Vetralla is in an area known as Etruria, a land of ancient origins which skirts the border of Lazio and Tuscany. Local legend says that Vetralla dates back to the Biblical figure of Noah, who ran the Ark aground here on the heights of Valle Cajana and availed himself of the excellent wines found there to refresh himself from the epic floods. They say that's why grapes figure prominently in the municipal coat of arms.
We do know that Etruria was the stomping grounds of the Etruscans who left their mark vividly in various tomb cities scattered throughout the entire region. Right outside Vetralla are some fascinating necropoli, Norchia. The ancient burial grounds are carved into the cliffs and rocky niches of the hill, along with hand-formed stone passageways. Set amidst the natural scrub, it provides an interesting day trip into the ancient past.
Vetralla sits on the slope of Mount Fogliano at the crossroads of three important Roman roads - via Cassia, via Clodio, and via Aurelia, only about an hour north of Rome. It was an important Roman outpost on the Via Cassia, so important that it warranted a Forum. Vetralla was passed around as a trophy among the nobility of various epochs and was finally donated by Pope Julius II to England's ambassador of King Henry VIII, remaining under British protection for hundreds of years. Today's historic center is a well-preserved example of Medieval civic construction, retaining its sinewy alleyways and stone homes clustered together, interspersed with minute piazzas.
The church of San Francesco is an austere church with a tall accompanying bell tower constructed of local tufo stone that is solidly medieval era architecture. Inside is a fresco cycle and a rather eerie crypt. Scattered around the historic center are several palaces, mansions that were built by the various nobility throughout the town's history.
Vetralla brings the 19th century to life every Christmas-time with its unusual rendition of a living nativity, with hundreds of costumed participants re-enacting the trades and activities of daily life in the late 1800s. Its importance as an olive oil producer is demonstrated with the Sagra del Olio, where the fresh-pressed oil is featured in many tasty dishes.
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