16 Aug,2017 By jagabond
Few attractions line the road from Naples to Rome. There is a palace here, an abbey over there, and then a series of nondescript towns that feed the ‘don’t visit anything south of Rome’ stereotype. I’m glad I didn’t fall for this, because then I wouldn’t have found Anagni. So…why visit Anagni?
The papal history
“The new Pilate has imprisoned the Vicar of Christ” – Dante from ‘The Divine Comedy’
Anagni has in total produced four popes, a shockingly high number for a town of less than 20,000 residents. In the early 14th century, an angry French king teamed up with anti-papal locals to imprison Pope Boniface in Anagni. His captors deprived him of food and water for days. Legend tells that Sciarra Colonna, one of the Anagni locals looking to oust the pope from power, slapped him across the face with his gauntlet. The townspeople freed Boniface, but the emotionally scarred Pope died a month later. This shame, known as the outrage of Anagni, hung over the town for centuries. The papal palace relocated to the French city of Avignon shortly thereafter, and Anagni suffered prolonged economic decline and depopulation. Although time heals some wounds, this unfortunate event persists in the minds of many.
This 12th century beauty honors the Virgin Mary, most notably with this fresco painted over a tomb and entitled ‘Madonna and the Saints’.
The 13th century marble altar also has some colorful, religious paintings overhead.
Upstairs houses a museum of religious artifacts, including this 16th century wooden carving of the crucifixion. I suffered a brief anxiety attack when I was trying to take this picture, as the lights went out for a few seconds…very spooky!
The real winning attraction here is the Crypt of St. Magnus, located underneath the altar, and only open for thirty minutes at a time to preserve the physical integrity. Magnus was from Anagni, and suffered a fate similar to other martyrs – beheaded in the 3rd century. There is a fresco of this and many other events, and all were painted by anonymous artists. According to the informational plaques, the frescoes taken as a whole depict the salvation of man, from creation to the end of times. Other images I noted were Magnus saving a child trapped in a well, a pagan’s conversion to Christianity, and an angel trying to identify the righteous men during the apocalypse while devils are in waiting below.
This is still an active church, so being there on Sunday I went to the service. It wasn’t well attended, but that didn’t stop the choir from singing their butts off!
Walking the medieval streets
There is something I love about walking ancient streets at night. A yellow glow radiates from the stone, and most small towns like this are so quiet you feel alone yet comfortable. The main area had very little car noise, so all you heard was your thoughts and footsteps.
Dusk was a great time for walking as well, especially to catch the sunset over the distant landscape.
If you wander down to Piazza Cavour, you’ll see two attractive war monuments, with one set in a beautiful park overlooking another town below.
Would it be a medieval city without arches? Anagni had some truly stunning ones.
Food and drink at La Piazzetta
If you’re visiting Anagni, you must eat here. Although the restaurant didn’t open until around eight, the bar was available for wine and appetizers prior to that. The owner was present both times I went, and was very engaging and friendly. The inside of the restaurant looked incredible, as if you were dining in a medieval castle.
Lisa, the waitress, recommended some amazing local wines for me to go with the delicious meal. I ended up ordering the tomato noodle soup to start, then the rabbit and bacon main course. The food was unforgettable, the service was outstanding, and the atmosphere was magic.
Where to stay: Le Stanze Del Duomo is a gem set just inside one of the main city arches. The guesthouse is family owned, and the building was restored by one of their long past relatives who also happened to be an architect. There is a fine restaurant within, where I found one of the strongest white wines ever at 15.5%. I recommend an overnight stay, but not more than that as the town is quite small.
How to get there: Anagni is situated one hour south of Rome and less than two hours north of Naples. Driving is the best option for a visit.