photo © Domenico Capodanno
The History of Villa Latina
In pre-Roman times this area was inhabited by the Volsci and then by the Samnites. In 293 BC this territory was seized by the Romans following the battles of Aquilonia and Cominium. Indeed there was a strong Roman presence in this area and some grand villas were constructed close to local thermal springs. Emperor Caracula is said to have had a holiday home in the area. Villa Latina’s name is thought to derive from the expression “villa dei Latini” as the remains of several Roman villas and thermal baths have been found in this area. Other archaeological remains include sections of a Roman acqueduct, in the Chiusi district, which date from the 1st century BC – 1st century AD. This watercourse served the town of Atinium.
Agnone (or Anglone) was first mentioned in documents dating from 774 AD. It was described as a simple county locus of Atina. In 891 there is mention of the Monastery of San Mauro located near Piè delle piagge and the river Mollarino. This was built by the Benedictines of San Vincenzo al Volturno. Later other small monasteries were founded, dedicated to San Valentino and La Santissima Trinità.
This territory was invaded by the Saracens in the early 900’s, and then by the Hungarians in 938. From the end of the tenth century Agnone and Atina formed part of the Lombard Principality of Capua and was ruled by the Counts of Marsi. The counts Oderisio and Rinaldo, built the castrum of Rocca Malcucchiara on a hill facing Atina, to control the passes towards the Apennine hinterland. A century later the fort was further strengthened by adding protective walls, tall watchtowers and an entrance gate. Within the settlement were the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena, the Church of San Salvatore and about forty dwellings.
In 1140 the Norman King Roger II visited Atina during the military campaign for the re-conquest of the Kingdom of Naples and granted special privileges to the town.
In the struggle between the papacy and the empire, Atina together with Agnone, stood in favor of the Emperor, and in 1195 Henry IV donated Atina to Roffredo – the abbot of Montecassino. However, following disputes between Emperor Frederick II and the Papacy, Atina was removed from Montecassino. In 1248 Frederick gave the castrum of Atina to his loyal subject Adenolfo d’Aquino. Following the fall of the Swabian dynasty and the conquest of the French King Charles I of Anjou granted the town of Atina to Giacomo di Capua. It was then inherited by the Counts of Cantelmo and became part of the Duchy of Alvito, however in various ways it maintained a certain degree of autonomy.
The area was struck by a terrible earthquake in 1384 which destroyed Atina.
In 1434, in a conflict against René of Anjou for the succession to the throne of Naples, Rocca Malcocchiara was destroyed by the knights of Alfonso D’Aragona lead by the baron Riccio di Montechiaro. Any surviving citizens fled to the nearby town of Atina. After the Cantelmo’s Atina was bought by a succession of feudal lords and barons: it passed to the Carafa family, the Borgia’s, the Navarro’s, the Cardona’s and finally to Matteo di Capua.
In 1595 the Val di Comino was bought by Count Matteo Taverna on behalf of Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. Thus Atina became part of the dukedom of Sora and Alvito. In a document of this time Agnone is said to have been a casale of Atina. It described this area as being fertile, with abundant spring waters that flowed through many streams which irrigated the land. It grew grains, legumes, millet and produced fruits such as apples, pears, plums, persimmon, figs in large numbers. The rivers and streams in the area were harnessed to power several flour mills.
In the seventeenth century the area was struck by catastophies of famine and floods which decimated the local population. From a document of 1741, named the Onciario Cadastre, it is known that the inhabitants of Agnone numbered 1635.
Following the invasion of the Val di Comino by Napoleon’s troops, Benedetto Panetta of Agnone led a rebellion of the townspeople who took up arms against the French.
In 1816 the inhabitants of the farmhouses of Agnone and Vallegrande presented a request for a separation from the municipality of Atina and for the formation of an autonomous town. This was finally granted in 1834, however there followed several disputes regarding how the territory had been divided and concerning the use of the waters of the Mollarino river.
Villa Latina and the Val di Comino were plagued by bands of brigands and outlaws who would rob travelers and pillage and plunder local households. The National Guard of Villa Latina was particularly active in hunting down the brigands, under the command of Giuseppe Franchi.
Following the Unification of Italy, Agnone changed its name to Villa Latina. Under the mezzadria system many peasants were forced to work for rich land owners. They toiled in miserable conditions and many families experienced severe hardship due to poor wages and insufficent crops to feed their families. During the late 1800’s this resulted in a mass exodus of the people of Villa Latina, who were forced to leave their home town to seek work overseas.
After the war there was another wave of emigration. However, the migrants maintained strong contact with their place of origin and their descendants return and visit the village.
The Celtic Symbols of Villa Latina
Above the district of Fontana Fredda there are the remains of a chapel which has an altar bearing an ancient Celtic symbol. This symbol is also found in the rocks of the church of the Santissima Trinità.
The symbol signifies the Flower of Life (also sometimes referred to as the Flower of the Alps or Sun of the Alps.) It is a symbol introduced by the Gauls in northern Italy (Gallia Cisalpina). Many spiritual beliefs are associated with the symbol of the flower of life, which is considered to be a symbol of sacred geometry. According to some, it is the representation of the spring flower the narcissus or daffodil. This flower emerges from the alpine pastures only in the Spring to announce a good solar season: for this reason it has become a symbol of rebirth, regeneration, joy and hope from ancient times. It is a symbol directly connected to the primitive cults of the sun. For this reason the symbol is often found accompanied by the figures of a bull and a snake.