Soriano nel Cimino is a village strategically located on one side next to the forest of the Cimini mountains, famous in history for its impenetrability, and on the other, on top of a hill offering a breath-taking view overlooking the entire valley of the Tiber, stretching out to the Apennines. The strategic tower of Chia is placed on the opposite side of the valley, to communicate in real time with the fortress of Soriano, which is at the top of the hill.
The first historical information on the town is by Livy in his Ab Urbe Condita Historia (443 BC), when Soriano was invaded by the Romans, after the army managed to penetrate the wilderness of the Cimino forest, and admired the underlying fields of the valley of the Tiber. More than a millennium later, Soriano was part of the group of counties that in 728 AD were given to the pope by the Lombard king Liutprad.
News of the fortress, however, dates back to the 13th century, when the village was built around the fortress that was already on the hill. The family that ruled Soriano then, the Guastapane-Pandolfo, welcomed Rose of Viterbo (today’s saint patron of Viterbo), and gave her and her family political asylum. In 1278, the Guastapane-Gandolfo family was accused of heresy and the territory passed under the control of Orso Orsini, nephew of Pope Nicholas III.
In the 16th century, the county passed under the protection of Pope Alexander Borgia, but the earl of Vignanello, trying to take over the town, on November 7th 1489, attacked and killed the guard of the castle. The villagers managed to resist and to capture the count responsible, who was thrown down the cliff of the fortress. This gesture earned the town the title of Fidelitas. A historical re-enactment commemorates this event every year during the famous chestnut festival, which takes place in the town during the first two weeks of October.
The life of the castle as a residence ceased during the 19th century. After the Unification of Italy, it was used to accommodate exiled Roman families, unwelcome in the capital, and those who opposed the monarchy and the Kingdom of Italy. It later became a maximum-security prison, until the early nineties of the 20th century. This transformation has completely changed the interior of the castle, which now presents the classic features of a prison with numerous cells and gates. All its intriguing and mysterious secret passages have been closed off, the loggia and the balcony walled in and if ever there were any frescoes, they have been painted over (except some visibly "restored" by prisoners), and its appearance has been altered forever.
However, this part of its history is equally fascinating, and despite a visit to this castle doesn’t entail viewing wonderful works of art or enchanted gardens, it reveals another aspect of the human side, making us perceive the castle with the real function of a fortress and protection, that was its main purpose, rather than a fairy-tale castle with princes and erring knights, that in any case, were in the picture. Inside, one can visit the isolation cells, as well as the cells for the privileged and the common ones. In the area reserved for solitary confinement, on one of the doors, the word "freedom" is engraved in the wood with a pointed tool. Who knows how many stories these walls could tell…