Ariccia, the model baroque town with designs by Bernini
Along the Appian Way, in the heart of Ariccia, is one of Italy's most beautiful squares, Piazza di Corte. It is the result of the genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was sent here by Pope Alexander VII, of the Chigi family, to redesign the entire village, including the park.
The piazza, adorned by two fountains, is overlooked by Palazzo Chigi and the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, two absolute masterpieces of the Baroque. After so much art, why not take a break in a fraschetta, the typical tavern where you can enjoy Porchetta IGP and sample the wine of the Castelli Romani.
In the palace where The Leopard was filmed
While Ariccia's origins are uncertain, surely predating the foundation of Rome, its rebirth has a precise date: 1661. In that year, the fiefdom on the Appian Way was bought by the Chigi family, who entrusted the architect and artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini with its renovation. Bernini was given free rein to redesign the village, which became a kind of model Baroque town.
Bernini's project revolves around the scenic Piazza di Corte, overlooked by Palazzo Chigi, a 17th-century remake of an old mediaeval castle. The exterior is rather austere, in the style of French castles, while the interior is a riot of Baroque decorations and furnishings that have survived intact.
It was in these sumptuous rooms that director Luchino Visconti shot some scenes of the film The Leopard, and like him, other directors have used the rooms for historical films.
Today it can be visited like a museum: in some of the rooms is the Roman Baroque Picture Gallery, with 300 important works by artists such as Salvator Rosa, Luca Giordano, Mattia Preti, Giacinto Brandi, Guido Reni, Giovan Battista Gaulli known as Baciccio, and many others.
Opposite the palace, Bernini built the church of Santa Maria Assunta, a Baroque church par excellence. It has a circular ground plan, is preceded by a portico with three arches and has a majestic dome (the work of Bernini's pupil Antonio Raggi), whose proportions recall those of the Pantheon.
The Piazza di Corte is also overlooked by the Locanda Martorelli, a building that in Ariccia's golden age, that of the Grand Tour, was popular with painters such as Turner and Corot and literary figures such as Stendhal. Today it is a venue for exhibitions and cultural events.
In the sacred forest of Ariccia
The 28-hectare park that opens up on the side of Palazzo Chigi was created in the 16th century on the remains of the sacred forest of the Romans dedicated to Diana, which ran on the left side of the Appian Way from Rome to Lake Nemi.
Here too we see the hand of Bernini, who foresaw the romantic garden by designing works such as the Snow Grotto and the Mascherone fountains.
The green area, now owned by the municipality, is part of the Castelli Romani Regional Park.
What to eat in Ariccia
Ariccia is the capital of porchetta, a typical central Italian street food. It is a whole pig, boned and baked for several hours, seasoned with various spices, cut into thin slices and eaten in a sandwich. Many places claim its ownership, Ariccia being among the most credited.
Porchetta is eaten here in the fraschette, typical taverns of the Castelli Romani, an area renowned for the quality of its wines thanks to its mineral-rich volcanic soils. The name derives from the custom of the innkeepers to display fraschettas (branches) at the entrance to signal the availability of new wine.
The menus always include spaghetti alla carbonara, all'amatriciana or cacio e pepe.
Be wary of overly elegant establishments: the original fraschette are rather spartan places in which to end an outing.
For more information: www.palazzochigiariccia.it