The town of Subiaco is located in the eastern Lazio region of central Italy, at the head of the Aniene valley, close to a hill about 400 meters above sea level, and across the slopes of the Simbruini mountains.
The medieval town, built on a rocky cliff, looks over the entire valley of the Aniene, where we find the Benedictine monasteries of the 'Sacro Speco' and 'St. Scholastica', the principal attractions of a visit.
At the entrance to Subiaco is the medieval bridge of S. Francesco, built by Abbot Adhemar in 1358 and with a single span reaching almost 40 metres. The tower at the end of the bridge historically controlled access to the city.
Across the river Aniene is the Church of S. Francis dating back to 1327 and built in the Romanesque-Gothic style. The interior of the church has a single nave covered by a trussed roof, with a great triumphal arch and a square choir.
Be sure to enter the church which contains frescoes of considerable importance, such as those by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, called "Il Sodoma" (1477-1549), who painted a cycle of frescoes depicting the life of Mary, which concludes with the Passion of Christ.
In the church vault are paintings of the Evangelists and Christ the Redeemer while below there are some scenes in the ancient relief style and two pilasters with grotesques.
The triptych on the main altar is signed by Antonio Aquili, called Antoniazzo Romano [active from 1460 to 1510] and dated 1467, depicting the Madonna and Child. There are also several works by Pinturicchio* (1452-1513) (an altarpiece of the Nativity, a carved walnut choir and other frescoes). There is also a "St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata" (often attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547), but probably a copy based on a canvas by “Pseudo-Bramantino” [active from 1450 to 1455], whose original is in the Art Gallery at Turin.
In Subiaco itself and worthy of note are the Arch of Pius VI  and the Basilica of St. Andrea, both erected under Pope Pius VI (1717-1799), Abbot of Subiaco.
On the top of the hill above Subiaco we find the Rock abbey, which was a fortress and residence of the Popes and still dominates the town below.
The typical medieval district in Subiaco extends as far as the slopes of the Rock, with places of interest including the Church of St. Peter, with the Romanesque bell tower and the church of Our Lady of the Cross, with a single nave, oblong windows with pointed arches, and containing 14th century frescoes.
In the lower part of the town, on the left side of the river Aniene, is the church of St. Lorenzo, which according to tradition is the oldest in Subiaco.
Monastery of Saint Scholastica
Outside the town we find the famous monastery of St. Scholastica. Of particular interest is the Romanesque bell tower, dating back to the eleventh century, whit three cloisters (of Renaissance, Gothic and Cosmatesque style).
Of the twelve monasteries in the valley constructed by St. Benedict at Subiaco it is the only one to have survived the various earthquakes and destructions. It appears as a complex of buildings built in different periods and styles.
The monastery is structured with three cloisters. The first, the "Renaissance cloister," dates back to the 16th century, while the "Gothic Cloister" with pointed arches, is 14th century. The third cloister dates from the 13th century with the colonnade by the brothers Cosmati and ornamented pavements, walls and columns with enamels of gold.
The church itself was rebuilt in Neoclassical style with a Latin cross plan. Above the monastery stands an imposing Romanesque bell tower, dating from the 11th century.
In the 15th century the monastery of St. Scholastica was also home to a memorable event in the history of Italian and European culture. It was here that two German printers printed the first books in Italy (Cicero [106-43 BC] and St. Augustine [340-430]). The incunabula are preserved in the Library of the monastery.
Monastery of Sacro Speco
We now visit the "Sacro Speco" of St. Benedict, set against the cliff overhanging the valley. From the main altar we reach the Lower Church, with two floors. The walls are covered with paintings of the so-called "Magister Conxolus", a 13th century artist.
From the Church you can access the Holy Cave, where S. Benedict spent three years of his hermitic life.
"In 1657 the statue of St. Benedict in a contemplative pose was transported to the Sacro Speco and located inside the cave where the holy patriarch lived. It was one of the happiest works by Antonio Raggi [1624-1686], a pupil of Gian lorenzo Bernini [ 1598-1680]"(See C. Jannuccelli, “Memorie di Subiaco e la sua Badia”, 1856, p. 261).
The Holy Cave is rich in frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Jesus; among them, on the left wall, stands the Journey of Jesus to Calvary. On the opposite wall is depicted the Crucifixion, a very impressive fresco with a large number of figures.
The second part of the church contains 15th century frescoes by the Umbrian school. These are scenes from the Life of St. Benedict.
On the vault the Annunciation, the Coronation, the Purification and the Virgin Mother of the Church are depicted while the frescoes on the walls depict scenes of the Nativity of Jesus, Death and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Other highlights near Subiaco
Also worth a visit is the Nero's Villa, a few kilometers from Subiaco along the road towards the monasteries. This area is of particular importance since it is located inside the Regional Natural Park of the Apennines.
Nature and tradition
The main feature of the Simbruini Mountains is the presence of a large amount of water springs, which were partly the source of water once conveyed to Rome through the Roman aqueducts.
The nature trail here is rich with numerous species of flowers typical of these mountains and thick woods. We find also a very large and varied fauna, with the presence of various specimens of wolves and Marsican bears, smaller than grizzlies and native to these lands.
You should also take the opportunity to enjoy the local cuisine when visiting Subiaco. The local dishes often reflect the surrounding landscape rich in water, including some dishes based on fish, such as crayfish and trout. Other local specialities include macaroons, anise donuts, tart cherries, bread with green and black olives and potatoes, and flour or potato dumplings [Italian “Strozzapreti”].
See also history of Subiaco.
* See artist notes at historical Italian artists
Map of Subiaco and places to visit
Subiaco places to visit
See more places nearby in the Rome - Lazio guide