It was the last evening of summer in Ariccia, the Castelli Romani town bonded inextricably to Albano Laziale by the amazing three level arch bridge spanning the chasm below.
I had driven up to join Via Appia in Albano Laziale and now stood on the Albano end and gazed out and down in awe. On this side the traffic comes from Rome and on the Ariccia side it crawls to Genzano then on to Nemi and Velletri. But the pleasures we seek are in Ariccia.
Coming from Albano by foot, as I did, having found by fortune a parking spot, I inveigled my partner to rest a short while at the street side ‘formaggi e vini’ (cheese and wine) stall to sample the last of Albano before crossing what was once known as the ‘suicide’ bridge.
Now the bridge protects those seekers of eternity with a mesh strung just a few metres below the parapet. Nevertheless, for me the feeling of vertigo is real as I look over the low wall – would the mesh hold?
So, having survived the mortal temptation and admiration of the grand arched bridge, what else do visitors seek in Ariccia?
By far the other most well-known site is the massive palace of the family Chigi, standing alongside the road just beyond the bridge, but for Romans driving into town it is simply a point on their searches for the perfect ‘porchetta’- the IGP product of Ariccia.
For us, this early in the evening, the palace holds our attention. From the mid 1600s It was renowned as the weekend and summer retreat of the Chigi princes. Normally their regular home was in Piazza Colonna in Rome, nearby to the palaces of the other famous families of medieval and renaissance history.
Opposite the palace, that is now under the protection of the city, stands the domed church of the Chigi designed by the great architect Bernini that today has a different taste from religion. On each side of the façade, bars are spread to sate the taste and thirst of locals and visitors on warm evenings: Sacred and Profane.
If you are granted the pleasure of a visit inside the palace you will discover that this magnificent palace was for some time but a hunting lodge (Barco) for the family and friends of the princes.
They were already rich, but they become worldwide famous when in the mid 17th century, the Chigi, like most great Italian families, ‘gave birth’ to one pope. He took the name Alexander VII.
Let me hypothesise a little more about the ‘hunting lodge’. At the rear of the palace rising to the top of the low hills, somewhat over 500 metres away, is a verdant forest. The sacred wood: 28 hectares of what was once the much larger ‘nemus aricinum’ (grove of Ariccia) consecrated to the goddess Diana.
This area once was home to the ‘wild’ animals, subject of the hunt. Until quite recently, I believe, but am not sure, the forest was home to a herd of ‘deer’ that were relocated to discourage their habit of chewing the base of the tree trunks – a natural from of ringbarking.
Standing once again on the stairs at the front of the palace, I am drawn by the reason Romans rush to dine in Ariccia, the aroma of roast pork.
If you follow your nose as I did from the entrance to the Palace toward Ariccia town, you will find, down 4 or 5 stairs, a ‘porco vicolo grotto’, a very narrow entrance to a ‘porchetta’ restaurant, Antico Grottino.
Do not run away, stay and sample the fine degustation offered by the team of the Grottino and sip a glass of white wine selected by the house.
The reason of the visit?
On the week end there can be a special visit to the Palace arranged by tourist guides and actors who tell some old stories in an original way. In the rooms and the stairs of the palace, actors reproduce the important moments of the story of the Chigi family (that is also the story of Rome).
I will come back a little later in autumn to see more of Ariccia and definitely take a stroll in the forest that the ‘grand tourists’ enjoyed and artistically recorded so much.
I don’t know if it is a need to admire the architecture and nature of Ariccia of the Chigi, or simply to sample the culinary wonders of Ariccia of Rome?