Zagarolo and the Inversa Valley

By following the Pedemontana road you will go from the colli Prenestini to the lower valley of the Aniene river, crossing through narrow wooded valleys cut into streams which flow into the Aniene. From the castle of Passerano you can take a detour into the calm countryside of the Agro Romano, and fine artistic excursions are offered by Zagarolo and Poli, strategic feuds which were used by Roman nobility to keep control of the countryside.
Starting from the station of Zagarolo, take the busy strada statale 155 (ss, main road) towards Palestrina. Follow the road signs and turn right until you reach the next fork in the road for Zagarolo (turn left), then take Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Zagarolo was probably a Latin colony founded against Rome. In 970 the town was a strategic fortress in defending the area against Arab incursions. It was owned and destroyed several times by noble Roman families and was finally dominated by the Colonna family until 1668, then by the Rospigliosi family. Pass through Porta Rospigliosi, built in the 18th century by reassembling the Roman pieces, and reach the Palazzo Colonna-Rospigliosi. This old medieval castle was the centre of the whole town and is preceded by a courtyard with Roman statues and sarcophagi. The Colonna family restored it and commissioned the painter Federico Zuccari to decorate it: he celebrated the powerful family in his frescoes. The Ludovisi family had Carlo Maderno add the Galleria Nobile to the building, as well as other frescoes. Inside is the large Museo del Giocattolo (Toy Museum: for further information, contact +39 06 9575500) which shows the evolution of toys from ancient to modern times. Further on, you will find the church of S. Pietro and the Collegiata di S. Lorenzo (collegiate church) which, although heavily damaged during the war, preserves fine frescoes by Antoniazzo Romano and paintings by Carlo Maratta.

Once you are again back on the strada provinciale (by road) for Tivoli, which winds across a rich green valley, you will cross via Prenestina, and then take via Pedemontana. Go down a long wooded gorge until you reach the estate of Passerano. Pass by the castle, an old feudal residence for controlling the countryside, and choose between continuing straight on, crossing a tributary of the Aniene, and continuing your trip in a fine calm stretch of the countryside, or turning left and reaching the crossing for Poli. A short detour leads to the medieval town, located in a strategic position on a spur of rock. It was already well-known in 1081 and was owned in turn by the powerful counts of Segni, by the Sforza-Cesarini and the Torlonia families. Its 16th century church, which has an octagonal plant inspired by Vignola, and the Palazzo dei Counti (counts’ palace) are particularly noteworthy. The latter was built in the 12th century and restructured in the 16th. The entrance is via an imposing Renaissance gate with an entrance hall decorated with grotesques. The small courtyard has an imposing fountain and a porticoed façade decorated with frescoed logge. Inside, there is the pretty family chapel, covered by stuccoes and enriched with paintings by Cavalier d’Arpino.
Once you return to the crossing for Tivoli, turn left towards Rome and follow the road signs for the motorway, to the right. Mind the traffic, and pass under a viaduct, continue along the road on the right until you reach Lunghezza, which is located in a scenic spot on one of the bends of the Tiber and has a fine castle, a massive rectangular stronghold with quadrangular towers. Leave the castle behind, and continue straight on until you reach the railway station.

By train: Outward journey: Roma – Cassino line (get off at Zagarolo)
Return: Lunghezza-Roma Tiburtina line
By bicycle: Length: about 24 km
Difficulty: average

For further information, visit:
www.parchilazio.it
Or read:
R. Pugliesi, Lazio. Treni & bici. Il Lazio Meridionale, Padova 2000.

Area
Via Prenestina