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The Old Town of Arpino

The town of Arpino is divided into four districts, Colle, Civita Falconara, Arco and Ponte, with the Piazza Municipio in the centre of the town. This layout hasn't changed since the town's heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries, when its arts, economy and culture flourished.

Arpino's history is long and distinguished. Civitavecchia is probably the oldest and certainly highest part of Arpino, sitting at the top of the mountain, some 627 metres above sea level. It was probably the original settlement of a local tribe, the Volscians, in 7th to 6th centuries B.C. They chose the spot for its strategically high position and a belt of megathilic walls which surrounded it.

The ancient gate to the acropolis is a pointed arch just over 4 metres high. Its unusual design was only found at this time in Tyrins and Mycenae in Greece. The arch was built by overlapping stone blocks which grow smaller towards the top, and cut diagonally on the outside. A further semicircular wall was built much later in the 16th century, parts of which also survive today.

Similar walls can also be found in other nearby Volscian towns such as Atina, Sora, and Arce. They were of such impressive size to later generations that folklore attributed their construction to the Cyclopses (or Pelasgians), the mythical race of Greek giants. In fact they became known as the ‘Cyclopean Walls’; however its probably more accurate to describe them as 'polygonal walls', due to their construction from five sided stones stacked without mortar. The walls branch off from Civitavecchia and slope down until they embrace and encircle the district of Civita Falconara below. The walls originally extended for 3 km but today only some 1.5 km are left, and at times are actually enclosed within houses! Through Samnite, Roman, and Medieval times many generations have restored the walls and made additions such as gates and towers. Archaelogists and historians have debated the exact date of origin of the old walls. One eminent scholar, Schmidt, dates them back to the 7th and 6th century BC, however the ancient Roman Titus Livius tells of Cyclopean Volscian rocks that existed already in 408 BC.

As regards to Roman occupation in Civitavecchia, there is little evidence. However in old records of 1581 one of the towers is named 'Cicero's Tower', after Roman philosopher and poet, Tullius Cicero.

 

The old hamlet of Civitavecchia, at the top of Arpino, showing the church of SS. Trinità built in 1720.
The pointed arch in the 'Cyclopean' walls of Civitavecchia. Historians believe there are only two in existence, one in Greece and one in Arpino.
View of Civitavecchia from the nearby hill of Colle Lo Zoppo, showing the Angevin tower
The 16th century church of San Vito, where my grandfather was baptised 22 april 1899
Street within the walls of Civitavecchia
A tiled street sign