In so many ways, the Romans are ingrained in our ways of thinking. Many of our fundamental thoughts about life have been shaped and tested by the Romans and their writing.
Cicero is among those writers. A formidable Roman politician of the late Republic and a fierce defender of the constitution, he was certainly the greatest Roman orator and the innovator of what is now called Ciceronian rhetoric. And we know how the power of rhetoric matters even today.
Arpino is a village high in the mountains of the Ciociaria, a region between Rome and Naples that offers a large variety of landscapes including hills, countryside and splendid valleys flanked by mountain peaks
Silver-tongued Cicero was born in 106 BC in Arpino (the old Arpinum), a beautiful borgo in the Frosinone province, and was killed at Formia in 43 BC while fleeing from political enemies — his criticism of Mark Anthony got him murdered.
Cicero’s birthplace is about 100 kilometers south of Rome. Arpino is a village high in the mountains of the Ciociaria, a region between Rome and Naples that offers a large variety of landscapes including hills, countryside and splendid valleys flanked by mountain peaks. The name Ciociaria comes from Ciocie, the bark clogs worn in the area until a couple of decades ago.
Cicerone statue in Arpinio
Cicero mentioned Arpino several times in his works. In his book “De Legibus” (On the Laws), Cicero uses his family estate at Arpinum as a platform for expounding his theories on the natural law of harmony among the classes. The book opens with Cicero, his brother Quintus and their friend Atticus walking through the shaded groves of his estate when they happen across an old oak tree linked by legend to the general Gaius Marius, who was a native of Arpinum as well.
“Cicero’s family owned a wool plant here,” says Luciano Rea, president of the Arpino tourist office.
Not distant from Cicero’s estate, a tower was erected in honor of him in medieval times
Visitor enters the beautiful town through viale Belvedere.
According to legend, Arpino was founded by god Saturn.
As a modern Cicerone, Mr. Rea guides us through the picturesque borgo where you can enjoy a breathtaking view on the Liri valley in the Central Apennines, the widest part of the mountain chain with the highest peaks.
The picturesque village of Arpino
“Arpino is a lesser known jewel of Ciociaria,” Luciano says.
The city hall at Piazza Municipio is worth a visit. It displays busts of three great natives of Arpino: Cicero, Gaius Marius and Giuseppe Cesari, also known as Cavalier d'Arpino, who was Caravaggio’s early master in Rome.
You can admire some of the Cavalier d’Arpino’s masterpieces in the churches of San Vito and San Michele.
Other notable people also were born, lived or were famously associated with this little town. “The family of film legend Marcello Mastroianni was from here and Ennio Morricone’s grandfather as well. His nonno played in the Arpino marching band,” Luciano says.
The film “Splendor” directed by Ettore Scola, with leading actors Marcello Mastroianni and Massimo Troisi, was filmed in the late 80s in Arpino. Mr. Rea says that Marcello ordered sagne e fagioli every day as he sat in a local restaurant. This fertile area of Ciociaria inspired several pasta dishes and this rustic peasant primo is certainly a hit.
“Marcello asked for his own version of sagne e fagioli without sauce, in bianco,” Luciano adds.
Another son of Arpino is Pasquale Rotondi, superintendent of artistic heritage in the Marche and a real Italian “Monuments Man” during WWII, who saved about 10,000 art works from bombings and Nazi theft. The Monument Men were a team of art experts who protected priceless cultural treasures in war zones.
About 3 kilometers above Arpino, the ancient acropolis of Civita Vecchia sits at the top of the mountain, some 627 metres above sea level. Civita Vecchia was the original settlement of a local tribe, the Volscians, in 7th to 6th centuries BC.
Here there is a tremendous stretch of Cyclopean wall that includes a rare gateway with a pointed arch (arco a sesto acuto). There are probably only two in existence like this — one in Greece and one in Arpino.
Olive groves and medieval houses still used as everyday homes fill this stunning part of Arpino.
Cicero lived in this area. Not distant from Cicero’s estate, a tower was erected in honor of him in medieval times. The Cicerone Tower still stands in a panoramic position with breathtaking views on the Liri valley, the ancient Volscian town of Sora and the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise. The tower reopened last May after renovation.
Every May students from all over the world descend on Arpino for the Cicero challenge, a competition of Latin translation and commentary on a Cicero’s text. The Certamen Ciceronianum Arpinas is organized by the Center for Humanistic Studies “Marco Tullio Cicerone”.
Soon, from August 18 to August 20, it will be time to celebrate the Gonfalone, a Palio among the contrade that features six different races including a traditional female competition with six girls running and wearing a cannata, a heavy clay pot that was used to carry water in the old times.
For sea-lovers it needs to be said that Arpino is an enchanting stay not too far from the sea: the Gulf of Gaeta. On the coast, there can be no better place than tiny Sperlonga.