When climbing the Sabine hills to Casperia, whether from Passo Corese or the motorway A1 Milan-Naples (exit: Ponzano-Soratte), there is a sense of amazement looking through the windows at the scenery that runs beside us. Olive groves, pastures, fields and farms litter the “small Umbria”, before uncovered, perhaps by negligence, perhaps because we never ventured there before.
You may have ended up there after visiting the Farfa Abbey and its quaint village (borgo in Italian), which was easily accessible from Rome and undoubtedly more popular. However, those who dare venture further north, within the so-called Sabina Tiberina, are rewarded, arriving at Casperia, with the scenery of a small country village dense with houses in stone wall, olive and cypress trees, all perched on the top of the sweet hills.
Those who return are never disappointed; for the first-timers, it is a delightful surprise. The rustic and well-cared for look of the village immediately shows that you are in a special place, loved by residents and welcoming for those who come and visit it.
Casperia does not have monuments of particular fame, but offers glimpses of rare environmental value. Do not miss Via Massari, one of the most characteristic streets of Casperia, where the Palazzo Forani is beautiful, unmistakable for the two bears carved on both sides of the portal – revealing it once belonged to the noble house of the Orsini.
Just outside the city walls, worth mentioning is the elegant Church of the Annunciation, which houses The Annunciation by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato.
Houses and steps decorated with flower pots and climbers – often revealing the good taste of the owners – follow in a seemingly random, labyrinthic manner, but they seem to be structured in a spiral (or “onion bulb”). In the 1960s an analysis of the Lazio country villages revealed that each one had been organised in a precise geometric or structure-type shape: pyramid, cascade, spur, spike, spiral, etc.
Casperia follows a picturesque cobbled road that goes back to the large secular holm-oak that marks its skyline from far away, along with the Romanesque bell tower of the Church of St. John the Baptist – featuring the nativity scene (in Italian: presepe or presepio) within a reproduction of the whole village, skillfully made by Giannicola Mariani, a distinguished blacksmith living in Casperia.
The characteristic urban architecture probably comes from the high-medieval establishment of a castle (perhaps of Longobarde origins), which sought to adapt to the natural morphology of the hill (standing 397m above sea level) to strengthen its defenses. In 1189, Aspra (original name of Casperia, changed in 1946) became free, albeit under the influence of the Holy See: in 1461 it resisted the siege of Federico da Montefeltro. The origins of the first nucleus are however Sabino-Roman, as evidenced by the remains of rustic villas scattered throughout the territory and according to various literary sources. It is no coincidence that the country changed its name in 1946, in the wake of a “fashion” that had settled in the days of Fascism, and recaptured classical toponymes with the aim of ennobling the origins of cities and countries: “Casperia” was in fact the name of an ancient Sabine city quoted by Virgil in Book VII of the Eneide.
We could say that Casperia, despite its nearly 1,200 inhabitants, is becoming a bit ‘the queen’ of Sabina Tiberina, since it is the country that has managed to develop further than the Sunday “hit and run” touristic tradition perpetrated by the neighbouring Romans (in Italian: scampagnata): it is evidenced by the fact that the village has its own small community of English speakers from all corners of Europe and beyond.
This unexpectedly international and increasingly bohemian atmosphere contrasts with the collective imagination that the provincial village would like as a typical microcosm closed in itself. In fact, these are signs of a profound change not only in the way of vacation but also of contemporary society in itself. Many foreigners, mostly of a high cultural level, prefer to visit Rome or Florence while lodging in the surrounding countryside, in order to enjoy and get to know the locals as well as those who have decided to make of this great historical and artistic heritage their new home.
It is now known that the great art cities have become “fun shops” (think of the case-limit of Venice) where local culture, the genuine and authentic culture, is disappearing altogether: you admire the art, the monuments and the reliable architecture, but the locals have largely lost customs and traditions – not mentioning that an Italian cook in a restaurant or trattoria in these larger cities is now a rarity. In Casperia, on the other hand, the “stringozzi” (a pasta typical of Alto Lazio and Umbria) are still the home-made (and hand-made!) by the locals.
In short, destinations such as Casperia, blessed by their strategic position, are the way to combine the usability of the nearby and easily reachable “eternal city” with the enjoyment of a splendid and still unknown natural landscape, genuine gourmet cuisine, a healthy hospitality that really expresses the spirit of the people of what in the view of the stranger is the legendary “Campagna Romana”. Moreover, Casperia, for its proximity to the motorway A1 and to the Via Ternana (SS313, from Passo Corese to Terni), offers the possibility of easy trips to Tuscia and Bassa Umbria as well as of course in the rest of Sabina and Rieti territory: with a “bio-regional” approach you can create crossroads between Lazio and Umbria along the axis of the Tiber Valley, knowing a vast area of homogeneous characters even in the precious local diversity.
But is Casperia’s success all in the happy geographic location? Not just. The village preserves an intact historical center, not ruined by heavy modern maneuvers, and an unspoiled beauty that for a decade has fascinated Anglo-Saxon visitors, recalled by a handful of “discoverers” of this treasure that was lost among the green and endless expanses of holm-oaks and oaks of the Sabini Mountains. Other villages in the area have similar characteristics, of course, but in Casperia they take on more decisive and convincing lines to make it a sort of “manual” of the Sabino village.
The landscape, at the same time gentle and mountainous, the pines and cypresses, the medieval churches (Madonna della Neve, Montefiolo, Santa Maria di Legarano, etc.) and the Roman ruins scattered throughout the countryside, the beautiful stone-walled houses and steps of the village have been able to break into the hearts of romantic travelers of the 21st century, who in the wake of the myth of the “Grand Tour” in Italy are finding in our village those landscapes that can only be found in books and museums, as painted by the great artists of the past.
The so moving, flamboyant and multicolored sunset from the Casperia terraces; the softest profiles of the hills that go down to the Tiber, it flowing placidly down to a magnificent plain with its loops and its fields, all crowned by the mystical background of Mount Soratte, as immortalized by the lines of Horace. Literature, artistic memories, and visual poetry thus merge into a unicum of fine cultural value and very emotional impact for the visitor of scholastic studies.
But what are the best times to go to Casperia? Theoretically the village offers much at any given moment of the year, but the milder seasons offer greater emotions thanks to the colours of the nature.
If, at the end of October, olive harvesting begins and you can observe closely the ancient and rooted tradition of sabit olive cultivation in November, you will enjoy the intense smells of the pruning roaches and the fuzzy colors of the foliage; in April and May an explosion of colour glitters through the countryside, while in the village wisteria, roses and geraniums color the gray limestone steps. In June, the fields are dotted with daisies, poppies and other spontaneous blooms. At last, July is blessed with golden wheat, and sunflowers and cicadas entertain the senses and the spirit.
Translation by Pietre di Aspra
Recommended accommodation by Itinerari Laziali:
Self-catering holiday home “pietre di ASPRA” , 2 brand new apartments, drawn from an independent stone building of the XVI century in the historical city center of Casperia. As a result of a complex and careful process of restoration and renovation, the building now offers all the comforts of the modern living without sacrificing the ancient rural nature of the original structure.