20 facts about Viterbo, including George Clooney’s prank


Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Laura Teso

Viterbo is the northernmost province of the region Lazio. I had the chance to visit it during Easter weekend, together with other picturesque burgs of the area. We just made a passeggiata around and about the historical centre, with no hurry and stopping two times at two different cafès al fresco to have something to drink. After all, we were on vacation! So, I can’t possibly write an exhaustive post about what to see in the city, but I will just make a list of 20 facts about Viterbo.

20 facts about Viterbo

  1. Its origins are ancient. The name in fact means Vetus Urbis, old city in Latin.
  2. Viterbo stands on the first northern slopes of the Monti Cimini, of volcanic origin. Monti Cimini are well known for the production of hazelnuts. Here you can find a local kind of Nutella, called Nellina. (You can find it at La Vecchia Viterbo e i suoi sapori, Via Cardinal La Fontaine, 1) 
  3. In the Viterbo surroundings you can enjoy a thermal bath in a SPA or at the free spring, for example the one called Bullicame.
  4. The myth says that Hercules, passing by in this area, accepted the challenge by the Etruscans, who wanted proof of his legendary strength. He then thrust a giant stake into the ground. From the crater the bulging water started to spring.
  5. The symbol of the city is a lion with a palm tree.
  6. In via Pietra del Pesce you can admire the installation by Mauro Magni called Marte (Gaza): its aim is a reflection about conflicts, chaos and autodestruction.
  7. George Clooney chose Viterbo as victim of 2018 April’s fools’. He visited the city in March, because he was looking for the perfect set of his new film. Later he declared he fell in love with the city and decided to buy a palazzo and move there for 6 months/year. But it was just a prank. Nothing sure about the film set, though.
  8. Viterbo is also known as the Popes city, la città dei papi. During the 1200s, it was in fact Papal seat for 20 years. Pope Alexander IV decided to move the seat there, since in Rome there was an hostile atmosphere.
  9. One of the most interesting landmarks is in fact the Palazzo dei Papi, Popes Palace, built between 1255 and 1266 on the San Lorenzo hill to protect the pope. You can recognise it by the famous Loggia (7 arches with elegant thin columns).
  10. The San Lorenzo Duomo is in Romanesque style, dating back to 1100. In the same place there once was a temple dedicated to Hercules. The church was highly damaged for the bombings.
  11. The old medieval neighbourhood of San Pellegrino is almost intact. You should simply walk around there with your camera at hand to capture the quaint alleys and doorways. The core is Piazza San Pellegrino, with the same name church and the beautiful Palazzo degli Alessandri.
  12. The city is also sadly famous for the countless casualties and serious damages of the 1943-44 bombings by USA and UK forces.
  13. To celebrate the Saint patroness of the city, Santa Rosa, every September 3rd, there is a unique event in town, called Macchina di Santa Rosa. It is an illuminated 30 metres high structure, carried on the shoulders by 100 men, called facchini (bellhops) di Santa Rosa. I just saw the photos and I was astonished. It’s something I wish to see sooner or later!
  14. In order to get to the top of the city without effort you can take the elevator. Just, park in the lot along via Faul. The elevator is across the street from the huge sculpture that surfaces from the grass of the park.
  15. The sculpture is Awakening by J. Seward Johnson JR. It represents a giant. 
  16. The city was once known as the city of the 100 towers and the 100 fountains. There are still many fountains around town. The rectangular ones, mostly near the city doors, were drinking trough for animals. The monumental ones were located near a church to offer refreshment to pilgrims.
  17. When in piazza del Plebiscito, go past the central arcade of the Town Hall (the white palazzo). From the courtyard you can enjoy a lovely view.
  18. One of the central squares is piazza della Morte, square of Death. Once named San Tommaso square, the name changed after the Confraternity of Prayer and Death settled in the square church.
  19. Very peculiar are the numerous underground tunnels of the city. They connect many of the buildings of the historical centre. Nowadays they are mostly used as cellars. You can see some by visiting the Viterbo sotterranea (underground Viterbo). The entrance is in piazza della Morte.
  20. Piazza del Gesù was the one I most appreciated, maybe just because we stopped for a drink there, enjoying the sun and the joyful atmosphere of Easter Monday.

I hope to have the chance of go back to Viterbo sooner or later, in order to visit it properly. I think there is still a lot to discover.

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