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Atri seen from Penne
September 29th, 1843. This day I purposed to devote to Atri, (the ancient Hadria) whose tall towers, on a long ridge of hill, one never loses sight of in the neighbourhood of CittÓ di Penne. (..) Some Cyclopean remains are near the entrance of the town, but alas! before I reached them it began to rain apace, and a September rain in these lands is a formidable matter: yet as far as I could judge, the walls seemed picturesque. (..) The streets are particularly ill-paved and narrow, but some pretty Gothic vestiges caught my eye.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
My departure from Pescara was attended with indescribable feelings of relief and satisfaction. (..) After crossing the little river Piomba - the ancient Matrinus, and another lesser stream, we could descry, about five miles inland, the city of Atri, situated on a commanding elevation, in a country little favoured by form or fertility.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
The clear sun-rise was soon overcast, and clouds foreboded rain as I walked (..) over hills of clay, and through fields of stubble blackened with flocks of turkeys, fording three rivers before we arrived at the foot of the high hill on which this ancient city, now one of the many fallen and desolate, rears its neglected walls. (..) Some beans and bread had been the only refreshment I could obtain at a very poor Osteria in this most forsaken city, so that I recommenced my walk by the yawning clay abysses which seam the hill-side, with a strong conviction that my visit
to ancient Hadria had proved a failure. By Ave Maria, I had again reached Citta di Penna, after a really fatiguing day's expedition. Lear
The road from Pescara is excellent and perfectly level, running for nearly three miles under a pleasant range of olive clad hills thickly studded with small villages, farm houses and villas in agreeable situations. (..) This is succeeded by another chain of hills of a very different formation being composed of a poor clay crumbling as usual into fissures and but imperfectly clothed with scanty vegetation. Craven
The first documented ascent of the summit of the Gran Sasso (then known as "Corno
Monte" and described as "the highest that there is in Italy") was completed in 1573 by
Francesco de Marchi. A military engineer in the entourage of Margaret of Austria, as
well as confirming the interest at the time in the mountain environment and geographical
observation, de Marchi attested the regular use of mountain paths by the local populations.
Beyond the scientific interest, since ancient times the mountains have been an object
of spiritual attraction.
Carla Bartolomucci - Walking through the cultural landscape - 2019
Views from Atri towards: (above) the Maiella massif; (below) the Adriatic Sea
The view over the Adriatic and the Province of Teramo is most striking. Lear
The native antiquaries have not hesitated to ascribe to this place the honour of having given its name to the sea that bathes its shores, affirming that the other Adria, beyond the Po, in the Venetian territory, was only a colony derived from this city. I shall not venture to discuss so momentous a question. Craven
Route 40. - Ancona to Naples. (..) The road from the Papal frontier to Pescara is generally well kept and in good condition; but the absence of even tolerable inns, and the greater interest of the more central routes, have generally deterred travellers from following it. The scenery of this coast is particularly monotonous; the shores present a plain of many miles in breadth, extending from the Apennines to the sea. It is highly cultivated, and enjoys a mild and equable temperature, but has few picturesque attractions to excite the interest of the traveller. After passing the small stream of the Piomba, the ancient city of Atri is seen on an eminence to the right.
Murray - A Handbook for Travellers in Southern Italy - 1853
In the 1960s the sandy shores of this part of Abruzzo favoured the development of seaside resorts, similar to what occurred at an earlier time in Romagna and the Marches. This caused a massive move of people from the inland mountainous regions to the coastal one.
Coin of Adria from "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography" (1854)
William Smith, LLD, Ed.
There are few
cities in this part of Italy which have
such high claims to antiquity as Hadria
Picena. Its coins bear a legend in
Etruscan characters, and numerous remains of public edifices, baths, and
walls attest the size and consequence of
the city. Murray
Hadria. A city of Picenum, still called Atri, situated about 5 miles from the Adriatic Sea, between the rivers Vomanus and Matrinos. It has been supposed, with much probability, to be of Etruscan origin. (..) The first certain historical notice we find of Adria is the establishment of a Roman colony then about 282 B.C. In the early part of the Second Punic War (B.C. 217) its territory was ravaged by Hannibal; but notwithstanding this calamity, it was one of the 18 Latin colonies which, in BC. 209, were faithful to the cause of Rome, and willing to continue their contributions both of men and money. It is now generally admitted, that the coins of Adria (with the legend Hat.) belong to the city of Picenum; but great difference of opinion has been entertained as to their age. They belong to the class commonly known as Ass Grave (Heavy Ass), and are even among the heaviest specimens known, exceeding in weight the most ancient Roman asses (which were worth one tenth of a denarius). On this account they have been assigned to a very remote antiquity some referring them to the Etruscan, others to the Greek settlers. But there seems much reason to believe that they are not really so ancient. William Smith
Floor mosaic of a Roman bath establishment beneath the altar of the Cathedral
Under the names of Hatria, Atria, or Adria, this town constituted the capital of the Adriani, occupying a subdivision of the district known by the appellation of Picenum. Of its size and importance in ancient times some idea may be formed, not only from the remains which it still exhibits, and the circumstance of its having a port, or naval station, at the mouth of the river Piomba; but likewise from the remoteness of its origin, as denoted by the curious coins found within its precincts, and in its immediate vicinity. (..) Some fragments of walls, remains of baths, and other public edifices, constitute the vestiges of antiquity which are to be noticed at Atri; to which may be added a number of well-preserved Latin inscriptions, one of which records the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus. Craven
Detail of the map of Abruzzo at Galleria delle Mappe Geografiche in the corridors of Palazzo del Belvedere in Rome; the region around Atri is called "Adrianus Ager"
At a later period, as we learn from the Liber de Coloniis, it must have received a fresh colony, probably under Augustus: hence it is termed a Colonia, both by Pliny and in inscriptions. One of these gives it the titles of "Colonia Aelia Hadria," whence it woold appear that it had been re-established by the emperor Hadrian, whose family was originally derived from hence, though he was himself a native of Spain. The territory of Adria (ager Adrianus), though subsequently included in Picenum appears to have originally formed a separate and independent district, bounded on the N. by the river Vomanus and on the S. by the Matrinos; at the mouth of this latter river was a town bearing the name of Matrinum, which served as the port of Adria; the city itself stood on a hill a few miles inland, on the same site still occupied by the modern Atri, a place of some consideration, with the title of a city, and the see of a bishop. Smith
Museo Archeologico di Atri: three votive terracotta objects and a lion head gutter (see similar objects which were found in the environs of Rome and those found in a shrine to Minerva inside the City)
Atri, the ancient Hatria, an episcopal residence, with 10,000 inhab., is a town of great antiquity, and was once celebrated for its copper coins. Numerous ruins bear testimony to its ancient importance. (..) Several large grottoes to the S. of the town are also of very remote date, but scarcely repay a visit.
Baedeker - Italy; handbook for travellers - 1900
The archaeological museum of Atri displays a series of small objects which were found in 1897-1903 by Vincenzo Rosati in the territories of Atri and Penne. He was in charge of the conservation of the local monuments and works of art.
Palazzo Acquaviva: (left) 1309 inscription celebrating King Robert of Anjou; (right) Angevin heraldic symbols
The development of medieval Atri was greatly due to the stance its citizens took in the conflict between Pope Innocent IV and Emperor Frederick II. Atri was the only town of Abruzzo to support the Pope and in 1251 it was rewarded by being made a bishopric see independent from that of Penne. In the following year the two dioceses were united aeque principaliter (having the same importance). The union lasted until 1949 when Penne was united with Pescara and Atri with Teramo.
Charles of Anjou, whom the Popes had assigned Sicily and Southern Italy in 1264, could rely on the loyalty of Atri in his campaigns against the heirs of Frederick II. The support of the first Angevin kings was at the origin of the power achieved by the Acquaviva family in Atri.
The modern city is an episcopal see, containing about four thousand inhabitants, and confers the dignity of Duke on the illustrious family of Acquaviva, who boast of having been the first in the rank of subjects to whom such a title was granted by King Ladislas (of the House of Angi˛ Durazzo), towards the end of the fourteenth century.
In 1481 the Acquaviva were allowed by King Ferrante to add "d'Aragona" to their surname.
The family had seven cardinals. Card. Francesco d'Acquaviva was the virtual Spanish ambassador before the Holy See and he had a role in arranging the marriage of King Philip V and Princess Isabella Farnese of Parma in 1714. He promoted the redesign of the interior of S. Cecilia in Rome and his nephew Card. Troiano built a grand entrance to the church. The Acquaviva had a chapel in the Cathedral of Atri, but cardinals Francesco and Troiano were buried in S. Cecilia.
Palazzo Acquaviva: underground stables which house a selection of coats of arms and temporary exhibitions; they stand over Roman cisterns
The Atri branch of the Acquaviva d'Aragona became extinct in 1755 and their possessions were inherited by the Crown. In the XIXth century their palace became the Town Hall, a function which it still retains. The Dukes had a fine collection of paintings which they lost during the Spanish Succession War when Atri was sacked by the Austrian troops.
(left) Porta San Domenico; (centre) coat of arms of the Angevin period; (right) portal of the convent
Atri was a strongly fortified town; with Teramo and Civitella del Tronto it protected the northern border of the Kingdom. Its walls were built in the XIIIth and XIVth centuries and were redesigned in 1528 to upgrade them to the requirements of cannon warfare. The town had seven gates of which only Porta San Domenico was not pulled down to favour its modern development. The gate retains some XIVth century features and it is named after the nearby convent and church.
S. Giovanni Battista aka San Domenico: (left) fašade; (centre) portal; (right) detail of the portal showing the head of Pietro d'Atri, a Dominican Prior and Bishop; another detail is shown in the image used as background for this page
The church was built in the early XIVth century, but its fašade was completed in the XVIth century while the large windows were opened in in the XVIIIth century. The presence of convents of all the main orders was linked to Atri being a diocese. This meant also that Atri had religious tribunals and other institutions and its Bishop ecclesiastical benefices and revenues. The portal is similar to that of the fašade of the Cathedral.
(left) S. Nicola (XIIth century but largely modified through the centuries; it initially belonged to a Benedictine abbey); (right) S. Francesco (fašade of the XVIIIth century)
The Dominicans built their convent at the northern end of Atri whereas in 1241 the Franciscans established their presence in the very centre of the town near Palazzo Acquaviva. The Dominicans and the Franciscans competed for attracting the faithful: they battled over academic jobs and royal protection, they decorated their churches with statues and paintings that sought to prove which of their founders was the greater (e.g. St. Francis receiving the Stigmata and St. Dominic having a vision of the Virgin Mary during which she gave him a rosary) and they prided themselves about the eminent figures who were buried in their churches.
S. Agostino: (left) portal; (centre) statues of St. Catherine of the Wheel and of a saint of the Augustinian order (next to them the Annunciation); (right) bell tower, a smaller replica of that of the Cathedral
The portal was built in 1420. Its sculptor is thought to have come from Naples and is known as Matteo Capro or Matteo da Napoli. It is regarded as one of the finest examples of Late Gothic architecture in Abruzzo. The church stands along the main street of Atri, at a short distance from the Cathedral which it replaced in 1954-1964 when the latter was closed for a thorough restoration.
S. Andrea o dell'Orfanotrofio: (left) portal; (right) detail of its decoration
The portal was built in the XIVth in the style of that of the Cathedral and with a slight horseshoe design which can be noticed also at S. Maria di Collemaggio (L'Aquila). In the XVIth century the building housed an orphanage, which in 1606 was turned into a Jesuit college by Claudio Acquaviva, Superior General of the Society of Jesus in 1581-1615 and brother of the Duke of Atri. In 1599 he wrote "Ratio Studiorum" (Purpose/Plan of Studies), a treatise which provided clear guidelines for the Jesuit system of education.
Introductory page to this section
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)
Appendix - Other excerpts and illustrations from Lear's book covering minor towns and sites