In the V century young Benedict spent three years as a hermit here. Traces can still be found in the Monastery of St. Benedict called “Sacro Speco”.
Mount Soratte is located less the 50 km away from Rome, therefore it was a strategic location for Mussolini to build a special shelter in case of war (which was just around the corner!). More than 4 km of galleries have been excavated inside the mountain in just six years, and it should have been even bigger, but the outburst of the war limited the project to the essential space to protect documents, works and key-personalities in a long term and destructive conflict.
It was a super classified project, but Mussolini couldn’t resist sharing this enterprise with Hitler and after September 8th of 1943 the binder was occupied by General Field Marshal Kesserlring installing here the main headquarter for Southern Europe campaign. Despite a massive bombing on May 12, 1944, it was still in operation until the Liberation of Rome (June 4th), proving its effectiveness.
But the story doesn’t end with the end of WW2! During the cold war a portion of it was adapted to become a very advanced fallout shelter, still in great conditions. Luckily there was no occasion to exploit this top-secret site and the progress of military technology made it obsolete. In 2001 the municipality of Sant’Oreste was finally returned this area in order to restore it and open the site to the public.
This “underground town” tells us so much of the history of Italy and not only in the XX century and it surely a fascinating visit for everybody!
Complete your day trip:
Lucus Feroniae was an ancient “sacred grove” (lucus) dedicated to the Sabine goddess Feronia. It was such a famous and rich sanctuary that even Hannibal bothered to plunder it in 211 BC. Now it is an archeological site with a small, but very interesting museum (also housing a great carving depicting gladiators in action!), remains of baths, forum, amphitheatre, a nearby Villa dei Volusii with colourful mosaic floors, and all that is just in contrasting view of the motorway service area!
The sanctuary of Santa Maria “in Vescovio” has a solemn aspect in the Sabine countryside, despite the simpleness of its medieval architecture. A tall bell tower and the frescoes of the School of Cavallini make this church an artistic destination, but its spirituality comes from the traditional presence of St. Peter himself in the nearby centre of Forum Novi. Emperor Theodosius in the IV century erected a first church here in the memory of this old christian community and it soon became seat of the Bishop, “episcopium” in latin, from which the toponym derives.
Mount Soratte is a natural reserve where hiking is a good option. Despite the limited height (691 mt), it is so isolated (it used to be an island!!!) that you enjoy a great view over the Tiber valley. Several paths are available, from short walk to longer excursions. At the very top, the hermitage where the future Pope Sylvester took shelter during the last persecution of the Christians and where, according to the legend, ambassadors of the Emperor Constantine looked for him to heal the sick emperor.
Calcata is a “borgo” dominating the valley of Treja river, an incredible landscape of tufa rocks. It was never “crowded”, but surely populated from the middle ages until the Thirties… then, little by little, the increased danger of landslides forced the inhabitants to move out to a new town two km away, called Calcata Nuova. But the charme of this ghost town started to attract artists, craftsmen and intellectuals who gave ta peculiar aspect to this fascinating village.