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Unless you’re Italian, it is very likely that you have never even heard of the hilltop hamlet Civitella del Tronto. This unsuspecting village lies in Abruzzo close to its border with the Marches region. It happens to boast one of the largest fortresses in all of Italy, if not in all of Europe! Not by chance, it is also officially one of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages. Let’s find out what to see and do in Civitella del Tronto.
History in Brief
At almost 600 meters above sea level, and within the confines of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, Civitella del Tronto watches over the landscape below, and it isn’t hard to imagine why this location was chosen for such a grand fortress. Of course, its history goes back much further than the Bourbons. It was likely part of the Roman federation, but the first recorded evidence tells us that it definitely existed in the ninth century as a refuge from the ongoing Barbarian raids. Most of what is still visible today dates to the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
The fortress is astronomical in size with an area of 25,000 square meters and a length of 500 meters. Because of its strategic position, it is very likely that some type of fortress already existed here prior to 1564 when King Philip II of Spain ordered its construction. Today, it is often referred to as the Bourbon Fortress or castle because it was transferred to the Bourbons in 1734. In more recent history, it is known as being the last stronghold to surrender during the insurrections of 1861 during the Unification of Italy, or the Risorgimento.
Aside from its armory museum and impressive collection of ancient maps, this location provides some of the most astounding views in the entire region stretching from the Gran Sasso and the Maiella to the south and the Adriatic Sea to the east. The fortress is open to visitors every day of the year except Christmas Day. Guided tours are also available.
More information is available on the official website.
Sights in the Historic Center
Stroll through the fairy-tale-like streets of the old village with its travertine stone houses that seem to whisper stories from an ancient past. Follow the complicated network of passages, called passetti, stop in for a coffee and a local pastry, and browse the artisan shops for the perfect souvenir, especially ceramics. Don’t miss the narrowest street in all of Italy, right here in Civitella’s historic center, La Ruetta.
There are several churches in the village that should be part of any proper tour of the town including the collegiate Church of San Lorenzo (16th century); the Church of San Francesco with its rose window and 15th-century choir; and 14th-century Santa Maria degli Angeli with its marvelous frescos.
The Palazzo del Capitano dates to the 14th century and has a magnificent facade.
More to See Just Outside the Village Walls
There are also several sights in the immediate area that you really should make a point to see. Just outside the village walls is the Convent of Santa Maria dei Lumi. Built in the early 1400s by the Franciscans, Santa Maria dei Lumi takes its name from the mysterious sightings of light. There is also a festival in the Virgin’s honor that takes place every year at the end of April.
Another is a former Benedictine abbey that likely dates to the 6th century, the Abbey of Montesanto (also known as the Abbazia di Santa Maria in Montesanto).
One of the most popular and lively events takes place in mid-August at the Fortress. A la Corte de lo Governatore is a historical reenactment in honor of the year 1557 when Civitella managed to resist the French siege. May 16th is Civitella del Tronto’s patron saint festival dedicated to Saint Ubaldo of Gubbio. Both occasions are the perfect opportunity to get a real sense of the local culture and cuisine.
Tips for Your Visit
Civitella del Tronto is only about a thirty-minute drive from the famed locations on the Adriatic coastline (such as Alba Adriatica) and is also along the Controguerra Wine Road. Due to its elevation of 600 meters above sea level, the best time to visit is typically between the months of May and October. Summers are warm with average highs in August around 28°C but nights are cool making for a very pleasant holiday.