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August 5, 1843. We set off late from L'Aquila to Antrodoco. (..) The whole line of road up the pass, at the top of which is a wretched little village called Rocca di Corno, disappointed us, (..) until, from a turn in the
road (where a very picturesque Chapel, called the Madonna delle Grotte, looks down the pass), the valley suddenly narrows and becomes at every step of a
more wild character. Hence you go down by a most zig-zag route (supposed to represent a carriage-road) to the valley, where the torrent, whose course you have been accompanying, joins the river Velino, and where it has pleased the founders of Antrodoco to place their town, mainly because it is protected by a rock, the castle on which commands three formidable passes.
Antrodoco was the ancient Interocrium (among the mountains), a station on the Via Salara: of its modern history I know little, except that it was destroyed by the people of Aquila in 1364, in one of their frantic expeditions.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
Antrodoco seen from the L'Aquila-Rieti train and Monte Terminillo in the background
From this spot, the road from L'Aquila assumes a more rapid and winding descent, and brings one to Antrodoco, situated about two miles farther, on the river Velino, at the junction of three valleys, or rather glens: one, through which we had descended; the second, through which the Velino approaches the town from behind the stupendous mountain that frowns over it; the third, being the larger and better cultivated vale, which conducts the same river along the road to
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
Antrodoco in an illustration from Lear's book
From the last few turns of the spiral descent, where a vast rock overhangs the road, there is a very grand view of the town at the foot of immense and gloomy hills; but it was so nearly dark on our arrival that we could only gaze with awe into the solemn abyss, where an indistinct mass of towers and roofs was alone discernible. (..) The town itself has a very Swiss look; or rather resembles one at the foot of the Alps, on the Italian side. It contains no object of interest, and is sufficiently gloomy when "I bagnanti (see at the end of the page)" are all gone: its Castle, now a ruin; frowns in decay, from a huge rock immediately above the clustered dwellings. (..) All the triple-armed valley of Antrodoco is full of grand scenery; but it is so threatened and walled-in by lofty mountains, as to be, to my feeling, oppressive in character. (..) The magnificence of the pass just above the town towards evening is extreme: except in the creations of Titian or Giorgione, one seldom sees such hues of purple and blue and gold as those with which those lofty hills are clothed with in an Italian sunset. Lear
"Gole del Velino" north of Antrodoco and modern Via Salaria
October 9, 1843. The greater part of the day was passed in walking through a succession of the dullest possible valleys, varied only by the scattered villages of Fano and Borbona, whose narrow streets are apparently more peopled by curs than human beings. At Posta, an ugly little town at the junction of the three mule-tracks, leading to Leonessa, Montereale, and Antrodoco, we arrived at the course of the Velino, which flows down the pass through which the ancient Via Salaria was carried, and as we proceeded the scenery became finer at each step. We had not time, however, to examine the details of the Roman road, for it was getting late, but I was soon convinced that this approach to Antrodoco was far finer than that by which we had visited it on August 5th. The sun set behind the lofty Terminillo as we passed Sigillo, and we followed as quickly as we could the mule track along the precipices near San Quirico, a ruined convent in the valley near Antrodoco, whose castle I was glad to hail once more, as it dimly rose above its gloomy fastnesses. Lear
Antrodoco seen from the modern bridge across the River Velino and the "Gole del Velino" in the background
A bridge over the Velino, at the entrance of the town, led us within its streets, which I found more regular than I had expected, and furnished with some good houses.
The town itself presents to the eye nothing better than an unseemly mass of shabby buildings with red-tiled roofs; but the ruined castle above it, the variety and richness of the vegetation which borders the stream, and the fantastic form of the mountain ridges that enclose it on either side, richly covered with oak and chestnut woods, make a most interesting picture of the whole. Craven
Antrodoco. Nothing can surpass the romantic position of this little town. It is built upon the Velino at the point where the river emerges from its deep glen at the foot of the stupendous mass of Monte Calvo (Giano), to pursue a W. course towards Rieti. At the point where the two valleys meet, there is another deep glen or defile, called the Pass of Antrodoco, and formed by the flanks of Monte Calvo, which begin to close in upon the Naples road at Rocca di Corno so that the town is situated at the junction of the three glens, and forms, of course, a striking object from whatever quarter it is seen. Immediately above the town overlooking the river, rises a fine ruined castle, but from the height of the surrounding mountains the view which it commands is necessarily circumscribed.
John Murray - A handbook for travellers in southern Italy - 1853
Monument to the 1821 battle between the Neapolitans and the Austrians
The mountains close on the road by degrees, till they leave but space for it and the bed of a torrent: this pass, rising precipitously on either side, forms the defile of Antrodoco, a post which, being easily defended by a small force, has always been considered as of importance in checking the advance of an invading enemy.
In 1798, the peasantry and inhabitants of Antrodoco opposed so effectual a resistance to a column of the French army as to kill a considerable number and repel the remainder: not so in 1821, when the Austrian forces entered the kingdom, and forced their passage after a very insignificant contest; which, however, cost the German troops many lives, and is recorded as the only action that took place during the whole of their march to Naples. Craven
In July 1820, members of Carboneria, a secret society calling for constitutional reforms, made an attempt to overthrow the absolutist government of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies; the King granted a constitution in order to gain time. He eventually sought the help of the Austrian Empire to restore order. In 1822 the leaders of the Carboneria were hanged in Naples. The battle is regarded as the first step of the Risorgimento the process which led to the Italian Unity.
The Velino Valley and Mount Giano, immediately above Antrodoco, seen from near the site of ancient Cutilia
The valley of the Velino is much wider beyond the little town of Paterno, (believed to be the ancient Cutilia). (..) I returned to Antrodoco, and, in so doing, had a more favourable opportunity of observing the beauty of the scenery which distinguishes the banks of the Velino from Antrodoco to Civita Ducale, and indeed as far as Rieti. Potatoes, beans, Indian corn, and a variety of esculent vegetables, abound on the flatter banks of the river, while magnificent forests crown the higher ridges; so that, if ever the road is rendered practicable, which it scarcely is at present, the drive from Antrodoco to Rieti will be one of the most agreeable in Italy, and would open a new and short line of communication for travellers returning from Naples to the northern parts, who would thereby vary their course by avoiding Rome and the tedious repetitions of its campagna; as a very tolerable road exists between Rieti and Terni. Craven
Terni - Rieti - L'Aquila railway (inaugurated in 1883): (above) one-carriage train; (below) bridge across the Velino at the Antrodoco station
From Rieti the line proceeds through a picturesque district in the valley of the Velino. The mountains are clothed with forest, and their lower slopes with vineyards and olives. 31 M. Cittaducale, founded in 1308 by Robert, Duke of Calabria, was formerly the frontier-town of the Neapolitan dominions. (..)
40 1/2 M. Antrodoco, beautifully situated on the Velino, at a little distance from the station, is commanded on the N. E. by the lofty Monte Giano; on the hill is a ruined castle of the Savelli. - Several tunnels are traversed, some of which are loop-tunnels.
Karl Baedeker - Italy; handbook for travellers - 1900
The Velino is divided into two branches just below the town, forming an island laid out into gardens, meadows, and coppice thickets; and is tinged with that peculiar vitriolic hue which characterises all the sulphureous streams which abound in this valley. Three of these rise near the old castle, and are justly esteemed for their salutary qualities both in external and interior use. Craven
Castel Sant'Angelo and its olive groves
There are but few villages scattered along the brows of the adjoining hills; among which Borghetto on the left, and Canetro, Monte Sant'Angelo, and Paterno on the right, are the largest. (..) Their produce and cultivation attest the mildness of the climate as superior to that of Aquila and its environs; for here the olive thrives on the lower slopes of the hills, while the vines are seen growing to their very summits,- with this distinction, that in the upper regions they are cut low and tied to canes, and in the lower grounds they are trained upon trees as in Tuscany and the neighbourhood of Naples. Craven
In the forenoon, Prince Giardinelli accompanied us on our road to Civita Ducale, the frontier-town of the Regno, and Capo-luogo of the district, to the Sottintendente of which he had kindly provided us with letters. Our route, the high-road from Aquila to Rome, passed the many torrent-beds and streams rushing to the Velino, and following the course of the river to Borghetto, a little town two miles from Antrodoco, there crossed it by an ancient Roman bridge, the Ponte S. Margherita. The valley is very beautiful; and several little villages, perched among the heights on either side, give it a cheerful appearance; while the borders of the Velino are abundantly cultivated with vine and orchard-trees, this district being celebrated for fruit. Lear
I made the following day an excursion in the direction of Civita Ducale.
(..) Here under the village of Paterno, and below some fine ruins of Roman baths, stands the lake, which still bears the name of Cutilia, from a city so called, the remains of which are placed by Cluverius in the adjoining flat.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus mentions both one and the other; adding, that in the former a floating island existed, to which the natives attached a sacred origin and divine attributes. (..) The position and dimensions of this pool entirely coincide with the description given of it by Dionysius; but the island is no longer visible: and it is to be observed that in another much smaller pond, situated on lower level on the left hand of the road, two or three masses of a vegetable substance appear floating on its weed-covered surface, and are said by the country people to be put into motion when the wind is sufficiently strong. This is called Pozzo di Rastignano or Pozzo Sfondato, from the often-believed tradition that it is fathomless.
The flat waste near the river is full of the most curious mineral springs, forming numerous little lakes. Some are hot, some cold, some sulphureous, some charged with iron, etc.; and I cannot say but that I wished them all anywhere else, as we were presented with several glasses of their contents, only varying in degrees of nastiness. When this impromptu refreshment was over, we rode on slowly to Civita Ducale. (..) I left the road a mile further on, below the little town of Paterno, to see its lake, Pozzo di Rastignano, said to be unfathomable, and called the centre of Italy, its distance from Ostia being seventy miles, and the same from the Adriatic. (..) The lake is a sheltered and rather cheerless oval of dark clear water; Paterno standing immediately above it, with all its olive-slopes reflected below. (..) There is a second little lake close by with deep foliage-covered banks, but I could see nothing in either of the floating islands mentioned by the ancients. Lear
Antrodoco: (left) Porta al Ponte or S. Anna; (centre) the straight street leading to the castle; (right) inscription celebrating Emperor Trajan in the arch of the gate
Roman Antrodoco was a vicus, a small civilian settlement, along Via Salaria immediately before the road entered the Velino Gorge. The road required continuous maintenance and an inscription found near Castel Sant'Angelo celebrates the construction of a wall to protect the road from landslides (sub=/structionem con=tra tabem montis/ fecit) in 111 A.D.
Castle of Antrodoco seen from the Antrodoco Railway Station
In the VIth century the territory of Antrodoco became part of the Longobard Duchy of Spoleto. At the end of the XIIth century Henry VI, German Emperor of the House of Swabia and King of Sicily managed to acquire control of Spoleto and other towns of the Duchy. The Popes claimed rights over Spoleto and they eventually succeeded in annexing it to the Papal State. Antrodoco became a fortified border town of the Swabian emperors which was strengthened by Frederick II in 1240.
(left) Coats of arms of the last owners of the Castle: (left) Bandini, perhaps Cardinal Ottavio Bandini (right) Giunti; (right) "cordonata" (a street with steps) leading to the Castle (see that at Tagliacozzo)
The military importance of Antrodoco declined in the XVIth century when the Kingdom of Naples became a possession of the Kings of Spain. The town was "bought" by the Bandini, a wealthy family of Florentine bankers and merchants. In 1640 it was acquired by Niccolò Giugni another wealthy Florentine nobleman who married Cassandra Bandini, the last of her family. The Giugni retained Antrodoco until the late XVIIIth century.
(left) Main square and S. Maria Assunta (XXth century façade); (right) Nicola Pallini Building (1875)
September 27th, 1844 At Ave Maria reached Borghetto, and half-an-hour later, Antrodoco The hill above the town seemed more vast and tremendous than ever in the gray of evening; no outlet between the fearful walls above and on each side, you seem to have entered a place beyond which there is no journeying, and from whose mountain jaws there is no retreat.
The Velino brawling over its white waste of stone; the bridge, and the narrow streets; and the old dull Piazza with its blue-mantled women flitting to and fro; and then the Casa Mozetti, to which, there being no inn, I
forthwith went. Lear
In 1703 a major earthquake struck Antrodoco and most of its historical buildings, including S. Maria Assunta, its parish church, collapsed. The main square was embellished in 1875 by a new modern building which housed the residence of the landlord, a warehouse, a store, a bank and even a distillery.
(left) S. Chiara; (right) S. Agostino; the image used as background for this page shows a medieval relief to the right of the portal
When the monastic orders were partially suppressed in 1807, the number of ecclesiastics in the Kingdom of Naples was 98,000, of whom 25,000 were monks, and 26,000 nuns. The orders were restored in 1814, but they have not yet recovered their former numbers. Murray 1853
The Town Hall of Antrodoco is housed in the premises of a pretty large Franciscan nunnery which was founded in 1612. The deconsecrated church of an Augustinian convent is used as a small theatre.
Complex of S. Maria extra moenia (outside the walls)
There is nothing in Antrodoco to deserve notice, except the beauty of the women. Murray
The most noticeable monument of Antrodoco is situated outside the walls at the southern entrance to the town. According to tradition the church and the nearby baptistery stand on a Temple to Diana and they were built in the Vth century near a Christian cemetery. They were modified and enlarged many times. The bell tower was completed in the XIIIth century.
S. Maria extra moenia: (left) rear view; (centre/right) eastern and southern sides of the bell tower
In the second half of the XIXth century the church and its bell tower underwent a major restoration aimed at enhancing their medieval aspect. You may wish to see S. Maria in Cellis, an isolated church outside the walls of Carsoli.
(left) Portal of S. Maria extra moenia: it belonged to S. Nicola D'Anza, a XIIIth century church of L'Aquila which was demolished in 1927; (right) portal of S. Maria Assunta, previously that of S. Maria extra moenia
Appendix: The "season" of Antrodoco by Edward LearAugust 5, 1843. A very vile Osteria was the only place we could discover as a night's lodging, and a sorry stable for our horses; so we bemoaned ourselves accordingly, the more that two very wooden-looking slices of ham and one egg were all we could get for supper. " Mangiono tutto i bagnanti," quoth the host: "I bagnanti" being the bathers, or invalids, who resort to the mineral waters of Antrodoco, and fill the town for a short summer-season, during which these unwonted lodgers consume all the food in the market. Under these adversities, great was our pleasure at a message from Prince Giardinelli, (the Intendente of Abruzzo Secondo Ulteriore, to whom we had despatched our credentials,) praying us to sup with him forthwith; and although we sent a reply touching our lack of personal ornament after our long journey, yet his politeness overcame all our scruples, and to supper we went. The Prince was a lively little man of friendly manners, who spoke English. Near him was a sweet little girl, his only child, of about ten years of age; and about the room were various uffiziali attached to his suite, and sundry personaggi of the town, who were paying their evening devoirs. These by degrees subsided, and we were left with the Governor and Donna Caterina, who, after a long hour in which I was more than half asleep, took us into a room where was a table, plate, covers, &c. And what did we not see when those covers were removed! A positive plain English-looking roast leg of mutton, in all its simplicity and good odour! And two dishes, one of simple mealy boiled potatoes, the other ditto baked! Add to this a bottle of excellent Champagne-and imagine our feeling (The secret of these amazing luxuries was, that the Prince and his cook had both been in England.) Nor, when all this was discussed, had we anything more to do with our vile Osteria: our roba had been taken to the comfortable private house of a Don Luigi Mozzetti, whither we proceeded, to sleep until daybreak should disturb us. We rose very early, and were greeted by a regular English breakfast, and by the same kind hospitality as yesterday evening. Before the sun rose above the mountains, we were walking up the pass through which the Velino rushes, - often a dangerous neighbour to Antrodoco, which it has more than once inundated with little warning. Near the river, on a broad flat piece of ground among trees and vineyards, are numbers of little tents erected over the springs, or baths, of mineral waters; the effects of which, outward and inward, are celebrated among medical men of the Regno di Napoli. "I bagnanti" were constantly coming out of and going into these tents, and the whole was a very gay scene. (..)
August 14, 1843. On arriving at Antrodoco, already gloomy in the shade of its high mountains, I found all bustle and preparation in the little house where the Intendente had fixed his summer residence, and where we had been so well entertained on the 5th. He was just starting for Civita Ducale, with his little daughter, Donna Caterina, - her eyes sparkling with the idea of seeing Rome. Previously to his departure, however, he very good-naturedly assigned me a lodging, and particularly invited me to be present at the centesimo, or féte of Tagliacozzo, on the 19th. After having hunted out my luggage, well-nigh lost in the confusion attending the migration of the Intendente and his suite, and having arranged with a Don somebody Todeschini to take a room in his house, (a rambling place, full of break-neck stairs and abrupt corners, let out to the "vari Bagnanti,") I adjourned to supper in my host's house-a sort of pension, where was a great mingling of odd people. The only way to be comfortable was to adapt oneself to circumstances, so I did as everybody else did after supper - namely, sang songs and played on the guitar perpetually, and was consequently pestered for "un' aria Inglese" every five minutes afterwards during my stay. Two widows from Aquila were incessant in their requests for "Ye banks and braes ;" but "Alice Gray" had the greatest number of votes. Thus the evening went by merrily enough; and if there was not too much refinement in the society, at least good-nature and high spirits were not wanting. (..) The odd parties rushing about to and from the Bagni diverted me extremely. The Baron Caccianini, Segretario-Generale of the province, and acting as Vice-Intendente during the Prince's absence, sent to ask me to dine at one o'clock - an invitation I was glad to accept; and I excused myself to the amiable Bagnanti of yesterday evening, whom I joined in an odd luncheon of beans and wine, to make amends for leaving them at dinner. Our party at the Baron's consisted only of himself, the Giudice, and his Secretary, - an agreeable, well-bred set of persons, though not over well informed about Europe generally, or England especially, except the Thames Tunnel. "Siete Cristiani da voi?" said the Baron's Secretary. "Si, Signore," said I. "Mi piace davvero," was the reply; "aveva un non so che d'idea che vi ci fossero de Protestanti." Quanto sei sciocco!" said the Baron.-
August 14th-15th. These two days I spent in sketching the town, and the pass up to the picturesque Madonna delle Grotte. The only chance for drawing is by rising before the sun, and making use of every moment of time until the heat (which in this valley is very great) obliges one to return to shelter. After the mid-day meal, which was a cheerful one enough, at the Casa Todeschini, sleep and music divided the hours until it was time to recommence drawing. The stillness of an Italian town during this period of the day is striking. Three or four children are playing with a tame sheep under my window, making a hundred pretty groups and pictures; the two widows are humming faintly to the guitar; all the rest of Antrodoco seems fast asleep.
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)