Itinerary

The S. Andrea in flumine abbey is the first stop on the route, located at the Ponzano Romano – Soratte motorway exit, before taking the link road that leads to the SR 657 and Sabina. The church is placed in a dominant position on the slope of the Via Tiberina, so as to control the road along the Tiber River.  The building was renovated in the 12th century, moving away from a defensive fortified church with watch towers. The raised floor system presbytery displays an opus sectile style floor, made of marble mosaics. The sacred area is enclosed by barriers, with an ancient ciborium similar to the one in San Paolo fuori le mura. A peculiar architectural design featuring a pier (Jubè) that separated the nave intended for believers is also present.

The next stop is Stimigliano, in Bassa Sabina. We will have to cross a bridge and round arch that was controlled in ancient times by soldiers from the nearby cylindrical building in order to gain access to the historic city centre. Further on, to the left, the Castello Orsini ashlar entrance can be seen, first built during the 14th century.

Stimigliano, on the opposite side of the Tiber, was a crucial fiefdom due to the possibility of controlling movements over this part of the Sabine region and of the river valley.  The exterior was modified over the centuries, similarly to the other castle towers that today sports a clock. The only original architectural features that still indicate defensive measures today are the Ghibelline battlements. The castle is privately owned, and some of it is for sale. The administration is currently working on permits to allow the public to visit the courtyard and chapel.

The provincial road 52/c can be used to rapidly get to Selci, a land belonging to Farfa whose jurisdiction was given to the Holy Seat due to the Carolingian donations, making it become a Castra Specialia. The medieval city centre is still surrounded by ancient walls, accessible though the main door controlled by the municipal tower, one of the few renovated ones that are available to the public; the other is the Torre Ugonesca of Montopoli in Sabina. From the top of both towers it is possible to observe the marvellous surrounding area. 

Continuing on the SP 52/c, taking a slight right turn, we arrive at Vescovio (part of Torri in Sabina). This was the seat of the ancient Sabine cathedral, the aforementioned S. Maria della Lode, which lost its power as episcopal seat in 1495 to the S. Liberatore a Magliano Sabina cathedral. Built around the Forum Novum, it was destroyed in the 9th century by the Saracens, to then be rebuilt and renovated several times, until it had Romanesque features of the 12th century. Isolated amongst cypress trees, on flat terrain filled with roman ruins, it features a simple façade partially covered by a tower, with the only access point preceded by a quadrangular courtyard. The interior, with a single nave, presents a painting cycle originally created in the early 14th century by artists of the Cavallini School. The depicted scenes that fill the walls were originally thirty two; the counter façade shows a grandiose universal last judgement.

Back on the SP 52/c, on the Borgonuovo turnoff, you can reach Via della Fontana on the right. After a few minutes you will arrive in Tarano, a particularly important area during the 12th and 13th century. This can be seen through the Rettori del Patrimonio's efforts to defensively reinforce the Castrum, which ultimately led to the building of a fortress in 1331. From that moment onwards, Tarano became the main base of defensive supervision for the Sabine Church, serving as seat for the vicar and vice treasurer, as well as some troops. Walking in the city centre, the S. Maria church bell tower can be seen. The architectural nuances show the dominant position the church had in the 1200s: The church originally had a single nave, but was then enlarged to three in response to a demographic increase in population.  This was achieved by the incorporation of an additional tower, which was originally detached. To support the nave on the right, as it is on a steep side of the hill, it was also necessary to create a substructure which was then used as shops.

From Tarano it is then possible to head towards Montebuono, using the SP 54. Once in the ton you can head to Magliano Sabina to see the S. Liberatore cathedral and the splendid Romanesque crypt, filled with frescos from the 1400s, in the Madonna delle Grazie sanctuary. It was built in 1800 on the ruins of an ancient medieval fortress. Alternatively, it is possible to wander around the green hills of Montebuono, in order to see the churches of S. Pietro ad muricentum in Grignano or S. Maria Assunta near the Fianello castle. 

Both churches were built upon the ruins of two rustic roman villas. The S. Pietro architecture is a combination between different periods: the roman era, shown by mosaics on the floor and marble wall decorations, and the middle-ages, with Romanesque details. Additionally, there are also features of the renaissance, highlighted by frescos by Iacopo da Roccantica and several other anonymous painters, influenced by Giotto. Some art critics claim to see in the Annunciazione the work of Beato Angelico. The fresco “La Madonna dell'Ulivo” is also a sight to behold, inspired by a miraculous apparition that occurred in Assisi in 1399, also linked to the penitentiary march of the Bianchi, who marched around Italy in 1400 singing songs for the Virgin Mary.

On the way back, following the SP 54 towards Terni, the Rocchette and Rocchettine fortresses can be seen. They were built in the valley near the waters of the Aia torrent. The fortified Rocchetine is similar to how it was in the past, guarding the communication lines that connected the city of Rieti to the Tiber valley and hence Rome. Once through the main gate, it seems as if one has gone through a temporal portal to the past. Rocchette, instead, shifted from a defensive stronghold to a rural city centre, even though it maintained the original walls and entrance.

Along the SS 313 one can see the town of Vacone, particularly interesting due to its medieval structure, which once featured battlements. Of these, however, only the square keep remains. The town entrance, which features a sculpted frieze of the Marchesi Marini-Clarelli (owners of the castle), can be found in the main square. The neighbouring town of Configni also still retains its medieval characteristics. Wandering around its small roads one can also find its castle. From the city two paths lead to ruins of another fortress.

Cottanello can be reached through the SP 48. The old city centre maintains the appearance of a castrum speciale from the roman era, with its double concentric town walls accompanied by an interstitial area for patrols (Via del Corridoio), which to this day can be used to walk around the whole town. Two watch-towers near the town entrance also remain largely intact. The northern entrance is named Porta Del Regno (Realm door), because it faced the realm of Naples. It was rebuilt in 1572 and is still standing near the S. Luigi church apse. The church was originally a watch tower. It is currently the entrance to the town, but in the middle-ages it was probably a secondary entrance with a draw bridge. The south door is the Porta Romana, now closed by a well-preserved tower. In 1868 the mayor had the castle walls lowered by 1.5 m, and due to this the guard routes and battlements were removed. The remains can however be seen on the square keep on the Via del Corridoio just after the Porta Romana.

Make sure you don't leave Cottanello without visiting the hermitage of S. Cataldo and the Castiglione castle ruins, surrounded by walls, a moat, a tower and a single entrance door. Finally, there are also the ruins of the Montecalvo fortress.

The nearby Montasola medieval town centre still has its middle-ages buildings with a large entrance door featuring a wooden lintel. A spiralling road leads up to the fortress, known as the highest altitude construction in Bassa Sabina. Around it, the remains of the city walls can be seen, together with a tower with a unique 'scarp' base.

The next stop can be found by following on the SP 48 road. In the late 1800s fattori said: “In front of the town entrance one must stop their cart and rest their horses, as there are no roads, but only alleyways with steps: the squares, arches, guard walkways, almost everything is just as it was a thousand years ago”. Defense towers, guard walkways and casemates are symbols of the medieval influences of Aspra, the current Casperia. Its town centre is an extraordinary example of medieval architecture: the town is structured like an onion, with concentric circle style roads which slowly become tighter and smaller, creeping up the steep hill on which the town resides until the S. Giovanni Battista square, where the homonymous church is found. Houses were built inside the walls – as Giustiniani comments: “An extraordinary military architectural masterpiece of the 13th century” – and they can only be accessed through the main town doors (on foot) Porta Romana and Porta S.Maria, where a medieval clock can be seen.

Near Casperia the Montefiolo convent rises above a hill surrounded by trees. The name comes from the latin mons filiorum Ugonis comitis, as the owners in the middle ages were the sons of the count Ugone, owner of several fiefs in Sabina. A castle was built there which was then destroyed in 1328. In 1368 the castle was then donated to Giovanni di Sant'Eustachio, who subsequently yielded it to the Aspra community as farming ground, with the only requirement of building a church and housing for due religious men so they could pray for the souls of count Ugone and his successors. His will was only achieved in 1558, under Baron Ostilio Savelli, who built a convent and the SS. Salvatore church for the Capuchin friars.

Roccantica is a few kilometres away, surrounded by forests and built in the shadow of Monte Pizzuto, the highest mountain in Sabina. The town centre is ripe with medieval alleys that lead all over the town. A large defence tower can be seen at the top, while at the bottom one can find the main square of the town. The tower is placed on a triple set of town walls. The first ring has buttresses that are still intact, while the second ring has three doors: the Porta Reatina, Porta Nuova and Porta dell'Arco. A large tower was built on this inner ring. The third ring of walls is completely incorporated in the houses of the town; In the past the Porta Romana opened in this ring, but it was then repurposed by the Orsini into a renaissance entrance known as Le Colonne. To truly enjoy the medieval town spirit it is recommended to attend the Roccantica, Medioeva in festa event, which allows spectators to experience the period between 1059 and 1432. The towns' young partake by playing instruments, dancing and doing other exhibitions.

Once outside the village, nearby, you can reach Poggio Catino and Catino, on the Monti Sabini. Inside the ruins of the Castello di Catino, the pentagon shaped torre longobarda still stands, more than 20metres tall. Built with rock fragments and sometimes larger boulders, it tightens the further it reaches, over four different levels. A courtyard on the east side is still well preserved, as are two other towers. In the 1600s, the Castello di Catino was already abandoned and the Olgiati began the complete reconstruction of the Castello di Poggio Catino, which in the early middle-ages was near the older Catino castle. Architecturally, it appears to be more similar to a fortress rather than a castle. There are also some hiking trails that lead to the hermitages of S. Michele and S. Leonardo nearby, places that are a religious experience to this today, for the local population.

Leaving the Monti Sabini behind, the itinerary progresses to Cantalupo in Sabina, where the Palazzo Cesi-Camuccini can be found. It is one of the best examples of reconstruction from a castra to a fortress and lastly a rural town. The Cantalupo fortress was built on a pre-existent site of roman times, and was then modified over the centuries by the different owners. When the Savelli and cardinal Pierdonato took over in 1566, they renovated it into a more habitable area, with a renaissance touch. During the reconstruction the Savelli castle was left mostly the same, as were the corner towers, while other areas such as the Travertine façade were modified in order to build two different levels, almost like a theatre, architecturally. The palazzo is now privately owned, and is opened to the public only in rare cases. Outside the inhabitable area, with the municipality's consent, it is possible to visit the Pieve di S. Adamo.

Following the SS 313 towards Passo Corese, on the roundabout it is possible to enter the road heading towards Poggio Mirteto, whose S. Maria Assunta cathedral has been mentioned a few times in this guide. Perhaps yet more interesting is the S. Paolo church, now incorporated in the town. Built in the mid-13th century, the holy building seems quite simple architecture-wise. Inside, however, it is quite a sight to behold. The walls still maintain the majority of the frescos that once were everywhere. The paintings alternate in styles between the 1200s and 1500s. There is a single nave, with four different rounded arches that drag the viewer's attention towards the centre. On the counter-façade, on the right, there are perhaps the most interesting frescos: the Deposizione di Cristo (Giotto influence) and l'Incontro dei Vivi e dei Morti.

Outside the town, in Fuori Dazio, there's a road that leads to Castel S. Pietro where the Palazzo Bonaccorsi and Castello di Bocchignano are present, previously described in the “Chi Siamo” section.

To conclude this itinerary we must suggest to continue on to the Farfa Abbey, a testament to the medieval era of exceptional artistic value and also an architectural masterpiece.