(left) Porta Filiamabili; (right) Porta S. Antonio in the new walls seen from Porta Filiamabili
Porta Filiamabili, most likely named after an Amabile family, is the only surviving one of the first medieval walls of Sulmona. During the the XIIIth century the town experienced a sustained period of growth at the end of which new walls were built. They included also the new boroughs which had developed along the slope of the ridge where the early medieval town stood. The pointed Gothic arch of Porta Filiamabili was redesigned at that time.
(left) Porta Pacentrana; (right) Porta S. Antonio
Pacentro is a small medieval town about four miles to the south-east of Sulmona. Porta S. Antonio is on the western side of the walls. The upper parts of the gates housed the guards in charge of their defence, but after the 1706 earthquake their premises were incorporated into the adjoining buildings. The medieval walls were not rebuilt or replaced by modern ones and only a few short stretches of them remain between Porta Pacentrana and Porta Napoli and near the Cathedral.
The most imposing gate of Sulmona was built at its southern end on the road leading to Naples, which in 1266 became the capital of the Angevin Kingdom of Sicily. In the XIXth century the walls at its sides were demolished to facilitate the access to the town. Sulmona was situated on the "via degli Abruzzi", a route for the trade of wool which linked Florence to Naples across Arezzo, Perugia and L'Aquila without passing through Rome.
Porta Napoli: (left) detail of the external gate with the coat of arms of the Angevin Kings, based on the fleur-de-lys, the heraldic symbol of the French Royalty; (right) reliefs of the window of the internal gate which most likely were taken from a Roman building
The military aspect of the gate is lightened by an upper section with a decoration based on five petal roses (see the image used as background for this page) which is a heraldic symbol of the Orsini, a powerful Roman family. Napoleone II Orsini (1257-1298), Signore (Lord) of Vicovaro and first Count of Tagliacozzo was the commander of the Angevin troops in Abruzzo and maybe the decoration of the gate is linked to him.
1256 Aqueduct and Piazza Maggiore with S. Filippo (see the Renaissance fountain at the end of the aqueduct)
The principal street is divided from a very large unpaved square, on a much lower level, by the aqueduct which supplies the city from the river Gizio.
The square itself, though very spacious, is surrounded by mean and newly erected houses.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
The great piazza, where snow-mountains are seen on all sides above the houses, is one of the largest in Italy, and is rendered exceedingly picturesque by the aqueduct which crosses its upper extremity, and beneath the arches of which a broad flight of steps, ever crowded with figures, descends from the street.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Cities of Southern Italy and Sicily - 1891
An inscription on the aqueduct states that it was built in 1256 by Durante, a local master mason, and that it was paid for by the citizens of Sulmona. It testifies to the development of the town under the rule of Emperor Frederick II and of Manfredi, his natural son. The latter was defeated at Benevento by Charles of Anjou in 1266.
In the Christian era Sulmona was dignified with an episcopal see, united to that of Valva, the successor of Corfinium. (..) The cathedral, which is situated out of the town, and by which we had passed in our way from Aquila and Popoli, is dedicated to a Greek saint, Pamfilo. Craven
S. Pamphilo has a beautiful portal, adorned with statues of SS. Pamphilus and Pellinus. Hare
According to tradition Panfilo, an eigth century Bishop, died at Corfinium. When his body was carried to Sulmona it became so heavy that the porters had to stop at the northern end of the town where it was buried inside a new church which stood on the site of an ancient temple. The building was redesigned in the XIIth century. The territory of Sulmona was part of the Longobard Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento and the inscription on a side portal of the Cathedral is similar to that on a medieval portal of Spoleto.
Cathedral: (left/centre) details of the main portal with a statue of St. Pelino, another bishop of Greek origin, and a guardian lion (see the medieval guardian lions of S. Zeno in Verona and learn about their purpose); (right) Renaissance side portal with a modern portrait of Pope Benedict XVI who visited Sulmona in July 2010
The 1706 earthquake had a devastating effect on the Cathedral and on most of the churches of Sulmona. Initially the ecclesiastical authorities thought to build a new grand church in a different location, but the population was in favour of not abandoning the old site. The interior of the Cathedral is completely new, but the reliefs and statues of the fašade were carefully reconstructed with some of their original elements.
Cathedral: (left) crypt; (centre) XIVth century sepulchre; (right) XIIth century Byzantine-style relief (see "Madonna Greca" at Ravenna)
It offers nothing remarkable except a stone image of the Virgin and Child, of somewhat grotesque design, but curious in the intricate finishing of the drapery and ornaments, and likewise from having been painted and gilt. Craven
The crypt withstood the effects of the earthquake; it retains some columns of the very first church and some interesting medieval works of art.
S. Pietro Celestino, is the hierarchal title of a remarkable individual, who, at the age of seventy-nine, was, in the year 1294, torn almost forcibly from the humble cell of an anchorite, and forced upon the papal throne (he was crowned at S. Maria in Collemaggio at L'Aquila), which he voluntarily abdicated after the short space of only five months, to linger out two more years of his existence in a state of honourable but strict captivity, misnamed retirement (at the Castle of Fumone). Peter, a native of Isernia, surnamed of Morrone, dwelt in an hermitage still extant on the lower flank of the mountain, about three miles from Solmona. (..) The retreat from which Peter of Morrone was dragged to fill the papal throne is little more than a stone hovel stuck against the perpendicular face of the mountain, upon a projection of just sufficient capacity to support it. The access to this hut is so rugged and precipitous as to require considerable time to reach it, although placed at no very great height. Till very lately, two hermits had occupied it; but they died within a very short space of time of one another, and their unattractive abode has found as yet no tenant to succeed to them. Craven
Museum of Sulmona inside Palazzo dell'Annunziata: bust (ca 1400) and small statue (Ist half of the XIXth century) of Saint Pope Celestine V
The events of the life of Pope Celestine V were made popular by Dante who placed him in the "Vestibule" of Hell among the Uncommitted (those who took no stand) for having renounced the papal throne (Che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto - Who by his cowardice made the great refusal). Pope Boniface VIII, his successor was placed in Hell among the simoniacs, those who sell pardons and indulgences for their own profit, but he was also charged with having exerted unfair pressure on Celestine. In his act of abdication signed at Naples Celestine explained that the decision was due to his desire to return to a simple life of penance, but Boniface, wary that his predecessor could change his mind, ordered his arrest and confined him at Fumone where Celestine died a few months later.
Pope Celestine V was canonized as early as 1313. During his lifetime he had founded a branch of the Benedictine Order for the hermits living in the Maiella. The order was given a formal structure in 1320 and it no longer required its members to live as hermits. The church of S. Lucia is recorded in 1375 as the church of the Celestins. The Order was dissolved in the early XIXth century and the church was assigned to Confraternita di S. Maria di Loreto, a brotherhood in charge of the Easter Day ceremony known as La Madonna che scappa (The Fleeing Madonna), a very popular event.
S. Filippo: details of the portal from the lost church of S. Agostino showing small human heads and birds inside popular decorative motifs (see a similar decoration in the cloister of S. Giovanni in Laterano in Rome)
Some of the churches which were damaged by the 1706 earthquake were abandoned. In the 1880s the fašade of a church built in 1315 by the Augustinians not far from the Cathedral was on the verge of collapsing and it was decided to relocate its fine medieval portal which had not suffered from the earthquake to the plain fašade of S. Filippo. It is one of the finest examples of Gothic portals in Abruzzo and its elaborate stonework includes some interesting and almost unique details. The original fresco which decorated the portal is on display at the Museum of Sulmona.
S. Maria della Tomba
S. Maria della Tomba, founded on the site of a temple of Jupiter, has a striking entrance and rose-window. Hare. The horizontal design of the fašade is typical of many churches of Abruzzo and it is inspired by that of S. Maria di Collemaggio at L'Aquila, the finest medieval monument of Abruzzo . The church was built in the XIIIth century, but its portal is dated 1441 and the rose window 1400.
The church houses the statues which are carried through the streets of Sulmona on Easter Day. Tomba is a reference to the Sepulchre of Christ which is usually called Sepolcro. The full name of the church is Santa Maria dalla Tomba Assunta in cielo.
1808 fresco by Vincenzo Conti, a local painter, in the inside of Porta S. Maria della Tomba, very near the church, portraying the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus Christ
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)