Monthly Archives: May 2014

Open wounds

Do you remember when I wrote about this? It was the 6th of april 2009 and it was really a shock for my country. On italian television over the years there were lots of documentaries, reports and movies about that, but we wanted to see with our own eyes what the things looked really like. The road leading there was beautiful and the weather for once really good. A sort of entanched trip that didn’t prepare us for what we were gonna see….

First impact, a city renovating itself, like an everyday building site…..but if you look closer at the houses, you can see the damages like after a hurricane or a bombing…..

and then, absolutely by chance, we crossed what remains of the students’ house, where lots of university students lived and were asleep that night, loosing their lives…..

Nobody (but aid tranports) can drive through what once was the “red zone”, the old city center most devasted, you can just walk………and after 5 years since that night that’s what a beautiful and ancient city looks like….Too much damage, too much ruins to remove, too much history to preserve, too big the city to restore……..and first of all, a new village to build outside the city for the people to live in….

The city’s construction was begun by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, out of several already existing villages (ninety-nine, according to local tradition), as a bulwark against the power of the papacy. Construction was completed in 1254 under Frederick’s son, Conrad IV of Germany. After the death of Conrad, the city was destroyed by his brother Manfred in 1259, but soon rebuilt by Charles I of Anjou, its successor as king of Sicily. The walls were completed in 1316. It quickly became the second city of the Kingdom of Naples. It was an autonomous city, ruled by a diarchy composed of the City Council (which had varying names and composition over the centuries) and the King’s Captain. It fell initially under the lordship of Niccolò dell’Isola, appointed by the people as the People’s Knight, but he was then killed when he became a tyrant. Later, it fell under Pietro “Lalle” Camponeschi, Count of Montorio, who became the third side of a new triarchy, with the Council and the King’s Captain. Camponeschi, who was also Great Chancellor of the kingdom of Naples, became too powerful, and was killed by order of Prince Louis of Taranto. His descendants fought with the Pretatti family for power for several generations, but never again attained the power of their ancestor. The last, and the one true “lord” of L’Aquila, was Ludovico Franchi, who challenged the power of the pope by giving refuge to Alfonso I d’Este, former duke of Ferrara, and the children of Giampaolo Baglioni, deposed lord of Perugia. In the end, however, the Aquilans had him deposed and imprisoned by the king of Naples.

The power of L’Aquila was based on the close connection between the city and its mother-villages, which had established the city as a federation, each of them building a borough and considering it as a part of the mother-village. The Fountain of the 99 Spouts (Fontana delle 99 Cannelle), was given its name to celebrate the ancient origin of the town. The City Council was originally composed of the Mayors of the villages, and the city had no legal existence until King Charles II of Naples appointed a “Camerlengo”, responsible for city tributes (previously paid separately by each of its mother-villages). Later, the Camerlengo also took political power, as President of the City Council. From its beginnings the city constituted an important market for the surrounding countryside, which provided it with a regular supply of food: from the fertile valleys came the precious saffron; the surrounding mountain pastures provided summer grazing for numerous transhumant flocks of sheep, which in turn supplied abundant raw materials for export and, to a lesser extent, small local industries, which in time brought craftsmen and merchants from outside the area. Within a few decades L’Aquila became a crossroads in communications between cities within and beyond the Kingdom, thanks to the so-called “via degli Abruzzi”, which ran from Florence to Naples by way of Perugia, Rieti, L’Aquila, Sulmona, Isernia, Venafro, Teano and Capua.

Negotiations for the succession of Edmund, son of Henry III of England, to the throne of the Kingdom of Sicily involved L’Aquila in the web of interests linking the Roman Curia to the English court. On December 23, 1256, Pope Alexander IV elevated the churches of Saints Massimo and Giorgio to the status of cathedrals as a reward to the citizens of L’Aquila for their opposition to King Manfred who, in July 1259, had the city razed to the ground in an attempt to destroy the negotiations. On August 29, 1294, the hermit Pietro del Morrone was consecrated as pope Celestine V in the church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, in commemoration of which the new pope decreed the annual religious rite of the Pardon (Perdonanza Celestiniana), still observed today in the city on August 28 and 29: it is the immediate ancestor of the Jubilee Year.The pontificate of Celestine V gave a new impulse to building development, as can be seen from the city statutes. In 1311, moreover, King Robert of Anjou granted privileges which had a decisive influence on the development of trade. These privileges protected all activities related to sheep-farming, exempting them from customs duties on imports and exports. This was the period in which merchants from Tuscany (Scale, Bonaccorsi) and Rieti purchased houses in the city. Hence the conditions for radical political renewal: in 1355 the trade guilds of leather-workers, metal-workers, merchants and learned men were brought into the government of the city, and these together with the Camerario and the Cinque constituted the new Camera Aquilana. Eleven years earlier, in 1344, the King had granted the city its own mint. In the middle of the 14th century the city was struck by plague epidemics (1348, 1363) and earthquakes (1349). Reconstruction began soon, however. In the 14th–15th century Jewish families came to live in the city, while the generals of the Franciscan Order chose the city as the seat of the Order’s general chapters (1376, 1408, 1411, 1450, 1452, 1495). Bernardino of Siena, of the Franciscan order of the Observance, visited L’Aquila twice, the first time to preach in the presence of King René of Naples, and in 1444, on his second visit, he died in the city. In 1481 Adam of Rottweil, a pupil and collaborator of Johann Gutenberg, obtained permission to establish a printing press in L’Aquila.

The Osservanti branch of the Franciscan order had a decisive influence on L’Aquila. As a result of initiatives by Friar Giovanni da Capistrano and Friar Giacomo della Marca, Lombard masters undertook, in the relatively underdeveloped north-east of the city, an imposing series of buildings centring on the hospital of Saint Salvatore (1446) and the convent and the basilica of Saint Bernardino. The construction work was long and difficult, mainly because of the earthquake of 1461, which caused the buildings to collapse, and the translation of the body of S. Bernardino did not take place until May 14, 1472. The whole city suffered serious damage on the occasion of the earthquake, and two years went by before repairs on the churches and convents began. In a strategy finalized to increasing their political and economic autonomy, the Aquilani took a series of political gambles, siding sometimes with the Roman Papacy, sometimes with the Kingdom of Naples. When the Pope excommunicated Joanna II, Queen of Naples, appointing Louis III of Anjou as heir to the crown in her stead, L’Aquila sided with the Angevines. Joanna hired condottiero Braccio da Montone. In exchange for his services, Braccio obtained the lordship of Teramo, as well as the fiefdoms of Capua and Foggia: he started a 13-year-long siege of L’Aquila, that resisted bravely. Facing Braccio, at the head of the Angevine army was Muzio Attendolo Sforza and his son Francesco. The final clash between the two contenders was just below the walls of Aquila, near the hamlet today called Bazzano. In the battle fough on June 2, 1424 Braccio, mortally wounded in the neck, was made prisoner and transported to Aquila, where he died three days later, on June 5, 1424. The Pope had him buried in deconsecrated earth. The citizens of L’Aquila honoured the bravery of their enemy Braccio by dedicating one of the main streets of the city to his name.

This period of freedom and prosperity ended in the 16th century, when Spanish viceroy Philibert van Oranje partially destroyed L’Aquila and established Spanish feudalism in its countryside. The city, separated from its roots, never developed again. Ancient privileges were revoked. L’Aquila was again destroyed by an earthquake in 1703. Successive earthquakes have repeatedly damaged the city’s large Duomo, and destroyed the original dome of the basilica of San Bernardino, designed along the lines of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The city was also sacked two times by French troops in 1799.

In the 15th century, L’Aquila had become the second most powerful city in the Kingdom of Naples after Naples itself: there were half a million sheep, wool and saffron were exported throughout Europe; all this was lost when the Aquilans, during the war between the French and the Spaniards for the throne of Naples, sided with the French. In 1504 Aquila was occupied by the Spanish conquerors, though in 1527 the French recovered the city with the support of the citizens and the surrounding town. One year later Viceroy Philibert of Orange, ruling for King Charles V of Spain, finally defeated the Aquilan rebels and ordered the city to build a fortress in the highest spot North of the city, exactly where in 1401 King Ladislaus had built a garrison to control the unruly and rebellious Aquilans. The project was entrusted to a Spanish architect, Pedro Luis Escrivà, an expert of firearms, who had begun to build Castel Sant’Elmo in Naples. The discovery of gunpowder obliged to new methods of defensive construction. Escrivà was in charge of the project for 2 years, leaving the task to Gian Girolamo Escribà. In the following 30 years the heavy taxes necessary to build the fortress impoverished the city, which in 1567 begged the Spaniards to stop the construction; the Royal Court granted the request, and works were interrupted, so parts of the castle were never completed. The fortress had cost an enormous sum for the times, and Aquila was obliged also to sell the thick silver case containing the body of St. Bernardino of Siena. The fortress, which had been built not to defend the city, but to control it (its cannons pointed to the city) and to be a completely self-sufficient structure, was never used in a battle Escrivà planned a giant fortress, made of four bastions connected through 60 meters long walls, with a thickness of 30 metres at the bottom and 5 meters at top. The walls were surmounted by massive merlons, with openings for the archers and the long-distance cannons. All around the fortress was a ditch (never filled with water) 23 meters wide and 14 meters deep, aimed at defending the foundations from the enemy’s artillery. The slanted walls would reject enemy fire to the sides; each bastion consisted of two separate and completely self-sufficient environments – called “case matte” – almost independent garrisons on their own. Also the aqueduct to the city was deviated so as to supply the fortress first of all, and in case of rebellion block the water supply. Moreover, Escrivà planned a special anti-mine corridor, a kind of empty space between the outer and inner walls which could be walked only by one man at a time (and which can be visited today), aiming at defending the castle in case of explosion in case enemy soldiers excavated tunnels to leave mines at the foundations. A whole hill was leveled down to supply the white stone necessary for the fortress, while the city’s bells were melted to make the cannons. In 1798 the citizens fought against the French who had invaded Italy, attacking, in vain, the fortress. From then on, the building was used as a prison. After 1860 it became a military headquarters, and in the Second World War was occupied and damaged by the Germans. Between 1949 and 1951 the castle was restored, and chosen as the seat of the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo.

Earthquakes mark the history of L’Aquila, as the city is situated partially on an ancient lake-bed that amplifies seismic activity.On December 3, 1315, the city was struck by an earthquake which seriously damaged the San Francesco Church. Another earthquake struck on January 22, 1349, killing about 800 people. Other earthquakes struck in 1452, then on November 26, 1461, and again in 1501 and 1646. On February 3, 1703 a major earthquake struck the town. More than 3.000 people died and almost all the churches collapsed; Rocca Calascio, the highest fortress in Europe was also ruined by this event, yet the town survived. L’Aquila was then repopulated by decision of Pope Clement XI. The town was rocked by earthquake again in 1706. The most serious earthquake in the history of the town struck on July 31, 1786, when more than 6.000 people died. On June 26, 1958 an earthquake of 5.0 magnitude struck the town. On April 6, 2009, at 01:32 GMT (03:32 CEST) an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude struck central Italy with its epicentre near L’Aquila


 42.4228; 13.3945 (Earthquake April 6, 20Initial reports said the earthquake caused damage to between 3,000 and 10,000 buildings in L’Aquila.Several buildings also collapsed. 308 people were killed by the earthquake, and approximately 1,500 people were injured. Twenty of the victims were children.Around 65,000 people were made homeless.There were many students trapped in a partially collapsed dormitory. The April 6 earthquake was felt throughout Abruzzo; as far away as Rome, other parts of Lazio, Marche, Molise, Umbria, and Campania.

It was so painful to see a city so deeply wounded, and to think not only to whom lost their lives, but also to all the people forced to rebuild a life destroyed in a few seconds…..but you know, L’Aquila means “the eagle” and an eagle always flies free high in the sky, this eagle will fly again soon…..its people is too strong to be rooted on the ground.


Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


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If you can pronounce this right you will be eligible for italian citizenship!…………. Funny as it might seems, this place left us breathless. The little village is so neat, calm, peaceful, well cared for, the air so fizzy (after all the village is located at 1400 mt) and the people we met there, so so so nice! It was one of the best places we visited while in Abruzzo and we still have beautiful images in our eyes…and as always, more often than not, hubby is in lots of my photos….

From historic sources the foundation of Pescocostanzo dates back at the X century, and since than the village has always been predominant on the surrounding centers in the area, however having turbulent relationships with feudal lords and the local Clergy. The devastating earthquake in 1456 presented  the conditions to the vilage to change its urban arrangement, with the massine help of Lombard workforce. This unusual event left its print in the cultural and social environment, such as the ambrosian rite for baptisms still being celebrated in the Church of Santa Maria del Colle. Under the dominion of Ferdinando I of Aragon, since 1464, Pescocostanzo was granted the direct submission by the crown and this allowed for many privileges. At that time the village was held by a highly educated and economically strong social class that provided the community with common comfort and an efficient administration.

The turning point was in 1774 when Pescocostanzo redeemed itself becoming a “Universitas Sui Domina” ( literally, a city master of itself) a motto still written on the city coat of arms. This period witnessed a flourish of jurisprudence, philosophy, history, mathematics and literature studies, with a strong cult of all arts. To prove this, the huge amount of old books in public libraries and in old families houses, and the many artistic buildings in town, due to the fertile economy and the high level of education of the city ruling class.

What it is now the Church of Santa Maria del Colle (St. Mary of the Hill) at  first was a XI century temple, subordinated to the Abbey in Montecassino, built in the outskirts of the village. The temple was destroyed by the 1456 earthquake and rebuilt in 1466 in the bigger and flourishing city center. Originally it had three aisles with three spans each, but in 1556 works were permitted to renovate it to five aisles with four spans each as it can be seen today, and a new renaissance facade overlooking a wide terrace (now not used anymore). In 1580 the roman-gothic portal was moved to the north side above a flight of stairs.

The inside is mainly in stone, brighten up by the wooden religious ornaments, carved, coloured and gold-plated, the staues, the pulpit, the choir, the altars. The most interesting aspect of the Church are the five coffering ceilings, carried out between 1670 and 1682, but finished only in 1742. The antepediums (the front panel of the altars) and the baptismal font are the only ornaments made of marble.

The majestic wrought iron gate leading to the “Cappellone”, as it is called the Sacrament Chapel, is from 1699 and the vault is decorated with a  fresco by Giambattista Gamba.

It was really a surprise to find such a magnificent Church in such a small village, but on a second tought, all the village is really charming, like the cloister adjoining a little Church (now a gallery) still held by monks (one of them wash washing the paving, but stepped aside to le me take a better photo!)……….

or Palazzo Fanzago, since 1624 a nunnery and now a museum and a school of bobbin lace……(the niches are where the windows should be, but being born as a cloisterd nunnery, no windows on the outside world)

or palazzo Grilli built in the last decade of 1600….

or so many other corners that unexpectedly crossed our path….

Here – your head humbly down – here, passer-by, stop – Here you can find the source of all Graces – the Mother of God – admire her, cry and pray – that she can’t deny a grace to whom adore her. (on the stairs to Santa Maria del Colle)

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Posted by on May 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Wandering around through the Majella National Park, and reading about it on our guide, we found out there were lots of thermal baths around here in roman times. Some places lost this heritage over the centuries, some others maintained the tradition till today. We visited two villages of the latter.

First stop was the village of Caramanico Terme,  situated near the confluence of the Orfento and Orta rivers, on a hilltop between the Monte Morrone and the Majella mountains.

The town takes its name from either cara, meaning rock, or from arimannia, a Lombard establishment in the late Middle Ages. Then the name Terme was added in 1960 because of the presence of a spa nearby.The present settlement is recorded since Lombard times. Then it underwent a remarkable development in the 14th-15th centuries, under the D’Aquino family, and in that period many important monuments were built.In 1706 an earthquake nearby destroyed the town.

One of the most imponent building in town is the Church of St. Maria Maggiore. On the outside the Church has a gothic style with a acute arch portal representing the Coronation of the Virgin Mary; several twisted columns and two more external pillars decorated with different aediculae, support the architrave with the inscription of the author, some Nicolaus Teutonico and the year 1476. The Virgin Mary is surronded by God, Jesus Christ and angels. On the external wall along the Bernardi Street, also statues of apostles, pilgrims and musicians with interesting ‘400 music instruments like the lute and the hurdy-gurdy. Inside, in baroque style, a very elaborated chapel devoted to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Another beautiful Church is the one dedicated to St. Thomas of Paterno, also and best known as St. Thomas Becket. According to a legend, the contruction of the Church should be datetd around 45 a.C. on the same spot of a pagan temple dedicated to Hercules. The Church as it is today is probably from the end of the XII – beginning of the XIII century, an inscription above the portal citing as the customer some Father Berardo in 1202. The architrave above it is decorated with a high relief of the blessing Christ and the Apostles. On the right of the portal a little figure of St. Thomas of Canterbury. In the inside the Church bears signs of works and renovations never really finished. What’s interesting in the inside, is a small column, really small compared to the others and really very different in style and materials used, called the Sacred Column, that according to a local legend has been put here by the angels and it’s the object of local worship, as one can see looking at the column itself, made thinner by centuries of rubbing.

We walked till the end of the village where the Spa is located since 1576, in the same spot of the old roman thermal baths. It was not open yet for the season, so we could only have a look at the entrance.

We drove south for about 35 kms to another village, Popoli,  historically known for its baths, now housed in a modern building outside the city and open all the year long, not really worth a visit.  We’d rather have a look at the historical parts of the town.

Its Latin name was Castrum Properi (Waystation Fortress), which name was recorded as early as 1016 as the property of Girardo, son of Roccone. The castle above the town Cantelmo Castle,  was built between 1000 and 1015 for Tidolfo, Bishop of Valva. In 1296 it was handed over under the fief of the Dukes Cantelmo till the end of the XVIII century.

The Church of St. Francis, from historical sources, seems to be there since 1334, but the entire structure has been renovated several times over the centuries: for example, the lower part of the facade is from 1480 while the upper part is from 1688. The belfry and the dome are from 1714, while the lions on the stairs, the romanesque portal and the rose window are from 1500. The rose window itself is very interesting, each radius is different, at the center there are the coats of arms of the Cantelmo and Carafa families, and on the four corners the symbols of the four Evangelists.

The Ducal Tavern it’s one of the oldest building in town. being built in mid 1300 by the Dukes of Cantelmo. The gothic facade is fully decorated with the coats of arms of the families tied with the Cantelmos. It was used as a “statio posita” (in latin) or the official place where to change horses, and as customs duty office. Now it houses art exhibitions.

The Holy Trinity Church dates back at 1550 but was deeply renovated in mid 1700. The facade is some sort of baroque-ish style with the main portal and two minor at the sides, with niches above. It’s close to another Church (see better in the first photos) dedicated to St. Lorenzo and St. Biagio, built in the XII century with the facade renovated in 1562. Too bad they were closed….

Popoli was bombarded twice during World War II by the British Air Force. On 20 January 1944, the most important bridge in the region, the “Julius Caesar” bridge connecting Rome with Pescara, was destroyed. On 22 March 1944 at noon the city center and city hall were destroyed by substantial bombing by the British. Unfortunately, it was a day that rations were being distributed to town at the city hall, and there were long lines of women and children, many of whom were killed or wounded. The day is still remembered with sorrow by the town’s inhabitants.





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Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


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A plateau and Rivisondoli

Anoter strange name to pronounce, sorry……….. The weather was surprisingly better, finally we could see the top of the mountains as we drove throught the Majella National Park (740.95 km²) a national park located in the Abruzzo provinces of Chieti, Pescara and L’Aquila and it is centered around the Majella massif, whose highest peak is Monte Amaro (2,793 m). The area of the Majella national Park, especially the Montagna della Majella, has been subject to a major international geoscientific research Project, TaskForceMajella from 1998 up to 2005. The park contains about 500 kilometers of hiking trails through the mountains, cave paintings in Grotta Sant’Angelo and Grotta del Cavallone (the latter being one of the deepest caves in Europe open to the public)

Finally at the end of the road going uphill, we found ourselves driving through the Five Miles Plateau, at 1250mt of altitude. The plateau is almost 9 kms long (about 5 miles) and 1 km in width and it joins the valley of the river Gizio and the Peligna Valley (North) with the ones of the rivers Raso and Sangro (South). Entirely uninhabited and almost bare of vegetation, it’s animated in the good season by flocks and herds and frequented by tourists, while in winter it’s very cold, reaching sometimes, in serene and windless nights, temperatures of -25°/-30° . In old times the stagecoaches, fearing assaults, drove through it the fastest they could. Often, in winter, the wayfarers were buried under the snow. This is what happened in 1528 to 300 mercenaries recruited by Venice to fight against Charles V, and to 500 germans under the command of the Prince of Orange, the following winter.

Almost at the end of the plateau, there’s the medieval village of Rivisondoli. It’s a fortificated village at 1320 mt of height, at the feet of Mt. Calvario. The old village center presents a quite recent historical-artistic heritage because a devastating earthquake in 1706 and a terrible fire at the end of the XVIII century, destroyed almost entirely the most inhabited oldest nucleus.

The most importan monument of the village is the Church dedicated to St. Nicholas, rebuilt in 1931 on the same place of a previous one.

The village might be quiet recent considering the long history of the region (and of the rest of Italy) but it has quite a charm, nevertheless….

And here we are gaian, on the portal of this old private chapel, skulls and bones….I must really find out the meaning behind this symbol…..





Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


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In between

As in between the sky, the mountains, and little charming villages. We drove up to the mountains of the National Park of Abruzzo under a grey sky and soon it was raining….you can’t see it from my photos taken from inside the car, but at the Mount Godi Pass (1630 mt) there was snow with the rain! Too bad the weather (and the cold, it was just 5°C)  because the scenary in a sunny day must be really amazing.

Going down, the sky was a little better and the rain just a light spray, and we had a couple of nice encounters…..

We decided we needed a coffee break so we had a quiet walk through the village of Villetta Barrea. We don’t known about the origins of the village, but we do know that around the second half of the 700, a group of Benedectine Monks founded here a monastery dedicated to St. Angel of Barreggio ( thus “Barrea”). The first written mention of a “villa” (as in city) near Barreggio (Villetta of Barreggio) ) was in a legal document in 1426 about some land sold and in 1427 concerning a census ordered by Alfonso of Aragon.

The Church of St. Rocco (also known as Church of the Purgatory) was probably built in 1700 and inside there are two little treasures, a wooden statue of St. Michael Archangel (mid 1700) and the painting “The Purgatory Souls” (Filippo Canciano – 1752) but what intrugued me the most was the skull with the crossing bones above the portal….

Next destination was the village of Pescasseroli (sorry guys for the difficult names….) a summer and winter resort, it is today the headquarters of the Abruzzo National Park. It is located in the heart of the Monti Marsicani. In 1866, the philosopher Benedetto Croce was born there.

The name most probably comes from the latin “Pesculum Serulae” (enclosed rock on the peak). The first mention of the place it’s from 302 BC by romans sources, then around the year 1000 again associated with the St Paul Abbey that was to be built there. The first time with its current name was in 1115 in a papal Bull by Pope Pasquale II. The territory changed many dominions from medieval times till the 1700 when the Sipari family took over for more than a century. Erminio Sipari in 1922 founded here the Abruzzo National Park Association and gave it as its symbol, the marsican brown bear. Benedetto Croce’s mother was a Sipari and in the family historical palace gave birth to his famous son.



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Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Two on a lake

Two as in the Hermitage of St. Domenico and the village of Scanno.

The morning wasn’t that promising, when we left the hotel it was raining like hell! We drove through almost deserted road till the village of Villalago but that wasn’t our final destination. A little further there is a small lake surrounded by high hills (not yet mountains), the lake has the same name of the hermitage that hangs over it, St. Domenico.

According to historical news, St. Domenico lived in the enchantment of thiese places around the year 1000, and to the Saint himself is attributed the construction of the St. Peter Monastery and of the Hermitage, in the “villa de lacu” (the city with the lake, in latin). The Hermitahe consisted in a simple building in which the monks gathered together on monastic occasions using small caves as cells and the Church was probably built around the 1500. The bridge that crosses the lake from the road to the hermitage has been recently restored with the help of the people of the area, and in each marble tile of the pavement is engraved the name of the person who donated for this (and as you can see by the umbrella hubby was holding, it was still raining!)

A small portico leads inside the Sanctuary, and it has been endowed with a “bifora” that offers a beautiful view of the lake, and enriched with four painting that represent the miracles operated here by St. Domenico: the appearance of the broad beans during a famine (the broad bean is a typical dish here) – a kidnapped boy brought back by a wolf – the transformation of fishes in snakes – and the saving of a boy fell from an oak.

Too bad the Sanctuary was closed, because inside there’s a little cave that is the one used by the Saint to rest and to pray, and some other interesting frescos.
Luckily the weather was a little better when we took the car again and drove along the Sagittario Valley (Sagittarius, that’s the name of the valley and the river that digged it) because the view was really nice over the Lake of Scanno.

Local legend has it that Scanno’s natural lake was created by a feud between a white witch and a sorcerer, the lake marking the spot where the witch finally fell.
Under a very pale sun, we walked through the village old center. Scanno has been immortalised by photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson (1951) and Mario Giacomelli (1957-1959) and, according to Edward Lear, was host to Italy’s most beautiful women (Illustrated excursions in Italy by Lear, Edward, 1846). So it was not a surprise when the first things we saw entering the village was a monument to the women of Scanno and a tile on a wall representing a woman in the typical dress.
We couldn’t miss this door, leading to a B&B named after the great Gabriele D’Annunzio who lived here during the summers of 1884 and 1888 and who here got himself three married women as lovers (the three rooms of the B&B are named after these women)
The village still holds the charm of the old glorious days, when the noble families of the region had here their summer houses, due to the healthy breeze coming from the lake and the mountains…
One of the two important fountains in Scanno is the Fontana Sarracco, with two arched bodies: the one on the left, built in 1549, was reserved for animals only – while the one on the right was for people. In the people’s part there are for distinct “taps” with four different images: the king, the queen, the shoe-maker and the friar… only noble men could drink from the king’s tap, while noble women drank from the queen’s tap. The shoe-maker was reserved for common people of all genders, while the friar was only used by religious people.
The construction year of the Church of St. Mary of the Valley is unknown, but it existed already in 1483. The actual aspect of the Church is dated back from mid 1700 with precious works of golden woods (the organ balcony and the frames of the paintings) and the marble holy water fonts
I don’t know if it was the light mist after the rain, the almost deserted narrow streets, the silence that reigned there, it was as we were suddenly back in another time….a peaceful and charming one..



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Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Sulmona (take your time, it’s a very long post)

We booked the hotel at the last minute because the weather forecasts weren’t that good (and we switched from bike to car in the morning, after a quick change of the bags and clothes too) so, under a heavy rain, we hit the road headed south. There was almost no traffic at all and we arrived sooner than we thought at the Hotel Armando’s in Sulmona, with a pale sun greeting us. The hotel was nice, clean, cozy and the view from our room really nice

Sulmona, sophisticated city, strong and proud of its illustrious past, lies in the Conca Peligna along the path of tracks and paths of a thousand years old roads that, since ancient times, linking it to other centers of the region and the Peninsula.
Among large squares, narrow alleys and scenic places is still holding a lot of the atmosphere of another era, the fragrant sweet aroma of those confetti that made it famous worldwide. Here, among the people Peligna, in 43 BC was his birthplace Publio Ovidio Nason, one of the greatest poets of ancient Rome and in his immortal songs sung with pride “Sulm mihi patria est”, boasting the remote origins of the native place. The literary tradition links the foundation of the city with legendary stories of Suleiman, a hero frigio escaped with Enea to anger the Greeks and landed on the shores of Italy after the destruction of Troy.
The ancient oppidum italics, whose real roots are perhaps to look for on the heights of Colle Mitra, where a mighty wall of polygonal walls testifies the presence of a fortified settlement PreRoman, it is first mentioned by Tito Livio in the War Hannibal. The city was made a Roman possession after the civil war in 90 a. C..
Elevated to the rank of City Hall, the Roman Sulm took on  a decisive urban connotation and many of its buildings took monumental forms.
It prospered in imperial times thanks to a flourishing economy based on agriculture and pastoralism, and the fertile agricultural Peligna land, as stated by Pliny and Martial, started the cultivation of the vine and flax. Sulmona was also renowned for metalworking and perhaps not by chance in the Middle Ages was the seat of a major school of gold craft.

Are scarce and uncertain the news concerning the city in early times, still enclosed in the narrow circle of the ancient walls. At the time of the Normans a strong migration starts a gradual repopulation of the old town, coinciding with the development of trade, industry and the arts, which reaches its climax at the time of the Swabians, when the enlightened policy of the Emperor Federico II gives primacy to the regional Sulmona with the establishment of Giustizierato d’Abruzzo, a professor of canon law and one of the seven annual fairs of the Kingdom. Magnificent symbol of prosperity of the aqueduct of 1256, which still frames majestically what was Piazza Maggiore, a place of historic moments  of the city, now named after Giuseppe Garibaldi. Isn’t it beautiful? And do you remember the movie The American, when George Clooney had coffee at Caffè Tucci on a market square? Here he was, this same beautiful place….

The defeat of Corradino of Swabia and the rise of Angevins were pregnant with consequences for Ghibelline Sulmona, despite the continued population growth led to the formation of new towns and then the extension of the primitive walls, which gave the city’s historical center the present form.
Despite the famine, political adversity, wars, internal struggles and damaging earthquakes in 1349 and 1456, which started the slow decline of the city, some prerogatives of the city,including the paper mills, tanneries, processing wool and metals, with gold in the foreground, and literary movements linked to the names of John Barbato and Quatraro from Sulmona, friend of Petrarca, made it one of the main centers of the region.

This one below is the Church oF St. Francis of the Shoes. Built by the Franciscans and Angevins  by the end of 1200, was severely depleted by earthquakes, but still offers the facade with beautiful late-Gothic portal. The interior, dominated by the magnificent Baroque organ, houses the chapel of Lombardy with the shovel sixteenth of the Visitation, by Paolo Bergamo Olmo. Beautiful is the portal side, with the remains of the apse complex and robust bell tower, form a highly dramatic.

By Charles III of Durres, Sulmona benefit of a brand, Ladislaus of Durres granted the national emblem with the initials of the Ovid hemistich “Sulm mihi patria est”; Alfonso I the Magnanimous  instituted the tax control of transhumance. Under the Aragonese dominion it experienced a sudden rise with the captain Tiberti Polidoro da Cesena in 1474 who sponsored the construction of Fontana del Vecchio (Fountain of the Old Man), one of the first Renaissance monuments in Sulmona. It ‘s so-called because of the head of bearded old man that dominates, showing, according to tradition, Suleiman, the legendary founder of the city.

The complex od St. Chiara. The church, originally from the XII century but rebuilt in 1711, is one of the finest examples of Baroque Abruzzo. In the monastery was recently discovered a cycle of frescoes dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth century.

At the end of the fifteenth century date back also the most ancient documents relating to the valuable production confectioners. Sulmona in Italy means “confetti” and while there we visited the oldest and most famous company in town, Pelino (all the confetti I bought in my life for different occasions – wedding, baptism, communion – came from here) that a few years ago was nominated national monument. But you can buy them in the most artistic ways all around town….in every color and flavor…….

Sulmona in 1526, reigning Charles V, became a fiefdom of Lannoy. On the end of the century humanist Hercules Ciofi established the first public school and introduced the art of printing. Dead the last heir of the Lannoy, the city was sold to the princes of Conca (1606) and after just four years went to Marcantonio Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V.
In 1706 an earthquake of magnitude equal to 9 th -10 th grade of Mercalli scale, according to local chronicles, destroyed the city, burying much of that rich architectural heritage that had earned to the city the nickname of “Siena of the Abruzzi.”

Here it is, Piazza XX Settembre, with the statue of Ovid

Porta Napoli (Naples Gate). The medieval gate, the strange decorations of the front articulated in ashlar rustic sloping upwards in different forms, was the main southern entrance to the town, nestled in fourteenth-century walls.

The main tourist attraction  in the city is a complex of Renaissance buildings. The most precious architectural monument  is the palace of Holy Annunziata (Santissima Annunziata).

The palace was built in successive stages from 1415 till the end of 16th century. Adjacent to the building is an elegant baroque church of Holy Annunziata. The two buildings form a monumental evidence of four centuries of Sulmonese art and represent a magnificent synthesis of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles and local artistic tradition. While looking at the façade of the Annunziata’s palace you will be certainly fascinated by its unusual asymmetric beauty. All three doorways have different size, form and decoration. The most imposing is the first door with a very intricate portal combining columns, carving, sculptures and a fresco. While the third small door is deprived of a portal at all. Moreover, three beautiful Renaissance windows are also very different. The first window with three lights is decorated by fine and rich stone lace. Two other windows are more modest and have two lights. Finely you attention will be attracted by very special small “ghibertesche” sculptures which are situated on the top of seven flat pilasters.

The church dates back to 1320, but the restorations after the earthquake of 1706 gave it the current Baroque appearance. The façade was re-built from the start by the carver Norberto Ciccio from Pescocostanzo in the eighteenth century; it consists of two levels and two couples of twin columns divide it vertically in three parts. A curvilinear interrupted tympanum and volutes conclude the upper part of the façade. The architect Pietro Fantoni from Bergamo, entrusted with the restoration of the interior, added a cupola with a lantern over the presbytery. The plan consists of a central barrel-vaulted nave and two lateral aisles, surmounted by little cupolas. The decoration was carried out by the stucco-worker Giovanni Battista Gianni, the wood-carver Norberto Ciccio and the painter Giovanbattista Gamba. In the course of the XX century the church was restored twice: in the Sixties the decorative elements were refurbished, while in the Eighties it was reinforced in its structure and distempered inside.

The complex houses also the Civic Museum, but I had a look just at the archaeological exhibition which starts from the courtyard with stone artefacts and continues in the halls of pre – protohistory – Italian and Roman (under construction) rich in relics of crafts products such as ceramics, bronzes, coins, epigraphic documents, mosaic and sculptural fragments, ranging from the Paleolithic centuries, and in the Sala of the Domus of Ariane, which allows you to admire everything related to a house in Roman times, dating between the I century BC and II AD, with a mosaic floor tiles and black and white fragments of frescoes (which was unfortunately close when I was there)

We had really the best time wandering around with the guide the hotel’s owner gave us, discovering the city, at every step a stunning surprise, an enchanted corner, an amazing view, a beautiful palace or church. The most cherished memory? The people of Sulmona, always ready for a smile, a little talk, an advice on what to do, where to eat, what to see…….happy, helpful and so kind!



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Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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