55 km north of Rome (1 hour)
How to Get There
Calcata is accessible by car and public transport. But, like reaching most of these little towns, going by car is the quickest and easiest option.
Take the SS2bis towards Viterbo, and take the exit for Mazzano Romano. There is no parking in Calcata Vecchia, so visitors are required to park in Calcata Nuova. There is a large carpark, ‘Parcheggio Calcata Centro Storico’ for this exact purpose. Remember to bring some coins for the ticket machine as parking is paid. From the carpark, it’s about a 15-20 minute scenic walk down to Calcata Vecchia. This walk will not only give you some stunning panoramic views of the old town but also take you past some old caves cut directly into the rock, which now serve as sheds and garages for local residents.
There is no direct route by public transport, so depending on where you are located you will need to at minimum take the metro, a local train and then a bus. However, it is manageable, especially if you check the train and bus times ahead of schedule.
Your first point of call is Flamino train station (adjacent to Flamino metro stop, on Metro A). Take a local train in the direction of Montebello-Viterbo and ride 8 stops (about 15 minutes) to Saxa Rubra. Bear in mind that you can use the Rome metrebus pass for this leg of the journey, so there’s no need to purchase a different ticket when you change from the metro to the train. Check the ATAC website for train timetables.
When you reach Saxa Rubra, exit the train station to the bus terminal. You will need to take a Cotral bus to Calcata. Bus timetables can be found here. Buy your tickets from the ticket office before boarding a bus. A one-way ticket costs €2.80 per person. Make sure you buy a return ticket as there is no ticket office in Calcata. Calcata may not be written on the bus if it’s not the final destination, so ask the staff to direct you. You will need to get off at Calcata Vecchia. If in doubt ask the bus driver to alert you, however, the village is hard to miss! The bus journey takes around 55 minutes, depending on traffic.
At first glance, Calcata seems like any other medieval hilltop village. Built on a steep cliff for defensive purposes in the Treja valley, it could be mistaken for one of the many quiet, abandoned hilltop villages scattered around Lazio.
However, this village is a little different. It has a long spanning history, dating back around 3,00o years, but it’s the last 100 years that have perhaps proved the most important for the village. In the 1930’s Calcata Vecchia (Old Calcata) was abandoned for safety purposes because the government feared the rock would crumble beneath the village. A new, safer, village (Calcata Nuova) was built nearby and all the locals moved there.
Meanwhile, Calcata Vecchia was left in disarray until the 1960’s, when the village was slowly repopulated by artists and hippies from all over Italy and overseas who restored the village and opened up art galleries, studios, restaurants and cafes and breathed life back into the village once more.
If this isn’t enough to intrigue you, then perhaps the bizarre legend of the Holy Prepuce will. The Holy Prepuce or Holy Foreskin is one of the relics attributed to Jesus. At various points in history, a number of towns across Europe have claimed to possess it, Calcata being one of them. Legend says that the Holy Prepuce came to Calcata in 1527. A German soldier had stolen it from the Sanctum Sanctorum in Rome while the city was being sacked. He was eventually captured in the village, and supposedly hid the jewel containing the Holy Prepuce in his jail cell where it stayed until it was discovered in 1557.
The Catholic Church then venerated the relic and Calcata not only became a popular site for pilgrimage but the town held an annual procession on the ‘Holy day of Circumcision’ to honour the Holy Prepuce. In an even more unusual turn of events, in 1983, the parish priest at the time, Dario Magnoni declared that the Holy Prepuce had been stolen. Magnoni was reportedly keeping it in a shoebox in the back of his wardrobe at the time of the theft, making it a rather easy task for the thieves!
What to See
Calcata is a small town, and it won’t take long to explore. With this in mind, plan your visit to include a leisurely lunch or wine stop so you can soak in the quiet charm, away from the chaos of the city.
From the moment you enter the stone gateway at the base of the village, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The main piazza is home to Palazzo Baraonale (which now houses offices) and three carved stone thrones by the sculptor Costantino Morosin.
You can also visit the Church of Santissimo Nome di Gesù, which dates back to the 14th century. Its main claim to fame that it was home to the Holy Prepuce before it resided in the priest’s house and was mysteriously stolen, that is!
If you are interested in nature and hiking, the Valley of Treja, a regional park surrounding the village, may be of interest. There’s a park office in Calcata where you can find information on trails and events. However, remember you’ll need to allow for more time if you’re planning to visit the village and incorporate a hike!
While the town is a tiny maze of alleys filled with art galleries, bars and restaurants, the enjoyment is in the details; the brightly painted doors on medieval buildings, the small alleys leading to the edge of the cliff, the houses carved directly into the rock, the abundance of colourful flower pots scattered about, the vines that seemingly protect the buildings they grow on, and the many stray cats napping in any available ray of sunlight.
As you might expect from a thriving artistic community, there are often exhibitions or festivals that celebrate the town’s diverse community. Check the comune website for current and upcoming events.
Where to Eat
If you are worried about a small town lacking restaurants; don’t be! Maybe it’s the connection between art and food, but the food scene in Calcata alive and well.
La Latteria del Gatto Nero
Grotta Dei Germogli
La Latteria del Gatto Nero is a small and rustic restaurant serving home-style cooking using fresh and local ingredients. If you love cats, this is the place for you! If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of the resident black cat (the restaurant’s namesake), but if not you’ll find his likeness in the decor. Reservations on weekends are recommended.
Grotta Dei Germogli offers an unusual dining experience. As the name suggests, the restaurant is indeed in a cave! You’ll also see the artistic influence with the colourful mosaic walls and the luminous windows offering a view overlooking the Treja Valley. As for the food, you won’t be disappointed, the innovative chef changes the menu daily depending on which fresh ingredients he has on hand.
Calcata may be a small village, but it makes a big impact! It’s a rare mix of a sleepy hilltop town and vibrant artistic colony.
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Author: Rebecca Allison
Rebecca is an Australian writer and history lover who has been living in Rome since 2015. She loves travelling around Italy (and beyond), as well as marvelling at the many architectural and historical feats that Rome has to offer in the streets and museums.