Civilization had already developed on the territory of Grottaferrata in ancient times as remains of the necropolis of Boschetto, Villa Cavalletti and Vigna Giusti testify, all dating back to the year 1000 AD. In Roman Times, it was not considered an actual housing cluster, perhaps because the villas built by the rich aristocrats occupied part of the territory such as the one belonging to Marcus Tullius Cicero. The existence of Grottaferrata as a housing cluster starts when the Abbey of Saint Nilus was built on the land donated to the Basilian monks by Count of Tusculum in 1004.
From that moment, onwards the history of Grottaferrata is closely linked to that of the Abbey. In fact, up to a certain period they overlap. The actual name Grottaferrata comes from the crypto-portico of a Roman villa, protected by iron window grates (hence the name Crypta Ferrata) and on top of which the Abbey was built.
The territory of the Abbey was pillaged several times: in 1155 by William I of Sicily called “the Wicked”; in 1163 by Frederick Barbarossa, in 1241 by Frederick II; as well as by the Germans, the French and also by the “Marinesi” (people of the nearby town of Marino). Therefore, the commendatory abbot Giuliano Della Rovere, future Pope Julius II, decided to protect the religious building by having surrounding walls built, which are still visible today.
From 1605 the Abbey was given in commendam, first to the Colonna, later to the Farnese family and in 1626 to Cardinal Barberini until it was taken over by Cardinal Consalvi in 1808, year in which the feudal system was abolished and consequently the commenda no longer had effect. Grottaferrata was annexed to Marino but the monks remained like private citizens within the monastery. In 1816, under Pope Pius VII, Cardinal Consalvi was given once again the Abbey in commendam until his death in 1824.
In 1833, owing to growing tension within the Abbey Pope Gregory XVI appointed Mario Mattei as apostolic visitor ad acta. He was Cardinal Bishop of the Suburbicarian Dioceses of Frascati and covered this role with severe discipline until 1869.
In 1848, Grottaferrata earned its independent administration.
In 1856, the paper mill “Società Anonima delle Cartiere di Grottaferrata and Subiaco” was established and the one located in Grottaferrata, which was property of Luigi Passamonti, became so important that it was nominated to print the banknotes of the Papal States.
In 1873, church properties were confiscated, including those belonging to the Abbey.
However, the town continued to grow and within a few years was equipped with a sewage system; the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore and the Chiesa di San Giuseppe were built; lavish villas were erected; various renovation work began including the trunk road 216 along via Maremma III towards Squarciarelli and Frascati; the artistic ceramic factory was established by the Tidei brothers which represented an important means of local economic development.
On 8th September 1943, the residential centre was saved from bombings yet the territory of Grottaferra was damaged, even though it was only on the outskirts. During this conflict, the Abbey’s possessions were conserved in the Vatican.
Grottaferrata celebrated the millennial of the Abbey’s foundations in 2004.