OUR TOWNS

Tossicia

Tossicia

Tossicia, the historic capital of the Valley and the centre of the Fief in the middel ages, is perhaps one of the oldest towns in the area when tracing the origins of its name. Like the origins of the name of our valley are shrouded in mystery, so are those of Tossicia. Some link it to the latin “toxicum”, meaning poison; this hypothesis is supported by the town’s coat of arms, which shows a dragon that looked somewhat like a snake, and the popular nickname in the area for the inhabitants of Tossicia: “scerpirə”.

 

Others link it to “Turris Sicula”, referring to the name of the Valley, but without further proof.
Then there are those who think it derives from Greek, meaning a place of arched stone (tokso silike) or house of the Etruscans (tusk’oikia). None of these hypotheses, however, have ever been scientifically endorsed.

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There are archaeological finds to testify that the area was already inhabited in the Italic era, before the Romans, but the first mention of the town is found in the Catalogus Baronum of 1168, saying that Oderisio di Collepietro-Pagliara holds Tusciciam. It is clear that Tossicia, as the capital of the fiefdom, from the granting of the Marquisate to the Alarçon-Mendoza, has played a key role in the history of the entire Valley, if only for the fact that the royal legates resided here and in Isola del Gran Sasso.

 

During World War II, a local concentration camp was set up in Tossicia, one of the few that are known with certainty. Here people of Chinese and Roma origin were interned between October 21, 1940, and September 26, 1943. Up until today, you can still find images of Mussolini on one of the remaining buildings that was part of the camp. In order not to forget, the town council decided to erect a monument, created in Castelli, to honour the memory of the Roma that were persecuted in that period.

 

The romanesque church of Sant’Antonio Abate, in the square of the same name, boasts perhaps the most beautiful portal in “flamboyant Gothic” in the entire province. It is described in more detail on the Art pages of this website.
The church of Santa Maria Assunta, in the other part of town, is known for the statue of the Madonna della Provvidenza (Our Lady of Providence). It portrays Our Lady in a lying position, of which there are only two others in Italy, one in Assergi (AQ) and one in Tolentino (MC). This statue was stolen in the 1970s and then discovered in England, after a local from Tossicia recognized it in a television programme about a collector of Holy Mary icons. It is currently preserved and protected at the Sanctuary of San Gabriele in Isola del Gran Sasso, because unfortunately the church in Tossicia was badly damaged in the 2009 earthquake.

Colledara

Colledara is the smallest of our municipalities and also our “port of entrance” when arriving from the motorway as it is the name of the exit. Long ago it was known by the more important sounding name of Castiglione della Valle (Castle of the Valley), which today refers only to a mostly abandoned hamlet steeped in history.

 

An old document from the year 959 already mentions this barony, which for centuries belonged to the Pagliara family (the De Palla Aurea) before being passed on to the Orsini family, the Alarçon-Mendoza family, and so on, just like the rest of the Valley.

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Legend has it, that Lucrezia Borgia stopped in Colledara, fleeing from the soldiers sent by her brother Cesare, who is also said to have fought a battle at Chiarino (in the municipality of Tossicia) against the rebellious inhabitants of the valley.

 

We started out by saying that Colledare is the smallest municipality in the Valley, but in the past it was even smaller than today. We know for a fact , based on the Onciario Land Registry, that in 1742 the villages of Case di Baldo (now Terramano), Ornano Piccolo, Ornano Grande, Mercato Vecchio, Vico, Cretara and Casa Terza were part of Tossicia. In 1815, however, these villages were definitively assigned to Castiglione della Valle, and are consequently still part of Colledara today. The municipality was called Castiglione della Valle until the early 1900s, even when the town hall was transferred to Colledara. The new name was also chosen to pay homage to Fedele Romani, a well-known writer and poet born in Colledara.

 

It is impossible to talk about Colledara and not mention the famous Porchetta, roasted pork: first deboned and seasoned with a mixture of salt, pepper, fennel, garlic and rosemary, then the meat is rolled tight and roasted whole. As it cooks, the skin forms a crispy crust that retains the moisture of the meat.
In the village of Collecastino, there used to be a porchetta festival every year in August, to celebrate its patron saint San Rocco.

Colledara
Castelli

Castelli

Castelli, the ceramic jewel of our Valley, rises about 500 meters above sea level. under the Monte Camicia. It is nationally and internationally known for its production and trade of ceramic artefacts, and is seeped in history and tradition.
It is currently home to the Liceo Artistico F. Grue, an arts secondary school, many ceramic workshops and a unique museum. Located at the foot of the Gran Sasso, it is the gateway to our wonderful mountains, to RigoPiano, Fonte Vetica and Campo Imperatore.

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This area was probably already inhabited in Roman times, although we have no facts to substantiate this claim. After the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, it is likely that the people of ager atrianus, as this area was partly known, retreated to the mountains and established themselves in fortified camps (“castra”), which could be the origin of its current name Castelli.

 

The first written mention is related to the Benedictine monastery of San Salvatore, of which no traces are left, in some deeds drawn up under Pope Pasquale II (1099-1118) to confirm its privileges and possessions. From the moment the Fief was granted to the Counts of Pagliara, this area has always been part of the historical events of the Valle Siciliana. However, it was particular in its propensity for art and trade developed for a flourishing ceramics market, and was already well-known throughout Europe in 1500.

 

The town has kept its traditions linked to art intact, while opening up to modernity and contemporaneity, in which its art school and the promotional work of numerous local artists have played a key role. The town also boasts the so-called “Sistine Chapel of Majolica”, which refers to the unique ceiling of the church of San Donato, consisting of 800 handmade ceramic tiles. It is just outside the town centre and definitely worth a visit.

Isola del Gran Sasso

Isola del Gran Sasso d’Italia is the pearl of our mountains. Few other municipalities in Italy have a name that is longer than this, and only one in Abruzzo. It is commonly referred to as Isola, and is in fact a real island, closed in by the river Ruzzo one one side and the Mavone river on the other. Three imposing gates have defended the town from hostile armies and brigands through the ages of time.
Near the town, you will find the most important place of spirituality and meditation in our valley, the Sanctuary of San Gabriele, protector of young people.

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Near the town some traces have been found of houses dating back to the Neolithic period, but the first written mention of Isola -with its proper name- refers to the 12th century, when Count Attone obtained the fiefdom of the castle of Isola from the Bishop of Teramo, in 1115. In 1173 the castle of Isola di Penne, which was the name of the town in the documents of that time, was still among the possessions of the Counts of Pagliara and the town consisted of 48 families.

 

From then on, the town historically followed the events of the rest of the Valle Siciliana. However, it is said that Saint Francis of Assisi passed through the valley around 1215, and founded a monastery in Isola. It is generally accepted that this monastery today is part of the Sanctuary of San Gabriele. Another monastery was founded in Tossicia, that of the Madonna degli Angeli, of which some remains can still be found near the cemetery.

 

In the 19th century, there were bands of brigands active in the area for some years, but the town was never directly attacked, being well protected by its ancient walls and its three gates.
Today it is the most populated municipality in the valley as well as the most active. It is thriving as a destination for pilgrims and religious tourists, and known for its sporting, cultural and traditional events.
A special mention should be given to the romanesque church of San Giovanni ad Insulam, in the hamlet of the same name. This is a true jewel in the system of abbeys that once enriched the Mavone valley, like the hermitages of San Nicola and Santa Colomba, offering a breathtaking view of our mountains and of the fabulous Pagliara castle.
Furthermore, Isola is “co-owner” -with the municipality of L’Aquila- of the highest point of the Apennines, the summit of Monte Corno at 2912 meter above sea level.

 

Isola del Gran Sasso has been given many names through time, one of which is “Town of Mottos”. This is an interesting name, because it refers to the many inscriptions in Latin on the stone lintels above many doors and windows in the town centre, mixing biblical and popular expressions.

Isola del Gran Sasso
Castel Castagna

Castel Castagna

Castel Castagna is the balcony on the Gran Sasso, the belvedere of our Valley and its treasure chest. It rises about 450 meters above sea level, and due to its position extending into the valley of the Fino river, it has always had strong ties with nearby Bisenti.

 

Unfortunately today the old town is quite uninhabited, because of the damage caused by earthquakes in 2009 and 2016. Most citizens now live in the village of Santa Maria, near the lovely romanesque church of Santa Maria di Ronzano, one of the most beautiful churches in the area.

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Castel Castagna is first mentioned as a small castle with a tower in the Catalogus Baronum of 1168, then it became a fiefdom of Raoul d’Iquelon to be passed on later to Berteraymo de Peugecto. The Church of San Pietro is first mentioned In 1353, which today houses a shrine of the True Cross.
Later, when the castle was passed on to the Orsini family, the town followed the historical events of the rest of the Valley until 1526; in that year it became part of the Marquisate together with the other four municipalities. In 1669, however, part of the town was bought by the Dukes of Acquaviva di Atri, in particular the possessions around the valley of the Abbey which is thought to have been connected to today’s church of Santa Maria di Ronzano.

 

In addition to the spectacular view over the entire valley, the annual traditional fair is worth mentioning, which takes place on August 15th near the church of S.M. di Ronzano. This tradition goes back to the old medieval fairs that usually took place in August in the fields near the abbeys.
Castel Castagna is also the “gateway” to the Fino valley, another area with interesting historical, cultural and rural traditions.