The geography of the Sabina home
Nature and the Environment 
About 40 kilometres east of Rome the Sabina region extends from the banks of the river Tiber towards the Sabini Mountains, part of the Apennine chain of mountains which runs the length of Italy. The landscape is one of rolling, olive tree covered foothills, rising to steeper, forested mountainsides, scattered with medieval hill towns, castles and monasteries, a landscape that has remained unchanged for centuries and largely untouched by modern development. Map of Italy showing the Sabina

The Sabina has been inhabited and cultivated for thousands of years, archaeological remains show that the area was used in Roman times to produce food for the capital further down river. Strabo, writing in the 1st century BC, describes the landscape of the Sabina as one of olive groves, vineyards and extensive oak woods and it is amazing how well this description still applies today. Although the landscape has been strongly influenced, even created, by the activities of human beings, it has been a centuries- long process, during which agricultural practices have remained constant, achieving a natural equilibrium. This can be partly explained by the topography of the area which makes large scale intensive farming impractical but is well suited to the production of olive oil. typical  landscape of the Sabina

n fact geography has had a profound influence on the development and history of the region. The sheer number and density of settlements during the medieval period show that the area was well populated, during a period when population as a whole was in decline in Europe. There are a number of reasons for this. The most important factor for the siting of a medieval settlement was defence, the hilltops and mountain spurs provided ideal sites for the construction of walled towns which could be easily defended. A quick survey of place names in the area shows that a large proportion include the word 'monte' (mountain), 'colle' (hill), or 'poggio' (hill or knoll). A second reason was climate, the foothills of the Sabina face south and are protected in winter from north winds by the mountains behind them, making the area significantly warmer than others, further inland. Combined with an abundance of water the warm climate made agriculture relatively easy, contributing to the prosperity of the region and allowing it to support a large population. The extensive woodlands also provided a rich source of forest products. Another advantage of the hilltop sites, in terms of climate, was (and still is) that they escaped the thick fogs which form in the Tiber valley during winter and remained well ventilated and cool in summer. In fact it is rare to find any construction more than 100 years old in the valley bottoms. Rocchette (Torri in Sabina)

Today this trend is reversing as peoples' priorities change. There are no major roads in the area and the remoteness of the higher mountain villages have contributed to their depopulation in recent years, many are left with a population of only two or three hundred residents. In contrast, many people have moved into the valley bottoms to be closer to road and rail links, including those who commute into Rome to work, and it is here that modern development has mostly been concentrated, leaving the medieval centres unspoilt and intact -if empty. It is to be hoped that responsibly managed tourism and the increasing importance of telecommunications, along with the pride and determination of their residents, will be able to save these remoter villages from being completely abandoned in the future. Bocchignano (Montopoli)


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