Abandoned Abbey of Santa Maria del Piano – Licenza, Italy - Atlas Obscura

Abandoned Abbey of Santa Maria del Piano

Licenza, Italy

The ruins of an abbey believed to have been founded by Charlemagne in the 9th century. 

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A short distance away from Rome, on a foot-trail departing from the historical village of Orvinio, there stands a magnificent abbey in ruins known locally as Santa Maria del Piano.

According to legend, the abbey was built by Charlemagne in the 9th century following a victory on the battlefield of nearby Pozzaglia Sabina against the Saracens. However, the earliest written evidence dates back to the early 11th century, when the abbey—then owned by the Benedictine order—was cited in the register of the nearby Farfa Abbey. An inscription on the façade states that presbyter Bartholomew restored the church in 1219: Bartholomeus hoc op fierifecit 1219.

The church is cross-shaped with a double apse and a 20-meter tall Romanesque bell tower from the 11th century that has been restored several times. The bell tower was connected to the convent of which few remains are still visible nowadays.

Most of the decorative elements have been stolen (such as the Cosmatesque rose window which is still visible in old pictures of the site) but traces of Corinthian capitals, bas-reliefs and Roman spolia still remain.  The abbey was only abandoned at the beginning of the 19th century when Napoleon suppressed religious orders and a period of decay and abandonment caused serious damage to the structure of the abbey. Additionally, from the mid-19th century, it was also used a graveyard for those who had died of cholera and it was only in the 1950s that part of the complex was restored. In the 1970s several precious architectural elements were stolen.

Today the abbey stands in ruins and access to the site has been limited, but it’s still a magnificent site in a beautiful region a short distance away from the city of Rome.

Know Before You Go

Trail 315 leads from the beautiful village of Orvinio down to the Abbey (2 hours return), which is also located on Saint Benedict's Pilgrim Trail.

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