Castles and towers of Labro
In 956 Otto I, King of Italy and Germany and future Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, gathered all settlements around Labro under the control of Aldobrandino de’ Nobili, to whom he gave the title of Lord of Labro and the coat of arms with the imperial eagle and a fish to symbolise his fishing rights.
In the 10th century the Nobili coterie had already built on Labro’s hill a castle similar to Spoleto’s fortress. The Nobilis were probably related to the Marsi (in the Abruzzi) and Rieti’s counts, who had erected several castles on the Western Apennines in Central Italy.
Aldobrandino now owned Labro and other 12 castles between the Duchy of Spoleto and the County of Rieti, among Rieti’s Mountains, the Tiber Valley and Lake Piediluco. During the Late Middle Ages the Nobilis were uncontested lords of the entire valley floor from Leonessa to Terni, even after when, in the 11th century, they had to donate to the chapter of Rome’s Archbasilica of St. John in Lateran the fourth part of Labro, Grumulo, Apoleggia, Bellicosa, Morro, Melaci, Cocoione and Moggio, in exchange of help and protection against the Norman invasion.
The Nobilis later regained possession of their castles, and the remains of Morro and Moggio’s fortification are still visible today. In Morro’s municipality, in the suburb of Torricella, there are also the ruins of another tower, hidden by vegetation but easily reachable through a path beginning in front of St. Mary’s Church.
Labro, which also owned the rich-in-truffles area on which Colli sul Velino stands today, called ‘Colli di Labro’ (Labro Hills) until 1962, earned the reputation of fierce village, being often pitted against the neighbouring castles, especially Luco’s fortress. Because of this situation and of the excommunication of Giovanni de’ Nobili after killing a priest, in the 15th century the Nobilis lost their dominion, and the castle of Labro, with its high tower crowning the hill, was mostly destroyed.
Today, you can go back in time and use your imagination to relive Labro’s noble past, travelling through roads and paths that link, among lakes and hills, the old hamlets and castles of Rieti’s Valley which represented these lands’ main players during the Middle Ages.
Facing Labro, on a hill descending on beautiful Lake Piediluco, is the Albornoz Fortress, the old Luco Castle. The importance of fortifications like those of Luco and Labro is in their strategic position of control on the roads and waterways represented by Lake Piediluco and Rieti’s lake (Lake Velino had re-formed during the Middle Ages). We know that Piediluco’s fishermen were not allowed to go over Grumolo, which led into Rieti’s lake. Grumolo has been now identified with the Morro Vecchio Tower, another old outpost of Labro, of which only ruins remain on a wooded hill which, like the village of Montisola (literally, ‘mount island’), was at the time a lake island. And there was the Torrone harbour, facing the Ripasto (Reopasto) inn, which belonged to the Nobilis since 1357; here is now a beautiful mansion, just a few miles from Greccio’s Sanctuary and next to the Velino river, which falls into the Nera river forming the Marmore’s Falls.
Do not forget, before heading to Leonessa and passing the old enemy outpost of the Fuscello Tower, to stop at the medieval village of Rivodutri, where a castle used to be; in the 19th century, some men from Rivodutri managed to take Cocoione’s castle by terrorising the inhabitants while wearing Zanno masks, the mischievous character from local folklore.