Sgurgola is a small Italian village laying on the slopes of Lepini Mountains, dominating the Sacco river valley. The village lies in Ciociaria (pronounced Chow-Chah-Reea), the historical area approximately corresponding to the province of Frosinone, in the region Latium.
Until 1927, before the province of Frosinone was founded, the village belonged to the province of Rome.
Sgurgola is about 24 kilometers (15 miles) away from Frosinone and about 70 kilometers (45 miles) from Rome.
The tradition tells the village was founded by Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator who led a slave uprising in 73-71 BCE (Third Servile War): this would explain the rebellious temperament which was ascribed (at least in the past) to the Sgurgolan people, which during the fascism period had many victims of political persecutions.
More likely the village was founded at the time of barbarian invasions, as a shelter for the peoples of Anagni, Ferentino and other villages of the environs, since its protected position allowed to control the valley below.
The ancient name of the village was in fact Sculcula, that could be a diminutive for the Late Latin (6th Century CE) word sculca, meaning “look-out”, in its turn derived from the gothic word skulka, meaning “spy”.
According to others the name could come from the many springs that gush out (in Italian “sgorgare”) from the limestone on which the village is built; in this case the etymology could be the same of Gorga, a village laying on the opposite slope (the Roman one) of the Lepini Mounts, just behind Sgurgola.
Actually Sgurgola’s area was inhabited since the oldest ages, as testified by the rock-out chamber tomb attributed to the Chalcolithic age (III Millennium BCE), of a man of about 30 years of age, found in 1880 in a cave near the railway station.
The burial is now exposed at the Pigorini museum in Rome, along with its grave goods, including flintstone arrowheads, a stone axe-hammer, ogival heeled copper dagger and a small earthenware (“impasto”) flask-shaped pot. The cheek and upper jaw bones of the skull was tinted with cinnabar. This is an evidence of rituals following the burial and the decomposition of the corpse.
In the hamlet of Villamagna, not far from the railway station, the ruins of a Roman villa of the late imperial age can be seen.
The oldest written data about Sgurgola can be found in Papal bull issued by Urban II on August 21st 1088, where the castle named “Castrum Sculcule” was alloted Pietro, bishop of Anagni, with other castles of the area, including that of "Villam Magnam”.
The history of Sgurgola is marked by several rule turns between the different feudal families: from the counts of Ceccano to the Torellis, to the Caetanis and finally to the Colonnas.
The tradition says that in 1303 Sgurgola was the scene of some of the events which led to the “Anagni slap”.
The population of Sgurgola increased very much in the 18th century, when the lowlands along the Sacco river were tilled, and the built-up area extended from the central core around the castle (Rocca), towards the area of the present main street (Corso Repubblica) and towards via del Carpino.
As Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, in 1870, a large number of persons was drawn there from every part of Italy, and many of them came from Sgurgola, due to its closeness and to the new railway. Many of the people from Sgurgola worked just in the State Railways and went and live in the “railwaymen houses” in the Roman quarter of San Lorenzo, near the railway station.
As previously said, Sgurgola was the site of social struggles and antifascist Resistance (see my page on my gramndfather Medoro Pallone).
Starting from the fifties of last century, a great development took place in the area, thanks to the establishment of the Cassa del Mezzogiorno (a development fund for Southern Italy).
Later on, in the sixties, the Rome-Naples motorway (Autostrada del Sole) was built. This made many factories rise in the Sacco valley in the sixties, mainly of pharmaceutical and plastic industries, where many workers from Sgurgola are still employed. At the beginning of third millennium, the construction of the Rome-Naples fast railroad modified once more the valley.
Many people from Sgurgola dwell in the village and work in Rome, thanks to the fast (even if not frequent and efficient) transports.
Beyond the industries in the valley, the Sgurgolan economy is based on vine and olive trees cultivation: the olives produced in the village are processed by a local cooperative olive mill. Moreover domestic size farms breed fowls and rabbits, while in the valley cattle (mainly dairy breeds) and sheep are reared, even if the recent events that caused the pollution of Sacco river and other watercourses seriously damaged the local breeders.
In Sgurgola were born the physician Pietro Sterbini (1793-1863), a patriot, Minister of Public Works of the Roman Republic of 1849 and fellow of Giuseppe Mazzini, and the dialect poet Attilio Taggi (1867-1950).
You get in the village by the Casilina National Road and then by the Morolense road (see the itinerary below); a bridge, maybe of Roman origin, crosses the river Sacco, which creates a little waterfall.
Beside the bridge an embattled tower of medieval origin can be seen; its name is Mola Colonna, and probably it was once a defense for the bridge, but then it was used as a watermill (mola means “millstone”), exploiting the Sacco water motive power.
The Mola is 17,5 metres (58 ft) high and it has a square section with a 7 metres (23 ft) side; it had three floors (just one left), and of the ancient military purpose it still shows loop-holes topped by square small windows.
The tower was restored several times in the centuries and for a short time it was also a power station that provided lighting for the villages of Sgurgola, Morolo and Supino.
In 2003 the tower was acquired by the municipality and the former mayor, who was the Berlusconi band director (Honi soit qui mal y pense) placed there the Musical Bands Museum; the tower is partly still under restoration.
After crossing the river, another bridge crosses the railway (just before it, on the right side there’s a crossroad to Villamagna), then the road climbs towards the village, and after some bend you get in the village by via della Pietra Rea (Bad Stone road).
In this road actually, in spite of what the Italian Touring Club guide maintains, nobody can show you the famous stone on which the conspirators headed for Anagni for the slap were harangued.
The roads ends with the square known as “Muraglione”, which in reality is named “dell’Arringo”, always referring to the events of 1303 (arringa means “harangue”).
On the Muraglione square a war memorial can also be seen; beside it a wall fragment with a fresco (maybe representing Saint Sebastian and other saints) is remnant of the 13th-century small church of the Arringo, now destroyed.
The most remarkable thing in the square is the belvedere with a beautiful view on Sacco valley, on Ernici mountains and, farther, the Roman Castles.
From Muraglione square begins the Corso (Corso della Repubblica), where the “struscio”, the traditional Sunday walk up and down the main road, takes place.
The Corso ends in piazza Pietro Sterbini (simply known as “la piazza”), where the mid-18th century parish church of Santa Maria Assunta rises, with its recent (1966) bricks façade including the original wide rectangular portal of limestone monoliths. The three bronze gates of the church are a work of the Anagni sculptor Pietro Gismondi (1906-2003). The ancient bell tower rises apart, on the right hind side of the church (on via 2 giugno), and rests on a rock block.
Also in piazza Sterbini the massive late 19th century clock-tower can be seen; it has three storeys and rests on a wide round arch, after which on the right side the town hall rises.
Just beyond the clock-tower arch, on the left, a stairway climbs to the impressive ruins of the castle (la Rocca), consisting of the mere base, topped by a pine, whose outline can be seen from far away, even from the motorway.
The alleys around the castle are very picturesque: they are narrow, winding, often with steps, and by their dimensions the quarter is known as “bùcio pellìccio” that is “hole of the sieve”.
Coming down from the castle or from piazza Sterbini by via del Carpino (Hornbeam road), on the left a road goes down to the quarter of San Giovanni (Saint John), where the baroque church with the same name rises, with its 1888 frescoed ceiling.
Besides the church there is a square with a small garden and a terrace, even if less panoramic than the Muraglione.
Coming down again on via del Carpino, after a plain stretch, the road climbs to the cematary, which is beside the small church of Santa Maria in Viano, in ancient enclosed to a Cistercian convent, of which few remains are left. For this reason the little church is better known as “la Badia” (the Abbey) and so is marked on the road signs.
La Badia has very ancient origins, dating back at least to the eleventh century, and it lodged the daughters of the most important feudal families of the region, in quality of abbesses or simple nuns.
The church has an asymmetric hut façade, with a one light window by one side and a mullion window with two lights on the other; coming in from the large square you reach a vestibule with a stone portal, which gives access to the church.
On the lunette that tops the portal lintel, there is a Byzantine style fresco representing a bust of Jesus Christ, with the right hand raised to bless and the left one bearing an open book.
On the slopes of the mountain, few hundreds meters above the village, the ruins of the thirteenth century small church of San Nicola (Saint Nicholas), can be seen. The ruins consist of white limestone walls, in which two floors can be identified; the remains of a cross vault, a lateral door and, on the main portal, a lunette, can also be seen.
Beside the small church begins a narrow drift in the mountain, from which in winter a stream runs down to the village.
From San Nicola you can leave for excursions on the Lepini mounts, which are full of forests, springs and caves.
Halfway up on the mountain, southwards to the village, a path reaches San Leonardo hermitage, at an altitude of 693 metres (230 ft), raised on the ruins of a monastery which belonged to the congregation of Santo Spirito di Maiella, which later was named Celestini congregation, as well as its founder Pietro da Morrone was made Pope in 1284, with the name of Celestine the Fifth.
The same congregation owned also the settlements of Sant’Antonio Abate in Ferentino and Sant’Antonio in Supino. The date of foundation of the hermitage is uncertain, but it is probably very ancient.
Saint Leonard of Noblat lived in the 6th century and is the patron saint of Sgurgola since 1200.
His statue is usually kept in the hermitage and on November 6th, on the occasion of the festival of the patron, it is taken in procession with torches and fireworks to the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta.
After the feast, which includes also a traditional fair, the statue is taken back in procession to the hermitage.
Near San Leonardo a perennial spring gushes out, and another source, Fonte dell’Acero (Maple spring), is not far away.
How to get there:
By train: Rome-Naples line via Cassino – stop at Sgurgola (68 km/43 mi from Rome). In the station no tickets can be bought or stamped. The village is 4,2 km/2.6 mi far and can be reached by bus (CO.TRA.L. or Corsi & Pampanelli); the bus ticket can be bought at the newsagent over the railroad bridge (300 metres from the station). If you need to reach the station from the village you can get the tickets at the tobacconist in corso Repubblica.
By car: Rome-Naples Motorway (A2) at 12 km/7.5 mi from the village. Go out at Anagni-Fiuggi station, after the tollgate turn right (direction: Anagni) and after 100 mt. turn right at the slope for Frosinone (National Road SS n.6, Casilina); after about 4 km/3.5 mi, just passed a small village (Osteria della Fontana), turn right for Sgurgola (Via Morolense. Beware: the turn is just after a hump and a bend). Now keep on the main road until next fork: don’t turn left to Morolo, but keep ahead to Sgurgola (follow the signs). Go down the slope, under the fast railroad, cross a bridge on a waterfall, beside an ancient tower, and another on the railroad, then, at the next fork, stride on, up the slope; the road climbs for about 3 km/2 mi, and after several bends you get in the village.
Instead of the motorway you can take the via Casilina (National Road SS n.6) from Rome, and as you reach Osteria della Fontana just follow the indications given above for the motorway route.