The region is essentially hilly and mountainous
and stretches from the Apennines to the Adriatic
Sea. It embraces the highest and hugest massifs
of Central Italy, with landscapes of rugged and
intact beauty, and peaks which often are higher
than 2,000 meters. In this part of the Adriatic,
the long sandy expanses are replaced by steep and
rocky coasts. There are wide amphitheaters near
L’Aquila and Sulmona and in the dried hydrographic
basin of the Fucino. Geological karst formations
with grottoes and “Doline” are present.
The National Park of Abruzzo, in the western part
of the region, harbors numerous animal species,
such as the Marsican Bear and the Gray Wolf.
Cities. L’Aquila is the regional capital.
Pescara, Chieti and Teramo are other important cities.
The region is rich in remains of the Roman civilization,
which can be found at Minternum near L’Aquila,
Alba Fucens, Iuvanum a Montenerodomo. Art saw its
most creative period during the Middle Ages. Noteworthy
cathedrals and abbeys, with a patent local imprint,
were erected between the eleventh and the nineteenth
century. The most important example is Santa Maria
di Collemaggio, in L’Aquila. Sculpture attained
a special development. An important and typical
goldsmith's craft, which produced splendid objects,
dates back to the sixteenth century. Precious Renaissance
examples can be found in Sulmona and L’Aquila.
In L’Aquila, one can visit the National Museum
of Abruzzi, with sections for paleontology, archaeology
and medieval art (painting, sculpture, jewelry,
ceramics, lace, sacred ornaments, glass windows).
Pescara has the Museum of the Folk Traditions of
Abruzzo, which holds a didactic archaeologic exhibition.
The Pinacoteca Civica in Teramo displays beautiful
majolicas. Chieti’s National Museum of Antiquities
houses important relics of the ancient Italics,
Greeks and Romans, including some remarkable pieces
such as the Warrior of Capestrano, of the fourth
Sulmona, Roccaraso and Scanno: the Highland of the
Five Miles and the National Park.
In Abruzzo, along with some State and Regional Reserves
there are also some WWF-Italy oasis. Three of them (Lago
di Penne, Majella Orientale and Serranella) coincide with
the territory protected by the Region. The other three
oasis are located on very interesting areas from a naturalistical
point of view; they are directly run on the basis of rental
agreements with public and private owners.
Almost all the mountain centres of Abruzzo, sitting tight
and protected on the peaks, were wise in their geographical
setting and their own morphology for two reasons: the
extreme danger of the Middle Ages, a period in which the
majority of these villages arose, and the business (but
it could be said mono-culture) of sheep farming, that
has its kingdom in the mountains.
Built entirely out of live stone and mud, with a total,
phobic absence of wood, all the old villages of the Abruzzo
mountains express the obsessive attachment to stone, which
is typical of the Mediterranean civilization. These houses
of bare stone, built dose, one to another, to form a compact,
protective mass in guise of a wall (therefore called "case-mura",
wall-houses), are communicating their never-ending, anguishing
need of defence in a world of extended, feudal anarchy,
of the critical evasion of the central powers and therefore,
the lack of organized systems of defence. The outside
perimeter of the houses enclosed the village in a civilian
(none the less effective), defensive circle.
On the outside there are few windows, almost as narrow
as slits, placed in the upper floors. A direct consequence
of the dangerous times, the so called "defence barriers"
represented the only solid system of self-defence for
the local population. Real, fortified villages more than
just castles, these allowed a prolonged, defensive retreat
for the people, if necessary.
For a very long space of time, going from the XI century
to the French revolution, this type of urban plan formed
a typical model of a civilized settlement in the Abruzzo
mountains. Nevertheless it is difficult to understand
the sense of these human settlements, often pushed to
the limits of habitability without putting them back in
their place in that system of economic production that
organizes, in its entirety, all life in the mountains:
In actual fact, as an economic activity predominant in
Abruzzo for almost three millenniums, therefore the origin
of a particular condition of life, the sheep farming has
made an impression on the territory not just limited to
prints left in the pastures and sheep tracks. The great
majority of the sheep, the huge flocks that periodically
moved from the upper pastures in the mountains to the
coastal plains of the Peninsula, are completely unconnected
with the inhabited centre: the transhumant sheep always
live out in the open. They represented, however, a sort
of additional capital that never became directly part
of the life or urban plan of the mountain villages. The
actual style of each single house reflects this economy
tied to a type of breeding which is based on large herds
of small animals. The impossibility of moving this patrimony
to the centre of the village, the need of defence which
tended to limit the extension of the centre to be protected,
and the steepness of the slopes, made a particular housing
structure necessary in the shape of buildings with three,
four, or even five or six rooms, one on top of the other.