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.