You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Gorge of Tagliacozzo and Mount Velino, from "Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846"
Beyond Carsoli, there is no road for carriages into the Abruzzi: bare rocks
were on our left, and on our right high hills, covered, as far as eye could
reach, with forests of oak, looking black and untrodden enough to shelter
a world of bears and wolves. (..) I have never seen anything more majestic than the approach to Tagliacozzo. It is a precipitous ravine, almost artificial in appearance; and, by some, indeed, considered as having been partly formed by the Romans, for the
transit of the Via Valeria. A monastery, with a Calvario, stands at the entrance of this extraordinary gorge, the portals of
which are, on one hand, huge crags, crested with a ruined castle; on the
other, perpendicular precipices: between them is placed the town, receding
step by step to the plain below, while the picture is completed by the
three peaks of the towering Monte Velino, entirely filling up the opening of
the ravine. Long time we remained enjoying this sublime scene, and debating whether we should go on to Avezzano for the night, or remain at Tagliacozzo,
as we had a letter of recommendation to its greatest proprietor, Don
Filippo Mastroddi. We resolved finally to proceed. Lear
From Rome to Naples there is another route which is scarcely followed but by some artist or stray tourist disposed to undergo privations and discomforts for the sake of the fine scenery which it offers; especially as a portion of it can only be travelled on horseback. It leaves Rome by the Porta di S. Lorenzo, follows the Via Tiburtina to Tivoli, and afterwards the Via Valeria to Tagliacozzo, (..) passing through very wild and picturesque scenery.
John Murray - A handbook for travellers in southern Italy - 1883
There is no record of Tagliacozzo having been the site of any ancient
city; though Taliaquitium, Taleacotium, have called forth a great deal of
ingenuity from various antiquarian etymologists. Lear
The miliary column was found in 1897 half a mile off the northern/upper gate of Tagliacozzo. The tombstone was found three miles off Tagliacozzo along the assumed route of Via Valeria. It was erected in the IInd century AD by Tituleius Successus for himself and his wife Sextuleia Secunda; they were both liberti (freedmen) and the husband was a magistrate of Alba Fucens in charge of the ceremonies in honour of the emperors (sevir Augusti - see the building housing the sevires at Herculaneum); one side of the altar is decorated with slippers and a box with fruit or vegetables, most likely a reference to Tituleius' trade; the other one shows objects used by women for their toilet (you may wish to see a similar tombstone at Avezzano).
(left) Porta dei Marsi, the gate to Avezzano and a nearby Renaissance fountain; (right) detail of the fountain
Tuesday, May 17, 1791. Quitting Avezzano, I directed my course through the valley of Cesolino to the little village of Cappelle, and Scurcola, and from thence through the Campi Palentini, to Tagliacozzo, a long straggling town, built on the right side of a deep ravine or valley, at the extremity of which a copious stream bursts from beneath a lofty mountain, and immediately forms a river. I refreshed myself and horses at a miserable osteria, near the entrance of the town.
Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour Through Italy and Sicily - 1819
View from upper Tagliacozzo (April 29, 2023); (inset) inscription near Porta dei Marsi stating that snow fell on Tagliacozzo on May 28, 1723
On ascending the hill, a dreary extent of rocky mountains expanded itself to my view, and the trees had not yet laid aside their wintry garb, but were just pushing forth their leaves. Colt Hoare
The general aspect of the plain is dreary from the want of trees, and the bleak and bare surface of the encircling mountains.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
On our left, the snowy peaks of Velino, more than seven thousand feet in height, were gloomy beneath threatening clouds, and a wild confusion of misty mountains closed that side of the scene. Lear
The adjectives "dreary", "gloomy" and "barren" were often used by XIXth century travellers to describe the landscape of Abruzzo. Today more than 42% of the territory of Abruzzo is covered by woods, mainly due to spontaneous reforestation after centuries during which forests were exploited for timber and were cleared for crops and pastures.
View of the upper part of Tagliacozzo from the railway station; the bell tower of SS. Cosma e Damiano can be noticed in the lower left corner (see below in the page)
The country (near Tagliacozzo) is flat and ordinary, but well cultivated, and watered by the Imele; the produce consisting of aniseed in abundance, hemp, flax, potatoes, Indian corn, and beans, but no wheat.
Tagliacozzo is a substantial and flourishing-looking town of about four thousand inhabitants, the lower skirts of which touch the plain, at the opening of a deep and precipitous gulley intersecting the hill on which the remaining portion is placed. Craven
After Carsoli, commanded by a picturesque ruined castle, the railway now ascends the narrow valley to Colli di Monte Bove, beyond which we reach the tunnel of Monte Bove, the longest on the railway (more than 3 M.). We then descend to Tagliacozzo, a small town at the mouth of a deep ravine, in which rises the Imele.
Karl Baedeker - Italy - handbook for travellers - 1900
In 1888 the railway line Rome - Sulmona via Tagliacozzo and Avezzano was inaugurated. This determined an expansion of the town in the plain, a trend which had already begun in the early XIXth century; thus the population of the upper town dwindled which explains why no modern buildings replaced its old houses.
The lines of Dante have rendered the name Tagliacozzo town familiar to the reader of Italian
poetry: the battle between Corradino and Charles was fought within a considerable distance; and one wonders, why the celebrated though decayed city of Alba, or the modern Avezzano, near which the engagement really took place, did not rather connect their names with so great an historical event. Tagliacozzo was then, perhaps, the more important place (more on the Battle of Tagliacozzo in Appendix 2). (..) So
down we went, by a street strongly resembling a stair-case, to the plain
below, from whence the town has a most singular appearance, the Palazzo
Mastroddi occupying a fine situation on the green near the Piazza. Lear
Tagliacozzo, the most important town of the district, is situated on the rt. bank of a deep ravine in which the Imele takes its origin. The inn or tavern is wretched, but an introduction to the Mastroddi family will be sure to obtain admission into their hospitable palazzo on the piazza below the hill. Murray
Palazzo Ducale: (left) portal with the coat of arms of Ferrante, Aragonese King of Naples in 1458-1494, that of the Colonna family with a two-tailed mermaid and below one of their mottoes: "Recta est obliquam non timet invidia" (The column) stands upright and does not fear oblique envy - see a similar motto at Palazzo Colonna in Rome; (right-above) window decoration with the five-petal rose of the Orsini, a rival family; (right-below) coat of arms of the Orsini; (inset) c. o. a. of the Orsini in a XVth century portal now at Chiesa dell'Annunziata
The whole of the district surrounding Tagliacozzo, appertained once, as a portion does now, to the family of Colonna, whose chief bore the high-sounding titles of Duke of Tagliacozzo, Count of the Marsi, feudal Lord of Avezzano, Alba, Capistrello, etc. The same may be said of almost all the Marsian territory, which belongs to this day to the various patrician Roman houses of Barberini, Cesarini, and Bovadilla. Craven
It seems to have been a stronghold of importance, and its possession was often contested during the divisions of the middle ages, as commanding a passage between the Papal and Neapolitan dominions: the Counts, or Dukes of Tagliacozzo, were consequently, powerful Barons. In 1442 a.p., it was bestowed on the Orsini by King Alfonso: and, in 1497, Fabrizio Colonna received it from King Ferrante; and the Colonnesi still hold much of the territory round the town. Lear
The Orsini gained control of Marsica in the second half of the XIIIth century and in ca 1336 they moved their residence from Carsoli to Tagliacozzo, which became the largest town of their fiefdom and where they built a fortified palace. They built a castle also at nearby Avezzano.
After dinner, Don Filippo shewed me some good specimens of Gothic windows in different parts of the town. We also went over an institution for
the education of young ladies of the first families of the Marsica; it was
founded by the Mastroddi family, and is under the immediate management of the
Sisters of Charity. The pupils are lodged in the old Ducal Palazzo,
a heavy but picturesque building, containing nothing very remarkable, though
some frescoes in a Loggia are pointed out as being so. Lear
The current building is the result of many additions and modifications; through the centuries it was used for many different purposes and in the early XXth century some of its Gothic and Renaissance features were enhanced or created on purpose.
Museo di Arte Sacra della Marsica at Castello Piccolomini of Celano: detached frescoes from the chapel (left) and the loggia (right) of Palazzo Ducale
The frescoes are dated second half of the XVth century and they were commissioned by the Orsini. Those of the loggia portray a series of illustrious men inside fake niches. The subjects are military leaders and writers of the Ancient World in XVth century garments. They include Ovid and Varro (in the above image) who were born in the proximity of Tagliacozzo: Varro at Rieti and Ovid at Sulmona. Today the frescoes are attributed to Lorenzo da Viterbo who is best known for his decoration of Cappella Mazzatosta at Viterbo.
2 Gothic churches in the town, of the
l3th centy. Murray
The two churches are situated very near Palazzo Ducale; the oldest one is SS. Cosma e Damiano, a Xth century Benedictine nunnery which reported to the Abbey of Montecassino. In 1171 it was placed under the direct authority of Pope Alexander III. The current complex, including the external portal, is the result of a partial reconstruction after the earthquake of 1456, the effects of which were felt also at Sulmona and other parts of Abruzzo. The complex still houses a group of enclosed Benedictine nuns.
The façade of the church was rebuilt in Renaissance style; the rose window is characterized by a Cosmati decoration and by two small statues which suggest it belonged to the earlier Romanesque church (see the rose window of the Cathedral of Spoleto). The erased coat of arms belonged to a Knight of the Golden Fleece, maybe Marcantonio II Colonna.
S. Francesco: (left) façade; (right) rose window with a decoration of five-petal roses
Tagliacozzo is much resorted to by the devout, from its containing the
remains of the Bishop Tommaso di Celano, whose bones rest in the church
of St. Francesco. Lear
The Franciscan convent was founded in 1270 and the façade of the church is dated XVth century, whereas the interior was given a new aspect in the XVIIth century.
Convent of S. Francesco: cloister with a well decorated with the Orsini roses
The cloister was redecorated in the early XVIIth century at the initiative Duke Marcantonio IV Colonna.
Convent of S. Francesco - cloister: a window with an Orsini rose and a fresco depicting an episode of the life of St. Francis which is set in the Rome of the time of Pope Sixtus V
The depiction of the events of the life of St. Francis is rather academic, but that of the development of the Franciscan Order is spectacular. It shows four popes who belonged to the Franciscan order, but not Adrian V who lived only 38 days after being elected. He can be seen in the convent of S. Francesco a Ripa in Rome.
The image used as background for this page shows a mask in the portal of Palazzo Brancamati Via S. Francesco 11 (see a page on the Masks of Rome).
Civita Ducale. My host reported that Prince Giardinelli would come here on the 18th of August, on his way (by Rome) to an immense festa, which takes place at Tagliacozzo once in a century.
August 17th, 1843. We entered Tagliacozzo from below and found a great change in its appearance from that which it bore at my visit in July. The green before the town was covered with people preparing for the fair held there, and the houses were all more or less decorated in honour of this great festa of the Madonna, (called la Madonna dell' Oriente, from a picture of the Virgin, supposed to be of Eastern workmanship) which is held but once in a century, and consequently with great pomp and expenditure.
All round the Piazza a temporary colonnade had been built; and in the centre a very pretty Gothic chapel of ornamented wood, in which the painting of the Madonna was placed, no church in Tagliacozzo being of sufficient size to accommodate the multitude expected. In this chapel the Bishop of Sulmona (the Bishop of the Marsi, in whose diocese Tagliacozzo is situated, being absent,) was to officiate at High Mass. On all sides were fixed poles and all sorts of ironworks for illuminations, and the very fountain was dried and turned into a depot for fireworks, while the crowds of people arriving at every instant betokened how well the féte would be attended.
We went immediately to the Palazzo Mastroddi, a fine house, built by the grandfather of the present proprietor; a noble staircase, ornamented with antique fragments, inscriptions, and busts of remarkable men of the district, leads to an excellent suite of rooms, perfectly clean, well kept, though thinly furnished, the largest of which contained a good piano-forte. Most of these rooms communicated with an extensive covered Loggia, built over the roofs of the adjacent houses, and looking into the Piazza, whose gay white buildings, hung with red and blue tapestry, and backed by the high rocks of the pass and the deep blue sky, formed a charming scene. Choruses of sacred music were resounding through all these brilliant apartments, canonics and amateur choristers rehearsing for to-morrow's display, as we met Don Filippo Mastroddi, the wealthy master of the mansion, a most agreeable and gentlemanlike person, who welcomed me very cordially, and showed me to a quiet little bed-room. Lear
(left) Teatro Talia; (right) cover page of the libretto of the first performance of Il Giuramento (The Oath), an opera in three acts by Saverio Mercadante
After drawing the view of the castle and hills from above the town,
I returned to the family supper-party; and the evening concluded by our all adjourning to the theatre, a pretty and well-ordered little
building, where Il Giuramento was not badly performed.
August 18th, 1848. During to-day, the eve of the féte, a great concourse of people poured into the town from all sides; and the excitement prevailing in the Piazza Mastroddi grew hourly greater from the announcement of fresh arrivals, and the expectation of others, especially that of the Prince Intendente. (..) At length, late after sun-set, drums, flambeaux, and bustle, announced the Governor's entrance; and, all the principal persons having assembled in the large room to pay their respects to him, there was no lack of brilliancy - the ladies sparkling in all the jewels they possessed; and the supper was served in a style of substantial splendour I had no expectation of seeing in the Abruzzi.
August 19, 20, 21, 1843. To those who have no idea of an Italian féte, here is a description of that I witnessed. Suppose yourself, therefore, in the Casa Mastroddi at sun-rise; a cup of coffee is brought to you in your own room. (..) Then you wander into the large room, and into the great Loggia, where you find the ladies and officers walking about in parties, or of listening to the bands music incessantly performing below the window. The Piazza is like a scene in a theatre, all hung with crimson and gold draperies and tapestry from window and door (see them in Rome), and crowded with people, the constant hum of the multitude filling up the pauses between the music. About eleven, a stir takes place among the magnates of the house: everybody comes forth full-dressed, and the Intendente, (with his staff in full uniform,) and all the company following, walk through lines of military to the temporary chapel, where the Bishop of Solmona officiates at High Mass. A friar having preached a Latin sermon of most painful duration, the Prince and the Mastroddi party return to the palace in the same order and state; the gay colours, and the brilliant light of summer over the whole procession making it a very sparkling scene. Nor should I omit, that the dress of a Neapolitan Bishop (a bright-green satin hat, amethyst-coloured silk robes lined with scarlet, gold chain and lilac stockings,) is in itself a world of glitter. Then, between the "fonzione" and "pranzo," we all went,-one day, to make a call of ceremony on some grandees of the town ;-or, on another, we attended the Bishop and the Prince to the foundation school, where we earnestly inspected samplers and artificial flowers, made by the prettiest set of little girls possible, the Bishop noticing all with a kindness of manner that shewed the old gentleman's heart was full of good feelings. In all these things, as we passed along the streets, the military saluted the Prince; and the people kneeled, without intermission, for the Bishop's benediction. To one whose greatest horror is noise, this sort of life was not a little wearying; but having been informed that to leave the house during the festa would be considered as the greatest insult to the family, I felt obliged to remain, and resigned me to my féte accordingly. Next came the dinner: the company in the Palazzo Mastroddi now amounted to above sixty persons, (not including servants,) and I confess to being somewhat amazed, much as I had heard of Abruzzo hospitality, at the scale on which these entertainments were conducted. A gay scene it was; and I always had the pleasure of getting a place by some one of the ladies of the company; a piece of good fortune I owed to my being the only foreigner present. (..) Immediately after dinner, the suite of rooms and Loggia were thronged by conversing groups, and coffee was handed amongst them. A novel picture was that festive Piazza, alive with thousands of loiterers, (there were said to be more than ten thousand visitors at this fete, besides the townspeople,) listening to the Chieti and Tagliacozzo bands playing alternately. By this time the sun was sinking, and everybody sallied forth to the promenade outside the town, where platforms were erected to observe the horse-races, which shortly took place, and about which great interest was shown. The winning horse was taken up to the chapel of the Madonna dell' Oriente, and led to the steps of the altar, by way, I suppose, of expressing that a spirit of thankfulness may be graceful and proper upon all occasions. And after the race, a fire-balloon should have ascended; but somehow or other there was a reigning destiny adverse to balloons, for the first caught fire, and blazed away before it left earth; the second stuck in a tree, where it shared the same fate; and the largest ran erroneously among chimneypots, and was consumed on the house-tops, to the great disgust of the Tagliacozzesi. Now followed an invitation from Madame Mancini, or some one else who possessed a house in the Piazza, in order to see the girandola or fireworks; so away we went, (the Intendente leading the way,) and ate ices in the draped galleries overlooking the square. This was about Ave Maria, or later, and I can never forget the scene it displayed; the dense crowd of people, some four or five thousand, were at once on their knees, and burst forth as if one voice were singing the evening chant to the Virgin, the echoes of which bang back from the black rocks of the Pass, with a solemnity of deep melody, the more soothingly beautiful after the past hours of hubbub. Crack-bounce-whizz! the scene was changed in a twinkling by the flash and explosion of all kinds of fireworks; rockets flying hither and thither, serpents rushing and fizzing all round the colonnades, and that which should have been the fountain blazing away in streams of fire. Again a movement, and the point of interest is changed: a long line of people is bending towards the theatre, and threading with difficulty the groups of peasants already composing themselves to sleep. As soon as our party arrived the performance began, and great fun we had between the acts of the Opera, in laughing at the strange dress of some of the personages from neighbouring towns, who displayed fashions unchanged, said the Tagliacozzesi, since the last century's festa. One charming old lady, with a rose-coloured satin bonnet, at least four feet in diameter, and a blue and yellow fan to match, was the delight of the whole audience. It was past midnight ere we returned, by bright moonlight, through the quiet Piazza, thronged with the same multitude of peasants, who had been unable to find shelter in the over-filled accommodation of the town Locande and Osterie, and now lay buried in sleep. Many of the groups of mothers and families, with the broken silver rays falling on them through the gothic arches of the little temple, were picturesque and touching beyond description. To all these events add a very merry supper, and a late going to repose, and such was the routine of three days, the varieties of processions, visits to adjacent villas, &c., excepted. Annoyed, as I had been, at the prospect of such waste of time, I confess to having been pretty well reconciled to it by the kindness and amiable disposition of every one with whom I was brought in contact, and the unbroken cheerfulness with which every moment was filled up. The concluding events of the last days of the féte must, however, yet be related; which, though only occasioning great confusion, might have had very sad results. During the last act of "Il Barbiere," a breathless individual rushed into the theatre, and yelled out the fatal word- "Incendio! (Fire)". Great was the confusion, and on gaining the narrow street, the scene was terrible: an immense body of flame was rising behind the old Ducal Palace, and dense volumes of smoke obscured the moon. The fire had not yet reached the building, but must inevitably do so unless speedily checked, as the offices of the Institution immediately communicated with an extensive magazine (or fienile) of straw, whose contents had been burning internally for some time before the flames burst forth, and led to the alarm being given. To rescue the children was the first object, and great good feeling and promptitude were manifested on all sides. As soon as the terrified females - most of them carried straight from their beds to various adjacent houses, were out of danger, and the furniture moved to the street, every one did his best towards the extinction of the fire,-no easy matter, since no water was within reach; and the only method adopted was, to unroof that part of the fienile, nearest the Palazzo, and smother the flames as far as possible with continual baskets of earth, until the rooms joining the premises to the burning barn could be destroyed, to prevent the further spread of the conflagration. This was a long operation, though many men were immediately pressed into the service, and commenced the work of demolition with rapidity. Meanwhile we were all marshalled into companies, and set to work in a garden to fill tubs and baskets with earth, which were handed, when full, to the top of the wall of the unroofed fienile, where lines of men threw their contents out on the burning fuel. The exact amount of good resulting to the common cause from my individual exertions was small: for having grubbed and clawed away at the ground till I had filled a very handsome tub, I turned round hastily to carry it to its destination, but not being aware that the ladies' garden was formed terrace-wise, and being too blind to perceive it, I fell down a height of about six feet, into the centre of a bed of brocoli, where all my carefully-filled tub was bouleverst on to my own respectable person. Happily, after the burning barn was isolated, by all communication between it and the surrounding buildings being destroyed, the danger to the town was diminished, though the showers of falling sparks throughout the night gave great cause for uneasiness. I could hardly help thinking, that the origin of all this might be sought for in the fireworks of the evening; but I found that the Tagliacozzesi were rather scandalized at such an idea. And thus ended the great festa of Tagliacozzo in 1843. Lear
The frequency of the fair was eventually reduced to 25 years; the last one took place in 2018. See a page on La Madonna che Scappa (The Fleeing Madonna), the Easter Day ceremony of Sulmona or one on La Festa de' Noantri, a popular series of ceremonies of Trastevere.
Appendix 2: The Battle of Tagliacozzo by Keppel Richard CravenThe town of Tagliacozzo is placed about eight miles from Avezzano, in another valley called Campi Palentini, in which the noted battle occurred which sealed the fate of the ill-fated Corradino in the year 1268.
E là da Tagliacozzo (And there, at
Tagliacozzo where old Alardo's advice to Charles won without
Dante - Inferno - XXVIII
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)