Alatri is perched around a hill not far from Frosinone in what is now colloquially called Ciociaria, though the ancients of the town of Alatri predated that term by well over 2000 years.
Alatri is hidden from much of the highways and byways leading to it, with the famous acropolis only coming into view as you come closer to the town. Interestingly, the small hilltop hamlet of Fumone stands on the horizon above Alatri.
We chose a perfect balmy winter’s morning and after parking outside the St Francis Gate we commence our wanderings walking through the archway. Passing on our left the small church of St Benedict whose apse wall seemed to overhang the Cyclopean walls beside the gate.
A few metres further on the narrow stone road, we pass an alley on the left with the sign ‘3 Grana’ on a low archway, a restaurant that at that time of the morning was still in the throes of awakening. The St Francis church and its old convent are above the restaurant, which must once have been part of the monastic buildings.
The inside of the church retains portions of some old frescoes including a traditional rendition of St Sebastian, but it had been renovated in inspiring and elegant baroque style, anything but traditional Francescan.
Leaving this church, we heard another church bell ringing and following the sounds we found ourselves in an area of town with banners of ‘Centro Commerciale Naturale’ devoted to artisans and small galleries.
Followed the bells through the alleys of Alatri, we arrived in the main square of the town facing the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Maggiore that was slowly disgorging the faithful from morning mass. Most people were condensing into small groups chatting near the fountain in the centre, or heading to one of the bars of the square.
Reversing the tide, we entered the church through the small left hand door to find a sign telling us that the church preserves important artworks, one of the most famous of which we immediately found. The Madonna of Constantinople is a polychrome wooden sculpture of the thirteenth century surrounded by 12 panels telling the story of Jesus and the Madonna. Nearby was a triptych known as the Redeemer by Antonio da Alatri.
The church has a rose window sculpted in white stones and its style is reputed to be French Gothic with round arches indicating its age. The artworks demand attention and we delayed the ladies from closing the church by several minutes as we admired the paintings, sculptures and architecture.
Once more outside we were drawn to the middle of the square occupied by the Fountain of Pius IX from 1870 that commemorates the new aqueduct arrived in town, funded by the pope in 1863.
Of particular interest for many visitors is a large sundial mounted on the wall of the Palazzo Conti Gentili on the north side of the square. The sundial is reported to tell the true time and the average time between 10 am and 4 pm, however despite the bright sun, I was unable to decipher its orological message.
We were still to find the cathedral on the acropolis so following some friendly advice, we walked back across Via San Francesco and ventured into Via del Duomo up the hill towards the Cyclopean Walls that were apparently barring the way at the top of the street. On this bright clear day the alleys and narrow streets were partly lit by the sun that brought out the various tinges of the ochres on the medieval and renaissance buildings.
The top of the cathedral appeared above the imposing Cyclopean walls of the Acropoli. The wall gave us options to go to the right and the left and we walked up the left ramp until reaching a pedestrian gate that allowed entry to the square. Gardens and trees on the Acropolis slowly revealed the façade of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The cathedral was built commencing in about 930 AD on the plan of the ancient temple so its grandeur respects the form and magnificence of a past temple. We walked up the long sloping steps and entered just at the beginning of worship of Sunday mass. After sharing some prayers accompanied by the orchestral music of the organ, we returned to the sunlight and admired God’s grace in the hills, snow-capped mountains and nearby towns.
The Acropolis was quiet with a few young children playing on the games equipment in the garden. To the right the stone steps led us down through the main gate underneath massive lintels in the walls. We recommenced our circumnavigation of the Acropolis, now in search of a coffee or juice. After finding the minor gate with its unusual phallic carvings and amazing large lintel, we retraced our steps to the town square and settled chatting over a pre-prandial drink.
‘Pranzo’ (lunch) called and so our searching for an ideal local taste. We went back to the ‘3 Grana’, in which restaurant we enjoyed wholeheartedly their Ciociarian hospitality and savoured some interesting books on the local area.
While our stroll of parts of Alatri finished after lunch, the day in the countryside had just started and we enjoyed the ancient Benedictine monastery waiting for the sunset inspiring light.