At 70 km from Rome and over 1000 meters of altitude, sits Cervara di Roma, the highest village in the province of Rome and one of the most unusual: a mountain village nestled in the Simbruini Park on the border with Abruzzo, steeped in art and loved by artists.
Its history began with the Equi, a pre Roman population of which there are not many traces. Its name derives from the large number of deer that were once present in this area that was donated to the great Abbey of Subiaco by Cesario, leader and consul, on August 21 of 883.
The village has a medieval appearance and was founded around an X-XI century fortress that the Benedictines built to defend themselves from Saracen raids. The walls of the fortress have been incorporated in the houses but are still recognizable in the profiles of the houses.
According to a legend, the village was founded by a group of Saracens who escaped the battle of Vicovaro in 926.
And certainly the Benedictine monks controlled the fortress and Cervara di Roma until the eighteenth century with an interval of only three years. In fact, in 1273 the monk Pelagius declared himself abbot and broke away from the Monastery of Subiaco. The Pontifical army intervened and in 1276 returned Cervara di Roma to the protective wing of the Abbey.
During the sixteenth century, with the Colonna family, Cervara di Roma became an important point of passage for all the shepherds who went from Abruzzo to the sea and vice versa during the stock migration. His first statute dates back to 1536.
Its position on the border between the Papal State and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies has led it to be repeatedly the object of attention by brigands such as the famous Marco Sciarra. Marco was a sort of Robin Hood and called himself “Marcus Sciarra, flagellum Dei, et commissarius missus a Deo contra usurarios et detinentes pecunias otiosas” (“Marco Sciarra, scourge of God, and sent by God against usurers and those who gain money unproductively”).
All the farmers supported him and his figure is surrounded by many legends that portrayed him as a gentleman bandit. Marco Sciarra ended his career in glory fighting for a certain period for the Republic of Venice before returning to the Papal States and being betrayed and killed by a comrade who sought the pardon of the Church.
Cervara has its own charm that has attracted artists since the early 1800s Grand Tour artists who have portrayed the town with many different styles.
Many of the paintings depicting models of Cervara di Roma in their traditional dress are exhibited in the top museums such as “The Women of Cervara” by Ernest Hebert at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. In the Herbert house-museum in Grenoble you can still see many vintage costumes of the women of Cervara. The Austrian Oskar Kokoschka lived here in 1930.
The “Notturno per Cervara”, a poem by the Spaniard Rafael Alberti, is written on a wall in the square and the master Ennio Morricone, an honorary citizen, has performed it. But it is also said that Bizet’s Carmen was composed in this characteristic mountain village of Cervara di Roma.
Today Cervara is a tourist town and, in the upper part of Campaegli at 1400 meters, there are mountain settlements with wooden houses surrounded by forest and karstic plateaus. Here you can practise all outdoor sports: from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter to horse riding and trekking in the summer.