The Castle and its Attack
During the Middle Ages, it was not rare at all to see some kind of fortress on top of a hill or a mountain, especially if the latter was overlooking important communication routes like rivers, lakes, valleys and mountains passes. The fortresses were there not only to promote trade and exchanges or to control the flow of goods and people, but they also had a defensive role, preventing plunderers and enemy armies from reaching major centres and slowing them down while waiting for reinforcements.
For centuries, Contigliano was one of Rieti’s strongholds and the main castle on the Canera Valley. The first written reference of the Castrum Quintiliani dates back to 1157, even though some kind of fortification was thought to be here as early as the 9th century. After a few centuries the fortress had already established its power over the whole valley, and a vicar of Rieti’s government lived here. Initially the local people, mostly shepherds and farmers, preferred to live downstream and exploit the lands of Rieti’s Plain, despite the Velino Lake slowly starting to re-form during the Middle Ages. However, due to the Saracenic invasions between the 11th and 12th centuries, the local people were forced to retreat inside Contigliano’s fortress. But this move did not assure them complete safety.
Firstly, in 1436 the castle, which was later retaken by Rieti, was conquered by the army of Iacopo Matteuccio de L’Aquila. He was in the service of Micheletto Attendolo Sforza, one of the forefathers of the powerful Sforza family in Renaissance Milan, who was in turn in the pay of the King of Naples. Secondly, on 7th August 1501 the castle was attacked by an army of mercenaries led by Vitellozzo Vitelli, who was in the service of Cesare Borgia at the time; the army murdered 127 and 5 women for denying them provisions (and, apparently, for throwing a rock in Vitellozzo’s face). Only 90 people survived, but they did not give up and in half a century they managed to rebuild Contigliano; since then, it has only known peace. However, the old castle was abandoned and more and more houses were built in the lower part of the village. Nothing is left of the castle today, other than the defensive walls and two gates, Porta de’ Santi and Porta Codarda.
Every year, the whole village comes together for the historical reenactment of that fateful August night of 1501, complete with the throwing of the rock. The event is called ‘Assalto al Castello’ (Attack on the Castle). Teams from all Contigliano’s districts compete in the ‘Palio dell’Ariete’, where ‘ariete’ stands in Italian for battering ram: in fact, the teams symbolically break down the Porta de’ Santi gate. During the week before the Palio, workshops and taverns open along the alleys in the village, where the best local dishes can be bought by using a special currency coined for the occasion.