\The town of Nepi in central Italy is one of those destinations that stays off the radar of most local and foreign travelers. If you’ve decided to visit this lovely little town near Rome, it was surely recommended to you by some locals, or perhaps you’re passionate about exploring Italy off the beaten path.
Nepi is located about 50 km from the center of Rome and 40 from Viterbo. The town is part of the historical-archaeological-geological area called “Tuscia” and has a lot in common with other small towns in that area, such as Calcata and Pitigliano, but it is at the same time unique for the reasons we will see below. I suggest you spend at least one day in Nepi, Italy, it will be full of things to see and do.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF NEPI
Nepi, like other towns of Tuscia, stands on a spur of tufa rock, which in old times was flattened to build the town. It is surrounded by a gorge that constitutes a natural defense, crossed by 3 rivers that create fascinating waterfalls.
Precisely from this geographical feature derives the name of the city: nepa meant “water” in the Etruscan language. Nepi is also known as the City of Water. The Etruscan civilization lived and flourished in central and northern Italy centuries before the Roman one. The Romans acquired hydraulic techniques from the Etruscans. The Etruscans were skilled sailors and traders, in the end, the Romans conquered them thanks to more aggressive military strategies.
ANCIENT HISTORY OF NEPI
Tradition has it that the city was founded about 458 years before Rome by King Termo Larte. While he dug the furrow that marked the perimeter of the city, gushed from the waters a snake that spoke to him, which became one of the symbols of Nepi. The findings made in the territory, show that the town was even more ancient.
The city belonged to the Faliscan kings but had strong relationships with the Etruscans and the Latins before the Roman conquest. Nepi, unlike other centers of Tuscia, decided to ally with the Romans. After the fall of the empire, was sacked repeatedly by the Lombards. During the High Middle Ages, the city experienced a period of splendor, thanks to the favorable position on the ancient Roman consular road Amerina, which connected Rome and Ravenna. In 1130 it was constituted as “Free Commune”.
In the following centuries, aristocratic families such as the Borgia, Della Rovere, and Farnese fought for the city. During the Renaissance, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who became Pope in 1492, gave Nepi to his daughter Lucrezia Borgia. Afterward, the city will be governed by the Farnese family until 1545, when it will return again in the hands of the Papal State until the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
10 THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN NEPI, ITALY
Nepi is rich in historical, artistic, naturalistic and culinary treasures. Surely you will find inspiration for your first trip to Nepi in this list of things to do.
ADMIRE THE MASSIVE FARNESE WALLS
The outer walls defending the city, to which the arches of the aqueduct are connected, were designed by the then already famous Florentine architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. The walls were defined by Vasari as ” unconquerable and beautiful”. Sangallo had already distinguished himself at the court of the pope as a skilled builder of ramparts.
The defensive walls run around the most exposed side of the city, which is surrounded by a moat. Note the two entrances built together with the walls: Porta Romana and Porta di Cavaterra. The doors were double: an open room, built inside the walls, separated the outer and inner parts of the door. This structure allowed to block the enemies, lowering the portcullises inside the doors.
THE CIVIC MUSEUM
The archaeological museum of Nepi should be your first stop during your visit to the city. Admission is free. Here you can pick up a nice map of the city, which is also free, and ask all the questions you want at the reception desk, especially about visiting the Borgia Fortress and the Catacombs of Santa Savinilla. The museum is not very large and can be visited in about half an hour. It displays artifacts found in Nepi and the surrounding area, especially from the necropolis s around the city.
The exhibition path goes from the prehistoric age to the Renaissance.
AQUEDUCT OF NEPI
The elegant arches of the aqueduct are the first architectural element you notice when you arrive in Nepi.
The works to bring water to the historic center began in the mid-16th century and ended in 1727 with the intervention of Filippo Barigioni, who created the system of large arches that are set on the Farnese walls.
Overall, the aqueduct is about 3 km long, but the elevated and visible part is 300 meters long and is divided into 36 arches arranged on two floors.
The aqueduct, like the walls and most of the structures in Nepi, is made of tufa stone.
WALK INSIDE THE BORGIAN FORTRESS
The massive ruins you see today of the castle were built in the second half of the 15th century on the remains of a pre-existing Roman fortress.
The visit is absolutely recommended. It can be accessed on weekends (€6.00) accompanied by a guide from the Civic Museum. To book your visit, contact the Civic Museum a couple of days in advance.
You will climb to the top of the male tower, through eight flights of steep wooden stairs and enjoy a 360-degree view of the green countryside surrounding Nepi.
You will also walk on the original route of the ancient Amerina Road that passed through one of the doors of the palace and under the remains of walls and arches of the Roman era.
In the large space where the building containing the kitchens and the dining room was, now collapsed, conferences and screenings are occasionally held.
EXPLORE THE HISTORIC CENTER OF NEPI, ITALY
After getting one of the free tourist maps of the historic center at the Civic Museum, you can start exploring the historic center of Nepi on foot, it will take about two hours to visit it.
In addition to the most famous buildings, such as the Palazzo Comunale, the Borgia Fortress, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, look for the churches and Renaissance palaces hidden among the houses, help yourself with the map’s directions.
There are also many entrance gates to the city that are worth a visit, such as the Porta Falisca, next to an ancient washtub near the Civic Museum. Nepi, like the nearby and larger Viterbo, has several fountains made of peperino stone, such as the Fontana della Rocca and the Fontana dei Giardinetti in Via Tortolini.
THE CATACOMBS OF SANTA SAVINILLA
The catacombs were discovered in 1542 during the demolition of a church just outside the city, where now stands the cemetery, by order of a noble Farnese. The findings were linked to the legend of the martyrs Tolomeo and Romano, today patrons of the city. It is said that they founded the episcopate in Nepi and were later persecuted. A woman, Savinilla, having found their bodies, gave them a proper burial in the place where there are now more than a thousand loculi for Christians.
The catacombs can be dated back to the 4th-5th century AD. The different galleries are spread over two levels and are well lit. The loculi follow one another and also along the floor. There are what remains of medieval frescoes with a religious theme.
Access is gained from the Church of San Tolomeo, adjacent to the cemetery of Nepi, through an organized tour (€6.00) by the staff of the Civic Museum.
THE CAVATERRA WATERFALL, INSIDE THE TOWN!
As you walk around the walls of the Borgian Fortress, pass under the Porta Borgiana and head towards the Porta Cavaterra, or Porta Nica. You will already hear the roar of a large body of water. It is the Cavaterra Waterfall. To admire it in all its splendor, take the path downhill that you find halfway between the Porta Borgiana and Porta Nica, after about ten meters you will find the viewpoint.
THE MUNICIPAL PALACE
It lives a similar fate to that of the aqueduct. Designed and started during the Farnese domination in the 16th century, it was completed only in the middle of 1700, shortly after the aqueduct. At the foot of the palace, a fountain by Barigioni, to celebrate the inauguration of the aqueduct. The fountain features the two symbols of the city of Nepi, the tower and the snake.
TRY THE LOCAL SPECIALTIES
Between one historical discovery and another, it is worth stopping to eat a good typical meal in a delicious restaurant such as “La Corte”, a few steps from the entrance of the Borgia Fortress.
We ate an appetizer of mixed marinated fish, eggplant and buffalo mozzarella pie, gnocchi with truffles and “scapicollata” (typical Nepi cured meat), and pasta with wild boar ragù.
All the products are of high quality, the service is excellent as well as the prices.
THE SCENIC VILLAGE OF CASTEL SANT’ELIA
Less than 3 km from the center of Nepi, lies the village of Castel Sant’Elia, also ruled by the Farnese family during the Renaissance.
It is worth a visit if only for the extraordinary view of the Suppentonia Valley that you can enjoy from the terrace next to the entrance door of the historic center.
From the terrace, you can walk down to the medieval hermitage of San Leonardo, composed of suggestive caves dug into the tuff.
On foot, you can also reach the Basilica of Sant’Elia, a masterpiece of Romanesque art in Lazio (entrance fee €5).
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT NEPI?
I recommend visiting Nepi at any time of the year, particularly from April to June and September to the beginning of November.
HOW TO REACH NEPI WITH PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Take a bus from the station “Saxa Rubra” in northern Rome directed to Civita Castellana, making sure with the driver the bus stops at Nepi. The trip costs a few coins and takes about 40 minutes.
The best way to visit the area is by private car.
ACCOMMODATION IN NEPI, ITALY
Like for other towns in Tuscia, even in Nepi the best stays are either at a B&B or apartment in the historic center or at an agriturismo (farmstay) nearby.
The B&B House of the Falcon is located in the historic center of Nepi, in a characteristic, renovated old house that will make you feel like you’re back in the Middle Ages.
Agriturismo la Ghiga , in the heart of the countryside, features an outdoor swimming pool and offers, at an additional cost, a shuttle to and from the airport.
The apartment Nice home in Nepi has an outdoor swimming pool too. the house is decorated in the arte povera style and is set in a secluded location surrounded by nature.
Let us know how you enjoyed your first trip to the fascinating town of Nepi, Italy.