The origins of Arpino go back at the beginning of time. Legend has it that the town together with other Ciociarian towns (Alatri, Ferentino, Atina, Anagni) was founded by Saturn, the patron god of harvesting. Its first inhabitants have been identified with the mythical Pelasgians, the pre-Hellenic people who are believed to be the builders of the huge fortifications called “cyclopean or pelasgian walls”, which are still to be seen at Civitavecchia and in other parts of the built area. In truth, the first to settle in this area were the Volscians, whose presence is proved by documents since the 7th century BC. Conquered by the Samnites in the fourth century BC, it came under Rome’s rule with the status of civitas sine suffragio.
The town became the centre from which the Roman culture spread across the Liri Valley. In 188 BC it was granted the title of civitas cum suffragio which entitled the town the full right to Roman citizenship. During the rule of Caius Mariusthe Ager Arpinas, the land of Arpino’s Municipium, extended from the village of Ceretae Marianae, the modern Casamari, to Arce. During the Imperial age the town witnessed a period of decline and in the Dark Ages was conquered many times.
A small centre of human tradition gathered within a belt of megalithic walls the Civitas Vetus, the Acropolis still radiates fascination and a sense of archaic life to the turist who visits it. Civitavecchia was probably the original nucleus of a primitive Volscian settlement (7th-6th century) built as a defence on a place high and steep and then fortified by massive walls. The greatness of these walls, that can be seen in other towns of the Volscians (Atina, Aquinum, Sora, Signia, Arcis) and of the Ernicians (Aletrium), suggested popular imagination to call them pelasgian in memory of the mytical pre-Hellenic Pelasgians or Cyclopeans, Homer’s giants. Yet, they should be called polygonal because of the shape of the big stones which stand one upon the other without mortar.
The polygonal walls of Arpino branch off from Civitavecchia at the altitude of 627 m a.s.l. and slope down until they embrace and encircle the town at the small rise of Civita Falconara. They have no foundations and are made of enormous monolith of pudding stone that can be found in the area surrounding the ancient site. The walls originally extended for 3 km but today only some 1,5 km are left and are at times enclosed within the houses.
During the Samnite, Roman, and Medieval ages they were restaured and towers and gates were added. They have witnessed an uninterrupted series of historical events. The datation of the walls of Civitavecchia has prompted a debate among scholars: Schmidt dates them back to 7th-6th century BC, Sommella to the Roman era. Titus Livius (IV/57,7) tells of cyclopean Volscian rocks which existed already in 408 BC.
The pointed arch, ancient gate to the Acropolis, revokes strongly the arches of Tyrins and Mycenae. This extraordinary monument is 4,20 m high and is made of overlapping stone blocks that became smaller towards the top and are cut slantwise on the external part. In the 16th century it was enclosed within a semicircular bastion which has been partially demolished.Recently ( 2005 ) it was founded another archaeological site, a gate to a fortified complex, situated at the foot of the hill , near the quarter Arco.
Near the ogive arch there is a 18th century jewel: the church of SS Trinità or of the Crucifix. It was built in 1720 by Cardinal Giuseppe Pesce, master and rector of the Pope’s Chapel and still is a property of the Pesce family. The church is in Romanesque style with a Greek plant. The dome stands over four central pillars; the altar’s frontal, painted with flowers, is the background of the small church. At its sides two big frescoes: on the left the Immaculate, on the right St Joseph . The Tyrolean Michele Stolz, a wooden sculptor, worked for Cardinal Pesce and was for long time guest in his house in Civitavecchia, where he died in 1779.
Located in the main square of Arpino, the church of St Michele Arcangelo was built on the site of a pagan temple devoted to Apollo and the nine Muses. This hypotheses is supported by the presence of nine empty niches in a hallow in the rock behind the altar. Frescoes from the 8th and 9th centuries, the date MC in the inscription on the main bell, the documents of the Regesti in Montecassino Abbey are evidence of the church’s important past.
The baroque interior has a Latin cross with three naves, lateral chapels and cross-vaults. The church keeps many prestigious works of art. As you enter, you see on the man altar the big painting by the Cavalier d‘Arpino, which depicts the Archangel Michael defeating Lucifer and on the apse vault the majestic figure of the Eternal Father.
On the site where today the church of St. Maria of Civita rises, there was once a pagan temple dedicated to Mercury Lanarius, the god protector of wool manufacturing, which was the main activity of the Roman centre of Civitas Falconara.
S. Maria of Civita was built here in the early times of Christianity and the first news about it comes from a donation document signed in 1038 in the church of St Maria of Arpino. Reconsecrated in the early 1300, St Maria of Civita was totally rebuilt in late baroque style at the end of the 18th century and further enriched during 1900.
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