Ferdinand Gregorovius, a German historian best known for his studies on medieval Rome, spent the summer of 1860 at Genazzano with his friend Johannes Muller, a painter; the two decided to go on a ride across the Volsci Mountains to see the Pontine Marshes. The journey was described in an account (Aus den Bergen der Volsker) written by Gregorovius for a German paper (you can read the English translation by Dorothea Roberts in Bill Thayer's Web Site). Muller was a watercolourist who later on opened a studio in Piazza Barberini.
After having visited Segni Gregorovius and his friend crossed the Volsci Mountains to reach Norma and the Pontine Marshes. They rode through thick forests with the help of a local guide. As an alternative they could have followed a road in a valley along the eastern side of the mountains which ends at Priverno.
Carpineto is the main town in this valley and it is named after carpini (hornbeams), trees which can be seen in the coat of arms of the town shown in the image used as background for this page. The woods around Carpineto have many beeches in addition to hornbeams, whereas the valley is characterized by olive groves.
According to tradition Ascendant ad montes (they should establish themselves on the mountains) is the advice Byzantine Emperor Heraclius gave representatives of his Italian subjects because he was unable to defend them from the Longobards. Saracen raids on the western and southern coasts of the Italian peninsula increased the need for its inhabitants to build new towns in difficult to reach locations, such as the ridge at 550m/1800ft where Carpineto was founded.
The oldest record about Carpineto dates 1077; it says that the town and its surroundings were leased by the deans of S. Giovanni in Laterano to the da Ceccano, a family named after the town it ruled. Ceccano is situated behind the mountains to the east of Carpineto.
(left) Houses built on the edge of the rock; (right) Castello Aldobrandini
Carpineto stretches over two peaks which both were fortified. The two sections of the small town were often at war with each other. The fortifications of the lower peak (Dabballe meaning "on the valley side" in the local dialect) were modified in the early XVIIth century by the Aldobrandini, the family of Pope Clement VIII, but they still retain a tall XIIIth century tower and overall their original shape is still evident. The fortifications of the higher peak (Dammonte, on the mountain side) are no longer identifiable as they were incorporated into later buildings.
S. Agostino and its two portals
S. Agostino was a medieval church of a monastery outside the walls of the town. It was rebuilt in the late XIXth century at the initiative of Pope Leo XIII who was born at Carpineto. Luckily its two portals were not affected by the changes with the exception of a modern relief in the front portal.
S. Agostino: lintels of the front portal (above) and of the side portal (below - showing the Lamb of God and the symbols of the Four Evangelists)
The decoration of the front portal includes a puzzling detail: angels and saints are placed at the sides of a Crucifixion scene, but the left end of the relief portrays a blacksmith at work. It is perhaps a reference to Sermon 141 by St. Augustine: And what by the works of God thou hast come to know, by the works of man thou losest. Thou hast considered the universe, hast collected the order of the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all the elements; thou wilt not take heed to this, that the world is the work of God, an idol is the work of a carpenter. Translated by R. G. Macmullen. The Latin text says idolum opus est fabri and faber is more correctly translated as blacksmith.
S. Agostino: details of the two portals
The decoration of the capitals departs from religious subjects to depict episodes from Aesop's fables, including the Fox and the Grapes. The side portal bears the coat of arms of Cardinal Annibaldo di Ceccano, who held important positions when the Popes resided at Avignon. The three half-moons of his coat of arms indicate that members of the family took part in the Crusades. In 1350 Carpineto became a possession of the Conti di Segni.
S. Maria del Popolo: (left) porch; (centre) fresco portraying Our Lady of the Rosary; (right-above) horse resembling a camel at the porch;
(right-below) Pope Pius V
In 1476 a major pestilence struck Rome and its environs. Pope Sixtus IV led processions and other ceremonies aimed at ending the epidemic. In 1483 he endorsed the construction of a church at Carpineto celebrating its end. The church houses a chapel dedicated to St. Roch, who was specially invoked against pestilences. The interior contains a large fresco celebrating Our Lady of the Rosary, the feast of whom was instituted by Pope Pius V after the victory of the Christian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto.
Reliefs in Via Costa
Some of the families who ruled Carpineto left traces of themselves on various buildings. The five-petal rose is a typical symbol of the Orsini.
The main fiefdoms of this family were situated north of Rome (e.g. Bracciano, Vicovaro), but in
1530 Napoleone Orsini, Abbot of Farfa, briefly seized Carpineto and the Orsini (as well as the Colonna) claimed the town until
Pope Sixtus V denied their rights.
The eight-point star was one of the heraldic symbols of the Aldobrandini. In the relief shown above it is associated with another heraldic symbol (an eagle holding a belt) which can be seen at many places in Carpineto.
Images of Rione Castello (Dammonte); (left) Porta Capocroce; (centre) Via Castello; (right) Via Costa
Although Carpineto was founded in the Middle Ages its prevalent character is that of a XVIth century town with several almost straight streets, one of which was known as il Corso, because it housed a horse race (It. corsa) known as Pallio della Carriera (see the website dedicated to its yearly re-enactment - it opens in another window).
Renaissance windows (inscription: Da Pacem D(omi)ne in Diebus Nostris = Give peace, O Lord, in our time - from a medieval hymn)
During the XVth century the study of Roman triumphal arches (e.g. Arco di Tito) led to the development of windows and doorways with a round top framed by a rectangle. Carpineto has many such windows and a few doorways. Some of them bear short sentences in Latin or Italian. This can be seen at other locations (e.g. Rome in Via dei Coronari, Ascoli, Vitorchiano).
The Duchy of Carpineto
Pope Clement VIII had only one nephew (Pietro) bearing the name Aldobrandini. The Pope however chose him as Secretary of State and created him cardinal. The continuity of the Aldobrandini name was ensured by his niece Olimpia who had married a distant relative bearing that name. Donna Olimpia had twelve children (four males) before the death of her husband in 1601, when she was 34. She often resided at Carpineto and one of her sons was appointed Duke of Carpineto. At her death in 1637 however her son Ippolito, who was a cardinal, and her granddaughter Olimpia were the only living heirs by the name Aldobrandini. All the family properties, including Carpineto, were inherited by the Pamphilj, because the second husband of Olimpia (the granddaughter) was Camillo Pamphilj, nephew of Pope Innocent X. In 1760 when the Pamphilj family became extinct, the heirs of Paolo Borghese, first husband of Olimpia and great-nephew of Pope Paul V, were assigned Carpineto. Neither the Pamphilj, nor the Borghese cared much about this isolated town. Its inhabitants still miss the good old days of Donna Olimpia (when Caravaggio painted St. Francis in Prayer - it opens in another window - for a church of Carpineto, now at Galleria di Palazzo Barberini).
(left) Fountain in the main square by Mauro Tripisciano; (right) S. Leone Magno by Francesco Fontana
In 1878 Cardinal Gioacchino Pecci, who was born at Carpineto, was elected Pope Leo XIII. He was the first pope who was not the monarch of a country after more than a thousand years. Yet he did his best to improve the living conditions of his fellow citizens. He promoted the construction of an aqueduct and the renovation/construction of many churches. Unfortunately some of the architects he chose designed buildings which do not fit with the overall urban landscape of Carpineto.
Introductory page on Ferdinand Gregorovius
Previous page of this walk: Valmontone and Montefortino and Segni
Next pages of this walk: Norma and Cori
The Roman Campagna: Colonna and Zagarolo, Palestrina, Cave, Genazzano, Olevano, Paliano and Anagni
The Ernici Mountains: Ferentino, Alatri, Fiuggi (Anticoli di Campagna), Piglio and Acuto
On the Latin shores: Anzio and Nettuno and Torre Astura
Circe's Cape: Terracina and San Felice
The Orsini Castle in Bracciano
Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery
Small towns near Subiaco: Cervara, Rocca Canterano, Trevi and Filettino.