History of Civita Castellana


See Civita Castellana guide for highlights and historic monuments

It was the clay of the area around Civita Castellana, and the art of pottery, that made the economic fortune of the city from earliest times (10th century BC).

Indeed, archaeological excavations of the necropolis here have unearthed many materials, documenting a strong presence of art pottery such as vases, the finest geometric vessels  and proto-Corinthian and Attic vases. In pre-Roman times, “Civita Castellana” was the capital of the “Falisci”, skilled craftsmen who were specialized in producing art pottery.

Early civilisations in Faliere / Civita Castellana

The first traces of this civilization come from excavations of the ancient “Falerii Veteres”, which had trade relations with the entire Mediterranean basin. The most valuable ancient findings are now in the National Museum, which has collected the remains from the Faliscan zone.

The “Falisci”, according to sources, were a warlike people, proud of their political independence, and who collided hard with the Romans. To effectively oppose the Roman invasion, the “Falisci” tightened their alliance with the Etruscans, but they were badly defeated for the first time in 394 BC and then annihilated in 241 BC.

The inhabitants, forced by the Romans to live somewhere less resistant to sieges, built a new city to the north, protected by high walls with 50 towers and they named it “Falerii Novi” [“The ‘New’ Falerii”]. Soon the area was favoured by the construction of major roads, such as the "Via Amerina", which reached "Falerii Novi" and Umbria.

These roads made it easier to trade, but in the case of "Falerii" the barbarian invasions represented a great danger, because the city did not possess adequate walls. The continuing siege forced the inhabitants to return to "Falerii Veteres", where they fortified the old castle, making it impregnable.

From the Middle Ages in Civita Castellana

In the 12th century the city was surrounded by high walls and deep ravines, so that it was chosen as a refuge by the popes, who were forced to flee Rome during the barbarian invasions.

With the Renaissance, in 1494 Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) had an imposing fortress built by Antonio Sangallo the Elder (1453-1534), around the old castle. The work was completed under the pontificate of Julius II, who continued with Antonio Sangallo the Young (1484-1546).

Origins of the name Civita Castellana and Falerii

As regards the ancient etymology, studies have shown that sites of the “Falisci”:

“[...] traditionally mentioned by ancient sources are 'Falerii' and 'Fescennium'. It is well established the identification of 'Falerii Veteres' with Civita Castellana […]” [1].

Falerii was thus the ancient name of “Civita Castellana”. According to Professor Semerano, the foundations of the Greek and Latin name are the same:

"[...] The Greek 'Fàlernon Oros, Faléroi,' and the Latin 'Falerii ', derived from the Accadic term ‘Ba 'al-eri’ meaning 'lord of the place', 'ruler of the place' [...]" [2].

As regards the present name, “Civita Castellana”, it is explained very well by A. Nibby, who notes that:

"[...] Around 'Civita Castellana', in the Register of Pope Gregory II, the Monastery of ‘San Silverio’ was named, on Mount Soratte, and to which a fund was given by that pope, called 'Canciano', (‘Canciano, taken from the body of a mass of Castles, belonging to the Tuscia'). At that time the funds in this area, belonging to the Roman Church, formed a 'mass', called Castellana, or 'Castelliana', because of the many castles...

... the Roman 'Falerii' had turned into a desert, and people gathered on the ruins of Old 'Falerii', because it was an inaccessible place and therefore safer in those days of continuous raids by the barbarians; and, in this place, gradually, between the 9th and 10th centuries, a city formed, which was called “Civitas ["city] Castellana”. [3].

See also the Civita Castellana travel guide.

References

1. See D. Cavallo, “Amerina”, Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato ["Amerina, Government Printing Office and Mint], 2004: 65

2. See G. Semerano, “Le Origini della Cultura Europea” ["The Origins of European Culture"], Olschki , 1984: 601

3. See A. Nibby, “Analisi Storico, topografica, Antiquaria dei dintorni di Roma” [“Historical, topographical, and antiquarian analysis of the  surroundings of Rome”], Rome, 1848, Vol. II: 15