Farfa’s floor

June 20, 2014 / Art & Archaeology
Fara in Sabina, Lazio

At its height around the time of Charlemagne, the Farfa Abbey controlled 132 castles, 16 fortresses, 7 ports, 8 mines, a large merchant ship that was completely tax exempt by Imperial decree, 14 villages, 82 mills, and 315 hamlets.


While always closely tied to the Vatican, it was at the same time the Holy See’s last line of defense in those turbulent years during the Byzantine era and early medieval days, and remained separate from and independent of Rome. In those days it was said that the popes stood in the shadow of Farfa’s head abbots.


Needless to say what Farfa wanted Farfa got, and while so much of the Abbey reflects that and is note worthy (more notes soon), one specific example is the abbey’s Cosmatesque floor, all the rage in central Italy during the Middle Ages.

Unfortunately, only a small section of the original marble work remains (pesky Saracens!), but the intricacy of this small surviving section drives home how astonishing the entire floor of the church must have been in its heyday.




by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

16 Responses to “Farfa’s floor”

  1. Gian Banchero

    Though all examples of the flooring are worth appreciation the last one is pure visual Vivaldi and worth long periods of gazing at, it’s absolutely beautiful.

  2. mary jane

    Farfa also owned San Giusto Abbey in Tuscania. Have we done a post about it yet ?
    Hope to see some IN Readers Tomorrow night at Anglo American bookshop in Rome .
    I will be presenting my books from 9 to 10 p.m.

  3. Michelle

    It reminds me of the floor in Basilica San Clemente in Rome. Is it the same artist?

  4. Eileen Wilkinson

    I love Farfa and went there often. SO beautiful to see it again!

  5. Stefano

    I wonder if these floors were the inspiration for Otis Redding’s ” Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Sad Song”?

  6. I have been fascinated by these floors all over Italy. I looked them up – they are called Cosmati from the family who did some of the mosaic work. I was struck by the similarity to Amish quilt patterns here is the US. Anybody have any ideas about which came first – floors or quilts?. Love your newsletters, GB. Thanks

    • Roberto – thanks. I enjoyed your blog. I also looked up some of these same references. But still no comparison to quilts. I am very curious.

  7. Anne Robichaud

    Enjoyed! Lovely Cosmatesque floors here in Umbria: cathedrals of Spoleto, of Narni – and also on the choir stall in the lower level of Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi – grazie for opening our eyes to the wonders


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