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Fontecchio is an ancient hamlet situated in the middle of the River Aterno valley, between L’Aquila and Sulmona, at the foot of the spectacular northern wall of the Sirente massif and its spurs. The town is nestled on a rocky hill on the side of the valley, in woodlands which reach up to the river, rural landscapes and extremely green plateaus. A wealth of wildlife – deer, wolves, roe deer, wild boar and bears – populate the valley and the splendid “Pagliare” plateau with its seasonal settlements where the valley inhabitants resided in order to cultivate the high ground and to cut timber. Fontecchio, originated from the fortified boroughs of Vestini and from a Roman settlement that still boasts the temple of Jupiter beneath the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria (Our Lady of Victory), right in the middle of the valley. The history of Fontecchio really seems to come to life in the 15th century, when the castles of the L’Aquila district were besieged by Fortebraccio, lord of Montone and Perugia. Fontecchio – together with only a few other villages – manages to resist the siege as we are told by the famous fellow citizen Jeronimo Pico Fonticulano, town planner, architect and cartographer of the late Renaissance period in L’Aquila. Another famous episode of local history, linked with the most important event, is the siege carried out in 1647 by the Spanish troops on the walled city, who were involved in repressing “Masaniello’s” revolts. The legend says that Baroness Corvi, who, with a skilful stroke of a springald, killed the leader of the besieging troops who brought the siege to an end after 50 days. Even today, the tower clock – one of the oldest working clocks in Italy - recalls, with its fifty bell tolls, these sad days of events. Several noble residences dominate the hamlet – the Corvi baronial palace, the Muzi palace which overlooks the square, the De Marchis palace in the in St. Nicholas’ Square. However, also the surrounding areas of the historic town centre tell of stories of yesteryear with another three convents and monasteries overlooking the town and these include the convent of St. Francis, coeval of the Saint and his pilgrimages to the Abruzzo region and to the church of Santa Maria a Graiano with its splendid Madonna dell’Ambro (Our Lady of the Ambro) which today is kept in L’Aquila. Higher up, nestled at the feet of the “solagna”, the enchanting hamlet of St. Pio with its tower houses and its “grim” legend that wishes it to be the land of Pontius Pilate.
Yet it is the less important history of peasants, craftsmen and shepherds that most attracts the visitor, with the Medieval “L-shaped” workshops that crowd the square, with its twisting alleyways and shiny and worn stones of the seats in the square where the villagers flock; and then there are the dry stone wall terraces that manage to tear away shreds of arable land from the mountain; the “tholos” stone huts which are built inside the macerines, to recall the centuries-old work of stone removal; the extraordinary ancient shafts that perforate the mountain in order to collect a little water for the fountains; the paths that cross the valley and its slopes; the little houses that are scattered throughout the plateau as if they were a grazing flock. And then there are the vegetable gardens beneath the town walls and inside the hamlet itself, the fruit orchards, and the sweet railway line that has taken away many fortune-seeking emigrants away from our valley.
14th century monumental fountain
The civic fountain, the symbol of the town, is situated on one side of Piazza del Popolo and it recalls the style of the fountains in the Viterbo area as well as the Fontana Maggiore in Perugia. A 14th century niche with a high cusp and stone trefoil arches closes the upper part of the fountain, in the centre of a large polygonal tank. The monument is framed by stone walls on which a fountain trough protected by a lowered arch and a series of recipients to water animals; above these there is the niche with the image of an enthroned Madonna and child, called the Madonna dell’Uccellino (Our Lady of the Little Bird), situated among Angels and figures of Saints. A long stone seat recalls the fatigue of women who waited their turn there in order to fill their container with water and to take it back home on their heads and it also represents a meeting place where women could gossip.
Medieval clock tower
The fortified town walls encompass the beautiful Porta dei Santi (Gate of Saints) with a pointed ashlar arch upon which the Clock Tower rises with its defensive constructions, trap doors and brackets. Perhaps the clock dates back to the 15th century, it represents the proof that Fontecchio was once a prosperous area, it was a resting and trading place along one of the routes of the “Via degli Abruzzi”.
The convent of St. Francis
This was 14th century coeval convent of the saint, adorned with a splendid cloister with open gallery and which today is the location of a restaurant and a congress centre.
This majestically dominates the antique access to the town from the “Via de L’Aquila” and it displays an overlapping of styles and elements that date back from the massive square tower of Roman origin which reach up to the Medieval period and then to the 16th and17th centuries.
In both the square and on the road that leads up to the tower, these charming workshops, with their stone counters, are the proof that the ancient craftsmen’s tradition of this hamlet, especially as regards shoemakers, is linked to the nearby leather tannery.
The ancient communal oven, which is still operational, has been used by generations of women to bake their bread. A beautiful double mullioned Medieval window towers above the arched entrance to the square.
Guard-house and the Remembrance museum
Next to the Gate of Saints, underneath the town clock tower, there is a large area that was probably used as a guard-house yet which, over the course of the centuries, has become a wine cellar and a home; today it hosts a wonderful photography exhibition of both the city of L’Aquila by photographer Roberto Grillo and of Fontecchio with a small touching grotto that re-proposes the dramatic images of the 2009 earthquake. Here there is a collection of Roman and Medieval decorations and epigraphs, discovered during the course of the excavations in the town and the surrounding areas.
Cornone Tower and the Environmental Education Centre
On the south corner of the town wall, there is a tower that dominates the escarpment and the terraces surrounded by greenery: the Cornone Tower, part of the antique Norman watch tower and signalling system of the valley; the surrounding buildings, host the accommodation facilities of the same name as well as the Environmental Landscape Education Centre, recognised by the Abruzzo Regional Board as a Centre of Regional importance.
The tannery and the Roe-deer visitor centre
The ancient tannery, immediately outside the town, still has the baths that were used for tanning purposes with their system of water channels and tanks as well as the premises where the skins were hung up to dry; today it hosts the Sirente Velino Roe-deer Visitor centre which can be accessed from a beautiful park rich with age-old springs and plants.
San Pio di Fontecchio
A small, compact, oval-shaped hamlet which still preserves its open galleries and its towers, with a sober and “bourgeois” style that is almost in contrast with the imposing noble residences in Fontecchio, which are only a couple of kilometres away.
Although it is still under construction, the Fontecchio botanical garden, situated on a sunny slope at the foot of the town, offers splendid blossoms of local perennial and herbaceous, aromatic and officinal plants.
The paths around the town
There is a dense network of paths that allows the visitor to travel far and wide throughout the area surrounding the town, until reaching the enchanting hamlet of Bominaco with its churches, until the “Pagliare” plateau with its woodlands and its sparsely spread houses, until the Stiffe Caves along the valley bottom travelling along the Via di Celestine V; most of the paths have been restored thanks to the “Adotta un sentiero” (Adopt a Path) project, carried out by ILEX, by the Municipality and by the local associations and entities with the support of GAL Gran Sasso Velino.
On the plateau that dominates the valley, Le Pagliare – that can be reached both on foot and by car – is a small summer settlement, where part of the inhabitants spent the summer to cultivate mountainous varieties of solina wheat and pulses, to cut leafy branches and hay for the animals, to cut wood and to extract lime. This is an extraordinary place among the woodlands and breath-taking views.
Fontana monumentale del XIII
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Casa Torre del Cornone camere, appartamenti e Centro di Educazione Ambientale
Via Cantone della Terra 22 – 67020 Fontecchio
Mob. [+39] 328 0617948
Comune di Fontecchio: Via Contrada Murata
Tel. [+39] 0862 85441
Associazione Culturale Pico Fonticulano: firstname.lastname@example.org