Within a very short distance from Viterbo, Celleno Vecchia, the Ghost Town (roughly 20 km from Viterbo and very near Civita di Bagnoregio, the Dying Town) is without any doubt worth a visit, preferably in June, the month of cherries, the robin juicy round fruits which – among the various legends – gave the name to the small town (“Cherry” in Italian is “Ciliegia”).
Cherries, first “imported” by the Greeks during the VIth century, play an important role for the local welfare and are widely cultivated in the area: all the 52 species of this fruit are present here and a local festival (“sagra”) is held during the month of June.
The Cherries Festival (Sagra delle ciliegie) is not the only event of a certain importance for the inhabitants and tourists.
During the third week of July the myth of Harpies is renewed every year with a wonderful happening bringing back to memory the legend (one of the many) of the three harpies who fought against and were beaten by the Argonauts.
Should you happen to be in the area in July, don’t miss the opportunity of this happening and listen to the talk of local “guides” (more exactly, “narratore di comunità”, a group of natives deeply in love with the small village and ready to show you and describe this wonderful hamlet – www.prolococelleno.it).
You’ll find out that (according to one of the many legends) the harpy Celeno – daughter of Taumante and Elettra – married Ectonio. As a Godness, she was semi-immortal while the husband grew older and older until death… unable to accept his departure, she decided to suicide throwing herself from a rock. Zeus, moved to sorrow by her act, originated a cherry three from her dead body, the very first cherry three from which come all the other 52 species spread around the world…
A tale, like the many still present in local culture, still interesting and appreciated and which justifies the presence of the figure of an harpy in the town’s emblem.
The pagan myth of the three harpies was in force until the Vth century a.C. when the Church decided to cancel and replaced it by San Donato, a saint which has never been present in the area and whose name was extracted by lot among the many saints known by the Church.
Celleno (approx 1300 inhabitants) is now divided into two separated “locations”. The “new” and the “ancient” Celleno, the latter best known as the “Ghost Town”, whose inhabitants moved to the new part in 1951 being the original village too dangerous to live in after a strong earthquake (June 8th, 1931).
The Ghost Town is not visible from the main road. You should first reach the “new” Celleno and follow the brown posts showing the way to reach the “old” town, some 2,5km to the East. (according to the many legentds)(one of the many)
Before reaching the foot of the rock where a slope leads to the center of the hamlet (leave the car somewhere, being the town closed to cars) you meet the Franciscan monastery dedicated to San Giovanni Battista (XVIIth century), now converted into a family holidays house. Grab the chance and pay a visit: it has a very interesting cloister with wall paintings dedicated to the Saint’s life.
The visit to the hamlet starts from the slope (which leads to the main square in front of the Castle, today belonging to Castellani’s Family. Enrico Castellani (born in 1930 in Castelmassa and died in Viterbo in 2017) was an important Italian artist whose love for this area pushed him to restore most of the hamlet.
The hamlet was struck by an earthquake in 1695 and in 1951. These events, the steady erosion of a small stream and man’s carelessness drove this small center to the present situation.
Today, a visit is possible thanks to the interest and intervention of the new generations who, a few years ago, started a hard work of restoration and study bringing an ancient civilization to shine again.
Visitors can admire the rests of the castle and the impressive walls, the entrances to the many canteens all connected by underground paths and passages, the medieval “butti” (from the Italian verb “buttare”- to dispose of), deep wells where garbage was thrown into (and covered once the well was full), an original bread oven where the inhabitants were used to cook their bread once in a while and many other collapsed remains whose memory will carve a deep sign in everybody minds,
The hamlet of Celleno Vecchia might be a starting point for another trip in the area, whose beauty can be hardly told: the Gole dell’Infernaccio, (42°31′38.55″N12°07′52.1″E) where a stream – River Rigo – has carved deep sceneries known as “forre” (present anywhere in the province of Viterbo).
A visit to these “Gole” (“gola” in Italian means “throat” as well “deep, narrow valley”) asks for a some skill and an expert guide, being dangerous for those who don’t know the environment but there is nothing else which can be compared in beauty.
To make a long story short, Celleno Vecchia is one of the many spots in Tuscia really worth a visit, a place you can be proud to mention to friends once back home.
As far as flyfishing is concerned, you are not far from Lake Bolsena (black bass, pike, chub, carp, tench…) and within reasonable distance from trout water.