The most beautiful region in the world
The region of Abruzzo outstandingly preserved many of its original traits; here man and nature coexist in a mutual, respectful balance.
Everything in Abruzzo beckons the attentive and enthusiastic visitor: first and foremost its nature, a protected and treasured resource; with a third of its territory destined to park reserves, Abruzzo really deserves its fame as the ‘green heart’ of the Mediterranean basin.
Abruzzo gathers within its borders a great variety of natural and human environments: Mediterranean coast, hill regions, humid areas – like the fluvial and lacustrine oases –, mountainous zones with woods, prairies, mountain lakes, canyons, waterfalls, caves, glaciers, alpine-like mountaintops and high-altitude environments.
And amid this astonishing variety of uncontaminated and wild environments, rare and precious species live, which the Natural Parks of Abruzzo scrupulously protect (the mountain in the picture is The Gran Sasso of Italy).
The traces of the past
The solemn Warrior of Capestrano, the enigmatic funerary statue of an Italic prince who lived 2500 years ago – preserved in the Archeological Museum of Chieti –, is the true symbol of ancient-times Abruzzo. But the Warrior is not the only attestation of the over 500,000 years of human presence in this region. From the first hunters’ groups, that as of the Old Stone Age already used to live in these territories, down to the great Italic tribes and to the Roman grandeur, the ancient Abruzzese territory was a crossroads of different peoples, communities and cultures. This continuous melting pot left precious traces, that are today thoroughly studied by archeologists and are offered to the visitors thanks to rich museums and dozens of suggestive open-air sites.
A thousand small villages, crowded with stone and brick houses, leaning one against the other, with their tiny alleyways and their steps worn out by centuries of returning home, with their arcades and archways, with their ceilings blackened from the smoke. The boroughs are just like small house families, inhabited for centuries by friends and relatives who build friendships that last generation after generation; where every family has an ironical nickname that passes on to the descendents until nobody can remember anymore why the great-great-grandfather received it.
The great majority of the inland towns were founded during the Middle Ages, but many of them are far more ancient, dating back to the Roman-Italic period.
Stone dominates the boroughs of the mountainous inland areas, but in the slow descent towards the coast, stone houses make way for brick buildings.
Town walls and gates protect exquisite villages characterised by the warm colour of old brick. Fine aristocratic mansions, churches and private residences alternate without an end, eventually opening in squares, now large and rowdy, now tiny and huddled around a small fountain.
It is a bite-sized, people-oriented world, where being informal with a stranger is immediate and direct and the local rhythm of life leads to the discovery of pleasures that were thought gone, where the cuisine and the typical specialties carry an unforgettable surprise. (photo: Pacentro – AQ).
Abruzzo, land of fortresses
The Abruzzese territory is peppered by a myriad of castles and fortresses, safe shelter for countrymen and villagers in the event of an attack or a danger. That is the reason why, whatever the road you are travelling in today’s Abruzzo, you will always be gently guarded by a castle. Whether they survived as Romantic ruins or were restored and transformed in museums, they represent one of the most fascinating cultural offers of the region, and an occasion for a themed itinerary on any subject.
Among the most extraordinary shine the triangular towers of Polegra (Pescara) and Montegualtieri (Teramo); the defensive walls of San Pio delle Camere (L’Aquila), the castles of Roccascalegna (Chieti) e Roccacasale (L’Aquila) and, last but not least, one of the most beautiful castles of Europe both for its perfect shape and location – solitary like an eagle’s nest on a mountaintop: the Rocca di Calascio (L’Aquila) (photo).
The artistic handcraft
The art of pottery making has been plied in Abruzzo ever since its invention, but it is especially from Renaissance forward that Castelli, a small and picturesque village at the foot of the Gran Sasso, made the region famous by developing one of the most refined and learned production of majolica in Italy, exhibited today in the most important museums in the world.
Gold and silver
Among the most typical productions is filigree, employed in brooches, earrings, medallions, pendants; not to forget is also the all-round metal foil embossing technique, used to create the vague beads of elegant necklaces, chokers and the manine, “little hands”, typical engagement rings that the brides and grooms-to-be of the inland areas traditionally exchange. One of the most representative jewels is the Presentosa, a big but delicate, almost ethereal medallion with woven hearts, symbol of love, adorned with filigree and embossed foil.
Wrought copper and iron
The wrought copper and iron manufacture boasts centuries of tradition, with frequent testimonies homogeneously spread in the whole of Abruzzo. Wrought iron is especially used in the production of headboards, chandeliers, railings, gates, gratings, signboards, andirons and other utensils for the management of the fireplace, frames and mirrors, candle holders and pieces of furniture. Wrought copper is employed for pots and pans, ladles and cauldrons, but especially for the traditional conche, copper bowls with bent handles, flat bottom and a large opening, which women used to use to collect water from the wells, carrying them home by balancing them on their heads.
Guardiagrele, a Medieval town at the foot of the Majella is the Abruzzese capital for the manufacture of wrought copper and iron.
Wool, traditionally readily and abundantly available in Abruzzo, ensured textile manufacture an ever important role in the artisan economy of the region. Famous in the whole of Italy are the tarante, colourful wool blankets made in Taranta Peligna, to this day still produced on the basis of the long-standing designs.
Among the most widespread and famous products of textile handcraft in Abruzzo are the outstandingly elegant bobbin laces from Pescocostanzo and Scanno, with minor productions in L’Aquila, Bucchianico, Canzano.
Folklore and traditions
Every season of the year, every city and town sees in Abruzzo a never-ending succession of traditional festivities and folkloristic celebrations, which engage whole communities. The origins of these rituals are often very ancient, and in them genuine Christian devotion and pagan worship have been blended together from time immemorial.
The cycle of the popular traditions starts in spring with the sacred representations of the Holy Week. In Sulmona, every year on Easter day, the celebration of La Madonna che Scappa, “fleeing Mary” takes place: at noon, in the large and suggestive Piazza Garibaldi, the statue of the Virgin – carried by the members of a religious confraternity – ‘runs’ towards her resurrected Son.
In Cocullo, in occasion of the celebrations of St. Dominic of Sora, the famous Festa dei Serpari, the “festival of the snake charmers” is held: a procession takes place, in which the statue of the Saint goes through the town literally covered in snakes.
Summer is a non-stop flourishing of patron saints’ festivals, sagre – gastronomic town festivals –, and suggestive processions on the sea that take place in almost every seaside resort.
The most important summer event is the celebration that takes place on the 28th and 29th August in L’Aquila, the Perdonanza Celestiniana, “Celestinian absolution”; it is an historical-religious festival referring to the concession by Pope Celestine V of the plenary indulgence to anyone who crosses the holy doors of the Cathedral of Collemaggio on the anniversary of his papal coronation; the celebration is attended by pilgrims coming from every corner of the world.
The Legend of Maja
Legend has it that Maia, the most beautiful of the Pleiades, ran away from Phrygia in order to save her only son Hermes, a splendid Giant who was fatally wounded in battle. Crossing the sea, she managed to dock at the harbour of the ancient town of Ortona.
There she found shelter on the mountains and woods of Abruzzo, where plenty of healing herbs grow; she was looking for a very special herb, the only one able to save her beloved son’s life, which grows at the foot of the ‘white mountain’, in spring, when the snow melts.
But they reached the mountain in winter, when it was still covered in snow; and thus, her cherished son died.
Beside herself with grief, she wept desperately for days and days on her son’s body; finally, she buried him on the summit of a mountain, and to this day anyone who directs the gaze towards the Gran Sasso can make out the profile of the “sleeping Giant” – il Gigante che dorme, popular name for the mountain.
Inconsolable, she wandered for long through the woods and mountains. Then, consumed by the tears and sorrow, she breathed her last breath. The shepherds, moved by her sad story, buried her on the mountain that had welcomed her, next to her son, adorned with precious robes and vases, flowers and aromatic herbs.
Jupiter, moved to pity, decided to commemorate her by growing a singular tree with golden flowers, which he called Majo – the golden rain.
From that day on, that mountain has born the name of Maiella (or Majella), while the mountain of Hermes was named Gran Sasso.
The mountain took the shape of a woman, petrified by grief and bent over, with her gaze directed to the sea. To this day the shepherds hear her cries in the windy days, when the woods and valleys recreate the lament of a weeping mother.
For the people of Abruzzo, the Majella is the Mother, the sacred and motherly mountain (photo), symbol of the land of Abruzzo itself. […]
The cuisine of Abruzzo
On account of the heterogeneity of the territory and of the cultures that live side by side, the Abruzzese cuisine has many hearts. On the one hand, there is the evolution of the agropastoral cuisine of the humble farmers and shepherds from the mountainous and submontane zones, characterised by simple and tasty dishes, ovine meat, soups and broths, cheese and herbs. On the other hand, the ‘learned and burgeois’ cuisine of Teramo, specialized in valorising prime flavours with more elaborated recipes: timballo di scrippelle (a pie made of layers of crêpe-like dough, meat sauce, cheese, eggs and tiny meatballs), mazzarelle (rolls made of lamb heart, liver and bowels, with herbs and spices), virtù (typical soup made with a variety of meat, herbs, cereals, vegetables, basically all the remainders of the winter supplies that the working-class women had left in the pantry at the beginning of spring). Not to forget is also the fishermen’s cuisine, which, following the coast for 130 kilometers, mixes the fish varieties with simplicity and full flavour, combining with the heritage of vegetables from the hills that rise above the coast. The keyword is quality: quality of the ingredients of a generous and varied territory; quality of the environment and quality of the welcoming atmosphere for customers and tourists.