Sutri is one of the most beautiful and interesting towns I know. Being so close to Rome, it is often off the tourists' beaten tracks, however, many pilgrims walk past Sutri everyday following the via Francigena on their way to Rome.
Historically speaking, Sutri is a very important town, it was the last stronghold of the Etruscans in the 4th century BC before the Romans conquered Veii, which lead to the end of the Etruscan civilization and the gradual beginning of the Roman Empire. Sutri was also one of the first pieces of land donated to the Pope in 728 AD, which signed the beginning of the Pontifical State. But apart from being historically important, Sutri is legendarily important. Amongst the many legends that give Sutri its intriguing aura, apparently Pontius Pilate was born here as well as Roland, Charlemagne’s famous nephew, who heroically died fighting the Moors in Spain, a famous character found in some of the most important Italian epical poems. Today, Sutri is a small mediaeval town clinging onto a tuffaceous hill, just over half an hour drive from Rome. Traces of its historical importance can be found in the Etruscan necropolis with its imposing amphitheatre completely carved out of the rock, a unique structure of its kind.
I particularly love Sutri because I practically grew up inside the necropolis and spent many happy moments playing in the tombs. This could sound spooky to many, but Sutri is full of peace and solemnity, a real sanctuary. Because of the energy and vibes it gives (apparently it was built on ley lines) I often wonder whether the amphitheatre is really just an ancient Roman theatre or if it could be much older and maybe something completely different. In any case, Sutri is the reason why I studied archaeology, and I am more than certain that the amphitheatre is an Etruscan creation, possibly commissioned by the Romans but not executed by them, since they built everything, they didn't usually carve buildings out of rock. It could possibly be one of the first examples of amphitheatre from which the Romans later took inspiration. The Etruscans were a very advanced population and the Romans learnt a lot from them.
In this beautiful setting, there are two major festivities amongst the many Sutri celebrates, which make it even more alluring: The Festival for Santa Dolcissima, the saint patron of Sutri, who is celebrated on the 17th of September, and the Christmas Live Nativity which is performed in the Necropolis.
During Santa Dolcissima's celebrations, the amphitheatre is completely lit up with hundreds, thousands of candles, and the effect is incredible. The entire town’s inhabitants merge inside the amphitheatre to admire the fantastic firework display that follows the celebration. Quite a breathtaking spectacle for a small provincial town. During Christmas instead, all the town’s inhabitants take to heart the nativity and at least one hundred people dress-up as they would have done at the time of Jesus. Full of artisan’s workshops, blacksmiths, and Roman centurions, the entire necropolis is set as ancient Nazareth would have looked like 2013 years ago. To complete the scenario, the cave where baby Jesus was born, is equipped with a donkey and an ox.
Although it’s a worthy show to enjoy with all the family, Sutri doesn’t cease to surprise. During the Corpus Domini, usually in May, the whole town is covered with flower petals colouring the patterns drawn on the main streets of the historic centre. The women of the town spend days preparing the petals to colour the streets and it is truly beautiful.
Having said this, Sutri is a great town to visit even without a festival happening, there is so much to see, enjoy and to eat! There are many delicious family run restaurants that offer typical local cuisine, and if you’re lucky, you might just happen to pass by in the first half of September, when the bean festival (The Sagra del Fagiolo, celebrating Sutri’s prime agricultural product) is in full swing. For those visiting Rome or passing by, I definitely recommend and excursion in this magical and legendary land.