History of Vicalvi

The area of Vicalvi has been inhabited since the Paleolithic age. It became the territory of the Volsci people and then of the Samnites. Still visible are the remains of ancient cyclopean walls, dating from the 5th – 4th century BC. In ancient times the town was called  Alba dei Equicoli. Subsequently the name changed to Terra Vici Albi and Vicu Albu from which came the present day name of Vicalvi.

After the fall of the Roman empire, the Val di Comino suffered many attacks over the years. The earliest documentation of the first settlement of Vicalvi recounts that the town was attacked and invaded by the Lombards in 702 AD.  In 967 AD, following attacks by the Saracens, the Abbot Aligerno of the Abbey of Montecassino ordered that a chain of new strategic fortifications should be built to protect the Val di Comino. This included the building a formidible castle on a rocky outcrop which was once the site of a Roman acropolis. The castle had commanding views of the Val di Comino and the Valle del Liri.  It was further fortified by a double circuit of walls.  Count Oderisius was made master of it and thus the Medieval village of Vicalvi was founded.

In the early 13th century Vicalvi passed to the Counts of Aquino who further strengthened the fortification. Briefly the town was ruled by the Étendard family who restored it in a Gothic style. In 1349 a violent earthquake shook the Val di Comino which badly damaged the castle. Immediately after the earthquake Vicalvi passed to the Dukes of Cantelmo, who took up permanent residence in the castle of Alvito, leaving the castle of Vicalvi abandoned.

In 1574 Giulio Prudentio di Alvito wrote that the castle was a deed of the Monks, who were in San Nicandro and that they retreated there at times of turmoil. It was also recorded that the tower of La Rocca was constructed towards the east and other additional fortifications such as the mighty inclined escarpment designed for firearms. In 1600 it was described as being “a very strong fortress, high and impregnable”. It was here that Charles V took refuge with his troops during the battle against Francesco I  King of France. The castle was repeatedly attacked but rarely successfully.

Plaster Plaque from Villa Gallio Showing Vicalvi Italy © Tonino Bernardelli

However after this period the castle began to fall into decline and by the end of the 18th century local chronicles report of its complete abandonment. In the nineteenth century it was transformed into a nunnery.

During the Second World War the Germans utilized the castle as a military store for supplies to be sent to the front line, and as a military field hospital to treat wounded soldiers. The Germans are said to have painted the red cross on the castle to mark it out so as to deter the Allied Forces from bombing it. After the liberation from the German occupation New Zealand troops went on to use it as a depot for military equipment.

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