The Magical Secret Region of Ciociaria in the Wild Heart of Italy
PHOTO CREDITS: Silver Compass Tours
This is a timeless region seeped in history, spanning the Medieval, Roman, Etruscan, Megalithic and Neolithic eras. Just a one hour drive from Rome, and halfway between Rome and Naples, the Ciociaria region within the greater Lazio region of Central Italy boasts its own culture, customs, cuisine and dialect.
It’s a region that is rediscovering its own ethnic roots, with many of the mountaintop villages celebrating individual festivals that date back to Medieval and Roman times and possibly further, as well as many grassroots ethnic music festivals.
WHY WE LOVE IT
Apart from being Paolo’s home region, Ciociaria oozes magic from every corner with stunning classic Italian countryside of mountains, rivers, valleys, forests and lakes all covered in wildflowers.
Nestled in between three valleys and the Apennine Mountains (which the military commander Hannibal brought the Carthaginian army over in 218 BC during the Second Punic War), the surrounding hilltops and mountains are dotted with perfectly preserved Medieval villages which are all built on the ruins of original Etruscan sites.
THE FIVE CITIES OF SATURN
Many of the larger mountaintop villages are in fact the site of the original Ernici
The first of these cities, Anagni, is known as ‘The City of Popes’ as in the Medieval ages no less than five Popes were born in this city and chose to reside there during their Papacies. Pre-dating this, it was the most sacred site of the Ernici tribe – and underneath the world’s first Catholic Papal cathedral there is a Roman temple, and underneath that lies the original Pagan temple of the Ernici who revered Saturn.
Alatri is the site of a massive mountaintop cyclopian Acropolis built in the 6th Century BC, and a sacred temple site of the Ernici. Underneath the church on top of the mountain, surrounded by groves of trees, is the original Pagan temple.
Three stone gates lead up to the mountain temple, and archeologists have discovered that each gate is built in tune with the planets and stars much like the sacred Glastonbury site in Britain. The gates of Alatri seem to have been built to monitor the pathway of Saturn in the skies, and the equinoxes.
Common to each of these towns is the existence of huge ‘cyclopean’ stone walls, and no-one seems sure who built them. The only other existing examples of this kind of stone engineering are in Egypt and Peru. These walls are thousands of years old, and perhaps date back to the Phoenicians.
FOOD AND WINE
The Ciociaria region is famed for its fresh produce, cheeses, truffles, olives and olive oil. It’s awash with foodie discoveries, from making fresh ricotta with shepherds on top of mountains, searching out truffles, tasting tangy pecorino sheep’s cheese and porchetta rolls in the market, and dining al fresco at an organic hillside vineyard during a wine-tasting. Sign us up, every time!
The region is renowned for its succulent buffalo mozzerella and many of the mountaintop village specialise in regional products such as porchetta, proscuitto, chestnuts and more and hold dedicated Sagra (food festivals) annually to celebrate their local specialty or pasta dish.
And as for the wine, the Lazio wine region has been growing vines to supply vino to tables since the Roman times – and there’s actually evidence to suggest that there was a viticulture even prior to this. Lazio is home to roughly 30 DOC titles, and there are six additional location-specific IGT titles in the Lazio IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). Three of these relate directly to the Ciociaria region within the region (it’s much like Chianti in Tuscany) and these are: Anagni IGT, which covers the Frosinone province; Civitella d’Agliano IGT, which is exclusive to the Civitella d’Agliano parish just north-east of Montefiascone; and Frusinate IGT, which covers the Frosinone province.
The region is most well-known for its white wine varietals, in particular Trebbiano and Malvasia. Sangiovese and Montepulciano are the dominant reds of the region, although it’s also highly recommended to search out the local Cesanese red varietal which is experiencing a current resurgence in popularity.
MUSIC AND CULTURE
The folk music of the region is an experience for all the senses, with Mediterranean, Gypsy, Celtic and Arabic influences reflecting the myriad waves of migration the region has experienced since Megalithic times. Have a listen here >>.
There’s currently a blossoming revival of the centuries-old ethnic music of the region, with many of the younger generation picking up traditional instruments such as the pizzica accordian; the shawm, a medieval woodwind instrument; and most groups will also include Zampognari (pipers) of the Roman bagpipes, and tambourines and drums.
A fabulous traditional folk dance called the ‘tarantella’ is accompanied by a particular type of music that makes you just want to get up and dance, and dance and dance. It’s linked to a legend of a girl in medieval times being bitten by a tarantula and having to dance out the poison all night before she collapsed from exhaustion, but cured.
It’s very wild ethnic music with a real gypsy and arabic influence, hypnotic and intoxicating. If you get a chance to see some performers, JUMP AT IT! You’ll be fascinated to see not only professional tarantella dancers on stage, but the entire crowd will be dancing in the particular tarantella style. Words can’t really describe the mood of tarantella festivals, you’ll have to experience it for yourself.
[Source and images below: Ciociaria Turismo]
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