27 July 2011

Piazza di San Lorenzo, Viterbo Italy

One of the first days in Viterbo, I set out for the cathedral of San Lorenzo. The cathedral was, according to legend, built on the site of an Etruscan temple of Hercules and although this can not be verified, Etruscan and Roman foundations can be seen on several of the buildings which make up the Piazza di San Lorenzo where the cathedral is situated. An early medieval parish church to Saint Lawrence had formerly occupied the area before construction began on the cathedral in the late twelfth century. Even as it was constructed, the town was already spreading northwards down the hill, leaving the plaza somewhat isolated on the highest edges of town, thus restricting its attraction to the townsfolk, a disadvantage which the local bishops for years attempted to reverse by granting the cathedral special religious privileges.

The cathedral was at the height of its significance during the middle and end of the thirteenth century, when it and the attached Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo was the home of the papal throne following its flight from Rome and prior to its resettlement in Avignon. Two popes were buried in the duomo: the first was Pope Alexander IV, whose tomb was bizarrely demolished during sixteenth century renovations, and the location of his remains are now unknown = OOPS; Pope John XXI is more clearly marked despite several relocations, with a handsome tombstone originally laid over him following his death in 1277 (when his study's ceiling in the papal palace attached to the cathedral suddenly collapsed into the room below due to structural weaknesses as he slept).

It's a lovely, more quiet location in the city, and for the last two weeks of my stay, was home to an Opera festival. You could hear bellowing baritones and soaring sopranos over the Loggia's walls. A real treat.

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