The Alban Hills (Colli Albani) have been for ages one of the most pleasurable and definitely the most favourite Roman vacation stay. During the Classical Period, the hills were scattered with noble villas, while numerous fortressed castles were built during the Middle Ages. Between the XVI and the XVII century, those marvellous landscapes were further embellished by luxury residences with spectacular parks and gardens. Unfortunately during the Second World War, the Alban Hills had proved ideally suited to defense, and the Germans took full advantage, so that many villages underwent severe damages.
Nowadays Frascati (the biggest and most representative, located at about 20 Km from the centre of Rome), as well as the other twelve hill towns, are great destinations for short out-of-town excursions, perfect for new white wine lovers, but worthy even for abstemious, thanks to the extraordinary beauty of the monuments.
Frascati's history happened following the timeline of sacks, building of Roman villas and monasteries, baroque residences and heaps of rubble left after the Second World War.
Once the current Frascati used to be a magnificent villa attributed to Lucullus, that during the Imperial Age passed to the Flavian family of emperors. Where once was the villa, now is the Church of St Mary in Vivario, built in the area coinciding with the ancient Vivarium (cistern). At the end of the XIII century Frascati increased in importance, as witnessed by the restoration of St Mary in Vivario and the stunning bell-tower (1305) which remains the most important medieval monument in town. Until the end of the fifteenth century Frascati, often under the Colonna's domination, was indicated as 'castrum': fortress. The fortress gradually became village thanks to the great humanist pope Pius II Piccolomini: he wanted to build imposing boundary walls and a castle, which is the current bishop's residence. However the village changed dominions quite often (respectively Apostolic Camera, the cardinal Guillaume d'Estouteville, Lucrezia Borgia, Lucrezia della Rovere and Marcantonio Colonna settled there), until 1535, when Frascati passed to the Farnese family. Pope Paul III Farnese called it Tusculum Novum and committed Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane to a strategic role for urban planning: Antonio designed the boundary walls and divided the town into three districts (Santa Maria, Santa Flavia and San Pietro).
From 1559 on, it began a glorious time: gentilitial Roman families (Aldobrandini, Lancellotti, Falconieri, Mondragone, Parisi, Muti, Grazioli, Torlonia and so on...) chose Frascati as favourite destination to build their suburban villas. Delightful places where the nobles lived far from the common people and the city life - separation ratified even by these marvellous properties' architecture - offering a solemn but bare façade, while the interiors were embellished by sumptuous and bizarre decorations.
The beautiful St Peter's Cathedral was built in 1558 into a zone that became the new city centre, stigmatizing the great development of the city after the disposition of the villas towards the hills, in contrast with the ancient peripheral Church of St Mary in Vivario. From then on the urban shape has not changed significantly.
After the Unification of Italy, the boundary walls were knocked down and replaced with a massive wall to support the walk dedicated to the Queen Margherita.
The suggestive Museum Tuscolano has been recently set up into Villa Aldobrandini, exhibiting important local archaeological findings. The Carnival in Frascati is really impressive: celebrated with allegorical carts, it ends with the stake of a Pulcinella (Punch or Punchinello, as you like).
Besides the renowned white wine, testable into the numerous Fraschette (local pubs), you would very probably like to try the Pupazze: crunchy honey biscuits shaped as women with three breasts, referring to ancient fertility rites.
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