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Rocca Priora: panorama over the eternal city

When for whatever reason I find myself going up to Rocca Priora, it shows me an undeniable panorama from the natural terrace that dominates the skyline from the highest point of the Castelli Romani.

The landscape stretches away to all sides: from North to South, and from East to West, the sky is not the limit that interrupts, its grand design continuing without end.

Behind the Palace of the Savelli, one finds a panoramic piazza, which is one of the town’s most enviable attractions. From this terrace, overlooking the valley of the Sacco, your gaze lingers happily with a sense of surprise and bewilderment. To get to this natural terrace you wind up through the narrow medieval streets of the village, that gives me the feeling of entering a wonderful observatory where the view embraces all around, beauty with an unforgettable charm.

The valley is dotted with endless towns, rich in history, lying huddled on the plain or on the slopes. They appear from afar, Anagni with the imposing building of the Leonine College and even further Fumone, on top of a low mountain, where Pope Celestine V was gaoled at the hands of his successor, Boniface VIII.

Paliano and Valmontone show their austere castles, while Colleferro is known by its smokestacks. Look carefully at the slopes in the distance. You can deistinguish the outlines of Palestrina, Labico, Zagarolo, San Cesareo, Gallicano, Cori, Rocca Massima, the haze above the basin of Lake Bracciano and even the top of Mount Soratte.

And then Rome, the Eternal City, with endless monuments that rise from its hills, the many streets of the plains teeming with life. The horizon to the west finishes, in the light strip of the Tyrrhenian Sea, where in the evening lighthouses of Ostia and Fiumicino peep out. And to the east, behind this great panorama, stands the Apennine chain of mountains Lepini, Ernici, Prenestini, Tiburtini, land of the Sabines and Etruscans and in the background the snow-covered ridges of the Maiella and Gran Sasso.

Looking down, a short distance, your eyes rest on Monte Compatri, dominated by the Convent of San Sebastiano, and Colonna with the water tank, while in the southwest stands Castel Gandolfo that features the papal summer palace.

Like a dream, when at sunset the sun shines with its last fantastic rays on a curtain of clouds and later when, from the mountains to the sea, the plain is covered with lights, like an enchanted forest, dotting the streets of the immense city, the consular roads, the villages and towns, hamlets and farms in the thousands.

In the background the night sky has no more boundaries. The stellar netting of the sky merges with the ground lights of the villages and isolated homes.

For the curious that gaze from the balcony, the view extends over distances also of time. It will not be difficult to imagine in the middle of the plain, the comings and goings of hosts such as the Kingdom of Naples that marches to the City of Popes. Maybe you can recognize the tents of military camps scattered in the Roman countryside, constantly vigilant for the attacks of brigands on horse that then disappear into the woods. Or, fading out, see the colourful procession of Pope Paul V along the straight stretch of the consular road, about to climb up to Rocca Priora with his retinue of dignitaries.

Reality and fantasy are no longer separable. All that is earthly, fleeting, temporary, and uncertain is substituted by a sense of eternity. The most appropriate description of this state of mind I can find for myself in the words of Dandini and de Juliis:

“The enumeration of the details of the scene, can only be incomplete and insufficient, because it does not tell the inexpressible. It is not possible to say which from the large crown of the horizon are the lights that brighten up with combinations of colours often so exquisite as to seem miraculous, but sometimes even when dark clouds cover the Apennines, they turn it into a fantastic show of awe-inspiring severity that emanates charm, like a scent, from this land of enchantment, whose green fades all around in the pale-green olive trees and vines and lush grain swaying in the west wind”.