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Rivodutri and its monumental beech of San Francesco

Thursday 07 january 2021

A trip to Rivodutri, in the province of Rieti, a village divided between the plain of Rieti and the mountain of Terminillo, which rises behind it, among the naturalistic jewels of the Natural Reserve of the Rieti Lakes and the signs of an ancient history.

Rivodutri and its monumental beech of San Francesco

Rivodutri is a village of 1300 inhabitants, lying on the first slopes of Mount Terminillo that begins to rise already behind the country and overlooking the vast plain of Rieti.


Like many places in the Apennines, it hides unknown treasures, from the extraordinary springs of Santa Susanna, which with their 5,000 liters per second are among the largest in Europe, to the Natural Reserve of Lakes Lungo and Ripasottile, which preserves an intact nature and the remains of the ancient Lake Velino that once occupied the entire plain.


All around the two lakes, the plain shows an agricultural landscape so beautiful and well preserved to be in predicate to enter the National Register of Historic Rural Landscapes. There is also an ancient water mill that seems to be the oldest in Italy, and the enigmatic stone arch called "The Hermetic Door of Rivodutri" known to scholars and alchemy enthusiasts for its inscriptions that express the mystery of transmutation, not only and not so much of metals, but of the psyche and the relationship between body-soul-spirit in man.



La Porta Ermetica

But the territory of Rivodutri is not only part of the great plain: behind the village, in fact, extends a vast mountainous area covered with extensive and beautiful beech forests ideal for hikers and naturalists, with panoramic views and wide views over the valley, and that includes some important emergencies, such as the hill where there are the remains of Casalini di Cocoione, an ancient fortified settlement in a dominant position.


The village has an ancient history: its origins date back to the year 1000, when it is mentioned in the chronicles a place called Rigodutri, a name that would derive from the fact that the hill on which stands the country is crossed on both sides by two streams.


Before that time, Rivodutri as the other nearby agricultural centers, had followed the fate of Lake Velino and the Rieti plain, reclaimed by the Roman Consul Marco Curio Dentato with the opening of a passage of outflow that opens a new road to the River Velino, whose waters thus freed will flow from the plain, to form more downstream the spectacular Cascate delle Marmore.


24_04_18-05_55_48-X7b37e01e4871aad3859f1072b79c180The plain, finally reclaimed in the '30s and '40s of the last century, is now a vast agricultural area among the most fertile and productive of central Italy, so as to have been in the last century the cradle of Italian wheat, place of experimentation and production of some of the most important and widespread varieties, and Rivodutri is a lively and vital center, with a beautiful historical center that maintains intact its medieval plant, and the fractions of the plain that have seen flourish numerous activities of service and receptivity, encouraged by the increasing presence of tourists attracted by the beauty of the landscape, by the Natural Reserve of the Lakes, and by the many places linked to the presence of St. Francis, who in this valley stayed for a long time.

Antica cartolina

In order to fully understand the beauty of this territory, it will be enough to drive along the road that from the Sources of Santa Susanna leads to Rivodutri and higher up to Cepparo and the mountain area, and stop to observe the ancient village and the great plain. Thus, at the beginning of the last century, the traveler Vincenzio Micheli described the plain of Rieti seen from Cepparo, a small hamlet of Rivodutri: "...along the road to Rivodutri, one encounters the village of Cepparo at more than 800 meters above sea level, from where the eye enjoys a truly marvelous spectacle and where, on a beautiful sunny morning, one witnesses one of those marvelous scenes that in vain the most famous pens and the most artistic brushes attempt to represent to the imagination with the suggestion of their phrases and their colors. ” In short, there are many reasons to come and discover Rivodutri and its territory. After visiting the beautiful historical center, discovering among the narrow alleys and small squares the numerous works of wall art of the path "Rivodutri contemporary", it is worth going down a little further downstream to admire the small cemetery of Apoleggia where the artists of Collective FX have represented on the outer wall scenes of the relationship between St. Francis and lanatura, creating an evocative colorful backdrop, or go up the road that leads to the mountain for a visit to the extraordinary Beech of St. Francis.  The beech tree, for its particularity and rarity has recently been awarded the title of "Monumental Tree" by the Ministry of Agriculture, and recognized as a "Natural Monument" by the Lazio Region.


This singular tree is famous for its spectacular shape, with branches that weave sinuously to create waves and knots of unusual beauty. Tradition has it that the tree took on this conformation in order to shelter St. Francis from a furious storm that surprised him on his way to the Sanctuary of Poggio Bustone. When night fell, surprised by the storm, the Saint chose that beech tree as a shelter, and to better protect his rest, he folded its branches towards the ground in the shape of a hut.




From that night on, the branches of the beech tree have always kept their inclined position towards the earth to which they were forced by the pressure of the Saint's cloak, which was spread on the foliage to protect them from the bad weather of that legendary night. Today the walk to the beech tree is a ritual to which no Rivodutrano would ever evade: after having reached on foot or by car the Church of San Francesco, on a wide plateau surrounded by beech woods, an easy path leads in a few minutes to the beech tree, which really appears as a miracle of nature, an authentic monument. The ancient tree also brings with it an oral tradition made of stories and tales that have created around it a halo of charm, mystery and sacredness, and is one of the most important stages of the path of the Way of St. Francis, a long ring that retraces the places linked to the presence of the Saint in this valley.


To end the day, nothing better than a stop at the magnificent Sorgenti di Santa Susanna, where the crystal clear waters, constantly at 5°, create a microclimate that mitigates the temperature making it cool even in summer. In the surroundings of the spring, after a visit to the old mill, where you can buy flour of great value, nothing better than a stop to taste the crayfish or the exquisite trout spring, cooked in the famous local restaurants, which also boast a star chef among the most respected in Italy.


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