred years.

The Valserra valley has undergone little urbanization over the years. Its woods and forests are examples of the great biodiversity present in Umbria; so much so that it was recognized as an Important Community Site (SIC in Italian) and a Special Area of Conservation (ZSC in Italian) in Europe during a 2000 Nature Network program set up by the European Union for the protection and preservation of many species – plants and animals –  and their habitat. As you stroll or cycle on the many paths along the river or up the hills among the small villages, it will not be difficult to see foxes, roe deer, or weasels running through the underbrush.

Off the beaten tourist tracks, Valserra will not disappoint those who have gone to Umbria to find peace and quiet without giving up the charm of ancient history and places that, either due to laziness or self-satisfaction, do not seem to want to let modern times in the door.

The town offers numerous things to do- from educational activities like guided tours of the museums and monuments to things more fun and exciting like Paintball or Laser games. You can alternate relaxing strolls through the city park by day and join the fun getting out of the Escape Room safe and sound with your friends in the evening; you can eat out in one of the many restaurants in the town center or make new friends in the coffee bars and pubs that keep late-night hours. If you want something more compelling we recommend you leave the city and look for the fun that the Terni countryside offers. There are water sports on the Nera River, a medium-sized river that twists and winds like a mountain river, for all adventurous types – white water rafting, hydrospeed boats, canyoning and kayaking, some with easily accessible offices in town. Those who are fearful of water can explore the Nera River Park and the Amerine mountains on an off-road quad bike or on its oldest and most ecological ancestor the horse. If the ground doesn’t excite you enough and you think there is more fun up above, you can fly a delta plane or go hang-gliding or paragliding and look down at the gorgeous scenery of the natural basin.

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The large necropolis discovered at the end of the 1800s during construction of the Terni steel factory proved that this valley below the Martani mountains was densely inhabited already during the iron and bronze ages. The ancient burial ground is enormous- almost three kilometers long – and is connected to the S. Pietro in Campo necropolis (6th century), where St Peter the Warrior’s tomb is located.

As in other parts of the region, Terni was an outpost of the early Umbrian population even before the Romans arrived between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC. The Interamnia Nahars settlement around 672 BC, where the town of Terni now stands, seems to have been one of the largest and best structured. The local river that flows through Terni and surrounding area took its name Nera from this settlement. The people were part of the Naharki, a population of shepherds and warriors with their own particular identity and which filled the vast burial ground in this territory.


The first Umbrian towns to be conquered and come under Roman influence were those along the Flaminian Way, one of the main communication arteries that led into central Italy and connected Rome to the Adriatic Sea. It passed through the very center of Terni and was part of the Cardo Maximus, intersecting with the Decumanus Maximus at the spot of what is today Terni’s Piazza della Repubblica. The Interamnia Nahars settlement was one of the first to succumb, called a Statio until 90 BC, when the law Lex Julia granted Roman citizenship to all the Italic populations and the village became a municipium. There are still traces of the presence of the Romans in Terni in the ruins of the old city wall, the amphitheater Fausto and in the San Salvatore church, built over an ancient domus (dwelling). A column, possibly part of a temple dedicated to river gods, was found near the Mulino Secci mill on the Nera River. For fear the people would cause a revolt, the bishop Valentino da Terni was beheaded on 14 Feb 273 outside the city walls along the Flaminian Way. Ordered by the emperor Aureliano, the bishop was killed because he officiated at the marriage of a Christian girl Serapia and a pagan legionary Sabino. The girl’s disease and their uncontrollable love convinced Valentino to marry them. The lovers both died, united for eternity as they had hoped, just when they received the bishop’s blessing. Shortly thereafter the bishop lost his life and since then he has protected and watched over lovers around the world. J


After the fall of the Roman Empire, Terni faced the same fate as all the other territories in central Italy: first they were invaded by the Goths – suffering devastation at the hands of the armies of Totila and Narsete in the 6th century; then they were conquered by the Lombards who fought terrible wars against the Byzantines, who struggled constantly to create a corridor along the Amerina Way that connected Rome to the Esarcato in Ravenna, a Byzantine lordship in Italy. In this period many extraordinary fortresses and castles were built in the area and atop the local mountains. In 742 a meeting was held here that was fundamental to Italian history: Pope Zaccaria met with the Lombard king Liutprando, who had ransacked central Italy with his armies in an effort to restore order among his ducats. Liutprando returned to the Pope some strategic territories, who in turn lent his Roman armies – officially under the command of the momentary Byzantine emperor Artavasde, struggling for the throne in Constantinople – to get back the dukedom of Spoleto. After Liutprando had donated the Sutri Castle to Pope Gregory II, the meeting in Terni became the most important event that laid the foundations for the construction of the Church State, a political protagonist in Italian history up until the 19th century.

Still under papal influence, Terni became one of the most evolved towns. In the 9th century Pope Benedict III granted municipal autonomy, designing the first actual borders of the territory. First under Frederick Redbeard (Federico Barbarossa) and then under Frederick II, Terni passed under imperial rule where it remained off and on until the cardinal ‘colonel’ Albornoz brought the town back under papal rule in the mid-14th century.

St Francis was a frequent user of the Flaminian Way, and stayed in Terni on various occasions. There are traces of his presence in the S. Cristoforo Church (St Christopher), where tradition has it that he while was a guest of the parish priest he found the time to perform two miracles, and, of course, the Chiesa di S. Francesco (St Francis), built at the end of the 13th century in the exact place where he stayed after preaching in the town in 1218.


The fact that Terni was so long under the papal state meant that private city lordships did not develop. With his Costitutiones Aegidianae, the strong influence of Cardinal Albornoz placed nobles and normal citizens pretty much on the same level so that none were seen to be better than the other. To this aim, the Spanish cardinal formed the corpo armato de Banderari (the Banderari armed militia) made up mostly of people from the middle class – artisans and merchants – whose job it was to defend city officials and magistrates, who were mainly from noble families – and which had a say in town council decisions. But the noble class gradually gained power and took privileges away from the Banderari, who organized a bloody revolt in 1564, breaking into the houses of the nobles with their primitive muskets and relentlessly killing anyone they found, including women and children. When Pope Pius IV realized how serious the situation was, he sent a representative to take over the administration of the city and try to arrest the guilty parties. His revenge was gruesome: the chopped-off heads of the Banderari and of many who had nothing to do with the revolt were set on view above the door of the governor’s palace for a whole year.

When the rich nobles rose to power they vented their pride and ambitiousness in shows of exaggerated luxury and mundanity to overshadow everyone else. During this period these nobles called to the town artists like Vignola, Fontana, Rainaldi, Karel van Mander and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. Sangallo, who died a mysterious death in Terni, designed one of the most beautiful buildings in town, the Palazzo Spada, which belonged to this Ternese noble family until the end of the 18th century. Today it is the seat of city government offices and it is where the city council meets. There is evidence of the presence in town of Benozzo Gozzoli in the 1400s, and contemporarily Piermatteo d’Amelia painted his masterpiece for the St. Francis church, the alterpiece Pala dei Francescani (depicting Franciscan monks). You can see it today in the city’s Pinacoteca Comunale.

The external administration and the witch hunt that followed the Banderari revolt led to a long period of economic and social decline, worsened by cholera epidemics which were frequent over the next century. It was at this time that the cult of St Valentine evolved and spread. Pope Paul V ordered a search for the saint’s tomb and he was disinterred in 1605. To celebrate the finding of the saint’s body, work began on the restructuring and restoration of the old basilica that had been built over the tomb of the martyr in the 4th century.


«Al silenzio delle vostre campane succederà il rumore dei telai ed il fischio del vapore. Ai cadenti casolari sostituirà con la speculazione solidi ed ampi edifici; all’ozio mantenuto dei conventi succederà il lavoro, poiché quell’acqua che scende limpida e meravigliosa per le cime delle vostre montagne, feconderà la vostra industria»

(“The silence of your church bells will be followed by the noise of looms and the whistle of steam. The crumbling houses will be replaced by solid speculation and large buildings; the idleness maintained in convents will be followed by work, because the wonderful pure water that flows from your mountaintops will make industry fertile.”)

These words were spoken at the dawn of Italian unity to the people of Terni by Giocchino Napoleone Pepoli, the external commissioner for the Umbrian provinces, as if prophesizing the town’s future. Due to a combination of political situations and its geography, within thirty years Terni became one of the most important industrial hubs in Italy. This inspired the king’s government to found the Regia Fabbrica d’armi (weapons factory) in 1875, which you can visit today at the Museo delle Armi (small arms museum). The change that industry brought to the town was astounding: by the end of the 1800s, 11 thousand workers were employed in the steel plant, the foundries, chemical plants and other industries; the population doubled in ten years. Some of these large factories have been saved and converted to other uses. Besides the weapons museum, another example is the Papigno carbide and calcium cyanamide plant. This factory that began producing fertilizer for agricultural use in 1901 closed definitively in 1973. The old plant was restructured at the end of the 1900s; parts of it were used as a cinema set and many films were made here, including Roberto Begnini’s “Life is Beautiful.” The large warehouse of the Bosco mechanic shops, opened in 1890, have also been remodeled and today it is a conference and exhibition center.

For years all these industrial and factory works gave a different image to Terni, overshadowing the beautiful and interesting historical and artistic works within it. Because of its industrial importance, Terni was practically leveled to the ground in World War II by hundreds of bombardments by the allies. Its rebuilding has resulted in creating a new city able to transform its old, ugly eyesores into places of modern standards that preserve its vast artistic, historical and technological heritage.

Industrialization of the 19th century somewhat obscured the craftsman sector in Terni, which specialized in metals like gold and iron back in the 1500s thanks to abundant deposits and old mines like that of Monteleone di Spoleto. However, the heavy industry that developed in town did not impair the master level of and focus on high quality. In fact, the Terni industries have always distinguished themselves not for how much they produced but rather for the quality of the expertise and workmanship. The steel factory, part of the Terni Industry and Electric Company, built in 1960 the sphere that was lowered in the Pacific Ocean down to the Mariana Trench, breaking a record for the deepest a human had ever gone under water -10,916 meters (32,700 feet) below sea level; the record was only equaled 52 years later. The gun factory Regia Fabbrica d’Armi left to the town a legacy of quality manufacturing; today their distributor is mainly through PMAL or Polo di Mantenimento delle Armi Leggere (maintenance center for light weapons). They collaborate with Italy’s armed forces and the best professionals in the country.

Of all the places in Umbria, Terni is where you will find the simplest and less elaborate dishes. You will think that all the food coming out of the kitchens first passed through a wise grandmother’s hands, who added just that touch of love and care like they do for their grandchildren’s health. In spring or summer you can experience very traditional genuine food if you can go to a village fete or sagra, which are numerous and very popular in those seasons. These occasions are organized by local citizens, and if you can get a glimpse inside the kitchens, you will see an ‘army’ of women of all ages working away with their aprons stained with flour or tomato paste, busy carrying out one of the most noble activities known to man-cooking.

Terni food uses a lot of things from the woods and mountains- both plants and animals. Wild asparagus is an ingredient of many recipes like the really delicious frittata pasqualina (an omelette), to which sausage, artichokes or zucchini can be added at will. If you prefer something lighter, in some periods of the year you can find misticanza (mixture of herbs) on the table; it is made up of wild herbs and field plants picked in spring or winter. These herbs don’t really have a proper name in Italian, but different names for them exist in local dialects within a 20 km radius: pimpinella, caccialepri, raponzoli, saprodella, graspigni, cicorietta and mastrici are some of the names used over the centuries. The classic pasta dish is called ciriole, particular egg noodles served with a simple ‘sauce’ of olive oil, garlic and chili pepper. There are game meats – we recommend guinea hen or smooth-hound shark (faraona, palomba), or the more fattening leccarda, chicken liver wrapped in bacon slices and roasted on skewers. And last but not least, you can’t leave the table without trying pampepato, another ancient regional recipe, a mixture of honey, chocolate, nuts, and flour with mosto cotto, the juice of freshly mashed fermented grapes.

In Terni and the surrounding territory you can drink some of the most healthy and therapeutic water in Italy. From multiple mountain springs near the town flows alkaline water containing minerals, in the past times considered a cure. The Sangemini, Feronia, San Faustino and Furapane springs are the most well-known. Legend has it that St Francis in passing, stopped at the Amerina spring in the village of Acquasparta to cure some of his ails.

Terni is a dynamic city full of initiatives. All year round there are a variety of events to spend a pleasant evening or get to know the town better. Terni celebrates festivals of many sorts. As regards music, in spring Terni hosts part of one of the most famous festivals in Umbria – Umbria Jazz Spring, where world renowned jazz musicians from around the world perform. If you prefer art, don’t miss the Terni Festival, with works and artists of contemporary art around the city; the festival core is at CAOS –Centro per le Arti Opificiio Siri, a contemporary art museum set up in the converted ex-SIRI chemical factory. In February there are events dedicated to the town’s patron saint – the St. Valentine Fair, with stands and market stalls and fun activities around the basilica dedicated to the saint. There are the Valentinian events, which besides being of a religious nature in memory of the martyr are also entertaining like the one dedicated to chocolate called Cioccolentino.

If you go to Terni or any of the nearby country villages between the end of April and the beginning of May, you might come across young people singing, dancing or singing folk songs to collect alms, hoping for the long-awaited arrival of spring. The traditional Cantamaggio (May singing) is an ancient farmers ritual to express their hopes and gratitude for a bountiful harvest, once very common in certain parts of the region. The Maysingers (maggiaioli) would go from house to house singing folk songs and love songs; in exchange the people would give them eggs, wine and other foodstuffs. The tradition is quite different today: it’s a folk fest with decorated floats and there are related activities and fun for all.

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