Fiorella Costa Carlo Michele Cortellessa
There are at least two theories on the origin of the name of Toffia: one
of them is connected to the founder of the village, one Teofilo or Teobaldo,
another theory connects the name with the latin word "tophium",
sometimes used by Latin authors for the hard marine rock that Toffia is
The position of Toffia, on
a wedge shaped spur of rock, is obviously a defensive one, in fact what
we see of Toffia today dates from medieval times when it became necessary
to find sites which could be easily defended. Porta Maggiore,
the medieval gateway in front of the church of St. Lorenzo, once had a
drawbridge, and the holes through which the chains passed are still visible,
along with the guard posts and arrow slits.
Recent discoveries, however,
have confirmed that the area around Toffia was inhabited well before the
medieval period, during the Roman era and the "appennine" era,
1,000 -2,000 B.C.
In 1965, not
far from Toffia in the locality of Cerreto, some pottery fragments and
a bronze spear tip were recovered. Subsequent excavations revealed more
remains which throw some light on the population of the area and of the
Sabina in general.
As well as pottery fragments,
many animal remains were recovered, mostly domestic animals but also wild
boar. From these remains we can try to imagine the way of life of these
first inhabitants of the area. Their main activity was probably herding
of cattle and sheep, in an area, even more so then than now, rich in pasture
and water sources. Hunting of wild animals such as boar was probably a
Evidence from the excavations
suggests that the area was not continuously occupied, and this fits in
with what we know of the so-called "Appennine" culture, highly
mobile with periodical migrations and returns, most likely following the
pattern of pasture use. It was not whole villages that moved but small
family groups, moving their herds from the plains to the mountains and
Other archeological remains
from the prehistoric period have been found along the hills which run
parallel to the valley of Cerreto, in a straight line which suggests that
the track which today links Colle Rotondo and Toffia follows the line
of an ancient road used by the Appennine herders. The road started from
the Salaria (an ancient road still in use today), near the present day
crossroads for Ponticelli and passed through the gorge towards the River
This ancient road continued
to be used in subsequent periods, as can be seen from the presence of
imperial roman remains, including a large and luxurious roman
villa in the present day locality of Marignano. Like many other
Roman villas of this time it was divided into two sections, one connected
with agricultural activities and the a residential part for the owner.
The name of the Marignano
district probably derives from the latin Marianus or Marinianus, the owner
of the villa. It was built around the first or second century A.D., at
a time when population was increasing throughout the Sabina area, mostly
in scattered farms.
There are many Roman remains
scattered around Toffia, mostly of unknown provenance, though it is thought
that many of them come from Roman tombs near the Salaria. This is certainly
where the stone lion found at the entrance to Toffia
Other pieces include:
- two small marble heads in via Monte Cavallo at numbers
2 and 6
- a large stone in Piazza Lauretana known as the "marmo di
piazza" with two chessboards carved on it. The stone has
a good resonance and was used in monetary transactions to test the sound
of the coins.
- an ancient inscription at the base of the belltower
of the church of St. Maria Nuova. Other inscriptions once to be found
in the village have been lost.
- five Roman columns: one in limestone in Piazza Lauretana, next to the
entrance of the church, another walled into the corner of a house under
the rock, a third behind the church of St. Lorenzo and
another inside, and the last used in a small monument in the cemetery
to the right of St. Lorenzo.
It is thought that this church
was built on the remains of a pagan temple to Juno, although there is
no positive proof of this. However, incorporated into the facade of the
church, there are several antique carvings of unknown origin One of these
depicts three figures, one crowned with laurel, another a gladiator. Another
carving shows two figures seated next to a basket.
In the first centuries of Imperial
Rome the Sabina was densely populated with scattered farmhouses, so that
it was joked that the roman cats could travel from Rome to Terni by jumping
from one rooftop to another. With the passing of the northern invaders
who, having conquered northern Italy, were heading towards Rome, life
in the Sabina area changed completely. It was during the Longobard occupation
that the Duchy of Spoleto was founded, which expanded
to the Sabina area. In 640
one of these dukes became patron to the rebuilding, by Tommaso di Morienne,
of Farfa Abbey.
During the Longobard presence
in the Sabina the balance of power was constantly shifting between the
Duchy and the Church. This situation continued even after Charlemagne
replaced Longobard power in Italy, giving much of the region to the Church.
Farfa and the surrounding area were treated differently however. The Abbey
obtained important privileges and gifts of land, and in 774 Charlemagne
freed it from all civil and ecclesiastical obligations, bringing it directly
under imperial power.
Around the tenth century a new
wave of invasions, by the Saracens, forced the population to find new
ways of defending themselves. They began to move to higher, less accessible
places and build fortifications and castles. This also had the effect
of forcing them to live closer together. This kind of settlement was known
as a "Podium", a defensive construction which
is conserved in the names of many villages in the Sabina, as Poggio.
Toffia was also founded at
this time, a parchment found in the archive of the church of St. Lorenzo,
refers to the Saracen invasions and mentions the role of Farfa Abbey.
According to the parchment a certain Iacoprando d'Amiterno, escaping from
the Saracens, found a uninhabited locality called "Tophia",
which seemed an excellent refuge for him and his followers. Iacoprando
asked for and obtained permission from the Abbot to stay there and build
fortifications for the local population. Later on, a marquis of Spoleto,
Teobaldo, was allowed to build a castle, although this remained half under
the jurisdiction of the Abbey. This arrangement was the cause of much
friction between the Abbots of Farfa and the Dukes of Spoleto. One of
the Abbots, Morico, was even killed in suspicious circumstances whilst
taking refuge in the castle.
The struggle for possession
of the castle continued down the centuries, becoming a struggle between
two powerful Roman families, the Orsini and the Colonna,
who each occupied half of the village, dividing allegiances. This conflict
mirrored the larger scale conflict which the two families were conducting
in Rome. In 1560 the Orsinis ceded their palace in Toffia to the comune.
Palaces of Toffia
Within the walls there are many palaces, in varying states of
conservation, built by different families. Their doorways in particular
are worth noticing. These palaces include:
I n Via Porta Maggiore:
- Casa degli Oddoni
built around 1300, with a Sabine doorway and fresco of the Madonna.
- Palazzo Ruffetti,
or Bufalieri dating from 1400. At one time used as the
Seminary of Farfa Abbey.
- Palazzo Orsini,
nowadays home to the Comune, built around 1400 with guelf windows and
a loggia originally of four archways.
In Via Monte Cavallo:
- Palazzo Palma
built around 1600, it doorway has two doves holding olive branches carved
into the architrave.
- Palazzo Palica,
or Castellani, with two roman heads set over the doorways.
In Via Castel di Dentro:
- Casa Orsini,
or Castellani-Grio built around 1300
In Piazza Lauretana:
- Casa del Municipio
dating from 1500.
Translation by Kate Prandy
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Città di Castello 1914
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di notizie del paese Sabino. Roma 1790
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in possesso del parroco di Toffia, Don Azzelio. Roma 1958.