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ROCCA DI MEZZO
Rocca di Mezzo, a tourist destination par excellence where, both in winter and in summer it is possible to explore the surrounding mountain, climbing up Mounts Rotondo, Velino, Puzzillo, Morrone and Cornacchia. It is situated in an almost central position in the Rocche plateau, within the Velino-Sirente chain of mountains. It is divided into three parts, of which two are situated on the hill of St. Calvary, while the third stretches out at its feet; on the plateau:
• the Borgo (Hamlet - Bùlverə, in the local dialect) has Medieval origins, and is situated towards the south, on the top of St. Calvary and it represents the oldest part of the town, with houses, stone storage areas, steep alleyways.
• The Mother Church (in a late Baroque style) is flanked by a pedestrian area. The Morge (Móricə, in local dialect), rises on the northern foothills of the hill of St. Calvary, situated at a lower level compared to the Hamlet. It was built in the modern age (as from the 16th century); it offers many breath-taking views (including the three arches).
• The low part, on the plateau hosts, some prestigious public buildings (the old Town Hall, built in the first decade of the 20th century) as well as those of a private nature (including the former Villa Cidonio, built in an eclectic style with Liberty influences, completed in 1925).
• On the northern slope of Mount Velino there are the Pezza Plains, while on the road that leads to Secinaro there is the Anatella (a fountain at the edge of the woodland slopes of Mount Sirente).
The historic tales associated with the Rocche Plateau, and with Rocca di Mezzo in particular, have often been linked with the adverse weather conditions of this area. The long period during winter in which it snows, the difficulties caused by natural events, the scarceness of communication have caused long-term isolation, reducing contacts with the surrounding territories. The first human settlements of the area date back to the Palaeolithic era as can be seen by the discovery in the Pezza Plains and in the Arano Valley of “stazzi” (farmhouses) used by shepherds coming from Fucino and the Aterno Valley. In pre-Roman times, the portion of the plateau that has been integrated into the present municipality of Rocca di Mezzo belonged to the Italic population of the Equi. The presence of the Marsi within the territory of the present hamlet of Rovere, according to tradition, although it cannot be excluded (given the vicinity of the Marsican town of Ovindoli), to date it seems that there are no records of such. During Roman occupation, the plateau became an important strategic zone, in that it was situated between the two great roads in the Abruzzo area: the Tiburtina Valeria, which linked Rome to Ostia Aterni (today known as Pescara), and the Claudia Nova, built by the Emperor Claudius, who from Amiternum reached Popoli.
Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the territory of Rocca di Mezzo and the entire Abruzzo area followed the events of the rest of Italy and they took part firstly in the Kingdom of Odoacer, then in that of Theodore and his successors (the end of the 5th century and the first half of the 6th) and finally, after the Justinian reconquest, of the Eastern Roman Empire (around the middle of the 6th century). The territory of the present day municipality of Rocca di Mezzo was conquered by the Lombards and it was part of the Duchy of Spoleto for about five hundred years. It was towards the end of this long period that the foundation of the town dates back to (around the year 1000), in which, according to tradition, four communities dedicated to pastoralism and agriculture took part: St. Bartolomeo all'Anatella, St. Marco all'Intera, St. Damascus a Valle Caldora, St. Savino under Mount Cedico (the present day Mount Rotondo). These shepherd communities met near the hill of St. Calvary, creating, over time a fortified hamlet, similar to those which were to rise, in subsequent eras, in Rocca di Cambio, Ovindoli and St. Potito. The oldest document in which the name of Rocca di Mezzo appears however dates back to a couple of centuries later and it is an act dated 1237, by means of which “...the notary Berardo of Roccadimezzo does hereby stipulate a deed by means of which Ertania from the so-called Rocca, daughter of Michael, and Simon her son...perpetually renounce...any petition, dispute, action...”. The presence of a notary in Rocca di Mezzo or in any case originating from that place implied the existence, during the Reign of Frederick II, of a town that was already completely developed and which was relatively important. Once it had passed under Norman Reign (end of the 11th century), then to the Swabian-Norman Reign of Sicily governed by Frederick II, Rocca di Mezzo became, in the 13th century, a much sought-after fief, due to the wealth of its herds and for the particular position in which it was situated, on the border between the L’Aquila and Celano territories. In 1222 Rocca di Mezzo was granted as a fief to Bernardo of Ocre, who was forced to cede it to the Counts of Celano. It returned into the hands of the crown during the reign of Conrad IV, son of Frederick II, who after only four years handed it back to the Counts of Celano. In 1268, the Angevin domination began for both the town and its State of Belonging, and, in the first half of the 15th century, it was subject also to the Aragonese domination, established by Alfonso the Magnificent. At the beginning of the 15th century Rocca di Mezzo has about a thousand inhabitants and it was the most populated castle within the L’Aquila area, followed by Paganica, Pizzoli and Lucoli. In July 1423 it was taken over by Braccio da Montone, who had penetrated Abruzzo with the intention of conquering L’Aquila. After nine months under sieges, the town fell (May 1424) and it was ransacked and partially destroyed by Braccio’s followers. The death of the commander, took place in June 1424 and the retreat of his army from L’Aquila, allowed the population, which had previously left the area, to return to Rocca di Mezzo and to start the reconstruction works. The demographic recovery was relatively quick as according to a 1488 survey, in the town there were 285 families, for a total of approximately 1,500 inhabitants.
Modern and contemporary history
In the early years of the 16th century Rocca di Mezzo passed, together with the entire Kingdom of Naples into the hands of the Habsburgs of Spain, who granted it as a fief to various lords, including the Colonna family of Gallicano (16th century and the first half of the 17th century) as well as the Barberini family (from the middle of the 17th century to the beginning of the 19th century). During the Napoleonic era, with the promulgation of the law dated 2nd August 1806, the feudal rights were abolished in the Kingdom and so Rocca di Mezzo passed directly into the hands of the Crown. Following the Bourbon restoration, the town lived a relatively peaceful period until its incorporation into the nascent Kingdom of Italy. During the final decades of the 19th century, it saw a remarkable demographic increase and it developed at the foot of the hill upon which it had remained perched since its foundation. Such growth, that had been interrupted at the beginning of the 20th century due to emigration, recovered with renewed vigour in the second decade of the century, bringing the population back to its historical maximum in 1921 (4,168 inhabitants according to the census data of that year). The scarce productivity of agriculture (often for subsistence purposes) as well as the incessant crisis of transhumant pastoralism negatively promoted emigration, which did not stop even during the Fascist era, despite restrictive legislation inaugurated by the regime since the end of the 1920s. In fact, between 1921 and 1936, the municipality recorded a significant demographic decrease (around 24%) which has continued right up to the present day: since 2001, the population of Rocca di Mezzo is constantly below 1,500 inhabitants, even less that the estimated number provided in 1488. The inhabitants emigrating from Rocca prefer to go to the following destinations: Rome and northern Italy, Venezuela, South Africa, the USA and Germany. As from the 1920s and the 1930s, the area started to develop locally for tourism reasons and which has undergone a great increase as from about 1960. At an equal pace, there has also been a constant increase in residential construction, associated above all with the vicinity to the skiing resorts and the fresh summer climate that has always attracted many holiday makers from the nearby capital city. This increase, although it has a negative increase on the surrounding natural environment and on the quality of the inhabitants’ lives, it has generated and continues to generate income and employment. On 6th April 2009 Rocca di Mezzo was struck, although to a less extent compared to other nearby towns (including Rocca di Cambio and Ocre), by the recent earthquake in L’Aquila: some homes have suffered severe structural damage and a bell tower in the adjacent hamlet of Rovere collapsed.
Rovere, hamlet of Rocca di Mezzo, dating back to ancient times, still has the remains of its castle, the foundation date of which is unknown, situated on a rocky spur in the shape of a triangular fortress with circular towers on its top.
It is possible to visit the Archaeological Museum with artefacts that have been discovered in the excavations (ceramic crockery, metallic artefacts such as nails, zips, hinges, glass material, Renaissance majolica, etc.).
The most important artefacts are kept within the Science Antiquity Department of the "G. D'Annunzio" University in Chieti.
Trees have always played an important role in symbology, legends and daily language, they are often found in unusual places for the species to which they belong. The plant heritage represented by monumental trees is characterised by three orders of value: naturalistic value, the monumental trees are an expression of the environment and of the climatic and geographic characteristics; the artistic value, monumental trees are natural works of art and finally the cultural value, monumental trees are historical evidence. By means of decree n.72 dated 14.09.2012 and they have been declared "natural monuments” for their landscape, naturalistic and/or historic value; 370 plants of significant importance can be found within the Abruzzo region. Seven trees with 3 different wood types have been identified also within the municipality of Rocca di Mezzo (Fagus sylvatica L. - Populus nigra L. - Salix caprea L.), which correspond to the requirements of monumental trees.
For further information on this topic, it is possible to consult the book by Caterina Artese "Alberi Monumentali d'Abruzzo" (Monumental Trees in Abruzzo) available at the Town Hall.
Rocca di Mezzo - The Old Town
Rocca di Mezzo - The Old Town
The feast of the Narcissus
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PRO LOCO ROCCA DI MEZZO
Via IV Novembre
267048 ROCCA DI MEZZO (AQ)
Tel.: [+39] 086 2916125