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Bolsena, Province of Viterbo, Lazio

The name comes from the ancient Roman town "Volsinii".

The present town is divided into an old, medieval borough along a hill descending to the lake, and a newer part, agricultural and rich of tourist facilities, along the Bolsena lake. The lake, the fifth in Italy and the largest of the volcanic lakes, is 14 km long and 12 km wide, and reaches the considerable depth of 146 mt.

Info

  • Altitude: 350 m a.s.l
  • Population: about 5000 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal code: 01023
  • Phone Area Code: 0761
  • Patron Saint: Santa Cristina di Bolsena, celebrated on 24 July.

History

It was founded as Volsinii in 264 BC when Rome relocated the Etruscan survivors of defeated Velzna (today's Orvieto). Archeological excavations performed by the École Française brought to light traces of a circle of walls (6 km) in tuff blocks of the 3rd century BC and two small temples at Poggio Casetta and at Pozzarello of the same period.

Under the Romans Volsinii became an important centre strengthened along the Via Cassia. Bolsena is famous for a miracle in 1263, when a Bohemian priest doubting in the real presence of Christ's flesh and blood in the consecrated host, saw blood dropping from the host and staining the Mass linen cloth (=called corporal), which is now preserved in the Orvieto Cathedral. On that occasion the Corpus Domini festivity was established.

What to see

  • The Church of Santa Cristina, a Romanesque building of the 11th century, with a facade rebuilt in Renaissance times. Along the left aisle there is the "Cappella del Miracolo", where in 1263 a Bohemian monk doubting of the presence of Christ's blood in the Holy Host, while celebrating Mass saw blood dropping from the Eucharist, and staining the marble altars. In the nearby Catacombs there is the "Grotta di Santa Cristina" with a work in multi-colored terracotta by Giovanni della Robbia.
  • The Castle, with a square plan and towers in the corners, built in the 13th century, now the seat of the "Museo Territoriale del Lago di Bolsena", a museum that tells the history of the lake from the prehistoric settlements at Villanova, then the Etruscan times, the Roman town of Volsinii, and the life of the fishermen on the lake.
  • The archeological site of Volsinii, 1 km along the road leading to Orvieto, with thermal structures, a forum, a basilica, as well as the residential quarters of the ancient Roman town.
  • The Lake Tour, a 52 km long itinerary around the lake, through mountains and hills covered with vineyards and the original Mediterranean forest of oak and chestnut trees.

Events

  • 23 July, in the evening, miracle play representing the "Misteri di Santa Cristina", with living scenes re-enacting the life and martyrdom of the saint child prepared along the itinerary from the Basilica to the Church of the Santissimo Salvatore, with a procession carrying the saint's statue and stopping at each scene; the procession is repeated in the opposite direction the following morning, 24 July.

Where to stay