Anne's Blog

Rocca di Calascio, Abruzzo Fortress Majesty

Date: October 22, 2014 - categories: , , - 3 Comments

Years ago, Pino and I spent a memorable week-end with friends, Silvana and Mauro, exploring Abruzzo abandoned hill towns. Rocca di Calascio was a highlight. A curvy mountain road winds up to Rocca di Calascio, named for the massive 13th century medieval rocca (“fortress”) towering over the tiny mountain village of Calascio as well as the valley stretching out below. In the fifteenth century, “fortress houses” of three or four floors were built into the peripheral walls of the fortress and remnants still cling to the Rocca, in ruins now but still imposing. Over the centuries, a small mountain village sprouted close to the fortress. Simple pastoral people took on the challenge of life in this rugged, impervious landscape. They grazed their sheep on the hillsides around and cultivated lentils in the valley below, climbing back up the rocky landscape in the evening to their homes in the village.

ABruzzo majesty from Rocca di Galascio

Breath-taking view from the Rocca di Calascio

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Rocca di Calascio overlooks Abruzzo mountain splendor

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Enjoying our Rocca di Calascio wanders

Often, a better life in far off lands beckoned to these shepherds and the village homes were abandoned bit-by-bit until, by 1957, the village was uninhabited. But the crumbling ruins enticed a couple from Rome who were hiking in the area in the 1990’s. Like Daniele Kihlgren who created the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso in nearby Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Paolo and Susanna were both captivated by the abandoned village of stone houses with collapsed roofs, reduced to piles of stone. They decided to buy a house and restore it. And not only.

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Abandoned shepherds’ house just outside Rocca di Calascio

As she made us an espresso in the one small cafe’ of Rocca di Calascio, Susanna told us what had attracted them to the abandoned village: “The collapsed roofs, caved-in stone walls and the trees growing up in the middle of the roofless old houses.”

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“Caved in stone walls and trees growing up in the middle” attracted Susanna and Paolo to Rocca di Calascio

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Susanna welcomes us to her little cafe’

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Pino gives restoration advice to Susanna, owner of the albergo diffuso of Rocca di Calascio

They restored the ruined house they bought for themselves and later opened a restaurant on the lower floor which they ran for some years – and then a bookshop. They later bought other abandoned stone ruins and lovingly restored them, respecting the simple pastoral structures. They now have an albergo diffuso in Rocca di Calascio – Il Rifugio della Rocca (“The Rocca Retreat”) – and Susanna took us to see one of the rooms, restored with all respect for the original poor rural structure. They have various rooms throughout the village and hope to restore even more of the ruined structures. Susanna and Paolo have five children, all of them musically inclined and each plays an instrument: violin or piano or cello. The strains of classical music now drift over the ruined houses of this once-abandoned mountainside village as Paolo and Susanna have started a spring concert season at Rocca di Calascio.

I imagine there are many changes now in that abandoned Abruzzo mountain village, largely due to the efforts of Susanna, Paolo and family. Time to head back for a visit.

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Susanna and one of her sons clear out a ruin

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Silvana and Pino talk with Susanna about a hotel room, almost restored

Read about Santo Stefano di Sessanio and the albergo diffuso there
Read more on why we love Abruzzo
Read about the Abruzzo earthquake
Read more on L’Aquila and the Abruzzo earthquake damage
Read about another Abruzzo town

3 Comments

  • Rocca Calascio is such an amazing experience — and the location for the LADYHAWKE movie as well, apparently. We got to enjoy one of the boy’s piano playing (he’s studying at the university in L’Aquila) and then he invited us into his family’s bar for a caffe. And I cannot say enough good things about Santo Stefano. After six nights in Sulmona next July, we’ll be spending two nights at the wonderful main house of Case della Posta in SS. Magical part of Italy!

  • Leslie Smith says:

    My grandparents came from Calascio. I am interested in visiting. I’m 61 and am a secretary in the US. Family names are Nachia and Vespa. Thanks for any info you can relay. Susanna is an inspiration. Thank you for all you have done to restore the ruins. -Leslie

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Yes, Susanna’s work astounding, Leslie. Hope you can one day get to Abruzzo to seek relatives..and when you come to Italy, do stop to see us in Assisi!

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