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Avezzano is believed to have been established as a real and proper town, only after 1333. Before this date, it was simply “place” situated on the banks of Lake Fucino (Monaldeschi). According to others, Avezzano may date back even further, due to the fact that there was a church (St. Salvatore’s church) already in the area in 866. In any case, the name clearly has Latin origin. By now scholars who have refused to accept that the name of the town derives from “Ave Jane” (almost a kind of greeting in honour of the god Janus, whose temple was said to exist in this area), are focusing on another two theories: the first, that it derived from “fundus Avidianus”; the second, from “Ad Vettianum”, which, however should give rise to the name Avvezziano or Avvezzano and therefore certainly not Avezzano.
Available information regarding Avezzano between the 10th and the 13th centuries is rather fragmentary and uncertain. It was only as from the middle of the 14th century that further and more reliable evidence can be found. The first document, therefore, dates back to 1343, which it states that Avezzano was already the venue of a large estate; more or less the same period in which the church of St. Mary of Loreto which was added to the already existing churches; the building of the Church and convent of St. Francis dates back to 1355; while as from 1360 and the following years, the first “diplomas” were assigned in which Avezzano was specified as an “universitas” (a community of towns) and it was granted the right to possess “state-owned” land, or rather which was free from feudal possession; there is a parchment dating back to 1371 (kept in the municipal archives) containing the judgement referring to the delimitation of the boundaries between Albe and Avezzano; Finally, the famous Statutes dated 1434 (or 1431?) (which were discovered, translated and published by Brogi last century), by means of which it is eventually possible to affirm when the true history of modern Avezzano began. The development of this new built-up area chronologically coincides with the distinction and the disappearance of the three most important centres of the area: Penna, Pietraquaria and Albe. The location was extremely advantageous encouraging the development of trade, so much so that in 1337, King Robert of Anjou granted Avezzano two Trade guilds: S. Giorgio (St. George) and S. Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist). Therefore, from that moment onwards that started to play a central role in Marsica, well-defined also from an urban viewpoint, becoming even the de facto headquarters of the Baronial Court. In spite of a terrible spate of pillaging which Avezzano suffered in 1363 at the hands of Ambrogino Visconti’s troops as well as the distressing onset of the plague, it soon recovered and, in the early decades of the 15th century, its population even managed to autonomously adopt those Statues mentioned previously (a kind of internal regulation of urban and rural police). The 47 confirmations given to these Statues by the feudatories were useful in that they make it possible to reconstruct the administrative and political issues that took place in Avezzano and throughout the entire county of Albe, at least up until the middle of the 16th century: therefore from the war of succession to the Kingdom of Naples right up to the final triumph of the Colonna family over their traditional enemies, the powerful Orsini princes. In 1561, Marcantonio Colonna transformed the castle belonging to the Orsini family into a splendid princely residence, by simultaneously repairing the main roads in Avezzano and donating the town a large plot of land stretching along the banks of Lake Fucino.
From the 17th century and throughout the entire 18th century, Avezzano witnessed the succession of Spanish, Austrian as well as the Bourbons who ruled over the Kingdom of Naples; in 1799, the town was saved, by chance, from the French invasion; in 1806, it suffered pillaging at the hands of pro-Bourbon guerrillas and it lost some of its young men in a battle which took place beneath the town walls. In the same year, following the “laws for the subversion of feudality” issued by Giuseppe Bonaparte, the long period of domination of the Colonna family came to an end. With the new political organisation, Avezzano obtained the official recognition of its pre-eminence and its centrality with respect to all the other towns within the Marsica area; after 1811, it became the District capital and the Administrative sub-office (one of the four within Abruzzo Ulteriore II and that is, of the area that is currently known as the province of L’Aquila. Following the Unity of Italy (between 1860 and 1861 anarchy reigned supreme in Avezzano), the Administrative sub-office was substituted by the Sub-prefecture.
Yet, above all, it was the draining of Lake Fucino (with the consequent choice of Avezzano as the official residence of Prince Alessandro Torlonia) together with the opening of the Rome-Sulmona railway line to transform the city into a true “commercial and economic capital of this area”. Immediately afterwards, with the establishment of the sugar factory, also the process of industrialisation that affected the entire area began – despite the tragedy of the earthquake on 13th January 1915 and the World War II bomb attacks – reaching its climax in the two decades between 1960 and 1980.
Avezzano certainly cannot define itself as an interesting city of art, from the moment that, following the 1915 earthquake, nothing remains of the original town centre. The only traces that are left of the ancient monuments are the two stone portals of St. Nicholas’ church (kept in the municipal Museum); the façade and the bell tower of St. John’s church (formerly St. Francis’), with a nice side entrance, coming however from the demolished church of Our Lady in Vico; an altar-piece, in fact, depicting Our Lady of Vico which is kept today in the church of the Capuchin Friars; a Marsican lapidary museum which can be found in the town hall; the ruins of Orsini Castle (15th century) that was subsequently transformed, after 1565, into a veritable noble palace by Marcantonio Colonna; the modern churches of St. Rocco, the Madonna del Passo (Our Lady of the Footstep), della Trinitá (Our Lady of the Holy Trinity), adorned with rather recent works of art, almost all of which were created by local artists coming from the Marsica area.
The Cathedral of the Marsi
This cathedral was dedicated to the patron saint of Avezzano, St. Bartholomew. It was strongly desired by Monsignor Bagnoli as a symbol of the transfer of the Diocese to Avezzano; it was designed by the author of the city’s municipal Regulating Plan, the engineer Sebastiano Bultrini and it was solemnly consecrated in 1942. It was bombarded by the Allied Forces in 1944 yet fortunately it was saved from the bombing thanks to the actions of a young man Ennio Piccone, who courageously entered the church, pulled out the fuse and defused the bomb. Today, the cathedral surely represents the symbol of the city of Avezzano, presenting itself as an impressive background to the large central square, with a Neo-Renaissance travertine façade. The three entrances are topped by mosaics that depict Christ and the two patron saints of Avezzano, Our Lady of Pietraquaria and St. Bartholomew and these are connected to each other by just as many simple aisles without any decorations whatsoever, lit by the large rose window and the stained glass windows of the dome; alongside this (on the side facing via Marconi) there is a tall bell-tower that overlooks the entire city and which can be easily seen from every part of it. Moreover, the cathedral has a great organ built by Tamburini in 1975.
The Orsini-Colonna Castle is situated in the municipality of Avezzano. It was commissioned in 1490 by Gentile Virginio Orsini who had it built around the remains of the derelict Gentile tower by Palearia, a lord of Manoppello. Following the completion of the renovation works carried out throughout the 1990s, on the ground floor of the castle, an auditorium has been introduced where congresses and shows can be held, while on the first floor, there is the Museum of Modern Art of Avezzano. An element that characterises the castle is the position of the four angular towers that are perfectly aligned with the cardinal points of the Earth’s magnetism.
Church of Our Lady of Pietraquaria
Nearby, the following places of interest are well-worth visiting: the small church of Our Lady of Pietraquaria, which is situated on the top of a hill just outside the city; the Torlonia emissary of Lake Fucino (the so-called Incile), created last century according to Nicola Carnevali’s technical drawings; the “Cunicoli di Nerone” (Nero’s Tunnels “- which, in reality, the Emperor Claudio had built in a first attempt to drain Lake Fucino).
The park is situated on a triangular plot of flat land between via Roma and Piazza della Repubblica; in the area which is now known as Torlonia Park, the inhabitants of Avezzano used to leave their wheat to dry. The Park was adorned with trees and bushes as well as a circular fountain by Prince Alessandro Torlonia and his wife at the end of the 19th century, as a present to the citizens of Avezzano. In exchange, the citizens erected a bronze bust in the south corner of the Park in honour of Prince Alessandro Torlonia. In this park, following the earthquake of 13th January 1915, the survivors from Avezzano sought refuge.
Ciccio Felice Cave
The prehistoric and archaeological artefacts include: the Ciccio Felice Cave on the slopes of Mount Salviano; a prehistoric settlement that was discovered close to the Circonfucense provincial road, in line with Road 6. The archaeological excavations within the area which was formerly the Collegiate Church of St. Bartholomew in via Orazio Mattei;
In the hamlets: the church of Our Lady of Grace in Case is of particular interest (14th century with a beautiful Madonna coming from the Sienese school of painting, which is now kept in the parish church). Also worthy of visiting: remains of the Roman building in St. Pelino; remains of a prehistoric village near Paterno, in the Cellito district; a 13th century portal of the church of St. Salvatore in Paterno, today kept upon the premises of Piccolomini Castle in Celano.
Panoramic View from Mount Salviano
The Fountain of Torlonia Square
The Portal of Castello Orsini - Column
Church of Our Lady of Pietraquaria
Monte Salviano beginning Via Crucis
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Comune di Avezzano
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