The History of San Biagio Saracinisco
The oldest human presence of this area dates back to the Palaeolithic period, about 70,000 years ago, when the inhabitants were hunter/gathers who lived in caves in the mountains. Later the area was populated by the Caraceni, a tribe of the Samnites who created small fortified settlements on the Gallo plateau. It is thought that the town’s name is derived from these people. It was first called Caracenisco which was later adaped to that of Saracenisco. Locally there are sections of ancient polygonal walls that were constructed by these people, and the remains of some shrines. Also a burial site has been discovered at the foot of Monte Santa Croce (1170 metres) which has become known as Omini Morti. Following three violent wars, the Samnites were finally defeated by the Romans in 293 BC.
Since ancient times the town has held a strategic position, controlling the mountain pass leading to Volturno. Following the fall of the Roman Empire there were various invasions of the territory by the Barbarians (410), the Goths (455), the Vandals (476), the Eruli and the Longobards. These were followed by raids by the Saracens in the early 900’s. Following their defeat at the Battle of the Garigliano it is thought that some bands of Saracens may have sought refuge in the area of San Biagio.
The village was first documented in the 10th century, when the Benedictines of Montecassino gave some of their pastures to local families of shepherds. The Princes of Capua founded the first fortified village named “Sarraceniscum” which had a castrum. In 1055 it is recorded that the settlement, together with its castrum, were donated by the Princes Pandolfo and Landolfo of Capua to the monastery of Montecassino. A small church was founded and was dedicated to San Biagio. The village went on to grow around this centre. San Biagio remained under the rule of the Abbey of Montecassino until in the 13th century it became included in the duchy of Alvito.
In 1435 the village was devastated by the Aragonese troops of Riccio di Montechiaro and the papal bishop Vitelleschi. The territory became abandoned in 1656 because the plague raged throughout the area killing all of its inhabitants. It was not until 1678 that a few families from neighboring municipalities were encouraged to begin repopulating it. By the time of the French occupation by Napoleon’s troops, the number of inhabitants numbered 500 and the village formed part of the municipality of Vallerotonda. By 1853 the population had grown to 1000 and it then it became an independent municipality in its own right.
However, following the Unification of Italy the area was troubled by brigands who terrorised travellers and local villages. As the population increased many peasant farmers found themselves unable to feed their families. Thus they were forced to abandon their homeland and emigrate to the United States, Sweden and Germany. Some even ventured to Russia.
During The Second World War
In the autumn of 1943 San Biagio Saracinisco became occupied by the Germans. Monte Santa Croce was closely guarded by the German troops as an outpost along the Gustav defensive line. The German fortifications near Monte San Biagio Saracinisco were to protect the important communication and supply route along the 627 Road.
The local men were forced to labour for the Germans, constructing trenches and additional fortifications. The local people soon found themselves in the front line of the Allied shelling and bombardments and they fled the village and sought refuge in caves in the mountains. On the 8th December many of the citizens of San Biagio were rounded up by the Germans and sent away to a collection centre in Ferentino in the north of Italy.
In January 1944, under the leadership of General Alphone Juin, the 8th Moroccan Regiment and the 7th Algerian Regiment of the French Expeditiary Corps, began an assault on the Germans, approaching from the Volturno area. This was an attempt to gain access into the Val di Comino through the mountains near San Biagio Saracinisco. This operation became known as the Atina Manoeuvre. However the Germans reacted swiftly and reinforced the positions of Monte Santa Croce with three battalions of Panzergrenadier. Attacks and counterattacks took place between the 12th and 22nd January, with a large number of victims. However finally the French were beaten, as besides the tenacious German resistance they also were hindered by the terrible climatic conditions: the cold, the snow and the mud. The Monte Santa Croce remained in the hands of the Germans until May 1944 when the town of San Biagio was finally liberated. However the Germans had virtually destroyed the town and left destruction in their wake.
After the war there was another wave of emigration to France, Belgium, Germany and northern Italy.
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