The History of Fondi
The town of Fondi has an interesting history. Legend has it that the first settlement of Fundi was founded by Hercules. It is known that the area was occupied by the Italic Aurunci tribe, followed by the Volsci, before falling into the hands of the Romans.
The History of Roman Fondi
Some architectural remains from this period can still be seen such as the Roman baths in Piazza Unita D’Italia. These were unearthed in 1964 during work to clear the rubble from the site of the former 16th century Chapel of San Rocco. The chapel was built in 1503 and was sadly bombed in 1944 during the Second World War. It is thought that the baths, the calidarium and tepidarium, may have belonged to a villa constructed during the Roman Imperial era.
More Roman ruins and artefacts can be seen in Fondi’s Civic Museum in the Castle, the cloister of the Church of San Francesco, and in the Garden of the Villa del Senatore Camillo Cantarano in the centre of town.
The History of Medieval Fondi
Fondi was also a town of some importance during the Middle Ages and belonged to the Kingdom of Naples. Medieval Fondi was also protected by high city walls and watch towers. These were were built over the original Cyclopean and Roman foundations and had a perimeter of 1,600 meters. Many of the town’s ancient walls have stood the test of time and are still much in evidence today.
Fondi’s interesting history continues when in 1140 Fondi was given to the Dell’Aquila family who were of Norman origin. However, in 1299 the last descendant of Dell’Aquila’s married Loffredo of the Caetani family, nephew of Pope Bonifacio. Onorato Caetani built a formidable fortress and also a baronial palace in Fondi. In Fondi in 1378 Onorato I Caetani assembled the conclave that elected the antipope Clemente VII, to oppose the legitimate unpopular pontiff Urban VI. This created a schism in the church. The Caetani family went on to hold the duchy for the next two centuries until the dukedom was given to Prospero Colonna by King Charles VIII.
Giulia Gonzaga and Khayr al-Din or Barbarossa
In 1526 Vespasiano Colonna married the beautiful 14 year old Italian noblewoman, named Giulia Gonzaga, but the marriage was short lived as Vespasiano died just three years later. The widowed Giulia went on to reign in her own right and surrounded herself with scholars, artists and poets. During this period Fondi became a vibrant centre of the arts and culture and was known as “the Athens of Italy“.
However in 1534 the town of Fondi was invaded by the Saracens. Giulia was famed for her beauty and the notorious pirate corsair Khayr al-Din (better known as Red Beard or Barbarossa) attempted to abduct her and take her back as a prize for the sultan Suleiman The Great. Fortunately Giulia was able to make her escape. The enraged Barbarossa sought his revenge by sacking Fondi and massacring many of its inhabitants.
Fondi was attacked once again by the Saracens in 1594 and from this point the town began to fall into decline. Fondi was surrounded by stagnant marshes which became malaria infested. The town was plagued by a terrible epidemic in 1633 which further took its toll on the local population.
The Border of the Kingdom of Naples and the Papal States
The town of Fondi was part of a region known as Terra di Lavoro which was within the Kingdom of Naples. However it was positioned right on the border of the territory of the Papal States. Just outside the town in the direction of Monte San Biagio, there is a stretch of the old Appian Way. Near to the square Torre del Epitaffio stands a gateway known as the Portella, which at one time marked the border between the two states.
Also between Fondi and Itri, some tracts of the original Via Appia have been cleared and restored to create an interesting countryside trail.