The fortified village
The fortified village of Upper Cantalice, that its inhabitants share with a colony of friendly cats which they care for, is made up of narrow cobbled alleys, little arches and stone staircases, from where you can enjoy the unforgettable view of Rieti’s Plain below.
Around the Cassero Tower, erected in the 11th century and located near the abandoned church in ruins consecrated to St. Andrew, is the oldest part of the village, where the houses, which have been in the exact same spot for the last 800 years, almost merge, both in shape and colour, with the rocky spur Cantalice was built on. You can get to the Tower through a bottleneck among the medieval bastions, where there is also a 16th-century inscription dating back to the time of Emperor Charles V and his daughter Margaret of Parma. The tower, straight on one side and cylindrical on the other, is the most visible trace of the history of this proud village, which fended off Rieti’s attacks, in the Papal States, with such grit and tenacity to deserve the motto ‘Fortis Cantalicia Fides’ from the Kingdom of Naples.
Going up and down the 546 steps in the village, passing by Renaissance churches and the arcade of the old town hall, you can see that some doors have a ‘gattarola’, a hole which lets cats get in and out. One of the prettiest little squares opening between alleys is Piazza del Ballo, an harmony of staircases, arches, benches, doors and windows decorated with flowers, with tiny streets going up and down at ever corner. This is the perfect spot to enjoy the medieval ambience of the charming village that is Cantalice. One of the oldest palazzos is, instead, Palazzo Ramacogi, with its external five-arcade loggia dating back to the 16th century, visible from the square of Piazza del Popolo.
Following the winding road from Upper to Lower Cantalice, you should stop in front of the Scentella Fountain. Here is the miraculous rock from which, according to legend, the holm oak after which Cantalice was named sprang to life. In fact, the toponym Cantalice seems to come from the words ‘κατά’ (Greek) and ‘ilex’ (Latin): near the holm oak. People thought that this rock facilitated fertility and was hence particularly worshipped by the locals. It arrived at the Scentella during the 13th century because of the pope, who was worried by the almost heathen devotion people of the village were paying to it.