Bolsena and Gradoli the pearls on the lake

Fuori confineBolsena and Gradoli the pearls on the lake


Bolsena was the second stop on our #TusciaTour. But before reaching the town that gives its name to the largest volcanic lake in Europe, we visited Gradoli, a perched village made unmistakable by the profile of the Maddalena Church and Palazzo Farnese that dominate the whole town.

Around the lake between Gradoli and Bolsena


The Church has a Baroque façade and a three-nave interior which preserves a sixteenth-century fresco of a Madonna and Child, while the Palace built in 1515 is due to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the future Paul III, who entrusted its construction to Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane.

The small town, between streets, Renaissance squares and noble palaces, stands on a tuff spur from which you can admire a splendid landscape on Bolsena Lake. A landscape drawn by the mirror of fresh water of volcanic origin and embroidered by the two small mountain ranges of Volsini and Cimini.


Bolsena has two attractive poles: inside the walls of the perfectly preserved medieval old town, the beautiful Rocca dei Monaldeschi della Cervara dominates, while outside the walls the protagonist is the Collegiate Church of Santa Cristina.


The medieval village is accessed through the monumental Porta di San Giovanni. Going up, our first stop was Piazza San Rocco, where the protagonist is the beautiful Renaissance fountain built by Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici. According to tradition, San Rocco quenched his thirst here and by washing himself he healed a sore in his thigh. In our case, Otto took advantage of it to drink fresh water.


Continuing to climb, on the top of the village stands the Rocca Monaldeschi della Cervara, a castle built around 1100, when Pope Adrian IV decided to fortify some centers along the Cassia to defend them from the barbarian invasions. It then took its name from the powerful family that ruled the territory between the 14th and 15th centuries.

Inside it houses, since 1991, the Territorial Museum of Lake Bolsena which we visited together with our Otto. The museum is divided into 3 parts. The first section explains the formation of the territory and the lake and the first human settlements along its banks.

The second tells the Etruscan and Roman period of Bolsena through some artifacts found in the nearby archaeological site of Poggio Moscini. Among the most beautiful on display is the Throne of the Panthers in terracotta, found in the House of Paintings. It is a session used in rituals in honor of the god Bacchus reduced to pieces when the Senate of Rome decided to ban these rites outside the temples dedicated to the god. After being completely rebuilt it represents one of the treasures of the museum.

The museum tour ends with the Aquarium, inaugurated in 2011, whose visit was particularly interesting. The exhibition itinerary winds through thirty tanks in which different species swim among fish, amphibians and crustaceans, coming from the rivers and lakes of the provincial territory.

Carp, pike and trout are the real protagonists of the river and lake environments, but also daphnie, crayfish, sturgeons and huge catfish accompany the visitor on a real journey into the underwater world of fresh water that even Otto has enthused about. Each tank represents a different ecosystem in which the reconstructions were made using mainly natural materials taken directly from the habitats themselves.

From the bottom of swamps, rivers and lakes we re-emerged and climbed the walkways of the towers: the view from the top of the fortress is exceptional and embraces the entire lake in its extension and the two islands Martana and Bisentina.


Too bad we could not admire this view on a beautiful sunny day. But we can assure you that Bolsena is a marvel even with the gray sky.


The other symbol of Bolsena is the Collegiate Church dedicated to Santa Cristina, a beautiful building of Romanesque origin enriched in the Renaissance period according to one of the projects presented in 1490 for the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

The church includes the cave of Santa Cristina and was built in memory of an ancient miracle linked to the saint. Cristina, a Christian under Diocletian, was thrown into the lake with a stone around her neck, but instead of drowning dragged to the bottom by the weight, the saint was supported and carried ashore.

The second extraordinary event that characterized the history of this village overlooking the shores of the lake and which resulted in the strong devotion linked to the figure of Santa Cristina, patron saint of the city, was that of the miracle at the origin of Corpus Domini.
In the summer of 1263, a Bohemian priest, Peter of Prague, began to doubt the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated host and wine. So he decided to go to Rome and on the road he stopped to stay overnight in Bolsena, where he celebrated mass in the Grotto of Santa Cristina. According to tradition, at the moment of consecration the host began to bleed.

To sanction and commemorate the miraculous event, the pope instituted Corpus Domini on 11 August 1264, one of the main holidays of the liturgical calendar.
This is why Bolsena is also called the City of the Eucharistic Miracle and the feast of Corpus Domini is particularly felt and celebrated with a spectacular Infiorata.


Before leaving the city center to reach the shore of the lake and stop to taste some local specialties on the stilts of the renowned Trattoria del Moro we noticed, along the steep and narrow streets between churches and palaces, some strange vases in the shape of female heads, satyrs, sphinxes and Medusas.

They are the work of Giuseppe Utano, sculptor and ceramist originally from Messina, who has lived for years in Bolsena where he opened the La Medusa workshop, where he resumed an ancient custom according to which the head of Medusa has the meaning of protection for the populations linked to water.

After crossing the Via Cassia we reached the lake along viale Colesanti, the road built between 1867 and 1871 where early twentieth century villas alternate with more recent buildings among secular plane trees. At this point, unfortunately, it began to rain and we had to change the program of the day which included, after lunch, the continuation of our tour towards Montefiascone, the production site of the famous Est! Est! Est! white wine that we limited ourselves to enjoying at the table, Capodimonte and Marta, two small and picturesque harbors on the lake, up to Civita di Bagnoregio known as the dying city.


We were not too sorry … Because we are convinced that leaving something aside is always a good omen for returning to a place. And Tuscia has so fascinated and conquered us that we really hope to be able to return soon!

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This travel blog with the dog is a personal selection of our best experiences, our favorite spots and secrets places around the world curated by Rosalia e Michele.


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