Soratte, the Sacred Mount, and S.Oreste
God Soranus from Falisci and Etruscan civilization to Roman
The Soratte Mountain lies down in its isolated place with its unique shape between the ancient Roman road Via Flaminia and the Tiber River, 24 miles north of Rome. Its highest peak is almost 700 meters tall and it occupies an area of around 400 hectares. In the Pleistocene era, it was an island surmounted by the sea, which has left its traces in the calcareous rocks and the countless karstic chasms, called locally meri. The naturally excavated caves were considered hell doors by ancient Italian populations, who used to venerate the god Soranus. The populations of Falisci, Capenates, Sabines, and Etruscans were connected one each other by the presence of the Tiber River and worshipped the infernal god at the top of this Sacred Mount. In front of Soranus temple ministers, called Hirpi Sorani (i.e. Sorano’s wolves), walked on blazing coals carrying goats’ entrails, behaving like wolves, as a purification act. When the entire area was absorbed by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C., the god’s dark and light sides were linked together and Soranus became Apollo Soranus. The area around the Soratte was chosen to build residential houses and still in the Roman empire, Soranus’ ministers kept going with this veneration.
Monasticism in the Middle Ages
In the middle ages, the sacred Mount was chosen by Christians as a natural and peaceful place, used by monks to live and pray. Monasticism thrived thanks to the extreme isolation of Soratte Mountain. According to tradition in the 4th century A.C. the future Pope Silvester I sought refuge from Constatin’s persecutions on the peak of the Sacred Mount and the Apollo Soranus’ temple was converted into the S. Silvester hermitage. Several retreats were born: S. Lucia’s hermitage was chosen thanks to the deep and big natural cave while S. Romana became a sanctuary chosen by local women exactly where S. Romana was baptized by Pope Silvester. We should add to this list even other hermitages such as S. Anthony and S.Nonnoso. Harmony was interrupted in the 8th century when the area started being occupied by Langobardics and the French. S. Silvester’s hermitage was destroyed and the local population built the first defensive walls around some houses which caused the birth of the hamlet, S. Oreste.
S. Oreste in the Renaissance
On the southwest slope of Soratte Mountain, in the 7th century, the characteristic hamlet called S.Oreste was born. This toponomy probably derives from the decay of the Latin name of the mountain, Soracte, or the name of the local S. Edisto, persecuted under Emperor Nero. The name has changed many times and was known as S. Resto in the Renaissance. In the hamlet few medieval constructions survived, such as portions of Medieval walls and houses. The 16th century gave S. Oreste its current shape. Under Cardinal and Abbot Alessandro Farnese, three wall doors were open, dedicated to S. Silvester, S. Edisto, and S. Mary. Thanks to the help of the architect Jacopo Barozzi, called Vignola, S. Lorenzo Church was rebuilt, preserving its Medieval bell tower. Vignola took part even in the construction of the Caccia-Canali Palace. This residential house was built on Medieval walls, probably painted by Federico Zuccari, and used by the north-Italian family Caccia. According to reference sources, Vignola was partially paid with the famous Soratte olive oil, at that time known in the entire region. The architect anyway complained about the bad oil quality he received. This tale is one of the famous ones in hamlet. The Farnese Family even commissioned the construction of the S. Croce Monastery, which was turned into a cloister for Augustinian nuns by the Aldobrandini Family, who succeeded in the 16th century. Today both the buildings, the Monastery and the Caccia-Canali Palace, are public and they host a religious museum with many relics, public offices, and the Nature museum of Soratte Mountain.
In 1927 S. Oreste was controlled by Viterbo before being added in 1941 to Rome.
The fascism-nazism: WWII and the Cold War in S.Oreste
In 1937, thanks to its solitary position and its strong and calcareous rocks, Monte Soratte was chosen by Mussolini to build an air raid shelter. The construction lasted 6 years during which almost 3 miles of fortified tunnels were excavated inside the mountain. Almost 1000 specialized soldiers took part in realizing this enormous and never used structure. In 1943 Mussolini was dismissed and Nazi Germany, led by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring as the Supreme Command of the South, with 900 soldiers moved to Soratte Mountain to create new infrastructures inside the galleries of what is known today as the Bunker Soratte. S. Oreste’s citizens lived side by side with Nazis for more than 1 year. In May 1944, the Soratte Mountain was bombed and the day before Rome’s liberation, the Germans abandoned the entire area. The incredible and deep tunnels were reused and partially converted into a nuclear fallout shelter since 1967 during the Cold War. The project consisted in creating a refuge for the Italian Republic President and the work ran ahead until 1972 when it became clear the absolute futility of this project.
Bicycle and walking tours in the mount Soratte and S.Oreste
The Soratte Mountain with its precious hamlet is a unique experience, especially for those who are fond of nature and history. With an e-bike, everybody can reach S.Oreste and the famous Bunker. If you are lucky you could be guided along those fortified tunnels by one of the volunteers such as William Sersanti, who is able in less than 2 hours to describe with his passion an incredible part of the most recent historical events. S.Oreste, anyway, isn’t just its Bunker. Take a few hours to visit the hamlet and to walk through Medieval alleys to visit the Monastery with S. Croce Church and the religious museum, open thanks to Sant’Oreste Historical Group work and the passion of their volunteers, such as Luciano Diamanti. Thanks to the cultural organization Avventure Soratte, you can visit the Nature Museum of Soratte Mountain in the Caccia-Canali Palace to discover the geology, botany, and zoology of the area. The museum hosts a picture gallery with incredible surprises such as the famous 16th-century Boxwood Cross with its still unknown origin, and the beautiful altarpiece commissioned for S. Croce Church and painted by Giovanni Lanfranco with the representation of S, Nicholas, S. Helen, and S. Augustine. With an e-bike or a mountain bike, you could even push yourself to get one of the lowest ridges. Since 1997, when Monte Soratte became a natural reserve, several paths were open to discover holm oaks, hornbeams, saffron plants, or one of those 30 karstic caves, visible just from the outside. Thanks to the incredible work of Avventure Soratte, without any public subsidy, you can be sure to enjoy this complete adventure, such as the visit to S. Silvester monastery on the highest peak.