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Inscription celebrating the construction of a solar clock in the Forum of Marruvium and behind it the structure sheltering the floor mosaics of a Roman house, in the very centre of modern S. Benedetto
May 1791. The territory adjoining the Fucine Lake was formerly inhabited by the warlike Marsi, among whom the Marruvii and Albenses were preeminent. Their capitals were Marruvium and Alba. (..) The distance between Marruvium and Alba is stated in the Itineraries at xiii miles, and the discovery of inscriptions, together with numerous splendid remains of antiquity, has fixed, in the most satisfactory manner, the site of Marruvium at St. Benedetto, on the border of the Fucine Lake. One of these inscriptions I saw inserted in the walls of a miserable house, with its face reversed. It describes Marruvium as "splendidissima civitas".
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily - 1819
In 1974 excavations in the centre of S. Benedetto led to the discovery of a well preserved inscription which testifies to the wealth and importance of Marruvium in the Ist century AD. Two of the four magistrates in charge of the administration of justice - IUR(e) D(icundo) - built a solar clock (a sundial) at their expense (you may wish to see that erected by Emperor Augustus in Rome). The clock was placed in front of the (lost) Capitolium in the Forum of the town.
The inscription records the memory of Modestus Paulinius who was praefect of the city, and (..) curator of the Tiburtine and Valerian Ways. (..) The Via Valeria which derived its appellation from the Valerian family was a continuation of the Via Tiburtina which led from Rome to Tibur, now Tivoli. At this last place the Via Valeria commenced, and extended to Corfinium (via Tagliacozzo, Alba and Marruvium). Colt Hoare
September 4th, 1843. By sunrise I had left my friends, and was on my way from Celano to San Benedetto, a little village near the site of the ancient Marruvium (or Maruvium). The walk thither was not over delightful or interesting, as the flat ground by the lake side was merely a continued garden of almonds or gran-turco, and an east wind blew so cuttingly over the Forca Caruso, that by the time I reached San Benedetto I was unable to speak from violent rheumatism and toothache. Hitherto I had been most fortunate in weather, but the autumnal season now approaching threatened a change, and indeed these high mountains are subject to variable climate even during the summer months of most years. Don Angelo Felici Ottavi, to whom Don Pamfilo Tabassi had recommended me, was a hearty good sort of a man, who offered to take charge of my luggage, while I crossed the Lake of Fucino to Trasacco, (of which I wanted to make a drawing,) provided I would dine at his house on my return.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
Roman House in the centre of the town - floor mosaics: (left) plain with small marble pieces (see another example at Villa dei Volusii near Rome); (right) with geometric motifs including a closed roofed portico and a Greek key pattern
Near this ruin some inscriptions have been found of the time of Septimius Severus, and several shapeless masses of brick masonry indicate the existence of a Roman establishment, among which the very imperfect vestiges of a theatre may be traced.
Close to the water, others exist of a more decided character; one of which might have been an arch, while another bears the aspect of a sepulchral monument of pyramidical form.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
Today the major evidence of Marruvium is a large house which was discovered in 1994. It was located near the Forum of the town and it retains some fine floor mosaics (Ist or IInd century AD). It appears that it was used until the IVth century AD and it stands only 2 m. / 7 f. beneath the current level of the ground.
Roman columns and tombstones from "Marruvium" in or near the shelter for the house; see also a votive vase from the town at the Museum of Avezzano
From the numerous fragments of antiquity which still exist on this ground, I am persuaded that to the ancient Marruvium the epithet of splendidissima was very justly applied. (..) From the ruins of an antique building, composed of stone and opus reticulatum several busts and statues were dug up a few years ago (during the drought of 1752), and conveyed to the Royal Palace at Caserta. Colt Hoare
The nation of the Marsi, whose origin seems to have been enveloped in even a thicker cloud of fabulous obscurity than that of any of the adjacent states, was most likely derived from the Sabines. (..) The tract of country which they inhabited, and which bore their name, offers the only example of the ancient denomination being retained in common use to this very day. Craven
The circuit and outward walls of a spacious
amphitheatre may be traced. Colt Hoare
Marruvium reached the peak of its development in the first half of the Ist century AD, when an amphitheatre was nested inside a natural hollow, east of the town. The site was chosen because it reduced the cost and the time required by the construction of the seats, similar to what occurred at Alba Fucens at approximately the same time.
Fašade of Santa Sabina, former cathedral of Marsica (the region around Lake Fucino); it was built making use of materials taken from Roman monuments
St. Benedetto is at present reduced to a few
houses, occupied by a small number of wretched inhabitants. It is subject to the jurisdiction of
Pescina, the see of a bishop, two miles distant. The old church of Sta. Sabina, enjoyed the name
and privileges of a cathedral. (..) According to Phaebonius (Muzio Febonio, a local historian 1597-1663), it once contained many inscriptions, but
these, as well as the structure which sheltered
them, have perished by neglect. Colt Hoare
An excursion ne "i Marsi", is a proper, and even common-place, mode of expression. (..) Their towns are distinguished by the same adjunct; and the bishop, who resides at Pescina, instead of deriving the name of his diocese from this town, signs himself Vescovo de' Marsi. (..) The ancient city of Marruvium, one of the most eminent among the Marsi, according to Silius Italicus, is supposed to have existed at this spot. (..) Marruvium obtained in the early periods of Christianity, the appellation of Marsia, or Civitas Marsicana, and became the seat of the bishop, whose spiritual jurisdiction extended over the whole district. The remains of a church dedicated to Santa Sabina are those of its cathedral, the honour and title of which have been transferred to Pescina. Craven
Santa Sabina: architectural details of the portal including a "chevron" motif which is not typical of this part of Italy, but which can be often noticed in XIIth century buildings in Sicily
San Benedetto is less than two hours' walk from Pescina, to which town,
the modern representative of the Marsican capital and the residence of its Bishop, I set out as soon as it was cool enough. Several shapeless masses of ruin are near the borders of the Lake, and at a short distance is the ruined Cathedral of the Marsi, a most picturesque fragment, and full of interest for an architect. Lear
The cathedral was most likely built in the VIth century when the first Bishop de' Marsi is recorded among those who attended the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. Its fašade is dated XIth century and its construction was promoted by the Counts of Celano. In 1580, because floods had damaged the church, Bishop Matteo Colli asked Pope Gregory XIII to authorize the move of the bishopric see to nearby Pescina which stood on high ground in a narrow gorge and was protected by a castle. In the following century Phaebonius wrote that the interior of the church had three naves separated by columns with marble capitals, that it had a section for women, similar to SS. Rufino e Cesidio at nearby Trasacco, and that it ended with an apse.
Santa Sabina - portal: details of its marble reliefs; another detail can be seen in the image used as background for this page
The cathedral was dedicated to Saint Sabina, a Roman matron of the IInd century AD, to whom one of the largest and earliest churches of Rome was dedicated.
Centuries of abandonment and the earthquakes which struck the region, in particular that of 1915 led to the collapse and total loss of the church, exception made for its fašade which is justly regarded as a masterpiece of the medieval architecture of Abruzzo.
Ortucchio in a sketch by Edward Lear
Few villages adorn the lake of Celano; among which, Ortucchio, placed at the southern extremity, has been the most exposed to the changes and damage caused by inundation, - the spot on which it stands having been, within the memory of man, more than once converted into an island. (..) I proceeded across the lake straight from Trasacco to S. Benedetto on the opposite shore, an operation which employed two hours of stout rowing.
The view of the landscape behind Ortucchio is the finest (that of Celano excepted) which presents itself along the whole extension of the margin. Craven
September 5, 1843. I was anxious to arrive at Pescina by night, so I took an early leave of the good De' Gasparis, although I could willingly have explored the neighbourhood of Trasacco more at leisure. I coasted the sides of the Lake in a punt; and in many parts the perpendicular rocks which enclose it are full of grandeur: on one, a little hermitage is perched, to which one can ascend by steps from the water's edge. (..) At Ortucchio, a small town on a low peninsula at the south-eastern side of the Lake, I landed to look at the old Castle which still stands in good preservation; its drawbridge, &c., being completely perfect. There is a good deal of the picturesque about the narrow streets and dilapidated outskirts of the village, and I regretted not having had more time to devote to it. The heat was intense as we punted across to San Benedetto, between which and Ortucchio the views are very beautiful towards the mountains of Lecce, and Venere: this last place merited a visit, for there are many remains of antiquity in its vicinity, but the sun obliged me to hurry on to San Benedetto, where I passed the midday hours, and dined very unsatisfactorily on barbel and vinocotto. Lear
View of Pescina from the River Giovenco by Edward Lear; Palazzo Mazzarino can be identified by a small loggia and the ruins of Castello Piccolomini stand above it
Pescina, on the eastern side of Lake Fucino, advances a claim to having given birth to the celebrated Cardinal Mazzarini, whose family was supposed to have emigrated hither from Mazzara, in Sicily. Craven
September 5, 1843. San Benedetto is less than two hours' walk from Pescina, to which town, the modern representative of the Marsican capital and the residence of its Bishop, I set out as soon as it was cool enough. Pescina is a large town, containing three thousand inhabitants, strikingly situated on the side of a wild ravine or gorge, through which the little river Giovenco flows to the Lake. Its houses are piled one above the other very picturesquely, and most of them have pigeon-houses attached. A ruined castle crowns the whole picture. (..) The view of the old Mazarin house is extremely pleasing, with its ruined loggia, standing on a crag which juts out over the ravine, while behind it rises a pyramid of pigeon-houses surmounted by the Castle, and beyond, wild rock and distant mountains complete the scene. Lear
S. Benedetto, where I landed, is a village of but few houses scattered along the eastern
bank, and irrigated by several streams drawn from the Giovenco, the most considerable of those that feed the lake. After passing close to the town of Pescina, two miles inland, it enters the Fucinus a little to the south of S. Benedetto, near a village called Venere. Craven
The 1915 earthquake had a very destructive impact on Pescina which stood on the slope of a mountain on the left bank of the River Giovenco. Most of its buildings, including Palazzo Mazzarino collapsed. Pescina was rebuilt at the foot of the old one and along the slope leading to the lake.
Views of the remaining tower of Castello Piccolomini
On arriving, I went to Don Stefano Tabassi, a courteous and well-informed person, who lives in the Palazzo Tomacetti, at the foot of the town, containing, as usual, a labyrinth of rooms, hung with faded tapestry or red cloth, and adorned with portraits ad infinitum. Two young abbati, his nephews, accompanied me to the great lion of Pescina, the house where on July 14, 1602 Cardinal Mazarin, (whose father was governor of the town) was born. (..) Don Stefano de' Tabassi keeps a very excellent table, and his wines are
admirable. His conversation was very entertaining, and our hours of society and supper passed cheerfully by. The unaffected and well-bred hospitality of
these people cannot be too much appreciated.
September 6th, 1843. The morning was lost to me by one of those bitterly cold and violent winds to which the ravine of Pescina is subject; these, and the confined situation of the town, would make it a very undesirable residence. Numbers of women were coming to the Piazza with wood from the high mountains above Gioja: most of them were from Lecce, and wore a very pretty costume, a rarity throughout the Abruzzi, where the dress of the women is usually very plain and common-place. The aprons of these damsels were of all colours and patterns, and worked by hand; but on no account would their owners either be drawn themselves, or sell any part of their dress, and they ran away and hid themselves if I only took a sketch-book from my pocket. The afternoon, when the weather became more serene, was passed in drawing quietly below the Mazarini Loggia, and about the town, amongst whose scattered outskirts many pretty studies might be found. In the evening there was a shock of earthquake, but no damage resulted; and the bells of Pescina rang the usual alarm on these occasions, namely, three "tocs" of the Campana.
September 7th, 1843. Most bitter pass of Pescina! How the chilling wind wailed between your bleak rocks, as I set off towards Scanno at sunrise! Surely the infant Mazarin must have been rheumatism-proof, since his natal mansion is more exposed than any in the town to the sweeping rush of cold air. Lear
S. Maria delle Grazie
The church was built towards the end of the XVIth century to become the new cathedral of the Bishop de' Marsi. It held this function until 1924 when the residence of the Bishop was moved to Avezzano. In addition to the damage caused by the 1915 earthquake it was hit by WWII bombings. It was reconsecrated in 1961 after a lengthy restoration/reconstruction.
S. Maria delle Grazie: details
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
XVIIIth century Sulmona
Sulmona: Easter Day Ceremony (La Madonna che scappa - The Fleeing Madonna)