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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 built upon.

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.


The Appennine Herders
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 secondary activity.

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 back.

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 Farfa.


The Roman Era
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 comes from.

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.


The Invading Northerners
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.


The Castle
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.


Historic 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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- A. Vico, Brevi Memorie di Toffia Sabina. Fotocopie del testo dattiloscritto in possesso del parroco di Toffia, Don Azzelio. Roma 1958.


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