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Castello di Bolsena

Capella del Miracolo, Bolsena

Lago Bolsena

Isola Bisentina, Lago Bolsena

Welcome to Bolsena
From Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 4,083 (2001)
Official website:
Wikipedia: Bolsena
Maps: MapQuest

The very ancient town of Bolsena sits on the shores of Italy's largest lake, Lago Bolsena, in Viterbo Province in the north western corner of the Region of Lazio Roma. The lake, which is about 12 km long and 14 km wide, is filled with remarkably clear, almost potable  water, sits in the crater of a long-extinct volcano.

The town site and immediate area have been settled as long ago as the Iron Age.  In the 7th century BC, the dominant peoples were the Villanovans, an early Italic tribe, whose settlement consisted of grass huts with cobbled floors built on stilts over the water.  The Villanovans were eventually displaced by Etruscans who who in 264 BC fled the destruction of a major Etruscan town, Velzna, by the Romans.  Inevitably, the Romans dominated the entire area, and the growing town took on the Roman name Volsinii Novi.

The old city is surrounded by the remnants of tufa walls, running for a distance of about 4 kilometers, that were started by the Etruscans and completed by the Romans.  A castle known as the Rocca Monaldeschi della Cervara was built on a hill behind the town between the 12th and 14th centuries and still dominates the the old medieval quarters of the town.

The castle with its square plan and corner towers, has been completely restored and renovated.  Since 1991 it has been the home of the Museo Territoriale del Lago di Bolsena (Lake Bolsena Territorial Museum) with three floors of exhibits and displays that cover the history of the area from the time it was an active volcano to the present day.  The castle ramparts offer spectacular views of the town and Lago Bolsena.

In the centro historico - historical center - the main monument is the Church of Santa Cristina dedicated to a young woman who was martyred during the reign of Emperor Diocletian and buried beneath the church.  The church consists of three parts, including early Christian catacombs dating to the 4th century AD, an 11th century Romanesque basilica and the Capella della Miracolo which was built in 1693 and features some Renaissance architectural styling.

The Chapel of the Miracle, and indeed the Duomo - Cathedral - of Orvieto, were built to commemorate a miracle that occured in 1263 (some say 1264) when a visiting Bohemian priest taking communion at a mass in the church saw blood flowing from the eucharist.  The event had a profound and long lasting affect on the Catholic Church (see side bar references).

In the midst of the lake, accessible by boat taxi, their are two privately owned islands, one (Isola Martana) is closed to the public, but the other (Isola Bisentina), which used to be a summer residence of the Popes, is open.  There is a large church and monastery on the island and are several chapels, including one whose interior contains some frescoes possibly by Benozzo Gozzoli, lining its shores.

The seven chapels are proxies for the seven major churches of Rome and Holy Year pilgrims, instead of making the journey to Rome could make the round of the chapels and obtain plenary indulgence by doing so.

But miracles, indulgences and other matters spiritual and religious are not all that Bolsena is about.  The town and surrounding area have not become over-touristed, and offer a great mix of simple recreation, relaxation, history and culture that is very appealing.  There are a number of good, if unpretentious restaurants and cafes with good food at a good price.  Dishes made from lake fish are recommended, particularly a fish soup calle sbrosia made with water from the lake if you can find it.

By all means enjoy the old town, the castle and its museum, but if you can take the boat excursion to Isola Bisentina, or at least drive the road that goes round the lake.  If time permits - and why shouldn't it - you should visit the the nearby hilltown of Pitigliano and the medieval hamlet of Civita di Bagnoregio accessible by a small footbridge.  Viterbo and Montefiascone have many delights that also beckon.

by Vian Andrews, July 31st, 2006

Lazio Roma


Orvieto - 20 km; Viterbo - 31.5 km; Perugia - 92.5 km;  Terni - 93.5 km; Cortona - 113 km; Rome - 132 km; Florence - 185 km; Pisa  - 289 km


Museo Territoriale del Lago di Bolsena (tel. 0761-799-601) is open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4-8 p.m.

Altar, Collegiata di Santa Cristina e Santo Leonardo, Bolsena

Stemma of Bolsena


More info:
The Miracle of the Eucharist

The renaissance painter, Raphael, commemorated the Miracle of the Eucharist in a fresco cycle in what is now the Vatican Museum in Rome.
Bolsena Festivals:
Bolsena Fish Festival: mid-August; 
Montefiascone Wine Festival - mid August; Bolsena Flower Festival -  June (Corpus Domini day).