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Latium

Ancient history clings to Rome. With a subway stop at the Colosseum, avenues named after emperors and summer concerts in the ruins of pagan temples, the city's glorious past colors many aspects of its modern-day life. But while Rome is a wise elder, Latium is still young-at least as a political entity. The five provinces that make up the western-central region were officially united in 1934, yet every square mile retains the mark of a long and rich history. Even today, Latium's infrastructure is strongly oriented towards Rome. Many of the region's roads and water pipelines are upgrades of ancient Roman engineering. The part of Latium most closely associated with the capital is the province of Rome. The Alban Hills and the towns of the Castelli Romani (Roman castles) are popular country destinations for city dwellers, including the Pope-his summer retreat, Castel Gandolfo, is located there. Frascati, the town that gives its name to Latium's most famous white wine, is also located in the Castelli Romani.

South-west of the city near the coast are the extensive remains of Ostia Antica, Rome's bygone port. Although no longer functional, Ostia boomed for 600 years until its decline in the 4th century A.D. The site is connected to Rome by the Tiber River. North of Rome is the province of Viterbo, also called Tuscia or southern Etruria, the land of the ancient Etruscans. Four of the major city-states of the pre-Roman Etruscan league are located in this remote province. One of these towns, Tarquinia, was founded in the 12th century B.C., four centuries before the birth of Rome. It is famous for its Etruscan necropolis with paintings depicting daily life. Fine Etruscan bronzes have been found at the Vulci ruins on Latium's border with Tuscany. Volcanoes once covered the province of Viterbo. Their cold and sunken craters are now freshwater lakes, including Bolsena and Vico. The Lake Bolsena area has garnered attention for its unique white wine with a strange name, Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone. As the story goes, a 12th-century German baron traveling to Rome sent his servant ahead of him with instructions to find the towns with the best wine and mark them "EST!" ("here!" in Latin). In Montefiascone the servant was overwhelmed by the quality of the Moscatello wine and felt compelled to leave an extra-emphatic mark.

The province of Rieti, east of Rome, is sometimes called "the sacred valley" due to its rich religious tradition. Saint Francis loved the area and built four sanctuaries there. The saint is said to have experienced divine inspiration while praying in two of the area's caves. The eastern spit of Rieti enters the Gran Sasso d'Italia (literally, the Big Rock of Italy), the national park that contains Il Corno Grande, the tallest peak in the Appenines at 9,553 feet. Spread out southeast of Rome is the province of Frosinone. The region's folk traditions are proudly recalled in its nickname, Ciociaria (ciocia is the name of an ancient leather sandal worn by the area's shepherds and peasants). An important local landmark is the Abbazia di Montecassino, a monastery founded by Saint Benedict in 529 A.D. and one of Europe's most influential centers for the spread of monasticism. Filled with notable frescoes, Montecassino was devastated by a World War II bombing but was quickly reconstructed after the war. Other points of interest in Ciociaria are Anagni, a classic hill town with an impressive Romanesque cathedral, and the numerous hot springs of the town of Fiuggi.

Latium's smallest province is Latina, south of Rome. The province is full of important locations in ancient history. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus is waylaid by the magic-wielding Circe in Circeo. And Aeneas, the Trojan War hero who stars in Virgil's Aeneid, disembarked in the area and went on to found the city of Rome. The exception is the city of Latina, which has pure 20th-century origins. It was founded by Mussolini in 1932, and quickly named the provincial capital. Further down the coast is Gaeta, with its square, stone buildings surrounded on three sides by water, and the clean waters and sandy beaches of Sabaudia and Sperlonga. The Pontian Islands (including Ponza, Palmarola, Zannone and Ventotene) lie off the coast.

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