All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in February 2011.
(this page is also part of Giuseppe Vasi's Environs of Rome description)
En Route to Genazzano
A few miles after San Cesareo Gregorovius started to see Palestrina, the ancient Praeneste, a town which was conquered by the Romans in 338 BC; it was composed of an acropolis at the top of a hill and of a lower town at its foot; the two were protected by massive walls; the lower town housed the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, a famous oracle; during the Middle Ages Praeneste split into two separate small towns: the acropolis became Castel S. Pietro, while the site of the sanctuary was turned into a walled town which retained the old name, although it was modified into Palestrina (a separate page covers the history and the monuments of the ancient town). Gregorovius could have reached Palestrina also following Via Prenestina.
In the XIIth century Palestrina became a fiefdom of the Colonna; their power was challenged by the Caetani of nearby Anagni; both families exerted great influence on the Roman Church; at the conclave of 1294 two Colonna cardinals were unable to prevent the election of Cardinal Benedetto Caetani who became Pope Boniface VIII; in the following years the rivalry between the two families led to almost open warfare and in 1298 Palestrina was conquered by the troops of the pope who destroyed completely the town which at that time was mainly located above the ruins of the Roman sanctuary; this explains why the bell tower of the cathedral is almost the only monument of the old medieval town.
The Colonna regained possession of Palestrina and in 1307 Stefano Colonna promoted its reconstruction; in 1436 however the town was pillaged and almost destroyed by the troops of Giovanni Maria Vitelleschi, who acted on behalf of Pope Eugenius IV; in 1448 the Colonna returned: the decoration of the lintel of the cathedral indicates that they were on good terms with the Della Rovere family; in 1630 the Colonna sold Palestrina to Carlo Barberini, brother of Pope Urban VIII; his son Taddeo was given the title of prince by the pope. Many monuments of the town bear the coats of arms of these two families.
It is uncertain whether Pierluigi da Palestrina was actually born in the town; at the beginning of his career he held the post of organist at the cathedral and he married a woman from Palestrina. He became the most acclaimed composer of his time and he enjoyed the protection of popes of very different views; one of his best known works is Missa Papae Marcelli, a mass dedicated to Pope Marcellus II (YouTube video by Oxford Camerata).
Palestrina retains its four old gates; they were all opened at a time when defensive needs were not paramount; the Barberini decorated one of the gates with a relief showing a radiant sun, one of their heraldic symbols, which eventually gave its name to the gate.
The ancient sanctuary was structured on a series of terraces; the highest one housed a sort of theatre with a small circular temple; the Colonna built their houses on the ancient structures; Prince Taddeo Barberini had these houses reshaped along the curved lines of the theatre; inside the palace it is still possible to see the location of the circular temple.
In 1956 the palace was turned into a national archaeological museum (Museo Nazionale Prenestino) which displays reliefs, statues, mosaics and other exhibits found at Palestrina; prior to this change the building was abandoned for a very long period and it retains only small parts of its XVIIth century decoration.
Gregorovius described the view from the palace: Rome to the north, some of the Castelli Romani and Segni to the west and Anagni and Ferentino to the south.
The Barberini built a small church near their palace, where several members of the family were buried; unlike the main building, the church fully retains its lavishly decorated interior, with two striking baroque monuments which show angels apparently floating in the air; the icon of this website is based on a detail of one of these statues.
Gregorovius made Palestrina popular among German readers and spending a summer in one of the towns described in his books became fashionable. Among others, Thomas and Heinrich Mann spent a summer in Palestrina.
See page two: The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia
Introductory page on Ferdinand Gregorovius
Next pages (in Gregorovius' walks): Genazzano, Paliano and Anagni
Next page (in Giuseppe Vasi's Environs of Rome): Frascati
Other walks by Ferdinand Gregorovius:
The Ernici Mountains: Ferentino; Alatri
The Volsci Mountains: Valmontone; Segni; Norma; Cori
On the Latin shores: Anzio; Nettuno and Torre Astura
Circe's Cape: Terracina; San Felice
The Orsini Castle in Bracciano
Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery
Latium was enlarged in the 1920s with territories from the neighbouring regions: the map on the left shows the current borders of Latium; the map on the right has links to pages covering towns of historical Latium: in order to see them you must hover and click on the dots.