The origins of Itri are old. The site was, in fact, inhabited since prehistoric times and later became part of the territory of the Ausoni. Only in Roman times the center acquired some importance though .
Located along the route of the Appian Way (Roman road of the fourth century BC that connected Rome to Capua, and later, to Brindisi), was an obligatory passage for whom wanted to go from Rome to the south and vacation spot for Roman patricians evidenced by the remains of buildings located over its territory.
The most significant ancient testimonies are mainly located along the Appian Way. Powerful polygonal terraces are visible in S. Gennaro as well as a wishbone old viaduct that crosses the creek below. On the Appian Way and around the area are the remains of several small rural villas, linked to small and medium-sized properties. One of the most important point is the villa near the Itri train station, characterized by a monumental arch. Other significant ruins of Roman structures are conserved in S. Donato, in S. Lorenzo, Pagnano, near the Via Civita Farnese and in Punta Cetarola. Even in Roman times, however, Itri was sparsely populated, being merely a staging post where travelers and especially horses could find some rest before continuing their journey. In the period of the decadence of the empire, Itri suffered the incursions of barbarian armies on their way along the peninsula.
Itri etymology comes probably from the Latin term "Iter" (travel) derived from its strategic location on the Via Appia. According to others by the cult of the god Mithras, as witnessed by the presence of a Mithraeum in San Giacomo. The presence of the snake on the city coat of arms comes from the legend of the city of Amyclae, whose citizens fled from the coast to the interior as a result of an invasion of snakes.
The castle was built around the eleventh century on top of a hill overlooking the Via Appia. At first the town was built around it and then has spread along the Appian Way. A third group arose in the area of Campello, but was later abandoned in the mid-fifteenth century.
The old medieval castle has been the victim of time and of the ravages of World War II. Built as a fortress to defend against enemy attacks, the castle, together with the old upper town, is surrounded by mighty walls. In the highest part it has a square and a polygon tower; a lower third cylindrical tower is connected to the main building by an impressive wall-walk. The third tower is called "the crocodile tower" because, according to tradition, the condemned were dropped down into the tower, representing a delicious meal for the ferocious beast. The entire structure is completed by a set of smaller cylindrical towers. The many elements that make up the castle often end with a crenellated walls, partially destroyed.
A landscape with a view of Itri, a road with a shepherd and his flock in the foreground (1782). HACKERT Jacob Philipp, Hackert d'Italie,
Landscape near Itri (1788). HACKERT Jacob Philipp, 1737-1807 (Germany) . Oil on canvas, 123 x 166cm.
Fra Diavolo (Michele Pezza his real name) is certainly the most famous person born in Itri. He owes its nickname to a teacher who used to call him Fra Diavolo because of his crazy temper and to the monk vestments that his mother put him when child as a vote for a grace received. It was a formidable brigand guilty of several murders who had the grace enrolling as a colonel in the army of King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon defending thus the crown, for these merits obtained the title of Duke of Cassino. In 1806 he was imprisoned by the French and hanged on November 11 in Market Square in Naples. Numerous works have been inspired by him, including the Auber opera "Fra 'Diavolo" composed in 1830 or the eponymous film starring Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel. Just to remind this historical character was born a few years ago the Museum of the brigands of Itri.
In the Second World War, in 1944, the bombing destroyed a good part of the monuments Itrane. The castle and some of the destroyed churches have been recently renovated and open to the public, especially the castle is now the scene of events, film festivals, shows and exhibitions. The Santuario della Santissima Madonna della Civita rises to thirteen miles from the center of Itri, and can be reached through the highway 82 of the Liri Valley (Civita Farnese). The origin of the sanctuary goes back so legendary around the ninth century and is linked to a sacred image of the Madonna and Child that comes directly from Constantinople and painted by St. Luke.
Antique illustration of Itri, Italy, with the old castle. Original, created by Major Irton and T. A. Prior, was published in Florence, Italy, 1842, Luigi Bardi ed.
Itri 1841, John Ruskin
Itri according H. Ch. Andersen
Si tratta di un antico tratto
urbano della romana Appia,
percorsa nei secoli da milioni
di persone. Tra queste anche il
danese Andersen che cosi la
descrive esaltandone il fascino
del suo "disordine":
– Ecco li la mia sporca Itri! – grido indicando la cittadina avanti a noi.
– Tu non ci crederai, Antonio, ma nel nord, dove le strade sono cosi terribilmente pulite, cosi regolari e squadrate, sentivo una grande nostalgia d una citta italiana con la sua sporcizia: sono cosi caratteristiche, sembrano proprio fatte per un pittore! Queste strade strette e sporche, con i balconi di pietra grigia mal tenuti, pieni di calze e sottane stese ad asciugare, quelle finestre disposte senza nessun ordine, una piu su e una piu giu, di tutte le grandezze! Guarda quella scala di quattro o cinque metri per raggiungere la porta di entrata, guarda quella vecchia seduta li con il suo fuso, quell’albero con i grandi limoni gialli che sporge dal muro: questo si che e da dipingere! Da quelle nostre strade civili, invece, con le case allineate come soldati, senza scale esterne e senza nessuna sporgenza, non si potra cavare mai nulla!
– Ecco la patria di Fra Diavolo – gridarono nella carrozza al nostro entrare nella stretta e sporca Itri che Federigo trovava tanto bella e pittoresca. La cittadina si trova in cima a una roccia, a picco su un profondo precipizio, e la strada principale in molti punti ha appena la larghezza sufficiente per far passare una sola carrozza.
Nella maggior parte delle case non c’erano finestre al primo piano, ma solo un largo portone attraverso il quale si scorgeva una specie di scantinato buio; dappertutto c’erano bambini sporchi e donne, e tutti chiedevano l’elemosina. Noi non osavamo mettere la testa fuori dal finestrino per non farcela schiacciare tra la carrozza e le sporgenze delle case: in alcuni punti i balconi di pietra si spingevano tanto in avanti sopra di noi che si aveva l’impressione di avanzare sotto un portico. Da tutte e due le parti vedevo muri neri di fuliggine, lambiti dal fumo che si faceva strada attraverso le porte aperte.
– Che deliziosa citta! – Esclamo Federigo battendo le mani.
– E' un covo
di briganti! – Replico il
vetturino quando fummo usciti.
(da L improvvisatore di H. Ch. Andersen, 1835).
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