Anagni stretches along the crest of a long hill, overlooking the Sacco Valley, at the foot of the mountains Ernici.
It has been famous since pre-Roman times due to it being a sacred city and capital of the proud people of the Ernici, who were defeated by the Romans in 306 BC. The glory of Anagni is shown in the emblem with the words ” HERNICA SAXA COLUNT QUOS DIVES ANAGNIA PASCIT” (the rich city of Anagni nourishes those who live in Ernici) – the quote being taken from a verse of Virgil’s Aeneid.
The sacred and political center of Anagni is located in the acropolis of pre-Roman origin, where today stands the medieval cathedral, and the town was originally protected by a ‘megalithic’ wall like many cities in southern Lazio.
These walls were then reused and transformed in Roman times according to the technique of “Servian” walls (IV-III century BC). The walls of the area called “Arcazzi” are very interesting, with three large arches supported by pillars isolated from the walls, which are connected by means of a pseudo-vault.
In the low plains, there are many Roman remains along the via Latina (today via Casilina) that connected Rome to Naples. The ancient ‘Anagnia’ was the summer home of the emperors Marcus Aurelius, Comodo, Lucio Settimo and Caracalla, who conferred the title of City.
With the Barbarian invasions, the inhabitants left the settlements in the plains and took refuge in the walls around the acropolis church and the historic city began its new medieval life.
The real splendor of Anagni came during the eleventh century when Anagni was the centre of international politics of the Middle Ages and the life of the papacy, especially thanks to the Caetani family.
It endowed the city with birth of four great popes: Innocent III, Gregory IX, Alexander IV and Boniface VIII and was also an official residence of the Popes. The pontiffs found here a prestigious safe haven and this is called the “The City of Popes”.
In 1160 during the battle between Alexander III and Frederick Barbarossa, the Pope promoted an assembly of cardinals and prelates to excommunicate the emperor for meeting, the antipope Victor IV and his supporters.
But the most famous episode is that of the ‘Slap of Anagni’ received by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 from Giacomo Sciarra Colonna during the fight against the French King Philip IV the Fair.
The city is dominated by the imposing medieval cathedral, which dates back to 1074, with a strong facade and the three apses. The interior, with three naves, has a mosaic floor made by the Master Cosma and his children.
From the side aisles, you descend into the beautiful crypt of San Magno, with cycles of frescoes by Benedictine masters documenting the transition from the Byzantine to the Romanesque painting technique.
After the medieval era Anagni was declared a fortified city and had to defend itself from attacks from the south, but in 1556 it suffered a “sacking” at the hands of the Duke of Alba, the viceroy of Naples. The conflict was called ‘Guerra del Sale’ (War of Salt) and sprang from the high fees that Pope Paul IV had put, and especially from the taxes on salt to the disadvantage of the southern salt marshes. The Duke bombarded Anagni and occupied it for ten months when he sacked and destroyed the main buildings.
In 1572, Anagni was chosen as a residence by Cardinal Benedetto Lomellino and with him began an economic recovery. In the 1600s and 1700s Anagni was enriched with new palaces and medieval churches were restored in Baroque style.
In the nineteenth century Anagni became a capital of knowledge thanks to construction of major colleges and study centres such as the college “Regina Margherita” in 1890, dedicated to the Queen of Italy, for the orphans of primary school teachers, and the imposing “Leoniano” 1897, by Pope Leo XIII Pecci for the teaching of priests.
In 1930 the boarding school “Principe di Piemonte” was built for male children of employees of local authorities, incorporating the magnificent St. Peter’s church in Vineis.
Anagni is home to the Center of Southern Lazio Studies. Every year there is an important event at the Festival of Medieval and Renaissance Theatre held in famous landmarks (among others, the Bonifacio VIII Palace, Casa Barnekow, Sala della Ragione).