There are lots of roads leading to Rome. Each offers its own route to invasion or a way of exercising passive control over the ancient city. As a way of enhancing their geo-political position right up until the unification of Italy, the Great Game of the powers of Europe meant the intimidation or outright control of Rome.
Today, the strategic sites leading to Rome often present as areas of stunning natural beauty. A strategic location tends to do that. (This doesn’t apply to the beaches directly west of Rome—they present as barren looking flatlands...)
Some of these towns suffered selective damage in the Second World War, but generally they are pristine and intact. And they store more history and human experiences than there are tourists to visit them... which is bliss…
Bracciano feels a world away from Rome, yet is only 30 kms north on a regional train. It's set on the rim of a volcanic-crater lake, one of several in Central Italy. The lake is larger than the one at Castel Gandolfo, in the other direction, and it may be little less dramatic—but that is comparing to a very high standard.
The lake has been supplying drinking water to Rome since the Renaissance. Today, to ensure it remains pristine, the authorities do not allow motor boats—just sailing and canoeing….and the sewer goes elsewhere...
At the centre of the town of Bracciano is the Castello Orsini-Odescalchi. It has to be one of most perfect Renaissance era castles, indeed its a movie set... Its name reflects the two aristocratic families associated with the site.
The castle complex is completely intact and a fully operating venue for... well, lots of receptions and weddings… And on a sunny Saturday morning, it's gearing up for three more in different parts of the complex. Even Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes chose to marry here.
On a beautiful morning for a wedding, activity around the castle suggests a set being dressed for an episode of Medici. No surprise that the producers of the series use the castle for four different sets ups. One of the courtyards converts to a set for “the streets of Florence”.
It’s hard to imagine this Renaissance castle, strategically situated for waging war and imposing its peace, is placed within a such a sublime setting. Just imagine, should its inhabitants be under siege, stricken with starvation and pestilence, they still had the views. Or maybe such appreciations came in a later age when real estate writers were invented?
Entering the site, it’s easy to imagine flourishes of armed Renaissance horsemen galloping up its slopped ramps; filling the ground floor armoury as they screeched to a halt; dismounting and maintaining their galloping pace, bounding up the wide, sweeping stairs; before pouring into the castle’s extensive receiving rooms; and halting in front of their liege to take a deep bow. What drama.
And while we’re imagining the Renaissance, the castle also featured in the Agony and the Ecstasy; where the battle was artistic—between Charlton Heston’s Michelangelo and Rex Harrison’s Pope Julius II—who gossip suggests, loathed each other. We all know how that one ends... Michelangelo gets to paint the Sistine Chapel roof. A real Sword and Sandals, for the slightly more cultural aware of 1965, including one eight year old, who saw it twice. Better than any western on offer.
You may not have heard of Castello Orsini-Odescalchi, and you are even less likely to be able to pronounce it. But, one way or another, through different fragments of popular culture, it probably already resides in your consciousness.