Torricella, between the sea and the mountain

By Domenico Pettinella

For the most part, the sea and the mountains are opposing natural elements and distant from each other. It is not so for Torricella Peligna which is situated in the Aventine Valley. The sea and the mountains are almost its natural borders, certainly its reference points. With wisdom and pride, the mayor of 1918 wrote that Torricella Peligna is situated between "the Mother Majella and the very sweet sea". This description, giving human characteristics to the environmental situation seen in its continuity, stands to represent the special relationships which the inhabitants of this village have had simultaneously both with a "friend," the sea, and the "Mother Majella," from which have sprung its history, with human values of social, religious and material life, enriched by legends and local traditions. In the Aventine Valley the Majella presents with a very steep slope which separates the Forchetta pass from the back of the Sécine, a mountain that ends in the Sangro (region). Prehistoric man settled in the foothills of the "Mother Majella" and his active presence is shown by the findings that emerge from excavations. These earliest inhabitants of the foothills of the Majella considered the earth as their mother because it was the source of all the latent energy and vigour of life.

Throughout the ages, the Majella has always fascinated both the Abruzzesi and people who have visited the Abruzzo region over the years. In 1500 Lenadro Alberti (1) described it as a most beautiful snow-covered mountain, with many wild animals dominated by bears; the mountain gives rise to many rivers and springs, sources of mineral and sulphurous waters. In the first half of the 1800’s M. Tenore and G. Gussone, botanists from the Royal Academy of Sciences of Naples, often rambled and wandered there in order to study and describe its herbs, bushes and plants, many with medicinal properties.

Along the slopes there are the ruins of many monasteries and churches, the latter document the presence of hermits, such as Peter the Hermit (2), who founded the Celestine order (3) called "Moroni" or "Majellans".

Early man’s presence in the Aventine valley is characterised by isolated dwellings scattered throughout the surrounding countryside. Scattered dwellings typically were also present in Roman times and that, Valerio Cianfarani (4) says, "is difficult to understand unless one fully understands the conditions of life that applied to the people who preceded them."

The Lombards (Longobards) (5) were characterised by their capillary penetration into the rural world, subdividing their presence into groups organised around parish churches ("pievi").

In the chronicles ("Chronicon") of San Vincenzo at Volturno and San Clemente at Casuaria (6) we read that in those times many people lived and worked in fields full of houses and churches, without fear of war or assault by brigands. Under the Lombards people began to build towers and castles which brought changes to the agricultural countryside. In the Aventine Valley even today there are the remains of the private rural parish churches ("Pievi") (see issue number 3, 1989 of this magazine).

The Aventine Valley was crossed by the road linking the Marche (Iesi, Macerata, etc) to Benevento and Foggia.

The road, which passed through Casoli, was a link between the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. Chieti was the central point, the nerve centre ensuring the safety of the these linkages and in 801 A.D. Pipino (7) defeated and destroyed it, thus taking away from the inhabitants of Benevento their control of the territories between the Pescara and the Sangro rivers. The Lombards had built towers and castles in the valley precisely for the purpose of its defence.

Lenadro Alberti in 1500 still "sees castles at Larna and Civitella, at "Città Luparella", which (latter) he admired for its very strong castle, not just for its buildings which seem to wander around the place wherever there is room (for them)". The towers were built for defence, not for living in. Entrance into them was by means of ropes.

Without a doubt Torricella’s name is derived from the toponomic (place name) from the Latin "turris" (turret or tower) and "cella" (small room). In medieval times the "cella" was in fact a tiny rural church with its own farm. With respect to another suggested toponomic derivation of Torricella, coming instead from "little tower" (piccola torre), in the same way as Corticella comes from "little court" (piccola corte), (B. Andreolli and M. Montanari – Bologna 1985), the former hypothesis seems to be the more plausible, bearing in mind the scattered settlements and the contextual presence of rural churches and of parish churches ("pievi"), even if there has not been any research done on the presence and organization of these latter.

The present name, Torricella Peligna, dates back to the authorization conceded by Royal Decree of January 1863 and with the granting of a Deliberation by the Communal Council of 27th November 1928. Perhaps the administrators of the time had understood that with that deliberation they would be re-establishing their historic and cultural contacts with the Peligna Valley, with which, other than being linked by the Via Frentana (Frentana Road) (8), they had had relationships in the past, by means of the hegemony (domination or subjugation) that the Lords ("Signori") of Sulmona (9)("Tabassi, etc") had held over this village.

"Aventine, river, that arises on the Majellan slopes and runs towards the lands of Palena in the place called Castelvecchio (Old Castle), or Coste di S. Cataldo and which for many miles of its course, after having bathed the territories of Palena, Letto Palena, Taranta, Lama, Altino and Casoli, finally opens out into the Sangro" (river) (Lorenzo Giustiniani – Naples – 1761 - 1824). The river Aventine is like the thread holding together a necklace’s pearls, that are the villages within the valley, which are accessible both from Sulmona and from the Adriatic Riviera.

One is tempted in writing this to make a small contribution towards the proposed cultural-tourism programme of the Aventine Valley and of Torricella Peligna, which has aroused so much interest amongst the administrators and the citizens (see this magazine numbers 1, 1988; 2, 1989 ; 3, 1989; 4,1989). The description of the territory situated between "the Mother Majella and the very sweet sea" could be taken as the presentation theme for a (tourism) programme to be studied and carried out.

We believe that in order to bring the programme to life and make it valid for today, we must suppress all attempts which make out that local history is nothing more than a fossilized past, useful only for the solace of rhetoricians, who don’t succeed in bringing anything of value to those who live and work in this reality, in order to evaluate it completely to the advantage of all collectively, whether residents or not. Local history becomes really useful when it manages to integrate local facts with those of general history (G. De Rosa). (10)

With regards to Torricella Peligna, great effort is needed to bring about the conjunction between the attractions of the countryside and of nature (such as woods, mountains, rivers, etc.) with the desire for historical research. To this end, we believe it opportune to conclude by quoting a passage written on purpose by G. De Rosa: "Look at the mountains, but at the same time look at the chapels, the sanctuaries, certain monuments, certain portals, the signs of the stones" in order to understand man’s history, which is our history, with the knowledge that "curiosity is a preliminary attitude ,but then one is forced to deepen one’s understanding of the message that comes from the things around us," in other words, to understand "the role played by the peasants, the barons and the bourgeoisie in the social and religious history of this territory".

This could contribute to the programme still being discussed and studied, which needs to involve all the villages of the Aventine Valley, so that each can give its own specific contribution and be engaged [in the programme].

One should not forget that an initiative which can set out this tourism programme and bring it to fruition, that is also capable of satisfying historical and cultural aspects, can also be taken on by the Mountain Communities, in their Institutional role, thus sparing the autonomy of each individual town within the Community itself.

(1)Lenadro Alberti – an important historian and humanist in sixteenth century Italy (Return)

(2)Peter the Hermit, lived in solitude near Sulmona on Mount Majella, his fame, as an austere saintly hermit, attracted many to share his mode of life, full of privations; he built a number of small oratories in that neighbourhood and eventually became Superior-General to thirty-six monasteries and more than six hundred monks. He became Pope Celestine V. (Return)

(3)Celestines - a branch of the Benedictine monastic order. When the new rule was founded, about 1254, they were called Hermits of St Damiano, or Moronites (or Murronites); they took on the name of Celestines when their founder, Peter the Hermit, was elected to the Papacy as Celestine V - (Return)

(4)Valerio Cianfarani, Superintendent of Antiquities in Abruzzo, Professor of Archaeology in the 1950’s-70’s (Return)

(5)Lombards, Longobards or Langobards - were an ancient Germanic people that began in southern Sweden and worked their way down into Italy by the 6th century. Their original name, Langobards, refers to their long beards. They established permanent German rule in Italy, but became Italians in the process and gave their name to the northern Italian region of Lombardia.(Return)

When the Lombards descended on Italy in the 6th century, they had to deal with several earlier waves of German invaders (particularly the Goths) as well as the resurgent Eastern Romans (who were a power in Italy into the 8th century).

[Note: The bronze Ostrogoth Helmet of Torricella belongs to this period of wars]

The Lombard kingdom reached its height in the 7th and 8th century AD. In 568, under the leadership of Alboin, they invaded N Italy and established a kingdom with Pavia as its capital. In 568 Alboin led an army across the Alps into Italy, took Milan (569), and after a three-year siege conquered Pavia, which became his capital. They soon penetrated deep into central and S Italy. The Lombard duchies of Spoleto and Benevento in central and S Italy were set up independently. Alboin died 572?; he was the first Lombard king in Italy (569–572?), having won most of North and Central Italy from the Byzantines.

Paganism and Aryanism, which were at first prevalent among the Lombards, gradually gave way to Catholicism. Roman culture and Latin speech were accepted, and the Catholic bishops emerged as chief magistrates in the cities. Lombard law combined Germanic and Roman traditions.

King Liutprand (712–44) consolidated the kingdom through his legislation and reduced Spoleto and Benevento to vassalage. One of his successors, Aistulf, took Ravenna (751) and threatened Rome.

Pope Stephen II appealed to the Frankish (French) King Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne*, to help get rid of the Lombards. Later, with consent of Pope St. Zacharias, Pepin had himself proclaimed king (751). In return for this recognition by the pope, Pepin defended Rome against the Lombards (754, 756), from whom he wrested the exarchate** of Ravenna and other cities. These he ceded to the pope, thus laying the foundation of the Papal States. Thus Pepin invaded Italy; the Lombards lost their territories which were then given in the Donation of Pepin to the papacy.

** Byzantine EXARCHATE of Ravenna - AD 552 – 754

The Exarchate was the centre of Byzantine rule in Italy, once the country had been regained from the Ostrogoth kingdom.

Its function was somewhat compromised by the incursions of the Lombards from the north.

The last remnants of Lombard independence in Italy, the numerous duchies which they had established in the south, eventually fell to the Normans , who had originally come into southern Italy to serve as mercenaries for the Lombard dukes.

* Charlemagne or Charles I - born 742, Soldier, statesman, chqmpion of Christendom, patron of learning and education, an outstanding figure in history, famous for his code of laws and reform of justice. King of France (771-814), Emperor of the West Romans (800-814). Son of Pepin the Short. In support of Pope defeated the Lombards and became their king (774). Led campaign against Moors of NE Spain (778); subjugated Saxons (772-804); forced conversions to Christianity. On being crowned Emperor by Leo III (because he had supported him to become Pope) he became the founder of the Holy Roman Empire – from which derived the idea of a United Europe; created strong Empire by establishing marches and efficient administration. His court at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) became centre of learning.

(6)The two great medieval Benedictine abbeys of San Vincenzo at Volturno (founded around 703 AD by Gisulfo I, duke of Benevento,) and San Clemente at Casuaria (founded in 872 AD by the Emperor Ludovico II), together with Montecassino, were the three main reference points in the course of events over several centuries in the territory of the Majella and a wide surrounding area, from the high part of the Sangro river to the Adriatic coast at Capestrano. They were the cause of the repopulation of the areas around the Majella. (Return)

(7)Pipino – son and heir of Charlemagne (Return)

(8)Via Frentana, the coastal track dating from prehistoric times, became the Roman road, the Via Frentana-Taiana, and it still links Abruzzo to Molise and Puglia to this day. (Return)

(9)Sulmona- Made famous by Ovid***, the Roman poet, who was born in Sulmona and is the town’s most famous personage. Sulmona, the home of sugared almonds, is in the heart of the Abruzzi, at the centre of important roads which lead to the most important places of central and southern Italy. (Return)

*** Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) (43 B.C. - 17 A.D.) was either the last of the Golden Age poets, such as Virgil and Horace, or first of the Silver Age poets, such as Lucan and Statius. Unlike Virgil and Horace, who lived through the civil wars that marked the violent end of the Roman Republic, Ovid was the first major Roman Poet to come of age wholly in the Augustan Age - the beginning of the Roman Empire. For further details see:-

(10)G. De Rosa - Contemporary historian (Return)

© Amici di Torricella

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca

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