Rocca di Calascio, Abruzzo Fortress Majesty
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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