Abruzzo Sheep farming

Sheep – Photo © calascio123.wordpress.com

The mountains and valleys of Abruzzo, its vast and barren plateaus and the stony slopes of its massifs have made it, since the very earliest times, an ideal environment for shepherds and their flocks.

Already, during the Bronze Age, between the 16th and l2th centuries B.G., 5heep~farming was common among the peoples who had settled in the Abruzzo area. There was a certain regression at the beginning of the first millennium B.C. with the rise of Picenian agriculture (at which time the extraordinary Guerriero di Capestrano – Warrior of Capestrano – was produced). This led to the Appenine shepherd settlements being restricted to the more mountainous areas further inland. From the 7th century B.C. onwards, under the influence of the Sabellian people, sheep-farming was given a new impetus.

The Sabellian races, which were divided into numerous different genti (peoples), generally called Italic, sheep-farmed in territories limited to the areas in which they settled, only moving between the mountains above and the plains directly below. Under Roman influence and once territory had been divided up and the conflicts put down between the Sabellian tribes and the Daunians (farmers of the lowlands of Puglia), Abruzzo sheep-farming was able to extend towards the plains of Puglia. The latter were ideal for an entrepreneurial type of 5heep~farming and this was backed by large amounts of capital from noble families in Rome.

It was, however, in the first half of the 15th century that sheep-farming in Abruzzo developed most. In fact, it is estimated that, in that period, about 30,000 shepherds took no fewer than 3,000,000 head of sheep to winter in Puglia.

As there were about 300,000 people in Abruzzo at that time, that was an average of about 10 sheep per inhabitant. If pastoral activity in the literal sense is then added to those industries which were a direct consequence of it, one can quite easily affirm that at least half the population of Abruzzo was directly dependent on sheep-farming.

Today in Abruzzo there are no more than 450,000 sheep; one for every three inhabitants.

The extraordinary development of sheep-farming in Abruzzo was determined by exploiting to the full the benefits of the mountainous pastures in Abruzzo -impracticable in winter but flourishing in summer – and the grassy plains of the lowlands of Puglia.

Majella – Photo © freeforumzone.leonardo.it

Instrumental in using this to the full was transumanza (transhumance) a seasonal movement of men and flocks between these two geographical areas of pasture, covering hundreds of kilometers on foot at the end of Spring and beginning of Autumn. The route of those moving to other pastures followed a regular network of wide grassy paths: the tratturi (sheep-tracks). These winded down from the furthest parts inland of Abruzzo, more specifically the valley of L’Aquila, from Celano in Marsica and from Pescasseroli at the top of the Sangro valley to the lowlands of Puglia around Foggia and Candela.

The “tratturi” followed routes that had been used for centuries, but it was during Roman times, when sheep-farming took on this transhumant characteristic, that exceptional development began. Even then, the routes followed during the transhumance were defined and protected by laws which became even more stricter during the Aragonese domination.

Sheep – Photo © www.insidersitaly.com

During transhumance there were many stops along the way for the shepherds, and for their well-being and that of their animals different ways of providing food and rest were found over the centuries. Characteristic and very widespread were the chiese tratturali (churches) as “structures for service” which could offer, not only spiritual assistance and comfort, but water for the men and flocks, a safe resting-place for the animals and a roof for the shepherds for the night. These were located at regular intervals along the route allowing enough time between one right-stop and the next.

Once the mountain pastures had been reached a relatively less precarious stopping-place for the men and animals took the form of the pajare, little groups of loose stone huts built by the shepherds themselves.

Borrowed directly from the trullo in Puglia, the pajare began Spreading in Abruzzo no more than 300 years or so ago and were a consequence of the very dose contacts that the pastoral way of life had with the Puglia area. It means that, after Puglia, Abruzzo is the region with the highest number of “trulli”.

The pajare (especially present on the Majella where there are about a thousand), are often found in small dose groups circled around pens which are also built of loose stones. The high walls give these extraordinary buildings a primeval and archaic fort-like appearance. Similar structures can be found on the Gran Sasso. Here they date back to the Middle Ages and are called “condole”, probably deriving from the techniques used in Benedictine-Cistercian buildings.