Even after living decades in Italy, the discoveries remain endless. And small out-of-the-way hill towns can astound. As does the first site of Toffia:
Not long ago, Pino and I headed for the weekend just south of Rieti to the area of western Latium, la Sabina, Our primary destination was the Abbey of Farfa in the Sabine Hills.
Small hill towns clung to hillsides throughout the Sabina Valley…splendor along the route.
But when we rounded a corner, coming to the rocky outcrop of Toffia – church perched on the craggy spur like a watchful eagle.
We decided to stop and explore.
We found out in our explorations that Toffia has always been a town of contrasts, contested in the 10th-century by both the Abbey of Farfa and the Dukedom of Spoleto and centuries later, dominated by both the Roman noble families, Orsini and Colonna.
Its name probably derives from the term used by Latin authors, tophium, a rocky spur jutting out of the sea.
We entered the town through the 15th-century city-gate arch, Porta Maggiore.
Just opposite – to the left of the arch – one notes the perforation for the chain which hoisted the medieval drawbridge, for a moat once surrounded Toffia, a fortified castle.
…with the coat-of-arms of Toffia on a plaque to the right of the arch.
Though worn away over the centuries, one can still make out the symbol of Toffia: the Church of San Lorenzo in the center flanked by two towers representing the double jurisdiction that divided Toffia, first between the abbots of the nearby Farfa monastery and the dukes of Spoleto anb later between the Orsini and Colonna.
Across the piazzetta before Porta Maggiore, a limestone lion seems to look towards the city gate of this walled town where just over 1000 people live:
The lion – sculpted in 1st-c. B.C., links to the Roman period of Toffia and was found in a Roman tomb on the nearby Via Salaria
Just inside the arch, the Toffia obituary board on the left posted notification of the death of two citizens:
Antonietta Casarsa was 84 at the time of her death but is affectionately remembered by her husband (perhaps older?) as indicated.
Bruno Placidi died at home at the age of 92.
Seems that the tranquil small hill town of Toffia promises long life….
As we entered the main street of Toffia, Via Porta Maggiore, Pino studied with interest the palazzi medioevali e rinasicmentali (medieval and Renaissance palaces) lining the way:
As we wandered the Toffia winding alleyways….
….we were on our own…
Narrow alleyways opened to vistas of the surrounding wooded hiills
…and here and there, gates to the gardens flanking the palazzi were open, offering other breathtaking views:
Some palazzi needed restoration….
…while others had been finely restored, like the massive 16th-century Palazzo Orsini, now il Comune (City Hall)…
…and another palazzo, once a residence of the Roman Orisini family, Casa Orsini, 16th-century:
The early 17th-century Palazzo Palma, too, had been beautifuly restored.
Flanking the door, doves with olive branches in their beaks – symbols of peace – seemed to be a an augurial welcome to visitors:
We passed many an elegant Renaissance doorway as we headed to the church…
….most of them restored, but not each one:
Coats-of-arms, worn away over the centuries, surmounted more than one doorway……
…as did family monograms:
Over one palazzo entryway, faces flanked the coat-of-arms…
….perhaps the noble couple who had commissioned the palazzo, centuries ago…?
We soon arrived at the church, perched on the rocky outcrop at the edge of town which had drawn us to Toffia:
Pino read about the 17th-century Santa Maria Nuova church on his phone…..
….and I walked around to take a photo of the belltower….
….and of the view of Toffia from the church:
Certainly built on site of the Colonna family castello, the transformation into a church took place in the early 16th century with inauguration on the Feast of the Visitation, July 2nd, 1507; thus, Santa Maria Nuova is also known as “Santa Maria della Visitazione.”
A fire on the night of New Year in 1981 heavily damaged the church, destroying most of the frescoes, the majestic early 17th-century wooden altar and choir stall, the organ, the side chapels with frescoes and paintings sponsored by wealthy local families… …and much more.
In 1983, restoration was complete.
The church was closed when we were there
We will return certainly to Toffia, hoping to see it.
As we left Toffia, I noticed the “for sale” signs on a few of the Renaissance palazzi needing restoration.
I wonder if we’ll see them restored by new owners when we visit again..
Click here to see the video I made while we were in Toffia.
Click here to see the video of our lunch spot that day, before our visit to the Abbey of Farfa, nearby.
Mille grazie to the Toffia Facebook page for these photos: