I Love Italian Wine and Food – The Molise Region

vino_moliseIl mosto fiore – la svinatura – Photo © willer1973

An article by: Levi Reiss

If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Molise region of central Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.

Molise is a small region of central eastern Italy on the Adriatic Sea. It is one of the most unspoiled regions of Italy, about 90% hills and mountains. Its total population is less than a third of a million people, which makes it the second least populous region of Italy after the Valle d’Aosta. Molise was associated with Abruzzo until 1963.

Agricultural products include livestock, pigs, sheep, and goats, wheat and a variety of vegetables including giant celery. The coast furnishes seafood and fish. Polenta (cornbread) is as popular as pasta.

Isernia is the largest city with a population somewhat less than ninety thousand. This area was first settled about 700,000 years ago (not a typographical error) and is of archeological interest. The regional capital, Campobasso, was the site of major battles during World War II. If you love old European cities consider visiting Larino, even if it is not mentioned in major tourist guides. (I’m not naming names.)

Molise devotes about nineteen thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 18th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about nine and a half million gallons, also giving it an 18th place. The region produces 3 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Less than 4% of Molise wine carries the DOC designation. Molise is home to almost two dozen major and secondary grape varieties, about half white and half red.

Widely grown international white grape varieties include Chardonnay and Trebbiano (in particular the Italian Trebbiano Toscano subvariety). The best known Italian white variety is Falanghina, the main component in the wine reviewed below.

The best known strictly Italian red varieties are Montepulciano, Agliacano, and Tintilia.

Before reviewing the Molise wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Taccozze alla Crema a’Asparagi, Hand-Cut Pasta Squares in Asparagus Cream. Then move on to Zuppa di Pesce alla Termolese, Seafood Pot from Termoli, a resort on the Adriatic Sea. For dessert indulge yourself with Calcuini del Molise, Sweet Chestnut Fritters.

Wine Reviewed Rami Di Majo Norante Falanghina Del Molise 2005 12.5% alcohol about $11.50

I’ll start by quoting the marketing materials. “Made from the well-known Falanghina grape (with a little help from the ubiquitous Fiano variety), this delivers fresh peach and apricot flavors with a good citrus spine. It’s crisp and refreshing. And goes well with slightly spicy seafood or chicken, or makes an excellent sipping wine.”

I first tasted this wine with fried chicken cutlets, rice, and corn on the cob. I found it smooth with apricot but no peach flavors. It had more of a citrus smell than taste. I added a cayenne pepper sauce to the meat, and the wine rose to the challenge.

I then tried Talapia filets cooked in an onion sauce with a side of green beans in tomato sauce. I added too much cayenne pepper sauce, which was too harsh for the wine and for the fish itself. However, even with a deadened palate the wine was pleasant.

In the presence of a commercial chicken pot pie with a chili and lime hot sauce (but not too much) the wine was citrusy and refreshingly acidic. On the down side, the wine was short.

Kube, also known as kibbe, is a Middle-Eastern specialty of balls of ground rice filled with ground meat that cooks slowly. The wine was an excellent companion, its acidity cutting the grease nicely. The word gossamer came to mind.

Sometimes we have to make compromises. As you can guess from the name, Pecorino Toscano is not a cheese from the Molise region. It is a sheep’s milk cheese that has been made in Tuscany and neighboring Umbria for thousands of years. Soft Pecorino Toscano is white with a tinge of yellow, while semi-hard Pecorino Toscano is pale yellow. It is moderately strong smelling and has a complex nutty flavor. In the presence of this cheese, our was crisp and yet unctuous.

Final verdict. This wine is a winner. When making notes on this wine I mistakenly identified it as a DOC wine but I double-checked the label. It is not a DOC wine, but in my opinion is better than many DOC wines that I’ve tasted.

About the Author

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com. You can reach him at ital@mail.theworldwidewine.com.

I Love Italian Wine and Food – The Abruzzo Region

vines - Photo © Gardawind
vines – Photo © Gardawind

An article by: Levi Reiss

If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Abruzzo region of central Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.

Abruzzo is located on the central eastern part of Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The area is 2/3 mountains and 1/3 hills. Over time Abruzzo has belonged to the Romans, the Lombards, and the kingdom of Naples. While this area was once very poor, its income is now growing. Abruzzo and Molise were a single region from 1948 to 1965. Its population is 1, 275 million.

Agricultural products include grapes, olives, wheat, sugar beets, tobacco, saffron, pigs, and sheep. The Adriatic Sea and inland lakes and streams provide a wide variety of fish and shellfish. If I remember correctly, the first time that I heard of this region was decades ago, when I learned that according to Craig Claiborne, at the time Food Editor of the New York Times, Italy’s best food was found in Abruzzo.

Abruzzo has no large cities. Its administrative center l’Aquila has a population of about 70 thousand. But big cities are hardly a requirement for good wine. Few would ever claim that Italy’s best wines come from Rome, or the surrounding area.

Abruzzo devotes about eighty two thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 10th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 110 million gallons, giving it a 5th place. About 90% of the wine production is red or rose’ (not very much rose’), leaving 10% for white. The region produces 3 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine and 1 DOCG red wine, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. About 17% of Abruzzo wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation. Abruzzo is home to about two dozen major and secondary grape varieties, a few more white and than red.

Widely grown international white grape varieties include Trebbiano and Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc. The best known strictly Italian white variety is Trebbiano d’Abbruzzi, felt by some to be Bombino Bianco.

The best known Italian red variety is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is the most widely exported Italian DOC wine.

Before we reviewing the Abruzzo wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with local wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with a Pizza Rustica, Cinnamon-Scented Pie Stuffed with Proscuitto, Cheese, and Eggs. Then move on to Polenta sulla Spianatora, Polenta (Cornbread) Topped with Sausage in Spicy Tomato Sauce. For desert enjoy a Crostata di Ricotta, a Ricotta Tart.

Wine Reviewed Abruzzo Illuminati Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Riparosso” 2004 DOC 13% alcohol about $11.50

The marketing materials state that this wine has hints of an Amarone (a much more expensive wine) or a Ripasso ( a more expensive wine). There are raisings, currants, and tar on the nose whilst the taste profile is ripe, mellow fruit flavors of raspberry jam and ocha. It doesn’t contain a lot of acidity so drink it within a year. Pair it with pizza, burgers, or any meat dish that you tend to eat during the week.

This wine is said to complement pasta, red meats, and savory cheeses.

I found the Riparosso to be somewhat robust, with cherry and plum flavors. I didn’t have the feeling that I was drinking a regular Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but instead almost a Ripasso, a wine that I prefer. This wine managed to feel full-bodied even with its light tannins. It balanced nicely the tanginess of barbecued eggplant loaded with garlic, and demonstrated notable spiciness when paired with a meat ball and vegetable stew. Its acidity was pleasant. I did not discern all the flavors listed above. For me the dominant flavor was black cherry. The final meat dish that accompanied this wine was a barbecued boneless rib steak with a spicy curry and cumin sauce. The wine seemed to pick up strength to accompany this meat, which by the way, we don’t eat on a regular basis during the week.

I tasted this wine with two related cheeses. Pecorino Toscano is a soft, nutty cheese. Interestingly enough, I found that the wine was no longer robust, it seemed to soften to accompany this mild cheese. In the presence of a Pecorino Fiore Sardo, a balsamic sheep’s milk cheese with a stronger flavor and coarser consistency than its Tuscan cousin, the wine almost magically picked up flavor to meet the challenge.

Final verdict, as you can tell this wine is a definite keeper.

Extra note. Several months ago on a whim I bought a $6 bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Given the realities of the marketplace, I really doubt that any producer can come up with a decent bottle at that price. At first the wine was terribly acidic. I held out, finished the bottle and the last glass was almost OK. Yes, there are bargains, such as this Riparosso, but few in the $6 range.

About the Author

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com. You can reach him at ital@mail.theworldwidewine.com.

Where the name of Italy was born Part 2: From Roccaraso to Pesaro

This is the return portion of the itinerary: Where the name of Italy was born

The Marches and the Abruzzi are a part of Italy not very well known to the international tourist. It is not just a question of doing justice to these areas by recommending them to the tourist; the tourist himself will make some fascinating discoveries, because these areas are no less rich in art treasures and natural beauties than others much more famous.

There are mighty Roman ruins, wonderful churches and abbeys, Renaissance palaces, picture galleries rich, particularly in works of the Venetian School (to know the rare works of Crivelli or Lotto, one must visit the galleries of the Marches). Then there is the majestic mountain scenery of the Maiella and the Gran Sasso, and the long golden sands of the Adriatic beaches.

There is yet another reason for visiting these parts. Everyone. knows of the exploits of the other peoples of Italy, the Eruscans in the north and the Greeks in the south: but these peoples, even if they became acclimatized, were foreigners, they came from beyond the sea. The Marches and Umbria were populated and civilized by native people, the Italic. On this route, we shall pass through the ruins of an ancient city, Corfinium.

In 90 BC the people of this city rose against Rome, and made it the capital of their state, giving it a name destined to have a very long life – Italia. That ancient Italia was overwhelmed and defeated. But the name remained, and long outlived Roman power, to spread to the whole of Italy.

The itinerary: Part 2 – From Roccaraso to Pesaro

We climb to century RIVISONDOLI (1210 m. – 3969 ft.) a mountain resort, where we shall spend the night, or in nearby ROCCARASO. The next day we set out on the beautiful “ring road of the Abruzzi”, a long balcony commanding most stupendous views . It runs along the massif of the Maiella 2800 m. – 9164 ft.) towards Lama dei Peligni (2298 ft.) and GUARDIAGRELE at 61 km. 37 3/4 mi.) from Rivisondoli, with two splendid churches, San Francisco and Santa Maria Maggiore, with a picturesque rustic portico along one side From Guardiagrele 30 km. (18 3/4 mi.) of road bring us to CHIETI.

CHIETI, ancient Teate standing on a pleasant hill with fine views over the Maiella, the Gran Sasso and the Adriatic.

Outstanding monuments to visit: the Roman ruins of the city include three small temples of the late I century AD, the Roman theatre, the barbs of the I century AD with a large storage tank dug into the hillside.

The cathedral with a slender bell tower of the 15th century and a rich Baroque crypt containing the silver bust of St Justin by Nicola da Guardiagrele. The Archaeological Museum rich in finds ranging from the VII century BC to the II century AD, including the famous statue of the “Warrior of Capestrano” of the late VI century BC and the well-stocked provincial library with precious incunabula and the Mss of “Il Piacere” and “La Figlia di Jorio” by Gabriele d’Annunzio.

Leaving Chieti drive towards the Adriatic, reaching, after 12 miles PESCARA, the largest and most up-to-date city in Abruzzo, birthplace of Gabriele d’Annunzio. Worthy of a visit are: d’Annunzio’s birthplace, the stela of the d’Annunzio Memorial Theatre and the painting, by F.P. Michetti, of “The Daughter of Jorio” in the Palazzo della Provincia.

PESCARA has 6 1/2 miles of seaside promenade, wide sandy beaches and a large number of bathing stations; it has become the most popular resort in the Mid-Adriatic. On the tenth day take the splendid seaside drive that links Francavilla through the Pescara pinewood to the important resort of MONTESILVANO, from which leave the coast to climb along the national highway up the eastern slopes of the Gran Sasso to LORETO APRUTINO, a pretty town on a hill; there are 12th-13th century frescoes in the church of Santa Maria in Piano (13th cent.). The Acerbo Gallery contains ancient Abruzzo pottery. From here it is a short distance to PENNE (19 mi. from Pescara), a city of proud Roman, medieval and Risorgimento traditions. To be seen: the church of San Domenico and that of the Annunziata, the Cathedral, the church of Santa Maria in Colleromano; another 26 kms (16 1/4 mi.) brings us to the turning for ATRI with a splendid Romanesque Cathedral (Gothic interior with fine frescoes-the most important cycle in the Abruzzi) and other Romanesque churches. From Atri the road descends to the sea again (15 km. – 9 1/2 mi.) at Pineto degli Abruzzi, from which one arrives at GIULIANOVA. There may be time for a swin at Giulianova before climbing up again to TERAMO

TERAMO (25 km. – 15 1/2 mi.) an ancient Picenian city which later became Roman and then Longobard. Fine Cathedral with richly decorated Portal (1332), in which there is the frontal by Nicola da Guardiagrele and a superb Altar-Piece by Iacobello del Fiore (15th century).

On the next day of the journey we leave Teramo early in the morning for 37 km. (23 mi.) of driving through mountains and gorges which bring us to ASCOLI PICENO.

Ascoli Piceno - Photo © paul goyette
Ascoli Piceno – Photo © paul goyette

ASCOLI PICENO, an inhabited center since the Bronze Age, rich in Romanesque and medieval monuments. This wonderful city will come as a complete surprise to the foreign visitor, who may very well never have heard of it. Our program envisages seeing it on the afternoon of the eleventh day and the morning of the twelfth. We will begin at Piazza del Popolo, which for its sober elegance is one of the finest piazzas in Italy.

On one side is the massive Palazzo del Popolo (13th cent.) with its Renaissance portal (inside there is an Archaeological Museum).

Through a perspective of two small battlemented 16th century palaces, we see at one end the side wall, apses and slim hexagonal bell-towers of San Francesco. Near the porch of this church, in Corso Mazzim, is the elegant Merchants’ Loggia (15th century) which continues the architecture of the facade, one side is open and is used as a busy market, the other is closed, silent and peaceful.

In Piazza dell’Arringo rises the magnificent 17th century Palazzo dell’Arringo or del Comune with tall caryatids flanking the windows (inside a rich Art Gallery with works by, primitives, Carlo Crivelli, Titian, Correggio, Magnasco, Reni, Rubens, Canaletto).

Opposite are the Cathedral and the superb Romanesque Baptistery, built over a Roman temple. In Via Bonaparte stands the fine Palazzo Bonaparte 16th century Lombard work. Taking Vial, Repubblica past the Public Gardens we reach San Vittore, a pretty Romanesque church; along Corso Mazzini we arrive at Palazzo Malaspina, an imaginatively built and rather rough building of the 16th century, with a loggia supported on columns carved to look like tree-trunks.

Going right, along Via Sacconi we arrive at the River Trento by the ancient solitary Porta Tufilla through which, proceeding along Via Bartolomei, we arrive at Santa Maria Inter Vineas: here at hand there are the churches of San Vincenzo with its very rare Romanesque coffered facade and a Romanesque portal, and San Pietro Martire. Go as far as the Roman Bridge and then turn back along Via Soderini with its fine Lombard House, wander through the streets of the fine medieval quarter with its towers, the ancient severity of its house-fronts and the Romanesque church of San Giacomo, the Roman Porta Gemina, the Gothic church of Sant’Agostino, opposite which are the two Towers which give the street its name – Via delle Torri.

Leave Ascoli by Porta Romana and turn left off the Via Salaria after 8 km. (5 mi.) to climb between steep mountain slopes (to the left Monte Vettore 2422 m. – 7933 ft.) to Comunanza (34 km. – 21 1/4 mi.) and 9 km. (5314 mi.) farther on AMANDOLA with the fine 15th century churches of Sant’Agostino and San Franceseo (frescoes). The road then drops to SARNANO, a fine medieval town with the churches of Santa Maria di Piazza and San Franceseo (inside a rare panel painting by Crivelli) and so to URBISAGLIA perched on a hill, with its massive 14th century Castle to reach finally at 49 km. (30 3/4 mi.) from Ascoli, the ABBEY OF FIASTRA (1141) a wonderful Romanesque Cistercian Basilica Another 10 km. (6 1/4 mi.) brings us to MACERATA.

MACERATA, an ancient city in a pleasant hill setting between the Potenza and Chienti valleys. Its most curious monument is an old sports ground, the Neo-Classical Sferisferio (1829) built for the game of “pallone” once very popular in the Marches, and where opera seasons with famous international singers are new held every summer. From here to the Baroque Cathedral (good tryptych by Nuzi in interior) near which we find the 18th century Madonna della Misericordia. Along Via Don Minzoni, leaving Palazzo Marefossi to the right and the ancient University (1290) to the left, we reach Piazza Liberia with the Palazzo della Prefettura and the Merchants’ Loggia (1490) and the Torre di Piazza. There are fine buildings in Corso Matteotti including the 16th century Palazzo Ferri with rhomboid rustication. In the Art Gallery (Piazza Vittorio Veneto), fine primitive paintings and an expressive Madonna by Crivelli. The next morning we go down into the valley of the Potenza to Villa Potenza (6 km. – 3 3/4 mi.) near which are the vast ruins of the Roman Helvia Retina, destroyed by the Visigoths.

Turning to the right, one goes down into the valley, as far as RECANATI, birthplace of the great 19th century poet Giacomo Leopardi: there is a group of noteworthy churches here, including San Domenico, with frescoes by Lorenzo Lotto, Santa Maria di Montemorello next to be noted for a group of works by Lotto, paintings by primitives, Guercino etc. Going farther down the valley (11 km. – Tam.) brings us to LORETO.

LORETO, a little town dominated by its Sanctuary, built by Sangallo, Andrea Sansovino and other architects (1518-1522) and containing an enormous wealth of works of art, in the church, the treasury and the adjoining Museum-marbles and bronzes by Benedetto da Maiano, Bandinelli, Sansovino etc., frescoes and panel and canvas paintings by Melozzo da Forli, Signorelli, Pomarancio, Garofalo, Lotto, Maratta, Rein, Domenichino, Caracci, Magnasco-and majolica work, tapestries and jewellery. After 4 km. (2 1/2 mi.) we reach PORTO RECANATI on the Adriatic and take the coast road which skirts the magnificent spur of Monte Conero, to Sirolo and its beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria di Portonovo by the sea. After 35 km. (21 1/2 mi.) we reach ANCONA.

ANCONA, a city with numerous monuments from all the periods in its long history. Entering by the Baroque Porta Pia at the southern extremity of the port we go towards Piazza Garibaldi. Within easy reach of this point we find the wonderful Portal of Sant’Agostino (1475) built on to a house when the church was demolished, the central Piazza della bepubblica with its Neo-classical Theatre, the Palazzo della Prefettura with its graceful courtyard, the ancient and curious “Fountain of the 33 Jets” and many rugged arches and severe medieval house-fronts. Wide steps lead us to the Baroque San Domenico to see Titian’s Crucifixion and Guercino’s Annunciation. Then we go to the Romanesque Church of San Pietro, with important sculpture and the Piazza del Senato and the very fine Palazzo del Senato which houses the National Museum of the Marches, one of the most important archaeological collections in Italy, particularly as regards pre-Roman Adriatic cultures.

Near here, in a fine palace overlooking the sea, is the important Art Gallery with works by Primitives and also by Crivelli, Lotto, an exceptional canvas by Titian etc. Opposite this palace the theatrical Church of the Gesu by Vanvitelli. It is best to ask the way to the Romanesque Santa Maria della Piazza, the most beautiful church in Ancona, with its facade composed of a striking series of superimposed Romanesque loggias. Close at hand is the Gothic Merchants’ Loggia with noteworthy Renaissance sculpture. Then one must go the whole length of Via Vanvitelli to the Cathedral of San Ciriaco; there is no other cathedral in Italy which boasts such a position, overlooking a precipice into the sea on a lonely promontory. It is of Greek Cross plan with a marvelous porch resting on two carved lions. Lastly, on the end of the jetty there is a Roman Arch built in honor of Trajan, who built the port of Ancona.

On the last day of our journey we leave Ancona and turn off at 11 km. (7 mi.) to visit the ABBEY OF CHIARAVALLE (1172) 5 km. (3 mi.) inland. After another 12 km. (7 1/2 mi.) comes IESI where Frederick II of Swabia was born, with its beautiful Palazzo della Signoria (15th century) and a good Art Gallery.

Back on the coast road, we reach SENIGALLIA with its Cathedral, its 15th century Palazzo Comunale and the 17th century church della Croce, Three km. (1 3/4 mi.) farther on is the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie with a Renaissance cloister and a Perugino Madonna.

Then we take the coast road again, which in 34 km. along the coast (21 1/4 mi.) brings us back to Pesaro.

Recommended itineraries in Italy

Where the name of Italy was born Part 1: From Pesaro to Roccaraso

The Marches and the Abruzzi are a part of Italy not very well known to the international tourist. It is not just a question of doing justice to these areas by recommending them to the tourist; the tourist himself will make some fascinating discoveries, because these areas are no less rich in art treasures and natural beauties than others much more famous.

There are mighty Roman ruins, wonderful churches and abbeys, Renaissance palaces, picture galleries rich, particularly in works of the Venetian School (to know the rare works of Crivelli or Lotto, one must visit the galleries of the Marches).

Then there is the majestic mountain scenery of the Maiella and the Gran Sasso, and the long golden sands of the Adriatic beaches.

There is yet another reason for visiting these parts. Everyone. knows of the exploits of the other peoples of Italy, the Eruscans in the north and the Greeks in the south: but these peoples, even if they became acclimatized, were foreigners, they came from beyond the sea. The Marches and Umbria were populated and civilized by native people, the Italic. On this route, we shall pass through the ruins of an ancient city, Corfinium.

In 90 BC the people of this city rose against Rome, and made it the capital of their state, giving it a name destined to have a very long life – Italia. That ancient Italia was overwhelmed and defeated. But the name remained, and long outlived Roman power, to spread to the whole of Italy.

The itinerary:

PESARO still has fine monuments dating from the time when it was a Signory, first of the Malatesta, and then of the Sforza and the Della Revere: the Ducal Palace (15th cent.) and the Costanza Fortress by Laurana. From here, passing the Romanesque Cathedral we arrive at Palazzo Toschi-Mosca, with the most important Majolica Museum in Italy, and the rich Picture Gallery (great Coronation of the Virgin by Giovanni Bellini, works by Michele di Malice, Beccafumi etc.). From here we can go on to Sant’Agostino with its magnificent Gothic portal of 1413.

About 2 km. (1 1/4 mi.) out of the city, on a height near the sea, is Villa Imperiale (15th – 16th cent.) of which the Emperor Frederick III laid the foundation stone, a luxurious noble dwelling of the 15th century, with noteworthy frescoes by Dossi, Bronzino, Perin del Vaga.

We can devote the afternoon to FANO.

FANO, a fine city, rich in monuments, about 12 km. (7 1/2) of coast road away, over the Canal Harbor. There is a fine Arch of Augustus; next it, the little church of San Michele with an elegant 16th century portal and the Loggias of San Michele. In the Piazza rises the 13th century Palazzo delta Ragione, of Lombard form, flanked by a Tower and the Palazzo Malatestiano (fine Gallery of Primitives). In the church of Santa Maria Nuova there is a Madonna and Saints and an Annunciation by Perugino. Leaving Fano the next day we reach (25 km. – 15 3/4 mi.) FOSSOMBRONE, a pretty town in the Metauro Valley with a 16th century Palazzo Comunale and many others, all with rhomboid rustication. Five kilometers farther on, turn right before entering the Furlo Gorge, to follow the Metauro (15 km. – 9 1/2 mi.) to URBINO.

Urbino - Photo © brunoat
Urbino – Photo © brunoat

URBINO, a parallelogram lying over its two hills it keeps the form given it by its lord, Federico da Montefeltro. It was the birthplace of Bramante and Raphael. If he arrives from Faro, we advise the traveller to go in by the Via Nazionale, so as to get the southern aspect of the Ducal Palace, with its soaring turrets and storeys of loggias.

And so to the Palace, built by Luciano Laurana (1466), one of the most extraordinary examples of early Renaissance architecture, with its splendid Main Courtyard, the staircase which Vasari described as the finest of his time, the magnificent rooms with carved ceilings and inlaid mantelpieces.

On the first floor is the National Gallery of the Marches, an extremely rich collection, with two works by Piero della Francesca, Flagellation of Christ and a Madonna, Raphael’s , Dumb Girl, and paintings by Verrocchio, Gentile da Fabriano, Giovanni Bellini, Paolo Uccello, Giovanni Sanzio (Raphael’s father), Titian etc. Opposite the right wing of the Palace, the church of San Domenico, with a fine portal.

Passing to Piazza della Repubblica and along Via Mazzini, one arrives at the Oratory of San Giovanni with excellent frescoes by the Salimbeni brothers. We now go back the Via Flaminia along the same road (14 km. – 8 /4 mi.) and pass through the Furlo Gorge to Acqualagna and CAGLI a town of severe appearance with a 15th century Palazzo Comunale and the Gothic-Romanesque church of San Francesco (frescoes inside), to rise through fine scenery to Scheggia at 55 km. (34 1/2 mi.) from Urbino. Here turn to the right and take the road which after 13 kms. (8 mi.) through bare, harsh mountain scenery, brings us into Umbria and to GUBBIO.

GUBBIO, an ancient city which a perfectly preserved medieval atmosphere. Entering through Porto Metauro, we climb the Via dei Consoli, between ancient house-fronts, running past the austere Palazzo del Bargello to the impressive Piazza della Signoria, opening like a balcony supported on heavy arches, over the lower city and the plain beyond. The piazza is dominated by the superb Palazzo dei Consoli (1332) opposite which rises the Palazzo Camomile of the same period (Picture Gallery inside). Behind the palace rises Monte Ingino, towards which we climb up the steep Via Ducale to the Cathedral (13th cent.), with its austere interior sup ported on ten Gothic arches; with fine primitive paintings. Opposite is the Ducal Palace, by Laurana, with its beautiful courtyard. There is a magnificent view from up here.

Returning to Piazza della Signoria we go down to the San Giovanni Battista district, with the church of San Giovanni, then on down Via Piccardi past sturdy medieval facades to the 14th century church of San Domenico, not far from the Roman Amphitheatre of the Augustan age. Along other streets of the higher city (Via Savelli, with fine palaces) one can get to Santa Maria Nacre, with fine frescoes by Ottaviano Nelli. Then down to the tower of Porta Romana, beyond which stands Sant’Agostino, an impressive 13th century building with beautiful primitive frescoes in the interior and out of Gribbin on to a fine panoramic road through the hills leading to PERUGIA.

We spend the entire day with a visit to Perugia,

On the morning of the next day, we leave Perugia by Via Roma and after a drive of 15 miles come to ASSISI.

After the visit to Assisi, we leave, descending into the valley and passing by the enormous church of S. Maria degli Angeli, and go toward Perugia, but without re-entering the city. When we come to Ponte San Giovanni (12 1/2 miles from Assisi), we take Highway No. 3 his to the right, up the valley of the Tiber, and after some 20 miles come to UMBERTIDE, with its Castle (14th century) and the beautiful octagonal church of S. Maria della Reggia (16th century). In the church of S. Croce (1651), we find a Deposition by Luca Signorelli.

Spello - Photo © ho visto nina volare
Spello – Photo © ho visto nina volare

Thirteen kilometers from Assisi (8 mi.) lies SPELLO, on the last spur of Monte Subiaso. We enter the town through the fine Roman Porta Consolare and climb up past ancient house-fronts to the Oratory of San Bernardino (Madonna by Pinturicchio) and Santa Maria Maggiore with its fine frescoes by Pinturicchio and paintings of his school.

Passing Sant’Andrea (13th cent.) with more paintings by Pinturicchio and the Palazzo Comunale we climb to the Belvedere near the walls of the ancient fortress and the ruins of a Roman Arch. The view from here is superb, looking over the Umbrian hills to Perugia and Assisi.

Going back to the State Highway, another few miles brings us to FOLIGNO, which we enter by crossing the picturesque Canale dei Molini (Mill-race) and coming out into Piazza Centrale on one corner of this stands Palazzo Trinci, containing a fine chapel frescoed by Nelli, a Museum and an Art Gallery. The Palazzo Comunale has a Neo-Classical facade and a 15th century tower. To be seen then the Palazzo Orfini of the 15 century and the graceful sidewall wail of the Romanesque Cathedral, with rose-windows mothered windows and a fine 13th century Portal.

After Foligno, we leave the State Highway for a side road leading to the enchanting town of MONTEFALCO.

MONTEFALCO, (12 km – 7 1/2 mi.). It is in a superb position, girt by massive battlemented walls. In its churches of Santa Chiara, Sant’Agostino, Madonna del Soccorso, San Fortunato but especially of San Francesco, three generations of Umbrian painters in the 14th and 15th centuries left an unbelievable complex of frescoes, quite exceptional for a little place of only 7000 inhabitants. A call here is made essential if only for the beautiful work of Benozzo Gozzoli. The road brings us back to the State Highway after winding for 23 km. (14 1/2 mi.) near TREVI perched on its hill. Two kilometers (1 1/4 mi.) farther on is the little Roman Temple beside the Fonti di Clitunno (springs) in a charming woodland setting. Another 16 km. (10 mi.) brings us to Spoleto where we advise the visitor who is not in a hurry to go first to the cemetery see the extremely rare Basilica of San Salvatore with intact facade and apse of the 4th century and a severe Roman interior. Going back on to the Via Nursina and crossing the bridge, we now enter SPOLETO.

SPOLETO through Porta Garibaldi. This was a proud Etruscan city, then Roman; it became the seat of a powerful Longobard Duchy in the early Middle Ages. In Piazza Garibaldi is the 12th century church of San Gregorio Magno, and near it, a Roman bridge. Going along Via Anfiteatro, skirting the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre which Totila. transformed into a fortress in 545, we go up Via Cecili as far as Porto Fuga (12th century) near Palazzo Cecili (15th century) and on up to Piazza Torre dell’Olio, near the massive city wall with superimposed Etruscan, Roman,Longobard, medieval and Renaissance work. We continue to climb past ancient buildings, all vaults and towers, to Piazza San Domenico, with its 14th century church, in bands of white and red stone.

From here it is only a few steps to the piazza in which Palazzo Collicola stands. In this area there is the little Romanesque church of San Lorenzo. Here one takes Via delle Terme for the ruins of the Roman Theatre in Palazzo Ancaiani.

Starting from Piazza della Liberta one can get to the small church of Sant’Ansano, beside which stands the Arch of Drusus (23 AD) leading into Piazza del Mercato, the center of the medieval city. Turning left off this we enter Piazza della Genga with Palazzo della Genga and the Fontana Grande, or Great Fountain. Piazza Municipio, reached along Via dei Duchy, contains the 13th century Municipal Hall m which there is an Art Gallery. Passing from the panoramic Piazza Campello and Via Saffi into Via dell’Arringo, we go down the wide steps leading to the superb Cathedral, inside which there is sculpture by Bernini,frescoes by Lippo Lippi and the latter’s tomb.

From Spoleto to TERNI is 26 km. of mountain road (16 3/4 mi.).

TERNI. As one enters, it is best to make for Piazza Tacito and then along Via Fratti to the 13th century church of San Francesco, inside which there are 14th century frescoes inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Going along Via Nobili and Via Fratini and then Via Cavour brings us to the Cathedral, with a 17th century facade ascribed to Bernini, whose loggia opens into the Romanesque Portal.

There is a fine 10th century crypt. Opposite the Cathedral the fine Palazzo Bianchini-Riccardi by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and, to the right, the rums of the Roman Amphitheatre. Via Vescovado, Via Roma and then Via del Popolo take us to the city’s finest church, San Salvatore, whose 12th century nave was built onto an ancient Temple of the Sun Passing the majestic Palazzo Spada brings us to Piazza del Popolo and so we leave Term by Ponte Garibaldi along a fine road which takes us past the Marmore Cascades (8 km. – 5 mi.) and Lake Piediluco and minor lakes to RIETI.

RIETI Immediately on entering the town after Piazza Marconi is San Domenico (13th century) on the right. From here to Piazza Battisti with the Cathedral; Romanesque with Renaissance facade ad fine campanile; and the Bishop’s Palace. Close at hand, the picturesque Vescovado Vaults (1288). Via Roma has fine Gothic houses and leads to San Pietro Apostolo with a 13th century Romanesque portal: close by is the late Renaissance Palazzo Vecchiarelli Ponte Romano crosses the River Velino, on to which picturesque houses front. To the left here stands San Francesco (1285) with a Gothic Altar and frescoes. In the Baroque Palazzo del Municipio the Civic Museum is housed, with some good works such as paintings by Antoniazzo Romano and his pupils, Luca di Tome, archaeological exhibits and a fine 15th century German Pieta. Leaving the town by Porta d’Arci, note the massive Walls (13th century) which still surround the town.

One leaves Rieti by State Highway No. 4, commanded to the left by Monte Terminillo. After Cittaducale, perched high on a hill, one posses wooded valleys to arrive at ANTRODOCO (25 km. – 16 mi. from Rieti). This is an ancient town at the foot of Monte Giano. Here we leave the River Velino and go up a majestic valley, through road tunnels and narrow gorges to arrive at Sella di Caron. Here we are at 3212 ft and the setting is Alp ne. From here we go down into the bowl of the hills in which L’AOUILA lies.

Downtown L'Aquila
Downtown L’Aquila before the earthquake – Photo © sangiopanza2000

L’AOUILA. Its monuments are scattered at random round the outskirts. Beginning from the modern Piazza del Duomo, go up to Santa Maria di Paganica, a fine Romanesque church of 1308, surrounded by noteworthy 15th century palaces. From here we can go on to the superb Castle built in 1535 by the Spanish Viceroy, who had been frightened by a revolt of the Aquilans in 1529. Magnificent view over the city and the mountains, among which the Gran Sasso d’Italia stands out.

From the Castle, down to San Bernardino, a fine 15th century Basilica built over the tomb of the Sienese saint who died here in 1444: inside, carved ceilings, fine Renaissance sculpture.

Going down the majestic monumental staircase in front of the church into the picturesque Via Fortebraccio and turning to the right before reaching Porta di Bazzano, we enter the old quarter, where the severe Romanesque facade of Santa Giusta rises.

Then back to Porta di Bazzano, go through it and climb up to Santa Maria di Collemaggio, one of the most beautiful churches in Italy, whose majestic facade is relieved by three portals, three rose-windows and inlaid work of tiny red and white stones (13th century). Going back to Porta Bazzano, go towards Corso Federico II and beyond it to San Marco, with a fine Romanesque portal. Via Arcivescovado has several fine palaces: in Via San Marciano, which is near, there is the House of Nardis, with Gothic arches and the church of San Marciano from which one may proceed to Santa Maria di Roio (15th cent.) surrounded by noteworthy palaces. Via Fontesecca takes us down to the famous Fountain of the 99 Jets, near which stands the splendid Romanesque church of San Vito. Returning to the city, one may visit San Domenico, San Pietro in Coppito and the 14th century San Silvestro.

In the Castle there is an important National Museum of the Abruzzo (sculpture, paintings and objets d’art). The seventh day of the journey begins with the ascent to Assergi (21 km. – 13 mi.)with a fine Romanesque church of 1150, lower station of the bold cableway of 3400 meters to Campo Imperatore (2114 meters – 6934 ft.). All around, the peaks of the Gran Sasso and a vast panorama of the Abruzzo mountains and plains. On the eighth day we leave L’Aquila by Porta Napoli. After 8 km. (5 mi.) we come to Bazzano, with its beautiful rustic Romanesque church of Santa Giusta. From here we climb to Poggio Picenze, leaving the Barisciano turning. It would be worth the trouble, however, to make a short deviation (5 km. – 3 mi.) for BOMINACO for its splendid Romanesque churches of San Pellegrino and Santa Maria. Back on the State ighway take the straight over the Navelli plateau-beautiful country-and then down into the River Pescara valley to POPOLI at the foot of the mountains (50 km. – 28 1/4 mi.) from L’Aquila. Here there is the fine 15th century church of San Francisco and the Gothic Ducat Tavern.

From Popoli, passing the CORFINIO turning after 5 km (3 mi.) we reach SULMONA, an ancient city with fine buildings. The 13th century Cathedral is on the left as you enter; Palazzo dell’Annunziata, the finest civic building in the Abruzzi, a synthesis of styles trouble, however, to make a short deviation (5 km. – 3 mi.) for BOMINACO for its splendid Romanesque churches of San Pellegrino and Santa Maria. Back on the State Highway take the straight over the Navelli plateau-beautiful country-and then down into the River Pescara valley to POPOLI at the foot of the mountains (50 km. – 28 3/4 mi.) from L’Aquila. Here there is the fine 15th century church of San Francesco and the Gothic Ducal Tavern.

From Popoli we suggest making a deviation of 14 km. (8 3/4 mi.) to TORRE DE’ PASSERI to see the architectural masterpiece of the Abruzzi, the Romanesque Abbey of San Clemente at Casauria, a splendid monumental complex built between the 9th and the 12th centuries; it is to be seen both for its architectural splendor and for its carvings.

Deer
Deer – Photo © www.aquilatv.it

From Popoli, passing the CORFINIO turning after 5 km (3 mi.) we reach SULMONA, an ancient city with fine buildings. The 13th century Cathedral is on the left as you enter; Palazzo dell’Annunziata, the finest civic building in the Abruzzi, a synthesis of styles running from Gothic to Baroque: in the interior, Civic Museum with a statue of Ovid, who was born here: the Romanesque church of San Francesco alla Scarpa. In the airy Piazza del Mercato, we see the arches of a 14th century acqueduct which feeds the 16th century fountain, Fontana del Vecchio ; at the foot of the mountain stands San Filippo. Leaving the XIV century rustic Porta Napoli we climb to century RIVISONDOLI (1210 m. – 3969 ft.) a mountain resort, where we shall spend the night, or in nearby ROCCARASO.

The return from Roccaraso to Pesaro is covered in this itinerary
Recommended itineraries in Italy

Molise Food & Recipes

Molise
Molise – Photo © Renata Virzintaite

Because of their joint history, Molise shares many of the culinary traditions of Abruzzo, and there are few dishes unique to the region.

One is p’lenta d’iragn, a white polenta made with potatoes and wheat and served with a tomato sauce. Another is calconi di ricotta rustica, ravioli stuffed with ricotta, provolone, and prosciutto, then fried in oil. The cheeses of Molise include scamorza, mateca, and burrino.

In the interior of Molise, you can still find orchards with a very old type of apple tree that produces very aromatic fruit known as mela limoncella.

Many families used to display these apples around their kitchen and living room doorframes because of their special scent.  They have a green-yellow peel, a very strong scent, and a slightly acidic yet sweet flavor.

Molise typical food includes:

Abbuoti or torcinelli involtini: (envelopes) of lamb intestines filled with chopped liver, sweetbreads, hardboiled egg and baked.
Baccala’ alla cantalupese: salt cod cooked with peppers, capers, black olives, grapes, garlic.
Calcioni di ricotta rustici: rounds of pasta dough filled with ricotta, provolone and prosciutto fried in olive oil, often part of a fritto misto, fried in oil.
Lepre a ciffe e ciaffe:
hare cooked in a marinade of vinegar and wine with plenty of herbs.
Panettoncino di mais:
spongy corn-flour cake with chocolate.
Pezzata: ewe stewed with tomato, onion, rosemary and hot peppers.
Picellati: pastries filled with honey, nuts and grapes.
Pizza con le foglie: corn flour flatbread baked with wild greens; pizza e minestra is a soup of pork broth and field greens with the pizza crumbled into it.
Polenta maritata: slices of cornmeal fried in oil with garlic, layered with a filling of red beans and peperoncini and baked in the oven, a specialty of Isernia.

  Molise Recipes:

Tacchino arrosto – Roast turkey Molise style
Polpi in purgatorio – octopus cooked with tomato, garlic, parsley and diavolicchio.
Zuppa di ortiche – soup of early spring nettle sprouts cooked with tomato and bacon.

Exploring Molise

Molise
Molise – Photo © Renata Virzintaite

One of Italy’s smallest regions, Molise offers a world of culture and flavors. Simplicity and joie de vivre: these are the main characteristics of Campobasso and its province, small centers of one of Italy’s tiniest and still unknown regions: Molise. Nestled between Abruzzo, Apulia and Campania, it’s a small emerald sparkling with natural beauty, from the seaside to the forests, from the Matese mountains to the countryside.

Its many archeological ruins testify to a past which finds its roots in the Samnites and in the reign of ancient Rome.

Such as those in Pietrabbondante and Sepino, the base of an archeological park complete with an ancient Roman theater which is still intact and surrounded by greenery, or those in Bojano, which rise up at the foot of the Biferno river and offer art lovers its beautiful churches, including the cathedral where the seven deadly sins are depicted, as well as the Sorgente di Pietre Cadute.

Closely connected with Bojano is the hamlet of Civita Superiore, a village with a population of around fifty, most of the inhabitants being elderly folks who remained to protect the old houses. A visit to this charming village is truly captivating. It’s like walking through a distant past which has nothing in common with our modern, frenetic lifestyle. Testifying to this are three citizens over a hundred years old who are more than willing to tell visitors the history of these places, which were immortalized by Sergio Castelletto in his film “Don’t Move” (“Non ti muovere”).

Not far away, on the slopes of the Matese, we find Campochiaro, Molise’s second largest town after Roccamandolfi in terms of hectares of forest land. Here, as in Capracotta (near the hermitage of St. Luke), and in the oases of Venafro and Guardiaregia, tourists who allow themselves to be taken away by the sweetness of the landscape can delve into untouched forests, mountains and cascades, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying sports such as skiing, rock climbing and hang-gliding in both summer and winter.

Yet Molise has even more to offer. There are numerous medieval villages. All of the 136 towns in the region have towers, castles, forts, and examples of sacred art in Romanic and Baroque style, such as those found in Matrice, San Felice del Molise and San Massimo.

Also worthy of a trip is Campobasso, Molise region’s capital, where visitors can admire its cathedral, and Termoli, the luminous seaside port on the Adriatic which is the hometown of comics artist Benito Jacovitti.

Here, before setting sail for the beautiful Tremiti islands, one can stroll along the streets of the old village and enjoy delicious fish dishes at the restaurants Borgo, Da Noi Tre and Torre Sinarca.

As for accommodation, stay overnight in Capracotta, at the hotel by the same name, at the Eden in Campobasso or at Pleiadi’s in Bojano, which also offers excellent cuisine.

In addition to natural and artistic beauty, tourists who choose Molise as their vacation destination may also have fun at the many local village festivals, such as the Carnevale Mardi Gras celebrations in Tufara and Rocchetta al Volturno, the Wheat Festival in Jelsi on St. Anna’s day and the Mutton Festival in Capracotta, where one can enjoy the ancient flavors of the area’s country-style cooking.

Molise  - Photo © Renata Virzintaite
Molise – Photo © Renata Virzintaite

The area of Molise has a wide variety of genuine food and wine specialties, ranging from salumi such as smoked prosciutto from Spinete and Rionero Sannitico, mulette di Macchiagodenae, sausages and soppressate, pasta dishes, cavatelli served with lamb ragu’, maccheroni alla chitarra, fusilli and polenta, nettle and cardoon soups, excellent cheeses and second courses made of grilled kid and lamb.

We suggest trying the buffalo mozzarella produced by the many local dairy farms, in particular those in Bojano and Venafro. As for wine, try the autochthonous DOC wines Biferno (available in white, rosè, red and riserva), Molise, Trebbiano and Aglianico, as well as the IGT wine Terre degli Osci.

Author: Adele Lapertosa
Courtesy of sanpellegrino.com

History of Abruzzo – The Modern age

abruzzo02The Spanish domination, which lasted until 1707, was followed by that of Austria until 1734 and, until the occupation by Napoleon of the Kingdom of Naples in 1806, that of the Bourbons, restored by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In the Napoleonic period administrative, judicial and economic reforms were carried out and, above all, feudalism was abolished.

From then on political and cultural life, as well as the economic life of flourishing Abruzzo was transferred to the coastal strip. This process was more and more concentrated on Pescara. It was here that, during the Risorgimento, the main episodes of uprising against the Bourbon monarchy were recorded, like, for example, the heroic resistance of the fortress of Pescara when the Parthenopean Republic was eliminated in 1799 and the rebellions in Penne in 1837.

Whereas, inland, in the mountainous Abruzzo, widespread episodes of civil struggles against the new political direction were evident. These events resulted in the ultimate loyalist resistance of the Fortress of Civitella del Tronto and then developed to take the form of brigandage after 1860, harshly put down by the unified State During the decade following Unification the region was witness to the main event of an economic nature: the draining of the Fucino Lake.

This wag initiated in 1852 by a French company but then administered by Alessandro Torlonia who secured the ownership of the land as compensation for the expenses incurred.

During World War I, after the retreat of Caporetto, Abruzzo offered hospitality to the refugees and to the military command which moved into the Abruzzo territory hit by a disastrous earthquake in 1915. Fascism found favorable ground on which to spread in Abruzzo because of the large gap which existed between the social classes, especially between the land-owners and the farm-laborers, the latter survivors of a war which had seen their already miserable way of life deteriorate even further.

The conditions were so favorable that the regime chose to hold the Matteotti trial in Chieti. In the winter of 1943-44, during World War II, the region suffered the devastation left by the retreating Nazi army and the slaughter it carried out amongst the civilian population although Abruzzo and its Brigata Majella participated actively in the liberation struggle.

Post-war reconstruction work was late in getting started. Though it happened slowly, the development of the region started to take place only at the beginning of the Sixties to then reach the height of its expansion between the mid-Seventies and Eighties, the expansion was such that Abruzzo reached the same level of economic development as the center and North. The Neoclassic period did not leave any valuable testimonies in Abruzzo apart from the funeral monument to Matteo Wade in Civitella del Tronto, defender of the fortress in 1805, at the wishes of Francesco I of Bourbon.

It was only after Unification that there was a notable cultural revival: the scene obviously being dominated by Gabriele D’Annunzio, though the painters Francesco Paolo Michetti, Teofilo Patini, Filippo and Giuseppe Palizzi and the sculptor Costantino Barbella were all important too. As far as architecture is concerned, it is worth remembering the interesting liberty forms which were widespread at the beginning of the 1900s in many residences, especially in the coastal towns such as Pescara, Giulianova, Francavilla and Ortona, many of which are still well-preserved.

History of Abruzzo – The Renaissance and the Baroque period

ceramica_museocastelli
Ceramica Museo Castelli – Photo © www.ioscelgoitaliano.it

The Angioini dynasty was followed by that of the Aragonesi when, in 1442, the Kingdom of Naples fell into the hands of Alfonso d’Aragona. L’Aquila’s resistance was inefficacious in trying to impede the transition of power, and it was subdued in 1492.

After a brief period of French domination, Abruzzo followed the fate of the Kingdom of Naples which had passed into the hands of Ferdinando the Catholic in 1504.

The struggles between Ferdinando’s successor, Carlo V, and the King of France, involved Abruzzo in numerous serious military clashes.

The cities of Abruzzo, and L’Aquila in particular, sided with France but were drastically punished by the Spanish monarch who, by splitting up the rural areas around the city and subjecting the latter to harsh repressive measures in 1529, ordained a decline which was then impossible to stop.

Under Spanish domination numerous fortification works were built. These were a testimony to the strategic importance that Abruzzo had in the dispute between France and Spain. The Spanish entrusted the plans for such works, amongst which there were the Castle of L’Aquila, and the Fortress of Pescara, to the architect, Pirro Luigi Scrivo, who was also responsible for the Castel Sant’Elmo in Naples. Furthermore, the ancient castles were transformed from simple defensive building into residences which were architecturally more complex. One of the most significant examples of this is the Celano Castle (Aq), which has a squared plan and a precise geometric structure built around an arcade decorated with open galleries; however one must not forget either the Balsorano Castle (Aq), the Piccolomini Castle of Ortucchio (Aq), and that of Gagliano Aterno (Aq).

During the 15th century the slow introduction of Renaissance forms affected sacred and civil buildings as well as castles. Building work that was more airy and open was grafted onto medieval forms as in the case of the church of the Annunziata in Sulmona (Aq) or in many noble palaces in Sulmona, L’Aquila, Popoli and Tagliacozzo. These were enriched with spacious courtyards, flights of steps and arcades which were of a scenographic nature. The Tuscan Renaissance style was so widespread in Abruzzo that the church of S. Bernardino in L’Aquila (1415), is planimetrically reminiscent of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence; whilst San Flaviano in Giulianova (Te) and Santa Maria del Tricalle in Chieti are likewise examples of the attention that was given in Abruzzo to the temples with center plan of the Tuscan Renaissance.

The Baroque period, which developed after the plague of 1656 and the two earthquakes of 1703 and 1706, took the forni of a time of reconstruction and developed both in the construction of new buildings like the churches of Santa Caterina and Sant’Agostino in L’Aquila, and – more often-in the internal decoration of antique medieval churches. Nearly all of them were enriched with costly Baroque ornaments, and, thanks to the strong artisan tradition of carved wood, made precious with valuable furnishings and ligneous ceilings as well as spectacular and imposing organs. Amongst the most prominent Baroque achievements there are the Badia Morronese, (Morronese Abbey), near Sulmona (Aq), the church of the Annunziata in Penne (Pe), and that of Sulmona, the church of the Suffragio in L’Aquila, that of Santa Maria Assunta in Castel di Sangro and the church of Santo Spirito in Teramo

History of Abruzzo – The Middle ages

abruzzo_castelloThe fall of the Roman Empire brought to a halt any building activity worth mentioning. This was also due to the involvement of the region in the Greek-Gotho war (535-553). The arrival of the Longobard peoples in the 6th century, who colonized the territory on a massive scale with their settlements, emphasized the already gloomy economic conditions of the region, dividing it between the Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. It was in this period that the term “Aprutium” began to be used to refer to most of the territory. With Carlo Magno, in 843, administrative unity was restored, at least nominally, under the Duchy of Spoleto, even though, by now, the large feudal families were dominating the political and administrative scene.

The resumption of construction work took the form of buildings of great importance which still exist today, though mostly altered in one way or another. In fact, between the 8th and 10th century, the abbatial churches of San Giovanni in Venere near Fossacesia (Ch), San Pietro a Campovalano (Te), San Clemente al Vomano, dose to Guardia Vomano, a hamlet of Isola del Gran Sasso (Te) and San Bartolomeo of Carpineto della Nora (Pe) were all built. Furthermore, the churches of San Pietro ad Oratorium near Capestrano (Aq), Santa Giusta in Bazzano, a hamlet of L’Aquila, Santa Maria a Vico near Nereto (Te) as well as many others scattered throughout the regional territory were founded.

Around the year 1000 the Normans began advancing, and after a century, in 1143, they took over control of the whole region, dividing it up into counties and putting it under the Regnum Siciliae (later that of Naples), of which it would be an integral part for seven centuries. Subsequently, in 1233, Frederick II of Sweden administratively reorganized the region making the Iustitieratus Aprutii of it (in 1233), and establishing Sulmona as its main town. In 1254 L’Aquila was founded which, under the Angioini dynasty and for the following two centuries, became the principal city in the kingdom after Naples. All the cultural and political life of the region flourished in these three centuries before the arrival of Spanish domination.

The alternating political events, the absence of a central power which could unify the criteria for a “defence policy” and the struggles between the large feudal families were the main factors that prevented the building, between 1200 and 1400, of an organic system of castles and fortresses according to any unified plan. Nevertheless, the numerous defensive structures that were set up at that time presented such great typological variety that they made up “an exceptional indicative synthesis of almost all the aspects of fortified architecture” (Perogalli). Unfortunately, today most of these buildings have fallen into decay, but, because of the surroundings and background in which they can be found -often in isolated places which are difficult to get to -, they still manage to hold a certain fascination for the occasional visitor.

Both held a determining importance for the development of a particular kind of sculpture, rich in animal and vegetable ornamentation taken from popular symbology and applied to the creation of highly-decorated ambones and ciboria that are still visible today in many churches of the era. The presence in Abruzzo of the Cistercian Benedictines was a decisive step towards social and economic developments as well. As clever and energetic entrepreneurs, colonizers and improvers, they soon developed a network of economically-integrated convents, which, in the absence of economic and productive structures at that time, were autonomous and able to provide for themselves.

Most of their establishments were built on pre-existing pagan temples (S. Maria di Casanova, S. Spirito d’Ocre, S. Maria Arabona, S. Giovanni in Venere, S. Maria del Monte, and others too), and the Cistercians provided the populations of Abruzzo with a wonderful example, encouraging the development of new productive classes and giving the region an impulse that was fundamental to the agrarian revolution and consequent demographic growth. A most interesting testimony to the economic vitality of the Cistercian monks is represented by the convent, or rather “Grancia” (ancient name for a monastery) di Santa Maria del Monte, isolated on the vast pastures of Campo Imperatore at an altitude of more than 1600 meters. The building, which was set up at the beginning of the 13th century, was equipped with storehouses, stalls and enormous open air enclosures so that the large flocks that belonged to the Order, could be collected together and moved out to pasture.

History of Abruzzo – The historic Roman age

abruzzo_historyRight from the era of the first Kings, the “peoples” of Abruzzo did not enjoy a pacific relationship with Rome. Tarquinius Priscus clashed with the Aequi and the expansionist intentions of his successors were tenaciously curbed by the federal alliances drawn up by the Italic peoples. In all attempt to set up a unitary’ state along the Adriatic coast, the Samnites were particularly indomitable adversaries of the Romans, the former inflicting heavy defeats on the latter, including the humiliation of the “Caudine Forks”.

After alternating outcomes, the Italics were finally subdued at the end of the social war (91-88 B.D.), but not without first being promised Roman citizenship. With pacification and the division of Italy into regions, at the wishes of Augustus, Abruzzo and Molise became the Iv region of Rome and given the name “Sabina et Samnium”.

The Roman presence soon made itself felt. Road networks were improved and new settlements built, whilst existing towns were provided with spas, amphitheatres, theatres, temples and other important public works.
The partial draining of the lake Fucino took on a great importance with the construction of an artificial outlet which, initiated in 41 A.D. by the Emperor Claudius, was inaugurated in 52 A.D. and functioned until the 6th century. The remains of the drainage works can be seen today in the archaeological area of Incile near Avezzano.

Among the numerous testimonies to the Roman era one must not forget the theatre and amphitheatre in Arniternuni near L’Aquila; the remains of the town of Alba Fucens (where digging work has not yet been completed), near Avezzano; the center of Juvanum in Montenerodomo (Ch),with temple buildings, theatre and forum; the Sanctuary of Ercole Curino in Sulmona; Peltuinum at Prata d’Ansidonia (Aq) and Corfinium, the present-day Corfinio (Aq), built on the via Valeria and capital of the Italic League, with the name of Italy, at the time of the social war. Further important remains of the Roman era have also been found at Teramo, Atri and Chieti.