Civita Castellana was settled during the Iron Age by the Falisci, who called it Falerii. They were not Etruscans, but a distinct group, said to have been of Greek origin. They were culturally different from the Etruscans, but often their neighbors, allies and trading partners. Civita Castellana/Faleria was already important 3000 years ago, and was protected from invaders by its high position and surrounding stream and cliffs. The Romans defeated the Falisci in 396 BC and in again in 241 BC after a revolt by the locals who were then required to build a new, less defensible, city about 5 km away. This two was known as Falerii Novi (see Get Out).
The original city was repopulated in the early Middle Ages because it offered greater protection, and it adopted the new name of Civita Castellana that was first mentioned in 994 AD. In the following centuries the city was a flourishing independent town with its own bishop.
The cathedral floor
There is only one DECENT book written about the under-appreciated area of Northern Lazio that is worth acquiring and reading prior ro your trip or visit to the town of Civita Castellanan (buy it used, from amazon.co.uk):
NORTHERN LAZIO: AN UNKNOWN LAND, by Wayland Kennet & Elizabeth Young. It features alphabetically arranged chapters on most of the towns in the province and it is a beautifully researched and written volume based upon experience and a love for this area. At the back of the book is an amazing matrix rating each of the towns for sites of all periods worth visiting, as well as many other factors. Civita rates second only to Viterbo in their rankings of visit-worthiness. This book was published in the UK in 1990, and a year later in Italian. The Italian version is very difficult to find.
Civita Castellana is located about 60 kilometers north of Rome. By car from Rome’s ring road, the GRA, take the SS2bis (known as the Cassia bis or the Cassia Veientana) until Gabelletta/UMILTA' and then the SS311 in the direction of Nepi. Civita Castellana can also be reached by the Italian state railway from Tuburtina/Trastevere stations (not Stazione Termini) to Civita Castellana/Magliano Sabina. Locally this station is known as Borghetto for the frazione of Civita in which it is located. The local bus company, Vitertur, operates a service for commuters to the center of Civita. Tickets can be bought in either of the bars at that station for the sum of one euro. If the train is very late, you will have missed the bus. Ask fellow arriving passengers if they are driving to CC! They are often quite happy to give you a lift into town!
The MetRoma service from Piazzale Flaminio/Piazza del Popolo in Rome is limited to peak commuter travel hours and takes about 90 minutes to reach CC. The last half hour is stunningly beautiful but the trip overall is longer than it should be if the track were doubled or if the line had not been made to take the scenic route around Monte Soratte over 100 years ago. The local bus company, COTRAL, connects Saxa Rubra station to CC via the Flaminia and it is also sometimes a painfully slow service. Daily tickets cost €9 return (biglietto giornaliero) and can be used on the state railway, Cotral bus and the Metroma service (as well as all over in Rome if originating from CC). Some of the train carriages are old, hot, and smelly. Arrive early and try to get on the car furthest from the train station. Single tickets for this train are a between 3 and 4 euros and can be bought at Piazzale Flaminio station if you are lucky enough to find the ticket window manned/womaned. Good luck with that.....
There is a train that connects CC to Fiumicino airport directly without changing in Rome. It is a commuter train and crowded in peak hours, but you will always get a seat from the airport. The schedule is somewhat limited, and the train terminates in ORTE, two stops beyond CC. Cost of this ticket is 11 euros each way, tickets can be also be bought at the newspaper stand in the airport train station so don't waste time lining up at the ticket office if it is crowded. Be sure the destination indicted is ORTE, and not Fara Sabina an intermediate terminus of this service which will strand you in the middle of the Sabine Hills still very far from CC. Set an alarm - you will be tired after your trip and dozing off on that train is likely to result in missing your stop. Signs for stations are very difficult to read from inside the train and seldom announced. CC/Magliano Sabina is the stop right after COLLEVECCHIO!
Getting around is best accomplished on foot (for daily needs) or by car. Public transportation is mainly geared toward the poor souls who can stand to take a commuter train into Rome that takes at least 90 minutes each way. Buses exist, but are slow, hot, and require a papal dispensation or secret handshake to figure out their schedule. The Cotral depot on Via Terni is an entertaining place to go to try to tease out coherent information from the Cotral office at their large depot. If there's anyone there. If they are in the mood. If they re not on strike. They don't sell tickets there either, or know what those ticket prices might be. Local Vitertur bus routes and schedules are likewise closely held information and it seems to be a point of pride with them. There are two famously unhelpful and scoffing employees in the main "information" office in Piazza Matteotti whose main purpose in life seems to be to guarantee that every one of their buses runs on time, but spectacularly EMPTY. Again: have a CAR, and park it free in any of the four free public lots near the forte Sangallo. You'll thank me....
If you have the patience of a saint or like antiquated travel, the Metroma service (locally considered a disservice and mockingly and ironically referred to as the Freccia Viterbese) will get you from just beyond the Ponte Clementino to Piazzale Flaminio/Piazza del Popolo in a blindingly quick 90 minutes.....more or less. OK - always MORE. It stops everywhere and has to stop at points where it's single track intersects a road. You ALWAYS get a sets or four to yourself when you get on. As you get nearer to Rome, the grumpy, sweaty commuters jump on and fill every available centimeter of space. It's packed tight then all the way to Rome, but you have enjoyed the spectacular scenery out the window for a blissful half hour before the crowds alight. Early mornings are just glorious from that train. Costs of a biglietto giornaliero (to and from Rome, all buses, subways and trams you like in Rome as well) costs 9 euros. Monthly and annual passes get progressively laughably cheaper, but you might not stay around that long in Civita Castellana.
Believe it or not, there is also a direct, though excruciatingly slow, service all the way to Fiumicino airport to the other station that serves both Civita and Magliano Sabina, locally known as Borghetto for the zone of Civita in which it is located.
Here's how you do it with luggage from Fiumicino airport without changing trains, bypassing the center of Rome, and with luggage:
Exit arrivals hall and look for the train symbol (FS[[Link title]] also helps or Ferrovie, Ai Treni!) following signs to level below. Buy a ticket at the newsagent instead of waiting in the long ticket booth line asking for Civita Castellana (pronounced CHIV-ita, and asking for one way ticket (solo andata), pronounced SOLOW ON-DOTTA). They will give you TWO tickets, both of which need to be validated in the yellow boxes before boarding the train (one covers you to the inner city ring from FCO, the other for outside the ring to CC), and the total cost is about 11 euro.
Do NOT get on the Leonardo Express, but get on the ORTE bound train. Do not get on that train if its destination is Fara Sabina - that is an interim stop and nowhere near Civita. Your train normally departs from the platform on the LEFT. There are only 2 platforms, and the Leonardo Express says Leonardo Express on it, and normally departs from the right-hand platform. It takes almost exactly 2 hours from FCO to Civita Castellana/Magliano Sabina. Set your phone alarm clock in case you fall asleep. It is the station after Collevecchio and the station signs are very hard to see in the dark, and even in daytime due to graffiti, small size, and other acts of vandalism. Occasionally they announce the upcoming station, but not always. Sometimes the electronic display shows the next station, but not always.
If you fall asleep you will wind up in Orte, stuck without a place to sleep or means to get back to CC. There are no taxis or buses even during the day that connect Orte and CC. So: BE CAREFUL NOT TO FALL ASLEEP OR TAKE TURNS NAPPING AFTER SETTING YOUR PHONE ALARM. This is serious.
If you find a seat in the carriage or one of the carriages that has a row of seats along each wall of the carriage, there is abundant luggage space UNDER the seat. The train may be pretty crowded as you get closer to Rome, but there will be almost no one left on the train by the time you get to Civita. When you get in you will have to walk all the way to the back end of the train along the platform to cross to the station building. Follow the lead of the other passengers.
On days when folks commute into Rome for work (those poor poor patient bastards), the train at CC in peak hours is met by, wonder of wonders, a little Vitertur bus into the old center of CC. Tickets cost one euro each and are on sale in either bar at the station. They also sell train tickets and those nifty one day passes, biglietti giornalieri. If you are intending to take the bus, make sure the driver knows you are just going to buy a ticket and coming right back. In keeping with the Italian sense of service and helpfulness, if your train is late arriving, the bus will leave without you rather than wait for the late train. They have schedules to keep, you know. And riders to strand. That's just how they roll. You are then SOL, unless you can ask someone arriving with you if they happen to be going into the center of CC. Often they are. In fact, tourists here are such a rarity that they will often gladly give you a lift into town as a neighborly gesture. Sundays - there is no Vitertur bus. Fuhgeddaboudit. Best to plan your flight arrival to arrive non-Sunday and non-late evening, ok?
Use the trenitalia.it to search for departure times that fit with your plane's arrival. Be sure to use the search term "fiumicino aeroporto" as your departure station - no help is given by their site if you use the incorrect station of departure. Your destination is called Civita Castellana/Magliano Sabina. That trenitalia site uses the 24 hour clock, so beware. Use the version in English, but abandon hope of using it to buy tickets - it malfunctions.
The other option is to take the fast train to Termini (Leonardo Express) and walk to the lower numbered platforms and get any non-intercity train to Orte after buying a one-way ticket at the ticket office at Termini. This is not an inconsequential walk either. The Leonardo service gets in at the farthest right track at Termini. Most of the Orte-bound trains instead depart from the low-numbered tracks to the far left of Termini. Between these two extremes are many, many people, so be prepared to run that gauntlet. If the ticket windows in the main part of this station are closed then you need to use the ticket machines. Watch your luggage carefully. The price for a one-way to Orte is about 4 or 5 euro. Orte is the first stop of all trains leaving Rome that are not fast intercity services, and from Termini to Orte it takes just 45 minutes or so. They are frequent, but be sure not to get on a fast train by mistake - they cost more and often fly right through Orte without stopping. Orte is 20 minutes from CC by car. After that, the only way to get to CC is to have a willing person to come pick you up at the train station in Orte.
The Cathedral of S. Maria Maggiore, (Il Duomo). This is a very attractive building. There is considerable Cosmatesque work (geometrical floor mosaics) both inside and out. Uniquely, this duomo has a Cosmatesque facade (signed and dated in gold mosaic tiles, dated 1210) as well as Cosmatesque floor mosaic work. These patterns were created in the Middle Ages from thin slices cut from colored marble and columns left in the ancient ruins. The name derives from a Roman family, the Cosmati, who did this sort of work. Similar Cosmati floors can be found in Rome, Anagni and Spoleto. The high altar is fashioned from a sarcophagus of the 3rd or 4th century. The ancient crypt is fascinating and well worth visiting. Sadly the interior was redone in the 1740s but retains many of its antique marble columns. The organ is the same one on which the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played. Outside, the effect of the beautiful portico, dating back to 1210, is somewhat spoiled by the modern fence that protects it. To see what the original interior would have looked like, visit the Basilica at nearby Castel Sant'Elia.
The cathedral's crypt
The fortress (Forte Sangallo). This fortress was built by Pope Alexander VI and completed by Julius II with the erection of the octagonal keep. It's an excellent example of military architecture and is still very well preserved. In the early 19th Century it served as the main prison for northern Lazio and became known as the Papal Bastille as it confined many Italian patriots. It now houses the local Etruscan Museum (though most of the Faliscan and Etruscan finds from the area enrich the collection of the Villa Giulia in Rome. Open daily, except Monday, it can be toured free of charge after signing the visitors book. Doors open every hour on the hour, last entrance at 6 p.m.
Great local ceramics at the shop of Vincenzo Dobbolino (aka Mastro Cencio). His store is an Alladin's cave of skilled reproductions of classical wares - Etruscan, Greek, Faliscan, medieval, as well as his modern, original pieces. The shop is impossible to miss if coming from the main free parking lots as the result of a newly executed facade that looks like a giant version of a red-figure vase. Vincenzo is also knowledgeable about local topography, history, flora, fauna and hiking trails. He will lead you on a tour for a modest fee (to cover his expenses and time) and has a sunny and pleasant disposition. A true artisan and a gentleman.
Fausto Mancini: a talented local ceramicist and painter with a shop at the corner of the main piazza (Matteotti) and Via Garibaldi. Classical shapes and historically accurate glazes and colors.
Mignolo', Via Vincenzo Ferretti, 101 (just off the main road leading from main piazza towards the hospital/Via Flaminia), ☎ 0761 513465. Wonderful bustling osteria - always noisy, no written menu, great meat, giant portions of pasta, helps to know the owner to get the bill which he still figures in LIRE! Parking lot, though a small one, right outside, closed Thursday and Sunday evening. Eat the maiale in guanciale spiedini and HALF a portion of rigatoni alla Mignolo'. They can have a heavy hand with the salt, and some people find their food heavy.
Pane e Pomodoro, Via Porta Lanciana, 28 (next to the abandoned orphanage in the ''centro storico''), ☎ 0761 599599. lunch dinner every day. Modernized place, good pasta, pizzas, salads, grilled meat. Nice slightly bubbly house white wine. Friendly service, especially when not too crowded and Flaminio and Angelo will refuse to let you order the wrong shape of pasta for your sauce. They speak some English and will make a superhuman effort to understand you. Good house white wine - slightly sparkling, very refreshing. Good tagliata!
La Giaretta, Via Vincenzo Ferretti, 108 (across from the defunct cinema Flaminio), ☎ 0761 513398. Good and reliable place to eat. Excellent fried veggies, good pastas, excellent ROLLS with fennel seeds. When empty it can seem echoey and a little sad, but when busy it's bright, high-ceilinged and all made in-house using fresh local ingredients.medium.
I Butteri, Piazza San Gregorio, 22 (in a small piazza just 20 meters from the main square). Tables outside on summer evenings. Reliable family-run place, good for steaks. moderate prices.medium.
Pasta all'uovo Concetta Quattrini, Via San Gregorio 7 (across from the entrance to this almost-never open church, centro storico), ☎ 0761-517741. mornings till 1 p.m., Open Sunday morning, Closed Mon.. Wonderful hand-made ravioli, strozzapreti, cannelloni etc. Their best dishes are the timballi with various fillings: traditional red sauce and cheese, funghi porcini, asparagus, and the superb artichoke lasagna. They will fill your own oven-proof containers with creamy divine helpings that can then simply be reheated for 20 minutes. Also try their crepes layered with red sauce. You will be tempted to lie and say you made it all yourself, or just say "I bought it with my own 2 hands" like I do. Keep a couple in the freezer for unexpected guests.2012: summer closure very reasonable.
Beccofino, Via delle Palme 18 (on a side street off the main Corso), ☎ 0761 540.776, . lunch and dinner, best to book. Lovely small restaurant, excellent fish, good service, sparky young chef. Friday and Saturday evening fish specials were running this spring (2012).moderate to pricey.
Le Ghiottonerie di Via Roma, Via Cristoforo Colombo 2 (just off the Via Roma leaving CC towards Nepi, very near the only bar), ☎ 0761513314/3358058461. lunch/dinner/closed Monday. Handy little take-away place just 5 minutes walk up the Via Roma. They make pizza at night, and also have a selection of fried foods, pastas, entrees, vegetables to eat there or take home, as well as doing catering jobs locally. They will make food to order: lasagnas, eggplant alla parmigiana etc. Good pizza that is best to eat there to avoid sogginess. Prices very reasonable."Tutto casareccio". Summer closure 2013: reasonable.
Il Vizio del Barone, Corso Bruno Buozzi 35 (on the main street leaving Piazza Matteotti, centro storico), ☎ 0761-514929. 6 p.m. till late. Small plate aperitivo with all nibbles made on the premises is 3 euro. Add a glass of wine or beer (3-5 euros) for a light dinner, or order from the menu: sausage with chips and greens, chicken curry (not bad!), vegetarian caponata, tongue with salsa verde, coda all vaccinara, plate of meats and cheeses, piadina (quesadilla-like sandwich), meatloaf with salsa tonnata, crespelle, canelloni etc.medium.
Le Scuderie, Via Don Minzoni, Relais Falisco hotel. Under new and young management since February 2013. Nestled into the old stables of this beautiful palace. Ring the bell at the door to be admitted - it has a Hernando's Hideaway feel to it. Extensive menu, fresh food, beautifully presented. Lovely atmosphere. Downstairs cantina, newly-renovated, works well for private parties/receptions. Best to book either in person, by phone, or through the hotel reception desk. medium-high.
Vine Idee - Piazza della Liberazione (new part of town): wine, lunch, dinner, pizza.
Il Vizio del Barone, Corso Bruno Buozzi, 35 (below Palazzo Trocchi, just down from the main pharmacy in the centro storico), ☎ 0761-514929, . 6 p.m. - late. Self-described "Pub - Restaurant - Cocktail Bar". Wines and beers by the glass (wine 3-5 euro per glass). Small plate aperitivo nibbles for 3 euro, some vegetarian selections too, including a tasty, dinner-sized caponata, chicken curry (!), piadina, fried mozzarella balls, desserts, meatloaf etc. This is a newly opened evening spot with a cozy, dark interior, air-conditioning, friendly staff. The music can be overwhelmingly loud (bass unbalanced) at times making conversation difficult - but the staff will lower the volume on request. moderate.
STAPPO!, Via della Tribuna, centro storico (exit Piazza Matteotti under the arch across from the main fountain - it's 20 meters down on your LHS.). Small wine bar with a good selection of moderately-priced wines, and now a selection of beers as well, is located in an alleyway, closed to traffic, just off Piazza Matteotti in the centro storico. Expect to pay 4/5 euro or so for a glass of wine and some nice nibbles. They also have light lunches and dinners and aperitivi. Tables outside let you watch the locals wander by and enjoy cool evening breezes in summer. Some English spoken. Owner: Roberto.
The Club, Piazza Matteotti, centro storico (look for the umbreallas in the main square and you've found it). all day. The Club: recently opened black and white themed bar in Piazza Matteotti with comfy tables outside, umbrellas, helpful service. Giovanni works afternoons and evenings and is always cheery and helpful. Expect some finger food with your glass of prosecco or glass of wine in the evening, and plenty of people watching all the time. Coffee/breakfast too, of course, and their own wifi network for customers.standard bar prices.
Civita suffers from a dearth of central, affordable accommodation.
The Relais Falisco  is a very nice example of this French chain's service, located in Via Don Minzoni, just 50 meters from the Duomo. It is situated in the renovated Palazzo Feroldi delle Rose and is air-conditioned and staffed by helpful receptionists who all speak English. Approximately forty rooms, both singles (only seven) and doubles, include a breakfast buffet. The hotel has wifi as well as private parking FOR GUESTS! They also have conference rooms for meetings or private courses.
The other "local" accommodation is well outside of town.
Entrance to Falerii Novi
Civita Castellana has a rich history, and was for centuries one day's ride north from Rome along the Via Flaminia - a place to stop and change horses. Civita is a superb base from which to explore Northern Lazio (by car).It was also one of the first locations that drew outdoor painters in the 18th century, and many of the views they painted are still unspoiled today. The local building material is mainly tufa, and the region is full of tufa cliffs and gorges, Etruscan burials and wonderful small towns.
Most amenities are within easy waking distance here in the old center of this ancient town, historically the center of the Faliscan empire. The Faliscans were contemporaries of the Etruscans and Civita finally fell to the Romans in 241 BC. It is built on a naturally defensible bluff. Civita also has a wonderful Antonio da Sangallo fortress built around 1500, which was a Papal palace and then a prison, and now a museum displaying Faliscan and Roman relics, where there is a free music festival every July. There are wonderful things to see all over the region: Viterbo has one of the best preserved medieval centers in Europe and the Terme dei Papi bath complex, Sutri, Calcata, Nepi, the Via Amerina (an ancient road lined with burial chambers carved into the rock), Monster Park at Bomarzo, Villa Farnese at Caprarola, Villa Lante at Bagnaia, nearby Castel Sant'Elia with its 12th century Basilica and Sanctuary, the beech forest - La Faggeta - near Soriano, where the Romans came to capture wild animals for the sport in the Colisseum, also Amelia, Calvi, Otricoli, Lago di Bracciano, Lago di Vico, Faleri Novi, Oriolo Romano, Vignanello, Vasanello, San Martino al Cimino, Bolsena, Montefiascone, Tuscania, Civita di Bagnoregio. So many wonderful and uncrowded places to visit. It's a wonderful area to be based to see the wonderful Renaissance gardens of Lazio as well (check out: www.secretgardensitaly.com for itineraries), and is near enough to the main A1 highway to allow day-trips to such places as Perugia, Orvieto, Todi, among others. Good coffee, food and wine and many festivals celebrating local food and traditions all summer long. Tuesdays and Fridays there is a smaller fresh fruit/vegetable market in the old part of town, and on Saturday mornings there is the big fresh market in the new part of town.
The best way to explore the area surrounding the town is on foot. There are superb trails down to and along the many rivers that have always defined this area. Descending into the surrounding woods is truly like stepping into the countryside as it was 3000 years ago. Local group Argilla (http://www.turismocivitacastellana.it) organizes excursions along these trails regularly, in cooperation with the Federtrek, for individuals and groups. The locals are friendly!
Falerii Novi is 6km west of Civita Castellana. It is situated on a slight volcanic plateau. There are extensive walls, considered to be excellent examples of Etruscan/Roman city walls. The ancient Roman town boasted fifty towers along these walls. Built out of huge blocks of tufo rock, they are about 2km long. S. Maria of Falerii was built around the 12th Century. The church has been restored and can be visited weekends. The adventurous can reach Faleri Novi by following the Via Amerina from just outside Civita (leaving a car at the parking lot of the Quercia restaurant) and proceeding through the countryside. Large stretches of the original wall are preserved but not well cared for. Best not to approach from the main roads as the land is both privately owned and grazed by sheep who are protected by tenacious sheep dogs who emphatically do not speak TOURIST!
Calcata is a small town resting on top of a crumbling rock. Taken over by "hippies" in the '60s when the locals moved out, it is now a laid-back artists' colony with an interesting and diverse population. Be aware that Calcata is mainly closed during the week - shops and restaurants are generally only open on Saturdays and Sundays. Be prepared to park in the big lot in Calcata Nuova (a town of unique unattractiveness) and walk into the tiny town below - parking is difficult weekends. Just beyond Calcata are the falls of Monte Gelato near Mazzano and a hiking trail up to the ancient settlement at Narce. Calcata is connected to Civita Castellana by a trail through the Parco del Treja - a hike of approximately 12 kilometers, challenging in places, but beautiful, that follows the river bed, emerging along the Via Flaminia a few km outside of Civita. Due to the weakness of the local public transport system, you need a car to get to Calcata.