At the beginning of the 3rd century AD, the Ancient Romans, led by Consul Quintus Fabius Rullianus, marched over the Cimini mountains and found many settlements scattered around the valleys of what was then Etruria, among which were Castel D’Asso, Cordigliano, Musarna, Surrena and Ferento.

The Etruscan town of Surrena, today known as Viterbo, was built on the slopes of Duomo hill and one of its streets wound its way towards Piano dei Bagni, where thermal waters were already being used for therapeutic and other uses.

The baths were named after the population which had first discovered them, and until the end of the Roman Empire, they were referred to as the “Terme Etrusche” – “the Etruscan Thermal Baths”.


A twelve-kilometre fracture in the earth’s crust, through which hyper-thermal waters (40° – 58° C), rich in sulphurous  salts and calcium bicarbonate, magnesium, etc.,  are forced by the pressure of sulphurous  and carbonic gases. The most important and famous of all is Bullicame  – a luminous white mass of calcium.


The Bullicame spring, with its sulfate-sulfur alkali-iron fluoride waters and its 58°C temperature, has always been highly appreciated for its therapeutic properties. These characteristics are attributable to the chemical and physical composition of the spring which make it appropriate (and one of the most highly valued in Hydrological Medicine) for many kinds of therapeutic applications, in particular, in the cure and prevention of chronic disturbances of the whole breathing apparatus, in bone and joint pathologies, skin complaints, genital complaints and dysmetabolic diseases. Treatments using these waters are highly beneficial for all these complaints. The splendid 2,000 square-metre  monumental pool is fed by water from this spring.


Natural springs with different chemical and physical compositions are present within the grounds of the Terme dei Papi and are utilized in the therapies of a variety of medical complaints besides the ones already mentioned, and which include gastroenterology, angiology and stomatology. The Pope’s Bath, for example, with its carbonic-ferruginous properties is used in the treatment of peripheral vasculopathies.


A volcanic pool ,full of thermal waters bubbling up from countless sources which animate the clay bed, , supply a very rare kind of mudone which emerges already mature. It can therefore be used immediately for therapeutic purposes as it has already spent thousands of years maturing on the bed of the thermal pool. The Terme dei Papi extract two kinds of mud: one is the grey lavic mud, used in mud-therapy and the white type which emerges from springs, used in beauty treatments.



Vestiges of the Roman Baths can be found along 11 kilometres of the ancient Cassius road just outside Viterbo, with a particular concentration around three main thermal areas: Acquae Passeris, Paliano and the most important of the three, Bullicame. The importance of Viterbo as a thermal centre is demonstrated by a large number of written documents, including the writings of Strabbone, Tibullo, Simmaco, Marziale and Scribonio Largo, Emperor Tiberius’ own doctor.


During medieval times, the thermal baths in Viterbo were visited by a succession of popes. In 1235, a period grandeur for Viterbo was inaugurated by Pope Gregory IX. Later, in 1404, Pope Boniface IX accepted the gracious invitation of the priors of Viterbo to cure his “terrible aches of the bones” with the waters and mud of the spa town.


The name “dei Papi” – of the Popes – derives from the intervention of a third pope, Nicholas V, who was so impressed by the curative effects of the local waters that, in 1450, he had a splendid palace built here, in order to have somewhere to stay whenever he required treatment. The building had crenellated walls, beautiful cross-shaped windows and soaring vaulted ceilings in the halls and was known as the Pope’s Bath. Later, Pope Pius II remodeled and modernized the palace.


Great poets and artists have left us precious references to the baths. Bullicame is mentioned several times in Dante’s Divine Comedy and in particular, in the XIV canto: “As from Bulicame a river comes forth that the sinning women then divide among themselves, so this one flowed down across the sand”.
Michelangelo, passing through Viterbo during one of his journeys to Rome (sometime between 1496 and 1536), was greatly impressed by the beauty of the baths and was inspired to do two pen drawings of them which today can admired at the Vicar de Lille Museum in France.