For a scenic tour, you can arrive in ancient Anagni from Rome on via Casilina past Colleferro and then follow the signs to Anagni. To see Anagni by foot is to walk back in time. Start from the Porta Romana (or more accurately Porta Cerere in honour of Ceres, the goddess of the harvest).
Walk through the gate looking up to try to decipher the quotation, and then you commence your tour of Anagni by foot.
For us, it was a fine autumn Sunday morning, without yet any autumn chill, when we set off up the main road (as often in Italy, named Via Vittorio Emanuele). As the street narrows, the sun disappears and we are wandering in the shade. The buildings in this 17th century area of Anagni, when combined with the slight curve of the street, reminded of Palladio’s Vicenza streets above the piazza of the basilica, those lined with the family palaces, yet not so elegant.
To the right and the left quite regularly are ‘vicoli‘– lanes of shallow stairs going up to the left and down to the right. We look down past arches between the old buildings and beds of hanging flowers, recording the last of summer, into a bright blue sunny sky at the end, the scene creating a living image that one would expect to find only in renaissance paintings.
A little further on we pass, on the right, Piazza Perfetti with its paradox of an American style restaurant on one side and a reminder of our historical artisanal taste, La Ciociara, on the right. Occasionally on the left you can find interesting workshops and outlets of proud Ciociarian artisans specialising in jewellery, religious artefacts and ornaments.
We emerge from the shaded way at the Piazza Cavour with its gardens and views across the valley to Sgurgola and above it the Lepini mountains. Twin girls, about 4 years, are playing in the long grass in the park below the monument, as their parents relax on a bench in the park – otherwise it is a quiet scene over the valley below.
Returning to our tour into history of Anagni by foot, we note that many of the stones of the palazzi have been pit-corroded over the centuries – the smoke from mankind’s fires leaves its mark when condensed onto the walls of our towns. But this is a detail that is common throughout Europe of the last 1000 years.
Stepping out of the sun we head up the slope towards the medieval town, past, but not on this occasion into, the oldest restaurant in town, ‘Del Gallo’.
On the left are the splendid ‘more modern’ arches of the City Hall, interestingly, not occupying its own Piazza. Up and down nearly every vicolo there is a surprise garden, restaurant or architectural feature. Walk slowly and sample the features now you are in the medieval town. Not far from the cathedral square you will find a remarkable artisan, Carlo Turri, who we will enjoy introducing in a separate reminiscence of Anagni by foot.
On this tour of Anagni by foot, there are no reminiscences of ancient Etruscan or Roman history of this town. Yet in that ancient period the Roman emperors realised, as we experience, the fresh air of Anagni breathes health. Then by the tenth century, the popes would all escape the oppressive air of Rome in summer for the hilled resorts such as Anagni.
The cathedral in Anagni, commenced in the eleventh century under the authority of the Bishop of Salerno, is Romanesque, and somewhat recently has been de-restored to recover that style that is as far from baroque as can be conceived.
The frescoes represent excellent byzantine art and the tiled mosaic floors produced by the Cosmati family are original from the 13th century. The campanile standing in front of the cathedral reminds us of the history of earthquakes in these mountains as each level is protected in tension by catene (chains).
We are reminded that Anagni saw the supply of four popes in the 13th century ending with Boniface VIII, who was subject of the ‘Slap of Anagni’, Dante’s record of which is the difficult to read quote inscribed above the Ceres gate.
To bring us back to the modern day we find in one corner of the of the cathedral square two statues by the famous Italian sculptor, Tommaso Gismondi, whose workshop here is preserved as a museum behind an amazing sculpted doorway.
We have passed several restaurants specialising in Ciociarian cuisine on our tour of Anagni by foot and, now retracing our steps to the present day, it is time to select one for ‘pranzo’.