You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
S. Maria delle Grazie at Luco and Lake Fucino from "Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846" (see another view of the lake by Lear in the introductory page)
July 28, 1843. By sunrise we had taken our coffee and bread, and were on our horses; our day's programme being to see the Emissario, and then to coast the Lake, halting where choice or accident might determine. (..) The plain of Avezzano; the clear blue lake; Alba; and Velino, with its fine peaks, alternately in bright light, or shaded by passing clouds; the far snow-covered mountains beyond Solmona; the bare pass of Forca Caruso; the precipitous crag of Celano, - all these at once, brilliant with the splendour of Italian morning, formed a scene not to be slightly gazed at, or lightly forgotten - the utter quiet of all around! the character of undisturbed beauty which threw a spell of enchantment over the whole! A herd of white goats blinking and sneezing lazily in the early sun; their goatherd piping on a little reed; two or three large falcons soaring above the Lake; the watchful cormorant sitting motionless on its shining surface; and a host of merry flies sporting in the fragrant air, - these were the only signs of life in the very spot where the thrones of Claudius and his Empress were placed on the crowd-blackened hill: a few distant fishing-boats dotted the Lake where, eighteen centuries ago, the cries of combat rent the air, and the glitter of contending galleys delighted the Roman multitude. The solitary character of the place is most striking; no link between the gay populous past, and the lonely present; no work of any intermediate century breaks its desolate and poetical feeling. I could willingly have lingered there for hours, for I can recall no scene at once so impressive and beautiful. We mounted our horses and went slowly on; the hills advancing to the Lake, and forming a high continuous wall on our right. Soon we reached Luco; first pausing at the Church of S. Maria di Luco, which stands on the site of the ancient Angizia, a fact placed beyond doubt by inscriptions found in the vicinity of the walls, which, though now mostly beneath the surface of the Lake, can be traced in their full extent. The Lucus, or Grove of Angizia, from which the modern town derives its name, I looked for in vain, but we were well pleased with the beautiful view of the Lake, and the group of Alba and Velino, now diminished by distance, and yet forming a fine back-ground to the picturesque church and walls.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
The fields of the Fucino basin seen from S. Maria delle Grazie
May 1791. The frequent inundations of the Fucine Lake induced the Marsi, in whose territory it was situated, to present a petition to the Emperor, praying for relief against so serious an injury. This application, which received no attention from Julius, Augustus, and Tiberius, was taken into consideration by Claudius. The work was completed; but the canal was not sufficiently deep to drain off the superfluous waters. Orders were therefore given by the same Emperor, to remedy this defect; but death prevented the termination of so grand and useful an undertaking.
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily - 1819
The lake of Celano, or Fucino, is supposed to measure thirty miles in circumference and about eight across in its widest part; dimensions which I consider somewhat exaggerated and to which its utmost general depth, fifty feet, bears no adequate proportion. (..) The water is remarkably clear, and was esteemed by the ancients, as it is now, not only excellent to drink, but salutary in the cure of many disorders.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
The reclamation 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. In 1875 the first crops of cereals, potatoes and beetroots were grown, then from the 1970s onwards other vegetables were phased in, e.g. carrots, spinach, chicory, tomato, fennel, endives, radishes, etc. chiefly to supply Rome, so that it is known as the kitchen garden of Rome.
Adriaen Collaert: engraving depicting an imaginary equestrian statue of Claudius, seen from behind, with a naval combat in the background, from "Roman Emperors on Horseback", based on subjects by Stradanus (Jan van der Straet) ca 1600 - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
To commemorate the completion of the undertaking, the Emperor exhibited a naval combat on the Fucine Lake; which is thus recorded by the pen of Tacitus: "About this time, A. U. C. 805, A. D. 52, a passage was cut through a mountain, between the Lake Fucinus and the river Liris. That a work of such magnificence might be seen to advantage, Claudius exhibited a naval engagement on the Lake, in imitation of Augustus; who formed an artificial basin on the banks of the Tiber, and gave a similar spectacle, but with lighter vessels, and fewer mariners. Ships of three, and even four, banks of oars were equipped by Claudius, carrying on board no less than nineteen thousand armed men. To prevent a deviation from the line, the lake was fenced round with rafts of timber, leaving the intermediate space sufficiently wide to give free play to the oars, and for the pilots to display their skill; and in the attack to exhibit the various operations of a sea-fight. On the rafts of timber were posted the praetorian guards, ranged in their several companies. Redoubts were raised in their front, with proper engines for throwing massive stones and all kinds of missile weapons. The rest of the Lake was assigned to the ships. The mariners and combatants filled the decks. An incredible number of spectators from the neighbouring towns, and even from Rome, crowded to the banks of the lake, to enjoy the spectacle, or pay court to the Emperor. The banks, the rising ground, the ridge of the adjacent hills, presented to the eye a magnificent scene, in the form of an amphitheatre. Claudius and Agrippina presided at the spectacle; the prince in a superb coat of mail, and the empress in a splendid mantle, which was a complete tissue of gold. The fleet was manned with malefactors; but the battle was nevertheless fought with heroic bravery. After many wounds, and a great effusion of blood, the survivors were excused from fighting to destruction, as a favour, for the deeds of valour which they had performed.
The whole of this magnificent spectacle being concluded, the channel through which the waters flowed was laid open, and then it appeared how unskilfully the work was executed; for the bed was not sunk deep enough to gain a level either with the middle or extremities of the lake. It was found necessary to clear away the ground, and give a freer course to the current. The operation was speedily finished; and to attract a multitude of spectators, bridges were thrown over the lake, which were so constructed, as to afford room for a foot engagement. A shew of gladiators was exhibited on this prodigious platform. Near the mouth of the lake a sumptuous banquet was prepared: but the spot was ill-chosen. The weight of a vast body of water rushing down with irresistible force, carried away the contiguous parts of the works, and shook the whole fabric. Confusion and noise filled the place: the roar of the torrent, and the crash of materials falling in, spread general alarm. Claudius stood astonished. Agrippina seized the moment to accuse Narcissus, who was entrusted with the direction of the whole; and the favourite recriminated on her character, by inveighing against the impotence of a female spirit, her overbearing pride, and boundless ambition." Annals, Book XII, chapter 57. Colt Hoare
Inscription inside SS. Rufino e Cesidio at Trasacco
modern stone, placed over the door of the sacristy,
in the church of St. Cesidio, bears the following
inscription, which records some portion of the
ancient history of the place.
"Quod hic Claudius Nero. Rom. Imp. Emissar. Fucini opere
inenarrabili undenos ann. triginta hominum millia confecturus
domum quae modo Ecclesia E. A. S. Rufino Marsor. Epo.
consecrata an. CCXXXVII suae stationis solatium erexit.
Quod Trajanus Aug. idem purgaturus huc advenerit steteritque his reliquiis praeter alia vetustatis monumenta duorum Caesarum domum Lector agnosce. Pagani incenderunt, et cives restauravere. Illus vero et Rmus D. Dom. Ant. Britii. Marsor. Epus. solemniori ritu die XXVII Octob. reconsecravit An. MDCCLII." Colt Hoare
The 1752 inscription by Bishop Domenico Antonio Brizi states that the construction of the canal required 11 years and a workforce of 30,000 and that Claudius built a palace to oversee the undertaking on the site where in 237 St. Rufino, Bishop of the Marsi, consecrated his church. The palace housed also Trajan who ordered the cleaning of the canal. The inscription invites the reader to realize that he is standing on the site of the house of two emperors and it adds that the Pagans set the church on fire and the citizens restored it.
The next object which attracted my attention was the church of Sta. Maria di Luco, now deserted; but still used as a cemetery to the adjoining town of Luco. In the outward walls of this building I found an inscription: "T. Peticius L. F. Chirurgus. Labore et cura vivos perfeci hanc domum, Sed filio ante, huic homini iucundissimo; Paravi tribus ube ossa nostra adquiescerent. Mors me adsequetur tunc mihi demetur dolor. Valete et memores estis pietatem patris." Colt Hoare.
The inscription was quoted because is a rare occurrence of the job of the dead (chirurgus) being used as a (cognomen) surname, as already noted by Ludovico Antonio Muratori, a leading scholar of his age, in Novus thesaurus veterum inscriptionum - 1741.
Hic abbas fecit libellum de monasterio sancte Marie de Luco. Rainaldo comiti Marsorum, secundum illas scilicet pertinentias atque fines, quibus Gualtierus sacerdos et monachus tandem ecclesiam a Doda comitissa sibi concessam in hoc monasterio ante annos ferme vigenti tradiderat, quod est terra modiorum circiter sexcentorum. (This abbot made a charter of the monastery of Saint Maria di Luco. Rainald, Count of Marsi, according to those appurtenances and boundaries, to which Gualtierus the priest and monk had finally delivered the church granted to him by the Countess Doda in this monastery years before, which was firmly in force, which is a land of about six hundred modi.)
Chronica sacri monasterii casinensis II., a XIIth century chronicle.
The Church of Santa Maria, built on part of these ancient walls, is also of great antiquity; having been given to the Benedictines by Doda, Contessa de' Marsi (of Longobard descent), a. d. 930. Lear
The Benedictine Abbots of Montecassino had also a subsidiary convent at Paterno near Celano on the opposite shore of the lake. Modius is a medieval land measure corresponding to 16 ha., 40 acres.
S. Maria delle Grazie: (left) central portal; (centre) lion devouring a man (above) and perhaps an Evangelist (below) - see some other Romanesque depictions of lions at SS. Giovanni e Paolo and S. Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome; (right-above) lion devouring a man at S. Rufino, the Cathedral of Assisi; (right-below) decoration of the side pilasters, similar to those at S. Anastasia at Borgocollefegato)
The church was severely damaged by the 1915 Avezzano earthquake, but in 1922 it was rebuilt with most of its original stones; in particular the fašade was redesigned as it must have been in the XIIth century because the additions which were made in the XVIIIth century were removed.
Museo di Arte Sacra della Marsica at Castello Piccolomini of Celano - from S. Maria delle Grazie di Luco: Sts. Paul, Andrew, Peter and Benedict, second half of the XVIth century by a local sculptor
Abruzzo has a tradition of painted wood statues which goes back to the XIIIth century (Madonna delle Concanelle) and was adapted to the prevailing styles of the time (e. g. St. Sebastian - XVth century), including the early Baroque one. Some of these statues were carried out of the churches in processions and ceremonies, e.g. La Madonna che Scappa at Sulmona.
Ancient walls near S. Maria delle Grazie at Luco and the modern cemetery behind them
Beneath this church, which appears to have been erected on the foundations of a more ancient edifice, I observed, in a direction leading towards the lake, the remains of military walls, constructed like those of Alba, with large stones, though placed in a more regular order. I could also trace the continuation of these walls, as well as of other old buildings, beneath the surface of the lake; which appears to have made considerable incroachments on the shore in this quarter. Here then, I think, without giving an unreasonable scope to conjecture, we are warranted in placing the Lucenses, and perhaps the Nemus Angitia, recorded by Virgil, in his description of the different nations engaged in the contest between Turnus and Aeneas. Colt Hoare
Following the banks of the lake, stands the village of Luco, containing about fifteen hundred inhabitants, mostly subsisting on the labours of fishing. Its situation, on a shelving bank, raised above the level of the water, and backed by a screen of jagged hills, is both picturesque and cheerful. (..) A town, bearing likewise the name of Angitia, is said to have existed here; and the remains of antiquity which are to be found, seem to corroborate the fact. These consist of polygon walls of good construction, and well preserved, under a Gothic church, standing on a pretty wooded bank at a short distance from the village. Craven
The name of Luco is supposed to be derived from the Lucus Angitiae, the mystic grove in which the inhabitants performed sacrifices in honour of Angitia, the sister of Circe, whom they looked upon as having first taught them the virtues of herbs and simples in healing the bites of serpents and the power of charming them. I hope it will not be deemed a frivolous stretch in favour of identity, to observe, that the present inhabitants of these regions pretend to possess the same occult powers which distinguished their forefathers, in charming venomous reptiles, and rendering them innoxious. (..) The operation requisite to secure the charmers against the poison of the snake in future, is performed by slightly scratching the hand or arm with a viper's tooth divested of its venom; then applying a mysterious stone to the puncture; and finally furnishing the patient with an image of, and a prayer to, San Domenico di Cocullo, a village among the Marsian hills, where a celebrated sanctuary is every year thronged by pilgrims from all parts of the province; modern devotion having transferred to a sanctified being the attributes which ancient superstition ascribed to dealers in necromancy and divination. Craven
St. Dominic of Sora (951-1032) was born in Foligno. He became Benedictine monk and founded a number of hermitages in Central Italy. The last of them was at Sora, where he died. The miracles for which St. Dominic was remembered included the cure of snake bites. A statue of him is draped with live snakes and taken in procession at Cocullo during a feast which is celebrated on the first Sunday of May after the end of the snake hibernation period.
Bartolomeo Pinelli - Costumi del Regno di Napoli - 1828: (left) a fisherman of the Lake Fucino and a woman of Pettorano, near Sulmona; (right) peasants of Collelungo near Trasacco
The present town of Luco contains about sixteen hundred inhabitants, nearly the whole of whom are supported by fishing in the Lake; the result of which they carry by Capistrello and Canistro to Subiaco, and even to Rome. The tench and barbel of Fucino are considered good; there are Scardafe also, and Lasche, and queer little ugly crabs, and crawfish, and frogs: on the whole, in my opinion, a very nasty collection; the Argentina being the only fish I could ever eat without fear of choking. We passed through Luco, a lively little town, but with no particular object worthy of remark. Its inhabitants are considered by the Marsicans generally as being the finest race among them, strong and healthy, though not handsome; indeed, neither the Abruzzo men nor women can be considered as entitled to the reputation of great beauty, compared with that found in other parts of Italy. We remarked at every step the courtesy and pleasing cordiality of the peasants, nearly every individual saluting us, both while passing through the town, and afterwards from the vineyards by the roadside: most of them added a benediction, "V'accompagna Maria!" or "Vi benedica Gesu!" or "Faccia felice viaggio!" at the least. This good-breeding and hospitable feeling throughout the Marsic territory are truly charming. Lear
At the distance of three miles from Luco we
find another village, called Trasacco, a name evidently corrupted from Trans aquas which retains
many memorials of antiquity. Here the waters
of the Lake have made considerable incroachments, and robbed the inhabitants of many acres
of rich and valuable land. Colt Hoare
Keeping close to the Lake, through low vineyards, and fields gay with golden grain, and merry with the bustle of harvest, we left the valley of Collelungo on our right, and shortly reached Trasacco, the limit we had fixed to our day's sight-seeing. (..) On asking for a Locanda, we were directed to the first family of the town, the De' Gasparis, who had resided there for several centuries; to whose house we went, and asked boldly for aid for ourselves and horses. This was cheerfully given, though we were strangers, and without any letter of recommendation. Lear
Tower of Trasacco
The only remarkable object in this village is a very high round tower, growing out of a square one, - a work of the middle ages. Craven
Don Serafino De' Gasparis, who is arch-priest of the Church of S. Cesidio, lionized us all over it, and shewed us some of the Gothic windows, &e. I have alluded to above. But what most pleased me at Trasacco was a view near a curious but picturesque old tower, square at its base, and round at top, over-looking all the wide Lake, with the distant Velino beyond. Oderisius, Count of the Marsi, is said to have resided in "la torre anticha di Trasacco" in the year 1050; but whether this were the building, I know not. Lear
The upper part of the tower is said to have been built after the mid of the XIIIth century. At times the tower was used as a lighthouse for the fishermen.
Mountains east of Trasacco and to the left the Fucino Space Centre, a teleport used for the control of artificial satellites in the basin of the former lake
The name of Trans aquas is applicable to
the situation of Trasacco, with respect to Maruvium (S. Benedetto dei Marsi); for between these two places a steep and
perpendicular mountain, extending itself into the lake, precludes a passage along the bank, and renders a communication by water necessary. Colt Hoare
Trasacco is situated at the foot of the ridge of hills forming the boundary of a well-cultivated valley that extends in a south-east direction behind Balzorano and Sora: beyond this, the cliffs rise almost perpendicularly out of the water, and preclude all communication that way between Trasacco and Ortucchio, which is therefore carried on by a path over the mountains. (..) I proceeded across the lake straight from Trasacco to S. Benedetto on the opposite shore, an operation which employed two hours of stout rowing. Craven
Beyond this town there is no further passage, perpendicular rocks washed by the Lake barring all further progress; though I have been told that about eight years ago the waters were low enough to admit of a pedestrian reaching Ortucchio. Lear
Trasacco, the Transaqua of old records, now a small town of seven hundred and fifty inhabitants, seems to have no claim to antiquity of origin, beyond its having been built on the site of a palace of Claudius, afterwards inhabited by Trajan. On the ruins of this palace San Rufino is said to have
erected the church which now bears his name: he was the first Bishop of the Marsi, about a.p. 237, and suffered martyrdom under the Emperor Maximinian, together with San Cesidio, whose relics are great objects of veneration to the Marsi of the present day. Whatever may have been the former state of Trasacco, its present condition is sufficiently forlorn; though its church, and several bits of Gothic architecture about the town, are well worth some attention, which I regret I did not give to them. Lear
Cesidio was the son of Rufino, they both were from Amasya in Pontus. Rufino eventually moved to Assisi where the cathedral is dedicated to him.
Tombstones: (left) at SS. Rufino e Cesidio; (right) of Aulo Virgio Marso at Museo di Castello Piccolomini at Celano; other tombstones from Trasacco can be seen at the Museum of Avezzano
I noticed many inscriptions of ancient date
lying neglected in the Atrio, or church-yard of
St. Cesidio; most of which being sepulchral and
exhibiting no novelty of style or expression, are
not worthy of publication: one stone more ornamented than the rest, again commemorates the
name of Peticius; and another, surmounted by a
basso relievo, represents military trophies, and in
the first line mentions the Primipilus, who held a
distinguished rank in the Roman army. He presided over all the other centurions; and in battle
generally gave the word of command, by order of
the Tribunes. The eagle, or chief standard of the
legion, was also entrusted to his care. Colt Hoare
A well preserved tombstone (now at Celano) was found in the 1970s. It records the military career of Aulo Virgio Marso who retired at Maruvium. He had been primipilus in the IIIrd Gallic Legion and he held several positions in the army in Egypt under the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. The Marsi had a reputation for being brave fighters and these inscriptions testify to it. See tombstones referring to primipili at Vindobona (Vienna).
In origin the portal was larger and it led to the part of the church which was reserved to the women (that more distant from the altar). Some early churches of Rome e.g. S. Lorenzo fuori le mura and S. Agnese fuori le mura still retain a matroneum, an upper gallery reserved to women.
SS. Rufino e Cesidio: (left) "Portal of the Men" in the right side of the church; (right) detail of the oldest part which retains evidence of painting; the image used as background for this page shows the radiant sun of St. Bernardine at the top of the portal
This portal led to the part of the church nearest to the altar which was reserved to the men. Its original XIIIth century elements were placed in a larger Renaissance structure with an overall very fine result.
SS. Rufino e Cesidio: (left) XIIIth century pulpit depicting the Lamb of God and the symbols of the Four Evangelists with a Cosmati decoration; (right) dome of Cappella di S. Cesidio (late XIXth century)
Marsica was the region of Abruzzo nearest to Rome and prior to its inclusion in the Angevin Kingdom of Naples in 1266 it had close cultural ties with Rome. The church of S. Pietro d'Albe (ancient Alba Fucens) has a very fine screen and a pulpit which both were decorated with Cosmati work, and perhaps actually made by Roman marble workers, and other traces of a similar technique can be seen at Tagliacozzo.
September 4th, 1843 (second excursion). 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 Maruvium. (..) 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.
I was placed in a flat-bottomed boat or punt, and two men soon carried me over the quiet lake, whose glassy surface reflected every cloud in the loveliest colours. Distant Alba and Velino were diminished to faint horizon objects, but the mountains on the eastern and southern side of the water were very grand. Numbers of cormorants hover over the Lake, or sit watching on poles placed for fishing in the shallowest parts of it.
At Trasacco, where I arrived before noon, I found old Don Bernardo de' Gasparis, with his six sons, Dons Serafino, Cesidio, Loreto, Filippo, Giacomo, and Odoardo, who all received me with the same cordiality as on our first visit, and treated me with every kindness.
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. Don Serafino insisted on my accepting a valuable old book, the Memorie della Chiesa di Trasacco, a little work, which, like many of those compiled by natives of these small towns, contained some interest dispersed in a world of heavy detail. I coasted the sides of the Lake in a punt; and in many parts the perpendicular rocks which enclose it are full of grandeur. Lear
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
S. Benedetto dei Marsi and Pescina
XVIIIth century Sulmona
Sulmona: Easter Day Ceremony (La Madonna che scappa - The Fleeing Madonna)