The defining characteristic element of the Sacra di San Michele is its position on the top of Mount Pirchiriano, a rocky spur belonging to the group of Rocciavré in the Cottian Alps (altitude 962 meters). Pirchiriano is the very ancient name of the mountain; an elegant form of the word "Porcarianus" or "mountain of Pigs", and thematically linked to the neighbouring peaks "Caprasio", or "mountain of Goats", and "Musinè" or "mountain of Donkeys".
The mountain bears evidence of human settlements since prehistoric times. The mountain bears evidence of human settlements since prehistoric times. In later times, it was fortified by the Ligurians and by the Celts under the rule of the two kings Cozio. In 63 A.D., when the Cottian Alps become a Roman Province, the peak's strategic position was exploited by the Romans for military purposes, with the establishment of a "castrum" (garrison).
In 569 A.D. the Longobards invaded and occupied the Cottian Alps. In this period, they built the famous "Locks of the Longobards" in the Susa Valley. They raised walls and towers across the valley when, under the leadership of their king Desiderius and his son Adelchi, they rallied to repel the entry into Italy of Charlemagne, king of the Franks.
In 773 A.D., the Franks, victors of the "Battle of the Locks", conquered the area and remained there until 888 A.D., when the Saracens invaded the western Alps and ruled for about eighty years.
Around the end of the tenth century St. John Vincent, a disciple of St. Romuald, began to live the lifeof a hermit here. The choice of the place is certainly conditioned by its impressive setting, by the predisposition to the sacred of Mount Pirchiriano and by the pre-existence of a colony of hermits on Mount Caprasio.
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