Photographer's Note

Rock church and adjacent settlement in Poggio Conte - Ischia di Castro (VT)

The rock church is located about 12 km from Ischia di Castro, at the base of a small tufaceous plateau on the left bank of the Fiora river, called Poggio del Conte or Chiusa delle Armine.
The hypogeum, in an isolated position, overlooks a natural basin, above a small stream that flows into the Fiora, in an area characterized by thick vegetation. In the immediate vicinity of the church there are two other hypogea, probably medieval, of uncertain function and some chamber tombs of a small necropolis, now almost overhanging, on the access path, evidence that the place was known and sacred since ancient times.
The first written traces of the site are found in an ancient map of 1027 but the entire complex incorporates typical models of Cistercian architecture, it could therefore be dated to the early decades of the thirteenth century.
There are no traces of pre-existing structures in the rooms of the rock church, which seems to have been excavated from scratch.
The title of the rock church is not known, it could be connected to the Benedictine monastery of San Colombano, whose exact location is unknown, but from an 11th century document it appears to be located along the river Fiora, perhaps in the locality of Colli di San Colombano .
The monastery is mentioned for the first time in a document of the years 809-811, first dependent on the monastery of San Salvatore al Monte, which then passed under the jurisdiction of Montecassino in 1208.
There is no news of it after the thirteenth century, perhaps it was suppressed for lack of monks.
In one of the documents of the monastery of San Colombano, an ecclesia Sancti Martini iuxta flumen Armini, the ancient name of Fiora, is mentioned, but there is no certain evidence that it is the title of the church of Poggio Conte.
It is likely that the church was abandoned a few decades after its construction, probably due to the decline of the monastery, then totally forgotten due to its isolated and difficult to access position.

Currently it can be reached by a path at the bottom of the valley, but was originally connected to the top of the plateau also by a staircase carved into the rock.
Of this staircase, only a few steps remain to the left of the church facade. The façade of the church, totally carved into the rock, is still clearly legible, despite the damage caused by erosion and collapses, but it still remains a beautiful testimony of remarkable artistic and sculptural ability, with a remarkable mastery of the means of expression. Delimited by a recess with a barrel vault, it is divided into two registers by a frame supported by four semi-columns, which in turn start the lower register into three sections. The church portal, set back from the rest of the façade, opens into the central section; it is surmounted by a semicircular lunette and framed on the sides by two semi-columns crowned by pulvini, on which a pointed arch was set.
In the upper part, there is an oculus decorated with a bas-relief frame with a braid motif.
Entering you enter an atrium, with a quadrilateral layout, on the counter-façade wall two square section beam pillars flank the entrance, together with two others with hexagonal section supporting the drum and the domed vault. The drum, on which the oculus opens, is divided into thirteen niches divided by small columns, in which the figures of the twelve apostles were painted in pairs, with the figure of Christ in the section facing the entrance; were stolen in 1964, six were recovered by the Guardia di Finanza and currently exhibited at the Civic Museum of Ischia di Castro. The dome is supported by bundle members, of which few traces remain in correspondence with two of the pillars, is decorated with a curb relief depicting a four-petal flower, originally painted with geometric decorations. On the left there is a semi-annular corridor, raised by a step above the floor of the rooms it connects, with a vault too low to walk comfortably: it has a counter on the left wall that runs along the entire length of the wall.
On the right opens a secondary room, with a rectangular plan, with two large quadrangular niches at the bottom.
A low pointed arch leads from the atrium to the presbytery area, with a quadrangular plan covered by a cross vault with ribs, without a keystone, supported by four beam pillars with a quadrangular section. On the back wall there are three large pointed arches and quadrangular plan, once frescoed; the central niche is bordered by two lateral uprights, perhaps the remains of a chair.
In the center is the altar made from a single block of tuff, consisting of a table on a central support, with four columns on the sides, all of it; in the center is a deep hollow.
On the right of this room there is a semicircular niche, perhaps a lateral apse.
To the right of the façade, on the other hand, there are two rocky environments that are difficult to interpret.

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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Silvio Sorcini (Silvio1953) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 17595 W: 130 N: 36897] (201610)
  • Genre: Places
  • Medium: Color
  • Date Taken: 2020-08-07
  • Exposure: f/0.1, 30 seconds
  • Photo Version: Original Version
  • Date Submitted: 2020-08-07 10:29
Viewed: 0
Points: 28
  • None
Additional Photos by Silvio Sorcini (Silvio1953) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 17595 W: 130 N: 36897] (201610)
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