You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
We reached Solmona, which stands on an elevated ridge, between two small rivers, the courses of which are marked by thick poplars.
A ruined church, a rent wall, a leaning house, or a tower out of drawing, speak of the earthquakes which have so frequently desolated this interesting spot, well known as the birth-place of Ovid, and still, after many sieges and other calamitous vicissitudes, a fine city. Lear
We found the heat suddenly, and most unpleasantly, increased on the evening of our arrival at Solmona; a circumstance of not unusual occurrence, according to the inhabitants, who complain much, not only of these abrupt transitions, but of the severity of the winters. The barren and stony surface of the Morrone, which is scarcely a mile distant, to the east of the town, reflects the sun in the summer, as it does the snow in the opposite season, and is probably one of the causes of these extremes in the temperature.
This ridge runs along the whole valley, dividing it from Abruzzo Citra; but a village called Pacentro, about four miles to the south- east, is placed on a kind of buttress, forming part of the still higher and more extensive range known by the name of Majella, and considered one of the most elevated districts of the kingdom: it runs from this spot in a south-east diagonal direction towards the sea; but its roots sink in the plain before they reach the Adriatic.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
The higher peaks of Majella retain the snow during the whole year: it contains some populous villages, fine pastures in the upper valleys, and is particularly noted for the variety and qualities of the medicinal herbs found only within its limits, which afford a livelihood to a number of individuals who are occupied during the whole summer with the labours of collecting them. Pacentro stands at the entrance of a defile through which the ancient road, never practicable for a carriage, goes. (..) This path is still used by pedestrians and mules; but not at all seasons, as it runs through two of those mountain passes not unaptly designated by the word Forca (very narrow pass, gorge). These passes, from their peculiar position, are subject to terrific gusts of wind, which, in the winter, not only render all progress through them a matter of difficulty, but, when accompanied with snow, threaten rapid destruction to the solitary traveller. Craven
(left) 1925 statue of Ovid by Ettore Ferrari (see his monument to Giuseppe Mazzini in Rome) and behind it "Rapone", a historical confectionery shop; (right) "confetti" flowers on sale at another confectionery shop
Solmona, in the early part of the Roman era, was a principal city of the Peligni, yielding in size and importance to Corfinium only, and placed in the same valley at no great distance from it. Its name has become famous as the birth-place of Ovid, who has frequently referred to the coldness of its climate, which did not, however, abate from the fertility of its soil, and has likewise recorded the abundance and freshness of its streams, characteristics which it possesses to the present day.
A statue of most wretched execution, evidently a production of the middle ages (..) is placed over one of the church-doors, with this poet's name inscribed under it. (..) The natives of Solmona are not deficient in industry; having some paper-mills, tanneries, and several establishments for dyeing: but the most celebrated of its productions, though undoubtedly the least useful, are the sugar- plums and comfits, (confetti).
Sulmo mihi patria,
Gelidia uberrimus undis,
At most of the evening visits, it is customary to hand round rosolio and confetti in great abundance. Confetti are the great production of Solmona, which contains twelve great manufactories of these sugary toys, so much esteemed that they are sent over all Italy: the operation of making them is very curious. Lear
A statue of most wretched execution, evidently a production of the middle ages (..) is placed over one of the church-doors, with this poet's name inscribed under it. (..) The natives of Solmona are not deficient in industry; having some paper-mills, tanneries, and several establishments for dyeing: but the most celebrated of its productions, though undoubtedly the least useful, are the sugar- plums and comfits, (confetti).Craven
Casa di Arianna, inside Palazzo dell'Annunziata which today houses the Archaeological Museum of Sulmona
The modern Solmona, or Sulmona, which stands very nearly on the site of the ancient, of which only very faint traces can be perceived, contains at the present day about ten thousand inhabitants. (..) Solmona, having followed the fortunes of Marius, suffered greatly from the resentment of Silla, who demolished its walls and endeavoured by other devastations and outrages to sink it below the rank of a city. Under the emperors it was deduced to the condition of a colony. Craven
The major evidence of Roman Sulmona was discovered in 1991 inside Palazzo dell'Annunziata in the very centre of the town during excavations aimed at strengthening the structure of the palace. The remains of a Roman domus were found beneath layers of Renaissance and medieval buildings.
Casa di Arianna: (left) fragment of a fresco after which the house is named: it shows the fight between Pan and Cupid (see a mosaic at Lyon) in the lower part and the recumbent bodies of Bacchus and Ariadne in the upper one (see a mosaic at Ostia); (right) another fragment with a typical Roman decoration
The house was inhabited from the Ist century BC to the IInd century AD; its floor was covered by a simple white mosaic with a black band. Minute fragments of painted walls were found in the rubble; a lengthy process of analysis of their colour made it possible to piece some of them together; the resulting paintings were classified as belonging to the third Pompeian style.
Archaeological Museum of Sulmona: IInd century AD Roman floor mosaics: (left) head of Medusa from Via Acuti in 1903; (right) fantastic sea creatures from Via Matteotti in 1932
Via Acuti is a narrow medieval street behind Palazzo dell'Annunziata. Via Matteotti is situated in the northern part of the town near the Cathedral which was built on the site of an ancient temple. These and other findings indicate that the medieval town developed on the very site of the Roman one. The floor mosaics were decorated with subjects which were very common throughout the Roman Empire. See a head of Medusa in Tunisia and sea creatures in Turkey.
Archaeological Museum of Sulmona: funerary inscriptions of: (left) T. Annavus Primus, by Orentilla (in a wall in Via Ciofano); (centre) Irene Petroniae by her husband; (right) Q. Peticius by his father
The tombstone of T. Annavus Primus, a freedman, is often described as showing the hunting of a local brown bear, but it most likely depicts Meleager hunting the Calydonian boar, a subject which was very popular for the decoration of sarcophagi (e.g. one found at Vicovaro, a town on the road to Abruzzo).
The inscription of Irene Petroniae indicates that her husband, another freedman, held important posts in the City of Sulmona (REIP. SULMONENSIUM) as sevir Augusti, one of six members of a college in charge of ceremonies celebrating the emperors (see the building housing the sevires at Herculaneum) and as curator of the grain-supply (ANNONE FRUMENTARIAE) to the town, a function which is often mentioned with reference to ancient Ostia and Rome.
The tombstone of Q. Peticius is a very early Christian one; the usual dedication D(is) M(anibus) (to the spirits of the dead) of the pagan tradition was replaced by alpha and omega at the side of a small Christogram (Chi-Rho) (see it on an early Christian sarcophagus at Arles). Q. Peticius was a neophite (NEOFITO).
Archaeological Museum of Sulmona: stone funerary urns: the image used as background for this page shows an inscription of another funerary urn: "Ossa sita Erotis" (It contains the bones of Eros)
Several funerary urns and evidence of many tombs were found in the 1880s during the construction of a railway line to the west of the town. Antonio de Nino, a local archaeologist and historian, recorded the number and location of the tombs and endeavoured to protect their contents, because very often the diggers who were involved in the construction of the railway reported the existence of tombs only after they had robbed them.
Archaeological Museum of Sulmona: (left) head of Hermes/Mercury (IInd century AD); (right) head of a soldier with a peculiar helmet (IInd century AD)
The head of Hermes is part of a statue known as Hermes Ludovisi which was a Roman marble copy of a bronze Greek statue of Vth century BC. The soldier is not a Roman one, because his helmet has features of those worn by Alexander the Great's Macedonian troops. The yellow marble was most likely quarried at Simitthus, in today's Tunisia.
Archaeological Museum of Sulmona: reconstruction of the shrine to Hercules Curinus
Within twenty minutes' walk from the convent of S. Spirito exists a ruin of Roman construction known by the name of "Le Stanze d'Ovidio", from an ill-founded tradition which established a villa of the poet on the spot: it is considerably above the level of the plain, built against the flank of the mountain, overlooking a stony bank scantily clad with a few stunted oaks. Its principal merit consists in the extensive and interesting view it commands of the whole valley; the fabric itself being nothing more than a terrace or rampart of considerable width and elevation, faced in its whole extent with opus reticulatum. It rests against the bare rock and serves as a base to twelve arched divisions or chambers, which might be supposed to have answered the purposes of thermae or baths, if any vestries of water-channels were observable. Craven
In 1957 archaeological excavations identified the ruin as that of a shrine to Hercules and found a number of votive objects. The design of the shrine was based on a series of terraces, similar to that of Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste. It was greatly damaged by a landslide in the IInd century AD. Curinus has the same meaning as Quirinus, the appellation of divinized Romulus, the founder of Rome. The posture of the statue is very similar to that of the Farnese collection.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale d'Abruzzo - Chieti: (left) detail of the statue of Hercules Curinus; (right) votive bronze altar found at the shrine. It was donated by Septimius Popilianus, a veteran (Ist century AD)
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)