Castelforte in South Lazio
Castelforte is situated in the lower foothills of the Aurunci Mountains, at a height of 130 metres above the sea level. It overlooks the River Garigliano and the coastal plains. Castelforte is surrounded by the greenery of olive groves, orange groves and vineyards.
The History of Castelforte
The town is thought to have been founded on the ruins of an ancient settlement, named Vescia, which was the capital city of the Ausoni people. This was finally invaded and destroyed by the Romans in 342 BC. New settlements occurred from 881 to 915 during the time of repeated Saracen invasions. The local people found themselves vulnerable, especially those that lived and worked down on the plains, so they fled this area seeking refuge in the higher reaches. Thus the fortified town known as Castrum Forte was formed.
In 1320 many inhabitants from the nearby fortification at Suio also moved here to flee from an outbreak of malaria. Castelforte was then ruled by the Caetani family who built a castle and a tall watchtower which had dominating views of the coast and the plain of the Garigliano below. The town was also protected by strong fortified walls, guarded by cylindrical towers. Both of the strongholds of Castelforte and Suio guarded the fast flowing River Garigliano, which served as an important inland waterway, connecting Montecassino and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Due to its strategic importance the Garigliano was the site of numerous fierce battles over the ages.
The first, fought in 915, was between the forces of the Christian League – a coalition of Pope John X and some loyal Christian princes from southern Italy, against the Saracens who themselves had established a fortified colony near the River Garigliano. They were finally expelled following the Christian victory over the Saracens, which ended this long period of terror and plunder.
In 1503 another Battle of the Garigliano was fought, this time between the French forces of Louis XII and the the army of the Holy League (which included troops from Spain, Austria, Milan, the Pope and Venice) lead by the Spanish general Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba. This outcome resulted in the Spanish gaining control of the Kingdom of Naples.
In 1798 / 1799, during the invastion of the troops of Napoleon local citizens fought alongside the notorious brigand, Fra Diavolo, to prevent the French from entering the town. However following a fierce and bloody battle the town eventually was taken by the French on Easter Day of the year 1799.
In 1807 Suio, which found itself severely depopulated, became part of the municipality of Castelforte. Today Suio had regained its independence.