Abruzzo, Forte e Gentile
earthquake restoration (due to the 2009 earthquake). “Strong” certainly are the fortified medieval borghi (tiny village cluster) clinging to the to the hilllsides . Strong is the emotion provoked by the first sight of the massive mountain peaks: the Gran Sasso, the Majella, the Sirente, and the Laga. And now, emotional strength is required of the displaced abruzzesi awaiting the re-building of their homes.
“Gentle” are the frescoes in the countless medieval churches. Gentle are the hills which roll from the mountains to the seacoast – topped with medieval churches and feudal castles, ancient necropoli and isolated monastic hermitages, fortified walled towns.
What captivates us about Abruzzo? I wrote a few thoughts many years ago after a visit:
Tiny villages clinging to cliffsides, rise up out of wooded clearings here and there. Many of the village homes have been long abandoned and are in crumbling ruins (Romans are now discovering them; foreigners will buy next!). In fact, mountainous Abruzzo was never very suitable for productive agriculture. As a result, many of the rural people lived a pastoral life and in the early 1900’s, many immigrated to nearby Rome and even farther, of course.
The area remained poor. Poverty is the reason that the ancient Romanesque churches (dating to the 12th century and often earlier) still remain: the money was never there to restore them.Che fortuna! The primitive reliefs, massive sculpted pulpits, and naif frescoes – icons, now and then – of tiny churches were among the highlights of our recent Abruzzo explorations.
Roman friends of ours have a small apartment in an historic 16th c palazzo in the town of Tagliacozzo and our explorations fanned out from there. My husband Pino and I recently spent three days uncovering the countless wonders of the Region of Abruzzo, from Tagliacozzo all the way to Cugnoli, captivated by not just the landscapes and the architectural gems but also by the people. The hospitality. The food.
Abruzzo is an area not yet jaded by mass tourism. In fact, in three days of exploration, we met only a few – and all Italians. On our first day in Tagliacozzo, we hiked up to the 13th c feudal fortress towering over the nearby town of Scurcola Marsicana. As we headed up to the top of the town, we noticed many VENDESI (“for sale”) signs, tacked to the doors of dilapidated stone houses. Houses with wilted dignity yet glowing with potential (restored ones here and there confirmed). We inquired about prices: a fraction of what a rundown house here in Umbria – or in Tuscany – would cost (IF you were lucky enough to stil find one!).
Silvana and Mauro took us to one of their favorite restaurants in the area. Proprietor Ovidio served us and his Mamma and his aunt, Zia Clara (both septagenarians) were in the kitchen, preparing – among other delights! – the strozzpreti ai funghi porcini, one of their specialties and literally translated “priest-chokers with porcini mushrooms” Strozzapreti is a thick spaghetti made of simply flour and water (and the name verifies that anti-clerical bent of the Italians!). Other specialties: breaded lamb and the local cheese grilled along with the typical Abruzzese sausages.
We explored mostly the small mountain towns during our Abruzzo explorations but also stopped in larger Sulmona, noted for its confetti or sugar-coated almonds. All the shops on one entire streeet sell colorful “bouquets” of confetti which have been intricately worked by local artisans to resemble the blossoms of every imaginable flower. You can buy bouquets of confetti roses, pansies, daisies, orchids, daffodils, tulips, wood violets, anemones – and countless other floral motifs. (All that is missing is the perfume of the flower!)
The confetti, when wrapped in tulle and attached with a ribbon to a small precious object (made, for example, of porcelain or silver) become a bonbonniere. Bonbonnieri are presented to all guests at the banquet lunches which traditionally follow the religious ceremonies of a Baptism (the confetti might even be pale blue for a boy, pale pink for a girl), Communion or Confirmation (always white confetti) – or even a silver anniversary party (and then of course, they are silver!) The parents of the baby pass from guest to guest after the Baptismal lunch, with baby in arms, thanking each and presenting the bonbonniere. At First Communion and Confirmation, the young child who has received the Sacrament passes the bonbonniere, moving from guest to guest, generally accompanied by parents who will help haul the heavily-laden basket!
In Sulmona, I bought a confetti nosegay, truly “gay” with all colors of the rainbow. It sits here on my desk, a visual reminder of the many colors of forte e gentile Abruzzo.
Read about the Abruzzo earthquake
Read more on L’Aquila and the Abruzzo earthquake damage
See the Sulmona confetti art here
Read about another Abruzzo town
Read more on our Abruzzo fascination
Read about an Abruzzo fortress town – in ruins