photo © Louise Shapcott

The Hill or Collina of Santo Stefano

The hill or Collina di Santo Stefano, that stands at a height of 579 metres, dominates the town of Atina and the beautiful Valle di Comino. It is covered by luxuriant vegetation typical of the Mediterranean (mainly oaks and pines) and has a rich collection of local flora and fauna and there are several trails that lead up to the summit.

The Ancient Cyclopean Walls of Atina

On the hill there are the remains of an ancient acropolis. In the 19th century archaeologists and travelers of the Grand Tour attributed them to the Pelasgians.  (The Pelasgians were an ancient tribe from the Middle East, driven out of the land of Canaan in the middle of the second millennium BC, in the territory between modern Syria, Israel and Palestine.)  However, according to modern archaeologists the remains probably date back to the V-IV century BC and were most probably built by the Samnites.

The bastion to defend the Acropolis was fortified by two circuits of polygonal walls, and another external circuit that included the area of ​​Monte Morrone, Monte Massico (Atina) and the Colle Santa Croce and which also incorporated the Hill of Santo Stefano. These ancient structures, also sometimes referred to as “cyclopean, pelasgic or megalithic walls”. These were built using very large limestone blocks, cut into various polygonal shapes and assembled and stacked together in layers, without the use of mortar. On average they measured about 1.5/2 meters in thickness for and 4/5 meters in height. There were also several doors that allowed access to the settlement. This formidable defense system enclosed an area of ​​110 hectares and was created to monitor and control the main access and exit routes from the Valle di Comino.

On the south-western side, where the hill rises from the Valle Giordana, to the centre of the town of Atina, in Piazza Garibaldi, the circuit of the polygonal walls continue. They are almost flanked by an ancient Roman aqueduct which dates from the II-I century BC, which measures 6 kilometres in length.  This was built by carving tunnels out of the rock or creating open-air sections.

The Remains of the Medieval Fortress of Santo Stefano

On the highest part of the hill, during the Middle Ages, a fortress was built surrounded by a circuit of walls with watchtowers, at the foot of which arose a new village with 3 churches. The fortress and the village were completely destroyed by the terrible earthquake of 1349 which devastated the whole area (including the Abbey of Montecassino) and were consequently abandoned. It was then that a new settlement was built on the old site of the Roman city, the current urban center of Atina. However, some remains of the medieval fortification can still be seen today, including the round tower, the pentagonal gorge tower and a cistern for the collection and storage of rainwater, while outside there is a square tower, which probably guarded the access to the fortress and the village from the south-west (from Valle Giordana).

La Madonnella

On the southeast side of the hilltop between two magnificent stretches of polygonal walls, where there was probably one of the ancient gateways, a path descends and winds around a ridge leading to the area known as La Madonnella. It is a pleasant peaceful place from which you can enjoy views of the underlying countryside, the Mollarino stream and the majestic chain of the Central Appennines (the Monti della Meta and Mainarde).

My sincere thanks to Orazio Paolo Riccardi, Presidente of Atinart – Associazione di Arte e Cultura for his help with this section and for sharing his expertise.

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