Itri is situated a few kilometres inland, between the nearby towns of Fondi and Formia. It rests in a valley amongst the foothills of the Aurunci Mountains which take their name from the Aurunci tribe of people who inhabited this area back in the mists of time.
The town today is divided into three sections, the upper historic medieval town, the route along the ancient Via Appia, and the lower sprawling, more contemporary area.
The Roman thoroughfare runs directly through Itri and is a testament to the remarkable organisational and engineering ability of the Romans. Construction of this, the first and most famous of the ancient Roman roads, was commenced in 312 AD by Appius Claudius Caecus. It was called the Queen of Roads or the Regina Viarum and was to be the main means of communication between Rome and the south. The first stretcg ran to Capua, and was later extended down to Brindisi, with a total length of more than 563 km (350 miles). In effect it was the very first motorway even built. Sections of this road can still be seen, paved with smoothly fitting blocks of hard wearing lava.
Cicero, the Roman orator writer and statesman, is thought to have owned a holiday villa in the nearby town of Formia. He opposed Julius Caesar and following Caeser’s death he became an arch enemy of Mark Antony. Cicero was apprehended whilst trying to flee from his political enemies, and brutally murdered in 43 BC on the Appian Way. He was beheaded and had his right hand severed, and these were taken as trophies to be displayed in Rome. Cicero’s Mausoleum, a 24 metre cylindrical tower, is situated on the Via Appia, on the outskirts of Formia.
Below are some illustrations depicting Itri and its Castle in times gone by.
During the era when young British aristocrats and scholars undertook the cultural “Grand Tour” of Italy, a common itinerary would have included Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples. Thus many great artists and writers would have journeyed along the route of the Via Appia, and Itri may have been a welcoming resting place for weary travellers. Charles Dickens, when travelling through Itri during the 19th century described the castle in his journal as being “like a device in pastry, built up, almost perpendicularly, on a hill, and approached by long steep flights of steps.”
The dominating castle dates back to the IX century and was strategically positioned high on the hill of Sant’Angelo, it has a commanding view of the surrounding area. The first stage of the fortress, an imposing pentagonal tower with battlements, was built in 882 AD by the duke of Gaeta, Docibile I. In the next phase, the tall square tower was built in 950 by the grandson of Docibile, Marino I. In 1073 ownership of the fortress passed to the Dell’Aquila family of Fondi. The third stage of construction was completed in 1250 and included the addition of the cylindrical tower, ramparts and living quarters. This last tower is known as the “crocodile tower” as it is said that the dungeon below it had a crocodile which would feast upon unfortunate prisoners that had been condemned to death. The castle was badly damaged in the bombing of Itri during the Second World War. In recent years it has undergone restoration and the building is used to house exhibitions and cultural events.
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