Best places to visit in Celleno, the “ghost” medieval village in Lazio region | Bellarome

Best places to visit in Celleno, the “ghost” medieval village in Lazio region

Celleno is an Italian town of 1,297 inhabitants in the province of Viterbo, located between Lake Bolsena and Lake Alviano, 20 km north of Viterbo and 25 km south of Orvieto. Located in the Lazio region to the right of the Tiber between Orvieto and Orte, it is part of the Teverina region; this consists of soils covered with volcanic materials emitted in the various explosive phases of the Vulsino apparatus and resting on a clayey-sandy sedimentary layer. An incisive action of the waters brought these sedimentary formations to the surface; this is clearly visible when visiting Civita di Bagnoregio and the "Valle dei Calanchi". This phenomenon is visible, albeit less evident, also along the slopes of the historic center of Celleno. These characteristics have allowed the birth of numerous settlements, since the pre-Roman age, with a continuity of life almost interrupted.

These characteristics have allowed the birth of numerous settlements, since the pre-Roman age, with a continuity of life almost interrupted.

Celleno was first hit by epidemics, then by landslides, terrible events that occurred in unspecified years, and finally destroyed by an earthquake in 1931. The fact is that from the end of the 1800s it was abandoned. Today it is considered a ghost village.

The new village of Celleno was rebuilt not far away in the 1930s, today there are just under 1,500 inhabitants.

The abandoned village is still an intricate maze of narrow streets that lead up to what remains of the ancient castle, after passing the scenic via del Ponte, narrow streets overlooked by small plasterless houses and remains of stone buildings basalt. The catello has gone through all the colors: it knew the alternating events of the rivalry between Guelfi and Ghibellini families; in the fifteenth century it became a possession of the Gatti family and then it was a fief of the Orsini family from which it still takes its name.

The absence of maintenance has spared only the most architecturally valuable part of the town, the one around Piazza del Comune. Here are the Castello degli Orsini, the 17th century church of San Carlo, the 1200s church of San Donato and other palaces.

The village of Celleno has been selected by the FAI (Italian Environment Fund) as one of its assets and guided tours organized by the FAI Giovani Group of Viterbo and by the Cicero Apprentices of the “Buratti” High School are organized on days dedicated to extraordinary openings.

Let’s start our virtual tour in this enchanting medieval village!

Castello Orsini

The term “Il Castello di Celleno” (Borgo Fantasma) is generally called the intra-moenia monumental complex, that is, the urban perimeter perched on the tufaceous plateau delimited to the south by the civic walls and to the north by the natural slope. The term “Castle” has always been used by the population in the generic sense of castrum distinguishing it from the fortified building better known as “Castello degli Orsini”, in the past the seat of the town hall.


Although the presence of a settlement since the Etruscan-Roman age is probable, the first specific information regarding the foundation of the castle of Celleno dates back to the year 1026 when Corrado II Il Salico granted this territory to the Conti di Bagnoregio family, who made it a strategic outpost for the control of the area; at the beginning of the XII century, the castle of Celleno is included in the list of allied places of the Church against the imperial threat.

By the end of the following century, the fortified settlement passed under the hegemony of the powerful Municipality of Viterbo and thus remained involved in various war events in the area, such as the destruction of Ferento and the dispute with the city of Orvieto. Meanwhile, having formed a free Commune, Celleno continued his history of alliances with Viterbo, engaging in tough disputes with Rome. During the fourteenth century the castle experienced the ups and downs of the rivalry between Guelfi and Ghibellini; in the fifteenth century it became a possession of the Gatti family, while from 1527 to 1580 it was a fief of the Orsini family from which it still takes its name. From the end of the sixteenth century Celleno was reabsorbed by the Papal States, gradually losing its strategic importance for the dominion of the territory and facing an inexorable decline of the inhabited center.

The original medieval settlement for socio-economic and instability reasons of the slopes was abandoned starting from the fifties of the twentieth century undergoing the same fate as many other centers of Tuscia (for example Civita di Bagnoregio, Calcata, Faleria, San Michele in Teverina , Bassano in Teverina). On March 18, 1951 the City Council decreed the transfer of the population from old Celleno to the new settlement of the Luigi Razza village.

The site of “Il Castello” has in the past allowed the discovery of a series of majolica characterized by a marked homogeneity, generally datable in the first half of the fifteenth century and distinguishable in three groups: imported from Orvieto, Viterbo and Tuscany.

Borgata Luigi Razza

On March 18, 1951, the city council decreed the definitive abandonment of the ancient center of Celleno, perched on a tuff cliff subject to continuous collapses.

For the inhabitants forced to leave the old houses, the construction of a new settlement began, of which the Borgata Luigi Razza, built by the Civil Engineer in the 1930s, constitutes the original nucleus.

On July 6, 1935, in fact, the minister Luigi Razza visited Celleno Vecchio and, finding it in dangerous conditions, he ordered Eng. Precious a project for the construction of public housing.

The works of this village, also known as the “Case Nove”, began already in that year even if only on February 19, 1936 the ceremony of laying the first stone of the construction of the houses of the second lot in the presence of the Prefect and the Federal Secretary.

A few weeks later, the Minister Razza died in Cairo from a plane crash at the age of 43 and the City Council, on March 3, 1938, in his honor, decided to name the district after him by calling it “Borgata Luigi Razza”.

In April 1936, the new minister Cobolli Gigli, expressed an opinion favourable to the definitive transfer of the inhabited area and on March 30, 1937 the mayor of Celleno requested that “rooms for storeroom use” be built for each apartment and a year later a regulation was approved for the “stable shelters” where the accommodation was expected to be managed by the Municipality with the rental income.


The stable shelters are of three different types: on the main street 4 buildings are built with 8 lodgings on two levels and with two distinct entrances on the sides of the main facade; on the secondary streets to the north are placed on a regular orthogonal mesh the buildings of two and four lodgings, with a single central entrance and the rooms spread over two floors. Only later there was a simplified variant introduced to these projects with the construction of buildings, always on two levels, of which the first one raised in such a way as to have the possibility of easily building basements in the basements.

During the war, the houses were damaged by cannon shots, machine guns and hand grenades, which is why the mayors from 1944 onwards will request reimbursement from the bodies in charge. Even today, all the buildings retain the architectural elements and have undergone a careful restoration to preserve the original chromatic plan, which provided for the differentiation of all the buildings.

After the war, the abandonment of the historic center came to an end, the consolidation of which according to the criteria of the time was considered too expensive: the City Council then decided to expand the new settlement by taking a 50 million loan for the construction of new houses for the homeless who now reached the population residing within the walls. In 1950, the Civil Engineer drew up a new project to transfer the whole inhabited area to the new expansion around the “Borgata Luigi Razza”: the ancient settlement around the Celleno Vecchio castle, in fact, was declared subject to transfer with the Presidential Decree of the Republic December 24, 1951, n.1746.

In the following years, further “stable shelters” or “anti-unhealthy houses” of via Rossini were built, assigned between 1951 and 1959 and financed with the Fanfani law and the Romita law.

In the seventies, the last expansion dictated by the Civil Engineer occurred until the Municipality re-appropriated the functions of urban planning.


Franciscan Convent of San Giovanni Battista

The Franciscan Convent of San Giovanni Battista was built starting from 1610 around the pre-existing Romanesque parish church of San Giovanni, which still preserves its XII century apse.

The convent of San Giovanni Battista in Celleno known simply as “The convent”, is a remarkable complex that introduces the southern slope of the Tiber Valley to the village, in a dominant position.

The sequence consisting of the left side of the Romanesque church and the facade of the main church unravels along the road, connected by a series of four arches: but on the back the rest of the building stretches more monumentally, up to the slope covered by a wood of centuries-old holm oaks.

The foundation of the convent must be traced back to the beginning of the seventeenth century, when Pope Paul V, with a letter dated 5 May 1608, granted permission for its construction in order to host religious who fulfilled the spiritual needs of the people of Cellenese: the place the one chosen was the one where the ancient, small church of Romanesque structure stood which in the external parade of the apse party shows a succession of hanging arches in Lombard style, probably from the X-XI century. A community of Franciscans came to live in the place as early as 1610. The structure suffered considerable damage following the disastrous earthquake that hit the nearby town of Bagnoregio in 1695.

The frescoes distributed in the various interiors date back to the XVI-XVII century (a more ancient and valuable fragment of hand is present in the cellar compartment) and in 1716 a friar of the community frescoed the galleries of the cloister with portraits of Franciscan saints. The convent therefore experienced a campaign of works and extensions between 1754 and 1769.

Inside, the Convent of San Giovanni Battista there is only one panel of the eighteenth-century ones, originally located in the first newsstand on Via Roma, from a private individual who handed it over to the current owners of the former conventual structure: the station no. 1 where “Jesus is sentenced to death”.

In 1875, the convent was hit by the suppression laws, but in the following years, the friars managed to regain possession of it, resolving the rent with which the state property had given it to the Municipality of Celleno: this did not however help to save it from abandonment and in the 1968 the Roman Province of the Friars Minor Conventual ceded it to a private individual. Probably the loss of the large paintings that adorned the side altars of the main church, now deconsecrated, dates back to this period of decay, which remains enriched only by a remarkable eighteenth-century wooden choir and the remains of a valuable fresco depicting the Virgin.

Since the eighties, the convent has become a cultural tourist center with conference rooms, libraries and rooms to accommodate tourists.

Church of San Rocco

The church of San Rocco, in the square of the village born at the foot of the Castle of Celleno, was built to protect the population of Celleno from plagues and is of particular importance for its extramoenia position. It is characterized above all by the beauty of its portal, by the altar with a wooden crucifix and by some important fragments of Renaissance frescoes.

In the years 2001-2002, the parish priest Don Giorgio Basacca carried out important restoration works on the altar, the sacristy and the wooden choir, financed by the Foundation of the Cassa di Risparmio di Roma.

The ancient wooden crucifix, 1,70 m high, is kept at the altar. The sculpture, by geographic contiguity, has its most immediate references in the wooden crucifix preserved in the cathedral of Montefiascone or in the most famous one of Civita di Bagnoregio, which a widespread critical tradition generically attributes to the fifteenth century and to the Donatellian school.

Like the “dead Christ” of Civita, so the Celleno Crucifix finds its element of strong suggestion in the face, highly expressive and suffering, to mark the moment of transition from life to death: the two sculptures, in fact, have articulated arms to allow their arrangement along the body during the respective processions, during which they are placed on a coffin and carried on the shoulder. The face of the Crucifix of Celleno finds its expressive elements in the half-open mouth, in the eyes just opened in a thin crack and especially in the protrusion of the cheekbones to emphasize the hollow of the cheeks.

Compared to that of Civita, the Crucifix of Celleno denounces greater articulation, less formal compactness and composure of the whole and the face. It is attributable to a later period, in particular the second half of the seventeenth century: in fact, the attribution to the fifteenth century is refuted not only by the stylistic analysis, but also by the evidence offered by the documents. Still from the documents we know that only from 1707 the Crucifix had made its appearance above the main altar of San Rocco, perhaps to replace or cover an unwelcome version of the Virgin.

The Crucifix is ​​placed on a cross painted in black and gold and surrounded by a classic and rich baroque apparatus of long golden rays, interspersed with silver clouds from which cherub heads of not extremely refined workmanship emerge. In the upper part, two angels with golden crowns and draperies hold a large royal crown on the head of Christ.

The whole of the Crucifix is ​​in turn inserted inside the complex baroque altar machine, constituting, enclosed by a glass, a sort of plastic altarpiece.

In the above entablature two heads of little angels act as protomes, while in the center stands the rayed dove of the Holy Spirit: above, in the context of an articulated broken tympanum, in which volutes, pie caryatids and small and large angels bearing cornucopias and lights, there is the bust of God the Father.

The reason for being of this baroque style machine, which wanted to set the visualization of the dogma of the divine Trinity, unfolds along a straight vertical line: in direct reference to the Crucifix and on the vertical above in fact, the dove and God the Father complete the layout of the triple essence of that God who previously was visible only in the most painfully human dimension, that of death.

From the stylistic and documentary findings we can place the realization of this altar machine in the first half of the seventeenth century. A restoration by the gilder Cerroni is documented in 1869.

Church of San Donato

The construction dates back to around the year 1000. Of Romanesque style, it still retains two beautiful carved basalt portals. Internally it had three naves with the Upper Church, dedicated to S. Donato, and the Lower one, dedicated to S. Michele Arcangelo.

This church was built in Romanesque style and embellished with a basaltic stone entrance portal.

The seat of the main altar and that of the side altars are still visible today, all with dedications. The Church of S. Donato underwent numerous reconstructions for earthquakes or subsidence, the last of which was on October 14, 1941.

A few years later the church and the entire historic center, increasingly affected by frequent collapses, were abandoned, and the population moved in the new country.

The church of San Donato remains today out of the way of the spatial fulcrum of the square, but it was once the mother church of the community: currently in a state of ruin, a side portal dating from the XII remains on the right side, testifying to its noble past century, with a whole sixth shaped ashlars and worked with a deep bull and large and rich jambs with denticles and diamond points.

During the eighteenth century the church underwent a profound transformation as its original axis was rotated ninety degrees and the interior was transformed into three neoclassical naves.

Church of San Carlo

Located in the square of the historic center, it has a well-preserved basalt stone portal. The church was built thanks to the generosity of the Cellenese population: the first stone was laid, with a solemn ceremony, in the year 1615. The Confraternity named after the Madonna was added to it.

The church of San Carlo, founded in the jubilee year 1625, as can be read in the inscription placed on the architrave of the window that opens on the side towards the castle (AÑO IUBILEI MDCXXV), just five years after the canonization of Carlo Borromeo. The construction, as specified by the inscription on the portal frieze, was supported by the then existing Congregation of San Carlo. With a reduced size and a single nave with a straight back wall, the whole structure of the church denounces the sobriety of the construction means.

The front has a flat termination, with a terminal molding in carved tuff blocks, on which the slender bell-shaped bell is inserted. The portal is surmounted by a thin broken tympanum which encloses the Calvary symbol and which borders on the base of the small square window with basaltine jambs.

In the cantons, the masonry is carried out with studied alternation of carefully cut large blocks of tuff.

The side towards the castle is the high side of the road that takes its name from the church itself: the seventeenth-century masonry was set on the medieval one, making the most of the pre-existences.