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Saracinesco, the micro-village that guards time

Saracinesco is a very small village that measures and guards every precious moment that crosses the Aniene valley. With only 160 inhabitants is the smallest municipality of Lazio. Saracinesco develops on a massif of the Ruffi Mountains, at 908 meters above sea level. It hosts the “Museum of Time”, a completely open-air exhibition of perfectly functioning ancient solar clocks. Wonders, mysteries and secrets of a science called gnomonics. There are seven museum stations located at various points in the village.

Saracinesco is therefore the natural clock of the entire Aniene valley, which it overlooks, with a 360 degree panorama. The visit is an opportunity to immerse himself in a unique story by taking away a treasure of minutes to be carefully preserved. Because to make a handful of moments unforgettable, there is no safer strongbox than a memory: a special place, a panorama never seen, a flavor, an unknown landscape.

The unique story: Arab echoes in the Aniene Valley. But why is Saracinesco so called? According to tradition, a group of Saracens who devastated these territories in 876, perhaps tired of wars, took refuge on the high ground, giving rise to the country. Four centuries later their descendants built a castle, of which few ruins remain, which in the Middle Ages passed to the noble Orsini family. The town’s coat of arms is carved on the facade of the town: a castle dominated by two heads of Saracens with the typical oriental turban.

The historic center and the 16th century frescoes. The heart of the village has a medieval layout, but the Arab influence of its origins also emerges, so much so that small squares and streets are largely not accessible to cars. The place that incorporates the remains of the ancient Saracen fortification today looks like a large meadow, suspended between the village and the valley. It is the ideal place to relax in a corner of absolute quiet.

You go on foot to reach the ruins of the castle, the remains of the city walls and the thirteenth-century church of San Michele Arcangelo. The church is a precious treasure chest. It houses 16th century frescoes, behind the main altar and along the walls. And also the fourteenth-century wooden statue of the Madonna and Child.

The “Museum of Time”. The starting point for the walk in time flowing (and also that of arrival) is an ancient mill in the panoramic Piazza Roma. We then proceed to the seven stations that reveal as many time measurement systems. It starts from an equatorial sundial: the hours of the day result from the division of the semicircle into 12 equal segments, each spaced 15 degrees apart. The next location is that of a faithful reproduction of the “globe of Matelica”, that is, of the white marble sphere discovered in 1985 at the locality of the Marche region, a singular model of an antique solar clock. Station 3 is that of the cylindrical sundial used by shepherds for its easy portability and therefore also called the “traveler’s watch”. At position 4, the hour is read on the ground where the shadow of the stylus is projected, that is, the metal rod that protrudes from the dial. In this watch you can see the equinoctial line, the solstices with the zodiac signs and the midday line calibrated on Saracinesco. In position 5 the visitor is the protagonist: positioning himself on the midday line, he sees his own shadow projected on the hour dial shown on a circumference placed on a horizontal plane. Two other vertical clocks follow. At station 6 the hour is read from the meeting of the stylus shadow on the horizontal plane. Station 7 was created as part of the restoration of the old municipal washhouse: the time derives from the shadow generated from the eyes of a frog.

The eighth position arrived two years ago. In July 2018 a new solar dial with Italian and French hours was inaugurated on one of the historic facades of Piazza Roma. It is a valuable work signed by Fabio Garnero, one of the leading Italian experts in the sector. The dial notes the phrase “Passerby, have patience, without the sun I don’t give information.”

The 17th century church and the paths to the mountains. Outside the inhabited center there is the former rural church of San Pietro, which since the 17th century is destination of a characteristic procession on San Marco’s day. This is the starting point for many excursions to discover the unspoiled nature of the Ruffi Mountains. Like the “Path of Mount Costasole” (altitude 1251 meters) from whose summit you can catch the path of the rivers that flow downstream, the Roman countryside, the Prenestini and Ernici mountains, up to Abruzzo with a single glance.
Polenta and truffle. The right opportunity to visit the small village is the polenta festival, topped with sausage sauce and pork ribs, a fixed appointment at the end of September. The absolute specialty of the place is the “Saracinesco truffle”, the basis of many succulent dishes.

How to get to Saracinesco. Saracinesco is about 50 km from the center of Rome, just over 40 from Guidonia Montecelio and 24 from Tivoli. The fastest connection by car or motorbike is the A24 highway towards L’Aquila. Exit at Vicovaro and continue through Tiburtina Valeria following the indications for Saracinesco (eight kilometers). If you start from Tivoli it is more practical to use Tiburtina directly. Public transport: with Cotral buses you need to reach the Vicovaro-Mandela railway station. If you start from Rome the terminus is at the Ponte Mammolo metro station (Metro B), but the trips can also be intercepted on the Tiburtina, in Guidonia and in Tivoli. From Vicovaro-Mandela station there are two connections a day (excluding Sunday) to and from Saracinesco: from Monday to Friday we leave for Saracinesco at 8 and 14.30, on Saturdays at 6.50 and 14.30. For the return (Saracinesco-Mandela station) from Monday to Friday at 8.20 and 14.50 and on Saturday at 7.10 and 14.50.

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