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It is a late-medieval town nestled gently on Colle Cerreto Piano along the Via Salaria, the ancient Roman road, 10 km from Rieti. Behind it, to the north, rises Monte Terminillo (m. 2216) while at its feet flows the river Velino. In the location of Santa Rufina, Cupaello, different minerals have been found.

Founded in 1308 by King Charles II of Anjou, it was called Città Ducale in honour of Roberto, Duke of Calabria, son of Charles and heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Naples. At that time  it represented the northernmost bastion (after Civitella del Tronto ). This aspect remained intact even when the realm took the name of Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

It passed from the domination of the Angevins to the Aragonese, and it obtained the privilege to coin money and proved true to the Aragonese while having to withstand continuous struggles against Rieti in defense of the Kingdom of Naples. During the sixteenth century it obtained the title of City and became the seat of the diocese under Pope Alexander VI. It was given in fief by Emperor Charles V to his daughter Margaret of Austria, who was married to Ottavio Farnese.

After the domination of the Farnese, came under the direct authority of the Bourbons of Naples, and was administratively included in the province of Abruzzo Ulteriore Secondo, with capital L’Aquila, until 1861; it was frontier land, and home to an important customs point near the village of Santa Rufina, where the old state border ran which, until 1927, was still the provincial border between Abruzzo and Umbria.

In the first half of the nineteenth century near Cittaducale what is remembered as the first battle of the Risorgimento took place, the battle between the Austrian army and the Neapolitan troops commanded by Guglielmo Pepe.