Ariccia and the Grand Tour
Ariccia was already old when the Appian Way was built alongside it in the 4th century B.C. Perched on a lava flow from the ancient Latium volcano (photo above), it offered a sweeping view of the coastal plain below. The nearby hills and lakes were renowned for their mysterious beauty, and were home to several early religious sites, such as the Sanctuary of Diana on the shores of Lake Nemi and the Temple of Jupiter on Mount Albanus. Both pre-dated the Romans.
In the 18th-19th centuries, the European “Grand Tour” brought a flood of visitors to Italy’s ancient sites. Ariccia became an obligatory stop; writers and painters were drawn by the area’s beauty and history. Stendhal, Longfellow, Camille Corot, William Turner, Gogol, Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen... they stayed at the Martorelli Inn on the town square, site of a church by Bernini and a palazzo of the wealthy Chigi family. The walls of the Inn have scenes depicting the legends of Diana and the early history of the region, painted by a friend of Goya, the Polish artist Taddeusz Kunze.
These events come to life in Margaret Stenhouse’s The Goddess of the Lake: Legends and Mysteries of Nemi. A long-time Nemi resident, Margaret has graciously helped me plan a day in Ariccia with visits to
- the rarely open Martorelli Inn (no admission charge, but donations cheerfully accepted)
- Bernini’s church of Santa Maria dell'Assunzione (donations to the church’s charity projects encouraged)
- Palazzo Chigi, with well-preserved 18th-century décor and furnishings — often used as a movie set, including Visconti’s The Leopard (admission fee 5 euros)
- a large forested park behind the Palazzo, left in its natural, untended state by an eccentric member of the Chigi family — thought to have been an inspiration for the rambling “English Garden” (admission fee 3 euros)
Each visit will take approximately 30-45 minutes. If you don’t want to do all four, you can choose to have a coffee or explore the town on your own.
We’ll have lunch at one of the town’s characteristic fraschette, informal eateries serving a variety of local specialties like Ariccia’s porchetta, renowned since Roman times. If time remains we’ll walk below town to see a massive stone viaduct of the Via Appia which still carries traffic 24 centuries after it was built.
Write to me to reserve a place, or call 388-6144204 (Italy) or 831-251-4600 (California). There is no charge for this event, other than the tour fees/donations mentioned above and the cost of lunch. We'll meet at the café to the left of the church between 10 and 10:30 am. Ariccia is best reached by car; there is also a train from Rome to nearby Albano arriving at 9:26 (I can meet you at the station).
Learn more about Margaret Stenhouse and her latest book, The Lost Ships of Nemi, at www.italyupdate.travel.com. The site is a valuable resource on Italy's small towns and remote areas.