A Pope-Founded Town Named “Dragon”

Dragona is a town in Italy on the banks of the Tiber, eleven miles along the Via Ostiensis (the old Roman road to the port of Ostia, which was fourteen miles from Rome). It was founded by Pope Gregory IV under the names “Colonia Draconis” or “Draco,” and it was later called “Tenuta del Dragone.” The pope also built a little villa there, so the name of the new town wasn’t an insult.

Liber Pontificalis II, 82: “ipse pontifex in curte quae cognominatur Draconis, domum satis dignam, undique porticibus ac solariis circumdatam a solo noviter fieri statuit, in qua tam ipse quamque etiam futuri pontifices cum omnibus qui eis obsequentur ibidem statione immorare solebant.”

(“On the estate called Draco, the same Pontiff recently decided to build an appropriate enough house, surrounded from every direction with only porticos and terraces, in which he, and any future Pontiffs, and all those who follow them, may be accustomed to stay at, as a rest-station.”)

This was the first known papal villa. Its exact location has not been found.

As for the name: just like most of the area around Rome back in the day, Colonia Draconis was in a pretty marshy, swampy area, which the Carolingian Italians started trying to reclaim. There were tons of snakes living in the marsh (mostly grass snakes and the black Aesculapian snakes, both of which are long but not venomous), and the snakes were locally called “dracona.” Hence the name. (The snake population may also be why a lot of the old marshy areas in that part of Italy were very fond of venerating St. George.)

Anyway, since repopulating a barren area was a bit dangerous, the Pope gave the farmland outright to those who would settle there, making sure that the farmers given the land had large families with plenty of guys of weapon-bearing age. None of this feudal/serf stuff!

But it really must have been pretty dangerous (Ostia was subject to attack by Muslims, Vikings, and every other kind of sea pirate) or not super-good land, because the region mostly depopulated again over the following centuries. Without people keeping up the drainage, the marshes came back. Marshes meant malaria, so it was even more dangerous to live there. In 1081, the then-Pope gave the area to the monks of St. Paul (St. Paul Outside the Walls, outside the gates of Rome on the Via Ostiensis) who don’t seem to have developed it much.

But in the mid-1800’s, the marshlands began to be drained again, and farms came back again. Then after the war, tons of people came to live in the suburbs of Rome, including rural Dragona. They got a parish church in the late Sixties, followed by power, water, etc. So it’s not super-picturesque and medieval/Roman in the town, but it’s got pretty countryside still.

Dragona has a suburb named Dragoncello (which translates into English as “tarragon”).

Dragona’s webpage

A webpage in Italian with historical information about Dragona.


1 Comment

Filed under Good Christian Dragons

One response to “A Pope-Founded Town Named “Dragon”

  1. Dragoncello? *mental images of a draconic Thomas Jefferson*

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