Cities of Arts in Abruzzo
An expression «Italian cities of arts» is strongly associated with Rome, Florence or Venice. These great cities overshadow tens or even hundreds of beautiful Italian cities with glorious history, magnificent monuments, fine arts museums and numerous cultural events. There are many places in Abruzzo that can be fully attributed to cities of arts. First of all, old capitals of provincies - L′Aquila, Teramo and Chieti beyond doubt belong to cities of arts. They are famous for their architecture, ancient cathedrals, and fine arts museums with rich collections. This list can also include «small» towns of arts, or ancient boroughs, which can be presented as little masterpieces per se. Boroughs include medieval fortified towns, located in the mountains, and Renaissance hill-towns on the Adriatic coast.
Abruzzo consists of several major cities and many tiny towns – boroughs. Old houses built of wild stone nestle closely to each other, forming narrow humped streets. Above a massive wooden door, we can usually distinguish an inscription with a family motto and the date of construction of the house, usually very old. To say that everyone knows each other from childhood means to say nothing. People have been friends or, less commonly, enemies from generation to generation. Every family has an apt nickname, which is also inherited, and finally, no one remembers why his grandfather's grandfather got it. Almost all the mountain towns were built in the Middle Ages, but many of them were founded even earlier in the times of Italic tribes, or under the Roman Empire. Many cities in Abruzzo have preserved traces of their ancient names. For example, Pesco (fortified hill), Castro (fortified settlement), Villa (agricultural village), Civita (independent, self-governed city). In most cases, a toponym indicates the defensive nature of a town or its mountainous location: Rocca (castle), Castel (castle), Penna (foothills), Pizzo (top), Colle (Hill).
The modern urban image of Abruzzo, which was formed in the Middle Ages, has remained virtually unchanged. When traveling in Abruzzian mountains, it seems that time stopped here a few centuries ago. Ancient houses in mountain villages were built of local wild stone, bound with mortar. You have a fantastic impression that houses and castles make an organic extension of rocks on which they sit.
This impression is further reinforced by the fact that stone houses are connected to each other, forming a solid defensive wall. Such fortified settlements indicate an urgent and ongoing need for defense, so characteristic for the long Medieval period in Abruzzo, which lasted until the end of the 18th century. These buildings are expressively called wall-houses (case-mura), i.e. houses, forming a wall. One can easily recognize them since such houses have very few windows facing the street, usually located in the upper floors.
The layout of mountain towns is almost the same everywhere. At the highest point sits a castle, a town square (piazza) with a parish church is located at the foot of a castle. Even lower are situated ledges of residential buildings which are literally fused to each other since they have common side walls. In case of an enemy attack a fortified village with narrow streets was easily turned into a single defensive whole with a castle.
While the raw stone was the main construction material in mountain cities, many beautiful villas at the seaside were built from the light brick. Hilltowns appeared in the Middle Ages or even earlier in the Italic-Roman era, but their heyday was the Renaissance period. The Renaissance effected architectural appearance and layout of cities, but did not destroy their harmonious unity with the traditional spirit of these places. Town walls and gates securely protected charming little towns. Numerous palaces, churches and private houses form straight streets leading to the main square, which can be large and lively, or small and intimate but with an invariable fountain in the middle.
About twenty small towns of arts in Abruzzo are affiliated with the club «The Most Beautiful Boroughs of Italyť (“I Borghi piu belli d′Italia”). The membership includes about 200 small picturesque Italian towns, which meet the following criteria: integrity of the urban fabric, architectonic harmony, habitability, artistic and historical value of public and private buildings.