The name of the village of Cantalice derives from Cata Ilex and refers to a holm oak that, according to tradition, was born in the cleft of a rock behind the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The first records of the village date back to 1081 and its strategic importance was confirmed by the fact that it was chosen as a stronghold by Rocca di Sotto, Rocca di Sopra and Rocchetta to defend themselves from enemies.
After being given to King Charles of Anjou in the 13th century by the Pope, to better protect him from the Germanic people and the Swabians, Cantalice went through a period of hard fighting against the cities of Rieti and L'Aquila, against which it triumphed thanks to the help of the Aragonese. Its period of maximum splendour came during the rule of Margaret of Austria in 1571. This was followed by the decay of the village due to the presence of brigandage and the internal struggles between the seigniories of the village.
What to see in Cantalice
When you arrive in Cantalice, you will find yourself in front of a village divided into two parts: Cantalice Inferiore, the more modern area, and Cantalice Superiore, the more characteristic part, which in fact contains the historic centre at an altitude of 583 metres, a veritable riot of labyrinthine alleyways, stone houses and fountains.
To reach the heart of the Latium village, you have to climb the 350 steps that lead to Cantalice Superiore, dominated by the ruins of the ruined castle, of which a cistern is visible, but above all by the Torrione del Cassero dating from the 11th century.
These remains are a reminder of Cantalice's strategic role as a border town between the Kingdom of Naples and the Papal States.
The Church of San Felice is the heart of Christianity in the town and is dedicated to the patron saint of the village: dating back to the 18th century and built in clear Baroque style, it stands on the remains of the saint's house. Inside you can admire an ancient pipe organ and a splendid altarpiece dedicated to Saint Felix himself.
On the way up the steps you will be enchanted by the view over the Rieti plain, where you can see other fine buildings such as Palazzo Ramacogi with its elegant loggia, the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo and the 15th-century Church of Peace.
Not far from Cantalice, in the midst of nature and tranquillity, you can visit the Sanctuary of San Felice all'Acqua: the story goes that it stands on the very spot where the saint used his staff to make a spring that still flows today.
One of the best times to visit Cantalice is the month of May, when the patronal feast in honour of St. Felix takes place, where the sacred and the pagan mix with holy masses, music, folklore, distribution of blessed bread and processions in medieval clothes by the confraternities.
Excursions around Cantalice
The Sagra delle Strengozze (Festival of the Strengozze) is also an excellent opportunity to visit the village of Cantalice, usually held on the last weekend of August. A festival dedicated to the delicious fresh pasta, the strengozze, commonly known as strozzapreti. The shape of this delicacy is reminiscent of the "strings" which, according to legend, were used by the townspeople in the past to strangle the priests during the fight against the Papacy. You can enjoy these specialities in their typical sauce made with garlic, fresh tomatoes and presa, a particular herb that grows only in this area and whose flavour will remind you a lot of marjoram.
Once you've visited Cantalice, you can explore the surrounding area, including the Partial Nature Reserve of the Lungo and Ripasottile Lakes, a vast natural area just 7 km from the village, which was created where Lake Velino once stood in the Pliocene era, fed by the glaciers of nearby Terminillo and underground springs.
With the reclamation works carried out by the Romans in 277 BC. (known as Cavo Curiuano), the lake practically disappeared. In its place are Lago Lungo and the larger Lago di Ripasottile. When you reach this beautiful nature reserve, you will find yourself immersed in a bucolic lake landscape, which has become the natural habitat of some bird species thanks to the humidity coming from the underground springs.
If you want to observe the bird species present, there are a number of birdwatching posts, from which, with a bit of luck, you will be able to spot the lesser harrier, the osprey, the marsh harrier, the penduline warbler, the sea nightingale and even the graceful pink flamingo.
Not far from the heart of the reserve are a series of Franciscan monasteries: Santa Maria della Foresta, Greccio, Fonte Colombo and San Giacomo. Following the Saint Francis Walk you can visit these hermitages, not to mention the possibility of admiring the Beech of Saint Francis of Rivodutri, under whose arched branches the Saint of Assisi took refuge.
Municipality of Cantalice
Province of Rieti
Inhabitants: 2.500 cantaliciani
Altitude centre: 660 m.s.l.m.
Via Andrea Costa - Tel. 0746653119