You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Avezzano in an illustration from "Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846"
July 27, 1843. Leaving Tagliacozzo and passing on through the village of Capelle, and leaving Alba on our left, we were soon in sight of Avezzano,
standing in the low ground near the Lake of Fucino, which lay behind it,
a narrow blue line, bounded by beautiful mountains, purple in the light of evening. The wish to explore its rocky sides and glittering towns was strong within us as we advanced towards Avezzano, hoping much for our morrow.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
May 1791. Avezzano which, by the hospitality of Don Ladislao Mattei, was rendered a most delightful residence to me, may be considered as the capital of the district, once inhabited by the Marsi, in point of civilization and population. It probably rose from the ruins of the neighbouring city of Alba; and though it can boast of no architectural antiquities, yet it is not destitute of inscriptions. (..) The province of Abbruzzo, unfrequented by the generality of travellers, and unknown even to the inhabitants of the neighbouring districts, has been represented as a country uncivilized with regard to society, infested by robbers, inaccessible from mountains, and fitter for the residence of wild beasts than of rational beings. But I must here repeat with gratitude, that in these remote and unfrequented tracts we meet with that genuine and cordial hospitality, which is too seldom to be found in more favoured and more populous countries: such as I experienced under the friendly roof of Don Ladislao Mattei; and such as I shall for ever call to mind with pleasure and grateful remembrance.
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily - 1819
Avezzano and behind it the mountain range which separates Abruzzo from Latium seen from Castello Piccolomini at Celano
A winding descent brought us to the edge of the lake and shortly afterwards to the gate of Avezzano, where we found good accommodation in a house which, though bearing neither the name nor outward sign of an inn afforded all we could wish.
The town contains three thousand inhabitants, and is not very large; but being seated on a perfect flat, with wide streets and large well-built dwellings, its interior has a respectable appearance.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
(left-above) Former office of the Torlonia Administration; (left-below) fountain paid for by the Torlonia in the Villa Comunale; (right) bust of Prince Alessandro Torlonia erected by the municipality
The estate-office of Prince Torlonia, at which a permesso to see the reclamation-works at the Lago di Fucino is obtained (gratis), contains a small collection of objects found in the lake. A broad road, about 35 M. in length, runs round the reclaimed land (36,000 acres in extent), which is converted into a vast model farm, colonised by families from the prince's different estates.
Karl Baedeker - Italy; handbook for travellers - 1900
On February 15 the writer with a party of four went to Avezzano by motor car. (..) When we reached Avezzano the streets were filled so high with wreckage that the car had to be abandoned and further explorations made on foot. In this town of 16,500 inhabitants only one building over one story survived, and that was of reinforced concrete. (..) At Avezzano, out of the entire population, 96 per cent are estimated to have perished.
E. V. Robinson - The Journal of Geography - May 1915
Piazza del Risorgimento, the main square of Avezzano and Mount Velino in the background
What caused the earthquake? The most popular explanation has been that the draining of Lake Fucino has so far changed the stresses in the crust as to cause internal fractures. (..) The complete drainage of the lake was accomplished by Prince Alessandro Torlonia in 1876. The area drained when the reduced lake disappeared amounted to 15,775 hectares. Most of the reclaimed land remained the property of the Torlonia family. The Torlonia mansion at Avezzano was among those destroyed in the earthquake, burying some 30 persons in the ruins. (..) One thing only can be affirmed with certainty: whatever the cause of the earthquake, its effects were especially violent within the area marked by the highest lake beaches. Robinson
During WWII heavy allied bombings destroyed more than 70% of the new buildings of Avezzano. Today the town has a very modern aspect and a population of ca 40,000 inhabitants.
An ancient substantial building, standing just outside the entrance, recalls to the mind of the spectator the existence of powerful feudality: it belonged to the Colonna family, from which it passed by inheritance to that of the Barberini, both which possess large territories in this district: this mansion, surrounded by a moat, now converted into gardens, and flanked by bulky circular towers, is now inhabited by the agent of the present proprietor. Craven
All was bustle of harvest; treading out of corn, and bearing away of sheaves on the common before the gate of Avezzano, whose fine castle, built by the Colonna in the fifteenth century, stands well at the entrance of the town, and is a good specimen of a baronial residence. Lear.
Read more about Lear's stay at Avezzano at the end of the page.
The baronial Castie, built by Virgilio Orsini in 1499, enlarged and decorated by Marcantonio Colonna, the hero of Lepanto, in 1573, and now the property of the Barberini family, is a very picturesque object from the shores of the lake, and perhaps one of the best preserved military strongholds of the period in Southern Italy.
Murray - A Handbook for Travellers in Southern Italy - 1883
A similar passage from the Orsini to the Colonna occurred at the castle of Tagliacozzo.
Colonna Castle: (above) overall view; (below) details showing some remaining parts of the upper structure; see Rocca Roveresca at Senigallia which was built at the end of the XVth century with a similar design
The 1915 earthquake had a devastating impact on the castle. Almost all of its upper structure collapsed as well as two of its circular towers. It was subsequently bombed during WWII. It was partially reconstructed in the 1960s in the shape it had under the Orsini, i.e. without the upper structure.
Museo del Castello Piccolomini di Celano - Collezione Torlonia: section of a IInd century AD relief which was found during the reclamation of Lake Fucino, another one can be seen in the introductory page
The relief shows a stretch of water, most likely Lake Fucino. At the top there is a tree-lined bank, on the right of which two groups of workmen are toiling with devices equipped with board and drums, ropes and winches for vertical extraction from wells. At the foot of the view two long ships for fast transport, driven by rowers guided by a pilot at the helm, plough leftwards through the water, which is broken by small waves and seems to be interspersed with reeds. Given the small size of the lake it is unlikely that long ships were required, but the relief had a celebratory purpose, perhaps the completion by Emperor Trajan of the works undertaken by Emperor Claudius to stabilize the level of the lake by digging a canal.
Museo del Castello Piccolomini di Celano - Collezione Torlonia: IInd century AD items which were found during the reclamation of the lake: (left) head of Venus; (right) feet of a statue
Though the gradual augmentation of the waters is not to be disputed, there have been periods when a contrary phenomenon has been observed; and when I first visited it in the year 1826, a considerable portion of land had been recovered and restored to cultivation by the proprietors, since which - that is, during five years, - it has been in a decreasing state, so much so as to excite doubts in the minds of the natives whether the expenses bestowed on the cleansing of the emissary might not be more usefully directed. Craven
The level of the lake greatly varied through the centuries and many inscriptions, fragments of statues and other Roman items had been already found prior to the 1870s. The reliefs are the most interesting exhibits of the Torlonia collection.
"Aia dei Musei", the museum of the City of Avezzano: (left/centre) Ist century BC tombstone from Ortona dei Marsi, ancient Milonia in the mountains east of Lake Fucino; (right) Ist century AD votive marble vase to Bona Dea from S. Benedetto dei Marsi, ancient Maruvium, on the eastern shore of the lake
During my abode at Avezzano my attention was chiefly directed to those spots where remains of antiquity have been found; and in this respect the borders of the Fucine Lake afforded me a rich harvest. Colt Hoare
The tombstone of Poppaedia Secunda was embellished with reliefs depicting some objects she had: sandals, a sort of beauty case and a light umbrella used as a protection against the sun (in other contexts a symbol of power). Quintus Poppaedius Silo from Milonia was one of the leaders of the revolt against Rome of many Italian towns in the early Ist century BC.
Bona Dea (Good Goddess) was a rather elusive deity of the Roman Pantheon. Her real name was not pronounced and a periphrasis (an indirect reference) was used instead. Ceremonies were kept secret and could not be attended by men. Her powers were mainly related to fertility. Small temples to her have been identified at Ostia and in Trastevere and altars to her priestesses at Arles and Glanum in Southern France.
About 100 funerary beds have been found in Abruzzo since the end of the XIXth century, mostly in chamber tombs. Many of them had an elaborate bone decoration which is typical of the region and of the adjoining territories e.g. Aquinum near Cassino. The finest bone decorated bed is perhaps that found at Fossa, which is shown in a page covering Roman funerary rites. The design of the bed is based on a Greek pattern which can be seen in many sarcophagi, e.g. at Beirut. You may wish to see some Greek bronze bed decorations in the museums of Marseille and Rabat.
The museum displays an interesting selection of tombstones some of which recall to mind decorations of sarcophagi, e.g. the gate of the underworld or the portrait of the dead in a clipeus (round shield).
"Aia dei Musei" - exhibits from buildings of Avezzano which were destroyed by the 1915 earthquake: (left) holy water basin, perhaps from the church of S. Bartolomeo; (right-above) lintel from the church of S. Nicola; (right-below) coats of arms of Tiberio Felli (XVIth century)
Appendix: Everyday life at Avezzano by Edward LearWe asked for some inn or Locanda, but these are desiderata in Abruzzo; and unluckily we had to seek our night's quarters in a place to which we had not brought a letter of introduction. One house, a casa Corradini, was indicated as likely to receive us, and so we entered the town in search of it. Though a Capo di Distretto, Avezzano is not a promising town in appearance; there are some few good palaces and convents, but the general effect of its streets is mean and uninteresting. (..) Of the people here, as of all we had met since our entering the Abruzzi, the prevailing character was politeness and goodnature. The town contains about two thousand five hundred inhabitants. We sate sometime on our horses, waiting for the Padrone of our lodgings, that were to be, and meanwhile, were highly amused by one of those torrents of pigs, common to Italian country towns, when the sable tribe, for black they are all, return at night to supper. Most of these towns being upon hills, the swine are obliged to go up, and therefore arrive in a state of placid expectation; but at Avezzano, they all have to come down hill, and so rush into the piazza in an uncontrollable frenzy. How we did laugh, to the diversion of half the rabble of the town, who had come to gaze on us, as the immense current of grunters burst from the long street into the market-place, with a wonderful hubbub, and ran shrieking away through all the lanes of the place. When the pig-storm was over, and we had seen to our steeds, we made the most of the short remaining light and hurried to our lodgings, where three ineffably polite females shewed us into a large, raftered room, of a bewildering aspect, with much furniture, and a great assortment of old intermixed rather oddly clothes, and strewed with articles of female dress. (..) All this, added to the walls having a speckly appearance, which to the initiated, denotes the presence of certain flat entomological visitors, did not promise much repose; nor did the pensive chirping of an afflicted, one-winged chicken, upon whom one of our landladies lavished the most touching caress at all strengthen our admiration of the dormitory we had selected. Meantime, while one of our hostesses reduced our chamber to order, we assisted the other two, (one of whom was very handsome, but alarmingly fierce,) to pluck and roast some pigeons, which eventually produced us no bad supper: -for wine, alas! the horrible vino cotto was a most unsatisfactory substitute. As for our horses, fortunately for them, they were far better lodged than their masters. Still there was daylight left for a stroll; so we set off on foot to the Lake, (hardly a mile distant,) through the quietest green lanes of turf, bordered by poplars, and enclosing plantations of low vines. How fresh the air! How deliciously calm the shallow, transparent waters! How grateful the placid beauty of that lovely prospect, after all the heat of the day! Numbers of horses and flocks of sheep were scattered over the low meadows, near the water's edge: herds of goats were slowly and sedately winding their homeward way. It was not easy to quit the enjoyment of so tranquil a scene; and we wandered till it was dark, by the still mirror, - an enjoyment ill exchanged for a return to our strange abode, to which, notwithstanding, the pigeons, boiled and roast, together with some good macaroni, partly reconciled us.
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 Town
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)