The fantastic atmosphere of the Abbazia di Farfa
The Abbazia di Farfa is a place you can easily define "forgotten by the world”. The Monastery of the Benedictine congregation of Cassini – taking its name by the river with the same name, and sung by Ovid as “Farfarus” - is a prayer and quiet place, surrounded by a small half-deserted medieval village in the Sabina country - an ideal place, therefore, for who wants to find a far away little peace, far from stress and from the bustle of the city life.
But it has not been always like this.
Farfa la Potente: the Abbazia dell'Imperatore
The Abbey had the sponsorship of Charlemagne and had conquered an enormous surface of territory in the centre of Italy: it was an imperial abbey, out of the papal control but however near the Holy See, in order to be a meeting point for religious people and scholars among the most prestigious of medieval Europe and hosting the monarch himself, before its coronation in Campidoglio.
It was also a very important trade connection: in order let you understand the size of its territory, you have to know that in the third decade of the IX century, the Abbey owned a trade ship exempted by custom duties in the ports of the whole Carolingian Empire; and in that period, the Abbey reached its maximum expansion.
But everything about its wealth and its power, its origins and its future after the X century are wrapped in the darkness.
Alternate fortunes: round-trip from the darknesses of the history
Leaving from the first ones, its creation is not very clear.
The latest archaeological discoveries, led by the efforts of professor David Whitehouse of the British School in Rome, suggest it developed from a pre-existing Roman complex (probably the Forum Novum, or today's Vescovio) in 554, and that its Bishop was the already known Lorenzo Siro; according to this hypothesis, it should have been a flourishing center of faith and richness, since the 11th century.
During the Lombard invasions, it fell into ruin, reducing itself to a poor basilica and some buildings, but the legend tells that, at the end of the VII century, Tommaso di Moriana - living in Jerusalem - received a vision by the Holy Mary, who ordered him to look for the remains of a basilica: Tommaso made what she said, he went to Sabina, found the remains of Siro's settlment and created the community again, bringing it back to its splendor.
At the beginning of the X century, Saracene attacks took place, seriously hurting but not demolishing the Abbey, resisting thanks to the imperial protection; but when the protection decreased, the invaders and the local landlords began to share its territory and the leadership of the abbey got divided among three Abbots.
The Abbey survived and prospered once more, but for a short time: two centuries later, the Abbey was forced to renounce to its own sovereignty and to yield it to the papal authority, because of the Concordat of Worms, leading to a spiral of economic and monastic crisis, causing the Abbott excommunication - for insolvency -, in the middle of the XIV century.
From then on, no renaissance took place anymore.
Nobles and landlords attempted to renew the abbey several times: the Orsini - second half of the XV century - were the creators of the church consecrated in 1496, and the Barberini reorganized the historical village to better host the great fairs of the Annunciation and the Virgin the Abbey is dedicated to.
The art of Farfa
The Abbey is almost one of a kind in Italy, not only for its extraordinary history but also for its architecture: it actually is the only one example of Carolingian architecture on the national territory, easy distinguishable, thanks to its bell tower and its perimeter wall, where the typical lesenes (vertical decorations on the wall) of the style are immediately visible.
But the oneness of its art is not only its architectonic style: an expert eye can recognize the alternate vicissitudes of the Abbey are present on its structure, joining elements of various historical and artistic periods, in a particular and evocative amalgam.
Some examples are the remains of the bell tower, whose windows date to a following period; the Romanesque door, from the XIV century and the Gothic additions of some later centuries; the frescoes from 1400, painted on the Romanesque door; and the evocative element of styles and fragments of funeral Paleochristian monuments.
The church seats in the center of the Abbey, as a castle in its feud: a Latin cross basilica with three naves, with its facade decorated by frescoes of the XIV-XV century.
Here you can see the contrast of styles: the interior part is Baroque, with naves divided by two strands of round arches resting on marble columns in Ionic style, and the façade is entirely decorated by the frescoes of the Giudizio Universale by Dirck Barendsz, from 1561. Beyond the cruise, the wide poligonale apse is situated, introducing the typical baroque wooden stalls of the chorus of the monks; the great altar is surrounded by the ciborium decorated by the scene of the Assumption of Mary.
The Chiostro of the Monastero, at last, is what makes the Abbey something fantastic, in the quite atmosphere and the tranquillity of the Sabina, representing the characteristics of the medieval art, keeping far away from Baroque excesses you can find internally, to astonish the spectator.
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