I left Milano early in the morning, catching a train to Roma, where my friend, Giovanna, was going to meet me at the train station (Termini). Once I arrived in Roma, we immediately hopped into her aunt Neda’s car, and began a journey which I can only describe as incredible! We were heading for the family home in Abruzzo. Our destination was approximately a four-hour drive from Roma. As we drove, Giovanna and Neda, both, told me stories about their hometown — things that they had experienced, as well as stories that were passed down to them by their relatives. As we traveled along the motorway, which has some of the longest tunnels in all of Italy, I was amazed at what I was seeing outside of the car windows, and also by the stories which I was being told. My excitement grew with each passing minute, to see this town that they were telling me about.
After around two hours of driving, we had arrived at the half-way point, and as per the family tradition, we pulled over at a rest stop to have something to eat. Now, for those who have never traveled by car in Italia, the rest stops are very different from the ones that we are used to in the States. In Italia, you can get a good, fresh meal at a rest stop, served with your beverage of choice — wine, beer, water, or yes, even soda. I don’t remember just what it was that we ordered, but I can tell you that all three of us ate every last bit of food that was on our plates. It was delicious! Then, after an espresso each, we were back in the car, continuing on our way.
Now, this was not my first visit to Abruzzo. A few years ago, I traveled through the region during the Spring season, stopping in Chieti and Sulmona. This time, we were heading for a small town, just on the other side of the mountain known as La Maiella, from Sulmona, a town called Gessopalena.Gessopalena is a town with approximately 1,356 inhabitants. And it is where my dear friend, Giovanna, was born. The original family home was destroyed in an earthquake, which I will talk more about later, but Giovanna’s grandfather quickly built another house for his family, and it was to this home that we were now headed. The family home sits on one end of a tiny piazza, which it shares with a church. Giovanna’s grandfather was a doctor, as well as Mayor of the town for many years. The house is set along a cliff, with magnificent views of the countryside below you.The view from my bedroom was stunning, with the rock known as La Morgia, standing out in the lovely landscape. La Mailella stands as a barrier between this part of Abruzzo, and the rest of the world, or at least, that is how it seems when looking up at it.Located right outside of the door to Giovanna’s family home, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore dates back to 1059. This was the church that Giovanna was baptized in. Via Castello leads up to the medieval part of town. Unfortunately, this area has been completely destroyed. An earthquake in 1933 damaged most of the town, including Giovanna’s family home, and then, what wasn’t destroyed at that point, was further damaged during World War II, when the Germans dropped bombs on the town. What remains has been turned into an open-air museum, the “Museo del Gesso.”There is not one building left intact, in the medieval section of town, and that includes the Ex-Cappella di Sant’Antonio.A small section houses an indoor exhibition center, but this was closed while we were there.Steps, now overgrown with weeds, lead up to what was once the main piazza of Gessopalena.As you reach the top of the hill, on which the medieval town sits, you come upon the “Monumento alla Resistenza”. I found this to be a very striking monument, especially after Giovanna gave me a little of its history. Her grandparents had been traveling in northern Europe, and had visited a concentration camp. The experience at the camp had such an effect on Giovanna’s grandmother that she wanted to erect a monument to those who resisted the Nazis, in her hometown. Thus, the monument that we see today, was born.
Next up: more from Gessopalena, as well as a visit to Roccascalegna!
Note: this blog is written in English and Spanish, and the author takes no responsibility for the quality of any other translations which may appear. If you have enjoyed this post, please, check out our archives for posts from other wonderful Italian destinations. Grazie!