All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com.
Page revised in March 2022.
All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page revised in March 2022.
If you came directly to this page you may wish to read an introduction to this section first.
(left) Main entrance; (centre) statue of Hermes; (right) parish church (a detail of which can be seen in the image used as background for this page)
In the late XVIth century and in the following one the feudal lords of some medieval small
towns near Rome, felt the need to give a modern appearance to their possessions and
to make their urban layout more responsive to the needs of modern farming:
S. Martino al Cimino and Filacciano are
among the best examples of these changes.
Cantalupo lost its medieval gate at the end of the XVIth century when Cardinal Donato Cesi redesigned the access to the town and placed there two ancient statues to greet the visitors. A straight road allows a direct view of the parish church which was redesigned in the XVIIIth century.
(left) Loggia of Palazzo Cesi Camuccini; (right-above) detail of a pillar; (right-below) Cesi coat of arms
Cardinal Cesi modified the medieval fortress at the top of Cantalupo and he did so
in a radical way by giving it a splendid Renaissance façade, which some believe was designed by il Vignola, who worked for the Farnese
at nearby Caprarola. The portico and the loggia follow classical patterns, but
the pillars show those laughing masks which will
become a common feature of Baroque architecture.
The design of the fountain at the centre of the square is based on the coat of arms of the Cesi. The palace was eventually acquired by the Cesi of Acquasparta and after a series of changes of property it was bought in 1862 by Giovanni Battista Camuccini.
(left) S. Biagio (deconsecrated); (right) rear view of Palazzo Cesi Camuccini
The Cesi completed their modernization of Cantalupo by building an elegant church immediately outside the town and by modifying the rear part of the old fortress.
Casperia (Aspra) seen from the Capuchin Monastery at Monte Fiolo (and Montasola in the left upper corner)
I had been urgently pressed by friends in Rome to visit Aspra, a lofty town in the Sabina, where I should find valuable communal archives, and explore an enchantingly beautiful wilderness up in the higher mountains. This I settled to do. Starting in Terni, a public highway would leave me near this remote place. (..) I hired a little carriage and set forth, at four o'clock one morning in August, from Terni. We drove, through a hilly country, in a direct course from north to south, by one of the best of roads, yet passing a very few small farmsteads by the way. We often traversed beautiful forests of oaks. At Torri the mountains open out, disclosing to our view an ancient castle, which belonged in the tenth century to the Crescenti, once a powerful family in the Sabina. It stands, dusky and picturesque, right up on the summit of a mountain ridge. And now a grand prospect lay before us of the Roman Campagna and Soracte, the acclivities of the Apennines, and the Sabine range, while across a deep ravine rose a steep cliff, bearing on its crest a dark cluster of houses girt round by a black wall broken by a few turrets. This was Aspra, the Casperia of the Romans, an eyrie which looks from below not only inaccessible but unapproachable.
Ferdinand Gregorovius - An excursion through Sabina and Umbria in 1861 - Transl. by Dorothea Roberts
View of the walls and towers
It was now midday, yet the air on that 1st of August felt crisp and cool in those high regions. The road made a great détour to get round the end of the ravine, and then at last we began to climb the mountain painfully, by a field road winding round about it, till, behold! the walls of Aspra stood up before us. Gregorovius
Aspra is recorded among the possessions of the Abbey of Farfa in the XIth century. In 1278, at the time of Pope Nicholas III, it became a fiefdom which was directly ruled by the Holy See. Casperia is the name of an ancient Sabine town mentioned by Virgil; in 1947 it officially replaced Aspra, its corrupted medieval name.
(left) Porta S. Maria or Porta Reatina; (centre) a Renaissance Loggia; (right) S. Giovanni Battista
My driver called a halt; no wheeled carriage could enter a town which possessed no streets. I alighted, therefore, and walked in at the gate (most likely Porta Reatina). Gregorovius
Some of the buildings of Casperia show Renaissance features, but overall the historic centre of the town retains a picturesque medieval atmosphere, especially because it is reserved to pedestrians.
Streets in Casperia: (left) near Porta S. Maria; (right) near Porta Romana
What a place! How wild and strange and forlorn it looked! How frightfully narrow were these airless slits between the stone houses, which more resembled the beds of mountain streams than streets - beds to carry off the rain-storms and water-spouts which must burst over this lofty spot in their utmost severity. Gregorovius
Chiantishire is the name given to the region of Chianti in Tuscany, because of the many foreigners who have chosen to live there. Over the years the borders of Chiantishire have expanded to include Umbria and Northern Latium. Today the winding streets of Casperia have a much more attractive appearance than in 1861 and the town has recently joined the club of Italian small cities which house a foreign community.
Porta Romana and the street along the walls which starts there
It chanced to be a Sunday, and all the inhabitants, clad in the grey-blue jackets of the district, were playing ball in front of their houses. They stared at me open-mouthed as I was conducted up hill and down dale to the Syndicate. The Burgomaster informed me he had received letters not only from Terni, but from Perugia, concerning my business, but that I could not see the archives to-day. It was Sunday, and his secretary was otherwise engaged. I might find lodgings at the cobbler's; he kept a kind of locanda. I was led off in search of this hostelry, and a wretched spot it looked. (..) I declared that I could not remain there. I hastened back to the Syndicate, where the Burgomaster accompanied me on a search for the secretary. We three stood under a stone arch connecting two streets, while the magistrate advised as to what could be done to assist me. At last the two wiseacres decided that the archives should straightway be unlocked, and that the worthy Syndic should set off in search of a lodging for me in some respectable dwelling. Gregorovius
(left) Palazzo Bruschi Fiorani, perhaps it housed Gregorovius; (centre) its portal; (right) a bear, the heraldic symbol of the Orsini, the family of Pope Nicholas III, holding a coat of arms of that family
When the evening began to close in, the secretary returned to say that one of the best families in Aspra was ready to receive me. He then conducted me to a mansion of palatial size, where I was received by a tall young lady, dressed in Roman fashion, and with quite city manners. She said I would confer an honour on their house by staying in it, and then she led the way herself, to the room prepared for me. On the way we traversed a deserted reception-room. It had been struck by lightning some weeks before, which had shattered the windows as well as the chimney, and left a rift in the wall from which the blue sky was visible, nor had any steps been taken towards repairing it. Ancient coats of arms carved in stone showed that the family had seen better days. The destruction visible in the salon made me curious to see my bedroom, the door of which the signora now opened. It looked most habitable, and contained a clean Roman bed. The young lady's brother now came in - a handsome man in the uniform of the National Guard. I was besought, in the most friendly manner, to arrange everything to suit my convenience, and I consented to take advantage of their kind hospitality on one condition: that I should be permitted to dine with my first host, to whom I had letters of recommendation from Terni. This was arranged accordingly. Gregorovius
Embellishments to the historic centre which are likely to have been added recently: (above) a marble lintel; (below-left) a 1793 inscription forbidding to throw garbage; (below-right) a relief portraying Charity
The secretary took me into the Town Hall, a massive though not ancient building, and there he unlocked the door of a small room. Two presses which were in it contained all the written treasures of the Commune. Here I discovered many edicts and deeds concerning the Roman Senate in mediaeval times, when Aspra, like her neighbours in the Sabina, was a free and independent town under the jurisdiction of Rome, from whence were sent out rectors and podestas to govern it. (..) I stayed there two days, and, alarming as was the first aspect of the place, I spent those days most pleasantly. I worked from early morning till 5 P.M. in the little Chamber, my industry exciting the utmost astonishment. The curious went and came, regarding me with wonder and departing with a pleasant greeting. It was years since a stranger had appeared at Aspra. I was able to point out to the secretary a valuable document. It was in the handwriting of the Tribune of the People, Cola di Rienzo, and addressed to the inhabitants of Aspra. He begged me to give him a translation of it, and I dictated an Italian version, which he wrote down and placed with the other deeds in the archives. (..) Later on I bade adieu to the hospitable and kindly owners of the abode where I had been housed, and they gave me a hearty invitation to return. (..) When I departed, before sunrise, a light was still burning in one of the rooms, though no one was visible. A donkey, chartered to convey me down the hill, was standing at the door, and I quitted Aspra in a happy mood, glad to have found its people as pleasing as their natural surroundings. Gregorovius
SS. Annunziata: (left) façade; (centre) bell tower, which calls to mind some bell towers of Città della Pieve; (right-above) weathervane depicting the Annunciation; (right-below) detail of the portal
The construction of this large church outside the walls of Casperia began in 1601, but it was completed only in 1661. Its construction was mainly financed by Girolamo Saraceni, a wealthy silversmith who was active in Rome, but was born at Casperia.
SS. Annunziata: main altar with an Annunciation by il Sassoferrato
Giovanni Battista Salvi (1609-1685) was an Italian painter who is often referred to only by the town of his birthplace (Sassoferrato, near Fabriano).
Sassoferrato's stereotyped pictures of the Virgin and Child appeared so anachronistic that he was long taken for a follower of Raphael.
Rudolf Wittkower - Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750 Penguin Books 1958
The upper part of the painting however depicts a circle of cherubs and clouds, a motif which was very popular in the XVIIth century, especially in stucco ceilings, e.g. at S. Andrea al Quirinale.
(above) Monte Fiolo; (below) road leading to the Capuchin Monastery
One afternoon I accompanied the secretary and the schoolmaster, a layman, to the Capuchin Monastery, where a Festa was being celebrated. It is a charming place, beautifully situated on a mountain clothed with oak woods. Gregorovius
(left) Church of the Monastery; (right) cypress alley leading to it
Women, closely veiled, knelt in the little church, while others were standing by the portal. Amongst the latter was the wife of my guide, with some young girls. One of these, a young creature of barely sixteen, was most beautiful. Though in the first flush of youth and beauty, her countenance was full of thought, her expression serious and reflective. Happy the man who is to receive this daughter of the gods as his wife. (..) My companion introduced me to these fair ladies, who seemed to be charmed when I divided amongst them the artificial flowers I had bought in the Monastery. Gregorovius
Montasola, a very small medieval town N of Casperia
Long as I have wandered over Italy, I have never beheld so magnificent a panorama as disclosed itself to me when I had gained the summit of that mountain. The sculptured outline of Soracte, the whole of the Vale of the Tiber, the Umbrian plains and mountains lay spread out below, while the distant peaks of the Apennines, the Sabina, and the Latian hills stood round the Roman Campagna; and all this scene of enchantment was bathed in a flood of carmine. This was indeed an earthly paradise that we gazed down upon. The nearer hills, majestic in their wild, rugged outlines, were set with towns and grim old castles, like jewels, in their recesses, and in this little communities dwell the descendants of that old, persistent Sabine race, still retaining the customs and modes of living and of tilling the soil which have been handed down to them from primeval days. (..) From the roof of the Monastery we counted twenty-six towns, some far off, some close at hand. Gregorovius
Vacone, another small medieval town N of Casperia
The town is said to stand on an ancient shrine of the Sabines which was dedicated to the goddess Vacuna.
Roccantica, a small medieval town S of Casperia
Roccantica (ancient rock), on a hill opposite Casperia, is another small town surrounded by olive trees which could attract those in search of a peaceful and picturesque buen retiro.
Montopoli in Sabina and Poggio Mirteto
Abbazia di Farfa
Fara and Montorio
Nerola and Monteflavio
Montelibretti and Moricone