Welcome to the "New" Friends

Welcome to the "New" Friends

Monday, 15 April 2013

A Little About Casperia - Where You Will Find Friends Café

Friends Café is located in the town of Casperia in the Sabine Hills about an hour and a quarter drive northeast of Rome.
Casperia is a town of basalt-cobbled streets winding up and down interlaced with twisting alleys. It is a fascinating cross between a 1100 year-old stone snakes and ladders board and a 3D Escher painting. And calories consumed at a lunch and dinner at Friends can be easily burned off by an exploratory stroll through Casperia's streets. 
Casperia's centro storico is off limits to car traffic. Don't forget to take your camera along for the walk.
Though the medieval town has a history that stretches back to the 900s, the name Casperia itself dates from 1947. The historic name of the village was Aspra Sabina. There are a number of conflicting theories about the origin of the name. Aspra means harshness, and the name is thought by some to reflect the rocky ruggedness of the defensive position the town was built on. Another theory is that the name derives from a local noble family, the Asproni, who once held sway here.

Remains of Roman funerary monument beside the road at Paranzano
The remains of two sizable Roman villas and aqueducts in the nearby frazioni (villages) of Paranzano and Santa Maria in Legarano attest to the fact that the region around Aspra supported a flourishing agricultural economy. One of these villas in Paranzano is reputed to have belonged to Marcus Antonius Pallas, the powerful freedman of Antonia Minor, the daughter of Mark Anthony and the mother of Emperor Claudius. The name Paranzano apparently derives from Pallantianum, a reference to the land and the villa owned by Pallas. Marcus Antonius Pallas figures prominently in Robert Graves’ novel I Claudius and the TV series that grew out of it. 

Several significant archeological artifacts and cultural treasures were unearthed in the villa sites. Sadly, the two magnificent marble nymphs unearthed in Paranzano in 1871 were carted out of the Sabina and sold off to foreign owners. Today, one is housed in the Museum of Art and History in Geneva (see below), while the other is on display in the Carlsberg Museum in Copenhagen.

As if this amazing Roman pedigree was not enough, there were those who claimed that Aspra's history stretched back even furthur to an ancient Sabine settlement called Casperia which is mentioned in Virgil's Aeneid. Despite the fact that underground Sabine aquaducts dating from the 5th and 4th century BC have been discovered in the immediate area, there is no objective evidence to support the theory that modern day Casperia has any connection to that ancient Sabine city.

Whatever its origins, Aspra became a free comune in 1189 and during the 13th and 14th centuries, it was one of the most powerful towns in the Sabina. There are two sets of town walls, the oldest nearer the top of the hill are now largely invisible, having been incorporated into a number of buildings. The current outside walls date from 1282 and are pierced by two gates, the Porta Romana, closest to the modern car park, the bank and all the other local amenities mentioned earlier, and the Porta Santa Maria which leads to the road to Rieti. There is an interesting clock above this later gate which was designed to tell the time according to the canonical hours.

At the town's highest point is a lovely piazza overlooked by the venerable San Giovanni Battista Church with its stately Romanesque bell tower. Its monumental Presepe, or Nativity Scene, in the back of the church incorporates many of Casperia's buildings and is a wonder to behold.
Aspra was renamed Casperia in 1947. This was partially out of a desire by the town council to give prestige to their borgo through its association with the Virgilian epic, but more importantly the change came about in order to avoid confusion with another Aspra in Italy, this one in Sicily.

Today, Casperia is home to about 1200 inhabitants. Its pristine rustic rural setting and spectacular medieval streetscapes, combined with a proud history, culture and Sabine identity, not to mention a good number of cultural festivals and close proximity to other Sabine attractions, make it an unforgettable vacation destination.

Sunset over the Sabine Hills from Friends Cafe
In 2004, the Italian Touring Club awarded Casperia the prestigious Bandiera Arancione (Orange Flag), their seal of approval for environmental tourism, in recognition of the authenticity and preservation of Casperia's historic centre. 

So if you haven't visited our little town yet, please come by, and while you are here, drop by for some refreshments at Friends. We have a great little menu with some traditional regional favourites like Stringozzi with Ragù and Bruschette drizzled with Sabina's legendary D.O.P. olive oil.  

Friends Café awaits, and we look forward to serving you.

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