You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
(above) View of Cittaducale; (below) view towards the valley of the River Velino from Cittaducale
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. (..) 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.
We started from Civita Ducale towards evening; and betwixt that town and Rieti, a distance of about six miles, we passed the boundary of the kingdom of Naples, and again entered the Roman territory. And we were sorry to do so, (..) as our ten days' excursion had been in every way thoroughly delightful and successful, we could not but regret that it was so near its conclusion.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
This town was fortified, if not erected, by Charles II. of Anjou, about 1309; and seems to have arisen from the remains of adjacent Sabine towns, Lista, Cutilia, &c. Sieges and earthquakes have done their work of destruction on this outwork of the Neapolitan kingdom; and, at present, anything more mournful than the state of this Capo di Distretto cannot well be conceived, either as to its walls, or its internal habitations. Lear
CittÓ Ducale, the frontier town of Naples, was built in 1308 by Robert duke of Calabria. It was once a place of considerable strength, and its ruined walls still make it a picturesque object from many parts of the road. It is the chief town of the district, but has only 1600 inhabitants. It contains nothing to detain the traveller, who must, however, undergo here the formalities of the custom-house and police.
John Murray - A Handbook for Travellers in Southern Italy - 1853
The town is named after Robert, duke of Calabria, son and successor of Charles II. The Angevin rulers strengthened the northern border of their kingdom as they feared the Popes or the Holy Roman Emperors could claim rights on it.
(left/centre) Porta Napoli; (right) coats of arms of the tower some of which are of the Angevin period
The entrance to the town is, however, very picturesque indeed: an extremely high tower guards the gate; while, beyond the ruined fortifications, the blue Velino is seen winding to the hills, which close in the vale of Terni. Lear
The design of the high tower is peculiar because it is square towards the town and round towards the countryside. It is situated at the entrance to the town from L'Aquila and it was in relative good shape before being heavily restored after an earthquake in 1915.
Piazza del Popolo, the main square, in a drawing by Edward Lear: (left) S. Agostino; (centre) Torre Civica; (right) Palazzo Pubblico
The Piazza of Civita Ducale also had great attractions: its irregular buildings, and some Gothic
windows, are worth attention. (..) Until dinner, having amused myself by sketching the Piazza before the shadows had all changed, I explored the place; though I found little to draw. Lear
The road to Aquila is most dreary. It enters the mountains at Civita Ducale, where there is a picturesque piazza with a fountain, and two remarkable churches, one with a fine Lombard doorway (S. Agostino), the other (S. Maria del Popolo) with a beautiful rose window. (..) Fearless pedestrians may make a wild but interesting excursion from hence to the remains of the castle of Petrella, famous for the sufferings of Beatrice Cenci in the 16th century.
Augustus J.C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875
Piazza del Popolo in June 2023
Torre Civica was redesigned in the XXth century and it was given a very academic medieval appearance. Only its base retains the large stones which characterized it. Because of the economic and demographic decline of Cittaducale after 1860 the Piazza is almost unchanged. The unification of Italy meant the end of the importance of the town from a military and customs point. In 1927 the creation of the new Province of Rieti deprived Cittaducale of its being the administrative centre of the westernmost district of Abruzzo which included Amatrice, Antrodoco, Leonessa and the Cicolano.
(left) Portico of Palazzo Pubblico; (right) Palazzo Vescovile
One of its sides is partly formed by a very extensive Palazzo, once a convent, but now the Sottintendenza, or SubGovernor's official residence, the only edifice in Civita Ducale at all inviting in appearance. Its interior was spacious in the extreme; and, having presented our letters, we were received most graciously by Don Francesco Console, the Sottintendente, in an endless suite of lofty rooms, containing royal arms, and royal portraits in profusion.
The repast which followed, though a very good dinner, was rather wearisome, owing to our host being very full of elaborate compliments, which our English wits could not fully appreciate: we were very well pleased nevertheless, for our good-natured entertainer did his best, according to his country's fashion; and what more could any one expect. Lear
When Lear visited Cittaducale the town was no longer a bishopric seat. It had acquired this privilege in the early XVIth century when its diocese was carved out of that of Rieti. When the bishopric seat was suppressed in 1818 Cittaducale became part of the diocese of L'Aquila. These changes in the ecclesiastical organisation reflected the political border between the Papal State and the Kingdom of Naples (or of the Two Sicilies).
S. Maria del Popolo: (left) fašade; (right) rose window
The town was divided into four quarters, each of them with a church. S. Maria del Popolo was built in the XIVth century in the main square to be the church of all the inhabitants and it became the Cathedral when Cittaducale became a bishopric seat. Its current fašade is the result of a restoration which has deleted the many additions/ changes which were made through the centuries, including some windows which gave light to its interior. The elegant rose window is original.
Bell Tower of S. Maria del Popolo
The stout and tall bell tower of S. Maria del Popolo was built in the XVth century and it withstood the impact of earthquakes, exception made for its pyramidal spire. Its design resembles that of the bell tower of the Cathedral of Rieti. It constitutes the main feature of the skyline of Cittaducale together with the tower of Porta Napoli.
S. Maria del Popolo - interior: (left to right) an old column; a XVth century water well head; the image on the altar; conventional XVIIIth century stucco decoration
The interior of S. Maria del Popolo was redesigned in 1695 and again in 1893 and it lost its medieval aspect.
According to a local historian Bernardino da Siena, a Franciscan monk, preached at Cittaducale (and L'Aquila) in 1444 to promote peace among the local warring factions. His sermons were so effective that the citizens of Cittaducale decided to build a new grand portal in 1450 for the Jubilee Year during which Bernardino was canonized. One of the finest churches of L'Aquila is dedicated to him.
S. Agostino: portal: (above) angel and other small figures including two musicians; (below-left) capitals and light relief a detail of which is shown in the image used as background for this page; (below-right) 1548 fresco by Lorenzo Torresani portraying the Virgin Mary between St. Augustine and St. Francis or St. Bernardino
The sculptor who designed and executed the portal is unknown, but he most likely was not a local one. Elaborate reliefs of the mid of the XVth century can be seen at Sulmona, Vicovaro, not far from Cittaducale and Ancona.
S. Cecilia: (left) 1471 portal (the bust of God the Father was perhaps placed at the top of the fašade); (right) interior: holy water font (XVth century)
S. Cecilia is the church of one of the quarters into which the town was divided at its foundation. The interior was redesigned in the XVIIIth century. A characteristic of the decoration of works of art or architectural details at Cittaducale is the series of tiny square dots which make up a linear relief.
(left/centre) S. Maria dei Raccomandati; (right) S. Caterina d'Alessandria
The church was part of an adjoining hospital which belonged to the brotherhood of the Raccomandati del Salvatore ad Sancta Santorum which was founded in Rome by Cardinal Pietro Colonna in the XIVth century. The Cardinal founded a hospital in Rome which today is best known as Spedale di S. Giovanni and also Spedale di S. Giacomo. Many of the members of the brotherhood grew their wealth from trade.
The church, similar to that of S. Maria del Popolo, was brought back to its assumed medieval aspect; its bell tower was higher before the 1915 earthquake.
S. Caterina d'Alessandria is the church of a Benedictine nunnery which was founded as early as 1327. The 1703 earthquake greatly damaged the church which was rebuilt in the style of the time.
1595 Inscription celebrating the opening of the main street by Giovanni Battista Baiardi
The Kingdom of Naples was based on a feudal structure which lasted well into the XIXth century. Cittaducale was a fiefdom assigned to Margaret of Austria or of Parma, natural daughter of Emperor Charles V and wife of Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma. It was inherited by the Farnese who appointed Giovanni Battista Baiardi as their representative. In 1595, in the wake of the redesign of many Italian cities, including Rome, he decided to open the straight street (Corso Giuseppe Mazzini) which crosses the whole town. The inscription makes reference to King Philip of Spain (REGNANTE) and to Duke Ranuccio Farnese (DOMINANTE).
(left) Main Street (Corso Giuseppe Mazzini); (right) decorated corners of some houses which add to the urban aspect of Cittaducale; they also strengthened the structure of the buildings
The original layout of Cittaducale was already based on an orthogonal grid of streets. Baiardi pulled down all the buildings which were not in line with it and promoted the construction of houses which complied with some standard rules in terms of height and size.
Details of houses along the main street; many medieval porches were closed to strengthen the buildings
A sorry Locanda has been set up of late by some ex-servants of the Sottintendenza, in the feeble hope of inducing passengers by the Aquila road to Naples, to halt there for the night: it consists of an unpropitiouslooking five-bedded room, and a kitchen, in a remote part of a straggling Palazzo in the High-street, and has a forbidding appearance inside and out, so that I was glad, after a colazione, (not such a bad one, though the inn was so uninviting,) and having drawn some Gothic windows, &c. about the Piazza, to go on my way. Civita Ducale seems more ruinous and deserted, and helpless than ever, and one feels the lighter on quitting it. Lear
Appendix: An Adventure at Cittaducale by Edward LearNothing particular happened in the walk back, except being wet through by storms of rain; but at Civita Ducale a three-parts drunken carabiniere prevented my entering, insisting on knowing my name, which I not only told him, but politely showed him my passport, which was one from the Foreign Office in 1837, with "Viscount Palmerston" printed thereon in large letters, "Lear" being small, and written. "Niente vero," said the man of war, who seemed happy to be able to cavil, "voi non siete Lear! siete Palmerstoni!" "No I am not," said I, "my name's Lear." But the irascible official was not to be so easily checked, though, knowing the power of these worthies, I took care to mollify his anger as much as might be. "Quel ch'Ŕ scritto, Ŕ scritto: dunque, ecco qua scritto Palmerstoni: dunque siete Palmerstoni voi." You great fool! I thought; but I made two bows, and said placidly, "take me to the Sott'Intendente, my dear sir, as he knows me very well." "Peggio" said the angry man, "tu! incommodare l' eccellente Signor Sott'Intendente? vien, vien subito: ti tiro in carcere." Some have greatness thrust upon them. In spite of all expostulations, Viscount Palmerston it was settled I should be. There was nothing to be done, I was trotted ignominiously all down the High-street, the carabiniere shouting out to everybody at door and window, "Ho preso Palmerstoni!" Luckily, Don Francesco Console was taking a walk and met us, whereon followed a scene of apologies to me, and snubbing for the military, who retreated discomfited. So I reached Rieti by dark, instead of going to prison.
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)