The Comino Valley is a basin situated between the rugged Central Apennine chain and the Monte Cairo group in the far southeastern corner of Lazio, on the border with Abruzzo and Molise.
It is a secluded valley, but at the same time close to a major communication channel represented by the Autostrada del Sole and the railway, which connects the North and South of Italy.
It is crossed by the fast-flowing road that connects Cassino to Sora, where it appears as a large natural amphitheater about fifteen kilometers wide and twenty kilometers long, with the mountains serving as platforms and the villages, arranged in a circle halfway up the slope, resemble loggias and dominate a landscape of gentle hills covered in vines and olive trees.
Opposite are other villages attached to the ridges, where oak, hornbeam and chestnut forests and, at higher altitudes, conifers and beech, alternate with barren or slightly stained rocky slopes with scattered shrubs.
It includes the territory of 11 municipalities in the upper Melfa basin area (Atina, Villa Latina, S. Biagio Saracinisco, Picinisco, Settefrati, S. Donato Val di Comino, Gallinaro, Alvito, Vicalvi, Casalvieri and Casalattico).
The XIV Mountain Community, called “the Comino Valley”, includes another 9 neighboring municipalities in the mid-Liri basin to the north (Campoli Appennino, Pescosolido, Posta Fibreno and Fontechiari) and the Rapido basin to the south (Belmonte Castello, Acquafondata, Vallerotonda and Viticuso), with a total of 22,000 inhabitants distributed over a total area of approximately 300 square kilometers (slightly more than Elba Island).
The largest municipality is Atina with 4,258 inhabitants. Followed by Casalvieri with 2,679, Alvito with 2,614 and S. Donato Val di Comino with 2,076. All others are between two thousand and three hundred inhabitants.
A mysterious valley
It is a land where history intertwines with mysteries, myths, and legends. Even its name is shrouded in mystery.
According to many, it derives from Cominium, the city destroyed in 293 BC along with Aquilonia, in the last desperate and bloody battle fought by the Samnites against the rising power of Rome, as narrated by Titus Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
Others derive it from the Comini, one of the four peoples of the Equicoli, also fierce adversaries of the Romans and defeated by them, or from “cominia”, a quality of olive oil, both derived from the monumental work of Pliny the Elder.
The place name, disappeared for over seven centuries, reappears in an act of the archive of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Vincent at the Volturno in 778 AD, in which the Duke of Spoleto, Ildebrand, donated the churches of St. Donatus and St. Julian, placed “in the territory of Cumino”.
In subsequent documents, the name Cominium indicates a territory or a county, sometimes restricted and sometimes more widespread, including Atina, but whose essential nucleus was the area between Vicalvi, Alvito, Gallinaro, St. Donatus V.C. and Settefrati.
DE SANCTO DONATO
Hildebrandus Spoleti Dux Ecclesias S. Donati,
et S. Juliani in territorio Cumino cum
terris et montibus donat Monasterio
S. Vincentii ad Vulturnum
In the mid-15th century, Flavio Biondo wrote in his work about “una contrada, per stare su quei monti asperi, amenissima, chiamata hoggi Comino: ella è attorniata da monti altissimi, ha da 8 castella ben popolate, Vicaglio, Alvito, S. Donato, Sette frati, Picinisco, Gallinaro e Casalviero: questa contrada fu dagli antichi chiamata Cominio, da una città che v’era così detta, della quale non sanno i paesani render alcun conto dove ella fusse, e di lei fa Livio menzione. In quella medesima contrada a man dritta sotto i monti è Atina, città antichissima, a lato della quale scorre il fiume Melfa, che nasce nell’Appennino, e va a mescolarsi co’l Garigliano presso a Pontecorvo: di questa città fa Vergilio menzione, e Livio medesimamente”.
A century later, one of the most important geographers of the time, Leandro Alberti, wrote of “a pleasant and fertile region,” comprising “eight castles,” granting, like Biondo, a certain distinction to Atina, located in the western part of the same area.
In the next two centuries (17th and 18th), during the domination of the Gallios, the terms Duchy of Alvito and Commune coincided, at least in the popular and literary sense, although Casalvieri and Casalattico did not belong to that political unit, while it included Belmonte Castello, located just outside the valley basin.
The 19th Century
At the beginning of the 19th century, it appeared for the first time as a toponym of a “valley” whose scope was limited to the countries on the northeast side, and in 1862, the municipality of S. Donato, in order to distinguish itself from the others with the same name, obtained from King Victor Emmanuel II the permission to add the attribute of “Val di Comino”.
Still in the early 1900s, according to a local historian, Valle di Comino was intended to mean only the northeast area, that is, the area between Settefrati, S. Donato (with Gallinaro, then its fraction), Alvito, and Vicalvi.
Even the generous attempt by a great geographer, Roberto Almagià, has not served to give it a name. So, even today, its name does not appear on official geographical maps. Therefore, it officially does not exist formally, but in fact it does.