In offering this Volume to the Public, it is almost necessary to state, that its object is the illustration of a part of Italy which,
though nowise inferior in interest to those portions of that country so
commonly visited, has hitherto attracted but little attention. With the exception of the Tours by Sir R. Colt Hoare, and the Honourable Keppel Craven, I am not aware of any published account of the Abruzzi provinces in English; and the drawings with which the
following pages are illustrated are, I believe, the first hitherto given of a part of Central Italy as romantic as it is unfrequented. (..)
July 1843.- It was not without experiencing many delays that we were at last enabled to begin our long-proposed tour in the Abruzzi, or three Northern provinces of the kingdom of Naples.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
Edward Lear, (born May 12, 1812, Highgate, near London, England; died January 29, 1888, San Remo, Italy), English landscape painter who is more widely known as the writer of an original kind of nonsense verse and as the popularizer of the limerick. His true genius is apparent in his nonsense poems, which portray a world of fantastic creatures in nonsense words, often suggesting a deep underlying sense of melancholy. (..) After 1837 he lived mainly abroad. Though naturally timid, he was a constant and intrepid traveler, exploring Italy, Greece, Albania, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and, later, India and Ceylon. An indefatigable worker, he produced innumerable pen and watercolour sketches of great topographical accuracy. Encyclopedia Britannica
You may wish to see Lear's 1839 view of Olevano, a small town south of Rome.
Map of the Three Provinces of Abruzzo from "Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846" with the three excursions Lear made in Abruzzo: 1st excursion: July-August 1843; 2nd excursion. August-October 1843; 3rd excursion: September-October 1844
The provinces of the three Abruzzi are bounded on the north and west by the States of the Church, on the east by the Adriatic, and on the south by the Neapolitan counties of Terra di Lavoro and Molise or Campobasso. By far the greater portion of the territory of the three Abruzzi is of a mountainous character, some of the highest points of the Apennines being situated in these province Monte Corno (usually called il Gran Sasso d'Italia) (it is depicted in the image used as background for this page), Terminillo, and Velino, in the Abruzzo Ult. 2°; and the Maiella in Abruzzo Citeriore. The provinces of Chieti and Teramo are less interesting to a landscape painter than that of Aquila, the scenery of which, though somewhat bleak, is wild and majestic to a great degree: its towns also have more attractions both in a picturesque and historical point of view, and I confess my prejudices are equally in favour of its inhabitants. Lear
1864 Map of the Three Provinces of Abruzzo after they became part of the Kingdom of Italy; they still retain the administrative division they had when they were part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In the 1920s the western district of Cittaducale, which included the towns of Amatrice, Leonessa and Borgocollefegato became part of the Province of Rieti and of the Region of Latium
Most of the country between the Apennines and the Adriatic is highly cultivated, abounding with the vine, olive, &.: that in the higher ground of the Abruzzi 1° and 2° Ult. is chiefly pasture land. To the south and east of the provinces, a large tract, bounded by the Terra di Lavoro and the Papal States, is thickly wooded; but extreme bareness is the characteristic of the greater extent of the Abruzzese territory. Lear
We now come
to the fourth region, which includes the
most valiant probably of all the nations of Italy. Upon the coast, in the territory of the Frentani. after the river Tifernus, we find the river Trimium, with a good harbour at its mouth, the towns of Histonium, Buca, and Ortona, and the river Aternus. In the interior are the Anxani surnamed Frentani, the Higher and Lower Carentini and the Lanuenses; in the territory of the Marrucini, the Teatini; in that of the Peligni, the Corfinienses, the Superequani, and the Sulmonenses; in that of the Marsi, the Anxanti, the Atinates, the Fucentes, the Lucenses, and the Marruvini; in that of the Albenses, the town of Alba on Lake Fucinus; in that of the Aequiculani, the Cliternini, and the Carseolani; in that of the Vestini, the Angulani, the Pinnenses, and the Peltuinates, adjoining to whom are the Aufinates Cismontani.
Pliny the Elder - Historiae Naturalis - Book III - Loeb Edition
Museo Archeologico Nazionale d'Abruzzo - Chieti: "Guerriero di Capestrano" a VIth century BC tall funerary limestone statue depicing a warrior of the Vestini which was found in 1934 in the site of ancient "Aufinum" near today's Capestrano, east of L'Aquila
Beyond the Picentine country are the Vestini, the Marsi, the Peligni, the Marrucini, and the Frentani (a Samnitic tribe); they occupy the mountain-country there, their territory touching upon the sea for only short stretches. These tribes are small, it is true, but they are very brave and oftentimes have exhibited this virtue to the Romans: first, when they went to war against them; a second time, when they took the field with them as allies; and a third time when, begging for freedom and political rights without getting them, they revolted and kindled what is called the Marsic War, for they proclaimed Corfinium (the metropolis of the Peligni) the common city for all the Italiotes, instead of Rome, making it their base of operations for the war and changing its name to Italica and here it was that they mustered all their followers and elected consuls and praetors. And they persisted in the war for two years, until they achieved the partnership for which they went to war. The war was named "Marsic" after the people who began the revolt. Now these peoples live in villages, generally speaking, but they also have cities: first, above the sea, Corfinium, Sulmon, Maruvium, and Teate, the metropolis of the Marrucini. And, secondly, on the sea itself, Aternum, which borders on the Picentine country and is of like name with the river that separates the Vestine country from the Marrucine.
Strabo - Geography - Book V - Perseus Edition
July 27th, 1843.- We were off by sun-rise, down the long valley of the Anio; quitting it at the road to Arsoli, and following the Via Valeria, which anciently led from Tibur to the country of the Marsi: its traces are still visible here and there. Having passed Arsoli (the frontier town of the Roman States) crowned by the palace of Prince Massimo, and having caught a glimpse of Riofreddo on our left, we were soon in the pretty plain of Cavaliere, than which, though not of great extent, there are few more pleasing; for it is so surrounded by towns perched on their hills, that, whichever way you turn, there is an interesting object, Valinfreddo, Poggio-Cinolfo, Pereto, Collalto, Camerata, Oricoli, Rocca di Botte, &c. A cluster of houses is called Cavaliere; and the largest of these was formerly a Locanda, built by the Colonnesi, at the request of a cavalier of their family who lost his way, and passed a night on the plain, where there was then no house. Hence the name of the hamlet, and of the Pianura di Cavaliere, which abounds in game, and is greatly frequented by sportsmen. Here we entered the Neapolitan province of Abruzzo Secondo Ulteriore. Lear
Museum of Sulmona inside Palazzo dell'Annunziata: angels holding a coat of arms of the House of Aragon
After the establishment of the monarchy of Naples in the twelfth century
by the Normans, the first recorded division of the whole kingdom was under Frederic II, by whom it was formed into nine provinces, governed each by a Giustiziere. These Giustizierati were: 1. Abruzzo; 2. Terra di Lavoro; 3. Principato. 4. Basilicata; 5. Capitanata; 6. Terra di Bari; 7. Terra d'Otranto; 8. Val di Crati e Terra Giordana; 9. Calabria.
In ap. 1278; the province of Abruzzo was further divided into Abruzzo Citeriore and Ulteriore, by King Charles I. of Anjou. The latter of these was again subdivided into Ulteriore Primo and Secondo in a. D. 1684. Lear
In 1266 Charles of Anjou conquered Naples and ruled over Southern Italy and Sicily (the latter until 1282). In 1442 the Angevins were replaced by the Kings of Aragon and eventually by the Viceroys who were appointed by the Kings of Spain. In 1734 Charles of Bourbon conquered the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily (the "Two Sicilies") and he and his successors ruled them from Naples and the Royal Palace of Caserta.
April 26, 1791, I quitted Rome, with the intention of exploring that portion of country which had been left unexamined in my last autumnal tour, from unfavourable weather, and the advance of the season. The chief, and, indeed, ultimate, object of my journey was the Fucine Lake, now bearing the appellation of Celano; and I know not whether I was more attracted thither by the interest which the district derives from the records of antiquity, or by a love of novelty, and a curiosity to examine a country little frequented by foreigners, and imperfectly known in an historical point of view even by the natives themselves.
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily
An indescribable quiet, a feeling of distance from the busy world, pervades this sequestered district. No road connects the Marsica, (or district where the ancient Marsi resided,) with either Rome or Naples. The old Via Valeria passed through it from Rome, and its vestiges are still visible near the Castle of Tagliacozzo; but now the only roads for carriages in the whole territory are from Tagliacozzo to Avezzano, Celano, and Magliano: and one from Capistrello to Sora, not yet completed. Shut up in its own circle of high mountains the Marsica has no communication (beyond that afforded by mule-tracks) with any great city; and it possesses, besides the delight of its unfrequented tranquillity, more attractions among its inhabitants, its scenery, and antiquities than any place it has been ever my fortune to visit. Lear
April 2023: (above) Mount Velino, 2,487 m, seen from Avezzano; (below) the site of Lake Fucino which was drained in 1875 seen from near Celano
In 1752, it is recorded, that the Lake of Fucino was so low, that the foundations of the ancient Marruvium were seen, and several statues of Claudius and Agrippina were discovered and sent to Caserta. In 1783 the Lake began to increase, and rose fifteen palmi before the year 1787, when it sunk to nearly its former level. From 1806 to 1816, the most formidable inundation on record took place: the superficies of the Lake was twenty palmi higher than at the greatest increase of 1780-7. (..) Avezzano itself remained but twenty-seven palmi above the Lake: and the year 1816 will always be remembered as one of terror and distress to the inhabitants of the district. From that time the Lake went down forty-seven palmi in the space of nineteen years; so that land, which was under water in the years 1670, 1740, and 1780, stood thirteen palmi above it in 1835. At present, the Lake is again on the increase, though very slowly. Lear
Sea coasts and maritime regions most of all other, feele earthquake: neither are the hillie countries without this calamitie. For, I my selfe have knowne for certaine, that the Alpes and Apenine have oftentimes trembled. (..) It was no lesse monstrous a wonder that was knowne also in our age, in the very last yeere of Nero the Emperor (as we have shewed in his actes) when medowes and olive rowes (notwithstanding the great publicke port-way lay betweene) passed overthwart one into anothers place, in the Marrucine territorie. Pliny
One or two more general remarks regarding the provinces of the Abruzzi may be allowed. - The great valleys in the heart of the Apennines are subject to the scourge of earthquakes, and that most frequently and fatally. And the inhabitants, for courtesy, simplicity, and hospitality, are a proverb among Italians as well as strangers. (..) We had seated ourselves to supper the first evening of my arrival, when I felt myself suddenly shaken forward in my chair, till my nose nearly touched the table: some novel domestic arrangement of a servant behind, shaking every-body into his seat - said I to myself: - but the moment after all the family rose, and various people, screaming "Terramoto!" ran wildly into the room. Celano, and indeed the whole province of Abruzzo Ulteriore Secondo is very subject to earthquakes, and during my stay in the neighbourhood there were four shocks, which I soon learned to recognise as such. Lear
Celano, Avezzano and many other towns of Marsica were destroyed by an earthquake in 1915. In 1703 an earthquake razed to the ground L'Aquila (and its effects were felt also in Rome) and in 1706 it was the turn of Sulmona and its valley to suffer from a devastating earthquake. The most recent major earthquakes occurred in 2009 (L'Aquila) and 2016 (Amatrice).
S. Benedetto, where I landed, is a village of but few houses scattered along the eastern bank of the lake. The ancient city of Maruvium, one of the most eminent among the Marsi, according to Silius Italicus, is supposed to have existed at this spot.
It 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. (..) 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
The Forca Caruso is a pass (at 1,107 m.) over the mountains on the north-east side of the Lake of Fucino; and as we turned our backs on its beautiful waters, and ascended a long and barren hill, by a stony road, and in the face of a very cold wind, we cast many a look of regret over the bright scenes we had left, the fertile plain of Avezzano. For an hour, nothing could be less interesting than the narrow plain, walled in by low hills,-scattered flocks of sheep, guarded by angry dogs, and stunted shrubs at intervals, the only objects of attention; and (..) we were glad to be at the north side of the pass, leading down to the valleys of Gagliano and Goriano, whence it was most refreshing to gaze on a picture full of all kinds of mountain-grandeur, wood, valley, towns, snowy peaks, and clouds veiling the highest range of all. By long winding paths we descended to Goriano Siculi, a little town containing seven hundred inhabitants. It stands in a tranquil valley, where we were glad to stable our horses, and refresh ourselves on raw ham, bread, and an omelette, at a little Osteria. Lear
Of Goriano Siculi little is to be said; there is, however, a most Poussin-like view of the town from the hill beyond it, which, after an hour's rest, we began to ascend by steep windings. At the summit, a vast and new scene was opened to us. We had passed out of the land of the Marsi and were entering that of the ancient Peligni, separated from their neighbours of old by high mountain-walls, over which the stupendous Maiella reigned pre-eminent. A beautiful place, indeed, is the vale or plain of Solmona, twelve Neapolitan miles in length, and three or four wide; almost every spot in it cultivated with vines, and corn, olives, and garden-fruit, for which, especially melons, the district is famous. Solmona, the Sulmo of antiquity, stands at one of the extremities of the vale; Corfinium, or Pentima, at the other: the towns of Pettorano, Bugnara, Introdacqua, Frezza, Casale, S. Vittorino, Rajano, and Pratola, are also within its limits. All these, gleaming and sparkling from the bosom of this beautiful vale, were before us, as we went down the long descent, and through the little town of Rajano, and along a grass road between continual vineyards, crossed by numerous streams. (..) Thus at length we reached Solmona. Lear
Pentima contains about fifteen hundred souls, and Raiano about the same number. The former is situated on a fine level surface of ground, somewhat elevated above the plain which extends as far as the second; and deserves notice as the site of Corfinium, the principal city of the Peligni, rendered still more famous in the Social War as the spot fixed upon for the reunion of the forces furnished by the allied nations who resisted the Roman arms in that memorable contest. It was likewise designated as the seat of the confederation which directed the military operations, and held supreme command over all the combined armies. (..) So confident were the allied forces of their success in resisting the Roman army, that they conferred on this city the name of Italia, in anticipation of the rank it was likely to obtain. (..) Its existing remains are few, and composed of very indifferent materials. They consist of some shapeless masses of buildings constructed of very small stones, strongly cemented together, and shaped into the semblance of large blocks. Craven
Museum of Sulmona: Ist century AD funerary relief depicting the transhumance, the seasonal droving of livestock along migratory routes between the mountains of Abruzzo and the plains of Apulia; the partial inscription says: [Ho] mines ego moneo ni quei diffidat [sibi] ("I warn all men not to despair of themselves"). Notice the shepherd's crook, a long and sturdy stick with a hook used to manage and sometimes catch sheep; it eventually became a bishopric symbol (see a statue of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan)
The noise of thunder produces abortion in sheep, if they are left alone; to prevent such accidents, they are brought together into flocks, that they may be rendered less timid by being in company. (..) The most esteemed wool of all is that of Apulia, and that which in Italy is called Grecian wool, in other countries Italian. The Apulian wool is shorter in the hair, and only owes its high character to the cloaks that are made of it. Pliny
The flocks of the Abruzzo Ulteriore 2° amount to seven hundred thousand head in number, most part of which migrate annually to Apulia at the end of September, by the three principal tratturi or sheepwalks commencing in the neighbourhood of Aquila, Celano, and Pescaseroli; and return by the same route after the shearing in May. Part go to the Roman Campagna in October, by the route of Rieti or Arsoli: these are chiefly from the districts of Civita Ducale and Aquila. Some remain in their native plains. All feed in the province during summer, in the valleys of Rocca di Mezzo, the environs of the Gran Sasso, the Cicolano, the plains of Lionessa, or Cinque Miglia, &e. Of the annual march of Abruzzo sheep and shepherds so excellent and graphic an account has already appeared in the Hon. K. Craven's "Excursions in the Northern Provinces of Naples", that any further description would be unnecessary; yet I cannot help saying that the impression I receive from these extraordinary caravans is quite other than gloom or melancholy. Lear
Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo of Pescara: a reconstructed dry-stone hut which the shepherds used as a temporary shelter
To me the whole picture is one of pastoral and cheerful industry, and the life of the Abruzzese Pecoraro is the "beau ideal" of a shepherd's existence. On his native mountains his amusement is playing on the bagpipes or zamboni, whose long-drawn notes you may hear hour after hour in the summer days, an accompaniment of indescribable romance to those poetical scenes. (..) Altogether a more inoffensive and contented race of beings I never met with. (..) Long droves of jetty sheep were filing away to their winter-quarters in Apulia, and a few screaming falcons wheeled and soared above them. The tranquillity of these elevated pastures is extreme, and I well enjoyed a quarter-of-an-hour's rest by the side of a clear fountain. Lear
The Tabassi are of Solmona origin, and they are spoken of in old books as among the most ancient
of that city. Their possessions are scattered over the Abruzzi: the eldest
brother, Baron Tabassi, resides at Chieti; Stefano inhabits Pescina; Francesco
has a fine house at Solmona; and Pamfilo lives in Celano with two unmarried
sisters; a third is a nun. (..) On entering the old city of the Peligni (Sulmona) for the second time, I went to the
friendly Palazzo Tabassi, where Don Francesco (called in the abbreviating Neapolitan language Don Ciccio) received me with the greatest possible friendliness. (..) Yesterday was a day of rest at Solmona, which to-day I left three hours before sunrise, and with regret, for none but pleasant memories are connected with my stay there. Of the many agreeable acquaintances these wanderings have been the means of my forming, Don F. Tabassi is perhaps one of the most intellectual and amiable. Lear
The palace, in the centre of Sulmona, retains some of its Renaissance features notwithstanding the 1706 earthquake and later modifications. A plaque celebrates Edward Lear's visit.
Museo del Costume Popolare Abruzzese-Molisano e della Transumanza - Sulmona: (left) female traditional costumes; (right) that of a brigand (see some etchings by Bartolomeo Pinelli portraying brigands of Latium)
On Saturday the number of costume-wearing market-women
flocking to Solmona, the Sottintendenza or chief town of the district, are very
amusing. Generally speaking, there is but little variety or character of dress throughout the Abruzzi provinces: the peasants are usually clad in dark-blue
or red woollen clothes, both male and female; and the latter, excepting in a few places, wear the handkerchief on the head in a slovenly manner, very different from the neat head-dress near Rome. (..) The costume of the women is a long shawl of dark-blue cloth, worn over all the rest of their dress; and is rather pretty than otherwise, as they always contrive to wear it gracefully. (..) These remote parts are not in general believed to enjoy a state of civilization and advanced comfort.
"Si crede da loro che non si trovano fra noi altro che Briganti ed Orsi," was the frequent remark of Abruzzese proprietors to me; but, alas! for the hunter or writer of romance! Bears as well as Brigands have ceased to exist in these quiet districts. Lear
Brigandage soared in Abruzzo after 1861 when the new Italian State introduced compulsory military service: The Italian hate regular military service, being too independent by nature to submit willingly to be disciplined. I saw the army of Francis II at Naples, when they were marching on Aquila in 1858. They looked splendidly equipped and well organised, but those 50,000 men were scattered like chaff before the wind by Garibaldi's volunteers. Now they have placed themselves under the leadership of such adventurers as Chiavone, Crocco, Ninco Nanco, and Cipriani, to fight and be shot down like bandits.
Ferdinand Gregorovius, a German historian who lived in Rome between 1852 and 1873.
Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo of Pescara: laces and tools for making them
Aquila, or Aquila degli Abruzzi is now the prosperous capital of the province of the same name, with 18,500 inhab., spacious streets, handsome palaces, and churches with interesting facades. It enjoys a pure and healthy atmosphere owing to its lofty situation, and is consequently a favourite summer-resort of the Italians. Lacemaking occupies many of the women; and the saffron grown in the vicinity of the town has a high reputation.
Karl Baedeker - Italy; handbook for travellers - 1900
Borgocollefegato and the Cicolano
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
XVIIIth century Sulmona
Sulmona: Easter Day Ceremony (La Madonna che scappa - The Fleeing Madonna)