Lake Bolsena - Jewel in the Heart of Italy

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Bolsena is located on the north west corner of the lake, on the fertile slopes of the extinct volcano. Ruins of a settlement dating back to pre-Roman times can be found on the hill above the old town. This is thought to be the Etruscan township Volsinii. The Romans razed this to the ground and evicted its citizens. Under Roman rule the town flourished again, even to the point of gaining its own amphitheatre, which you can still go and see.

The town's most famous citizen was Saint Cristina who, according to legend, was the daughter of the Prefect Urbano and converted to Christianity against her father's will. Cristina destroyed her father's pagan idols and as punishment was put to torture, from which she emerged unscathed. An increasingly desperate judiciary invented ever more cruel acts, to which she eventually succumbed after having her tongue cut and being shot through the heart with an arrow. The township's young people revisit these trials at the annual festival of Saint Cristina in July. A church was built to celebrate her martyrdom and the oldest parts of this date from the 3rd century.

As it turns out, that was not the end of the story. Bolsena straddles the Via Francigena, one of the main routes north from Rome and during the Middle Ages, a route for pilgrims. One priest on his way to Rome, struggling with his faith, stopped to pray at St Cristina's tomb. At the crowning moment of his prayer, blood flowed from it, staining his offering and the surrounding stones - a miracle and Bolsena became an important shine and place of pilgrimage in its own right.

The town is dominated by the Fortress Rocca Monaldeschi, a symbol of the powerful family that ruled this area during the 14th century. Since then the old district has changed very little and is still very much as it was with its steep stone alleyways (vicoli). The lakeside area only started to develop in the last 100 years or so, when a far seeing noble planted the avenue of plane trees to encourage the local people to spend more time on the lake beach and take its waters.

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