Vitorchiano is an ‘invisible’ town and is a ‘perfect’ medieval village, between the Cimini mountains and the Vezza river valley, merging with the rocks. It stands on a spur surrounded on three sides by deep trenches and ravines and is one of the most spectacular fortified towns of Tuscia, north of Rome.
It is located on a plateau of peperino, a volcanic rock that comes from the overhanging ancient Cimino volcano, and surrounded by two streams that flow into the Vezza river.
This position already tells of its Etruscan origin, in fact this race always established its settlements on plateaus at the confluence of two rivers. We are in the heart of the Etruscan territory and Vitorchiano was crossed by the ancient Via Ferentiensis. Traces of the past can be found in some small necropoli subsequently used by the Romans and in a stretch of walls in the Corviano area.
Some scholars trace the origin of the name Vitorchiano to the Etruscan word Ur, water. From this word we would then arrive at Urthia and then to the goddess of fortune Northia, who had water as her primary element, hence the names for the towns of Norcia, Norchia, etc.
Vitorchiano also played a special role in the arrival of the Romans in this area in the fourth century BC, under consul Romano Fabio Rulliano. A messenger named Marzio ran all night to Rome to warn of the attack of the Etruscans and their allies from Umbria. Marzio had a thorn stuck in one foot but despite the pain he arrived in time to warn Rome before he died. His statue of remembrance, the ‘Spinario’, is in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Campidoglio.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, this territory was controlled by Barbarians and is mentioned in a document of 757 by King Desiderio of the Lombards. This was the fortification period, when the populations took refuge in fortified centres in the hills or in cave dwellings in the woods.
In Vitorchiano the medieval walls with crenellated towers are perfectly preserved, while in the woods around the town you can find ancient villages with houses dug into the rocks, perhaps around a small castle such as at Corviano.
The whole area of Tuscia was then donated to the Pope by the emperor Charlemagne and in the Middle Ages it then saw many struggles between the municipalities, especially for Vitorchiano against Viterbo.
The country is linked to Rome in an original way because it provides the men for the Capitoline Guard precisely because of its help in the subjugation of Viterbo at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The Vitorchianesi made a solemn and formal act of submission to Rome and the Roman Senate declared Vitorchiano “Terra Fedelissima all’Urbe” and recognized a series of privileges declaring it ‘castle and part of Rome’ (Sum Vitorclanum castrum membrumque romanum).
This is the reason why wandering in the streets of the town you can often see the writing SPQR (Senate and the Roman people) that is also found in the coat of arms of Vitorchiano.
The most important privilege was represented by the honour of providing men for the Capitoline guard, called the “Fedeli di Vitorchiano”. This privilege has been constantly exercised from 1267 until today. Even today, in official events, it is possible to admire the Guardia del Campidoglio in the costumes that, according to tradition, were designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti.
In the village some scenes of the film “L’armata Brancaleone” were filmed with the legendary Vittorio Gassman. The film is from 1966 and was directed by Mario Monicelli.
Today Vitorchiano is one of the centres of mining of peperino that is exported around the world and the village is much loved by tourists, by confectioners for its fine hazelnuts, and by researchers of food and wine delicacies.