You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Penne in an illustration from "Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846"; the town is seen from the south: it stands on two hills: a) Colle Sacro in the foreground with Porta S. Nicola, the main gate and the large Cathedral; b) Colle Castello in the background with the bell tower of S. Giovanni Evangelista
August 1, 1843. Once more down the tiresome hill of Chieti, and to the banks of the broad Pescara, over which we passed in a ferry-boat, and took our course by rather indistinct tracks towards the Gran Sasso, in the vicinity of which great mountain stands Civita di Penna. All the country we passed is a
weary monotony of undulations: a path leads up a long clay hill sprinkled with vines and a few trees, and at its top you hail the distant Gran Sasso and dream you may go on plain ground for an hour or so; when, lo! down you drop into a valley, with a dawdling stream or perhaps the dry bed of a torrent at its bottom, a cottage or two overlooking its winding way; having overcome all of which, you commence climbing path No. 2, up a clay hill exactly resembling No. 1; and this occurs so perpetually, and without a shade of variety, that a journey in the neighbourhood of Chieti is of a most tread-mill nature. At every ascent the Gran Sasso seems to stand on a plain, though these tantalizing ridges and ravines prevent your having any view but that from the top of each successive hill. All around one sees towns, though none apparently of great beauty; and we passed Pianello and Loretto, both of which, though possessing little picturesqueness in themselves, stand finely perched on their several ridges, and rejoice in a grand back-ground of the Monte Corno (the highest peak of the Gran Sasso). At last, nearly at sunset, we arrived at Civita di Penna, the ancient Pinna of the Vestini, which stands on an eminence, rising below the mountain-ridge, called, if I remember rightly, Sella: part of the chain whose most elevated point is the Gran Sasso or Monte Corno. The modern town is eminently beautiful, built on two peaks or summits of a hill, and containing many good edifices: the two principal streets are very steep, but well paved with brick.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
View of the Gran Sasso from Colle Sacro in Penne (see it from Atri)
The group which forms the Gran Sasso assumes an interesting aspect as one travels along and round its roots.
In my subsequent journey to Solmona, I observed that the highest peak of the Gran Sasso, which alone is visible from that spot, appears quite isolated. From Aquila a second pinnacle is discernible, nearly equal to the first in elevation. Descried from the road to Chieti or Pescara, these two seem to touch each other; but, from the sea-shore, a considerable space extends between them, with intermediate points. (..) This last view, being less remote, gives a more perfect insight to the precipitous and rugged recesses it contains, and exemplifies in a more formidable manner the austere character of its form.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
Diocesan Museum: (left) small Etruscan bronze container with a double portrait (IVth-Ist century BC - see similar bronze containers at Tarquinia and Chieti); (right) bone decorations of a funerary bed (see that found at the necropolis of Fossa near L'Aquila)
I believe there are few, if any, vestiges of the old town. Lear
About twelve miles inland, in the same line as Atri, stands Civita di Penne, one of the principal towns of Abruzzo, and still more considerable in antiquity under the name of Pinna, belonging to the Vestini. It retains some antique fragments, but of no great importance or interest. A diramation of the Via Salaria was conducted to it from Castrum Novum (now Giulia Nuova) near the sea, through Adria (Atri), and afterwards returned back to the coast near the river Salinus, joining the main branch at the mouth of the river Pescara. Craven
Modern Civita di Penne, under the name of Pinna, was the chief city of the Vestini, and is celebrated in the history of the Social War for its resistance to the Roman army by which it was besieged in 89 BC. It still exhibits some remains of ancient buildings.
Murray - A Handbook for Travellers in Southern Italy - 1853
The Vestini lived also on the western side of the Gran Sasso in the Vale of L'Aquila where other evidence of their pre-Roman presence has been found, including the statue of a warrior.
Catholic religion is declared to be the exclusive religion of
the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The church establishment of the continental provinces,
as then settled by the union of several of the smaller sees, consists
of 19 archbishoprics, 64 bishoprics, 3 abbacies, 72 clerical seminaries, and 3,746 parishes. (..) The Bishoprics
are (..) Penne and Atri. Murray
Records indicate that in the IXth century the diocese of Penne was firmly established and the bishop had a significant role in the administration of the town. In 1251 the town of Atri which was part of the diocese of Penne was made a separate episcopal see and in the following year the two dioceses were united by Pope Innocent IV, aeque principaliter, i.e. the two towns were given equal importance. The union lasted until 1949 when Penne was united with Pescara and Atri with Teramo.
The faēade was rebuilt in 1955 in a Romanesque style which was assumed to be that it had in the XIIth century. The earthquakes which struck L'Aquila in 2009 and Amatrice in 2016 had an impact also on some historical buildings of Penne and in particular on the Cathedral.
Cathedral: (left) XVIth century side portal; (centre) walled fragment of a XIIth century portal; (right) Diocesan Museum: XVth century painted wood statue from the crypt by Silvestro dell'Aquila
In 2023 the interior of the Cathedral and the adjoining building which houses its treasury were closed for restoration. The Bishop of the Diocese of Pescara-Penne resides at Pescara and the Cathedral of Penne is actually a Co-cathedral. The diocesan seminary was transferred to Pescara too.
It contains eight thousand inhabitants. In vain, on entering the town, we enquired for a Locanda, an Osteria, a stable: all Cittą di Penna seemed guiltless of such common-place conveniences. Nor were we at all better off, when, sending our introductory letter, we received an answer, that such a house would shelter us, and such a stable our horses; a reception so different to that afforded us by our Marsican friends, that we were not a little surprised. And, having sought the stable, it was so cold and damp, that one of our horses was instantly taken ill; and, as we could not persuade anybody to bring in food for them, we adjourned once more to the market-place, where we waited long, in vain, for any assistance: this man had a stable, but had lost the key; another had some hay, but was gone to a neighbouring town: and thus, these and other equally apropos suggestions were all we had to amuse us till the arrival of Don Andrea Giardini, the Mayor or Syndic of the town, to whom meanwhile I had applied. Lear
Historical buildings in Colle Castello, the less modernized part of Penne; (left) a house which retains its medieval Gothic portal; (right) Palazzo del Giustiziere (XVth century), a detail of which is shown in the image used as background for this page
Charming little Syndic of Syndics! Did you not instantly bring forth your own groom, open your stables, and cause the unlucky Gridiron and Irongray to be refreshed forthwith? And shall we not always remember you with a hearty good-will-the sole oasis in that barren haunt of apathy and inhospitality? It was now, however, too late in the evening to change the nasty lodgings we had gone to on the recommendation of our new acquaintance; and most particularly filthy ones they were. Sleep, from the little we saw of our room, was not to be expected. To add to our sorrows, the police declared our passports out of all order, (not being Carte di Passo for the province,) although signed by the Governor of Chieti himself: so we had the choice given us of remaining at Citta di Penna till an express could be received from Chieti at Cittą Sant' Angelo, the Capoluogo of the district, or of going back to Chieti ourselves. We chose the former alternative. Lear
Colle Castello: (left) S. Domenico and its convent at the foot of the hill; (centre) S. Croce and a cross with the symbols of the Passion; (right) bell tower of S. Chiara, the church of a nunnery at the top of the hill
August 2, 1843. Prisoners as we were, we resolved on changing our obnoxious abode; and our good genius the Syndic accordingly found us charming lodgings at the house of Signor Michelloni, a caffetiere, whose rooms and beds were unexceptionable. This was something: but, indignant with Cittą di Penna in general, and our acquaintances of last night in particular, we retired to an adjacent convent, and passed the morning in rambling over its gardens, and sitting in a fig-tree, forming plans for the morrow. A surprising dinner at midday augmented our esteem for the Syndic and Signor Michelloni, who supplied us most profusely with liqueurs, Rosolio, &e., for the manufacture of which Cittą di Penna is renowned. The Doctor of the town also sent his card, and an immense batter-pudding; by way, we supposed, (and not a bad way either,) of testifying his regret at our last night's reception. Lear
Penne has acquired some repute in modern times for the manufactory of silk flowers established by the nuns of Santa Chiara. Murray
August 2, 1843. Towards evening we began our journey to Cittą Sant' Angelo, with the Syndic's groom as guide; a route of which I will only say, that it was a counterpart of that tread-mill of hill and hollow by which we had been victimized in our ride from Chieti. The hills were full of chasms and cracks; hideous clay ridges, ungraced by a shrub, or even a rock, or a pebble; and the hollows contained rivers; after fording the last of which, the moon rose and lighted us on, by tedious mule-tracks, to Cittą Sant' Angelo, where we arrived when all men were fast asleep. Not having had any rest during the previous night, we were pretty
well tired, and glad to exchange the continual feeling of being about to fall off our horses down an unknown depth, for that of reposing in the kitchen of an Osteria, whose good-natured Oste we knocked up. Moreover, K. discovered some very good-looking sausages: so we had them cooked, and made a very comfortable supper by the aid of whiskey and water, the wine being undrinkable.
August 3, 1843. Very early we waited on Don Bernardo Ranaldi, who had just received an express from Chieti, stating our respectability, and enjoining him to let us go wherever and do whatever we pleased - tidings which greatly enlivened us. The Sub-governor also gave us some excellent coffee, and invited us to his country-house; a politeness we were obliged to decline, as directly after our interview we recommenced our travels on the treadmill, and were at Signor Michelloni's once more before noon. Lear
The largest church of Colle Castello was built in the XIVth century but it was modified in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries. Its tall bell tower is the symbol of the neighbourhood. Colle Castello was less affected by the 1944 bombings.
Porta Santa Croce, a double gate at the northern end of Colle Castello: (left) outer gate; (right) inner gate (and the side wall of S. Croce to the left)
We had resolved to cross the high mountain-ridge separating the provinces of Teramo and Aquila, but did not exactly know the best course to take, as we had not a map: but somebody having suggested that we might pass immediately above Cittą di Penna, and sleep at Villa Santa Lucia, a small village, going on the next day to Aquila, we agreed to do so; and, with a presentiment of the barrenness awaiting us in those remote places, we did unusual justice to Signor Michelloni's good cheer before we started. We wished our friend the Syndic good-bye with regret, but had none for Cittą di Penna, which we left about two o'clock in the afternoon, rather gladly than otherwise. Lear
September 26, 1843 (second journey to Penne). From Chieti we descended into the valley of the Pescara, which I reached late in the afternoon, and after long waiting, crossed the river into the Province of Abruzzo Ulteriore Primo, and took the route to the left. Four or five miles brought us to Cepagatta, an inconsiderable town; and two more to a quiet little vale of oaks, above which the church tower of Abadessa peeped humbly forth. While ascending to the town I was struck by the appearance of what I thought a group of Turks, but who were really women of Abadessa in their costume, which they have preserved, though the Albanese men dress like ourselves in dark cloth, &e., and only retain the long moustache as a national characteristic. The costume of the women of Abadessa is a white skirt, with a light-blue striped apron before, and an apron-like addition behind of woollen material, worked in a chequered pattern, usually of purple and red, or black and red. The vest is white with an embroidered sleeve and front. A red handkerchief is worn on the head. Lear
Bartolomeo Pinelli - Costumi del Regno di Napoli - 1828: detail of an engraving depicting the costumes of a wealthy couple of Abadessa
In 1744 the sixth migration of Albanians occurred, during the reign of Carlo Borbone. Abadessa, a royal property, in the Province of Abruzzo Ulteriore Primo, was given the settlers as an abode.
September 27, 1843. Late in the afternoon I left the famiglia Vlasi, and started for Cittą di Penna, with an ass for my luggage, and a most tiresome Greek who equally merited the name by never ceasing to ask me questions as absurd as wearisome. I was glad to see Cittą di Penna under its mountain wall, and we arrived there before sunset, the same golden purple over the many hills towards the Adriatic - the same dark blue of the Gran Sasso,- and the double files of dark draped ecclesiastical students walking up the steep brick-paved streets, much as on the evening of August 1st, though my reception at night was different, and I went at once to good quarters at the Casa Michelloni. Lear
September 28, 1843. Cloud and wind: it was impossible to hope for such continued good fortune in weather much longer; yet I had time to draw the town before it began to rain, (though much teased by a concourse of admiring people,) and the rest of the day I was fully occupied within the walls. Don Andrea Giardini shewed me the whole of the Palazzo Aliprandi, a
noble mansion, full of old furniture, chairs, tables, mirrors, frames, &c., some of which, of carved oak, were remarkably handsome. We also saw several other palazzi; but some of the finest are partly closed and their owners exiled on account of recent disturbances in the district. Lear
The palace was built for the representatives of the Farnese family, who inherited the fiefdom of Penne from Margaret of Austria, daughter of Emperor Charles V. Giovanni Aliprandi was an advisor to Margaret who established himself at Penne.
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)