Narni, Italy is a medieval city atop limestone cliffs outside Rome. Discover the secret underground or enjoy majestic views as you journey to the castle.
Could Narni, Italy have been the inspiration behind C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia? It wouldn’t surprise me. This magical village set on a hill gave us an incredible escape full of history, beauty and adventure. Lewis did, in fact, get the fantasy land name from Narni of Italy.
Our weekend plans took us north of Rome to a small town called Orte, which we saw on our way to Modena. It’s a beautiful city in the hills along the freeway that seemed to be surrounded by an ancient wall. We specifically chose this weekend due to the Medieval Festival that takes place from August 31 to the second Sunday in September. However, our Airbnb, which was just outside of Orte, led us to Narni, where we decided to spend our weekend.
Narni, Italy Farmstay
Once we saw the pictures on Airbnb of a beautiful home with a pool, horses and cooking classes, we were sold. Podere Calledro is a large farm inside a nature reserve. There are several different apartments on the property, each hosting up to 4 people.
Once we arrived, checked in and put our bags in our room, we walked around the stables to get a better look at the horses. The kids love animals, but especially Royce – he was in heaven! That night we looked at some of our Airbnb’s books about things to do in the area, and that is why we never made it to Orte!
The books told us about Narni: with an imposing castle, a secret underground, and beautiful buildings with over 2,000 years of Roman history, the city beckoned to us. Orte is still on our list, but we got so excited about Narni that we decided to postpone Orte for another trip.
After a day exploring Narni, we arrived back in time for our riding lessons. The kids walked beside us as we walked down to the riding area with our horses. I wasn’t sure what to expect for the kids until some older kids escorted the cutest little ponies down for the kids to ride.
Horse riding lessons
We were already riding our horses while the kids stood behind the fence. Once the ponies arrived, the Italian instructor told the kids to mount up – and it was the cutest sight ever! At this point I was slightly panicked, wondering who was going to walk beside them, but in the end it was ok since the horses big and small were well trained to do nothing but walk.
The riding lesson was very casual. It was more or less just our family riding horses, but we loved it. Jeannie was so brave. Normally she loves the idea of animals, but it takes a bit for her to warm up to actually pet them. She got right on without any complaint and started riding by herself without any instruction, at least not in English.
Royce hopped on the pony and rode like a pro, guiding it between and around cones, and making it stop and go and turn when and where he wanted it. Watching these two learning to ride horses was easily one of the most magical evenings we’ve ever shared. Royce still says this was the best day of his life!
Farmers Market and Castle Picnic
After going to the grocery store to get food for an early picnic, we drove past a farmers market. Of course, we stopped and got some more food. Fresh meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables were on the menu!
We drove through the ancient city gates of Narni, wound our way up the hill, and crested the top below “La Rocca di Narni,” the Rock of Narni. We hiked up a little promontory scattered with olive trees, and enjoyed the beautiful views, great food, and fun atmosphere. For a small fee you can tour the castle and see different exhibits throughout the year.
La Rocca di Narni is an intimidating castle – and that’s on purpose. It was built when the papacy sought military control over a vast swath of land around Rome, and the castle was built partly to control the populace of Narni. To remind them who was in control, the architect designed the castle to be an imposing, omnipresent structure that towered over the townspeople.
Explore the City of Narni, Italy
Narni is a medieval city, and it feels like you’re walking through a festival as you turn every corner. The Piazza Garibaldi is at the heart of the city. If you can’t find street parking, you’ll find plenty in the “Parcheggio Centro Storico,” and a free cable car takes you right to the piazza. Enjoy some gelato at the square across from the Cattedrale di San Giovenale – and get the cinnamon flavor, my new favorite, you can thank me later!
We were lucky enough to witness a wedding outside the Cattedrale. Jeannie stood there for a full 20 minutes staring at the beautiful bride and admiring her dress!
Everywhere we walked was scenic and charming. The streets follow the ancient curves of the hillside, so be prepared to meander! Walking from the gelato to the “underground” was my favorite area to see, with large doors and historic architecture. There is a fun 20-sided water fountain that once was criticized as being too ostentatious!
Despite Narni’s fun atmosphere, there is a history of ecclesiastical dominance that left the population divided: half wanted to tow the line, and the other half was desperate for freedom. The papacy controlled numerous territories around Italy, including Narni, and an underground discovery documents the struggles – and terrors – that were almost lost to time.
Narni Sotterranea – Narni Underground
In 1979, a group of teenage spelunkers (guided by an old gardener) stumbled upon a mysterious hole on Narni’s western slope. As they explored the chamber, they found beautiful frescoes depicting angels and saints. Their indefatigable curiosity brought an amazing church to light: the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. It was closed up, abandoned, bombed during WWII, and partially torn down – but there were still secrets hidden beneath its walls.
Principal among the teenagers was Roberto Nini. He helped break through walled up doorways, and after crawling through one, he found this:
This graffitti, dated by the composer, Giuseppe Andrea Lobartini, to 1759-1760, stunned Roberto into silence. Over the course of the next two decades, he continued to care for, promote and study these underground chambers, finally confirming a dark truth: a secret prison and a torture chamber for the Roman Inquisition were housed within those walls!
As luck would have it, that very same Roberto hosted us on our tour! He is a true scholar and gentleman. After our tour group was done, he took Matt back through to the prison cell and let Matt stay in the cell by himself for a few brief minutes. As Matt gazed at the solitary walls, this is what came to his mind:
“These carvings aren’t the work of a man in despair. He had hope – despite not knowing what was to become of him, he worked hard, exercising his mind to create all of this. He didn’t give up.”
If you are near the area, you must experience this for yourself? For more information check out their website.
Plan your trip:
We will be back. We will stay in the same Airbnb, but we will plan on seeing even more. Sites worth visiting on our next trip include:
- The Marmore Waterfall
- Ponte d’Agosto
- Carsulae Archaeological Park
- Ocriculum Archaeological Park
- Civita di Bagnoregio
- Le Terme dei Papi
- Villa Lante Bagnaia