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About two hours southwest of Rome is where you’ll find the picturesque hilltop village of Sermoneta. This perfectly preserved Medieval hamlet boasts a castle and its original defensive walls. It is also just fifteen minutes away from Ninfa Gardens, named one of the most beautiful in the entire world. Let’s find out what to see and do in this very authentic town in central Lazio.
The Caetani Legacy
Sermoneta’s name likely derives from its predecessor, the Roman settlement of Sulmo mentioned by Virgil in the Aeneid. Most of what we see today, including the additions to the castle and the fortified walls, can be attributed to the Caetani family during the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries.
Sermoneta’s Most Famous Landmark: Caetani Castle
Although Sermoneta’s magnificent castle bears the name of the Caetani family, its origins actually date to the Annibaldis of the early 1200s. In 1499, Pope Borgia Alexander VI ex-communicated the Caetanis and the castle was transferred to the Borgias. They built up the defensive walls and turned the castle into a true military fortress. The Church of San Pietro where the Caetani family members were buried was completely destroyed by the Borgias, completely eliminating any trace of Caetani rule. But Borgia’s rule didn’t last long because just six years later, upon the death of Pope Borgia, the Caetanis were reinstated as rulers of Sermoneta. Since 1977, along with Ninfa Gardens, the castle has belonged to the Roffredo Caetani Foundation.
Visitors today can marvel at the original frescos of mythological creatures in the Camere Pinte dating to 1470. A guided visit lasts approximately one hour and is available on the weekends (with a few exceptions). For more information, visit the Caetani Foundation’s official website.
Other Sights in the Historic Center
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a twelfth-century church with a Gothic appearance. Its most striking feature is the Romanesque bell tower and the interior contains frescos from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. There is also a museum, Museo Diocesano, containing precious pieces from nearby churches and artifacts from the Confraternita Battente, a brotherhood known for self-flagellation and other methods of torture.
Other religious buildings include the recently restored, sixteenth-century church dedicated to the town’s patron saint, Joseph. Don’t leave town without stopping at the twelfth-century Church of St. Michael Archangel. The interior including numerous frescos has been meticulously restored.
One of the most characteristic buildings of Sermoneta’s historic center is the Loggia dei Mercanti, a corridor of arches built in 1446 by Onorato Caetani. It once served as the town hall and is still used for functions today.
In the Immediate Area
Just four kilometers outside of Sermoneta, you can visit the breathtaking Cistercian Abbey of Valvisciolo. Its exact history is somewhat uncertain but it is likely that it was built before the year 1000 AD and that the Basilian monks or possibly the Knights Templar took it over prior to the Cistercians. Along with the cloister, chapel, and gardens, there is also a small museum.
Continue on Via Ninfina for just a few kilometers and you will arrive at the famous Giardino di Ninfa. Also part of the Roffredo Caetani Foundation, Ninfa Gardens have been named one of the most beautiful and romantic in the world. From ancient buildings, statues, bridges, and even a one-thousand-year-old church to the incredible variety of trees and plant life, you will not be sorry that you included it in your itinerary. Make sure to check the official website for opening dates and reservations.
Tips for Your Visit
Sermoneta’s closest train station is Latina and from there you can take a bus (except Sundays) to Sermoneta. In order to visit the surrounding area, the best way to travel is by car.
If you want to really get into the spirit, visit during the month of January for the town’s annual polenta festival which coincides with the Feast Day of Saint Anthony the Abbot. Polenta is Sermoneta’s signature dish and is typically served with sausage on a wooden board.