We stumbled on Saracinesco quite by chance. We were walking with friends in the Appennini mounts, just fifty kilometres east of Rome, heading to Mount Costasole. While Costasole itself proved to be of relatively little interest, it does stand in a beautiful landscape. We’d decided to start from the tiny town of Saracinesco. With its 200 inhabitants, it is the smallest municipality in the Lazio region.
Saracinesco proved so picturesque that it warranted further exploration and investigation.
We took a short tour of the village early in the morning while looking for a coffee, which we could not get because the only bar was closed. We found an interesting stele in a public garden on the very top of the village, telling a fragment of its story.
The stele bears a turbaned head and a script proclaiming that the community remembers and honours its Arab founders and fathers and that this origin lays “a symbolic thread between the opposite sides of the same sea”. This was more than enough to arouse our curiosity. So, back in Rome, we carried out an internet search on the origins of Saracinesco.
We soon discovered that the village was founded in the tenth century, allegedly by a Saracen pirate group (whence its name) who survived the obscure battle of San Cosimato in 916. Saracen and Arab pirates, arriving on galleys either from North Africa or the Levant, often ravaged the Italian coasts and could push quite far inland.
They could even establish short-lived settlements there. However, the further they went inland, the higher the risks, and in 916 an army of the Holy Roman Empire, the heirs of Charlemagne, moved from Rome and caught a group of Saracen pirates in the plain of San Cosimato. The plain also lies some 50km from Rome, between the via Tiburtina and a gorge of the Aniene river.
On the very border of the plain lies the monastery of San Cosimato that was then just a small church. The pirates were defeated and slain, but a small group succeeded in crossing the river and moving a few kilometres to the south, climbing a steep hill (900m above sea level) and settling there.
The siege of this encampment would probably have cost more than it was worth, so Pope Giovanni X granted them the right to stay, under a peace agreement.
With time, the pirates’ descendants mingled with the local population and were converted to the peaceful existence of peasants, cattle herders, and farmers. However, the name of the village remains Saracinesco to this day, being by origin an adjective.
The village’s natural position clearly explains why its siege was not pursued and, even today, it lies at the end of a steep blind road; all other sides can be accessed only by following footpaths (as we did on our way to mount Costasole and back). It sits significantly higher than the neighbouring villages.
The internal passageways are more often stairways rather than streets. During the thirteenth century, a castle was built above the village, of which the external walls remain and now enclose the public garden where the stele described above is located.
With its village, the castle was bought and sold between Roman noble families until, at the end of the sixteenth century, it became the Pope’s property.
Saracinesco deserves a much more thorough exploration than we were able to accomplish, but our goal of the day was the mountain. The village tells a story of integration. We have here in Italy, German, French, Ladin, Greek and Albanian speaking communities, together with the remnants of Arabic communities. However, as far as I know, Arabic is no longer spoken in any community.