Castel Sant'Elia

Spirituality in the ravines

Castel Sant'Elia

Spirituality in the ravines


Discover what treasures are hidden in Castel Sant'Elia

"The Sanctuary of Santa Maria ad Rupes".

"The ravine of the Suppentonia Valley".

"The Town’s Festival and the historical parade".

No other town strikes one more that Castel Sant’Elia for the deep intertwining of religious cults and the landscape. A perfect destination for religious tourism.

The buildings of Castel Sant’Elia stand on a clifftop overlooking the ravines, as is frequent to see throughout the Agro Falisco. The older part of the town is accessible through a great doorway with tower, which bears the emblems of the Farnese family. The square nearby the gateway offers a breath-taking view over the valley. The town is surrounded by naturalistic paths which in little time immerse us in the midst of genuine and untamed nature.

Over time Castel Sant’Elia has been ruled by both the Orsini and Farnese families, who already were governors of Nepi. It was indeed the Farnese who dealt with the restauration works in the Basilica of Sant’Elia, a prime task this being such an important destination for both pilgrims and visitors.

The town had come to be a place of worship already since the 6th century by virtue of a painting here conserved, the Madonna ad Rupes. This sacred painting is found within a cave amid the cliffs, where today the fascinating Sancturay of SS. Maria ad Rupes stands.

For its peculiar features, Castel Sant’Elia is one unique landmark of the Lazio region, so come and visit this haven of peace in the midst of the Agro Falisco!

Did you know… according to tradition, the encounter of Pope Gregorio Magno with the Langobardic queen Teodolinda, took place within the rocky cave of San Leonardo. 

Did you know… according to tradition, the encounter of Pope Gregorio Magno with the Langobardic queen Teodolinda, took place within the rocky cave of San Leonardo. 

The history of Castel Sant'Elia

Faliscans and Romans in the valley

Castel Sant’Elia was originally a vicus of the Agro Falisco, which lay in the Suppentonia valley. Several traces of the Faliscan presence in the area have been found in the tombs and inhabited caves, which were connected to each-other by paths throughout the valley. These small settlements were situated in localities such as Pizzo and Castel d’Ischia, little towns shielded by the tuff cliffs.
The urban centres were gradually abandoned in the Roman period. It was during these centuries that the consular roads of Amerina, Flaminia and Cassia became of increasing relevance as main connecting routes throughout the territory. 


The Middle Ages

The re-urbanization of Castel Sant’Elia started during the Middle Ages, under the pontificate of Gregorio Magno. This period of great disorder and instability saw the construction of a defensive stronghold against the barbaric invasions.

A document dated 872 attests the town’s transfer to the private property of the San Benedetto di Pentoma abbey. Shortly after, having previously passed into the hands of the Church, the town became part of a feud, only to be then handed over to the Colonna family. It was finally during the 13th century, that the town came under the control of one of the most influential families of the time: the Orsini. 


The Farnese in “Castello”

The Farnese is definitely the family which has left the most tangible traces in the town. The access doorway to the old town centre, built in the year 1900, bears an engraving of the family’s coat of arms, a fleur-de-lis. Pier Luigi Farnese was responsible for including “Castello”, as the town is often referred to, within the duchy of Castro.

And it was again this family which in 1540 commissioned the construction of the new Castle and its great ramparts. The Farnese developed an efficient administrative system and are also accountable for the renovations work carried out in the Basilica of Sant’Elia following a disastrous landfall. 

The growth of the town

In 1649, while the Duchy of Castro had been returned under the Holy See’s control in the meantime, Castel Sant’Elia was entrusted to the management of different contractors, at least up until 1790. Throughout the 18th century, the town begun expanding beyond the limits of the Farnese Castle, progressively growing into the shape and form we see today. After 1790, it was given under perpetual lease (emphyteusis) at first to Carlo Maria Luciani, and later, in 1815, to the count Domenico Panimolli. At last it was bequeathed to the marquess Andrea Lezzani, also title holder of a building standing on a main street, Corso Umberto I, which at present houses the town’s municipal hall.

Following the annexation to the Italian State in 1870, Castel Sant’Elia was at first included within the Province of Rome, and later, in 1927, in that of Viterbo.

It is due to its vocation for representing a place of worship and spirituality, that the town is known by many as the site of the fifteen churches


Come and visit the Sanctuary of SS. Maria ad Rupes, a unique religious destination of the Lazio region for both pilgrims and visitors exploring the Agro Falisco!

Where is Castel Sant'Elia


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