From the Roman Sabina to the Upper Sabina discovering Palombara Sabina, Nerola, the Farfa Abbey and the Oil Museum in Castelnuovo di Farfa, with a detour to the Villas of Tivoli – Unesco site.
Smooth hills, dotted with vineyards and olive groves, then higher and rugged peaks outline the Sabina landscape stretching northeastwards between the provinces of Rome and Rieti. Via Salaria, almost unchanged from the ancient Roman consular road originating from Rome and reaching the Apennines, is just one example of the historical heritage that this land, the result of ancient history, still preserves: archaeological remains, villages surrounded by greenery, monumental castles, churches, sanctuaries and monasteries.
A heritage that can be discovered by following the itinerary starting from Villa Adriana and Tivoli with the history of the great Emperor Hadrian and leading northeastwards to discover the towns of Nerola and Palombara Sabina and ending in Farfa Abbey and Castelnuovo di Farfa. The underlying theme of the entire trip is the olive tree and olive oil praised by Columella and Horace for its precious qualities; nowadays, companies still carry on this vocation producing scented cold-pressed monocultivar and enriching the offer with processed products such as olives in brine, tapenades, pickles, etc.
From Rome it is possible to reach easily the town of Guidonia that offers to nature lovers the Inviolata Archaeological Park, established in 1996, with the objective of preserving part of the Roman Countryside, valuable agricultural crops and pastoral traditions, alongside interesting vegetation, archaeological ruins of Roman villas, and medieval and prehistoric remains. Inside the park, among the remaining areas of Mediterranean maquis and extensive olive groves, there are embedded treasures: the medieval rocky church and the ruins of the many country villas.
Not far away lies the archaeological site of Hadrian’s Villa, architectural complex of rare beauty, studied and taken for example by the greatest architects over the centuries, that embodies the spirit of its creator and patron, the Emperor Hadrian, who wanted gathering, in a suburban villa, the most beloved Roman and Greek monuments, such as: the Pecile, the Canopus and the astonishing Maritime Theatre.
Hadrian’s Villa has been declared – in 1999 – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the nearby Villa d’Este, a masterpiece of the Italian Garden that, with an impressive concentration of fountains, nymphs, caves, playing of the fountains and hydraulic music, is a much-copied model in European mannerist and baroque gardens.
The itinerary then proceeds into the typical agricultural landscape, dominated by the shapes and colors of the Roman Sabina olive trees, up to Palombara Sabina. The town, lying at the foot of Mount Gennaro, inside the Park of Lucretili Mountains, is a typical medieval village developing towards the Castle, built by the Savelli family. The castle, that has undergone many changes over the centuries, has a history inextricably linked to the Roman baronial families, such as Savelli and Orsini, and celebrities, such as the anti-pope Innocent who was arrested here in 1111 or Benvenuto Cellini who, four centuries later, took refuge and even the Templars that here in 1300, under Pope Boniface VIII, were tried by the Ecclesiastical Court.
Like Palombara, also Nerola is dominated by a castle, completely restored and venue for conferences and events. Built in the 10th century by the Crescenzi Stefaniani, lords of Palestrina, the Orsini Castle stands out for its gray-white stone overlooking the houses huddling around the winding alleys.
In the territory of Upper Sabina, after the fascinating villages of Poggio Moiano and Poggio San Lorenzo, there is Fara Sabina, a charming medieval village characterised by its winding and narrow streets opening into small courtyards and by noble mansions. The history of the village and its fortress is closely linked to the one of the nearby Farfa Abbey.
The religious center, founded in the 6th century, was one of the most important cultural and political sites in the Middle Ages. Even the emperor Charlemagne stayed there on his way to Rome to receive the imperial investiture by the pope who, in 775, granted him the privilege of autonomy from every civil and religious power, a privilege that allowed the Abbey to develop and acquire new possessions, and to become one of the most important and powerful abbeys in Central Italy.
Nowadays, the abbey is enclosed within a fortified wall and a small medieval village, with traditional 15th and 16th century old mansions, and beautiful churches such as the Collegiate Church of St. Antoninus.
The town of Castelnuovo di Farfa undoubtedly deserves a visit; located between the Farfa river and the Riana stream, it probably originated as a fortified defence of the Abbey. The village preserves its medieval character. Two important buildings must be visited: Palazzo Simonetti and Palazzo Perelli, housing the Sabina Olive Oil Museum, where a fine artistic and documental exhibition allows an approach with the olive oil tradition.