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!