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Amatrice in an illustration from "Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846"
October 5, 1844. To-day I set off at sunrise, with a guide, to Amatrice, intending to return to Mopolino after having explored those parts. I can only say of the walk there that it is wofully bare and ugly, - the plain of Montereale, with hamlets here and there, and a vale of monotony rising to Arrigo, a dirty little town full of drying Indian corn, and alive with dogs, pigs, and fowls. Then came more dull valley and a long ascent, at the top of which was compensation for all in a fine view of the valley of the Tronto, with Amatrice on a ridge in the centre. Lear
To the left the lofty Sibilla, seven thousand three hundred Paris feet above the sea, near Norcia, commands the landscape. (..) My daylight I wound up by a ramble about the walls and ravine, a joyless wild sort of scenery, frowned at from a purple cloud, which capped the lofty Sibilla as the sun went angrily down. Lear
Monti della Laga with the peaks of Pizzo di Sega or Sevo (2,419 m.) and Pizzo di Moscio (2,411 m.) seen from near the pass leading to the vale of Amatrice; the image used as background for this page shows the profile of a mountain west of Amatrice
And opposite are the great mountains of Pizzo di Sega, and Pizzo di Moscio, of which Fra Alberti* says, "they are too big to be either drawn or described." On the whole, from a want of wood, the prospect is rather imposing than agreeable. Lear
* Leandro Alberti (1479-1552), a Dominican historian and geographer who wrote Descrittione d'Italia Tutta in 1550. The book was still regarded as a valuable source of information in the XIXth century, especially for Abruzzo, a region which was often neglected by geographers and historians.
(above) Monti della Laga seen from Amatrice; (below) patches of ice at Pizzo di Sevo (July 2023)
The peaks of Monti della Laga are rolling and grassy, and full of little streams running through narrow gullies, but they constitute a barrier between Amatrice and Teramo and there is no direct route across them, although there is still evidence of the sheepwalks which were used for the seasonal droving of livestock along migratory routes between the mountains of Abruzzo and the plains of Apulia.
An earthquake hit Amatrice on August 24, 2016 and it was followed by many aftershocks.
The focus, or subsurface source, of the Amatrice earthquake was exceptionally shallow, at less than six miles in depth. As a result, there was little attenuation of the seismic waves before they reached the surface. Amatrice's medieval tower, which somehow remained standing but whose clock was stopped at exactly 3:36 a.m. - the time of the earthquake - has become a poignant symbol of what has been lost. On the day after the disaster, the mayor stood next to the tower and said, "Il paese non esiste pi¨" ("The town no longer exists").
Marcia Bjornerud - The New Yorker - August 30, 2016
Torre Civica in a sketch by Lear
But after passing Nemici (Nommisci), and crossing the infant Tronto, the deserted walls of Amatrice, once a considerable city, became interesting on a near approach; a forlorn mouldering place, wasted by earthquakes and dissensions. (.. )
Ill-paved streets conducted me to the Palazzo of Don L. Ameliorati, the Giudice or Governor (to whom Don A. Rizzi had given me a letter): a friendly and gentlemanlike man, who sent a servant with me to lionize the town, warning me to be back in time for dinner. (..) Some tall towers, or campanili, are picturesque, and remind one of Lombardy; that in the market piazza more so than any. Lear
Amatrice (6304 Inhab.), reached by a bridle-path of 12 m. from Norcia, and situated near the head-waters of the Tronto. It dates from the middle ages, and was once of considerable importance.
John Murray - A handbook for travellers in southern Italy - 1883
Amatrice reached the peak of its population (10,000) in 1911, a century later the inhabitants were only 2,500.
July 2023: (left) apse of S. Francesco; (right) Torre Civica
In 1638 and 1703 Amatrice was devastated by earthquake: in the latter year the greater part of the city was entirely destroyed, and a great portion of the population perished, many hundreds being buried alive: this calamity the ruinous walls and churches, and the mournful appearance of the whole place, sufficiently attest to this day. (..) At present the population of Amatrice is very scanty, and of a very fluctuating character, since the greater part of the men go to Rome as camerieri and grooms, while those of the suburban villages migrate annually with their flocks to the Campagna of Rome.
Forty-five casali, or hamlets, are dependent on this fallen city, whose five gates, and once strongly fortified walls, yet raise a voice in testimony of its
past importance. Lear
The historical part of Amatrice had a very small population at the time of the 2016 earthquake, because many inhabitants lived in a modern neighbourhood outside the walls. This fact has greatly reduced the incentive to rebuild the old houses. Their crumbling walls were pulled down and the whole area was fenced off. Some of the historical monuments are going to be reconstructed, at least in part. The sketches Edward Lear made at Amatrice are all the more interesting as a memoir of something which is lost for ever.
S. Francesco in a sketch by Lear
Amatrice contains several churches of interest; in some of them are paintings by Cola dell'Amatrice; these are, however, mostly retouched, so as that little of the original remains. The apse of San Francesco is gothic, the rest modernized. (..) All my afternoon went in hard work, interrupted only by being obliged to visit a miraculous image of great sanctity, which, though only shewn once a year, they did me the honour, as a stranger, to exhibit to me. (..) The origin of the city of Amatrice is attributed, but on no good ground to the Samnites: whatever its age, I am not aware of its appearance in history until the thirteenth century, when it seems to have been the constant rival of Aquila. I could hear of no antiquities in the place or its environs, except a subterranean road from the town to the valley, and some remains of the Via Salaria in the adjacent vineyards. The vestiges of a much more ancient road, which has passed perhaps from Amiternum to Ascoli, are still, it is said, to be traced along the high mountains to the east of the Tronto. Lear
S. Agostino in a sketch by Lear
Sant' Agostino, date 1428; both Sant' Agostino and San Francesco have gothic doors, but parts of the facciate have been replaced after the earthquakes. (..) In 1316 the Amatriciani united with the Ascolani to subdue Aquila; but the Aquilani being strongest, Amatrice was sacked and burned. For this Aquila was mulcted by King Robert in thirty-six thousand ducats, a fine afterwards commuted to twenty-four thousand. In 1318 a rebellion in Amatrice incensed the King so much that the Aquilani were ordered to destroy the city of their old enemies, which by fire and sword they almost utterly accomplished, no doubt with a very good will. In 1528 Amatrice was taken and held by Gian Giacopo Franco, for the King of France, but was retaken and again sacked by Prince Philibert, under the Emperor Charles V., who bestowed the principality, in 1538, on Alessandro Vitelli, at which time it contained twelve hundred and sixteen families. In 1606 it passed by marriage to the Casa Orsini. Lear
Niccola, commonly called by everyone Maestro Cola dalla Matrice executed many works in Calabria, at Ascoli, and at Norcia, which are very well known, and which gained for him the name of a rare master - the best, indeed, that there had ever been in these parts. And since he also gave his attention to architecture, all the buildings that were erected in his day at Ascoli and throughout all that province had him as architect. Cola, without caring to see Rome or to change his country, remained always at Ascoli, living happily for some time with his wife, a woman of good and honourable family, and endowed with extraordinary nobility of spirit.
Giorgio Vasari - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects - transl. by Gaston Du C. De Vere
Cola dell'Amatrice, similar to other artists of the Renaissance, was a painter, a sculptor and an architect. In the 1520s he designed Basilica di S. Bernardino at L'Aquila.
Lear noticed that the upper section of the fašade of S. Agostino had been rebuilt in the XVIIIth century. In the 1930s a modern rose window was placed there to enhance its medieval aspect.
The portal was not extremely damaged by the earthquake, similar to what occurred at L'Aquila in the 2009 earthquake. In general this applies also to the many other earthquakes which occurred in Abruzzo, which explains why so many churches which were almost entirely rebuilt retain their medieval portal.
Spaghetti all'Amatriciana at a local restaurant
Returning to the Casa del Giudice, I found a most admirable dinner awaiting, at which were present all his family, and very nice people they were. The wines of Capestrano are beyond praise. Lear
PRODUCT SPECIFICATION OF "AMATRICIANA TRADIZIONALE"
The traditional character of "Amatriciana Tradizionale" is linked to the ingredients and the specific method of preparation traditionally used in the production area of Monti della Laga, from where the sauce originates.
The name "Amatriciana Tradizionale" is used to refer to a food preparation obtained using the age-old production method/recipe from the area of Amatrice, as well as to the use of specific ingredients (tomatoes, pork jowl) which determine the product's characteristics.
When released for consumption, the sauce has the following organoleptic characteristics:
- colour: red of varying intensity;
- product appearance: creamy and homogeneous, with grainy tomato 'passata' and/or dense pulp with distinguishable tomato bits.
- taste: typical of ripe tomatoes, along with savoury notes due to the presence of traditional matured pork jowl ("guanciale") and dried or fresh chilli and/or pepper.
- aroma: characteristic of ripe tomatoes, typical of the fresh product.
The ingredients traditionally used for the production of "Amatriciana Tradizionale", are:
- 18-30 % Amatrice pork jowl: The pork jowl used to make "Amatriciana Tradizionale" is obtained from fresh pork jowl from heavy pigs, trimmed into a triangle starting from the throat.
- Extra virgin olive oil: 0,5-1 %.
- 69-81 % tomato 'passata' and/or peeled chopped tomatoes (pulp). No acidifying agents are allowed.
- Salt to taste;
- White wine to taste;
- Dried or fresh chilli and/or pepper: to taste.
Grated Amatrice pecorino or Pecorino Romano PDO from Lazio. Amatrice pecorino, made with fresh sheep's milk. Unlike other similar sauces, "Amatriciana Tradizionale" does not provide for the use of ingredients such as garlic, onion or pork belly, which are used in most pasta condiments and sauces.
METHOD OF PREPARATION OF THE PRODUCT: After de-rinding and cutting the pork jowl into strips, fry it in the extra virgin olive oil, in a pan or frying pan over a low heat. Keep frying until the 'foam' produced by the pork jowl has dried off, then add the white wine. When the strips of pork jowl are golden, remove them from the pan and set them aside. Pour the tomato "passata" and/or pulp into the same pan, adding salt, fresh or dried chilli and/or pepper. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat for 10-20 minutes until the sauce has a creamy consistency. Then add the pork jowl strips and cook for a further 5-10 minutes.
DESCRIPTION OF THE KEY ELEMENTS ESTABLISHING THE PRODUCT CHARACTER:
"Amatriciana Tradizionale" has a strong tradition and specific character as regards the ingredients used, the specific method of preparation and also the socioeconomic characteristics of the production area of Monti della Laga, from where the sauce originates. The use of matured pork jowl in particular is proof that "Amatriciana Tradizionale" represents the connection that for centuries has characterised the human relationship with a difficult terrain. In the past, the local shepherds, during the transhumance (which forced them to live away from home for 4-5 months a year, generally between May and September), took with them some foodstuffs which could be easily kept for long periods, for example cured pork jowl and flour. With these simple ingredients the shepherds were able to cook in a long-handled pan their frugal but hearty pasta dish. The people of Amatrice, by recreating and enriching this very basic rural dish, particularly with the addition of tomatoes in the early 19th century, gave life to one of the most popular dishes of the Italian tradition. In the late 18th century, the Neapolitans were among the first in Europe to recognise the major organoleptic qualities of the tomato. The people of Amatrice, which had belonged to the Kingdom of Naples ever since the 13th century, had the chance to taste it and wisely added it to aged pork jowl which made this pasta sauce so succulent that its reputation crossed national borders to assert itself in international cuisine. During the 19th century many people from Amatrice moved to Rome, taking their sauce recipe with them; most of these migrants found work in the catering industry and in retailing food products from their region. From the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th century, the Amatrice community in Rome was particularly famous for its cheap and popular dishes. Anywhere in the world, pasta with "Amatriciana Tradizionale" sauce (traditionally spaghetti or bucatini, but also short pasta) is the pasta dish par excellence of Italian cuisine. This sauce has always been made with pork jowl, never bacon or pork belly ("pancetta"), and it is pork jowl which, due to its greater fat content, gives the sauce its characteristic and distinctive, intense and sapid taste.
Excerpts from of an application by the City of Amatrice for registration of a name pursuant to Article 50(2)(b) of Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs (2019/C 393/04)
Introductory page to this section
Atri - the Town
Atri - the Cathedral
Borgocollefegato and the Cicolano
Chieti - Roman memories
L'Aquila - the Vale
L'Aquila - Historical outline
L'Aquila - S. Maria di Collemaggio
L'Aquila - S. Bernardino
L'Aquila - Other churches
L'Aquila - Other monuments
Leonessa - The Churches
Luco and Trasacco
S. Benedetto dei Marsi and Pescina
XVIIIth century Sulmona
Sulmona: Easter Day Ceremony (La Madonna che scappa - The Fleeing Madonna)