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Ciociaria

Although they have long since spilled over onto the slopes and into the surrounding valleys, the towns of Fiuggi, Frosinone, Alatri, Anagni, and many others in that area of Lazio south of Rome known as "Ciociaria" (pron. cho-cha-REE-ah --ch as in church), like their medieval cousins on the hilltops of Umbria and Tuscany, are splendid examples of the fortified hill communities that sprang up throughout Italy in the Middle Ages.

The towns in Ciociaria, however, have an additional historical sidelight to them: during the Middle Ages, this was where many Popes went not only to get away from hustle and bustle of Rome, but, in some cases, virtually to set up permanent residence. Anagni, indeed, is called the "city of the Popes" Here is where Boniface VIII, in 1300, established the Roman Catholic tradition of the Jubilee, the Holy Year.

The history of the towns in Ciociaria go back much further than the Middle Ages, however— even further back than the Romans. Many medieval structures, such as the cathedral of Anagni, are built on the very sites of ancient structures built by pre-Roman Italic peoples, such as the Hernici or the Volsci. The megalithic walls of Fiorentini, for example, are from the fourth century, b.c.; they are still well-preserved and intact for virtually the entire perimeter of the city and look as sturdy today as when their Italic masons, the Hernici, built them. In Alatri, the ancient acropolis contains the best preserved example of pre-Roman "Cyclopean" —gigantic— walls anywhere in Italy (photo, top). On the remnants of that acropolis now rises the Cathedral of Alatri. Moving on to Arpino, one finds a town which, according to legend, was founded by Saturn, himself! The city walls contain a pointed arch, the only one of its kind in Italy. Nearby is the temple of Saturn as well as the villa Amaltea, where Cicero was born. The town of Atina, further south, was home to another non-Roman Italic tribe, the Volsci, allies of the ferocious Samnites and members of the so-called "Samnite League," finally defeated by the Romans in 293 B.C.

Certainly, one of the most noteworthy edifices in Ciociaria is the Abbey of Monte Cassino (photo, right). It was founded by Saint Benedict in 529, and during the Middle Ages was an important center of culture and diffusion of Western Monasticism. Its monks took the Christian religion to England and Scandinavia, and the survival of a great part of ancient thought and literature during the ravages of the Dark Ages is due to these first Benedictine monks. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. In our own times, it was rebuilt after the aerial bombardment of February 1944.

In addition to its archaeological and historical treasures, these days Ciociaria is best known as a place "to take the waters". The city of Fiuggi is at 750 meters above sea level, and its two establishments, the Fonte Anticolana and the Fonte Boniface VIII, make Fiuggi as popular a thermal resort today as it was when Michelangelo used to go there to cure his aches and pains.

The whole area is one of natural splendor. In the mountains to the east are the towns of Campo Staffi, Campo Catino, Prati di Mezzo and Forca d'Acero, all well-known centers for winter sports, and if you  venture even further back into the mountains, you are up in the wilds of the lakes, woods and valleys just below the Abruzzi National Park.

Finally, Vittorio De Sica’s last great film of neo-Realism was called La Ciociara [1960], which means, simply, the Woman from Ciociaria. It appeared in English with the title, Two Women. The film was an adaptation of the book by Alberto Moravia. The book and film are an account of the atrocities committed against the civilian population of the area by advancing Allied forces in 1944. See this link for that story.


photo credits: top, Alatri, by Halibutt; bottom, Monte Cassino, by Megalos Alexandros.

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