The first reliable information from the Middle Ages is found in the Catalogus Baronum (around AD 1150) of the good Ruggero II of Sicily. It tells us about the castles and fiefdoms of the Valley. A fief consisted of heritable property or rights granted by an overlord to a vassal who held it in fealty in return for feudal allegiance and service. It is written, for example, that Tossicia -the historic capital of the valley- was already a fiefdom in the 12th century and was required to pay for two “milites”, which are soldiers on horseback. Since we know that one “miles” was paid for every 24 families, this means that the nucleus of Tossicia consisted of at least 48 families; not bad for that time.
The fief of our valley was in the hands of various families (the De Palla Aurea of Pagliara, the Orsini, and the Colonna), sometimes more and sometimes less fortunate, regularly changing ownership as was common in those days. The peasants often did not even know which master they served, but were toiling away in the fields just to survive.
Around 1215 Francis of Assisi came to our area to try and resolve the conflicts between the noble families. He is said to have founded two monasteries: one in Isola del Gran Sasso, the first nucleus of what is now the Sanctuary of San Gabriele, and one in Tossicia, where its remains can be visited near the cemetery.
In 1525, after the French-Spanish conflict, which had a lasting influence on local dialects and toponymy, the fiefdom of the Valley became a Marquisate. It was granted to Don Ferrante de Alarçon, a Spanish nobleman in the service of Charles V, who had distinguished himself in the battle of Pavia and the Sack of Rome. His daughter, Isabella, married Don Pedro Mendoza, which explains the presence of this noble family in the Valley.
Our valley remained a Spanish fiefdom until the abolition of fiefdoms, with continuing conflicts between Isola del Gran Sasso, richer but jealous of the prestige of the capital, and Tossicia, reluctant to give up its privileges to the nearby castle. A rivalry that is still very much felt today, but appears to be slowly disappearing, fortunately.
As a marquisate, this valley and its feudal lords had to oversee and control the borders. The jurisdiction of the Marquis extended as far as the current Val Vibrata, and it goes without saying that at the time the roads were not quite as safe as they are today. Around AD 1500 there were active bands of brigands in these areas, like in all of central Italy. The best known in our area were the legendary Marco and Luca Sciarra, from Rocca Santa Maria. Their story ended badly when they were betrayed by one of their lieutenants. Still the legend lived on, and throughout time there have been several historical re-enactments in the area that were about these brigands, from Padula to Civitella del Tronto, and passing through Castelmaidetto near Tossicia.
In the early 1600s several companies of soldiers were stationed permanently in the area, one of which was led by commander Marcantonio Colonna. They were called in by local notables to guard the streets and the trade, because of the many different bands of shepherd-brigands. The Valley lived through the alternating fortunes of the Alarçon y Mendoza family, at times challenged by various Roman families, more or less until 1806, the year in which Giuseppe Bonaparte put an end to feudalism.
Let’s introduce an illustrious citizen of Tossicia here: Giorgio Vincenzo Pigliacelli, a distinguished lawyer and jurist. He was born in Tossicia in 1751 to a noble family, and studied at the Jesuit college of Atri. He obtained a doctorate in law in Naples in 1772 and was appointed First Judge of the Military Commission in 1799, when the Neapolitan Republic was proclaimed. On April 18th of that year he was appointed Minister of Justice and Police.
However, the Republic did not last long and ended on June 13th of the same year with the restoration of the monarchy and the return to the throne of King Ferdinand, helped by British troops. Pigliacelli was arrested and sentenced to death for having held one of the main offices in the republic. He was executed on October 29th, 1799, on the Piazza del Mercato in Naples, where Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel had suffered the same fate a few months earlier.
In 1861 all the towns of the Valley voted for annexation to the newborn kingdom of Italy. The Bourbon bands of brigands were not prominent here, despite the proximity of Civitella del Tronto, the last Bourbon fortress to surrender to the Piedmontese troops.
During World War I many local men died fighting, as is shown by the names on the monuments to the fallen that can be found in every town. World War II accounted for an even higher number of casualties, civilians and military, with the German occupation and detention camps set up in Tossicia and Isola del Gran Sasso.
Fortunately, we still have the memories of our grandparents – a priceless heritage -, recorded for posterity by local historians who never tire of listening, documenting and researching.
Join us for a walk, and learn more about our roots!