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Birthplace of Cicero

Arpino day two

View Return to Arpino Sept 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A bit of Arpino history before we start

Statue of Cicero in the Piazza Municipio

Arpino is an ancient city, going back to at least the 7th century BC when it was known as Arpinum. Local tradition has it that it was founded by Saturn and that the Roman tomb that lies on a hill below the old town is that of the Roman god. A nice story, but …

Remains of Roman road
on the Via dell'Aquila Romana

What is certain is that Arpinum was home over those early centuries to various tribes including the Volsci. It was captured by the Romans in 305 BC as they were over-running other tribes to build their empire. It gained Roman suffrage (that is, its citizens gained the right to vote) in 188 BC and became a full Roman municipium – defined as ‘a distinct state under the jurisdiction of Rome’. These city states retained power over local matters while being ultimately under the governance of Rome itself. You can still see traces of the Roman roads, the decumanus and cardo, which intersected at the forum, the site of today’s Piazza Municipio.

Arpino’s most famous citizen was Cicero who was born here in 106 BC and went on to become a lawyer and politician, serving as Consul in 63 BC. He was best known though for his oratory powers, and a statue of him in full flow stands in Arpino’s Piazza Municipio. This is the work of the sculptor Ferruccio Vecchi and was erected in 1958, so would not have been here when my mother in law Teresa first came here in 1951.

Almost as famous (and also commemorated with a 1958 statue in the piazza) is Caius Marius, born here in 156 BC. Unlike Cicero he came from a humble peasant family but rose to prominence through military service and was exceptionally elected consul five times in a row (104-100 BC) as well as serving in two further years. It was he who chose the eagle to be the symbol of the Roman army.

Caius Marius and Cicero

The third famous Roman said to have been born here is Marcus Vipsanio Agrippa but although tradition gives Arpino as the town of his birth, historians have never been able to verify this. Perhaps that is why he has no statue here, although his bust does stand, along with those of Cicero and Caius Marius, in a niche on the frontage of the Liceo Ginnasio-Convitto Nazionale Tulliano, which stands on the Piazza Municipio and was established as a boarding-school in 1814. Today the Tulliano hosts the annual Certamen Ciceronianum Arpinas in which secondary school students from all over the world compete to translate the works of Cicero. Unfortunately I couldn't get a good photo of this building on our recent trip as it was being renovated and was partly obscured by a huge cement mixer, so an old one will have to suffice.

With Teresa in the Piazza Municipio in 1987, Tulliano behind

Cicero and Caius Marius on the front of the Tulliano

More recent famous residents include the artist Giuseppe Cesari (born 1568), also known as the Cavalier d'Arpino, whose work can be seen in several of the town’s churches. Another Arpino artist was the sculptor Domenico Mastroianni (who sculpted the town’s war memorial). His grandson Umberto Mastroianni became a world famous sculptor – some of his abstract works can be found dotted around the town and there is a museum devoted to him.

No doubt we will ‘meet’ all of these famous residents as we explore the city! Meanwhile for a further taste of Arpino’s past here are some old photos that were on the wall of our apartment. I have no idea of the exact date of these, but look out for these locations too as you follow our explorations.

Piazza Municipio

Corsa Tulliano (near the Trattoria del Corso)

Fuoriporta (by today's Belvedere)

2017 visit, day two

After a good night's sleep in our apartment, interrupted only briefly by a thunder storm, we awoke to a Sunday of mixed sun and cloud - perfect for exploring the town. But first we needed breakfast, so we walked along to the Piazza Municipio, and as we did so we heard music ahead of us. Reaching the square we found its source, a marching band. What a bonus!

Even better, as we settled at a table outside the Bar Sport, where we had enjoyed our pre dinner drinks last night, the band started to set out chairs right in front of us, getting ready for a performance. When I looked up Rutigliano, the name inscribed on their instruments, on my phone I learned that it was a town in Bari and the band seemed to be on a mini tour of other Italian towns. It was pure serendipity that brought them to Arpino on the day of our visit but we very much enjoyed the concert as we ate our croissants and drank our coffees. Please do check out just a bit of my admittedly rather long video, and listen out for the church bells too.

The band arriving in the piazza

View from our breakfast table

Watching the performance

The band were still playing an hour later when we made our way into the church of San Michele Arcangelo for mass. After the service we stayed on to take a closer look around the church. It is thought to have been built on the site of a pagan temple devoted to Apollo and the nine Muses. Many of its paintings are the work of Giuseppe Cesari, the Cavalier d'Arpino, including the one above the main altar which depicts the Archangel Michael defeating Lucifer, and the one of God the Father on the dome above the apse. The other works by him are an Annunciation, Tobiah and the Angel, the Martyrdom of St Peter and the fourteen Stations of the Cross.

The nave with main altar, and Tobiah and the Angel

The beautifully carved pulpit was the work of Michele Stolz, a Tyrolean carver who lived and worked in Arpino and who is buried under the altar of the Sacred Heart in this church.

Pulpit details

An elderly local lady who had stayed behind after mass to pray saw our interest in the church and explained, in a very difficult to follow Italian dialect, some of the main features. I did manage to understand that we should look at the Madonna with Child which I later discovered is by a 17th century artist called Dionigi Ludovisi.

Madonna with Child, and small statue

Ceiling details

By now it was mid morning and time for another coffee (me) or first beer (Chris). For a change of scene we went to the bar on the other side of the square, Baricentro. It was above this one that we had stayed on that previous visit thirty years ago.

Refreshed we headed down to check out the small Sunday market on Corso Tulliano, passing the war memorial where we picked out a number of members of the Quaglieri family who had lost their lives in one of the World Wars.

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War memorial, with one of the Quaglieri names inscribed

View from near the war memorial

Civita Falconara

We then set off on a stroll through one of the town's medieval quarters, Civita Falconara, located to the west of the centre. We left the piazza from its south west corner, near the Tulliano, and passed the 17th century Fontana dell'Aquila (Eagle Fountain) which features the town coat of arms with two towers and an eagle – one of the town’s monuments which we remembered from that 1987 visit. I have dug out the old slides and will share some here alongside my photos from this trip – they serve to show how little the town has changed in 30 years!

The fountain has been cleaned up a bit since 1987 (on the left) but is otherwise almost unchanged

The quarter of Civita Falconara is located on a spur of rock which stands sheer above the valley below, and was a strategic point in the defence of this area in the past. In parts it retains its medieval layout of winding lanes and staircases, though it was considerably redeveloped during the 18th century expansion of Arpino.

Old fortifications

If you don’t mind a bit of a climb (and nowhere in Arpino is flat for more than a few metres!) it is a great part of town to explore, with so much to photograph – wide vistas of the valley and the rest of the town, quaint passageways, a couple of lovely churches and lots of intriguing details.

We climbed via Caio Mario, passing a stretch of the old fortifications, with walls of massive rocks devoid of any mortar – a little reminiscent of Inca building techniques. Views of the valley below started to open up, and we could look back towards the centre of Arpino. Ahead of us on the spur was the 18th century church of the Madonna of Loreto, which was to be probably my most photographed building on this trip as it dominates so many views around the town.

Vista from via Caio Mario

Looking back at the town, and up towards the church ahead of us

The road turns at the end of the spur, at which point a cross stands looking out over the valley. When Teresa had visited in 1951 you could evidently scramble out over the rocks to reach this (see her photo in my previous entry) but it is now firmly walled off.

The cross in 1987 and today

Panorama with the cross

In 1987 I had also taken a photo of Chris at this point which we attempted to reproduce, but the presence of parked cars on the road made me change the angle somewhat, as you can see.

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Thirty years apart!

We were now at the Chiesetta della Madonna of Loreto, which is built on the ruins of an octagonal tower of the ancient city walls and was originally the chapel of the nearby castle. It has several paintings of note, of which the most significant is that of the Madonna of Loreto, its namesake. This was originally in another chapel but was brought here in 1712. Popular tradition has it that on the occasion of its arrival here all the bells of the town rang out spontaneously – an event still commemorated in a local festival, that of the ‘Madonna of the Little Bells’. Another painting in the church depicts the arrival of the painting.

Chiesetta della Madonna di Loreto

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Painting of the Madonna, and one illustrating its removal here

The Madonna of Loreto is the patron saint of Arpino and believed to protect the town. In 1656 it was spared from a plague that had devastated Rome, Naples and many other parts of Italy. And in 1799 French troops marching on Arpino during a war against Naples inexplicably turned back, an event that was attributed to the appearance of the Virgin and an ‘army of nine thousand men dressed in white’. As a result the Madonna was adopted as the patron saint. An 18th century statue of her is held by the Benedictine sisters in their convent near Sant'Andrea (we will see that church tomorrow) and paraded through the town each year on her feast day of 10 December to spend some days in the central church of San Michele Arcangelo.

Outside the church of the Madonna of Loreto we stopped to photograph the striking statue of St Francis, who has rather unfortunately lost a hand despite being relatively new (1972).

Statue of St Francis

Opposite the church is the Ladislaus Castle, which was originally called Castrum Pescli Facolnariae and was renamed after a visit by the king of Naples, Ladislaus of Anjou-Durazzo, in 1409. He had the castle fortified and established in it a permanent garrison. The castle dates originally from the 13th century although little of that early structure remains. Today it houses the Umberto Mastroianni Foundation, an important art collection focused around the work of that sculptor, but it was closed when we visited and we never got around to returning – something for a future visit to Arpino.

Sculpture by Umberto Mastroianni in the castle grounds

We walked around the castle to the far side where it fronts onto Largo Riccia, a pretty and peaceful square.

In the Largo Riccia

Typical Falconara lane

A couple of lanes lead steeply down from here to via Ciccodicola, the main artery of the quarter although itself little more than a lane.

This eventually led us to the Piazza Civita with its church of Santa Maria del Civita. Its bell tower was under restoration and shrouded in green netting and scaffolding, but the church was open for us to have a quick look inside. It was built on the site of a pagan temple dedicated to Mercury Lanarius, the patron of wool – once an important industry for this quarter of Arpino. The church dates originally from the early 14th century but was given a Baroque makeover in the late 18th. It has several paintings by the Cavalier d'Arpino.

In Santa Maria del Civita

A few Falconara details

Heading downhill from Santa Maria del Civita we found ourselves once again by the eagle fountain, having come full circle. By now the main piazza, where previously the cafés had been buzzing and the band performance in full swing, was quiet. A Sunday afternoon sleepiness had descended on Arpino. The one trattoria that was serving lunch was full and in any case we didn't want a big meal, so we settled on beers and a few peanuts and crisps back at the Baricentro.

We strolled around a little more after this, taking in the views from viale Belvedere (another favourite spot remembered from 1987).

View from the Belvedere

Chris at the Belvedere in 1987

After this we returned yet again to the bar to enjoy the (for me) compulsory afternoon-in-Italy gelato. Then it was back to the apartment but by a different route, along the Via dell'Aquila Romana where a small section of Roman road can be seen, and up a narrow lane which emerged right next to our apartment above.

Some details from the streets near the apartment


In the early evening we walked back to the Belvedere where the light was perfect for photos. Locals were out too, for the traditional 'passeggiata', and we enjoyed joining them on their stroll.


Early evening at the Belvedere

Il Pettinaro

We returned to the Bar Sport in the piazza for pre dinner drinks - again Aperol Spritz for me and a beer for Chris. Dinner choices were limited as some places were closed (Italians seem to take their main meal at midday on a Sunday) so we settled on the terrace of the small Il Pettinaro on the diminutive Piazzale San Francesco X. M. Bianchi (a long name for such a tiny square!) which lies between the main square and the Belvedere. Here we had a very good meal, sharing the mixed antipasto to start with, after which I had rigatoni with tomato and mozzarella and Chris some mini burgers on a salad of peppery rocket and tomatoes. Both dishes were excellent, as were the two glasses each of Merlot, and the service was relaxed and friendly. We had thought it might be a bit too cool to sit outside but in fact we were quite comfortable here and enjoyed our evening very much.

We walked back to the apartment by moonlight, very pleased with our first full day in Arpino.

Arpino by moonlight

Posted by ToonSarah 10:46 Archived in Italy Tagged churches buildings streets architecture history italy doors details

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Thanks for the historical background, and the contrasting photos from various decades.

by Nemorino

Another great account with superb pictures.


Thank you Adam and Don :)

by ToonSarah

I too enjoyed the background detail and the flashbacks to 1987 are a wonderful addition.

by Wabat

Thanks Albert. Flashbacks is a great word to describe them, as we kept having those while we were there!

by ToonSarah

So much history ... nice to see pictures of the past and the present! :)

by Ils1976

I enjoyed sorting through those old photos and putting this blog together, so I'm glad you liked them too Ils :)

by ToonSarah

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