BOTH FERENTINO ON its hill overlooking the Valle Latina and its neighbour Alatri, on an outlier of the Monti Ernici, were places of importance under the Ernici before Rome imposed its rule on its neighbours.
Both towns flourished under Rome and were sacked by Totila. Ferentino passed to papal control in the eleventh century, Alatri following only in 1389.
Much of the fabric of medieval Ferentino survives within the well-preserved circuit of the town wall.
From the Porta Montana on the north the Via Morosini curls round to pass an unexpected survival, a Roman market with booths opening off a barrel-vaulted hall.
Further on is the austere Romanesque Duomo which was consecrated in 1108 and restored too aggressively in 1905–6.
Happily its interior was not compromised. The Cosmati pavement in the presbytery is of 1116, while that of the rest of the church by Jacopo Cosmati is of 1203.
The fine ciborium by Drudas de Trivio was commissioned by a noble from the town who became Archdeacon of Norwich and no doubt thought he had put the revenues of his office to appropriate use.
The beautiful spiralling candelabrum also incorporated Cosmatesque decoration.
The Duomo now crowns the acropolis of the Ernici, constructed of massive blocks, which dominates the centre of Ferentino, and is particularly impressive when seen from the west.
Alatri is a place of less charm.
But its trapezoid acropolis is the finest surviving fortress of the kind. The walls of polygonal masonry can be followed in their entirety.
Entering by the Porta Areopago with its cyclopean blocks one registers that the lower level of the walls are up to sixteen paces wide.
On the opposite, south, side the masonry suggests at least a dawning recognition of the concept of the relieving arch.
The Duomo on the acropolis is unworthy of so majestic a setting.
Santa Maria Maggiore, from which the main piazza takes its name, is altogether more interesting.
The rose window of the front is of unusual design. The nave and aisles open off a high narthex. In the first chapel on the left are gathered the key treasures of the church: the so-called Madonna di Costantinopoli of about 1200,
with contemporary carved wings; and a triptych by the retardataire local painter, Antonio da Alatri.
The civic museum is in the substantial thirteenth-century Palazzo Gottifredi which must indeed have been a building of startling ambition.